August 11th, 2004

Postbox Fairy

Moving away from a binary gender paradigm

(I'm involuntarily cringing at the sociology jargon of that title but it is the most concise way of expressing what I mean).

Transgender issues seem to be something with increasing visibility, most obviously in the UK with Nadia winning this year's Big Brother. There was also a recent article in the Saturday Guardian about people who'd changed gender more than once (e.g. had undergone male-to-female surgery and then gone back to living as a man). However, one thing I noticed about that article was that it still worked on the underlying assumption that you had to be either 'male' or 'female', and if you weren't you were 'trapped between genders' or similar negative expressions; and how old-fashioned that attitude seemed to me (I accept that people trying to live between genders in our current society will experience problems, but it strongly seems to me that this is a flaw in society; not validation for the idea that one needs to be unambiguously male or female).

For my part, I'm quite strongly 'female-shaped' (narrow waist with pronounced bust & hips, also short with a fairly high-pitched voice) and I'm happy with that, and consequently with presenting as basically unambiguously physically female, but I'm fairly androgynous mentally (at least on the basis of non scientifically-rigorous internet quizzes, and in terms of what I identify with when they say 'men are typically x and women are typically y' or 'men are typically good at x and women are typically good at y'). Socially, I regard the expectations of gender as somewhat similar to the expectations of nationality: I am more likely to wear a skirt than either a tie or a sari. I don't have a problem with the arbitrariness of that or feel a need to play with expectations for the sake of it; but equally, I hope I would never let those expectations stop me from doing something I wanted to do, or make me do something I didn't - I'm certainly very likely to challenge anyone who thinks I "shouldn't" like or dislike something on the basis of my gender (or on the basis of anything else, for that matter...). I also get annoyed with the sweeping, tribalistic, generalisations that permeate most women's and men's magazines (though I suppose the very fact that they're aimed at a single gender predisposes them to that).

Ideally, I think, I'd like to live in a society where gender disappeared, and there was only one's biological sex, and that was only an issue for conceiving children, and for medical issues which are sex-dependent. I'm not denying that there probably are mental or emotional tendencies which are sex-linked, but they're all (as far as I'm aware), things where there's actually a significant overlap, with the difference only showing up in the average i.e. there will be many men on any test whose results are more 'female' than many women doing the same test, and therefore any attempt to deduce things about someone based solely on their gender will be wrong a fair proportion of the time.