Monday, November 16, 2009

Gender Binaries, Trinaries and the problem of labels...

With literally uncounted thousands of identifiers, why is gender identity given such a prominent place amongst our labels? I am rapidly reaching the place where I am ready to treat my gender the way I do my sexuality - just refusing to identify any which way. On every gender inventory I have taken, I am androgynous, tending towards feminine.

I tend towards a more archetypal male expression of self - but then I was totally socialized with what was almost hyper-masculine role models. I am the ready hand in a crisis, unafraid if a situation requires violence. I am very physical - coming towards a year in school and I still have callouses on my hands. I am typically ignorant of my emotions a lot of the time.

Yet here I am, perfectly capable of filling the momma role, the sensitive lover, the empathetic, nurturing friend. I listen, because I am genuinely interested in what you have to say. I wrap my arms around people in need of compassion without fear or embarrassment. I am extremely introspective and my ignorance of emotions, is mostly founded in my fundamental projection bias, my assumption that most people probably feel like this and it is perfectly normal - i.e. depression is not normal, so that couldn't be something I experience.

So what am I? More importantly, what does it matter? I am not averse to ideas such as genderqueer - alternatives to this supposed gender binary. If pegged, I wouldn't even be averse to identifying as such. Sometimes I am even likely to identify as male, just as sometimes the context of a conversation indicates that I should identify as straight.

To be clear, I am not confused about my gender. I am not considering gender labeling because I am insecure about who and what I am. In reality, this is something I have been thinking about a lot for quite some time, because there are a lot of people who are confused and insecure about it. And there are people who are degraded and stigmatized because of their gender issues, whether they are experiencing gender disphoria, are transgendered, intersexed, androgynous or just happen to characteristically fall more into the realm of the gender that is not their sex.

Then there are people who think the whole discussion is stupid. Who think if you have a penis you're just a guy and if you sport a uterus instead, then you're just a woman. For whom it really is just that simple and the rest is just a load of complete and utter shit. It is because of this group of people, that I am increasingly fucking tired of this need to label.

The notion that this need to preserve one's gender identity is so very intense, that the mere existence of people who don't fit into this male/female dichotomy is a threat to their own gender identity is a sign that we have some very significant problems to overcome. I am all for people exploring or not exploring these concepts, as it suits their desire and comfort levels. But the point at which their desire to avoid any and every perceived threat to their gender and sexual identities interferes with and stigmatizes who and what other people are, I start to get more than a little angry about it.

While the choices I have made in life have certainly influenced who and what I am, I did not choose to have characteristically ambiguous gender traits. I didn't choose to have a general sexual preference for women. I didn't choose to empathize the way I do, listen the way I do, brute my way through discomfort the way I do or take on most of the myriad traits, or labels that make DuWayne Brayton, DuWayne Brayton. I am the sum of my genetics, environment and to some degree the choices I have made.

So are every one of us. Every fucking one.

So what exactly is the threat that my gender identity or the gender identity of anyone else, to the gender identity of anybody else? What threat does one of my labels, pose to one of yours? I am more than a little angry about this, because that perceived threat is used to stigmatize, marginalize and even oppress whole groups of people for characteristics that they cannot control.

So I am not straight, not a man. I am not my sexuality and I am not my sex. I am not even my gender. I am a human person who is sexually attracted to other human people and who shares a lot of characteristics with a lot of other human people. If that makes you uncomfortable, if that makes you feel threatened, please refrain from blaming me. I am not the one of us who has a problem with who they are. It might, however, be a good idea if you sat down to consider exactly why I make you uncomfortable or threatened. It would be a really good idea to think about why that same sex couple, being affectionate in public like any other couple makes you uncomfortable or threatened. It would probably do you a world of good to consider why that women down the block, the one with the addams apple who occasionally still gets that five o'clock shadow makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened.

Because our problem isn't who and what we are. Our problem is you and your destructive fucking stigmas and abuse.


Abby Normal said...

Gee, I can’t imagine what could possibly have brought the question, “what defines a man” to the fore of your consciousness recently. [cough]snip[cough] ;-)

Then there are people who think the whole discussion is stupid. Who think if you have a penis you're just a guy and if you sport a uterus instead, then you're just a woman. For whom it really is just that simple

The problem with the people you describe here is not with the definition per se. If that really was the sum total of how they defined the terms then it wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s almost never is that simple. There’s a whole host of other characteristics and behaviors that also get attached. That these people are blind to the additional expectations they attach is the problem. And it’s a problem you seem to flirt with even while railing against it.

For example you add the will to violence, calloused hands, and emotional ignorance to the definition of male. Meanwhile you added childrearing, being a sensitive lover, empathy, and nurturing to your definition of female. Of course you acknowledge the additional baggage, which differentiates you from the people you’re complaining about. But you still seem to carry it, which I think is important to keep in mind.

Not that I’m any different. I have my own concepts of what it means to be a man or a woman above and beyond what is biologically apparent. I’m not sure it’s even possible to completely discard them. Nor is it likely the use of labels will go away any time soon, even if such a thing were desirable. It’s in our nature to categorize. Rather than struggling against the use of labels, I prefer to challenge the lack of understanding about what the labels mean, to move their application from the intuitive to the conscious.

I get that’s what you were trying to do, particularly toward the end. Kudos for that. In fact you’re greater overall point (if I understand you) I completely agree with; when your labels don’t match up with the people you’re applying them to, the problem is not with the people but with your expectations. I guess I’m just trying to say I think your message may have benefited from a slight shift of focus.

Now, given that I’ve been somewhat critical with a post I pretty much agree with, I feel the need to end on a more positive note. Unfortunately nothing is coming to mind. So just use your imagination and pretend I said something witty that brings the whole thing together in a fun and interesting way. I’m going to get back to work.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Hey Abby -

Actually, it was a discussion in my psych class that brought it to mind.

Honestly, the biggest problem here is that I really don't have the space to be as precise as this discussion warrants.

For example, I really don't see the archetypal gender constructs as being definitive of male and female. However, when it comes to gender inventories, for example, those constructs are the basis of the spectrum. I find it rather ironic that relationships are far more likely to succeed if both partners are in a similar space on that spectrum - the implications of that amuse me.

I also want to be clear that I am not trying to do away with labels. I very much subscribe to the notion that language not only defines reality, it is also the single most important tool we have for perceiving the world around us. Without language, our sensory input would be useless outside the narrow parameters of instinctual survival - it would mostly be meaningless noise. Labels are the language we use to understand ourselves, define ourselves and at the heart, perceive ourselves.

My problem is when certain label sets become so very important that when we run across people who don't fit, we perceive them to be a threat to our own identity. When there are so very many labels that define any person, the fear we attach to perceived threats to one of them is fucking insane. When the mere act of being forced to consider our identity because we run across someone who defies a particular label set is so terrifying that we deny that person's very existence, we are dealing with a very serious problem of labels.

I am not suggesting that we need to do away with labels. I am suggesting that we need to take a hard look at the importance we attach to some of them. And I think that how I identify myself can be a useful tool for pushing people to make such considerations. In part, because I really don't fear how others will perceive me and treat me. I really don't care.

While I am not static in my perception of my gender, I am just as secure in it, as I am in my sexuality. I.e. while I am still exploring and trying to understand it, I am entirely comfortable with whatever comes of these explorations.

Jason Thibeault said...

So would it be gauche of me to refer to you as 'da man' for this post?