Defining Gender

Men are men and women are women, right? It’s more complicated than that. Apparently it can be offensive to refer to what you believe to be a man as a man.  Yesterday I came across this picture and I failed to grasp it. Gender as a range of expression or personal identity? Hmm. It’s strange. Not in a “you’re breaking the traditional rules of society and must be punished,” but something else.

I don’t hate anyone for wanting to change their genitalia, but I can’t consider them by the gender they wish to be defined by. I don’t think this is something that can be changed. I mentioned my position during a discussion on Facebook and I was called intolerant, bigot,  hateful, and worst of all not nice. My position discriminates against transsexual people. I’ve taken a look back and thought to myself, ” Am I an intolerant, ignorant bigot who hates transsexual people because I refuse to call them by the gender they want?”

Gender and sex are different. Sex is the biological differences that define men and women. Gender is the role that society dictates for a person based on their sex. Men are supposed to X and women are supposed to be Y. I only see the biological. No matter how much a person plays a certain gender role and wants that to be their identity, I still see them falling under the curtain of their biology. I’m not trying to define them by their biology and saying they can only do what society dictates is correct. They can’t escape their biology just because they want to play a different role.

To better explain this, I think a man who wears what is traditionally seen as women’s clothing regularly as still a man. I think a man who has their genitals removed and has women’s genitals attached is still a man. This is a permanent label. Much like how we can’t escape our label of human, we can’t escape the label of our sex. The problem isn’t the label. It’s what society sees as normal behavior for that label. People can’t jump to another gender because they want to.  Facts are facts. Men are men. Women are women. You can’t change them because you want to. These aren’t labels that can be moved.

In the discussion, it was stated that I would offend transsexual people by referring to them by the sex that I believe they truly are. So if I called a woman who believed herself to be a man, a woman, I would be offending them and I’d be part of the problem. It’s unfortunate but I will not change the way I feel about this.

In Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear thinks he’s the real Buzz Lightyear and not a toy. Was it offensive to Buzz when Woody to called him a toy? Yes. It wouldn’t make Buzz any less of a toy if Woody played along with him. He’ll never be an actual space ranger. He’s a toy. T-O-Y. Toy. I’m not saying you should go up to people who feel that they are another gender and tell them to not act that way. They can express themselves how they want to and live their lives doing whatever. The traditional gender roles are dying out. Men can do whatever. Women can do whatever. They don’t have to play into roles. They just have labels.

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7 thoughts on “Defining Gender

  1. Why?

    Hello, my name is Clare- a female name. Would you address me by it if you spoke to me?

    If you refer to me, and I say I find it really offensive for you to use masculine pronouns, would you still use them if I say I want you to use feminine pronouns? Does your concept of “truth” trump my knowledge of my identity And all the scientific research on the matter? Are you willing to exercise basic courtesy?

    It would be nice if it were as simple as you think. I prefer, on the whole, to have a gender identity congruent with my physical body. That I was born incongruent is a huge source of suffering to me, because while it is easily corrected, the social taboos against correcting it are so great.

    Can you be generous to transsexual people, and humour us?

    1. If that’s what everyone calls you, then sure I’d call you Clare.
      Names are not absolutely female or male. They can be traditionally used to address a certain gender but they could be used for either.
      If we were conversing and I’d rather not offend you, I’d just compromise and just use your name to address you. I would still hold my viewpoint.
      I didn’t say it was ever simple to live in such a position as yours. I didn’t intend for it to read that way. I would expect there to be major social taboos against having a gender identity incongruent with your physical body. I don’t think there should be, but unfortunately there are.
      As for the question about my concept of truth trumping your knowledge of your identity, I don’t see why some random guy’s concept of truth would have any effect on your identity and scientific research you have done. I’m going to stick what I believe and you will stick with what you believe is true. I haven’t done any scientific research on this. I just looked at this picture and thought of the concept of gender. If you believe that this concept of truth that I speak is wrong, then the words that I written mean nothing to you. They can’t trump what you believe.
      I don’t normally humor people when they ask me too and what do you mean by be generous? Calling you by female pronouns and believing that you are a woman? I can’t. I don’t hate anything you’ve done in your search to find peace with your identity. You’re free to do what you like and what makes you happy in life. I just hold on to my concept of truth.

  2. What I meant was, does it trump it for you? I know that it does not trump it for me. You are saying that, though you have not really looked into the matter and are therefore ignorant, your “concept of truth” is that I am male, even though I know better, and I should be expected to know who I am better than you do.

    Could you refer to me with feminine pronouns, out of courtesy?

  3. As I stated earlier, I’d refrain from male pronouns in a conversation and just refer to you by using your name, but I wouldn’t use female pronouns to refer to you. Because I hold on to my concept of truth. As cold as this may sound, sticking to my concept of truth is more important to me than being courteous. I have learned that I can’t just say what I like and must compromise to socially interact. But I won’t have the words that I type or say or the things that I do contradict my true feelings on an issue.

  4. You say it is not possible to escape your biology, but in today’s society it is in fact entirely possible. Let’s say you’re talking to a woman. She looks and speaks like a woman, you wouldn’t even consider for a moment that she wasn’t. And then she tells you she was born with male genitalia, but that it was altered at birth for health reasons, and so she was raised a woman. Would you suddenly think of her as a man? Refer to her as such?

    It is true to some degree that we cannot escape what we have been given. We do not decide what our chromosomes will be, XX, or XY. But consider this: our body type does not always coincide with our chromosomes. There are a variety of disorders which blur the lines. There are humans born with XY chromosomes and an immunity to testosterone, and so they are born with a woman’s body. There are persons born with XXY and other odd patterns, with genitalia for both genders, or ambiguous genitalia which requires their parents to change it at birth. How do you label any of these people? It’s not so simple anymore.

    If our body does not always coincide with our genes, is it really necessary for our identity to coincide with our body? You see these labels as black and white, but our society is progressing to a point where they needn’t be.

    Gender roles are most certainly not dying out, but they are changing. Which is unfortunate, because the ideal is to not have any roles at all. People may be free to due anything they want, but you are making the fundamental attribution error: as long as these labels exist, they will affect the people that they apply to. Some want to escape them. Let them do so. they’re the only ones getting us anywhere on the matter.

  5. To answer your first question, yes. I would categorize her as a man. A man who identifies as a woman.

    As for those people with disorders that makes it harder to identify them as either gender, then we would need new labels for them.

    Labels affect the people that they apply to and this is a problem. Labels do come with expectations of roles. But to me, when I use the label of man or woman, I don’t use it to define the role of the person, it’s just what they are.

    As for escaping labels, it seems to me that anyone wishing to escape the label of their gender is really trying to escape the expectations that the label of their gender brings.

    I don’t think labels for things are inherently bad. Calling a frog a frog or a dog, a dog isn’t bad. It’s just that we need names for things. Of course it gets complicated when you get to more intelligent beings who may not like the label they get because they are treated a certain way because of it.

    People want to escape the implications that labels give off and the expectations that come with them so they have chosen to toss aside the labels. I don’t like this idea. I like having names for things and categories to put things in.

    Because people are complicated, I’ve already allowed people to escape the expected societal role of their label. Like I’ve said before, I’m not looking to hate anyone for wearing certain clothes or acting different then their expected societal role. To me,that’s all that really matters. Some give more weight to the power of labels and would like me to refer to them using other labels because they believe that would help them escape the implications that the labels give off. But when I use them, I don’t intend these implications so I’m not going to change what I’m doing.

  6. “People want to escape the implications that labels give off and the expectations that come with them so they have chosen to toss aside the labels. I don’t like this idea. I like having names for things and categories to put things in.”

    That makes this really simple, then! People who don’t refer to themselves by their biological gender are referred to as transgender, genderqueer (most common, catch-all term), genderfluid or genderless.

    Now you can have your label /and/ refrain from unwanted implications.

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