Friday, March 30, 2007

Sex: female. Gender Identity: Kinda.

I got caught up in a tangent in the thread following a recent (and excellent) post of piny's at Feministe on the subject of the nature of gender identity. The tangent is a common one that arises when transpeople discuss gender identity (also see piny's subsequent discussion of the breed of tangent that I was participating in) in a crowd that includes the cisgendered. When it comes to gender-allegiance, whether amongst trans- or cisgendered people, I've always been confused by the sort of thinking expressed by commenter preying mantis:
I know I’m a woman. I close my eyes and think of myself and I am a woman. I do not need a mirror or a chromosome test or monthly bleeding to tell me this. Is it because I have a “feminine soul” or whatever you want to call it? In a sense, I suppose. There is something that says “You are a woman,” and would continue to say this even if I somehow sprouted a penis overnight. In the sense that “You are a woman” == “You behave this way and want these things,” absolutely not. I’m an aggressive person, but I am still a woman. I have absolutely no personal inclination to nurture children, but I am still a woman. I’m not a great fan of pink as a color, but I am still a woman. And so forth. I don’t need a gender stereotype checklist to figure out what I am.

I left this comment (actually in response to a reference to a transeperson's feeling of gender, but probably more appropriate to the comment abve) on the subject:
The idea of “feeling” gender or sex seems really strange to me. I kind of feel like I’ve lived a pretty un-gendered life, as things go, and I would have no idea where to begin to describe what was womanly or manly that wasn’t connected to physical traits and social experiences. “Woman” is a description of what I am, and hinges on the phenotype I ended up with, but I feel like it’s just a name for the phenomenon of walking around with these organs and not a constituent part of what I am. Mess around with my genetics or my organs or the way I fit into society, and I’d be different, yeah, but that should be obvious anyway. I think of it kind of the way I conceive of classification of animals into species - it’s something we’ve imposed on the world around us as a means of understanding and sorting differences. The hard-and-fast rule that two animals of the same species can reproduce together and animals of different species cannot has its exceptions. We do our best to cram the natural world into the spaces we’ve set up for thinking about it, and sometimes the fit isn’t so good, but that’s really our problem, not the platypus’. I’m personally fine with having an imperfect definition of species, since we’ve gotten so much use of it.
piny here attests to the fact that our imperfect system of gender classification really is inadequate, however, so it’s time to change our thinking, because I’m not about to ask that people change their nature and physicality just to suit the inadequate system we use for thinking about differences amongst people.

Ia sense, I'm arguing that perhaps we do need a "gender stereotype checklist" to figure out what we are. In return, commenter sophonisba posed this question:

So, there are people like Mnemosyne who feel a powerful identification with their birthsex and trans people who feel an equally powerful identification with a sex they ought to be, all on one side.

And then there are people like me, who don’t, on the other. We exist too. I don’t feel anything wrong with my being a woman, but there sure isn’t anything cosmically right about it, either. Why can’t we accept that the answer to “Do we naturally and inevitably have a powerful identification with one gender/sex or other” is, some of us do, and some of us don’t?

Which I answered with this:
I think the answer to why I can’t just accept ...that some people feel their gender more than others is that as feminists, we’ve all had a lot of experience seeing artifacts of gender demonstrated as societal constructs. Wanting to bear children isn’t universal amongst women, etc. It could be that I’m (in some ways) so gender-deaf that I don’t know what to look for, but from where I sit, I don’t know what actual human truth beyond experience someone identifies with when they identify with their gender.
If I'd lived my whole life as a brain in a jar, I wouldn't know where to begin to identify with a gender. I think that's why I've always identified so strongly as a feminist - I can't understand what actual, meaningful difference between men and women there is to peg discrimination to. I understand that differences in experience can lead to misunderstandings, but ultimately I imagine that a person would have to actively deny a woman's obvious personhood to treat her like an object (for example).
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