As this semester comes to a close, I realize I have more questions about gender than I did coming into it. This isn’t a bad thing per se. I think a lot of people (myself included at times) recognize the gender stereotypes and the array of issues that follow, and perhaps even argue that they need to change, but I wonder if people ever actually contemplate what society would be like without them. They might have visions and goals for improvement, but do they ever take the time to step back and imagine a whole reality different to the one we’re currently living? This isn’t necessarily any one particular person’s fault. I would venture to say that we entered the world largely defined by gender the very instant we were born. Just think of those parents who don’t want to know the sex of their child when pregnant, and upon the child’s birth the doctor announces “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” (Would the doctor joyfully announce, “It’s a hermaphrodite!”?) Just upon hearing this announcement I bet they have some sort of vision before them of all this child’s life could hold. My point is that the world that we have experienced for our whole lives has in large part been defined by gender, and to completely rid ourselves of all of these expectations/stereotypes/assumptions takes some serious mental exercise. Even if we wish to think alternatively, we must think about the current expectations/stereotypes/assumptions in order to not include them. In a sense we have to recognize and know reality before we can rid ourselves of it (Can we rid ourselves of all conceptions of reality? Perhaps we would need induced amnesia…) Anyway, I will share some of the questions that I have that may aid in actually considering a world where gender is not as it currently is. Much of this thought comes in response to Garber’s chapter “Spare Parts: The Surgical Construction of Gender.” I can’t say I have any answers in particular, and suppose the answer would depend on who’s doing the answering, but here’s some food for thought…
1) (Along the lines of what Professor Wojcik was talking about last week…) What if society wasn’t obsessed with your sex (referring here to your primary and secondary sex characteristics) matching your gender (self-conception and others’ label of your performance of male or female)? What if you could be whatever gender you want along with whatever biological attributes you may have, and that was a-ok? Think of it in terms of students and their academic majors. Any type of student can choose any type of major. You don’t necessarily have to match any personal attributes to your decision of a major. So people with penises, vaginas, or perhaps both, could major in woman, man, or perhaps both…
2) Thinking about question 1, would there be an end to transsexual surgery? Transsexualism seems to stem from the belief that you are a given gender trapped in the body of the “opposite” sex. Maybe this notion would still occur, but would there no longer be any tension and impetus for surgery caused by the need to match? Even if we have no problem with transsexual surgeries, are the surgeries themselves objectively good or bad? Fine or harmful?
3) What about guys who wear girls’ jeans and tight v-neck shirts? Are they transvestites? Do they seek to wear these “girl” clothes as a fetish or to perform as females, or do they seek to claim these clothing objects as their own and essentially make them male? Is there a difference between a gay man who wears girls’ jeans because they are his clothing staple of choice and a straight grungy bass player (or “skater”) who wishes to perfect his (conceived) “rockstar” image?
4) Why do we find it so comical when little boys dress as little girls for Halloween? When preteen girls put makeup and nail polish on preteen boys? When all of the male basketball players wear frilly thongs in John Tucker Must Die?
5) Do MTF transvestites who prefer women pursue women their entire lives, pre-op identifying as heterosexuals and post-op as a lesbians? Do they see themselves as lesbians their whole lives? Do you define your sexual orientation according to the other’s sex or the other’s gender? As a lesbian woman, can you have sex with another woman who just happens to have a penis? (I challenge you to consider all of the other combinations and scenarios as well…)
Well, I suppose that is enough questioning for now. Hopefully these questions can get some conversations going, or perhaps cause you to encounter some deep moments of truth as you lie awake in your bed at 3:27 am…Even if none of this happens, I hope you take away this one point: QUESTION EVERYTHING. Whether you ultimately come to agree with it or not, at least you’ve engaged in some considerable thought and have weighed the expectations/stereotypes/assumptions offered up on society’s spoon.