Sex appears to be easily definable, but it’s notBottom Highlights, Trans Progressive Thursday, July 25th, 2013
Commentary: Trans Progressive
How do any of us know what our gender is? If one is assigned male at birth and loses one’s genitalia in an IED explosion, is one still male? If one is assigned female at birth and lose one’s external genitalia, breasts or uterus to disease, is one still female?
Obviously the answers to those questions would be yes.
I love to cook; that’s stereotypically perceived as a feminine activity. So does loving to cook identify me as female? My son is a trained chef; does his love of cooking identify him as female?
Do following professional sports mean one is male and not following professional sports mean one is female? Does playing sports mean one is male and not playing sports mean one is female?
We may have genitalia or secondary sex characteristics that may conform to a particular societal sex and gender norm, but those body parts may or may not align with the gender one knows oneself to be. One may engage in activities that are stereotypically perceived as associated with one sex/gender or another, but engaging in stereotypically male or female activities doesn’t mean one knows oneself to be the sex/gender stereotypically associated with that activity.
I’d argue we know what gender we are just because we know.
Even transsexual separatists that try to define sex and gender as connected to genitalia – and in their own specific cases about genital reconstruction surgeries, tacitly understand this. One cannot have genital reconstruction surgeries unless one identifies as one’s target sex, unless one’s gender identity is different from one’s assigned gender at birth.
This simple concept of just knowing what gender we are because we just know applies in journalism. Journalists should step back a moment and reflect about how they know what gender they are when they write about trans people. When I see mainstream media reporters trying to use body parts to confirm a trans adult’s sex or gender identity as male or female, or when I see mainstream media reporters trying to use likes, behavior or activities to confirm an adult’s or youth’s sex or gender identity as male or female, I usually shake my head.
I have read the articles of many mainstream media reporters, and note that a sizable number of them just do not step back for a moment and ask themselves how they know – what confirms for them – their own sex/gender. If they did, I believe we would see less of the trans identity stories that ignorantly link sex/gender to genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, likes, behavior or activities.
Each of us knows what our gender is because we just know. For many of us cis and trans folk, who would like clarity for how and why cross gender identities exist, we are confronted with a reality that for each individual trans person we may never know how or why that particular individual has a cross gender identity. Using sex and gender shorthand, such as societal sex and gender norms that equate genitalia to gender and/or certain activities to being male or female, is easy and lazy, but these sex and gender norms are inadequate to explain how or why for situations that defy the “common sense” notion that sex and gender should be binary and simple.
Eric Vilain, chief of medical genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, wrote the 2004 Los Angeles Times commentary Gender Blender, Intersexual? Transsexual? Male, female aren’t so easy to define. In the article he was arguing for marriage equality and against a federal marriage amendment that would limit marriage to one man and one woman. He concluded his article with this paragraph on gender and genitalia:
“Sex should be easily definable, but it’s not. Our gender identity – our profound sense of being male or female – is independent from our anatomy. A constitutional amendment authorizing marriages only between men and women would not only discriminate against millions of Americans who do not fit easily in the mold of each category, but would simply be flawed and contrary to basic biological realities.”
Biology isn’t destiny. One knows one’s gender and gender identity – because one just does. What a simple and difficult concept that can be.
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