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Sex and Gender; two troublesome words

  • Posted on January 24, 2016 at 2:29 pm

I read an academic article about centring gender identity this week, that was interesting, not least because it assumed a clarity about sex and about gender that in most circles doesn’t exist. And then this morning I continued reading about sex and gender in more feminist circles, on serious blogs, not TERF rants. I always try to understand because I also expect a degree of understanding. We are all human, we all deserve respect.

We all relate more easily our bad experiences than our good, and whenever someone has faced abuse, met a very male-acting trans-asserting person, or simply really opened their eyes to this patriarchal society and culture of ours, they will rightly feel defensive, and the incidents will be key to future expectation. I too feel much safer in women’s spaces, I too feel insecure where there is testoserone around. And whilst I may have been brought up and taught as a boy, I do not feel totally socialised in that way, because so much of it went against the grain. I guess I did mimic it a fair deal to get by, but it was always uncomfortable and I was ready to see the impact of it on women, socially and in the workplace.

This world suffers from patriarchal rule. I mean suffers, not just needs greater equality and fairness, but suffers. Our planet groans more because of it, and we tolerate its destructiveness. There are women who play into it, take advantage of it and imitate it. But it is what it is, and it is bad for us all. And none of this is a basis for debating the rights of humans on grounds of self-identity. Not every culture and language even has ideas of sex and gender in the way English-speaking people do. Yet we get tied up in mutually defensive, and sometimes aggressive, dialogue over sex and gender as if they were something as absolute as mass and energy.

Probably most people have never ‘met’ a trans person, because we just don’t all look, sound or behave obviously so. Which means that most antipathy towards us is based on bad experiences of an unrepresentative few people who stand out for their inauthenticity or bad behaviour.

We have several essential problems that we fail frequently to acknowledge.

The first of these is behaviour

What we expect from people sharing our society is certain forms of behaviour. Some make us uncomfortable: a homeless beggar; someone gesticulating unexpectedly through mental disturbance, brain injury or non-development; drunken loudness; crowd-generated fervour. Some behaviour is distanced, such as influential voices, or merely online trolling, down to simply abusive or ignorant comments on a news article. Discomfort easily becomes fear, and we can distance ourselves, fight back, join a group for mutual shared strength, or face it and deal with it in other ways.

Some behaviours are associated with sex and gender. Some are causal: hormones create drives and emotions, for example. Some are correlated but not causal: group behaviours to belong to the in-crowd, or not to stand out. What we cannot say is: ‘women behave like this’, or ‘men behave like this’, or ‘lesbians behave like this’ – or even ‘trans men (or women) behave like this’.

Because they don’t. There are violent women, effeminate men, femme lesbians, aggressive trans women, asexual non-binary people, quiet introverted pansexuals. Everything you can assume as defining any sex, gender and sexuality, is defied by countless atypical people. Some people are kind and nice to know. Some are lazy and otherwise harmless. Some are psychopaths running global organisations, and some are lurking around a corner to do you harm.

And probably none of these behaviours is defined as being entirely due to sex or gender. Being male can derive philanthropy just as it can (though more frequently perhaps) misogyny. But for goodness’ sake, bad behaviour by some individuals describing themselves as transgender does not make being transgender a bad or threatening thing. It is the behaviour that threatens, not the underlying sex, sexuality or gender identity.

The second thing is expectation

Expectations are cultivated socially. We develop them from experience, which means we can nurture bad expectations from bad experiences. We share and cultivate these, because it feels more safe and comfortable when we have shared experiences and expectations. Then we have group thoughts from which it is harder to escape and disagree. Sometimes we must have a bad experience, develop an expectation for safety, then relocate the expectation in reality so that we can be both safe and open to new and more positive experiences.

Sometimes expectations become assertions, rules, dogmas, doctrines, even laws. And sometimes – may be a lot of the time – this is good. We come to have an agreed floorplan for constructive, safe, mutually supportive living together, and we call it culture. And sometimes that floorplan has mistakes, or cracked tiles, and slippery rugs.

We embody these expectations not just in our legal frameworks, but in other socially-cohesive ones. I am still surprised how much of my readership here pulls out the blogs on the role of religion in LGBT phobias. I have been through the experience here, from dragged-to-church, to skeptical, to thorough-going evangelical, to even more thorough university biblical analysis, to reasoned atheist non-materialist. So I know what it means to live as male, as female, as almost fundamentalist, and atheist. I think I know myself and many things from the inside, rather than hearsay. And just as I assert that there is a fundamental role in testosterone creating the world we live in, so I assert that there is a fundamental role in the religions we have created. Both T and R are imprinted on everything we do and the way we do it, and in my view, we need to be much more aware of this, of its impact, and its consequences, as well as be more wise to moving beyond both as defining our contemporary civilisations.

Without these religious-ethical expectations even our laws would be different in many ways, not least in those relating to sex and gender expectations. Countries in the world where being gay, lesbian, trans, or simply a free woman, are proscribed by law, do so on the basis of some ancient religion. The religion lays down expectations, resists reason, and fossilises attitudes. So much so, that secular cultures like this in the UK, carry an unconscious tradition rooted in christianity with attitudes and expectations, and beliefs about unethical behaviour that focus on specific things. We have a greater antipathy towards anything to do with sex and gender, than we do towards anything to do with power and connivance.

The third thing is language

Just as money began as a means and became a commodity in itself, so language did the same. We talk, write, think, using words for a substantial part of every day of our lives. We rely on words meaning something fixed in order to communicate clearly and efficiently. Languages, sadly, are not like that. They do not translate as easily as we would like, one to another. Sometimes five words in one translate as just one in another, losing vital nuance, or becoming ambiguous. Sometimes the culture behind a language does not share the concept. When one language dominates, so a concept can therefore also dominate. It’s never that my language represents an erroneous or superfluous concept, always that your language is impoverished because your culture is ignorant or less refined.

Sex and gender are conceptual, and not the same in every language, even in Europe. We neglect semantics, because we take language for granted, but worst of all, we assume that the word creates the thing, and that one use for a word makes it definitive. Learning how a word came about does not give it its contemporary meaning in use (gay and queer are two obvious relevant examples), and frequently a word becomes more important because its use becomes too burdened by conceptual disagreement. It isn’t just a heliocentric and evolutionary science that shakes society and religion, but contemporary observation of gendered roles. I recently replied to a friend who asked if there was any test for either sex or gender, with some quick thoughts about this.

I think that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are words given to poorly defined concepts. The initial concept of sex derived from observations about the means of reproduction and was simplistic and basic. It divided those who gave birth from those who did not. Thus many creatures tend to carry natural roles (though sometimes opposite like seahorses) where one stays safe with babies while the other gets food. As societies developed in sophistication, so the roles became formal expectations. Put basically, sex ensured survival and required no nuance.

Roles, however, confer different privileges and empowerments. Hunters also defend and acquire territory, and adopt authority as a result. Thus begins patriarchy. Within this, unfairness, coercion and advantage are noted, and as society becomes more complex, equality rears its head. Society and culture develop as philosophies, which in turn are questioned. Ultimately, sex as a division is no longer satisfactory. Female is not necessarily mother, male not defender/aggressor, but husbander, in agriculture for example.

The words and ideas for this alternative layer to sex are different in different cultures and languages. Thus it is a construct centred around sense of place in culture or society. It is regulated by norms which are informed by established notions of what sex currently means. The words don’t help us in any way. They are misused to discriminate and advantage, perpetuating, for example, patriarchy.

Sex as a concept still tries to distinguish biological capabilities, while gender tries to counter this absolutism and explain how people are dislocated from it. Sex tries to maintain traditional rules, gender to create new ones. Both superimpose contemporary ideas on the simple origin of species perpetuation. What we lose in this is that we are all the same species, developed socially sufficiently to live equally rather than divisively such that child-carrying doesn’t define social place, nor physical strength and drive.

There is no scientific test for gender because there can be no simple definition. Feeling trans has two components: being socially mislabelled and misplaced, and feeling that the child-bearing or physically powerful aspect given by the body doesn’t agree with the inner awareness of how the mind feels that should be. There is no scientific test for sex because it can be indeterminate.

What is important is that it should not be so important to find a definition let alone enforce it, for either sex or gender. Both exist only so long as we keep words for them. My argument is that we are dealing in semantics rather than tangible realities.

I think sex and gender aren’t just ‘physiology versus social construct’, but are two troublesome words in need of care. Talking spectrums isn’t necessarily the let-out we need either. I still find tomatoes in the vegetables section of my supermarket. Fruit and veg aren’t a spectrum, but some are badly misrepresented by what we have become accustomed to. But we like them all the same.

Summary

Behaviour, expectation and language all bias us in all manner of ways towards and away from others. Much of the time it is unconscious bias, but we too easily define our ideas about other people in our own terms, reinforce each other’s biases, and end up disrespecting individuals and thrusting them into unsafe places. It may be a trans woman with no refuge, a trans boy being bullied, a feminine feminist being excluded, or a butch dyke being shoved out of a public women’s lavatory. Or all too often, a trans person being pushed by expectations, to suicide.

We must be careful what we assume from our experiences, or what we have read, or been taught or cultivated into. In protecting our own ideas, however precious they are to us, and however many others share them, we may be making the world a less safe place for someone else. Whether you are a trans blogger, a feminist essayist, a frequent article-commenter, or just sharing on Facebook and tweeting, we must recognise that we are all just using language as a proxy to relate our beliefs and best understanding, biased by our experiences.

Identity III: the language of things

  • Posted on October 4, 2015 at 7:41 pm

I have gone back to school. Last week I was in college for adult language learning, my first German class. I jumped in mid-way, because I have some ability, a small vocabulary and not enough for much meaningful conversation. And so I tend to work out different ways of saying things, using the words I do know. It must sound very odd. I also find that in German, the words for transgender, transvestite and transsexual are not used or available in the same way as in English. Maybe as I learn, joining online German trans groups could help me understand better. The trans people will be very much like me, but with a language and vocabulary to express and describe themselves, somewhat different. Language is a big barrier to clear self-description across language boundaries.

Is my identity limited by language, given that language follows concept? I can’t find words for a concept that does not yet exist. I can invent them, as new concepts arise, and this happens all the time. Language in turn creates an environment of meaning. It doesn’t describe facts, it expresses interpretation. Snow is snow, but in the Scots language there are 421 words for it. The reason? To give more meaning to the experience so it can be shared more accurately. It is still crystalline water, white, pretty, and blocks roads. I am not Scottish, so I wouldn’t understand many of the words, and would be unable to communicate the state of the day’s snow clearly. If I was belligerently English I could insist that snow was snow and that was enough: stop confusing things!

I find the same with gender language. Male/man/boy, female/woman/girl are like snow. Sometimes I speak with another (cis) woman I know, and we arrive at me saying: ‘but I wasn’t born a boy!’ Their response reveals a lack of vocabulary. Of course I was born a boy and I changed. But changed what? Sex or gender, neither or both? All I know is that I was born with male reproductive physiology and a female sense of self, reflected in my behaviour and sense of belonging. The difficulty of naming ‘what’ I was/am then becomes a difficulty of accepting my authentic identity. I changed a physical part of myself, but I didn’t change myself. I need not even have done that, had I been happy to continue as I was. So what do we call a man with a vagina or a woman with a penis? We can refuse the identity, block it out, and insist that man and woman are defined by external genitalia, stay blind to intersex conditions and variety, and continue with the difficulties. In this way we steal anyone’s identity and agency for no better reason than that our words have failed to keep pace with concepts. And a large proportion of people and cultures and governments and ministries indeed are stuck right here.

Language divides everything

Look at the surface of a river, watch the spray, get in close to the spray, the surface of a droplet, the evaporation of water molecules from it, zoom right in on the molecules and see the subatomic particles in their statistical clouds among those of the atoms and molecules of various gases comprising the air, work out where the oxygen atoms or ions really belong, zoom out and see the moist air currents, as part of the gaseous mass through which you are looking at the water and tell me: where does the ‘river’ become the ‘air’, or the air the river? Perhaps the air without the river wouldn’t be the same, and the river in a vacuum would simply have evaporated away. By all means swim in the river, breathe the air, paddle your kayak, or photograph or paint it – but be careful that your idea of identity isn’t a definition of reality that you insist on imposing on others, instead of observing with a readiness for surprise.

When does she become he? As I was thinking about my arguments on identity, this article came up, and it plays the same mind game as the river. Testosterone and oestrogen, cholesterol and progesterone are similar molecules, but make significant changes to our bodies, especially before birth and consequently again at puberty. We may or may not be chromosomaly sensitive to them, or produce the ‘right’ quantities. There is no way of telling gender by looking at any one of us, any more than you can decide where the river and the air meet or divide. With such complexity, why do we confer identity on people, for the convenience of our language? The article says very well what I was going to write, so I won’t repeat it, other than to encourage you to read it. Like the river picture above, it simply picks apart each characteristic that gets used to define male or female, and shows it to be insufficient through variety. The conclusion is that the organ that best defines gender is the brain.

Brain, or mind?

The implication for the anatomists might still be that instead of examining a baby’s genitals, we routinely scan its brain. Surely the brain structures give a better hint, if the argument is right? Maybe; maybe not. Suppose you scan the infant brain, and compare the result (probably ambiguous for many or most) with chromosomes from various and several parts of the body (in case of mosaicism) for Xs and Ys, and add an SRY gene test for androgen insensitivity? Would that help? The consequence could be babies with penises being declared ‘probably female’, those with vaginas ‘probably male’, a lot of question marks, and perhaps still a majority being quite conclusive. But for what purpose?

The elusive element remains the mind. The mind we still think of as being centred in the brain, and this may be right or wrong, but however mechanistically we think of mind-as-consequence, we are a long way from scanning a brain to find the mind. Thoughts and intentions, yes, but the origins of these, no. Is sense of identity a brain thing or a mind thing, or, as the river and air, not clearly divisible and dependent on both, and on culture, society, philosophy, and therefore ultimately, available language?

Identity, definition, what you are as distinct from where you are, may not be a thing, a word, but you still know what you are you in the midst of whatever everything else is (including that you are neither, or not solely, male nor female).

Be careful. You might not be right!

So be very careful not to limit another person’s identity by your own language limitations. And if I say I was born a girl, fight the instinct to say: ‘but you did have a …’.

Something I wrote quite a while ago says it nicely in far fewer words:

Writes, rights, rites

  • Posted on October 13, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Yesterday I got round to a browser tab I’d been saving for a week or so. It felt like it needed time, and I’m glad. It was a survey by Loughborough University on the revised ICD-11 diagnostic criteria, very thorough and thought-provoking, and took two hours. It was all about the terms and words used to treat gender dysphoria (in current nomenclature), and whether ‘gender incongruence’ is better or worse. And about whether a clinical diagnosis is relevant, necessary, and if it should be classed as psychological. All this, divided by under-12 children, adolescents 12-15, and adults.

Writes

I had by this time also expressed another niggle on Facebook about gender recognition (the Act, Panel, and Certificate), because last Friday the Gender Recognition Panel met with my papers in hand, to decide whether I met the criteria of being a woman. I shall know in the next few weeks. I’ve written previously about the indignity of this, not least because my gender is of no consequence to anyone else but me, let alone a subject to be policed by people with no experience of gender dissonance, dysphoria or incongruence. And at my expense. I have also signed up for another survey, on my experience of the impact of the Gender Recognition Act. It has all been on my mind recently, since the Act contains unfairness, injustice, verbosity and bureaucracy.

It also came at a time that a news story has been circulating in print and on UK morning TV, about someone detransitioning. The media coverage has been bad, in terms of sensationalism, gross inaccuracy, misleading information, and undermining the 99 per cent successful outcomes of gender treatment. Here, a man (who still says on TV ‘I am a woman’) says it has been too difficult (after 10 years) to live as a woman. Their treatment has been testosterone-blockers and oestrogen, coupled with breast augmentation (reported – I guess wildly exaggerated – as FF). Their treatment was described as costing £10,000 (‘of taxpayers’ money’), which is the standard figure quoted for genital reconstruction surgery, despite this surgery never having taken place. Media preference for inventing a good story aside, this person had a choice, and still does. There is nothing disgraceful or sensational about that. This, to me is just a marker of being gender queer, not gender dysphoric in the more common binary sense. It’s a bit like a prominent lesbian writer who has recently said that she chose to be lesbian. That to me is a clear marker of being bisexual. Where there is choice, even where there is preference, there are people who fall outside the binary view. Surprise, surprise! The binary is an invention of a simplistic world that does not encompass the breadth of human experience.

The point, however, is that all this writing (yes, like this blog) is but one viewpoint, given an appearance of authority by the media. The detransitioner urged massively more psychological screening at gender clinics, which might drive more to suicide than it would save. Let’s hear more from those whose lives are saved than the tiny minority who feel the need to blame someone else for their decision.

Rights

And so, on several fronts, there is this big issue: who decides on another person’s gender, on which criteria, and what should be the rite of passage from their former opinion (at birth: this is a boy/girl) to their revised opinion (we formally accept that we were mistaken at birth)?

To say that it matters to anyone but the individual, is like saying there is a rule whereby a flower may not be described as purple, only as either dark red or blue. If the flower is happy to be regarded as one or the other by the observer’s definition, well and good. But if the flower is purple and regards itself on the blue end rather than red, or steadfastly says it is purple, why should it matter? Gender queer and bisexual exist, and we know what we are in ourselves anyway. Yes, really.

More than that, why is it in anyone’s gift to say that I am not a woman, female? All that exists of male in me is a skeleton that has a form directed by a small chemical during growth (testosterone), and a prostate (because the risk of removal is not worth it). I have yet to see a reason, based on equality of rights. The only arguments derive from male primacy in our culture, and that is not a right, it is a wrong.

The arguments people have tried on me against this view are all about deceit and disguise for the purposes of intrusion. Trans* people do not do this. Gender dysphoria is not a behaviour.

And so back to the business of diagnosis, terms and criteria.

I observed, in completing the survey comments, that the only task of a psychiatrist in the whole process of confirming that someone’s gender is not indicated accurately by their genitals, is to eliminate psychological indicators for anything else. The psychiatrist who finds nothing permits the diagnosis of a physiological problem. The dissonance (or incongruence, if you prefer) does not originate in the mind, but in physiological events that stimulated development of primary sexual characteristics at odds with the sense of self.

Once more: gender dysphoria is not a behaviour, and that is why I also baulk at the use of the term ‘transsexualism’ in the definitions of gender dysphoria. This is not about rights to do anything, it is about the right to be authentic.

When it comes to rights (maybe Rights) society has to recognise the way things really are, decide how to act on this, and ensure that treatment is fair and applied. The problem with the Gender Recognition Act, is that the importance of being ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’ has been over-emphasised. You must decide! And show such decisiveness that everyone knows unmistakeably what you are and why! Dear Ms God: Why? Can people not just ask each other and leave it at that?

Rites

Since we are all assigned a gender descriptor at birth (again, I can’t quite understand the necessity for this, unless we are destined to be treated differently) the first rite of gender is naming. After that we all have the right to write the name we want, and to have this changed officially and easily.

Over our first decade, we can experience a variety of feelings about whether we ‘feel like’ a boy or a girl. It isn’t just about toys or clothes, but where we belong. Being a tomboy, or a girly boy defines nothing either. But in ourselves we have feelings about where we do and do not belong, and sooner or later these settle.

Puberty isn’t exactly a rite of passage in Western Europe, but menstruation or a breaking voice are part of ‘becoming’ a man or a woman, and ambiguous, or non-happening aspects of puberty are troubling to parents and worrying to children. But for the trans* child, this is a rite of passage that terrifies. Who holds the rights now? Parents? Clinicians? Or the child themselves?

The problem with rites, formal or otherwise, is that they fix things that then have to be undone. The greatest favour an adult can do for a trans* child is to listen, believe and stop the clock. Delayed puberty is the least harmful outcome. So why do we so often hear an outcry about children being manipulated, with misunderstandings about treatment methods? Yes, we need proper diagnostic pathways and expert professionals, the right terminology for the most transparent description, and we need it not to sound trivial (I think ‘incongruence’ is), so that treatment is taken seriously.

The final rite we face in the UK, is the appeal under the Gender Recognition Act, to the Gender Recognition Panel, for a Gender Recognition Certificate. This enables a new, revised, correct, birth certificate to be created. Having had almost zero professional support for the past few years, my paperwork is presented as a testimony to endurance. I have no right, without scrutiny, to formally identify in my true gender. I can call myself what I like, write what I like, but officially, until I can prove and explain what I have done clinically and why, or what I have not done clinically and why (even though what I have done clinically, or not, does not affect the outcome of my application), I am still officially a man.

Tell me, as I write, is this rite right?

Summary

We still desperately need good writing, by diverse trans* people, to explain the reality of gender dysphoria, however we variously describe it. We need our rights to own our own gender without interference, suspicion and policing by people who have not lived this. And we might even benefit by better rites of passage than exhaustive documentation of how we have survived transition with very little support or help, in an expensive plea to reverse that birth certificate bestowed on us with so little thought or necessity, so long before.

And if you read the stories in the media about those of us who transition young, or old, or unwisely, or cheaply, or expensively – please remember that each of us is every bit as human and a person as you. We are not separate, or other, with fewer rights, or to be viewed as deceitful or fraudulent, or psychologically disordered.

No; just imagine that you are the one instead, who has to prove their case for their own sense of self, and buy a certificate to say they really are what they say they are. Right?

Steam radio and my tranny experience

  • Posted on May 4, 2013 at 9:14 pm
valve radio

I alluded in a previous blog (Risk of shock) to the joys of valve radios, amplifiers and similar. Not quite the kind that you toasted marshmallows on, and I remember ‘acorn valves’, which were the first step in miniaturisation. They were easy. If they glowed, they were probably working, and if the wax capacitors around them were mere blobs, something had gone wrong. Of course in those days they took time to warm up: no instant sound. A bit like my digital TV and radio really … I remember it well But I also remember buying my first, small white…

Knowing what you are and knowing what you are not

  • Posted on May 9, 2012 at 2:28 pm

There is no straight test that determines where a person lies on the gender spectrum. The only person who might give you a genuine idea of their gender position is they themselves. You really cannot examine anyone and make that conclusion without asking them. And they may not tell you the truth, they may be afraid of the truth, they may not even know what gender truth means. Or they may tell you their truth and you don’t believe them.

Despite what we were all taught in school, gender is not a simple binary thing, and that has been said so many times, and is known by clinical gender specialists and psychologists, that you would think we would have given up on it long ago. But no, it is a huge prop for a society built on gender antagonism and power. While it suits, polarisation enables predictable roles, a sense of social security and normality, but it simply is not a valid descriptor of how we are as human beings. It has become taxonomy for taxonomy’s sake, and it simply will not do.

This morning I was reading yet more on the disquiet around DSM V (the American Psychiatric Association’s definitive Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders pathologising everything that is not ‘normal’). Specifically, I was reading how everything gender was being sexualised into a male-dominated heteronormative concept. From the origins of DSM (read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test if you want some idea of the twisted picture of humanity it gives and why), too few individuals have imposed their idea of ‘normal’ and made quite ordinary features of life into mental disorder. I raise this, because theoretical, often entirely hypothetical, observations of others with regard to gender are used with no evidential basis, and assume the observer always to be better qualified than the individual.

Yellow and blue are easy

‘I’m yellow’, says this bit of the rainbow. ‘Leastways, if you look at my middle!’

‘I’m blue’, says another.

Green stays silent, the edge of yellow blending on one side, the edge of blue blending on the other. Then:

‘I’m not red!’ In triumphant realisation, green knows what it is not.

I am no expert, but I have become quite saturated with the discussions and theories and expressions of what gender is, what it means to be a woman or a man, how it is between the ears not the thighs, how it is at least in large part innate, not socialised, and how dysphoria describes a problem with the body not with the mind. Gender identity is not personal identity, it is simply where you feel you are on the spectrum with regards to femaleness and maleness. It does not define you, it simply compares you with others in a relation of proximities.

And it is OK to be turquoise – or lime.

In all the gender conversations I’ve had, I have met more people who know what they are not, than what they are. Green knows it is not red, but cannot so easily say it isn’t a yellowy green or a bluey green, and give either a name.

This, I think in large part, is where a sense of dysphoria lies, and where discomfort can persist, whatever steps are made to put gendered physical characteristics right. I know fully transitioned (male to female) people who insist that they are not, and can never be, women in the way they would have been if born and grown up in a different hormone environment. I do not have a female pelvis, and dig me up in 100 years, and an archeologist will tell you that. But they will not know how I identified. (There was the case of the Prague trans internment, about which I wrote this poem – you might reflect or enjoy it.) But what does this mean? That I am never good enough at being what feels most right to me? Who says so? Actually, me. My mind slips back into the binary view, and suddenly I am not good enough.

Every spectrum has two ends, and people live there. I know people who were certain, early enough on to make a real difference to their outcomes, that they live right at one end of the spectrum and quite opposite to their natal physiology. And they have every right to not even identify any longer as transgender (or spectrally misplaced).

But for everyone else who occupies anywhere else that appears at odds with their body’s reproductive bits, it is perfectly OK to be there, and even not to have to talk about it. And it is most OK when we don’t feel we have to justify it to ourselves, understand it, or even describe our gender ‘colour’. In a way it is simply not relevant, providing we are authentic.

Now consider, physiology apart: what are you? Describe how you know you are a man or a woman, or queer, or androgyne. Now do it without referring to what you are not, and without reference to sexual orientation. In other words, without sexualising yourself in terms of preferred activity. Now, without speaking of their body and what they do with it, how might you set a definition of someone else’s gender? Only they can tell you, and they have every right to describe and to present as they feel most authentic. Why does that have to be confusing?

Letting go of paradigms

I try to imagine a world sometimes, where people express themselves, modify or shape or clothe their bodies, simply according to what feels most fitting to them, and where this has nothing to do with any declaration of sexual preference or contribution to the mating game. (After all that’s the easy bit.) Maybe it would be easier for some (no, not all) to live with non-congruence between body and mind. Maybe decisions to adjust physical attributes or not, would be more openly accepted and phobias would evaporate into irrelevance. Maybe we wouldn’t even need to understand how gender dysphoria arises any more than hair colour, because there is no fixing at source. Maybe we could all love trans people for the extra they bring to the party rather than confusion. But that world cannot exist while we maintain any idea of men or women being somehow better than each other, or one defining the rules for the other.

Here’s an exam question for you:

Shania Twain sang Man, I feel like a woman (link with lyrics). Discuss.