Tiptoeing through Gender Issues

I've been a fan of John Varley's SF since the Wife first introduced me to it. Common in most of Varley's work is the idea that sex was something you could change on a whim. That you might actually simply choose to be sexless as a statement (which lead to other perversions) that you could become female in order to have children (something I might have done) but then reverse to male in order to have more strength for work later in life if strength was something you needed. The idea that sex was a irreversible state you were assigned to at birth would be a foreign concept in a Varley future. The one part of Varley's futures that I really didn't have a problem with.

I'm starting with the subject of John Varley's futuristic SF because I want there to be no confusion about my overall intentions while discussing this subject. The subject of gender, of sex, and changing it. This is about categorization. I've breached this subject a few times now in other places, and I'm not convinced that the overall subject, false categorization; the creation of groupings which don't actually exist, really is understood as the point of it all.

This is not about nature, or about god. There isn't some stamp that is placed on us at birth that says we have to be either female or male. Sexual attributes appear on a curve, just like all other attributes that we possess. Some small percentage of people identify more with the opposite sex than their own external appearance. Some even smaller group have sex organs for both sexes.

I mentioned in a parenthetical above that I might have opted for changing my sex to female had that been an option, for the purpose of having children.  This is a true statement.  The Wife has problems with the birthing of children.  Had she been born even a generation before ours, she probably would have died in childbirth; which is a very sobering thought. So sobering that I would have willingly changed places with her in order that we could have the children we both wanted, and save her the risk to her health. But that wasn't possible. Still isn't possible. If it were, it would be possible for her physiology to be altered in a way that allowed her to have children without dying, without my having to change my sex.

But would I do it anyway? I've always been a nurturer. Played with dolls as a child.  My mother had to explain to me why I couldn't take my dolls to school with me. How the other boys would not understand and would make fun of me.  Giving up the dolls did not change who I was. I'd sooner spend an hour rocking a baby than doing almost anything else. Had I needed to carry my own children to term I'd like to think I'd have done it, despite the pain involved.

I'm not afraid of being mistaken for female, on the other hand. If you put a wig and breasts on me (as on most men) I'll look like a dude with a wig and breasts.  Just like most men will.  So my status as male is secure; so secure that I would look stupid trying to be anything other than male.

I can understand being personally convinced that you are in the wrong body. I understand the quandary, or at least like to think I do. I'm just not willing to concede that gender is a thing. A thing that can be altered. A thing that can be altered without altering the sex of the person.

This fact is easily demonstrable. If you gave the people who want to change their gender the option of simply modifying their birth certificates (which in a general sense is impossible) the vast majority of them would probably change the sexual designation on their identity papers and give up the gender argument.  It is only the documentation's immutable status that  makes this entire argument so convoluted.

Hawaii is now allowing people to change their sexual designation on their birth certificates without having to undergo surgery. Only time will tell if this fixes the problem of sexual designation for public purposes. Personally I don't think the problem will go away until there aren't restrooms separated by sex; removing the requirement to declare sexuality just to relieve yourself. I know a lot of women who don't like this idea (yes, dear) and yet I can't think of any other way to address the inequality presented by separate restrooms.

Documents are fallible, as humans are fallible. Some drunken buffoon on duty at the delivery ward at night can't uncross his eyes and figure out if the baby in front of him is male or female, and writes the wrong identification out on the birth certificate. Maybe the child just has ambiguous genitalia. Who knows? What is certain is that people are being asked to live their lives as one sex, when they know that they are not of that sex.

If you accept that the sexual role you will want to play as an adult can be determined by an outside observer at the time of your birth, then you might as well assume that there are also innate designations of dominant or submissive; that BDSM roles are also assigned at birth. That you might not want to play either role, or find the concept that you will have to play one or the other role insulting is beyond the comprehension of the record keeper. Obviously everyone will be in one group or the other. It has to be that way, right?

The birth certificate as an unchangeable document just doesn't add up to a rational system capable of being defended, from a sexual designation point of view at least. What if you are physically capable of handling any role at birth? What if no sexual role mentally suits you as an adult?  What if you think that role-playing should be left to fantasy and not real-world interactions?

Gender isn't a thing.  Gender is a perception. More than that, gender is the perception of an observer, the identity the observer assigns in their head when dealing with other people. Gender is the presentation that you attempt when you dress in a particular fashion.  Wear your hair a particular way. In the choices of accessories.  You cannot dictate what gender someone will assign to you before they meet you. It is the interaction which will define how they deal with you as a person. You can prime that interaction with overt displays of the gender you want to be seen as, but that doesn't (especially for men trying to be women) mean that you're going to pull it off without looking silly.

It is actually easier to pass as a man than it is as a woman. Most men (as the Wife has discovered) will treat the unknown other as an equal, as a guy, if the woman simply acts like a man. Dresses like a man. Even if she is curvy.  It was common in earlier times when gender roles were more strictly defined for women to pass themselves off as men. To simply assume the role of male, and do it so flawlessly that most men they dealt with never knew.

Jason Robert Ballard/FTM Magazine
We hold ourselves up to ridiculous standards of beauty. We idolize and worship the prettiest among us as if they are representations of ourselves.  It is a fantasy that a regular person can ever match the beauty of models, as if even the models look that good in poor lighting.  This is not a trans-gendered man, this is just a man. More of a man than I ever have been, if static beauty is a measure of manliness (could do without the tattoos, but it isn't my body, so knock yourself out) Just as this person is a woman. What this is, more than anything else, is an error in record keeping; a bug in the process of sexual identification which needs to be addressed. This is a manifestation of the worship of documentation as some immutable testament to what is good and natural instead of serving as a reference to what is real and substantial.

Geena Rocero
I've been barraged with this lately from many different corners. It's been on Skeptoid. I've argued about it on Facebook. It's in my e-mail newsfeed. I've watched several TED talks on the subject. The celebration of the trans-gendered, and the labeling of the rest of us as cis-gendered. The idea that a minority can dictate to the majority what labels that majority will wear is farcical on its face. Never mind the fact that it is an invented label and not a correct usage of the terms. Just trying to give fair warning here.

On top of that, just exactly how do you determine who the cis are?

I'd like to speak to all the lumpy old people out there for a minute or two. You know who you are. You remember how, when you were growing up, everyone told you that you had to do this or that, or you weren't manly? You had to paint your face, be happy and agreeable, like to clean house (or at least pretend to) or you weren't feminine?  And you, being who you are, either hesitantly agreed, said nothing, or offered a rebuttal; but then went on to ignore everything said on that subject by others and just went on to live you life like you wanted anyway? Are you trans or cis? Dom or sub? Do any of the many labels others want you to wear matter in the slightest? Or are these labels annoyances that you'd just as soon not have to deal with?

Just because the majority don't go around complaining about the gender stereotypes they are saddled with, doesn't mean that they are cis in any measurable way.

I'll happily give up gender specific pronouns, given alternatives that don't sound forced in conversation. I have no problem using they instead of he or she. Their instead of hers or his. Don't have a problem with mixed-sex restrooms since I hate urinals in the first place and won't use them. Wouldn't put them in restrooms that I designed unless told to. I don't see the problem with allowing people to change their sex designation on their identification.

I'm just not willing to accept that gender is a thing separate from sex. Not willing to adopt an invented label just because people who want to change their sex have been forced to wear the label trans. I'll happily support your right to not have to wear that label, either. Not going to start loving sports, hating house cleaning, or conforming to the myriad of gender stereotypes that are out there in the world.  I'm not cis. I'm not trans. I'd appreciate it if you didn't presume to put labels on me that I don't freely adopt. That statement should echo with quite a few people out there.

My children have friends that are struggling with this issue right now. Children and young adults who want to know what labels they should put on themselves. A few of them I'm actually quite worried about. To them I want to say STOPDon't harm yourself.  Be who you are, don't try to change to fit some perception that other's hold for you. We love you just the way you are. There is no need to change. To pretend. Just be. Try to be happy, if you can.  Experience all the joy you can wrap your head around. Good advice, no matter what label you want to hang on yourself.

I expected to get pushback from the trans community because I thrash that communities insistence that there is a thing called cis.  Instead what I got was a whole lot of hell from non-trans people who kept insisting that trans was a problem.  I continue to disagree with those people.  No matter the source of pushback, no matter the source of the attempt to label non-trans as cis, there still isn't anything called cis.

The reason why there isn't a thing called cis is the same reason why there really isn't a thing called natural; at least in the experience of everyday average human beings. The reason why cis and natural are not things you can define is because there is no default property or state which is then modified by biology or human intervention. There is just the world as it exists in all its riotous varieties of life and experience. Human modification of things from their natural state renders objects that are in many ways still natural since humans are themselves creations of nature. Something manmade is not necessarily something that is unnatural.

There were several comments on this post that were lost when I shifted commenting back to Blogger comments from G+ comments. This was an unanticipated and unavoidable outcome from my perspective. I hadn't realized that comments would actually disappear from G+, I figured they'd stay there and you just couldn't see them on the blog. I was tired of having to fight pitched battles on G+ that were visible on the blog and I was equally tired of seeing my posts to G+ show up as comments on the blog posts I was promoting on G+, so I migrated back to the Blogger comment structure which also allowed me to write comments with HTML code that would display properly. Things change and loss of information is always a potential outcome during change. The form this blog is published under is likely to change to a more mobile friendly framework shortly, and that itself may cause some information to be lost. My apologies if this troubles people who like things to stay the same. However, those comments are gone, gone, gone and that leaves me struggling to grasp the arguments that I can no longer reference for clarities sake. My apologies if I tangent while trying to present the argument thrust at me previously, an argument that is now lost.

There is a common misconception among the people who believe in concepts like cis or natural; the misconception solidifies with conscious modification of whatever the thing is. A thing that was natural becomes unnatural. A thing that was cis is now trans. This misconception manifests in belief that genetics are absolute and deterministic. That XX yields women and XY yields men and there is never a miscommunication. That if you have a penis you are a boy and if you have a vagina you are a girl. This kind of rigid codification is not the reality of life as it occurs, but I couldn't explain or produce an exception to the presumed rule that was thrown at me. Until now.

Listening to LatinoUSA today I was introduced to the concept of Intersex.  Intersex people can be male, female or both simultaneously, or even neither as the case may be. These individuals have been the subject of millennia of mistreatment by both society and the medical community. Mistreatment that is only now being rectified, and then only in places that honor the UN declarations on human rights for the most part.

By Jonathan.Marcus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
It is possible to have sexual development produce these vague outcomes because a fetus doesn't have any sexual variation until after the seventh week of gestation. Specifically, the story in the LatinoUSA piece was of an individual suffering from Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome producing an outcome of externally male appearing genitals but with no ability to produce secondary sexual characteristics at adulthood because the male sex hormones had no effect on her cells. She was subjected to corrective surgery against her wishes in her teens, surgery which made her female, the gender she identifies as today.

There are several different scenarios that will lead to a fetus not developing along expected male/female lines producing individuals who fall into one of the other two possible sexual outcomes neither/both, outcomes which don't actually have accepted labels or words to define them. Yet. But what this information does provide is an explanation of how you can be of one genetic type and not be of the sex for that genetic makeup.

Given the potential permutations of complex organisms like humans beings, it is quite likely that any number of LGBT people could have some form of intersex affectation that has never been discovered. Many people who want to be identified as cis may actually be affected by one of the many diseases and syndromes that lead to what was once seen as a serious handicap requiring emergency surgery to correct as soon as possible. In the end it benefits us all to accept that there isn't a clear-cut dividing line between boys and girls and to end these ridiculous rules of separation along sexually predetermined lines. We harm ourselves in trying to set such rigid boundaries to our own sexuality.

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