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…

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