Saturday, April 9, 2016

What is gender?

I've been wanting to write a post like this since I saw the commercial for "The Danish Girl." I hadn't seen the movie, so I didn't want to assume, but the commercial made it seem as though Redmayne's character only realized he was truly a she when she put on stockings and a dress.

This was frustrating to me because transgender is about so much more than what clothing someone chooses to wear, right? Most women wouldn't define themselves as women because they like to wear dresses. No women I know would define themselves as women because they like to wear stockings.

Granted I still haven't seen the movie so I cannot testify to whether that was actually what they portrayed, I do assume and hope they went deeper, but the underlying question that this triggered for me remains the same:

How do we define transgender, if we can not define gender?

We've determined and culturally mostly agreed that gender should not pre-determine the type of clothes you wear, who you are sexually attracted to, what abilities or talents you have nor what opportunities you should have.

We are to understand that transgender is more than wanting to wear a type of clothing or your sexuality preference. Transgender is being the gender that you were not born into. It is knowing that despite the sex organs that inhabit your pelvic area, you are the other gender.

According to federal statute definitions, transgender is, "an umbrella term to describe anyone that who in one or more ways does not conform to gendered stereotypes of gender identity and/or gender expression." (emphasis mine)

So what if we succeed in getting rid of the stereotypes of what being a gender means?

Because, seriously, what does being a gender mean? What does my being female mean? What does my son being male mean? Can you think of a single acceptable definition for a gender at this point? We can not define it biologically, emotionally, stereotypically. And if we try to define gender are we, by definition, casting people in roles they may not see themselves in?

As a woman who would rather wear jeans & flannel than whatever the latest style trends may be, as a woman who still has no idea really how to put on makeup and doesn't understand accessories (seriously, so much trouble and added expense for what exactly?), as a woman who would rather watch the Masters than HGTV and who prefers beer to wine… if I conform to some male stereotypes, would someone define me as less 'female' whether I thought so or not?

We have, as a society, long had names for men who liked fashion, gardening and gossip; from effeminate to metrosexual… are they really actually partly female?

Is there a spectrum of gender identity? And if so, does identifying our gender matter at all? Should we all strive to check an 'other' box when asked if we are male or female because we are proudly a mix of both stereotypical traits?

To hear some friends talk, women should no more be expected to want to raise their children than men and it is sexist to think so. Women should be on the front lines fighting in wars and their male counterparts should not feel more protective over them and, again, it would be sexist to think otherwise. Little girls are trained, not born, to like princesses and pink and it is our fault and our responsibility to change that.

Women should be considered equal to men in every single way possible from ability to opportunity. Absolutely no assumptions should be made about someone whatsoever based upon gender.

Don't buy girls dolls. Don't buy boys guns. Forget blue & pink aisles and if your son wants to wear nail polish, gift him a manicure.

All things, again, I have no problem with. Because my question is so much more basic.

What is gender? Can you define it without using biology, or social and cultural stereotype? Is that a good thing? Is that progress?

If we get to the point where there is no difference in how we define or treat the genders... If we reach that promised land where there are no stereotypes or assumptions whatsoever about gender… where everyone, essentially, is gender neutral because all factors -from names and baby clothing to toys and dance partners at cotillion- are equal and not pre-determined.

If we get to that place, where we cannot really define gender, how do we define transgender? Will we need to anymore? Will there be feminism? Will all sports be co-ed? What would co-ed mean?

In writing this, I can't help but wonder if I'm taking this to the ad-absurdum place… I don't mean to be. I wonder if that is the basis of some people's fear? If they fear we are heading to a place where confusion and ambiguity replaces structure and tradition.

For those people, I'd say, fear not. Meet some gay & transgender people. There is no conspiracy to rid the world of tradition. I'm pretty sure they just want to live their lives without fear of harassment and constant judgment.

But my question remains. How do you define gender?

Friday, May 8, 2015

For my LTYM friends

The signs throughout the auditorium say, 'severe weather shelter.'

Tropical storm season approaches, so I'm glad of the structural soundness around me (especially when the stage starts shaking) but that's not why I can't stop looking at the signs.

I see the sign and I hear Bob Dylan, "Come in, she said, I'll give ya shelter from the storm."

We are each but tiny vessels in this ocean of motherhood. The ocean is vast with possibility and breathtaking beauty. But it is also unpredictable and can rock us ways we couldn't have imagined. And when storms come in this ocean, there seems to be no inherent shelter. Nothing can prepare us or protect us from the moments of anguish, helplessness and rawness in motherhood.

But I come into this place and I know, instinctively, inherently, something that women used to know when we lived tribally, when our men hunted or went off to war; we are each other's shelter.

I tell my small story of a bug bite and have friends say, "I couldn't have killed it," or "I wouldn't have been so calm." To which I answer, 'of course you would have, because motherhood kicks in.'

I believe that, but I hear your stories and wish I had Allison's joy, Mary's grace, Jen's faith, Glenna's compassion, Kerri's humor, Ann's resolve, KeAnne's wisdom, Laura's whole-hearted love, Erin's courage, Marty's insight, Alice's honesty and Beth's passion. No way I could be so amazing, creative, intuitive!

And yet I can see each of you telling me, of course you could.

Motherhood shows us sometimes in painful and stark ways that we are capable of much more than we could've dreamed. But somehow, somewhere along the way we forgot that we have umbrellas, islands, rudders, oars and sails in each other.

We come together and we are shelter, support, direction and strength for one another and for those that need to hear that they are not alone.

When we leave this auditorium, this severe storm shelter, after telling our stories for the last time together, I will never forget this vulnerable moment when you were all my shelter and support. I hope I  remember all the strength I've gleaned from you and the lessons I've learned so I can move forward and be a shelter of compassion, understanding and love for everyone I encounter.