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.

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It’s okay to not be okay

So much has been going on since my last post, good grief. For one thing, I sure as shit don’t have my immediate familial relationships “sorted” — I’m half-seriously considering cutting one of my parents out of my life (which will probably mean losing contact with the other) and until them am avoiding said parent as much as possible. This is made easier by living in another state, at least.

The biggest change, though, has been my partner and I finally having our relationship be open in practice, not just in theory. After an initially clusterfucky beginning things are going okay, he’s on OKCupid and looking for someone.

What brings me here today is noticing that one of the bits of insecurity I have is around gender. My partner is a straight cismale, and while he tends to be attracted to bi/queer/genderfluid women, he’s still primarily attracted to women. There’s dread in the pit of my stomach, and one of the things it whispers is, he’ll find someone more femme than you and realize that’s important to him, and want you to change or leave! There’s also he’s going to find someone who doesn’t have gender-related body issues and like them better as a result!

I know rationally that this crap isn’t true, but rationality doesn’t do a lot around insecurity.

At least with regard to the second thing, that’s something I’m kind of working on. My therapist and I got a bit derailed from the gender side of things by the non-monogamy thing happening, but I read a lot of body acceptance blogs, and think about this stuff a lot.

I carry a lot of shame around my body image issues – I’m a big believer in body acceptance and sex positivity, but my body image issues keep me from applying those beliefs to myself as well as other people. When my partner suggested I get a profile on a dating site and try to find a guy so we can have an MMF threesome (a fantasy he knows I have), my immediate reaction was “omg noooooo” – I think I said it was because of my current lack of time/energy, but a huge underlying reason was that voice in the back of my head that says who would want to have sex with you?

*headdesk*

Well, if I can’t accept my body quite yet, can I manage to accept my issues? I beat myself up about them sometimes, but that’s not terribly effective. Like my therapist says, “it’s okay to not be okay.” Baby steps, I guess.

Therapy

Of course, the more you fix, the deeper the next round of things to work on. Having sorted out my primary familial relationships, I’m now looking at my relationship to myself and my relationship with the world. This includes gender stuff, since a big part of both those relationships is gender. Gender is a big part of how we view ourselves and a big part of how we interact with the outside world. It informs everything from tone of voice and speech patterns to clothing and body language. It’s very complex. It’s a social construct, yes, but since I still live in the society that shaped it, it affects me. A lot.

My shiny new therapist and I are meeting every week now, which should be helpful. She was raised as a girl, so she groks what that’s like in a way my previous therapist (raised as a boy and pretty unaware of gender theory) really did not. So this is good.

But good grief it’s scary.

I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to work on this crap, too — I’m very good at wiggling my way out of working on stuff I’m scared of.

I’ve worked on a lot of these things before, too, which feels kind of strange. Like I’m walking down a spiral staircase inside a tower, and the pillars holding the staircase up are different things to work on. Each time I go around, I go to a deeper level, but I also circle past the same pillars. Having made it past a pillar in a previous level doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily be easy to make it past the same pillar on the next floor down.

One step at a time, though. I have to remember it’s not a race. Plus, everything in the staircase is me, really, so that’s a bit comforting.

I’ve come this far. I bet I can make it at least a but further.

Nervous

I’ve decided to find a new therapist, one who specializes in gender and identity issues (ideally also in body image issues).

Somehow, this feels like a big step.

I really like my current shrink, but he’s a cis het white dude who just doesn’t grok my life experience. While that’s okay when he’s coaching me on how to spot and cope with anxiety attacks, it’s less useful when I’m trying to explain how I’m affected by the bullshit people say to me/have said to me/say about people like me. Like, I know it’s bullshit, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me, and he genuinely doesn’t grok that.

I’ve never left a therapist of my own volition (I’ve lost therapists because I moved, or because I was seeing them at a low-cost clinic while they did their certification and the got it and left, or other things like that), so this feels momentous. And scary.

But it’s important and needs doing. So. I’m doing it.

Frustration

One of the frustrating things about the poking-at-gender stuff I’ve been doing over the last few years is that it has completely destroyed the positive attitude I once had toward my body. 

Not only that, but now it’s made it impossible to find new tools to help me love my body again. I can’t use things aimed at women because they’re aimed at women and thus are inherently alienating to me.

Worse, 99.9% of the androgynous/genderqueer/moc/etc images I see on places like Tumblr are thin, willowy, beautiful people, not chunky, clunky, unusual people like me. The closest I get is a handful of butch images floating around where the butches in question are heavyset/fat. But even those don’t feel too helpful, since I’m not butch. I don’t identify as a lesbian and am not sexually interested in women. 

Ugh.

I’m having a rough morning, both physically and mentally. 

“Not Like Other Girls”

I’ve written before about struggling with people who see any sort of observation that I’m not similar to most girls/women as misogynist.

It came up again this morning when I read this post, linked to by a friend. The post begins:

I’m sorry for all of the times that I’ve said that I’m not like other girls, implying that there was something defective or inferior about being a girl. I’m sorry for how hard I’ve tried to be “different,” not because being different felt authentic but because I was afraid that I would never measure up to you.

This is what people are talking about when they give me shit for trying to explain how I feel.

For a lot of women, saying they’re “not like other girls/women” is indeed about setting themselves above the rest.

The assumption that someone attempting to describe isolation is talking about superiority is so strange to me.

When I say I don’t feel like I am like most girls/women, I don’t mean I’m better than them.

I mean that I feel alone.

I mean that I feel like everyone is in a secret club but I don’t know where the meetings are or what the password is.

I mean that I don’t fit in, that I feel like a stranger.

I mean that I wish more than anything that I were like those girls/women, that I fit in.

I mean that I feel like a freak.

But somehow, because I was assigned girl at birth, I’m required to identify that way or be a misogynist. And yet, the people who tell me off over this stuff would (I am fairly certain) not do the same if I stood up and announced I was trans*. If I stood up and said, “I am actually a man, I am not like girls and women, I am like men,” I would be cheered and lauded for coming out.

My inability to fit neatly into either box not only isolates me by setting me apart in gendered settings, it turns these folks against me.

Maybe, ultimately, the problem is that I can only make negative statements when it comes to my gender. I’m not a woman, I’m not a man. And that kind of statement is taken to mean that I see myself as better when that isn’t it at all.

Somehow I need to find a way to identify that is a positive statement. I am [label].

Edited to add: It occurs to me that maybe the issue is that I don’t use “other” in “I’m not like other girls/women” but people read it into what I’m saying.

When I say “I’m not like most girls/women,” I am not implying that I am a girl or woman the way that I would be if I used the word “other” in that sentence. But people see that I use female pronouns in my public internet life, see that I’m female-assigned, and they assume that I mean I’m not like “other” girls/women.

I clearly need to find a different way to express myself on this subject, if people are going to misread my current expressions regardless of how I try to clarify.

WTF DO NOT GROK

So I saw this Tumblr post.

And almost reblogged it, adding:

How do you tell if you’re a woman in spite of not being ladylike or if you’re agender/genderqueer/whateverthefuck and not being ladylike is part of that? I get told a lot that just because I don’t feel feminine doesn’t mean I’m not a woman, but at this point I seriously have no idea what “being a woman” even is. 

aaaaaaaaand then remembered that oh right my Tumblr is under my legal name and I’m not 100% out as not comprehending gender or being genderqueer or whatever the fuck I am and so I decided to post it here instead.

“get told a lot” is probably an overstatement, given that I don’t talk about this shit all that much outside this teeny blog and my irregular posts, but the times I’ve been told it feels like being punched in the gut. Like a pat on the head and “there there we know better than you, of course you’re a woman” and just.. ugh.