Based on a series of tweets of mine beginning here.

Many people seem unaware of how the concept "gender is a social construct" - which many feminists believe to be axiomatic or unassailable dogma - has been used against trans people. Apart from the fact that it's a rather arrogantly totalising assertion1 - it's not, for example, typically paired with the phrase ".... which might have biological roots" - it has been, and still is, used to argue that trans people are at best psychologically confused, and at worst are furthering oppressive social relations based on gender.

For example: radfems use the bare concept "gender is a social construct" to argue that trans women only think we're women because of societal expectations around gender; basically, we're men who merely want to wear dresses, but the social construction of gender means that we feel we can only do that if we're women. We therefore claim we must be women2. Thus, radfems argue, those of us who think we're trans women need to accept we're really just men who don't fit social constructions of gender. i've witnessed this argument coming not only from radfems, but from people from other strands of feminism as well.

Another thing i've encountered from feminists is the argument that, since gender is a social construct, which has a hierarchy attached to it in which men are 'greater' than women, then, as it's socially constructed, it can, and indeed, should, be 'abolished' - a notion i've addressed here3.

i feel that, analogously to how radfem ideologies about sex work are quite prevalent in mainstream feminism, radfem ideas about 'transness', which are rooted in unsophisticated versions of the "gender is a social construct" meme, have "leaked out" of the radfem sphere into mainstream feminism, where they negatively affect how trans people, and trans women in particular, are treated.

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1. Which i find particularly interesting given that i have only rarely witnessed the same assertion being made about sexual orientation, i.e. i rarely see people who claim that "gender is a social construct" also claiming that "sexual orientation is a social construct". To me, there's at least as much reason to declare sexual orientation a social construct as there is gender.

2.. To be fair, there are a number of trans women who, whether under pressure from gatekeepers or otherwise, do indeed make such arguments (e.g. "I like sewing, that proves I'm really a woman!"). i'm not one of them.

3. And again, despite sexual orientation most definitely having a hierarchy attached to it, in which heterosexuals are 'greater' than non-heterosexuals, and homosexuals in particular, i've not often witnessed calls for sexual orientation to be 'abolished'.

Based on several tweets of mine, beginning here.

So, i've thought some more about why i don't really like the term 'TERF'.

It feels to me that the term 'TERF' implies that being 'Trans-Erasing' is the only problem with radfem politics, behaviours and attitudes. As though, if radfem politics were to stop being trans-erasing, that they would then basically no longer be problematic.

But there's so much more that's problematic (to say the least) about radfem politics, attitudes and behaviours.

There's radfem hostility to sex work and/or sex workers, treating the latter as fifth-columnists for patriarchy. There's radfem hostility to kink, and to kinky women, who are claimed to have "eroticised our own oppression". There's radfem hostility to porn, which they basically seem to define as any sexually explicit material, but which also involves hostility to any women who participate in creating it (cf. their attitudes to sex workers), and women who enjoy watching it. Then there's radfem hostility to polyamory, which i admit i'm not quite clear on the reasons for (but which i can speculate on). Then there's radfem willingness to tell women that their intimate relationships are "politically incorrect", e.g. that a given woman shouldn't be in a relationship with a certain person, because it's politically 'wrong'. (Here in Melbourne, radfem Sheila Jeffreys has been known to tell people point-blank that their intimate relationship is not PC.) There are probably more issues besides, but those are just some that immediately come to mind without effort.

i'm finding it disturbing that there seem to be increasing numbers of women, cis and trans, who seem comfortable with all this, as long as being 'Trans-Erasing' isn't added to the list. This is simply not acceptable to me.

Non-sexworker trans women, knowing what it's like to be attacked by radfems, should be showing solidarity with sexworkers attacked by radfems. Non-kinky trans women, knowing what it's like to be attacked by radfems, should be showing solidarity with kinky women attacked by radfems. Trans women, knowing what it's like to be attacked by radfems, should be showing solidarity with women attacked for having 'non-PC' relationships. And so on.

Radfem politics claims to be attacking the system of patriarchy, but in practice it seems predominantly interested in doing so by attacking individual women deemed to be traitors / fifth-columnists - sex workers, kinky women, trans women, women who shave, women who have sex with men, etc. - and expelling them from feminism and/or womanhood. We trans women are not the only women negatively impacted by radfem politics; let's not use terminology suggesting that hostility to trans women is radfem politics' primary (or perhaps even sole) problem.

ETA, 2014-06-23: i've just realised another issue i have with the term: it lets off the hook feminists who are trans-hostile / trans-unfriendly but who don't self-identify as 'radical feminists'. And i know, from decades of experience with feminism, that there are many such feminists. Just as there's no shortage of feminists who aren't radfems (whether in terms of self-identification or ideology) but who have adopted radical feminism's typical MOs1, there's no shortage of feminists who aren't radfems but who also aren't supportive of trans women, sex workers, kinky women, poly women, women who shave, women who have sex with men, etc.

1. For example, various ideological purity criteria / shibboleths ("No True Feminist would shave her legs / defend the sex industry!"); promoting various versions of the dubious concept that "the [claimed] greater good trumps individual autonomy" ("I don't care if your 'submission' to your male partner is supposedly consensual, such behaviour by you as a woman hurts all women!"); dichotomising issues into simplistic categories ("If you don't actively support me re. issue X, you're actively supporting patriarchy!"; and so on.

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Satire, based on several tweets of mine, beginning here.

BREAKING: Cisgendered woman, Judith Butler, might not have said everything there ever is to say about gender!

"Until we force them into Butlerian theory, we should assume trans people don't exist, and not listen to phantoms," said one academic.

The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Butlersition has said academics who "listen to so-called 'trans' people" would be severely punished.

"The common people rely on academics to explain gender to them," said a spokeswoman. "Deviations from Butler will only sow confusion."

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So you've just referred to 'gender', perhaps in the phrase "gender is a social construct". Do you mean:

  1. 'sense of gender', i.e. the "gut feeling" one has about one's gender, or lack thereof?

  2. 'gender identity', i.e. the label(s) used to describe to others one's sense of gender / lack of gender?

  3. 'sociocultural gender roles', i.e. the roles that society tends to assign to people who publicly present as 'female', 'male', or other (non-)genders?

  4. ETA 2013.07.09: 'gender expression', i.e. the way that one 'does' gender behaviourally, visually etc. [Thanks to jessie-c for noting this.]

To me, as two-gendered transgenderqueer woman, it is critical that discussions about gender make at least these distinctions. Because in my experience, when these distinctions aren't made, discourse can quite quickly end up in places that have negative real-world impacts on trans and genderqueer people.

(Related: my blog post "So you've just said 'gender is fluid'".)

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2013-07-07 18:17
Nowadays i don't actively identify as 'queer'. If someone calls me 'queer', i'm usually fine with it; but otherwise, i tend to avoid using it to describe myself.

My first encounters with the word 'queer' in a positive sense were of people seeking to reclaim it as an umbrella term for all non-heterosexual identities1,2. This seemed to me to be a potentially useful approach to alliance-building - emphasising commonalities rather than differences, all the better to challenge het-supremacy - and so i happily started applying it to myself, alongside 'bisexual'.

Of late, however, i've come to the conclusion that 'queer' is becoming so broad as to be effectively useless.

Firstly, i recently learned that in New Zealand, 'queer' doesn't just refer to non-heterosexuality, but non-cisgender genders as well. In this usage, one could be heterosexual but transgender, and thus 'queer'. This differs from the usages i've encountered here in Australia, where 'queer' on its own - i.e. outside of constructs like 'genderqueer' - is taken to be a statement about sexual orientation/preference, not gender. That is: in an Australian context, if i labelled myself 'queer', i would expect people to understand that to mean i'm non-heterosexual in some way, without any implication about my gender. If i were to do so in a Kiwi context, however, it could mean i'm "heterosexual but non-cis" or "non-heterosexual but cis". To me, there's enough of an issue with people believing that 'trans' is a sexual identity3 as it is without a term that actively tries to elide the distinctions between sexual orientation/preference and gender.

Secondly, as i note in this tweet, "[a] difficulty with umbrella terms is that they often evolve to become synonymous with the group under the umbrella with the most #privilege." In my experience, a number of people use 'queer' as a synonym for 'homosexual'. So i've witnessed situations in which women gripe about a guy coming on to them "even though I've said I'm queer" - a usage of 'queer' which conflicts with the (in my experience, common) usage of 'queer' to mean 'non-heterosexual', i.e. to mean not only lesbians and gay men, but those who are bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual etc. as well.

Thirdly, though, and most critically, people seem to increasingly be using 'queer' to mean something along the lines of "differing from at least one societal norm". In this usage, one can, for example, be 'queer' by virtue of being disabled, even though one might be heterosexual and cisgender.

"But by that logic," i've said, "everyone is queer."
"Yes!" has been the happy reply, "Exactly!"

i assume what's being attempted here is a demonstration that, because we're all queer in some sense, society simply needs to stop being unpleasant to certain people on the basis that they differ from the (statistical or asserted) norm; instead, society should simply start happily proclaiming "Viva la difference!"

Uh huh.

i feel systematic privilege, discrimination and oppression can't be ended merely by presenting a sufficiently succinct and clever argument. To believe otherwise is to assume that it occurs primarily due to innocent ignorance, and that there is little to no material benefit for anyone involved. To me, this is manifestly not the case.

Moreover, by collapsing into a single term the wide variety of forms that privilege, discrimination and oppression can take, it becomes more difficult to witness the fact that one can be benefiting from one system of power differentials whilst at the same time being hindered and/or harmed by another. For example, having disabilities - CFS, major depression, fibromyalgia, OCD - doesn't give me some right to downplay my thin privilege on the basis that "Hey, i suffer from discrimination too!" And this is without taking into consideration the "umbrella term effect" i described above.

Still, this is the direction a number of people are taking the word 'queer' - to in practice make it synonymous with 'human'. In which case, calling myself 'queer' doesn't convey much information to anyone other than those who thought i was some form of AI.

i interact with people from multiple continents and nations on a daily basis. The variation in intended meanings of the word 'queer' now feels to me to be too great for me to want to actively use it to describe myself. No label is perfect, of course; but i feel there are many more precise labels to apply to myself than 'queer'.

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1. ETA, 2013.07.29: Cf. this piece on the word 'queer', by Yasmin Nair; i have been heavily influenced by the early-90s usages of the word 'queer' she describes therein.

2. i recently read an exchange where someone attempted to 'educate' someone else that the word 'queer' was offensive, apparently unaware that there are many thousands - if not millions! - of people who publicly proudly use the word to describe themselves.

3. So that, for example, i have on several occasions encountered forms where i have to specify whether i'm 'heterosexual', 'homosexual', 'bisexual' or 'transsexual'. :-/

So you've just said "gender is fluid". Do you mean:

  1. Every person's sense of gender is fluid?

  2. Every person's gender identity is fluid?

  3. Every person's gender expression is fluid?

  4. Some people's sense of gender is fluid?

  5. Some people's gender identity is fluid?

  6. Some people's gender expression is fluid?

  7. Sociocultural ideas re. sense of gender are fluid?

  8. Sociocultural ideas re. gender identity are fluid?

  9. Sociocultural ideas re. gender expression are fluid?

To me, discussing the (possibly relative) truth / falsity of the statement "gender is fluid" requires that one specify which of the above statements one is intending to convey.

(i've previously written more generally about the concept of 'fluidity' in the context of gender and sexuality.)

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@cuntext asked me if i'd be willing to participate in a Blog-Hop, involving one self-interviewing and then passing the "Blog-Hop baton" to another blogger. i was flattered to have been asked, and agreed!

@cuntext's Blog-Hop post is here; my own tongue-in-cheek self-interview is below. :-)


When did you decide to start calling yourself a 'woman'?

You know you have those days where you wake up and think to yourself something like: "You know, I should learn to skateboard!" or "Hey, maybe I should put some colour in my hair!" It was like that. Exactly like that. i woke up one morning and thought "Hey, being a chick seems like a lark; why not try it on?" And there it was.

So the original motivation wasn't to be a fifth columnist for patriarchy?

Not at all! The original motivation was just a spur-of-the moment thing. But having said that, it's true that i soon realised being a fifth columnist for patriarchy was going to be a major positive side-effect. For years, i'd been thinking to myself: "Oh how i wish i could destroy feminism! How i wish we could live in a Gorean world where women knew their place, naked at the feet of all men! But, damn those radical feminists! They continue to maintain a staunch defense of feminism against all Male Energies! Man, if only there were some way to break through those lines of radical feminists, and erode the foundations of feminism from within!" Pretending to be a woman, and demanding that i be treated as one despite not really being one, was going to be the perfect opportunity to set my pro-Gor plan in motion.

But hasn't retaining your penis, rather than undergoing genital reconstruction surgery, made your efforts in that regard more difficult?

Oh sure. It's certainly required me to come up with some, er, "creative misinformation" about gender and sex and biology! Like: "One's gender isn't simply about whether or not one has a 'Y' chromosome." [laughs] But, you know, i'm a man, so i'm better at creating things than any female. And anyway, like i'm going to give up the symbol of my natural superiority over all women! [laughs] Sure, i'm happy to make some sacrifices for the patriarchal Thermidor, but, yeah, there are limits.

The big challenge has been being able to flaunt my penis in front of real women in changing rooms. That's a critical bottleneck on the path to Gor: forcing all females to accept the sight of a penis, to psychologically traumatise them with it, so they'll be too damaged to do anything but submit to the superiority of men. And radical feminists know that, so they put in an extra effort to fight against it.

You mentioned "sacrifices" - do you mean, things like getting your gender changed on various pieces of bureaucratic documentation, like for government agencies, private businesses, and so on?

Yeah. There's been a fair bit of effort involved in doing all that. One example: i've had to work with my collaborators in the medical parts of the transsexual empire to get documentation 'proving' [does air quotes] that i should be treated as a woman. You know what bureaucracies are like: things have to be "just so", and even when they are, sometimes common sense gets in the way, and bureaucrats think things like, "Surely it's not possible for a man to suddenly be a woman? Maybe I need to be wary here." And they block you, and you end up having to call in senior officers in the patriarchy, and getting them to order those bureaucrats to do what needs to be done. i mean, those officers understand the bigger picture, that this apparent increase in the number of 'women' [does air quotes] in the world is a temporary, tactical, manoeveur on the path to final victory. But the front-line staff don't.

So it's a been a hassle. But i've got there in the end!

Do you have any advice for any men themselves wanting to become fifth-columnists for patriarchy?

Do it! It can be hard work, but it can be really rewarding. Like, distracting radical feminists from talking about under-representation of women in STEM fields, or in the pool of 'experts' the mainstream media draws on when discussing various issues .... that feels really good! And though you might be asked to commit suicide for the cause, that's not a certainty; what is a certainty is that you'll have helped your fellow men to roll back all the encroachments women have made on men's dominion over the last few decades. That's something to be proud of.


It's amazing how cathartic i can find sarcasm .... :-)

@polyvanilla has a blog about being a kinky polyamorous woman happily married to a monogamous vanilla man. One recent post of hers i particular enjoyed was this one on breast orgasms.

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Thanks to Dee for her review of, and feedback on, this post!

i often see 'gender' defined by various people as being about sociocultural expectations regarding presentation and roles/behaviours. Which is to say: rather than being about whether or not one is, for example, a 'woman', it's about presenting as 'a woman', behaving as 'a woman', and so on. Furthermore, this definition is then contrasted with 'sex', which the same people then define as being purely about biology.

i've previously written a critique of the notion of sex-as-purely-biological; here, i'd like to critique the conflating of 'gender' itself with "socioculturally expected gender roles/behaviours and presentation". Unsurprisingly, given the definition of 'gender' outlined above, many people go on to argue that we need to work towards a "gender-free society". With 'gender' defined as necessarily involving (relatively) rigid notions about presentation and roles, that desire seems to me to be a reasonable conclusion. The problem is, this definition is fundamentally hostile to trans people1.

One of the accusations often levelled by radfems2 against trans women such as myself is that we are reinforcing gender stereotypes, via:

  • "changing genders" (an oft-used phrase which i feel is usually inappropriate – we are not changing genders per se, we are changing which gender we publicly assert ourselves to be); and

  • adopting certain socioculturally expected physical presentations (regardless of the reasons for doing so).

As part of the process of transitioning, many trans women adopt an 'ultrafeminine' look, where what's considered 'feminine' is based on sociocultural ideas – in Western society, for example, predominantly wearing dresses and not pants, removing body hair, wearing jewellery, using facial makeup etc. There are at least two pressures for trans women to adopt this presentation, however:

  • 'Gatekeepers' - people such as psychiatrists and doctors – often require 'demonstrations' from trans women, to 'prove' we are serious about our sense of gender, before giving us the go-ahead to use hormones, have surgery, etc. That said, many gatekeepers often have *cough* 'traditional' ideas about what such demonstrations will look like. They don't find it sufficient for trans women to merely be suicidal about not being able to live as the gender we know ourselves to be; they require us to demonstrate to them that we're willing to conform to their stereotypes about the presentation and behaviours involved with being a 'woman'.

  • More generally, cisnormative society is constantly seeking any 'flaws' in how trans women live as women, to thus 'prove' that we're 'really' not women. A cis woman who prefers to wear pants, or who enjoys watching the footy, is nowadays only criticised by the more conservative conservatives, and doesn't seriously3 have her womanhood fundamentally questioned. This is not the case for an equivalent trans woman. So there is immense pressure on us to adopt 'ultrafeminine' presentations and behaviours.

In this context, defining 'gender' as inherently being about presentation and behaviours further reinforces the notion that trans people must present and behave like stereotypes in order to be accepted as the gender we know ourselves to be. Further, when one then uses this definition to argue for a "gender-free society", it's further reinforcing to trans people that we have no right to experience gender outside of that 'permitted' to us by society.

The argument might then be made: "Oh, but what we need to do is expand the definition of 'gender' so that it's not so limited in terms of presentation and behaviours!" There are at least two issues with this:

  • Assuming that one can expand the definition of 'gender' in such a way seems to me to imply that the essence of gender is in fact not about presentations and behaviours. So why include presentations and behaviours in the definition of gender in the first place? Why not distinguish 'gender' from "sociocultural expectations regarding presentation and behaviours for a given gender"?

  • In any case, who gets to decide which presentations and behaviours will be included in the expanded definition? If no-one or anyone does, surely that means that any presentations and behaviours can be included, which then renders presentation and behaviour irrelevant to the notion of 'gender' itself?

Here's something to consider. The word 'gay' - in the sense of 'homosexual' - has particular associations for many people: they often think of a guy who is flamboyant / camp. And though there are many people who realise that this is a stereotype – that although there are indeed some gay men like that, not all gay men are – it's still a common, pervasive stereotype in Western society. So should we then say we need to start working towards a "sexual-orientation-free society", simply because many people insist on linking sexual orientation with certain presentations and behaviours? Should we in fact define 'sexual orientation' as inherently involving particular sets of presentations and behaviours? Should we then state that a person is "not really 'gay'" unless they exhibit flamboyant, camp behaviours? If your answers to these questions are "no", why do your answers change to "yes" when discussing gender rather than sexual orientation?

i have to fight for my gender to be recognised every day. Every day i am involved with situations where people will regard me as "really just a guy" for one or more of many reasons: because i have a cock (and want to keep it)4, because i enjoy studying maths, because i top, because i have a goatee, because i watch porn .... the list goes on. And in the face of all that, i declare: "i am a woman. Whether or not you feel my presentation and behaviours fit your idea of the gender 'woman' is irrelevant. i am a woman. And don't try to tell me that i have to abandon this gender identity i have had to fight for just so that we can work towards your idea of a 'gender-free' utopia."

What i want is a society free of nonconsensual gendering. i refuse to demand that people not feel a sense of gender, or to claim that people wouldn't feel a sense of gender in some theoretical utopia. i want a society which doesn't assume people's gender based on presentation and/or behaviours – just as i want a society which doesn't assume someone's sexual orientation/preferences simply by looking at them – and which respects a person's sense of gender, or lack thereof. i will not support any theories or notions of gender which fly in the face of my experiences and struggles as a trans woman.

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1. And, i believe, genderqueer people too. (i myself identify as 'transgenderqueer' - i am both a trans woman and genderqueer.) But for the purpose of this essay, i'm going to focus on the impact on trans people.

2. A contraction of the phrase 'radical feminists'. A brief summary of my perspective on "radical feminism" can be found in this old blog post.

3. As distinct from jokes about "being one of the boys" etc.

4. i explore the particular form my body dysmorphia takes in more detail in this post.
Those around me for any substantial period of time eventually get to hear me complain about the "feminine energy / masculine energy" concepts beloved of so many religious / magickal / spiritual systems. As a feminist dual-gendered transgenderqueer, i feel my lived experiences make this notion problematic at best, particularly given the more general issues around defining 'sex' and 'gender'.

It recently occurred to me, however, that maybe the problem here is one of people confusing a map with the terrain. i can easily imagine individuals who have had spiritual revelations / insights trying to convey a feeling of connection with the Divine, and reaching for a metaphor that is likely to resonate with the majority of people: sexual union between a cis woman and a cis man. But then people infer this to mean that 'female' and 'male' are the underlying, fundamental concepts involved.

In Kabbalah's Etz Chaim, "Tree of Life", the first sephirah above Malkuth, "Kingdom" - typically associated with the material universe and/or the "Schechinah", the immanent Divine - is Yesod, "Foundation". Yesod is often considered the "Sphere of Illusion", in that neophytes at the beginning of their magickal / spiritual journey can erroneously believe that the images they're discovering and working with are 'things-in-themselves', as it were, rather than simply a 'best representation' created by the human mind as it tries to interpret what it's perceiving.

So while the "feminine energy / masculine energy" metaphor might well work for most people, it's not a map that works for me. On the contrary, its attempted symbolism creates sign(post)s that don't make sense to me given the personal understandings i've developed on my life journey. But that doesn't mean the terrain isn't nevertheless there for me to explore; it just means i need to create my own guidebook as i go.
'Fluidity' is in. "I'm gender-fluid." "Sexuality is fluid".

It's great that people who feel fluidity in their identities are increasingly recognising and proclaiming that fact. Problems arise, however, once we move beyond an individual describing their own gender identities and/or sexual identities, and start talking about 'gender-fluidity' and/or 'sexual-fluidity' more generally.

One disturbing trend i've noticed is for some people to use 'gender-fluid' as an attempted shorthand for "anyone who doesn't fit the gender dichotomy". Er, no. Don't do that. i'm dual-gendered - i'm both a woman and a man - and thus i don't fit within the gender dichotomy - i'm not just "female" or "male". But my gender is nevertheless a stable one. i don't "move between" being "more female" or "more male"; i'm both female and male, all the time, simultaneously. Further, not only is my gender stable, it's been stable since the early 2000s, when i first realised i was trans. "Ah, but!" someone might say, "before you realised you were trans, your gender was different!" No. My gender identity was different, but my underlying gender was as it is now; transition for me involved a recognition of what my gender actually is and was, rather than what others were expecting it to be.

i feel a significant part of the problem here is the conflation of 'gender' with 'gender identity' and 'sexuality' with 'sexual identity'. Identities can change without the underlying referents changing. For example: for many years i identified as bisexual; in more recent years i identified as polysexual; and i now identify as pansexual. Yet the types of people i'm attracted to has basically not changed during that time. What has changed is which word i think best describes my attraction preferences, based on not only my own understanding of what a given word means, but other people's apparent understandings and usages of that word. One reason i resisted identifying as 'pansexual' for a long time was because, in my experience, it tended to be used as an identity by kinksters - including heterosexual kinksters. More recently, however, i've observed it used much more frequently by people who can be attracted to a person regardless of that person's gender; and since i now identify as a kinkster myself, any associations it has with kink are no longer problematic for me. Thus, even though i've never let a person's gender be an obstacle to me being attracted to them, pansexual is my current preferred way of describing that.

So a person's gender identity or sexual identity might be fluid even when their underlying gender or sexuality is not; and part of the reason for this is that individual and social ideas about particular gender identities and/or sexual identities can be fluid. This leads me to another issue i frequently encounter in discussions involving the concept of 'fluidity': the conflation of the idea that a given person's gender/sexuality and/or gender/sexual identity might be fluid with the idea that sociocultural concepts of gender/sexuality might be fluid.

i would hope that no serious contemporary scholar of gender and/or sexuality not driven by fundamentalist religious beliefs seriously thinks that sociocultural concepts of gender and/or sexuality aren't fluid; and assuming that to be the case, i find statements like "[the sociocultural concept of] gender is fluid" to be relatively trivial. But the phrase in square brackets is, in my experience, rarely stated explicitly; and so the simple statement "Gender is fluid" can be taken to mean:

  • "The sociocultural concept of gender is fluid."

  • "Individual and/or sociocultural ideas about a particular gender identity are fluid."

  • "Any given person's sense of gender identity is fluid."

  • "Any given person's sense of gender is fluid."

Consequently, i would like to suggest that people be conscious of these multiple possible layers of meaning, and rather than throwing around currently-sexy simplistic phrases such as "sexuality is fluid", instead make more of an effort to be clear about which layer(s) they are making claims about, such that such claims can then be addressed accordingly.

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Whilst chatting with Dee recently about her latest Gay Express column, the issue of definitions for 'sex' and 'gender' arose.

i often see what seem to be well-meaning attempts to define 'sex' as "biological" and 'gender' as "socially constructed". i find this to be highly problematic.

Firstly, it would be more accurate to say that 'sex' is a social construct based on biology. There are several biological factors that can influence the development of what are often referred to as "sexual characteristics": not only genetics (including chromosomes), but also epigenetics, exposure to internally-produced and externally-produced hormones, and environmental substances more generally. Out of all this, it's common to select the 'X' and 'Y' chromosomes as indicators of 'sex'. Even then, however, there can be issues, because not everyone is either 'XX' or 'XY'. For example, some people are 'XXY'1. In some countries, having two XX chromosomes makes one 'female'; in other countries, having a Y chromosome makes one 'male'. So the same person could be classed as either 'female' or 'male' depending on what country they're in.

Thus, the privileging not only two particular chromosomes, but specific configurations of those chromosomes, over other biological factors is why i refer to 'sex' as "a social construct based on biology".

Secondly, as a dual-gendered trans woman, i can assure you that 'gender' is even trickier to define. Part of the problem is that people frequently conflate the concept of 'gender' with the concept of '[expected] gender roles'. So some (C)AFAB people say "Well, i'm not a 'girly girl', into frilly pink dresses and playing with dolls, so i must be transgendered!" No, it means they don't fit the expected gender roles for their assigned gender (i.e. 'female'). Similarly, many people assume that when i say i'm dual-gendered, i mean i've 'embraced'2 my "feminine, doll-loving side" together with my "masculine, truck-loving side". Again, no: i'm a woman and a man simultaneously, all the time, regardless of what i'm doing; and enjoying "chick-flicks" is part of me being a 'man', and enjoying programming is part of me being a 'woman'.

Why, then, do i call myself a 'woman', if it's not on the basis of identifying that category as being the one that gets to stick pictures of unicorns and rainbows on exercise books? It's because on some level, my mind fundamentally identifies with people labelled as being of 'female' gender as being "like me". It also fundamentally identifies with people labelled as being of 'male' gender as being "like me" (though to a noticeably lesser extent than 'female' people are). So the question then becomes: Well, how did this sense of identification come about?

In short: i don't know. i strongly suspect it's a mixture of biology, and physical environment, and social environment, and cultural environment, and political environment, and the influence of these four environments on the development of my biology, in which my mind is (i believe) based.

And 'gender'? i would call it something like "a psychosocial construct based on some combination of biology, physical environment, society, culture and politics". Still problematic, i'm sure, but at least more accurately reflective of what Western society has only recently started to learn: that sex and gender are a lot more complicated than we typically like to imagine.

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1. This particular combination is known as Klinefelter's syndrome. People are also born XYY, XX-male, XY-female, amongst other things. For more information, visit the Wikipedia entry on 'Intersex'.

2. For some reason some form of the word 'embrace' seems to be obligatory in this context.

LiveJournal really doesn't want to have to deal with gender variance: not being simply 'female' or 'male' is apparently something too "personal" to want to share publicly. Gah. This just further supports my decision to move my journal to DreamWidth.

This follows on from an incident yesterday when someone claimed that they didn't know which pronouns to use for me, even though they have not only heard people using the correct pronouns, but have in fact been specifically told, just recently, the correct pronouns to use. i get the impression that this person doesn't want to use them on the basis that using female pronouns to refer to someone with a goatee is 'obviously' wrong. :-P If that's the case, it provides a good example of nonconsensual gendering.

People's desire to engage in nonconsensual gendering can be quite startling. The only other identity i've had which has provoked such a response was being vegan: people would ask me why i was vegan, i'd tell them, and would then get attacked in a way that suggested i'd just set fire to their home. So what motivates people to nonconsensually gender others? Please feel free to indulge in some wild speculation in the comments. :-)


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