Binary Bullshit

Yesterday I listened to a podcast episode that talked a lot about masculine/feminine energy, and how it can be problematic to use those terms because we have so much baggage attached to them thanks to patriarchy. Things like yin/yang, solar/lunar, etc were proposed, but I kept thinking “but wait, WHAT ENERGY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

Because pretty much everything they were assigning to either box was either also present in the other one or actively contradicted something already in the box!

Here, I’ll try to show what I mean.

Feminine/Lunar/Yin:

  • Receptive-but-not-passive
  • Creative/nurturing
  • Being (rather than doing)

Masculine/Solar/Yang:

  • Active
  • Destructive
  • Doing (rather than being)

So these seem pretty straightforward, right?

WRONG!

Receptive-but-not-passive as an opposite to active doesn’t really work.

I think farmers would be startled to hear the sun is destructive.

Last time I checked, men and women both do shit and are things.

Another example: feminine energy was described as nurturing.

Until pretty recently, a lot of nurturing roles in society were held by men – they were powerful roles, so men had them instead of women. Farming, teaching, animal husbandry, etc. were manly things to do. Now they’re not.

Also: isn’t nurturing active? Doesn’t it require output? You don’t nurture by receiving or being. You nurture by doing. ARGH.

This all just slides back into my frustration that you can’t really assign anything to masculine/feminine without some pretty major contradictions.

Furthermore, insisting on a binary all the damn time is pretty narrow-minded.

Like, presumably the opposite of nurturing is destroying… or maybe it’s ignoring something and letting it die?

Receptive and active aren’t necessarily opposites – what about a great big snake swallowing something? That’s receptive in that the snake is receiving the thing it’s eating, but I suspect the prey wouldn’t consider it inactive.

If “being” and “doing” are opposites, what do we call mindfulness? You can walk mindfully and be both fully present (being) and in motion (doing).

As the podcast went on, it got harder and harder to pay attention because my mind kept running off on tangents.

I seriously could not come up with a single trait/characteristic/descriptor that was exclusive male or female. Most of the standard ones offered by society are patriarchal bullshit and easily dismissible, but so are a lot of the ones offered by alternative lifestyle folks. Between confirmation bias and unconscious sexism, it’s almost impossible for us to really shed our binary-gender lenses, I know, but still.

Of course, ultimately society’s expectations have  huge impact on us, and there’s something to be said for the argument that yes, gender is made up and a societal construct but it still impacts people so we should quit bitching about it. I know a trans person who transitioned in part (as they explained it to me, anyway) so that other people would react to her in a way that felt appropriate.

I’m woo-woo enough to admit that folks who identify as masculine and folks who identify as feminine have different vibes to them. I can’t figure out which vibe I give off, though, and I sure as shit can’t figure out what I am using the bullshit boxes society offers.

Clearly I’m having a GENDER IS STUPID CAN WE JUST STOP PLEASE UGHHHH day. Time to go pet the cats and get back to focusing on my dayjob.

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New Year

One of the things I like to do around New Year is look over my journal entries.

2014 included one that said:

I’m so angry at myself, and it’s coming out in things like the food I eat, how well I care for myself… I knew that poking my nose into gender stuff was dangerous and did it anyway, and now look where it’s gotten me. Back to square fucking one on the body image front and no real gender identity to show for it.

That was back in May. The rest of the year has been so busy and stressful that I haven’t had much time to work on all this.

I don’t know what to make of this last year, in a lot of ways. I still don’t understand gender. I did finally figure out that my mother’s perpetual gaslighting is probably at least part of why I don’t feel like I can accurately determine my own gender (if my judgement is suspect for things like my own feelings and memories, which she informed me was the case, how do I figure out my gender?).

A friend post this on Facebook, and it resonated with me do much. My body is fat, almost always in pain thanks to chronic health issues, weak, and hard to find clothes for, and people look at it and assume I’m a woman. I used to have a certain amount of body acceptance, and I’ve lost even that – body love? Not so much.

I hope 2015 can be the year I make peace with my body. I guess we’ll see.

Epiphany

Today’s therapy session brought an unexpected epiphany: one of the issues I have as a result of an abusive upbringing is that I don’t trust my own judgement much at all, and that is most assuredly not helping with (if it’s not a direct cause of) my gender identity issues.

Like most epiphanies, it seems ridiculously obvious, but it took me til now to figure it out.

I’m not sure what to do with this information, but it feels important to have.

Also, an update on this post – I went to the event, it went pretty well, and I felt pretty good about it. The other people there were all moderately femme women, but I didn’t feel excluded much, and when I did it was pretty minor. Overall I’m glad I went, and I got some good contacts. Many thanks to Jamie for the advice and support!

Hey Readers, I Need Some Advice

I’ve been invited to an event — being thrown/hosted by a meetup aimed squarely at women. I’m fairly sure the reason the organizer invited me (other than me having an interest in line with the subject of the event) is that I read as female.

So now the question: do I go? Do I email her and say, “well, I don’t really identify as a woman, but if I’m still welcome, I’d love to attend”?

A bit of an edge is attached to this by the fact that I stand to make a good bit of money off this event if I do attend, and it’ll help the teeny craft business I’m trying to get off the ground. Is it better to keep my head down and pass to help my business?

This is kind of freaking me out. I feel like if I am honest and straightforward about my gender identity (or lack thereof) I might miss out on a really good opportunity for my biz, but it feels like if I stay quiet and just go, I’ll be selling out. I’m out to a handful of my local friends, in a low-key sort of way, so I don’t have to worry about that.

I know I have a couple of readers now… what do you folks think? I could really use some advice.

More fun with gender labels

So, I saw this post on Tumblr:

anonymous asked:Please tell me what it means to be a woman if it doesn’t mean a person with a vagina. If you remove biological femaleness from the definition of “woman” you’re left with stereotypes related to femininity. If you then try to remove the stereotypes, you’re left with a word that defines absolutely nothing, and is useful to no one. & making a word that is important to the discussion of systematic oppression into meaningless window dressing is fucking bullshit.coolben94 answered:nothing means anything. welcome to the world.manslator:

jennytrout:

Behold in wonder as Anonymous reinforces the archaic ideal of gender as determined by genitals! Marvel at the simultaneous dismissal of cis women as merely a bag of stereotypes with a vag attached!

Manslation: Women, please explain your humanity to me because right now all that’s coming to mind is a walking vagina wearing lipstick and high heels. I can only understand you so long as you are reduced to a sex organ and a bunch of bullshit cliches. If I can’t stuff you into a box based on your genitals, you’re of no use to me. Watch as I pretend to care about discussions of systemic oppression while transphobia pours from every single one of my orifices.

I wanted to reply as follows but am frankly too chicken to do so under my real name – as I’ve written before, I have trouble couching this shit in ways that people won’t get pissed by. Writing about it here feels less vulnerable.

So here’s the thing.

If

woman doesn’t mean “person who has a vagina (whether factory-installed or surgically-installed, so to speak)

and

woman doesn’t mean “person who embodies [cultural stereotypes]

then what the fuck does it mean?

Swap woman with man and vagina with penis and I have the same exact question.

No, seriously.

Men and women (and folks of various other genders) have different vibes to me, and certainly have different qualities and are raised differently and and and…

but where the fuck is the dividing line?

I am a firm believer that we all have the right to identify our own gender. If you come up to me and say “I am a woman” or “I am a man” or II am genderfluid” or whatever, I’m not going to say “prove it!” or something. I might, if I know you really well and am feeling courageous and am pretty sure it won’t make you angry, I might be brave enough to ask, “what makes you say that? how do you know?”

I ask because I have no fucking idea what gender I am. I have no innate sense about it. I can look at myself in the mirror and think, “yeah, I see why I read as a woman, and why I sometimes read as butch,” but I don’t have an innate identification with either of those. The only gender vibes I get for myself are negative (as in, “I’m not…“).

I am 110% accepting of the gender someone tells me they are.

I just wish someone would explain how they know, because then maybe I could figure my own out.

Subjectivity

I saw a thing on Tumblr today that said, “sex is what the doctor sees when you come out of your mom; gender is when the doctor wraps you in a pink blanket if you have a vagina or a blue blanket if you have a penis.”

Once upon a time, I would totally have agreed. The first time I encountered Kate Bornstein’s take on gender, I scoffed, but now? Not so much.

Auntie Kate sayeth:

Sex is fucking. Everything else is gender.

And I agree. When people say “biological sex,” what they mean is “having enough of the biologically-measurable signifiers we have attributed to a particular gender.” These markers include but are not limited to:

  • Chromosomal arrangement (XY vs XX; any variations thereof are suspect)
  • Gonad arrangement (ovaries vs. testes; any variations thereof are suspect)
  • External genitalia (penis vs. vagina; any variations thereof are suspect)
  • Hormone levels (testosterone vs. estrogen; the ratios associated with female vs. male aren’t very well-defined, though)

Here’s the thing: plenty of people are born every year with those markers on both sides of the sex binary. Those folks, if they’re identified at birth, are often assigned to a gender and then surgically “corrected” to match; whether the surgery is needed or not is subjective and in some cases the doctors don’t even ask the parents before operating.

Each one of those markers fails as a total binary, and knowing that one person can have, say, XY chromosomes, internal gonads of indistinct type, a vagina, and high testosterone levels and still be designated as female because “well, there are enough female markers, so let’s go with that” sure as shit  makes it sound subjective to me.

Plus, I’ve read accounts by a number of trans folks who transitioned and had surgery because their external biological sex indicators affected how people treated them. They had to change not just their clothes/hairstyle/makeup/whatever, but also their physical bodies, in order to be accepted as the gender with which they identify.

Biological sex markers are gender markers.

Yes, these biological features usually come in groups, XY-testes-penis-testosterone or XX-ovaries-vagina-estrogen, but not always – the same way that in our society most folks identify as men or women, but not all.

It’s the same way that societally-agreed-upon gender markers tend to come in groups – pink-horses-princesses-woman-biological-markers vs. blue-cars-guns-male-biological-markers.

Hell, international sporting federations can’t even properly agree on what makes someone male vs. female. When are we going to stop pretending that this stuff is subjective?!

Call me a radical gender anarchist, but I’m with Auntie Kate. Sex is fucking. Everything else is gender.