#Genderweek – What is Gender?

R7J4qR1398783935(This was meant to go up yesterday)

Feminist Times is having a Gender Week event, with the hashtag #genderweek but predictably the only gender they seem to really be interested in is women. Gender issues, however, affect both genders, male and female, in various ways so I felt it important to have an alternative, reasonable voice speaking from a men’s perspective.

So then, if we’re talking about gender, what even is gender?

And please, read the whole damn thing through before commenting or being outraged.

I prefer hard science and tend not to like parochial neologisms which only confuse people when they interact with the ‘real world’ so I take a harder, scientific and medical view of these kinds of matters. That means I take the scientific, biological and medical definition of gender. That is, the gender binary (male, female) that you fall into given your chromosomes and the resulting gametes, morphology etc.

Within those parochial gender studies groups and related fields, there’s a concerted attempt to redefine the term gender to mean gender identity and sex to mean biological gender, but I prefer to use qualifiers as I think it retains the proper meaning and makes things more clear, rather than less.

Some believe gender identity is entirely a social construct (male and female associated behaviours being spun out of convention and tradition rather than anything innate).

Some believe gender identity is more innate, stemming from biology and associated brain structures, hormone levels, sexual dimorphism and so on.

Personally I reject both extremes and think it’s somewhere in the middle, at least for the bulge in the bell curve. It seems ridiculous to me to think that human beings are somehow the only binary-gendered species on Earth where behaviour etc is not as divergent as our bodies. Social roles and expectations also play a role that should not be ignored but we seem built and pre-programmed with tendencies that transcend culture, something that suggests a biological basis.

Where this goes tits-up is when you get to transsexuals and intersex conditions. While neither of these are of any relevance to the debate when talking about normal gender expression (normal in the sense of majority, commonality etc) these are the far ends of the bell curve and where we start having problems.

Biologically intersex conditions are still either male or female (look them up) but their bodies etc may grow more female or more male and this may be at odds with their ‘on board software’ or their chromosomes. It’s a case-by-case basis and very hard to know what’s best for the child at a young age.

Transsexuals are a bigger problem and the source – apparently – of a great deal of conflict within feminism, with a wing of radical feminism insisting that transsexuals are not real women/men and in reverse, transsexuals claiming that they are. I can see aspects of both sides that make sense, but the venom involved doesn’t seem to make sense at all. Why would anyone turn away allies?

Now, I don’t really know how to characterise gender dysphoria and with friends who are trans or who are on their road to transition I’d rather not upset them, but I think it’s pretty much impossible to avoid. As a sufferer from mental illness (depression) I acknowledge that mental issues are real and that it’s not necessarily ‘all in your head’ and can be linked with many other things. If I could undergo an operation to cure my depression I would. People with gender dysphoria have the option to have surgery and hormone treatments to better fit their body to their internal image of self. The question is then, whether this is pathological (as in anorexia, cosmetic surgery addiction etc) or not and again, that seems to me to be a case-by case thing.

The fact, however, remains that you cannot change your biology. No matter what operations you have, what hormones you take, what clothes you wear or mannerisms you adopt, you will always still be your biological gender. At least until we develop Culture level technology allowing for a true and absolute gender transition.

Therein, I think, lies the rub between trans groups and trans-excluding feminists. Trans people accept the concept of gender identity in that they adopt one and they do so in a performative and transformative way. So being female is something that can be ‘adopted’, despite not sharing formative female experiences and biology. On the other side trans people consider themselves to be and live as their new gender.

For my part, I would say you can’t change your actual gender but that your chosen gender identity should still be respected. I would also say that men, women or anything in between shouldn’t be excluded from participating in feminism (or men’s rights for that matter, or anything else). It makes no sense to me that a movement would set out to alienate its allies or that movements purporting to be for inclusion and rights would exclude people who want to join the fight.

There are those who want to abolish gender as a concept, but I cannot see that as useful or helpful so long as most people seem to get on fine within those roles and expectations. Acceptance and understanding doesn’t necessitate eliminating something most people are happy with. I don’t think you could even if you tried anyway because, right at the very root of it all, the beginning spark of gender role is biological gender.

It’s just not the be all and end all.

Antisocial Injustice

Two Sneetches-Taunt -Trans

But the straight, white, middle-class, cisgender sneetch had no stars at all.

Prompted by the unjustified hate and nastiness of the trans community towards @giagia

Write what you know they say.

Here’s what I know.

‘Despite’ being a white, straight and male and growing up in rural England I have man aged to achieve adulthood without any of the egregious prejudices that I’m supposed to have.

I didn’t encounter anyone of any other race who wasn’t on the television until, I think, a Sikh door-to-door salesman when I was maybe eight or nine years old. He was alright, but otherwise my formative encounters with practically any minority you care to mention – sexuality, disability, unconventional gender identity – have been negative. Still, I didn’t come out the other end of that with any real prejudices.

Sure, I’ve made mistakes now and then. Some genuine, some what people happen to consider mistakes, upon which I disagree.

I was raised ‘right’. I was raised to be as polite as possible, to treat people fairly and equally and to give them a fair crack of the whip whatever my first impression. To ‘judge people by the content of their character’, if you will.

If my friends exhibit racism, sexism or other prejudices, they get my disapproval and often a stern word. Yet, I find myself unaccountably tolerating the exact same prejudices in people who are of a minority or subjectively oppressed group.

Why?

I learned my lessons well. That treating anyone differently on the basis of race, gender etc was wrong. Surely these people – activists even – who have been on the receiving end of prejudice themselves should know this better than anyone, shouldn’t they?

If someone wants their feelings and problems taken seriously then they should extend the same to others, you would think. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”

Instead I find that people who claim to be activists, who claim to be fighting for equality and fairness are amongst the worst bigots I have ever encountered and the most dismissive of anyone else’s point of view.

If I am against racism, and I am, how am I supposed to react to someone who broad-brushes all white people or dismisses anything I might say simply for my relative lack of melanin?

If I am against sexism, and I am, how am I supposed to react to someone who regularly insults men as a gender, laughs off misandry as not existing and undermines genuine men’s issues?

If I am against the persecution of LGBT people, and I am, how am I supposed to react to someone who derisively refers to heterosexuals as ‘breeders’ or ‘cis’ in a sneering tone?

If I don’t think people should be judged for being poor, and I am, how am I suppose to react to someone who dismisses me (wrongly) for being affluent middle class?

Yet I find myself, more often than not, letting these things pass. Not because I don’t find them as objectionable as I do in other contexts, but because of the hypocrisy, the vitriol, the denial, the insults, the swarming pack tactics, the lies and misrepresentations are incredibly stressful and hurtful and aggravating.

And disappointing.

Here are the people who should be on the same page as me, succumbing to and excusing their own bigotry. Redefining *ism from prejudice to prejudice plus power to try and tell you people literally can’t be racist against whites, men, or heterosexuals. Something that is patently untrue.

Here are the people who want you to take their feelings and concerns seriously, no matter what any facts might be, but who will write off anything you say as ‘white tears’, ‘manfeels’ or some similarly dismissive variation thereof.

A person’s colour, gender, sexuality, gender identity etc has absolutely no bearing on the value of their ideas. Nor does being offended by something. I am offended by ‘cis’, ‘privilege’ and many other items of social justice terminology and ideology. Should you stop using them simply because I’m offended?

No.

You should stop using them because they’re useless bullshit that add nothing to discussions and instead anger, alienate and are used as ad hominems and to poison the well before a discussion even gets off the ground.

So what to do?

Being even handed, applying the same call-out culture rules will get one rapidly labelled a bigot, even if you oppose genuine bigots just as vociferously. A blog like this will doubtless attract some sarcasm and the very behaviour I’m talking about. Do I value friends and acquaintances over and above their attitudes? Then why not for the more typical bigoted views, rather than the less typical bigoted views of the activists? Why should activist bigots get a free pass from me that they don’t even give each other? (See the trans/TERF war).

It feels like an insoluble problem.

Here I am, white, straight guy, brought up to treat people equally finding the largest groups I know that don’t do this are the people supposedly campaigning for it. Further, before they know anything about me, they’re already ignoring and prejudging me on the basis of my sex, race, assumed social status and sexuality. I refuse to be held accountable for the actions of my ancestors or for people who aren’t me. I refuse to be tagged with some bizarre new version of ‘original sin’. I want to hold people to the same standards, after all…

If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.

Right?

Transapologies

rainbowA couple of years ago now (2011) I had a particularly nasty run in with a quite horrible person named Kynn Bartlett that would kind of set the stage for my various clashes with the ‘Social Justice Crowd’ for some time to come. In the course of that argument I allowed their obnoxiousness to bait and goad me and made the mistake of referring to them as ‘it’ (though in my defense, in trying to track down who exactly they were there were a ton of conflicting names, genders and other bits of conflicting data scattered around the net).

Since then I’ve been on a bit of a journey with regards to the trans community. Even prior to Kynn/Caoimhe (or whatever else they go by now) my brushes with the community hadn’t left a good impression. Though they weren’t as awful as Kynn would turn out to be. Still, perhaps that coloured my perception a bit in a way I hadn’t allowed it to with other marginalised groups and it shouldn’t have.

I still find a great deal of Social Justice activism pointless, stupid and self defeating (even if I agree with the goals) but in this instance I acknowledge that I ‘done wrong’.

Even someone accused of the things Kynn has been accused of is owed an apology, however late, for insults offered that go beyond the pale- even in the heat of the moment. So I offer it.

Sorry.

That said, my intellectual position on the topic hasn’t changed much. I consider gender in biological, chromosomal terms and gender identity to be separate to that. Others divide this as sex and gender but my preference is for a biological, scientific model and as such see the terms as interchangeable (gender identity just sounds better than sex identity to me and may cause confusion with sexuality). So, from my perspective, you are born male or female (with some rare intersex conditions also possible) but you can choose to present with a male/female/other identity. That doesn’t change what you are and so long as you’re respected as a human being and your choice is respected – so far as is possible given biology – I don’t see that as a problem. Ideology must always conform to reality. I do think there are limits on exactly how far you can expect people to be willing to bend though.

  •  I think prospective partners should know that you began life different to how you are now. Honesty in all things.
  • I do think trans women should be excluded from women’s sporting events. A lifetime of androgens and muscle development creates an unfair advantage and was the reason sports segregation occurred in the first place (biological basis).
  • I do think trans people should be allowed to use the toilet etc facilities of their expressed gender, rather than their biological gender. At the same time, I understand how this might upset people.
  • I don’t think trans people should be offered up as freak-fodder for television and newspapers. At the same time I understand why people are fascinated with people who are different and why they might be curious and/or shocked. Though, frankly, anything anyone does will shock or offend somebody.
  • I don’t think gender identity is (entirely) a social construct, rather that this is an overlay over our innate, biological gender.

What I’ve found especially interesting on this journey is the interaction between the trans community and ‘TERFS’ (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists). Each group – radical feminism and transexual – seems to innately upset and grind on the nerves of the other.

The trans community simultaneously provides empirical evidence that different hormone mixes can change behaviour, physiology and emotions. They change their bodies to conform to a female ‘norm’ and – by and large – present ‘feminine’ behaviours, clothing, adornment and traits that others would reject as impositions of patriarchy or meaningless social constructs. At the same time the TERF types are trying to argue for some ineffable ‘femaleness’ (which has some basis in biology and in lived experience growing up as a girl) and excluding people who might otherwise be allies and friends on that basis.

It’s interesting to me because this clash exists at the fundamental fracture point of all gender theory and everything that stems from it. Nature versus nurture, biological versus memetic, mind versus body. Not that it stops TERFs being huge arseholes.

Anyway, there you go, like everything else my opinions are always in flux and subject to new evidence. I was just reminded today that I should (and prefer to) admit when I’m wrong and I’ve been keying up to do this for a while.

Sorry again Kynn. You’re a horrible arsehole, but you’re also a lady.