Saturday, February 19, 2011


I seriously don't know that I'm a woman anymore. I mean, I don't think I'm a man. And I don't really have it in me to tell other people not to be their gender. But...

I just don't know what I do in an average day that's womanly. I'm female, but that doesn't necessarily imply "woman." I wear dresses and skirts and such sometimes, but so do plenty of guys. I'm occasionally sort of frivolous, occasionally obsessed by "cuteness", and occasionally sort of shyly passive, but so are a lot of guys. And then again sometimes I love to wear cargo pants and stompy-boots and act assertive and aggressive and horny and use power tools and watch "Mythbusters." But so do a lot of girls.

So how the hell do I know I'm a woman? I sure as hell don't feel any deep-down "I just know it, I just do" sensations. And stepping onto dangerous ground--how do we know anyone is a woman?

Being genderless is often conflated with being sexless, which I decidedly (for either meaning of "sex") am not. But what then? What if I don't have a gender? How will we know what jobs I'm qualified for? How will we know who's supposed to lug 'em around if I have kids? Oh God, how will we know if I'm hot?

The last is somewhat legit--if gender doesn't mean anything, then why does orientation mean anything? And doesn't this kind of conflict with trans (and cis, for that matter) people who do seem to have a "I just know it" about their own gender? I totally cannot answer those questions.

I'm still going by "Holly." I'm still going by "she." Fuck, I'm still going by "woman" for everyday non-philosophical use. Those are mostly out of momentum and a desire to avoid getting treated weird. I'm still standing up for the rights of women, if only because I sure as hell can't stop the world at large from seeing me as one. Female rights, at any rate.

Sometimes I think--and see two paragraphs above for why I'm not going to push this, but I do think it--that the whole idea of having two personality types assigned to two biological roles, or even not assigned, is just a complete crock. People is. Beyond biology, I don't know that it's meaningful or in anyway useful to divide things down into two terribly ill-defined yet painfully stereotyped groups. People just is.


  1. Gender is a social construct- and like most (all) social constructs is ultimately a crock of shit.

    Sex (male/female) is biological. And your biology is a "fact" about you.

    I think that trans/cis KNOW that something is wrong with their biology. (And why wouldn't that happen a percentage of the time? Biology is always evolving-and this is likely just another stop, or perhaps destination, along the way)

    I think that we all know (using the "we" loosely) that gender is wrong much more often than it is right. Which isn't surprising considering that gender is a social construct ie: make-believe.

    Like unicorns. Except less shiny and fun.

  2. "Beer is good..
    ...And people are crazy."

  3. I agree, and have felt this way since I was 12 or so (about being officially a "man"), but I do quibble (great word) with one bit - that plenty of men wear dresses and skirts sometimes. That seems exaggeration from my experience. I can't remember the last time I saw a "man" wearing either.

  4. Anon- you put "man" in quotes, so do gay men not count? cross dressers? drag queens? Your quotes seem to take it for granted that "men" don't wear skirts/dresses/feminine attire.

    Heck- I'm a sub. teacher and I was at a high school last week and they had an "opposite day" for spirit week and in each class I had at least 5-6 guys (and we're talking the very gender "male" and sex "male" kind of guys) in dresses. And this was at a rural agricultural high school.

    So, I guess my question is, what do you mean by "man"?

  5. I love the timing of this post.

    I've recently been wondering why I consider myself male-gendered (I prefer to use that term rather than "man"). I can't come up with anything except that I never bothered to go against the gender assigned to me based on my sex.

    I don't have anything really to add; I just like the timing.

  6. Dude. I learned long ago, that people are like snowflakes, and that's made a lot of sense to me.

    More than 5 billion people on the planet, and everyone's different. Some contradict each other, and many contradict themselves. Simply embrace the paradox, knowing something is as false as it is true, and you'll be alright.

    PS, anon, Saturn wore a dress, and he's the most badass wrestler around, aside from the Great Muta. You don't diss Saturn, man!

  7. I feel the same way about being feminine. It doesn't help that I'm not old enough yet for people to consistently describe me as a woman instead of a girl, either, so it sounds really jarring.
    The way I would explain it is: gender is *a* part of everyone's identity, but some people think gender is a very important part, and others not so much, just like some people care about which sports team you root for. The orientation part can be explained away, I think-- after all, straight/gay/bi is only one way of looking at attraction. I know a fair number of people who would say things like, "I'm attracted to girls, but not traditionally-feminine ones. Short hair on girls is sexy." and I'm sure there are plenty of people who would say the opposite. It'd be complicated to decide what the categories would be, but it would be possible to describe orientation without grouping people into just men and women. On the other hand, if you want to think of orientation as attraction to body parts, not gender expression, "I'm attracted to females/males" will still work just fine.

  8. I'm trans, and I don't have any problem with somebody saying that they don't have a gender feeling that tells them what they are. Everyone's different, and everyone has to decide what their gender, or lack thereof, means to them. It doesn't threaten me at all to hear that others aren't like me. I don't have a feeling that I need to worship, and apparently some people have that feeling quite strongly. It seems the same to me.

  9. Being a guy, perhaps I can't exactly relate, but I believe it's the same psychological significance as the issue of whether one is a "good Christian", "honoring their ancestors", or any number of other matters of purely existential significance.

    Essentially, being womanly or feminine matters because we are social creatures in a society which encourages ourselves to group according to how to most effectively interact (some instinct in there too).

    Since you don't seem particularly religious, and your parents may have not pushed you (or pushed too hard and ruined their cause). I've seen a number of people, including family members, go through life and find great meaningfulness in identifying primarily as part of one group or another. Since you spend a lot of time pondering sexuality, it makes sense that being "womanly" is a primary group consideration. However, if you suddenly became a huge Green Bay Packers fan, then perhaps being a fan would be your new calling, and you'd find the issue of being feminine irrelevant - I know others for whom this is true, and it seems to hold with the hypothesis.

    Essentially, it's for our psychological health that we need to belong to "something", and so for better or worse, we pick what we can relate to. If it troubles you, I'd advise to look at the label as just that; something to make you feel included for your own happiness, and simply take advantage of it for that.

  10. Gender is a bullshit social construct. There is no canonical definition for the social concepts of "male" or "female". Biologically there are a few - chromosomes, hormones, reproductive equipment - but socially there is no official reference, as hard as Cosmo tries to set themselves up as one.

    You're a person, and you're pretty good at it. Anyone who thinks that's not good enough can go fuck themselves.

  11. Anon - I know lots of men who wear dresses!

    But more to the point, why don't most men wear dresses? Is it actually something intrinsic to the garment and the man's personal preferences, or is it the fear (internalized to a general fear of "unmanliness") that a dress-wearing man will be subject to laughter at best, physical assault at worst?

    M4gaston - I dunno. I've never heard anyone say "Oh, I don't really have a gender, I'm more into lacrosse right now."

    Although that would be pretty awesome.


    Asher Bauer says it better than I could.

    "“Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender role in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories."

    While I'm not saying that you, Holly, have to or should identify as female or feminine, there is a certain amount of privilege at play here (I'm guessing, since I don't know you, obviously). Just like a straight person might say "Well, I'm in favor of gay rights and all, but it's not like I make my sexuality the focus of my life all the time," or a white person might say "I mean, I just don't think of race as being that big of a deal, I just don't." Because whether or not you make your lady-ness a big part of your day-to-day life, it's not a big source of dysmorphia for you that your body and the way in which people talk about you more or less add up (I'm assuming), so you *can* just let that not be such a big deal in your life.

    I'm not trying to tell you about your own gender here, this comment is totally based on the (may or may not be correct) assumption that you're a cis woman.

    (Also, everyone should read "Not Your Mom's Trans 101". It's awesome.)

  13. Miss L - Rrrgh. You're right, sort of. Although I'm not comfortable in my assigned gender role, it's one I can at least live with, and that is a privilege.

    But I'm not trying to say "gender isn't a big deal" so much as "gender shouldn't be a 'pick one of two' package deal." At which point it's just a collection of independent personality traits at which point I don't think the word "gender" applies any more.

    And I'm aware, if someone has the personality traits that are stereotypically associated with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth, that can be a really big deal for them, in our society. I'm not trying to deny that.

    This is all pretty theoretical talk. In the long utopian run I think no one should have to identify by gender or think in terms of gender--in the short run on Earth I respect whatever gender people are.

  14. I used to think as a child that I was not really a girl and that my parents were lying to me. It wasn't until puberty that I was convinced otherwise. I think that was more to do with my upbringing than anything internal to me based on how I've grown into my skin better as an adult. But I've never been especially girlish and don't have a lot of female friends. I never wear makeup, I don't know where our hair dryer is and day to day I wear my husband's clothes more than my own.

    To that end I'm thinking guys don't wear skirts for the same reason I usually don't wear skirts. They can be awkward, they hike up oddly when doing stuff, they are drafty, I don't like sticking to vinyl seats, skirts limit what I can carry as they never have functional pockets, I really don't want to show people my underwear on a regular basis.

  15. I resolved this issue in myself by deciding that, being female- in that i have female genitalia- everything I do is automatically feminine. That includes playing violent video games, hating chick flicks, and getting a charge out of using power tools. (I want ALL the tools!)

    The best part is watching somebody try to argue with that logic. They know I'm being disingenuous and subversive in some way, but they can't argue the point without sounding like a cave man.

    Ai winz all teh genderz!!1!

  16. If and when you find out what fits, let me know. Swimming in the same sort of confusing waters myself.

    Currently wearing the "queer" label, which kind of helps but also makes me feel like I've just ticket "miscellaneous". That's fine, too.

  17. Please read Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano. Please please please.

    Also, please don't conflate femaleness with femininity. Physical sex, what Julia Serano calls "subconscious sex" (because "gender identity" can describe several different things), and gender expression are all different, and complicated, and I keep typing out bits of this book and then erasing them in favor of other bits and basically you should just read the whole thing. She is transsexual and she is a geneticist and there is no evo psych bullshit or anything like that to totally turn you off.

    "I do believe that it is possible for cissexuals to catch a glimpse of their subconscious sex. When I do presentations on trans issues, I try to accomplish this by asking the audience a question: 'If I offered you ten million dollars under the condition that you live as the other sex for the rest of your life, would you take me up on the offer?' ...[T]he vast majority of people shake their heads to indicate 'No.' ... When I ask individuals why they answered no, they usually get a bit flustered at first, as if they are at a loss for words. Eventually, they end up saying something like, 'Because I just am a woman (or man)," or, 'It just wouldn't be right."

    Perhaps you are not totally cisgender, or cissexual. Perhaps you are on the spectrum (either one). Perhaps you're totally cis and it's just in gender expression, gender role, that you are at the far end of the bell curve. I am not you, so I do not know.

    I'm wary of even posting this comment, because I know it sounds defensive. Please understand that I know you're not trying to attack anyone, that my defensiveness has way more to do with the fact that it is a Thing for folk on the spectrum to say negative things about the existence of binary gender rather than the fact that it's made compulsory. "In the long utopian run I think no one should have to identify by gender or think in terms of gender". I see you're not disagreeing with me, and I feel like a slight jerk. It's just that some of the other things you've said feel a little odd to me, and, again, there is a tendency for folk who aren't binary to sort of create a new binary, of people who "buy into" the male/female thing versus people who don't*, and the fact that you even raised the question of whether your not relating to a binary model of gender invalidates trans/cis experiences makes it sound like you are thinking, if not that way, then in that direction.

    I totally agree that gender doesn't matter, in the "I respect whatever gender people are" sense, but I will also admit that I am a little bit curious about yours. Which is another reason I'd like you to read this, and maybe Kate Bornstein. Yeah, I'd like you to be careful not to accidentally be That Person, and yeah, I think Ms. Serano's "gender essentialists and gender constructionists both try to fit the world to their views and are both sort of wrong" could stand to be heard more often, but also, selfishly, I like reading your posts, and I know that no matter where you fall on any spectrum, it will be awesome to read about. (Also I have a slight crush on your brain, and I'm curious about whether you'll end up disagreeing with the same bits I do, and what that will mean. I am not expecting it to become your bible.)

    *the comment by PJ totally has my hackles up, btw, because it is clear s/he has not done any research into trans anything, or the whole "botched circumcision / other non-intersex complication, raised as a girl with visibly female genitals, almost always eventually come to identify as male" thing.

  18. I'll shut up about her in a minute, but Other Anonymous, Ms. Serano had the opposite experience. She played like a boy, she was "masculine", people called her a boy, she didn't connect her vague uncomforable feelings with the whole "I am a girl" thing until puberty, because she naturally fit the male gender role so well.

  19. @Anon 11:54

    What does it mean if the reason I say no to that offer is that I wouldn't be able to uphold my end of the bargain because I'd slip up constantly because I'm not used to putting in thought into the way I dress/act/etc, and because I'm too lazy to start now?

  20. Oh my god, anon, that was so much reading. I have to do brain yoga before exercising so much.

    It was still pretty cool, though, I think I get what you're saying. Kind of.

  21. But lxr, what does that shit have to do with gender? You don't have to do all that, just to have a chalice or a wand.

  22. I tend to have an outlook similar to what I think Anon is getting at- I tend to think of biological sex, what I'd call biological gender (which apparently a lot of people don't think exists, but given some animals have two sexes and as many as five genders I do), and the social construct of gender as three separate things.

    I experience plenty of discomfort and conflict with "YOU ARE A WOMAN YOU SHOULD X". No conflict or sense of vagueness whatsoever with "woman" in the gender sense, in complete harmony with "female" in the sex sense. For me it's as concrete as my eye color.

  23. But, Labrat. You -are- a woman. You -should- X.

    C'mon, everyone's doing it!

  24. Anon 11:54

    That's actually really interesting, because I'm thinking that I would take 10 mil to live as a male with no problems whatsoever, but I'm pretty much okay with being female, too--at least in the sense that I don't have any issue with the fact of living in a body with girl parts. I have no desire to me a man, but I don't have any desire not to be a man, either, if that makes any sense.

    Mostly, what I take issue with is the fact that so much of what delineates 'man' from 'woman', at least culturally speaking, is irrelevant socially constructed bullshit. Who likes pink, who wears dresses, who likes power tools and who likes unicorns, who wants steel-toe boots and who wants heels, and any kind of crossing back and forth is viewed with a whole lot of suspicion.

    But I think that's not entirely the same thing as being trans, so... *shrug*

  25. @Holly, February 20, 2011 9:13 AM
    It's not discomfort with the gender *role* which matters so much with trans stuff. It is more of a matter of bodily and/or social dissonance for most people. Plenty of people do have that internal sense of having [a] specific gender[s].

    And gender isn't a "'pick one of two' package deal" already. There are plenty of non-binary people running around, especially on the internet. It might be slower going for us in real life, but maybe someday it'll be more of a 'pick one or more of an infinite number, or none if you'd rather' kind of system. That's my utopia, anyway, among other things.

  26. But more to the point, why don't most men wear dresses? Is it actually something intrinsic to the garment and the man's personal preferences, or is it the fear (internalized to a general fear of "unmanliness") that a dress-wearing man will be subject to laughter at best, physical assault at worst?

    Seriously, have you ever tried to find a dress that will fit a 52" chest / shoulder measurement and had pockets? I don't have any problems wearing a dress, but I'll be damned if I'm going to carry a purse. ;)

    So, I guess I'm talking about a cotton/poly twill jumper with cargo pockets.


    I could make one of those.

  27. Anon - TEN MILLION DOLLARS! I would do it for, like... I'd do it for free if I could get away with it. I realize it's exquisitely privileged to say "yeah, I'd be trans, but it would be hard and stuff," but honestly, if it weren't for the fear of alienating family/society/friends/partners etc., I'd at least have a much more ambiguous presentation.

    When I was about 20 I clipped my hair and wore mostly men's clothes. It went... not well. People are dicks. Guys went out of their way to tell me I wasn't attractive and total strangers would "is that a boy or a girl! ha ha!" me. Wasn't worth it.

    And I know that it's the very definition of privilege to be able to scrap a gender presentation because it's "not worth it," but my point is, I definitely have no internal attachment to ladyness.

    I'll look up Whipping Girl.

  28. I dunno. Maybe it really is some big subconscious privilege thing. But really... I dunno. I'm a great big white biological male with the bog-stock set of mechanical components, who, I suppose, does a lot of fairly traditionally "masculine" stuff. I like cars and guns and steak. But... I also do a bunch of leatherworking, which looks an awful lot like sewing, which is a traditionally feminine thing? And, for that matter, I do a fair bit of traditional cloth and machine sewing too. And I like to cook. Which is sort of a 50's America Traditional Housewife task, que no?

    So, I wrench, I make things out of metal, I sew, I cook, hell, I even learned how to knit before my wife did. I wear BDU pants most of the time because they fit me and are fairly tough enough to deal with me being me, but I wear kilts on occasion and I've worn skirts out in public before (and we're talking foofy broomstick skirts, here, too.) I'm mostly into girls but I kiss boys when I feel like it.

    Ultimately, I'm an anarchist, and the way I've worked that philosophy out means treating people just as people. I don't care what they're into or whether that matches their biological fiddly bits. If they like what they're doing, and it's not hurting anyone else, they should go for it. So, to sound like the clueless git described above by Miss L, I don't really think about 'gender' or 'race' or any of that stuff because I just don't care. I just treat people like the autonomous entities they are, and the inherent respect that encompasses. I totally support everyone's right to be whatever they want to be whether that matches the physical aspect of them or not.

    As for the 10 million dollars thing, I'd jump on it, because hey, money, and I'm not attached to anything, but I'd probably have to give it back because I don't even really know what it would mean for me to "live as a woman" for the rest of my life. "Ok, well, I'm just going to keep on being me, and I promise to try and wear more dresses when it won't interfere with my welding."

  29. : )

    Maybe you are on the transmasculine side of genderqueer, then? Or something. I suppose you'll find a word for it if you like. I hope nothing I wrote read as an attack - as long as you're not doing the gender entitlement "this is my experience so other experiences are invalid" thing, which it doesn't sound like you're doing, I am only interested in that you write well and gender is interesting and I want you to explore it so you can write about it so I can read it.

    I am a very selfish person.

    Hope you like the book.

  30. Sinclair Sexsmith is always on about "masculine of center"'s not a bad term.

    @holly (responding to your response to me, which was a while back in the thread, so apologies). yup. continuum. exactly. of all the things gender/sex/etc is, a simple this-bin-or-that-bin binary it is *not*

  31. I tend to associate 'woman' with 'female', as in an indicator of biology, and what reproductive parts are owned by the person (though 'woman' is admittedly, slightly more gender-oriented- but really, only because of social convention), just as I see 'male' as 'man', but I completely agree about gender and what it means for sexual orientation. So I think it's apt for you to say 'I am a woman', even though you're not strictly 'feminine'. And the thing I like most about femininity (and masculinity) as gender indicators is that you can be, as you note, a masculine female. Or vice versa, or none of the above, and something new entirely, and unique, and YOU.

    And I think the role that gender plays in sexual orientation is completely fascinating- the idea that there's two parts to attraction. You're not just attracted to whether someone's got a dick or a vagina- you're also attracted to whether that girl wears dresses or jeans, or whether that guy flails his hands or stands with his arms crossed. It's no longer about girls wearing skirts and guys playing sports, it's about girls wielding power tools and boys putting lipstick on, about the fact that though I'm a woman, I don't kiss like one (or so I've been told, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean) and I don't really act like one and yes, I can punch you in the nose and throw knives and drink beer, but by golly, I spend half an hour in the morning straightening my hair and putting on too much eyeliner.

    And there are men out there who like that in a girl.


  33. As for the lack of pockets in women's pants, I'd guess it's because of where women's pants are designed to fit on the traditional female body. The so called "true waist", which is the narrowest part of the body, above the iliac crest and below the ribcage, or roughly at the belly button if you happen to be a woman who doesn't actually taper there.

    Being as 'fitted' womens pants are designed to flare outwards from the waistband, to which pockets are traditionally anchored, to clear the hips and buttocks, pockets would end up located on an angled surface, as opposed to one which is perpendicular to the ground. Which means anything you put in those pockets would end up bulging upwards, which really isn't going to be very flattering.

    Men's (casual or work) pants, on the other hand, are designed to be worn with the waistband wrapped around the iliac, between 2-5 inches below the crest, just above the buttocks. Which is why when men in work pants don't wear a belt, you get "plumber's crack", because it's right there. But the standard male body either drops straight from that point, or tapers slightly in there, which leaves plenty of room for pockets. Also, women's pants are typically cut to be fitted to display her shape, where men's pants tend to be somewhat looser, also leading to there being more space for pockets.

    Men's dress pants are fitted higher (roughly at the level of the iliac crest) but men don't often have the same taper in the middle that women do, and again, the pants are typically cut looser, so you still have room for pockets. But, you can't fit nearly as much into them as you can in the waist pockets of a pair of jeans, and still look professional. Which is why I'm damned glad I rarely have to wear the bloody things.

    I know the use of "traditional male body" and "traditional female body" are probably raising blood pressures, but I'm using it in the sense of the societal expectations of the same, and thus, what the clothing industry (a separate entity from the fashion industry) makes clothing to try and fit.

    *babble off*

  34. Perlhaqr - Interesting theory. (And one that makes me realize that I always wear my clothing at the lower point, because I have a big tummy and not that much hips or ass, so wearing pants up over my belly would be just a horribly unflattering fit. Plus not comfy.)

    However, I think there's also a certain degree of hobbling in women's fashion. Or at least indifference to whether something is hobbling. Purses may not have been designed to deny women the use of one hand, but purse designers sure don't break a sweat if they do.

    At least there are cross-body purses on the market. They're not quite as no-fuss as pockets, but they do solve the hands problem.

  35. However, I think there's also a certain degree of hobbling in women's fashion.

    Sure. It's part of the "making women's clothing be designed to show off her body" bit. As opposed to making women's clothing that was, y'know, practical. Or made out of good materials. You're not supposed to have to, like, do anything, you're supposed to be decorative. You can hold a purse and pass the canapes, and what else could you possibly have in mind?

  36. have to second Julia Serano and Kate Bornstein, definitely read their books if you're gender skeptical. as a trans person i have to say that i certainly don't feel undermined by you not 'feeling' like a woman. i feel the same way generally. i have to agree with what some people have already said; gender as far as a can see is just an arbitary collection of traits people with certain genital configurations are supposed to show according to ...errr somebody (dont argue with it, its always been that way).

    In its essence i suppose gender is a limited way of trying to understand (psycho)biological and social differences between different humans. and being binary its easy to use (if it isn't X its y). but the problem has come where we have tried to infer way way more information, from basic genital differences than can possibly be warranted. we also tend to make the assumption that if most of a group is like x then all of it must be, no exceptions on pain of death.

  37. I don't see that failing to identify with a gender undermines either trans or cis gender identities any more than I can see identifying as bi/pan as undermining gay or straight people. There are people who 'just know' what gender they are, and people who don't, or who fluctuate, or who are neither, or who it just doesn't matter to. In the same way as there are people who know which gender they're attracted to - and people who are attracted to both, or one or other at different times, or who just don't care, or who aren't sexually attracted to anyone.

    If nothing else, I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect there to be a spectrum of identities between complete cisness and complete transness.
    It doesn't make much sense for there to be people who are firmly tied to their assigned gender, and people firmly tied to the other gender, without there being some in the middle who aren't particularly attached to either.

    I do think that they're identities people need to be careful with, though - bi is closer to straight, and genderqueer closer to cis, than gay and trans are. So we do get a correspondingly greater degree of privilege, which is always something to tread carefully when you're carrying.

    I do also agree with Anonymous about Julia Serano. I really like a lot of what she has to say about gender - and the thing about whether you'd change sex for a million dollars is actually I think a very good illustration of the whole spectrum thing: the vast majority of people, as she says, are deep down attached enough to their gender not to want to switch, but there are those of us who would be quite happy to do it, even if we are a minority. And of course, there are the trans people who would and do pay to have that option.

  38. This is a nice thread. Excuse me while I grammar nazi all over it.

    People are.

    (Also, I would totally switch sex and/or gender for ten million dollars.)