What’s in a Gender?
I grew up in LA, one of the most “plastic” places on the planet. Just about everyone strives to attain the preconceived notions of beauty, status, and what it means to be male of female. It’s at Muscle Beach, on the lap-band billboards, in the plastic surgery clinics, gang life, and the numerous malls peppered across the city. Image is everything, and everyone does their best to look sharp and get done up to be the best guy or girl they can be. I was raised to value these ideals through capital and culture. Growing up in a black family, being a man or woman has even more heat attached to it, because the opinion of the entire race is on the line. Everyone in the United States internalizes what it means to be a strong black sister or brother versus someone who is “hood” or “ratchet”. If you exist any other way, you are ostracized as “acting white” and betraying everyone. And some black folks seem to think that gender and sexual diversity is just something “those crazy white people invented” to confuse and ruin our culture. I fell short of these expectations very early on, which forced me to take a critical look at it all.
I don’t think gender is an objective phenomenon. The more I grow into my queer identity, the less it seems like a mere fact of nature. That’s the way I’ve felt on many fronts really – government, religion and the supernatural, institutionalized education, capitalism. These are all systems that rose out of the idea that there is only one true or natural way to exist. To venture outside of these normative worlds and live differently is viewed as being “out of touch with reality”. But in a global society that is heavily codified, oppressed, and surveilled all for the sake of maintaining its dominance, accusations of losing reality should be reversed. This “nature” that status quo systems claim to have supreme knowledge of is diverse. It’s murky territory, with multitudes of outcomes. Through my gender and goals, I aim to grow within those outcomes. The only alternative is to stamp out my existence.
With that being said, I am still a result of the reigning society and its values. In the call for submissions I remember reading about a desire to talk about gender that goes “beyond traditional ‘female’ and ‘male’, trans*, gender fluid, etc.”. However, I don’t know how else to discuss gender other than through the binary and its offshoots. And while I think that the categories of male and female as separate states of being is a farce, I do think there is validity in the argument of biology affecting gender development. I am not versed in gender studies, but I’ve read that gender development is a balance of “nature and nurture” – biology and sociology. Gender is very nuanced, and is influenced by cultural values, but also by hormones. This is because hormones – estrogen, testosterone, and their precursors – affect mood. Mood in turn influences temperament and behavior. It’s the responses to these moods and behaviors, within yourself or from others, that determines whether someone maintains a binary gender or goes a different path. It’s all about interpretation, and that’s where I think sociology enters the issue. Although it barely skims the top of trans identity, an article worth checking out is “The Sex Hormome Secrets” by Sherry Baker in Psychology Today.
In the index of a new book out called “The Genderbook”, I noticed a grouping of topics that can help clarify what I mean. In the upper right of the index are bubbles reading , “Identity, Perception, Expression”.
I’m sure the full book has more information to offer, but these bubbles can interact in many ways. The way one expresses gender, in relation to biological characteristics, sparks internal or external perceptions of what that expression means. The balance between perception and expression (how you feel versus what others think) determines gender identity. This is more or less a cyclical process.
(push pull of expression vs. biology) affects–> (perception; yours others) affects–> (identity) affects–> expression
Perhaps for binary trans folks, the push and pull between expression and biology affects internal perception alone. So despite external perceptions and forces, their identity remains opposite of what they were assigned at birth. I assume that cisgender people go through a cycle of identity informants as well. Otherwise there wouldn’t be such an insane focus on different toys, perfumes, fashion, and body modification through exercise, dieting, and surgery. There may be less of a disconnect between expression and biological characteristics, but still enough to change the way they carry themselves and how they look. It’s a case by case situation. All that I can confirm is that my gender identity as a non-binary trans person is in constant revolution, which may change depending on if I can get medical transition.
Now, I’ve noticed the next graphic to be held in high esteem in some trans circles, which is opposite to what I just shared.
I understand and share the sentiment behind this anti-venn diagram. It’s a response to a claim most cis people make that the only factors involved in gender are genitalia, chromosomes, and sexual preference. The claim goes on further to assert that these factors can only naturally lead to a straight/gay cisgender identity.
It’s a horrible argument that gets widespread support from science, medicine, and most of society because of the invisibility and erasure of numerous identities, primarily that of trans folks. The argument of what is “natural”, but really just normative, additionally denies the existence of intersex, bi/polysexual, and asexual individuals. It completely disregards the gender and sexual diversity that has existed throughout cultures, especially indigenous ones, throughout human history. Do you see what I mean about who’s really out of touch with reality? All of this exists, it’s real, and there are millions of people who deviate from the “norm” and yet we get attacked and targeted as freaks.
But to posit the idea that gender, sexuality, and biological sex exist in vacuums all to themselves is likewise harmful and confusing. True, gender isn’t solely about “what’s in between your legs”, but for some people it plays a hand in figuring out identity. None of us are static individuals, no matter how solid certain parts of our identity feel. Sexual preference can also play a role in gender development. The way sexual behavior is expressed, and how it is reconciled in relation or opposition to biological sex affects how you feel about what your gender means. There are trans folks who transition because they are attracted to “the opposite sex”, but in a way that doesn’t conform to heteronormative sexual desire or behavior. If sex characteristics and sexuality didn’t matter, then there also wouldn’t be such things as butch lesbians, sissies, studs and so on. They may have begun as slurs, but these are legitimate identities that are cherished by the people who carry them.
There are so many possibilities when it comes to gender identity, so many theories. But what matters most is lived experience and exploration. I think that the problem with this debate again goes back to the structure of most societies; of westernism and its rigid expectations, often held to the point of violence and criminalization for those who don’t comply. The burden of proof shouldn’t be on any of us. Because that’s what these conversations end up coming to – a collective “what’s going on?” with our bodies and desires, since there is no talk of these possibilities growing up and in the culture as whole. Due to the coporatization of our lives and identities, telling us that there are only a few “normal” ways to exist, panic and pathologization ensues for everyone on the fringes. If our lives weren’t so restricted to begin with, gender development would be no different than height or eye color. But then again, it was just last century that the government was pushed into recognizing that differences in skin color and ethnicity are part of what it is to be human. Even today we all still struggle with European beauty standards and the rise of guilt and shame for being anything other than straight, thin, white, and “well adjusted”. It is just barely acceptable to be gay, but that too is dominated by white heteronormativity and a desire to be just as vanilla as the neighbors next door.
Without the segregated bathrooms and stores, girls or boys only sleepovers and schools, these discussions on gender wouldn’t be as necessary. Without the gendered toy commercials, school uniforms, workforce positions, and the nuclear family, this gender thing wouldn’t be a big deal. Until that changes, that’s what gender will be about for people who aren’t cis. Biology, sexuality, and all that I mentioned before holds sway with the gender you grow into. But unfortunately, gender for the “others” in society is mores about the perception piece – reconconciling personal identity in the face of an onslaught of normative ideals.
I’m going to feel horrible about this forever and ever and ever. Only two weeks into living at the house I mentioned before, I found a new place to live, so I’m leaving. Two people downstairs are also moving, so everyone else, including the friend who arranged for me to move in, is left to face eviction. Three folks are looking at other houses to squat or rent. My friend and her boyfriend are unsure of what steps to take.
Our housemates are livid with the other people leaving because they’ve only been around for three months, and gave the impression that they were there for the long haul. It wasn’t until I managed to organize a house meeting that one of them spoke up about their decision. I learned that these other tenants were given the full scope of the living conditions before they arrived. They got primed on the fact that this is a “scummy punk house” and made it seem like they were down. When I heard this comment, I brought up the fact that I was less informed. When I asked about cleaning before I arrived, my friend told me it was kind of messy but in progress. But that still left me unprepared for what I met. They all feel stabbed in the back, mostly by the others, but I know they think I’m a bitch too. Especially considering that I’m moving in with a close friend of theirs who I’ve met since arriving. I don’t think my friendship with my current housemates will hold up for long.
In truth, this house as been in the balance for quite some time. My friend told me, back in November, that the house may not survive. This was also the case for the month of June, weeks before my arrival. She was looking for other options at that point and even then she said I can stay with her no matter where she lived. I’m not sure the place I’m moving to will do that same, even though I am totally willing. I’ll have to figure that out soon. Even though I’m moving in with a good friend of hers, he is a lot more particular about house conditions. Either way you toss it, this was a double-bind from the start. Given that I’m not the major catalyst in dissolving the house, I don’t need to be so hard on myself and the choice I made. But I’m self-deprecating (which I’m working on), so I give myself a high level of blame and guilt.
I’ll be living in Humboldt Park now, a block from the actual park, and everyone that will be living there are also queer. The upkeep of this apartment is near the opposite of where I’m staying now. All of the people at both houses are wonderful, so I feel like living conditions are just a preferential difference that doesn’t subtract from how they are as people.
All in all, I’m still in a tough spot even with this new living arrangement. I’m still looking for work, and steadily burning out my savings to pay rent, and now I’ll have to do rent plus a security deposit come August. The one interview I managed to get for dog walking said that there were customers on vacation for the summer, so she would only be able to have new hires in the fall. She made it sound like I was a good candidate for a follow-up in the fall, but I think she was just concocting a nice way to tell me I won’t get the job at all. Other than that, I applied to a Dollar Tree, a clothing store, and I am looking to apply to Whole Foods and more dog walking businesses. Whole Foods takes itself too seriously. So I need to give an online application, resume, and cover letter just to get interviewed for a seafood prep position, and that’s stalling the application for me.
Other than that I’m going out to apply for food stamps tomorrow, and I’m still working on my submission to TomGirl zine. Almost done, and it’s due on the 5th. I hope I make it, in that, and life in general.
I think Chicago would do well to ease my home-sickness. It’s like Los Angeles in many ways. It’s divided into “neighborhoods” the way that LA divides into counties, and there’s definitely an east/west/north/south distinction that comes up in conversations of travel through the city. It’s nice to see one story houses with lawns again as well, even though lawns are a ridiculous waste of space. I guess what I mean is that I enjoy not feeling as claustrophobic as I did in a row house environment. Because the cityscape spreads out, it’s easier to track the sun’s movements throughout the day. I didn’t know how much I missed watching the sun go from east to west until I left the west coast. Chicago has a major international airport as well, so I hear airplanes flying above all the time. I miss that a lot! Living near LAX was an unforgettable part of my childhood. I recall playing outside and stopping to watch the airlines come in, or being in class and having to wait for one to pass before speaking. All you had to do was look to the east and instantly witness their lights glittering in the distance.
There’s also a large Latin@ population, which for obvious reasons is familiar. Having a Central American heritage and Spanish-speaking family members also makes this a comforting thing. Too bad my brother and I are my Dads’s only children who don’t speak the language. It’s not too late to learn, but there are so many things I want to learn that this will have to sit on the back burner for a while. Being in Albany was less segregated and more diverse because it was such a small city and so close to New York City, which I liked.
Here in this city there are even street and neighborhood names that remind me of home – California, Fullerton, Hermosa, Chinatown, Hyde Park, Hollywood Park, Beverly, Sacramento. And the biggest comfort is Lake Michigan. It’s so large that you can’t see the other side, which offers a beachfront with the feel of being at the start of an ocean. Chicago is just the broad booming urban environment I missed. Lots of graffiti and murals, a downtown, traffic, and a lot to explore. I want to get out to the art museums soon, and get some more time at the lakefront. The differences are interesting too, which I’ll get to know with more time. For now, it’s good to know that while expensive, the public transportation is actually effective, and the downtown has things to do, and isn’t a mere business and banking district. So, we’ll see how I feel later on about what this place is about. For now, I’m just excited about being in a new place.
I have a long list of people who want to be updated on my experiences in life. So I’m going to re-open my blog, and switch to vlogging when that’s convenient/whenever I get over the pressure to be a popular youtuber. To write or call all of you as often as possible would be difficult. I haven’t blogged consistently in a couple years, but what all that stated, let’s get started.
I’ve been in Chicago for a week now. For those of you who weren’t with me at the Free School, I spent the past 9 to 10 months interning at a democratic pre-k to 8th grade school. I might have reflections on that experience posted in the distant future, although I’ll say now that much of what I learned wasn’t so much about educational philosophy as it was about having my emotional health constantly tested. Interacting with kids in a setting in which they have near full access to their feelings and choices was bittersweet to say the least. I never studied child development, but it was interesting seeing the way kids learned and acted at different age groups. Being the youngest staff member made me unnecessarily self-conscious, and being at home alone most weekends was a feat of internal stamina that I would never want to take on ever again. But it was a powerful experience that I am glad I was chosen to have. I came at a real turning point for the school. I met many wonderful people and went to really great places.
Now, I am living in a queer punk stoner “2 flat” house. It’s an extreme relief not to feel attached to my gender expression as strongly I was before. People are on a they/them pronoun basis as a given for everybody, which feels like a breath of fresh air. I live with seven other people, and they are all really nice and cool to be around. I’ve explored the city with three of my housemates who really like to get out and about. Another aspect of the house is that it regularly hosts punk shows in the basement. There has been one show since my arrival, which I was too overwhelmed to go down and attend, but before I left to my room I noticed something remarkable. Most of the show-goers were people of color. This is because of a group in the city called the Black and Brown Punk Show Collective. I’m sure that for everyone else there this was normal, but for me this was surreal. To see a whole host of radical queer folks of color was very exciting.
I obviously couldn’t help but hear the acts going on beneath me. I don’t like punk music anymore, and haven’t listened to it since middle/early high school. The acts that went on that night had an enjoyable sound, but I don’t know how I will feel about future groups that play here.
Another major aspect of the house is the filth. I feel bad about posting this, because it’s not intentional, and they said that the way it is now is an improvement. But we are seriously only one layer above crust. Dishes pile high for days, cat litter (right by the bathrooms) gets changed sporadically, beer and soda cans are strewn about, and old food is caked on the stove like scabs. I tend to leave my room to clutter with clothes and paper, because I have foggy cognition. But when it comes to shared spaces, I try hard to clean and keep things clear for the sake of the health of people I live with and myself. It’s enough to have a messy room, but once the whole house falls into disarray, my mood goes with it. I feel even more foggy and confused than usual, and the worse things look, the more irritable I get. We will have a house meeting soon, and some people here are even looking to buy one up the road. I don’t want to rock the boat with a cleaning spree or complaining all the time. All I know if that it doesn’t change soon, I’m going to want to leave.
Lastly, there an issue between being “posi” and “negative” in politics that is strange. Again, everyone here is really nice and interesting, but there is little sense of inspiration or self-preservation. As anti-capitalists and anarchists, I understand how being mired in the society we inhabit now is jading, frustrating, and infuriating. The popular neighborhoods I’ve seen thus far have many elements of the worst aspects of our culture – yuppies, gay white/wealthy capitalists who only care about marriage and military service, rampant gentrification and cultural appropriation, leaving schools and communities of color to rot through institutionalized racism, and more I’m sure. But aside from establishing infoshops, and distributing radical literature during shows, the main response here seems like a deep-rooted and apathetic nihilism. Destruction with no hope for alternatives is their philosophy. There is no sense of purpose or meaning, and as an Atheist, I realize that meaning is not inherent in the universe; anything can happen, awful random things. But despite that, I want a sense of wellbeing. I have a dual power outlook on things, and I feel compelled to do something positive and constructive. To do otherwise has proven to be unsafe for my emotional health. But for many people here, being positive is stupid and annoying. They see no point in building alternatives because since “we are all products of capital, and only know capitalism” we will just end up replicating the same capialist values and hierarchies – only in a feel-good form.
They laugh at positivity. I’m not a reformist and can see that the current paradigm is far beyond repair, but I can’t get down with political/apolitical negativity. I feel like I might be too light for this crowd. Maybe it’s too soon to tell.
Other than that I am funemployed, and will have to get on food stamps as soon as possible. I’ve applied to many nanny jobs on care.com but my appearance is preventing me from getting a response. I have a long list of art projects that I want to get on, but I need to dip into my savings to buy the equipment necessary for that. Other than that I’m applying for dog walking, or maybe just unemployment benefits. I don’t really know what else I can do that leaves me with flexibility to work on my art daily. I’m working on a zine submission to TomGirl that is due soon, but I’m having writer’s block. Chicago is interesting, and I’m trying very hard to keep my head up. I hope to post things going forward that may meet your expectations of life updates; things that are fun and inspiring.
I am severely frustrated. The ways in which the United States functions is not working. No one seems to be able to bring about effective organized change or resistance to these ridiculous systems and policies. The wealthy and political classes are free to enjoy and run life as they see fit, and representative democracy seems to be taking more and more voice and power away from most citizens. We have insane racial profiling as evidenced by New York city’s stop and frisk program, ever increasing desire from the government to control internet usage, and then there is the NDAA law that the media has long forgotten. The debates are a sham, to the point where third party candidates like Jill stein WHO HAVE 85% BALLOT ACCESS are arrested for trying to participate. The electoral college makes voting unequal and takes power away from the citizens. Our education system SUCKS. Testing is pointless because it destroys teacher autonomy and puts everyone’s focus on scores rather than the substance of the lessons. Schools have useless age segregation, ever increasing police presence, and dry/expensive textbooks managed solely by the political classes in California and Texas. People are being imprisoned at an ever increasing rate due to an abstract “war on drugs”. Minorities are the main people going to jail because such communities struggle the most with drug related problems, and other systemic factors that the political classes in the states and in Washington D.C. are unwilling to investigate or alleviate. The government’s best attempts to solve the nations devastating problems is through laws and legislature that is inaccessible to most people. If there is a problem with drugs, people are imprisoned rather than helped with rehabilitation. If schools are failing, all the political class is willing to do is create standards in a vacuum, that disregard local school and community needs. They either raise pay or bring down sanctions on teachers as if that will cause teachers to magically know all the best ways to educate students. The political class has said time and time again that they only care about schooling in terms of whether or not it makes people ready to plug into the workforce. And people just sit there and accept that? They accept that school is only good to producing workers? Capitalism is a failing economic system that needs to be abolished. At present, we have vast amounts of overproduction that could easily be given to the homeless and poor for free. Companies make so much these days that giving up the surplus would barely put a dent in their profits. Goods are increasingly unable to be repaired by most people, increasing the amount of goods that end up in the landfills. We have a problem of overconsumption and a throwaway culture that cares more about keeping up with trends than preserving what they have, sharing, or repurposing. This country has thousands of empty buildings and lots that could become community centers, schools, homes for the homeless, and food producing gardens. But because of the stubborn idea of private property owned by banks and corporations, all of these resources are left to rot and deteriorate until the next bank or business can afford to buy it. All of this waste, war, incarceration, and failure to get to the root of the problems plagues our society and what are the citizens doing? Because of rampant consumerism most people are compelled to work constantly. The amount of hours people spend working then contributes to crippling alienation and isolation from others. So when it comes time for the population to decide on critical issues like war and education, we are too tired and overwhelmed by work and paying off debt to get together with our neighbors and communities to decide how best to live. We throw our hands up in exhaustion and give every last drop of our decision making power to the political class. Politicians live in a world of their own. They are usually too wealthy to be connected to the needs of most people. Their whole lives are caught up in corporate and bureaucratic negotiations behind closed doors. Or they are televised on C-Span, but never watched by the majority of citizens living here. And why? Because the media has been degraded into a circus of ignorance and irrelevant issues that are paraded as if they are the most pressing issues of our time. Celebrity issues ARE NOT news. Beyond their performances, their lives are none of the nation’s business. The rest of the media features faux-reality tv, or shows that do nothing other than provide a numbing comfort at the end of a long day at work or at school. There is virtually NO reasonable argument to continue to defend and keep the crap media we have today. People should be boycotting, protesting, and making noise about this trash that litters homes across the nation. There are tv series that are both entertaining and get viewers to make connections to society at large. There are shows that allow people to think critically about universal human issues, but those are not the most viewed shows in this country. Music is even worse! All of the radio music today is vapid, and the lyrics are empty and dull. The beats and rhythms are the only thing that keep people listening. All the while, people whose lyrics cover more universal issues and critical ideas are ignored! And why? Because no one wants to hear all that “depressing stuff”. They “just wanna have fun and forget”. And the fire is fueled. This inaction, silence on serious issues, and alienation is destroying our lives. More needs to be done. I’m frustrated that there aren’t more direct action groups or publicized efforts to change the root of society’s ills. It’s disappointing.
RB: When I left high school, I had all my plans to go to college, but I had no money. And I decided then, the best thing for me to do is not worry about getting money to go to college — I will educate myself. I walked down the street, I walked into a library, I would go to the library three days a week for ten years and I would educate myself. It’s all FREE, that’s the great thing about libraries! Most of you can afford to go to college, but if you wanna educate yourself completely, go to the library and educate yourself. When I was 28 years old, I graduated from Library.
“I graduated from Library,” what a great statement to come from one of my favorite authors (Fahrenheit 451 is my all time favorite book), especially when I am process of (hopefully) graduating from a…
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“La Educación Prohibida” is an indepth analysis of the educational system and all its shortcomings. It is a tremendously thoughtprovoking film using dramatized scenes, animation as well as interviews to demonstrate step by step the inadequacy of the outdated educational system for our times.
At the very least, it should make everyone of us question and debate about this area of utmost importance to all.
The film is in Castellano but subtitles in English and other languages are available from the video menu.