Tuesday, April 17, 2012

q and ...

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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

the chest test

I AM GUILTY. Of what, you may ask? Of entertaining the two gender paradigm in my head. When reading Bornstein and assessing my gender aptitude, I found myself identifying with some of the not-so-desirable answers in terms of a “good score.” For example, when asked what I do when I see a gender ambiguous person in public, I quickly circled, “Try to figure out what gender the person is.” When I was younger and I saw a gender ambiguous person I typically performed (do I still?) a “chest test.” This is a crude term that the boys taught me in elementary school that basically asks, “Does the individual have breasts or not?” Evaluation of answers varied or remained ambiguous based on body type, but you get the idea. Now that I think of this, I was clearly lacking in my conception of what it meant to be a girl or boy. In my definition, boobs=girl and no-boobs=boy. Not to mention boy and girl were the only two options.
I like to think that I have come a long way in my conceptions of gender and sex, but then I think I would probably try to still classify gender ambiguous individuals. Why do I do this? Why do we do this? I suppose part of the reason is that the majority of us were conditioned (brainwashed?) to see people in terms of boys and girls, and this idea has become so ingrained in us that it carries over into our adults conceptions. Even when we see someone who we would not typically classify as a man or woman, I would venture to say that we would first think about how they are not a man or woman before we try to decide what they are. Notice how the ideas of man and women are still key to our definition, even in their negative forms. But why do we even need to categorize gender at all? I do not ask this question because I don’t categorize people, as I mentioned right away that I am as guilty as the next person. There is something to be said about the way that gender helps to define social relationships and how we “ought” to act around people we have just met. For example, in France the women kiss the cheeks of both men and women in greeting, but the men do not kiss the cheeks of other men. So what does a man do when he comes across a gender ambiguous individual? Or, to be more extreme, what about single-sex high schools and colleges? One girl who graduated from my high school class began receiving hormone therapy and changed her name to Cameron after graduation. According to the last rumor I heard, Cameron is saving up for surgery. Whether this is true or not, consider a hypothetical situation. Would Cameron be allowed back to our 5, 10, 50 year high school reunion, the only man to ever call himself an alumnus of Notre Dame Academy? Perhaps Cameron wouldn’t actually want to come back, but what if he did? See how gender shapes our behavior? Now if we were really adventurous we could say that we don’t need social rules of the sort, telling us how to behave in public in accordance with our gender. Perhaps not, but then how to we go about changing entire institutions that have existed for generations? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I can’t say that I have any answers…

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

let's go to camp

I can still remember the first time I learned that camp has another set of meanings aside from sleeping bags, tents, and bonfires. I was nine years old and convinced that I was going to be a movie star/actress when I was older. I assured myself and others that this was not merely a kid dream, but that it would one day be a reality. As you can tell, the dream didn’t work out, Anyhow, that’s not really the point of the story. So…because I loved singing and performing so much, my mom told me about this movie that she wanted to take me to see, called Camp. We were both under the impression that it was about a bunch of kids who go to a summer camp devoted to the performing arts. This was precisely what the movie was about…and then some. The title took on a double meaning, referring to camp-y performances, as the movie also talked about gay and lesbian issues. Now I don’t really remember the specifics, but I do remember feeling very uncomfortable watching this movie with my mom. I was shocked because I had never before seen gay teens on the big screen, and this is certainly not what I thought the movie was going to be about. I remember looking up the term camp in the dictionary when I got home, and I remember coming away with the idea that it was just another term for gay.
Years later, I can look back on my reaction to this film and my rudimentary understanding of the term camp. As this week’s readings showed, camp does not necessarily mean gay. Not all those who participate in camp are gay, and not all who are gay participate in camp. Rather, camp is a sensibility that some embrace and others do not. I can also now reflect on my reaction to the film. Then I felt incredibly awkward. Did this awkwardness stem from the fact that I was watching gay teens, watching a movie with sex and kissing with my mom, or both? I can’t really say. Maybe the awkwardness came from the fact that I was only nine and I was watching gay people on the big screen. But why is it ok for nine year olds, kids even younger, to watch straight relationships in movies but not gay ones? Why one type of relationship but not another? Heteronormative much? I think that if any child is old enough to see romantic relationships on the big screen, he or she should see both straight and gay relationships portrayed. It’s just more realistic. I also would like to think that, if I were to re-watch this film, I would have both a greater understanding and appreciation of camp. Second time around, I think I would enjoy the film rather than walking away feeling mortified and like I never wanted to go to summer camp again.