Gender isn’t that simple

It really bothers me when people object to the idea that people “just know” their gender. A lot of cis people try to turn gender into something diagnosable, getting annoyed at the idea that gender is just something you know, that a man is someone who knows himself to be a man.

It bothers me because I almost never see this argument for sexuality, or other similar things. Most people are willing to accept that a woman knows she’s a lesbian because she’s attracted to women, which is basically saying that she knows she’s attracted to women BECAUSE she’s attracted to women.

I realize that there’s the argument of physical response- but that’s not all there is to attraction. It’s possible to think “I would like to have sex with this person” without immediately getting physically aroused, or to be around someone you are attracted to without constantly being horny. Physical arousal is part of it, but it’s more than just that. You know you’re attracted to someone because you’re attracted to them, it’s tautological but true. It’s the same with other parts of identity.

There are indicators. Dysphoria or a lack thereof, what causes the dysphoria, what alleviates the dysphoria, etc. And, yes, it is based on social ideas of what a man and a woman is- however, it can be based on very broad ideas of what each gender is. Women who wear pants and play football and cut their hair short and do stereotypically male things are still women, men who wear skirts and bake and wear their hair long and do stereotypically female things are still men.

I see a lot of cis people who make this complaint seem to expect that the answer is “transgender men are just women who want to be more masculine, transgender women are just men who want to be more feminine”- which just isn’t true. Gender isn’t something that can be wrapped in a nice little bow because of the way we see it, it’s complicated primarily because we’ve set such narrow constraints on it and now that people are pushing against those constraints, our models and language for gender are just not enough.


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2 responses to “Gender isn’t that simple

  1. A counsellor told me that the constraints trans folk put on gender are far tighter than those cis folk impose: we have a stronger idea of what it is to be “normal” female or male because we do not grow up congruent. That makes sense to me.

    I am a man- as long as your definiition of “man” can include me without judging me. I am a woman because I want to express myself as women commonly do- I hated my male name and though I am less bothered by saying it it still gives a frisson. And I want to do some things which might be thought masculine, but a feminist would certainly get angry with being proscribed to her. Desires and what is permissible are very wide. I disapprove of my trans status far more than my acquaintances do, even now.

    • It can go both ways. Often, trans people face far more pressure to fit into very narrow definitions of “man” and “woman” to be able to be accepted as their gender. Your average cis woman never has to worry about being seen as a man so can play around with gender roles a bit more freely, a trans woman has to work to avoid it so can be far more constrained in how she presents herself.

      At the same time, trans people can also have a more open view of gender than many cis people because they weren’t being raised taught that activities were bad for them in the same way many cis people are. What I mean is that trans men aren’t taught that they, personally, aren’t allowed to wear dresses the way cis men are, and trans women aren’t taught that they, personally, aren’t allowed to play rough sports the way cis women sometimes are. So they can feel more free to break gender roles because they’ve been taught conflicting information (boys aren’t supposed to wear dresses but trans boys were expected to, girls aren’t supposed to be rough but trans girls were expected to) so just decide to ignore it and do whatever feels most comfortable.

      It varies.

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