Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Gender, Sex, and Sexuality--In other words, a post about all the important stuff

I've been wanting to clarify my position on whether there are essential differences between men and women, but I rely so heavily on analogies and I just couldn't come up with one that really worked. Just as an example, the most useful analogy, the one that almost made this post had to do with pork burgers and pulled pork barbecue sandwiches. Be thankful I spared you. So, are men and women inherently different? I think they are. In what ways? I don't know. I know all the bullshit ways we're supposed to be different. You are gruff and out of touch with your feelings and violent and career-oriented and want power. I want kindness and love and children and good relations between everyone. You like cars. I like cuddling on the couch. You're good at wars. I'm good at knitting. And, obviously, I don't believe those dichotomies hold: they're nonsense. For every gentle woman who loves her children more than anything, there's a gentle man who loves his children more than anything. For every man who'd like to spend the afternoon at the shooting range, there's a woman. The saddest thing about the kinds of rigid gender roles we have is that the guy who loves his kids, it might never occur to him that he could stay home with them. The woman above might have never shot a gun; she might not know she'd like to spend the afternoon at the shooting range. Our fucked up attitudes about gender hurt us both, and though clearly women bear more of the pain, to think that men aren't damaged is asinine. So, scholars say perfectly reasonable things, like "gender is performance" and "gender is learned and socially enforced," and I think those things are true as well. It's important that our assumptions are challenged and wondering whether gender is more performance than inherent state is pretty damn challenging. But, I think there's a core difference between men and women, a fundamental difference, not based in the body (which is where I differ from most essentialists), but based in the soul, for lack of a better word. I don't know what that difference is and I don't believe, even if we knew what it was, it should dictate what your opportunities in life are. But I believe it's there. And here's why: I believe transsexuals. I believe that, if someone tells me she was born with the wrong body when she was born a man, or that he knew from the time he was a little girl that he wasn't a girl at all, that they're not bullshitting, that they knew that their gender did not match their physical sex. How can they know that if there's not some essential difference? Which leads me to my last point. I don't believe that there are just two sexes, meaning that there aren't just XY folks with penises and XX folks with ovaries and that all other variations are unfortunate "birth defects." I don't believe there are only two possible sexes. That's as much a construct as gender is (the belief in two sexes). I think that all variations--folks with XXY chromosomes, XY females, folks with ambiguous genitalia--are different sexes. We're just so invested in the heteronormative myth of an individual's primary "purpose" being passing on his or her genes that we view those people as having "birth defects," but that's a value judgment based on a myth, and another myth, another story, could be told that valued all our variety, even the variations that don't produce children. So, I also am not at all certain that there are just two genders. I suspect that "man" and "woman" are too broad categories to sufficiently represent all the variations one finds within those categories. So, it could be that, if we were operating in a different paradigm, one that recognized multiple sexes and multiple genders, transsexuals might find a gender/sex combination that accurately represented who they were without having to resort to surgery, but that's a grand social experiment I don't think most folks are willing to participate it. In the meantime (and even in that eventuality), I choose to believe folks when they tell me the truth about themselves. Whew, okay, we've covered sex and gender. What's left? Ah, sexuality. Here goes: Straight America, we really ought to stop being such pretentious jackasses, acting like the unions we make are so fucking traditional. Please, even 100 years ago, you married who your parents told you to. If you were lucky, you got to marry the person you loved, but no guarantees. Marriages were to solidify community bonds and family social status and not for love. The real, revolutionary paradigm shift--the belief that you should marry only for love--has already happened. You can't go back from something that radical. You can do like most Christians and try to pretend like it wasn't that revolutionary at all, that what we're doing, the unions we're making, are the same thing folks were doing 150 years ago, which was the same thing folks were doing 1000 years ago, but that's an inherently dishonest position. And, seriously, America, once you've so drastically redefined the nature of marriage, from political arrangement to love match, there's no way to justify keeping loving, consenting adults from doing it. America, you're wrong about gay marriage. There's nothing gay folks can do to fundamentally alter marriage any more drastic than what straight folks did at the turn of the last century.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great! I love this post! Did you read my post "the not so straight path"? I get pretty hot under the collar about this. My sweetie and I are in a big row over it and I am pretty pissed at the church. Why are people so stupid? (twyla)

5/17/2005 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Well, great minds think alike. I hadn't read it, but did just now. Great post.

5/18/2005 09:03:00 AM  
Blogger the Professor said...

I read in a Chicago Tribune book review that some historian, whose name I cannot remember and am not willing to walk to the other end of the house to look up, just published a book about marriage where she, usually a liberal-minded woman, agrees with conservatives' takes on marriage - feminism, secularization, and no legal blocks to divorce have all lead to significant changes in the meaning of marriage. But, I think you summed it up even better in your last couple of paragraphs. And, to think that these changes are bad, without good reason(s) for insisting that what we had was good, takes the position one step too far.

How is it that some gay rights advocates operate on a more liberal notion of individual rights, freedoms, and privacy - they insist that we need to listen to peoples experiences to understand their wants and needs - yet they are completely unwilling to listen to transsexuals? I guess they're they people who are just gay versions of straight people instead of beings interestingly queer and insisting we actually lleave lots of room for more than just men and women, straight and gay. I wonder if their sex lives are as vanilla as their politics.

5/18/2005 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Since I would not be surprised to discover that all my ex-lovers meet in a support group to commiserate about how bad I am in bed and to work through the ensuing trama (sorry folks! I try; I just suck.), I will refrain from speculating on the vanilla-ness of anyone else's love life.

But I think you're right that just because a person's gay, doesn't mean she's comfortable with broader notions of gender and sexuality.

5/18/2005 03:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Sunni said...

I agree with Twyla -- great post. I used to work at a hospital where transsexuals came for the surgery to complete a sex change (there's a lot that one has to go through to get to that stage); that made me believe them. But could I get that through to my students when I taught at a Catholic University? You'd've thought I was the Antichrist myself.

5/18/2005 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Steve Pick has a brilliant post. that gets at all this from another angle.

It's all good, but the most thought-provoking thing he says is "There is something about each of us that scares the living daylights out of other people somewhere."

5/19/2005 03:03:00 PM  

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