What Does It Mean?
You, the reader of this sure-to-be rambling blog post, have something in your pants. A gameboy, half a tuna sandwich left over from last Wednesday’s lunch, a stamp collection, a penis, a vagina…you name it. Let’s focus on the last two: with the exception of a very small, very unfortunately marginalized demographic, you have a set of pronouns that others use to refer to you by, and they directly correspond to what it is that you have in your pants (and on the off chance that you are like me and your pants are a convenient and cheap storage space for unusual trinkets and paraphernalia, I would like to reiterate that I am speaking specifically about whether you have a penis or a vagina).
I am a big fan of hypothetical situations, so bear with me as I analogize this pronoun/ genitalia phenomenon: You are in an anonymous online chatroom, and somebody sends you a private message. You begin to talk, but you are extremely careful not to use your name, not to use personal pronouns directed towards yourself, not to discuss men’s or women’s bathroom etiquette, or otherwise allude to your gender in a way that is unmistakable. However, you are entirely honest when answering questions, discussing your life, talking about your family friends, and otherwise being yourself. The person with whom you are engaging in said dialogue gets a very clear picture of who you are as a person intellectually, socially, philosophically, and any other word ending in the sound ‘ee’ (except, perhaps, ‘donkey’ or ‘titty’). However, all this being said, he or she does not know if you are a ‘he’ or a ‘she’.
After a few hours of talking, your interlocutor is asked by the powers that be to guess what your gender is. This is a high stakes question. If they get the answer wrong, every puppy in the world will shed their fur and grow thorns…serious business. Now, given the conditions listed above, what do you think the odds are that they will guess correctly? If they guess incorrectly, why is that? Are you not entirely in sync with your assigned gender, which is, in most cases, the gender that you accept as your own? In a chatroom, are you, the manliest of men, a girl? Are you, homecoming queen extraordinaire, a hairy, sweaty dude? Perhaps it’s more subtle than the hypotheses I have drawn, but the question remains: devoid of your facial hair, DD breasts, 47 inch penis, or double X chromosomes (presumably not all on the same person), are you who you think you are? Devoid of your secondary sex characteristics, are you as much of a male or a female as you have always thought of yourself as? While this examination of what it means to be a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, is not heading in the direction of establishing a clear conclusion, it is intended to inspire you to do just that: examine. Who are you without your gender assignment? If we as a people decided to do away with the social significance and implications of gender, would you still be the same you? If your chatroom buddies thought you were a boy but you were really a girl, would they see you in a whole different light if they saw you in person? Would they still want to talk about sports, or would your camaraderie evolve (or devolve) into a romantic pursuit? Furthermore, would you still be comfortable and confident in your way of speaking, debating, and joking with these online guys if you knew that they knew the ‘truth’?
And for my last set of questions: If you could walk around for a day as an androgynous being and nobody would question what your gender or sex were, what would you do? Would you behave differently? Would you have lost a part of your identity without having to conform to your gender’s typical roles, or conversely, would you be a more genuine, authentic version of yourself?
None of this is meant to suggest that gender is wrong or inhumane or stupid. All I intend to do by publishing this blog post is to help others being to question who they are as individuals versus as members of a distinct group governed by genitals and hormones. While I do genuinely believe (and cannot get into this right now as it is out of the scope of this musing) that gender has a lot of validity biologically, genetically, and in terms of our bodies’ chemistry*, when you take a step back and truly think about it, it has to seem rather pathetic and unevolved of us as human beings that we put ourselves into groups on the bases of physical characteristics that are out of our control. I could write a very similar article about race, or religion, or attractiveness, or height, but it just so happens that gender and gender expression are not only under-explored and gravely misunderstood, but also that everybody has to deal with gender on a daily basis: we are all assigned a gender at birth, and regardless of how little or how much we identify with said assignment, we are all forced to deal with the implications of our genders and of our gender identities every single day. Gender is an ‘institution’ that unites us, but that also hinders us and creates discrimination and prejudice.
My hope is that, because every single person who reads this small-scale exposition will not necessarily even learn about, but simply be incited to consider or ponder or critique the fact that gender is something that may well not be as rigid and might not make just as much sense as society thinks it is or does, simply by virtue of being alive in this world, and consequently being a member of a gendered world.