Gender identity

Gender identity is not a useful concept. You might say your gender identity is male or female, but what does that say other than you are trans or cis? (Note the inclusive language. I do not want to alienate my cis readers.)

I am happier transitioned. Therefore I am trans. I wanted to transition more than anything else in the world. Therefore I was trans. There is no need for an additional concept of gender identity. I transitioned because I am trans. That is enough.

And, what is my gender identity anyway? If there is some identity as a woman women have because they are women, a large part of that for most involves being attracted to men. Well, I am attracted to women, and lesbians are no less women. (Note the non-inclusive language: I expect trans men just to nod along and make such translation as they need to their own experience themselves.)

The concept has value to explain ourselves to cis people only if they are uncomprehending but basically affirming. “You know you’re a woman/man, right? Well, so do I.” But it doesn’t work with people who are hostile. If someone asks “Are you a man or a woman?” I know they think I am a man. Saying I have a female gender identity won’t persuade them that I am a woman, or even that it is OK for me to express myself female. And most people are familiar enough with the idea of trans people that they don’t need an additional idea of gender identity. If they say, “I don’t understand it,” I can say that with all the prejudice and loss of privilege, I am still happier like this. You don’t need to understand, you just need to empathise.

We always used to say that everyone has a gender identity, cis or trans, and the concept of a cis person’s gender identity has even less meaning than a trans person’s.

The concept has little value to explain ourselves to ourselves. Picture me in 1999, sick fed up of the struggle to appear Manly, wanting to transition and terrified of that. So I learned of The Script- “I knew there was a problem aged three, and I knew what it was aged five”- and doubted myself further. I had not as a child known I was a girl. I was alienated from myself and my feelings as a child, and had taken in to myself the desperate need to appear manly, but I had no sense of a firm, life-long gender identity. I was not sure of any fixed identity. The script does not aid a diagnosis as trans- DSM V states you have to have had your “strong desire to be of the other gender” for only six months.

The people most alienated by the concept of gender identity are the people I most want as allies: gender variant people who won’t transition. For a gender-non-conforming woman who says her sex is important to her, for feminist solidarity, for the common experience of sexism and gynaecological problems, and of gestation and birth, gender identity is a repulsive idea, because it enforces gender stereotypes. Some ignore the stereotypes- “I’m as happy in overalls maintaining my motorbike as I am all dolled up for an evening out”. Some find them oppressive. Sex is real, and the basis of oppression, of slut-shaming, period-shaming, pain not taken seriously, and gender is the tool of that oppression, not allowing women to be “bossy” or “feisty”, demanding stereotypes they don’t fit.

The words “gender identity” don’t add anything. I am trans. I am happier expressing myself as a woman, with a woman’s hair, clothes and sometimes makeup, a woman’s name. My way of being is my own, and I don’t need anyone to see it as particularly “feminine”. Being trans is OK.

To an extent, I am calling for a tactical retreat. Many people campaigning against trans people find the very idea of gender oppressive. Talking of gender identity does us no good, and just riles them.

All comments welcome.

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