Sunday, February 22, 2009

Genderphobia is unproductive.

Recently it seems that gender has been the underpinning of many conversations. The concept of gender, and the need to mark the irrelevance of a binary that is not based on realities for so much of the population, is simply too hard for people to wrap their brains around. The other night, for example, I was at a talk about transgender individuals and a person in the audience was attempting to pick apart the issue of gender and gender identification. First, it should be said that education is a beautiful thing, and if people are asking questions, that can only be powerful and positive in the long run. Still, it amazes me that these questions exist.

For example, a question about surgery was asked: (which, of course, erroneously implies that actual reconstruction is the only way one would identify as a way to name their gender) "so, if a person is born a male and then only dressed the part of a 'female', are they just pretending to be a 'female' then?" The thought process of people - me included of course because I am also a product of our genderphobic society - fails to break free of the binary. It seems super hard for folks to just be comfortable with an individualized expression of self. Even people who are enrolled in my social work program exist in a bubble of norms where many don't even question why it is that they feel uncomfortable with removing gender identity disorder from the DSM, or ripping the labels off of the restroom doors that determine who is allowed to come in and pee. What is that really makes someone a man or a woman? Is it a dress or a beard, or a way of thinking, the desire to have children, a career in construction? How did we lose ourselves in these stereotypes in which we are now mostly blind to, and therefore cannot disentangle?

A co-student of mine said that someone in her class talked about the non-acceptance to trans folks at an all-women college. The concern was that a trans woman was accepted, and the general feeling around the campus was that this person used their male privilege to get in to the school and change the ways the administration operates. Clearly, there is a serious disregard for a holistic view of someone - this student was being judged only on what anatomy was between their legs, and not on how they truly identify. In the clause for acceptance at this all-women's college, I wonder what is written. Is the word vagina actually spelled out? And even if this was so, how does the school feel about trans men; how do they conceptualize what it means to embody the energy of a female student?

At the end of the day, it appears that genderphobia hurts those who are gender non-conforming, AND those who can't see beyond the binary because perpetuating a norm means the perpetrator also has to absorb the norms...everyone stuck in a pre-designed box doesn't seem like something that a society that fights against the idea of dictatorship in other countries, while asking its citizens here to carry their own weight as individuals, would uphold. But it does. Feels ironic to me.