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Jan. 16th, 2017

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an-droj-uh-ni
ændrɑdʒǝni

— having both masculine and feminine characteristics


Androgyny is a term that's been around and in use for awhile. Singers David Bowie and Patti Smith were often described as androgynous. It was often associated with the feminist goals of equal treatment in the law and social policy by way of having genderblind regulations and statutes. That loose but affirmative connection persists in a cluster of modern genderqueer identities — neutrois, androgyne, agender — where people consider themselves to occupy a neutral or in-between position on the gender spectrum, or consider the gender spectrum to be irrelevant to themselves.

It has been embraced as a social goal, with hopeful proponents postulating that gender as we know it is entirely arbitrary and artificial, not based on real irrevocable differences, and therefore that gender is unnecessary and socially harmful; androgyny is therefore in this view something to aspire to: no more gender!

When formulated as an absolute and taken to its logical extreme, androgyny has been something widely feared. Antifeminist people have projected their notion of radical androgyny onto feminism and declared it to be feminism's agenda: that any individual displaying any characteristics of sexual difference would be censured and chemically adjusted and socially harangued as part of a campaign to stamp out gender differences.

Feminists themselves have often been leery of officially androgynous goals, worrying that everything conventionally associated with or considered a part of femininity would be considered "gendered" while things conventionally associated with males men and masculinity would be perceived as "normal" and therefore the new standard.

Meanwhile, a hefty subset of people who think androgynously tend to be perplexed about what all the passion and shouting is about. These are people who are aware of the socially shared notions of gender, but they're also aware of the ideas that I present in my talks as the "distribution diagram" — the observation that there is a lot of overlap between observed male and female behavior rather than male and female behavior being polarized opposites, and that some individual women are more masculine than others (and reciprocally so for individual men), and that, furthermore, any individual has characteristics that vary all over the diagram.

These are people, in fact, who are not only aware of this way of looking at gender, but whose reaction to it is not "wow, that really makes you rethink gender" but more like "well duh, that's just so obvious it shouldn't require saying out loud". That is, they take it for granted that the social generalizations that constitute gender differences ignore the exceptions, and because they themselves see and accept the exceptions as ordinary, they dismiss gender as unimportant. They tend to see both the gender activists and the conservative gender prescriptionists as somewhat ridiculous. They tend to be people who break gender norms themselves, typically without much of a sense of doing something forbidden and dangerous, and if later praised as pioneers or radicals who defied social pressures, they are often dismissive about the social pressures and the cheerleading liberationist radicals as well. I don't think enough gets written about them, and I'm going to circle back in a future blog entry to dwell on them at more length, but they aren't my primary focus today.


The radical androgynists among the genderqueer folks are the ones who identify as "genderfuck". (Which annoys me grammatically, as I always find myself thinking it should be "genderfucker"). They see gender as the artificial and arbitrary social construct, and not as being rooted or having its origins in anything permanently real. And they see it as a horrible misery-perpetuating system with no redeeming features, something to be uprooted and discarded. Their desire is not for a world in which gender variance would be tolerated but rather a world in which no concept of gender or gender variance would exist at all.

There would be a complete absence of socially shared generalizations about the sexes, and as a consequence of that, a massive falling-off in the extent to which anyone would notice or care about other people's biological morphology. The social meaning of a person's body having a penis or a vagina would fall somewhere between "we wouldn't even still have words to express such a distinction" and "people would think and talk about it about as often as they think and talk about their blood type". Genderfuck folks generally posit that sexual orientation would be a meaningless concept, because it just wouldn't occur to people to categorize the world of people by gender and then a second time by sexual appeal to their personal tastes and then make the observation that the people they are attracted to happen to fall into this or that gender category — why would they? They'd just note which people, AS people, they find attractive. Or tend to form stable romantic relationships with or whatever. It wouldn't be about what folks have between their legs and no one would have gender in their mind as a gender identity any more, it would be gone, and good riddance.

Genderfuck activists are not a huge and policy-controlling presence within the LGBTQ world, and I think their perspective is viewed as idealistic and nonthreatening in part because of that, but there is definitely some prospect for a lack of accord between them and some of the other populations who live under the greater LGBTQ umbrella. The majority of transgender people are gendered people. They were born with a body that was categorized by doctors and parents as having one gender, and at some point came to believe that that assigned gender is wrong, and they now identify otherwise. More often than not, the way they identify involves gender. Genderqueer people who identify as genderfluid deny having a single fixed gender identity but they tend to be affirmatively happy in expressing the gender that they experience as the correct and appropriate gender of the moment.

As for me, and any other people like me, gender inverts, we wouldn't exist either. I am a gendered person whose gender is detached from my sex. I identify as a male girl — or, to say it using more words, I identify as a male-bodied person whose sense of self, sense of identity including sexual nature as well as priorities, personality traits, behavioral nuances, and other such stuff, made me one of the girls, and upon observing that as well as having had it pointed out rather rudely by others, I accepted and embraced that and therefore lived a life thinking of myself in those terms. Gendered terms.

Does that make me a conservative reactionary, a gender activist who is too immersed in my own history to let go of gender and sign on with the genderfuck agenda?

Would the world be better if the genderfucks' postgender utopia were to come? Yeah, probably — better than the status quo, at least. I do believe that my own notions of being "one of the girls" is specific to the entire life-context that I traveled through; it is formed from my experiences, and those experiences were of a gendered world. You could say (and a genderfuck person probably WOULD say) that my radical inverted gender identity is still a gender identity in reaction to a gendered world.

Mostly (as I've said before on occasion) I am not very much a prisoner of the limitations of the feminine identity I embraced. I never have the world shouting at me that something I am doing or saying isn't ladylike and therefore isn't appropriate, if you see what I mean. Admittedly, I may have an internalized censor of some sort that does some of that, but I bet it doesn't disempower me as harshly as real-world feedback disempowers people who were born female and presented all their lives as girls and women.

Would there still be any of the role-and-power distinctions that currently overlap gender, such as being a "top" or a "bottom"? That's hard to know. The origins of those notions appear to involve abstracting some elements of conventionally gendered heterosexual relationships and applying them to other relationships. They have taken on a life of their own since then, to be sure: it is now true that a female person can top a male bottom either in a single liaison or as the dynamic of their ongoing relationship. Would eroticized power play, or even a general distinction between a more "inclined-to-act-upon" partner and one less so, persist in a world where power diffs had not already been eroticized in (and as) gender?


I myself do not ascribe to the belief that gender is arbitrary and artificial. I think gender is a generalization about differences between the sexes and that AS a generalization it isn't entirely inaccurate. I say "isn't entirely inaccurate" because I think even at the generalization level it has been distorted by the power dynamic between the sexes (i.e., patriarchy), so yes it is partly inaccurate even as a generalization. But there are some core observations enshrined in it that are true as generalizations. Then, like all generalizations, you have exceptions. I'm one of them, a girlish male, an exception to the generalization about male-bodied people.

I might be wrong about that, but what if I'm right? What are the implications for androgyny if I am right?

• Gender would never disappear. Cleaned of its distortions, and with the prescriptive hateful punitive attitude towards the exceptions stripped out of it, gender would still persist as a far more benign generalization about differences between the sexes.

• The goal would not be the utter elimination of gender but instead the promulgation of awareness, tolerance, and acceptance of the exceptions. Feminine girlish males, and boys who wish to transition to female, and androgynous male-bodied people, all exceptions, would be spoken of, accorded social recognition, as would masculine manly females, and women who choose to transition to men, and androgynous people who incidentally possess female anatomy, all of us exceptions to the rule, outliers who aren't part of the gender norm, but no longer relegated to being social pariahs or made to feel dirty or wrong or unnatural.

• Overall, I see the ideal path as one in which the gender atypical are socially treated and accepted much as gay people are understood and accepted. Not that the latter is a perfect example of a completed transformation in attitudes — there are still homophobic people and gay-bashing incidents and discriminatory institutional policies as well as informal bigoted attitudes and biased practices — but the trajectory of change in attitude and behavior towards gay people points a finger, and where that finger points is the pathway to acceptance of the sort that I hope for for the gender-variant.

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