Saturday, May 28, 2011

On Society and Gender

I haven’t so much as read anyone’s opinion on the matter, but I did peruse an article that mentioned a Canadian family that is keeping a baby’s gender secret.

I hesitate to post anything about gender because my wife has a PhD in studying it. Anything I say will be picked apart and I will never hear the end of all of the errors in semantics and minutia. I’ll risk it anyway.

Before I start, if you consider yourself to have an alternative sexuality or gender, please don’t get offended by what I say. I know you have a enough bullshit to deal with, so if something I say sounds ignorant, it probably is and try you’re best to ignore that aspect until the end, and comment on it so I can be corrected.

I believe modern sexuality and gender are dramatically warped by Christianity. Judeo-Christian views on sexuality and gender have had an almost irreparable effect on society, and if I had been born a few decades ago, I may have felt like it was hopeless, but I see the radical liberalization of American sexuality as evidence that progress can be made (especially when sexual gratification is waiting at the finish line).

It’s a strange situation we find ourselves in. Homosexuality is anything but “unnatural,” and to my knowledge, no species of animal has no incidence of homosexual behavior. Penguins, bears, hell, even my dogs are gay. I don’t think they were born gay; they’re more “all boys-school” gay.

The opposition to gay marriage is ultimately just mean-spirited prejudice, regardless of what opponents say. These conservatives are the same people who hold marriage up on a pedestal, idolizing monogamy as the only way to live.

Then some queers come along and want to be monogamous, to express their loyalty and fidelity for each other, to do nothing more than to have their love and desire to start a family be legally recognized and defended by those who are charged with protecting the rights of citizens, but we can’t have the government approving of fags and dykes making it work when half of the sacred, heterosexual marriages end in divorce today.

Marriage is to be made of mockery of only by straight people.

I firmly believe these sorts of attitudes are warping us all, not just the haters who think we live in a time when there’s nothing better to do than stop gay people from getting married. We also have the small matter of how this sort of behavior warps the people who are the object of prejudice.

The most common problem is the old “closet.” The fact that anyone has to hide who they are is a sign that our society is failing. Gay people should not have to be ashamed of who they are.

Beyond even that, however, is a fascinating phenomenon with lots of names. Transsexual, transgender, intersexual, third gender, and other names have been applied, but the basic idea is that some people feel they are not actually the gender that is dictated by their genetics and natural genitalia.

I shy away from using the word “disorder” for this, because I find that it implies it’s somehow wrong or that a cure should be sought. I think medicine has already provided the “cure,” in that sexual reassignment therapies, ranging from hormonal to surgery, have been largely successful in allowing people to live as the gender with which they identify.

But asking why this happens is still worth doing. Trying to make any blanket statements is not something I do lightly, so I can only hypothesize as to why it might be possible that some people experience it.

Gender is strictly defined by society. During Freud’s time, he came to the conclusion that women had “penis envy.” In retrospect, I think most intelligent people can realize that this was likely a factor of how powerless women in Victorian society felt, and that the only thing holding them back was their gender. For a woman to “want a penis” may simply mean that the woman wants to be treated like a man, not a woman.

Ultimately, there may be people who are conflating social role with gender. I want to be pretty and catered to is female, I want to work hard and have power is male. This is obviously a gross oversimplification, but I believe it may be a factor.

The whole thing is further complicated by the fact that we live in a world where one can not only dream of being of the opposite gender, but you can actually go about doing so with relative success. To desire for primary and secondary sexual characteristics of another gender is not something I am qualified to discuss, but there is a lot going on in terms of identity.

This is particularly difficult for me to comment on, because I am a non-factor in my own sexuality. I don’t even think about myself in the sexual sense; all of my sexual attention is directed outward. I could be a hideous beast or the hottest person on Earth, I don’t think it would have much affect on me directly, only indirectly by who will be attracted to me.

And this may be part of how some people wish to use their own sexual-identity. There are gay people who are attracted to gay people, and there are gay people attracted to straight people. What if the urge to be the opposite gender stems from the desire to attract one’s desired type? Being a woman would sure increase the odds of attracting a straight guy, if that is what you prefer.

But I know this cannot universally be the case, because there are people who switch genders and continue dating what would have been the opposite of their birth gender (and are now same-sex relationships).

Then you have people who point to that fact that many people who wish to change their gender have been abused as children. These tend to be proponents of the idea that this type of behavior is a disorder, and this provides a convenient artificial cause. I include this only for the sake of completion.

In the same category as the above, there are those who see this behavior as a “choice.” I have seen people rail at length about how transsexuality is a cry for help or attention. There are people who actually believe that someone would choose to go through the expense and stress of changing their gender for little more than being able to say “I’m unique,” like an elaborate tattoo or piercing.

I don’t put much credence in the last two “explanations,” and it’s mean-spirited ideas like that which sort of disproves the idea that someone would make a choice like this on a whim. In fact, everyone undergoing gender reassignment has agonized over the decision at length and with a professional counselor. It’s more than a little patronizing to think this is a situation that is taken lightly by any involved.

And yet it is a mistake for some people. There are people who begin the process and stop at some point, or go through the process for years and can almost pass, but then decide to reverse everything they possibly can.

Some studies have found that many people who go through gender reassignment are not happier, even after years of medication and thousands of dollars in surgery, though there are plenty of people who purport to be happier both during the process and after they feel their transformation has been successful.

Turning attention away from the individuals undergoing the change, there are others affected around them. I imagine the family issues involved mirror those of homosexuals, in that there are closed minded responses and loving, accepting ones, and that one must cope with the former without knowing for certain who will provide the latter.

Then there is the matter of how potential dates will react. In this instance, I think female-to-male individuals have it easier, since there is less stigma among women regarding such a relationship, and I imagine male-to-female individuals risk violent reactions from men who would find such a situation to be threatening to their own gender identity. I am sure it is a tight-rope walk of being honest while not inundating someone with too much before they are comfortable. I don’t envy someone in that situation.

I sometimes wonder if our ideas of gender are the ultimate cause of people wanting to switch their gender. It may be that some people just won’t feel comfortable with who they are until their outward gender matches their internalized image of what they want to be and how they want to be seen.

Ultimately, and I don’t mean this to be offensive, but I don’t particularly condone this sort of behavior. Maybe that isn’t the right word, condone, but it’s the first that comes to mind. I don’t think it should be illegal, and I have no interest in talking a random person out of doing it.

However, if someone I knew well was considering gender reassignment, I would recommend against it. Obviously I would support whatever decision they make, but I oppose the whole process for the same reason I oppose plastic surgery in general.

I find society to be too hung up on appearances. We are obsessed with the surface, and in the process of perfecting our exteriors, we have let our inner selves turn to shit. Superficial bullshit should not be running our lives.

Maybe if all of our fiddling was harmless, I would be more inclined to write it off, but there are consequences and side effects that occur with all of our meddling. In some sense, these pioneer transgender individuals are blazing the trail and helping experts develop the methods to succeed in the future, but there is the small matter that these same people are used by the medical community as clinically depressed guinea pigs who are told that these risky procedures will make them happier.

At any rate, I must defer to the basic tenet that people are free to do whatever they want with their own body. I don’t think the “consequences” (or more accurately, the potential for consequences) warrant any sort of opposition on my part. If anything, I feel compelled to be supportive, because the added burden of choosing this path is such that I have sympathy.

And it is not a sympathy that derives from pity, but instead a sympathy that derives from knowing. While I have no such gender issues, I have the faintest inkling of how it feels to be in such a situation. Atheists face some of the same difficulties, and I am thankful no surgery or hormone pills were pushed on me in my pursuit of an alternative lifestyle.

There was a time when the medical profession made a pretty penny off of “curing” people of homosexuality. Now, I worry that they are profiting off of “curing” people of confusion that exists not within individuals, but within society, and that rather than having society change to accommodate the reality of the human experience, we are foisting extensive medical side effects onto individuals whose unusual situation is the product of a sick society, not a sick body.

But I could also be wrong, and it wouldn’t surprise me in this case.


  1. I always figured, I'm straight (heterosexual). I was born that way. No amount of looking at men, no matter how attractive, will make me 'want' one. In that regard, I do not understand homosexuality.

    However, I also figure a gay (homosexual) person was born that way as well. A homosexual man will probably not be swayed to not be gay no matter how many attractive women he sees.

    Of course, my not understanding the attraction of homosexuality is of no more signifigance than my not understanding why some men are attracted to overly thin women... "I don't get understand it", does not mean "I think it's wrong".

    Also, I fail to see how any woman could be attracted to a man. Dudes are fucking ugly !

  2. "Gender is strictly defined by society."

    Assuming that when you use the word "gender" we're talking about the same thing, it's not defined by society, it simply is what it is. The physical aspects, of course, as well as the chromosomes. We are physically/genetically either male or female (barring the occasional mutation (used in the positive X-Men sense, not one with any negative connotation)).

    Other than that, what people feel like or who they want to (or have to) engage with sexually is entirely their business. I agree with your basic tenet.

  3. Other than people with genetic disorders in their sexual chromosomes, I get what you're saying.

    However, from a medical standpoint, sex is genetic and gender is socialization. Gender involves things like the view that men should lift weights and be muscular to be attractive, while women should wear make-up. Gender is completely defined by society, while sex is completely defined by either genetics or hormones, depending on which aspect of the process you want to attach significance to.

    And this isn't my definition, it's a general well established academic terminology (you can see the World Health Organization's classification here. I certainly didn't help matters by not conforming to the view that gender is masculine/feminine, while sex is male/female. That might have made it all more clear.

  4. But gender is also who you know you are, a male knows he's male, not because of his genitalia, but also because he knows who he is, not because if he played with cars when little or if he does weightlifting as an adult, it's because he knows he's male, regards of he has or lacks a penis, he born a men (after all the mind is also who controls our sexuality) and will die a men. (Sorry if some grammar issues, english it's not my first idiom)


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