Sex and gender

File:Aachen, Hans von - Emperador Matthias (1612).jpgSex is physical, gender is cultural.

I presented male, and now express myself female. So I am “Transgender”, as this is to do with my way of presenting myself to the World, and expressing myself to myself. But- the word “transgender” implies that sex does not come into it. In previous usage, there was a distinction between “transsexuals” who had the operation, and “transgenderists” who did not.

I had male sex organs. Arguably my sex was male. Yet I revolt against that idea: it is so deep, so ingrained, so natural that I am female that I think of my sex as female, too, throughout my life. Something in my brain, something in my genes, something. So I do not like the word “transsexual”- crossing between the sexes- because I feel I have always been female.

One advantage of “Transsexual” as an identity is (Irony ALERT!!) that if the bigot looks at me, I can whine, “I’m not like those weirdos over there. I’m transsexual! I’ve had the operation and everything! Transvestites are perverts, but I have a medical condition!” However, justifying myself to a bigot is a mug’s game. It is impossible. And- I do not want to be accepted because I have gone down a certain path. I want to be accepted because I am human, and I want that extended to everyone.

So, we use the word “Trans”. It is inclusive.

—————————– culture: the kilt, though skirt-like, is a man’s garment, and trousers are a woman’s garment. But the cultural issue is deeper than that: the kilt, with deep pleats in a heavy fabric, swings in a masculine way. It is not feminine.

So, culturally, I can go so far. I can accept that men wear something which partially resembles a skirt, but I want it to be masculine. Men in something feminine is transgressive. Women’s trousers are cut differently, in different colours and fabrics. The Restoration gentleman, in bright-coloured velvet and lace with a long curly wig still wore trousers, while the ladies wore long skirts. I can accept the different cultural expression of masculinity as long as there is a distinction.

Oh, right. That is conservative. Not radical at all. I need the distinction. I am uncomfortable without it.

Then I can accept others if it is explained to me. The concept of Neutrois, for example, someone identifies as neither man nor woman. Oh, OK. This person is neutrois. I can probably restrain myself from policing the person’s apparent gender expression, but I will certainly notice it. This person is Genderqueer. I learn, slowly. Remember this is a trans woman writing- I have a reaction, then a moment’s thought while I apply my Diversity understanding, and I may need to consciously apply that Diversity understanding repeatedly.

And- not just as a matter of gender- I am not good with people new to me. I need to spend time with people before I am comfortable with them.

Part of my noticing, part of my staring, is considering- is this a possibility for me? If people stare at women hand in hand, it might be bigoted condemnation, or fearful admiration- But that’s not allowed –is it?

The Guermantes Way

de Laszlo, Elizabeth, Comtesse Greffuhle
Young Marcel starts by fantasising about Madame la Duchesse de Guermantes, walking the Paris streets in hopes of seeing her and catching her eye. He imagines he loves her, but

we live in perfect ignorance of those we love.

He ends in being so friendly that he can drop in on her when he likes, after a long dinner party at her house. She is happy to see him because he is highly intelligent, an intellectual, the friend of the painter Elstir and the writer Bergotte. However his friendship with her so enrages her brother in law, M. de Charlus, that he withdraws his patronage from Marcel- patronage which the Baron thinks priceless, but the narrator only wants as an entrée to the Guermantes salon.

That dinner party is described in intense detail, and the attitudes of the aristocratic Des and a token Von show through their words. They are completely facile, and fascinating to Marcel in talking of their noble names and relationships going back centuries as a seaman would be, talking of the tides. It is impossible to know another person:

in those days I supposed that it was through words that the truth was communicated to other people… it may perhaps be gathered with more certainty, without waiting for words and without even taking them into account, from countless external signs.

People do not, as I had imagined, present themselves to us clearly and in fixity with their merits, their defects, their plans, their intentions with regard to ourselves… but as a shadow we can never penetrate, of which there can be no direct knowledge, about which we form countless beliefs based upon words and even actions, neither of which give us more than insufficient and in fact contradictory information.

We bring to the feeling we associate with a person the many dormant elements that person awakens in us but which are foreign to the person in question.

Proust makes his Jew friend Bloch ridiculous, while showing the poisonous oppression the Jews lived under, where even those who know they ought not to be prejudiced feel distaste. People struggling with oppression behave in twisted ways.

the tone in which a Catholic lady might inform a Jewish one that her parish priest denounced the pogrom in Russia and admired the generosity of certain Jews

Friendship is a flaw in an artist, and time spent with friends is time wasted. Explaining myself, the only person I may know, is the purpose of art.

Friendship is totally bent on making us sacrifice the only part of ourselves that is real and incommunicable (except through art) to a superficial self which, unlike the other, finds no joy on its own; what it finds instead is a vague, sentimental satisfaction at being cherished by external support, hospitalized in the individuality of another person.

I note his transgendered character:

a young man in a black velvet toque and hortensia-coloured skirt, his cheeks chalked red like a page from a Watteau album, who with a smile on his lips and his eyes fixed aloft, tracing graceful patterns with the palms of his hands and springing lightly about, seemed so entirely of another species from the sensible people in conventional dress among whom he was pursuing his ecstatic trance like a madman

The Duchesse is intelligent, but

to be intelligent meant to have  a scathing tongue, to be capable of making tart comments, of not taking no for an answer; it also meant the ability to hold ones own in painting, music and architecture alike, and to speak English.

I laugh out loud as he shows his own stupidities:

in long monologues with myself, in which I rehearsed everything I was going to tell him with scarcely a thought of what he might have to say to me.

The Trans Threat

The trans threat. Would you want one of us sitting beside you in an aeroplane? What if that tranny is a terrorist? In Canada,

5.2 (1) An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if …
(c) the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents;

In Canada, one of us cannot get a passport with the correct gender marker unless s/he has the Op scheduled within one year.

Now, I can just about imagine going to check in and saying, what do you mean I do not look like a man? Dressed as girly feminine as I can, I take off my wig and putting on my baritone, I say, “Do I look like a man now? No, I don’t like the M on my passport either, but what can you do with a homophobic government?” But I cannot imagine doing that three months after I started to live full time. Before I transitioned, while I holidayed in the UK expressing myself female, when I went to Italy I presented male, because I did not want any hassle. Is there any particular reason why I should not have gone to Malta in 2002? It was only just after the Twin Towers attack.

On second thoughts, can Stephen Harper really be a bigot, when he allows himself to be photographed shaking hands with a black man?

In Britain, I got a passport saying F as soon as I changed my name. My GP had to write to the passport agency saying I intended to live female life long. In Australia I read one can get a passport marked M, F or X for indeterminate; X is not open to transgender people, but that will come. The US has dropped the surgery requirement for giving a correct gender marker on the passport.

We are no threat to anyone. Like people with schizophrenia, we (and other people) are a far bigger threat to us than we to others. I now know why to oppose Mr Cameron’s desire for a British Bill of Rights to replace the European Human Rights Convention. He wants a land safe for bigots.


Then again, imagine trying to leave Canada with my current passport, and not being allowed to board the plane because some attendant thinks I look like a man?

Gender studies

I got the phrase “sex is genetic; gender is cultural” from The Feminist Files, by a student from North Carolina inspired to make a difference in the world. Apart from in grammar, I had not previously understood the use of the word gender and I am grateful.

My caveats: I am the one who gets to say what sex I am, and the sex I have been at all times in my life. I am and have been female. “Sex is physical, gender is cultural” would be more assonant; sex is physical, involving brain structure and genes as well as gonads.

And gender is a cultural phenomenon in that it is my cultural expression of something innate. Had I had two X chromosomes and a male outward appearance, if gender were merely cultural I would have grown up happily male, conformed to my upbringing, expressing maleness culturally as my society and family expected, more or less. There is something there in me which I express culturally, something “feminine”. I like flowery skirts, crystal pendants and long, dangly earrings.

Feminism here has won the campaigns to get women rights to go to university and vote, and is winning equal respect at work. It can now be in part about acceptance of the widest range of cultural expression of gender, liberating people to choose to express ourselves however we wish, neutrois and gynandrous as well as all aspects of male and female.

The Gender Diamond

We asked to be treated as women. So they told us how we should think and feel, and judged us on our appearance. And now it is liberating to see the Gender Diamond.

An end to binary understandings of gender! Where are you on the Gender Diamond? As well as the spectrum male to female, there is the vertical axis, from polygendered to agendered. Remember that these  matters may be distinguished from sexuality.

For me this has been helpful, helping me to imagine other ways of being, and so imagine such other ways within myself, and feel how I respond to the thought, and so discern how I might be in myself. I think I may be different places in the diamond at different times, not because this is a role or mask I put on, but because that is my authentic way of responding in the moment. I feel I am more adept at permitting myself my own authentic way of being, rather than getting hung up on what is the right way to behave. (Of course, another way to imagine other ways of being is to observe and to seek to empathise with other people.)

Is it also useful for cis-gendered (ie, non-transgendered) people?

Possibly, of course, the gender diamond is not useful, even for me. Possibly the Male in me, which I am exploring at the moment, is no greater than in other women, normally and naturally. And if anyone thinks I am a man because of certain characteristics, he is too stupid to be convinced by this graphic.

I would like to write about it for Wikipedia. The trouble is, a Wikipedia article is required to be Notable, and should not involve Original Research. Googling leads to no particular source, though two blogs link it to Raphael Carter, an author. As a published author, Carter may be sufficiently Notable, but I need a definite source.

I heard about the Gender Diamond here.

Neutrois, naturally

I am grateful to Maddox for introducing me to the concept of neutrois, and for showing themself on the web. (“Themself”- the pronoun they wants, to the chagrin of my grammar checker, is they, their or them for he/she/him/her/his/hers. Others use the pronouns ze and hir as pronouns for people without specifying gender.)

Maddox has a gender. It is the neutral gender, I think neither male nor female (I hope they will correct me if I have expressed it badly). They has a lot more to say on this on their fascinating blog. I am grateful, because this idea shows me a new way of understanding, new possibilities of how to be human. Meeting transsexual people gave me a new possibility of how to be, fifteen years ago. I had experienced and then internalised strong negative reactions to expressing myself female, but had seen that I was allowed to be a normal man (I tried very hard at that). Now, meeting these people, I saw that I was allowed to want to transition and be more or less a normal woman (lots of people who have transitioned will tell you they are women, not transwomen). Some people find that hard enough to understand.

For me, I would say I am both male and female, rather than neither. I realised very quickly I did not fit the standard definition of “a transsexual person”, even if it was so close to me that expressing myself female for the last nine years has been completely right for me. Responding with strong empathy for female characters in films and TV was a giveaway for me. Once I permitted myself to express that part of myself, that was it, I knew I wanted to transition.

Now, I am far more comfortable with the range of natural responses within me, and so less in need of examples of either how it is permissible to be, or how it is possible to be. I can just be. Mostly. And, still, seeing other possibilities in other people may still make me more alive to possibilities in myself. So I am grateful.