“[Because] not everything is black and white.”
Life is full of color, with events and people falling across a full spectrum of personalities and characterisitics. Yet an innate tendency of humans is to form categories: black or white; male or female; skinny or fat. When individuals do not fit neatly within the confines, it is difficult to understand them without drastically altering the mindset. The saying at the beginning of the post has helped me work through difficult situations and ideas, navigating the complexities by realizing that dichotomies can be dangerous–there is often more between the lines to factor in.
The notion of identity has been troubling my mind for the past few weeks, whether it be in terms of race or gender, though this post will focus mostly on gender identity as that has been featured in the media a great deal lately.
First, I want to clarify the difference between sex and gender.
SexBiological and physiological characteristics defining male and female.
GenderSocially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
What happens when an individual feels “trapped” in the wrong gender? I’m struggling to understand whether they are simply uncomfortable in their own skin because they do not act or feel the way they think a specific gender is supposed to, or whether they truly are longing for the body of the other sex. I have known individuals who felt “trapped” in the body of the wrong gender; born a boy but with the mannerisms and characteristics they felt were “female”, or vice versa. I can’t say I completely understand their thinking, though I think at one point or another we are all very uncomfortable in our skin, especially during the teenage and young adult years when trapped between who we were and who we are to become.
Kyle Allums, a basketball player at George Washington University, has become the first publicly trangendered D1 player. She (he) claims he was not born into the correct body. After playing 2 years with the University, they have agreed to allow her (him) to continue playing with the women’s team while being identified as male. (Allums has undergone neither surgery nor hormone therapy–the identification is purely superficial via name change and lifestyle changes.) The obvious question appears to be why Allums would continue to play basketball for the women’s team when desiring to be male. Unfortunately, her (his) body is still that of a woman. The issues to work out in the locker room should she (he) play men’s sports would be atrocious, not to mention the natural advantage the real men would have over her (him).
Many other colleges are facing the dilemma of how to handle issues of gender identity, particularly on campuses of same-sex colleges. The main controversy here is whether colleges should allow transgender students to remain on campus if they are not of the specified gender of the college (whether it be a woman who has simply begun to self-identify as a man, or a man who has undergone hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery and is now technically a woman). What puzzles me is why in the world you would want to go to a same-sex school when you are not claiming to be of that gender?
From before a baby’s birth, people are placed in one category or the other based on gender, with decisions of whether they will like blue or pink, whether they will play with trucks or dolls. And so it continues on through life, with gender dictating the proper rules of thought and action. Little girls are allowed to cry, but must be soft-spoken. “Boys will be boys” (rambunctious and loud), but “I’ll be damned if that boy will cry like a wuss”. Boys are expected to play sports, girls should be playing with dolls and getting into their mommy’s makeup. Girls are good at reading/writing, while boys are good at math/science. The list could go on and on.
Society has a very difficult time separating gender from sex. I can’t say I would mind at all if gender were a notion completed eliminated from society. These stereotypes limit the potential of individuals. This is not to say that certain characteristics are not innate, or that there are not differences between the sexes (particularly caused by hormones, physical features, etc). I just feel like people get too hung up on having distinct categories of gender, and when someone doesn’t fall cleanly within the lines, there has to be an explanation: (such as, “maybe he is gay because he doesn’t like football”–nevermind the fact that this is just another stereotype and many gay men play sports.)
Working through writing this article has led me to realize that I understand shunning gender categories—if a male wishes to wear a dress, what’s the harm? Jesus didn’t wear pants. However, when someone wishes to undergo physical alteration to change their sex, that crosses the line for me. I honestly believe that everyone is born as they were meant to be (unfortunately, yes, this even includes individuals born inter-sex). Apparently “androgynous” has grown to include physical and mental/emotional aspects of sex and gender, which is upsetting because it further intertwines the two notions of sex and gender rather than separating them. I don’t like the idea of someone changing themselves physically to become what society tells them matches how they feel on the inside.
Don’t think this is a phobia of transgendered individuals–I feel the same way about people who think a nose job or botox is the answer to their problems. Recreational plastic surgery is an area of medical science that I do not care for in the least.