Re: Primal Sex or Primal Heart?

Subject: Re: Primal Sex or Primal Heart?
Date: Tue 12 Jan 1999 - 12:53:15 GMT

In a message dated 1/12/99 01:09:29 AM Eastern Standard Time,

> But what is "masculine" and what is "feminine" ? You apparently, are
> going by societal standards of what is "masculine" or what is "feminine"
> When a woman fixes a car, that is a "feminine behaviour", simply because
> a female is doing it. This is where psychiatry has gone wrong when
> studying that elusive concept of "gender." One cannot measure "gender"
> directly but we can attempt to quantify it using external behaviours.
> These external behaviours are a reflection of "gender as a social
> construct" not of the internal self-identity of a person.

I believe that gender is a shared system of symbols that communicate what role
we are willing to play in culture. The roles, and the symbols to communicate
them, vary across time and across space. In some times and places the system
is very biased to genitals, and that signifies a culture where high priority
is put in breeding, which creates a rigid structure, and in other times and
places the system is more open and flexible, which signifies a culture where
more value is placed on individual contribution rather than parenting.

The truth is that for the majority of humans, females have a bias towards
wanting to be the mommies and males have a bias towards wanting to be the
daddies. The attributes of masculine and feminine, which connect to the roles
of man and woman, which in a heterosexist culture are rigidly connceted to the
reproductive sexes male and female, do have meaning across culture and across
history because they are grounded in real sex role differences. Somewher in
the wiring of mammals, male and female have some different essence.

Humans have taken these differences and gendered them, wrapped them in a
language of symbols and roles that give a socially constructed meaning to the
differences. While the sex roles of otters haven't changed much over the past
200 years, 200 years ago wearng silk stockings and wigs was considered manly,
at least in this country.

Every study of "sex differences" between humans, though, comes out with a
common disclaimer: "Note: The difference betweeen two members of the same sex
may be greater than the difference between the norms of the two sexes." What
does that mean? It means some males are more "feminine" than most females,
some females are more "masculine" than most males.

I believe that the challenge around transgender is not to dismantle the system
of gender, but rather to break the linkages of compulsory gender, where the
configuration of the reproductive organs are seen as the key signifier of what
is in the heart of any human. We stand for the power of indviduals to define
their lives, to value spirit over genitals, which demands that we not have a
simple, binary, heterosexist reading of genitals.

This is the shocking secret: most people like gender. Most females like being
the girl and most males like being the boy, and they like how those roles
interact to form couples. They may not like the focus on pair-bonds over
community / village / tribal connections, but they acept the tradeoffs and
enjoy using the language and symbols of gender to express themselves and to
evaluete the roles and meanings of others. Females love women's clothes and
males love action like sports, and its fun.

I have heard of many cultures where there is no rigidly bi-polar gender, but I
have never heard of a culture without gender. Gender is a useful system that
controls reproduction/sexual behavior, enforces parenting, and provides a
basis for role definition inside a community, and to all those ends, gender
has signifigant benefits for a culture, if only to manage the sex role
differences that are inherent to mammals.

Homosexuals have often been seen as "inverts," breaking a basic sex role code
that males desire demales and females desire males. They have been seen as
males who act like women or females who act like men, because one of the key
signifiers of men and women has always been attraction. To those of us who
are manly hearted females or womanly hearted males and who don't have that
inverted desire -- females who don't lust for women, males who don't lust
for men -- we are doubly queer.

For me, it is queerness, that acceptance of indvidual choice that transgresses
norms, which is the key to transgender expression. We say that lives can be
created without the polarization of gender (male & female) or the shadow of
that ( male/male, female/female).

The challenge, though, as I see it, is to find a way to respect and value the
role of the system of gender as communication and role enforcement while still
being unique and individual. I love gender, love the rich range of symbols
from which I can create my own art, and love the dances and interactions of
the gendered which, in a culture that respects gender, can be graceful,
elegant and honor the spirits of individuals. A culture where gender is
breaking down is a culture where social order is breaking down, and the cost
of that breakdown is often a loss of freedom which comes froma gracious
structure of respect.

Tell me, Diane, what conclusions has your work in Trans-Theory lead you to?



This archive was generated by hypermail 2a23 : Wed 21 Jul 1999 - 18:22:13 BST