On the notion of gender.

When we’re born, a doctor instantly deems us to be one of two things: Male or female. But gender isn’t just between our legs. It’s also between our ears. So, what happens when how we look on the outside clashes with how we feel on the inside? Do we settle? Do we change? And at the end of the day should gender really be as big a deal as society wants us think it is? In this talk Decker Moss explores these issues and more, as he struggled through not only one but two major gender-related transitions in his life.

I’m going speak very politically incorrectly. I will violate a taboo, and risk the false appearance of insensitivity. I am going to speak contrary to the notion of “gender.”

Here Decker Moss gives an earnest, heartfelt, sincere–and silly–talk.

The speaker in this video errs in conflating the words “gender” and “sex”. Gender is a description on one’s sense of sexuality. Sex is a description of our chromosomes and the resultant physical traits that the body exhibits.

It is true that sex isn’t purely a binary. Some are born with XY chromosomes, looking and sounding like females in every aspect–except that they have undecended testicles. There are some who are born with two vaginas, or with one testicle and no penis, or with both vaginas and penises, simultaneously. Just as we vary in height, size, quantity of limbs or sexual apparatus, we are all different. None of this is an argument for changing how government or commerce operates. It might certainly be a reminder that we are all born of various configurations, and that we all deserve a baseline of moral respect, but that is as far as practicality can allow.

The speaker says “Our world is set up to keep us in these two boxes [male or female].” No, it isn’t. It simply follows the path of least resistance. It exists as a means of identifying the particular animal in a herd. These identifications also includes height, weight, skin colour, eye colour and hair colour.

“Gender” is an internal state, not a physical one, no more applicable to official documents than would be phobias or sexual preferences or religious beliefs. Even the vague notion of Nationality carries more weight; it points to records of an individual’s history, one, should they engage in criminal activity, or suffer some physical emergency has a greater chance of being useful than “gender.”

The question of “gender” is to me the equivalent of “marital status”, in short, not all that relevant–yet, even for bureaucratic purposes, this again points to relationships with specific individuals. Personally, I’ve always thought that my “marital status” should be answered with a four letter acronym: MYOB, but even so, I acknowledge that for some purposes it seems to be important.

It tells us something about the individual, but how important is that something to the bulk of society after all? Either the person you are dealing with is someone you want in your life for their functionality (cop, store clerk, chef) or for their personal or social value (lover, friend, bar buddy). Let us imagine that I asked others to refer to me as “she”, or “her”. What has that changed in practice? Nothing, other than a indicator of respect by the individual to whom I would be speaking, should they accept to do so.

Should you tell me that you prefer to be addressed as “he” or “she”, I’m fine with that, but do not mistake the momentum of countless thousands of years of biology and the functional tools that have helped us forge a working civilization as an insufficiency when it is not.

In short, do not mistake that your one personal distinction makes you a victim, any more than being in a wheel-chair, having a body-type that grows you to far above or below the average, or being born without fully functioning senses, body parts or bodily capacities that are different than the average.

I am colour blind. This prevents me from a variety of jobs. When I was younger, I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. Can’t do it. I’ve been hired for jobs, then fired from them because I could not see colour. I have been turned down for jobs because I cannot see colour. Was I the victim of colour-blind discrimination? No. The job required X, and I am physiologically incapable of performing certain tasks such as discriminating amongst certain hues of colour. I do not rage at the world for a lost dream. I acknowledge that when picking clothes that I must ask strangers to help me. I have to be particularly attentive when I drive. I ask for colour help 5-6 times a week. I get weird looks and am the butt of jokes often enough.

Are there challenges associated when your sense of self does not match your outward appearance? Most assuredly. Should we view this as society working against you? No.

“Gender” is a personal thing, a social thing. Even the triviality of colour-blindness has more of a real-world impact. If you think of yourself as a woman, but look like a man, does this prevent you from driving a car? Calculating numbers? Preparing food? Opening doors?

The speaker asks “Is all of this gendering necessary?”

My response: you certainly seem to think so, and have yet to make a case for things to change, other than using an appeal to sympathy. You haven’t made any good arguments. Can anyone make a solid and cogent argument as to why “gender” should be any considering in any situation other than a social one? I can think of none.

One can make, I’m sure, a number of excellent arguments for treating people as they wish to be treated on the social and interpersonal levels, many of which I would probably agree with. This speaker, in conflating sex with a sense of sexuality has failed to make the case.

There are those amongst my respected interlocutors on this blog, particularly, that I’d love to hear from.

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20 thoughts on “On the notion of gender.

  1. Tarnished says:

    Francis, you are correct in differentiating between sex and gender…many do not. For example, my sex is female…my gender is male…my sexual orientation is bisexual, with a slight leaning towards men. All of these make up me, they are various traits that I have much like being Caucasian, blonde, or freckled. However, nobody can *see* gender, so people often use sex as a convenient way to determine whether to refer to you as sir vs ma’am, her vs him, etc. If mere pronouns were all that was different, I believe fewer people who are either trans or dysphoric would take as much issue with it.

    But it is not simply words of reference, nor is it the ability to wear the other sex’s clothing. No, it has a lot more to do with how the rest of the world treats you…because men and women are still treated differently, even in the Western world. I cover a bit of this in my post here;

    https://tarnishedsophia.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/why-it-can-suck-for-women-in-the-business-world/

    It’s the fact that, despite having tits and a clit, I don’t ever think of myself as being a woman unless it gets pointed out. How I can accidentally use my body in simple, non-sexual movements to make others leer at me or remark on my physical traits. In redoing the tie of my ponytail, my breast get inadvertently pushed forward, which made a male customer say “whoa now, I’m married!”. It’s leaning over a counter same as a male coworker would to point out a certain product and realizing the customer isn’t responding to your questions because he’s too busy staring at my ass. It happens with women to, when you’re discussing a game with their husband/boyfriend and they suddenly sidle up to him and start trying to distract his attention back to themselves…if I was a man, they’d have no reason to feel jealous.

    It’s also disconcerting when you’re going about your daily business and a random stranger starts trying to take your bags from you without asking (in order to carry them for you), or insists that they should open a door for you (because you’re female), or even making assumptions about your diet or job based on your sex. I’m sure that these things annoy cis women too, or even hetero men who get hit on my gay men, but for people like myself they are a tiny little hurt each time they happen. A not so gentle reminder that no matter how you feel on the inside, you are not going to be treated that way…unless you take steps to drastically change your appearance/voice, in which case you might be denied service, beaten, mocked, or (rarely) killed for trying to make your personal world line up a bit more easily.

  2. Sense of self has a great impact on how we interact with others, how we vote, and on and on. Society is a social construct not merely the physical proximity of a group of people. For the betterment of that society it will do well to promote healthy sense of self, in gender and in societal position. To get this spaceship to support us all, it takes a lot of effort and we’re better off individually if the team effort is supportive of all that will be required to survive.

    • Francis Roy says:

      Sense of self has a great impact on how we interact with others, how we vote, and on and on.

      Mostly agree, but “how we vote”? I don’t see it.

      Society is a social construct not merely the physical proximity of a group of people.

      If by that you mean that a group of people interact as well as being in physical proximity, then, yes.

      For the betterment of that society it will do well to promote healthy sense of self, in gender and in societal position.

      I don’t agree at all. A healthy sense of self in general? Sure. But gender, societal position? Why not height, or left-right handedness? I completely agree that mutual respect and cooperativeness is essential, but I think that placing undo emphasis on a given trait isn’t all that relevant. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the gay community in Toronto. I’ve hung out, been to the bars, bookstores and restaurants, worked with and lived with gay folk for years.

      The only time it annoyed me to be straight was when it was constantly harped on by others. “Hi, this is Francis, he’s straight, so sorry.” (I’ve had stuff like this said many a time, and have literally watched people’s faces drop and have them back away.) Or when being straight was used as some means to discount my human or social value.

      I did not need to promote a “healthy sense of gender”, I only needed to acknowledge that some people were bigots, and to figure out whether they could handle me or not.

      We all, without exception have to deal with some sense of social discrimination. I’m not sure that if I went to Lubboc, Texas that I’d be wearing an “I’m an atheist. Kiss me!” T-Shirt.

      We need to move away from this hyperfocus on sexuality, and broaden our horizons to accept that people are simply one of the herd, deal with each one’s particularities and get along. Obsessively placing the emphasis on specific features to the exclusion of all others is a sign of an unhealthy mind.

      • I think we’re just stating it from two perspectives. Sense of self is derived from social constructs and destroyed by them. What does not promote a healthy society usually promotes an unhealthy one.

        I don’t think that a person’s sex should be the start and finish of many conversations. There is some healthy middle ground… I just don’t know what it is.

      • Tarnished says:

        ” We need to move away from this hyperfocus on sexuality, and broaden our horizons to accept that people are simply one of the herd, deal with each one’s particularities and get along. Obsessively placing the emphasis on specific features to the exclusion of all others is a sign of an unhealthy mind.”

        In other words, don’t be a bigoted douche to anybody.
        Got it. :)

      • Francis Roy says:

        Brevity has never been my forte :)

      • Tarnished says:

        Ah, but I thought it was the soul of wit? You seem to have that in spades…

      • Francis Roy says:

        /me courteously bows in appreciation of kind words.

  3. Francis Roy says:

    OMG! You have ♩ Dun dun dunnnnnn ♩ freckles?

    We can never speak again. Banned!

    All of this stuff that you’re speaking about I can understand. I don’t necessarily relate to on a personal level, but on a human level, most certainly.

    I rarely think of myself “as a man”. Even when I’m acting “like a man” I don’t think of it. I just am. I don’t think of myself as a writer or a blogger when I write, I’m thinking about the idea and how to express them. I don’t think of myself as a builder, when I do my projects, I think about building. I don’t think of myself as “a cooker” (I’ll never use the word chef, though I prepare healthy tasty food), I think about the meal.

    I tend to just live my life, and it’s not until I’m treated differently by women or boyfriends that I think about it as well. “Hi my name is Jane, and I have a boyfriend.” Uh? Good for you? I can usually count the minutes until a woman brings up “my boyfriend”, “my husband” in a casual but subtly emphasized tone. So, are you going to sell me those shoes or not? It is kind of freaky when a strange woman steps right into my personal space and puts her hand on my chest in awkward ordinary moments, or grabs my arm and subtly squeezes. My first response is not excitement, but to feel for my wallet, and to scan to see if she’s going to assault me. Or I’ll have a woman point out that I can’t do a certain think because “men don’t think that way”, or “they just can’t understand”. One of the more annoying, things is when a woman assumes that I will treat her “like a woman” upfront rather than just interacting with me as the context applies. The worst, however, is when people equate me with being “white” or “male” as being synonymous with some kind of threat. Look, lady, just have a drink and be a good conversationalist. Think we can do that? Buddy, you don’t have to do a war-dance, playing the mate-guarding game when I speak to your girlfriend, OK? Or how about the plain and simple “You’re a guy, you carry this.”? Oddly enough, when a guy grabs my ass, I just think “Oh, he thinks I’m hot.”. That’s when I break out the “I’m in a relationship” lie.

    So I can relate to jarring examples of having one’s sex highlighted. I guess one disconnect that I have with your point of view, is that I don’t feel like a man, I feel like me. I don’t really identify “as a man.” until others make that distinction.

    Now, if someone called me Ma’am, I’d probably startle. And if I woke up with breasts, I’d probably freak out.

    Then again, I’d do the same if I had hair on my head :)

    • Tarnished says:

      See, it happens to you as a cis man too! The only difference is that you, probably in the back of your mind, know you’re male in sex and gender. For me, I just have to remember that I’m female in sex and that my “inner body” aka how I think of myself is very different than my actual body. Have you ever been accused of “flirting” when all you are doing is making jokes or being relaxed around someone? I get this a lot, especially when I sit with my legs open or lean back in my seat. Apparently “comfortable” in male body language means “hit on me” in female body language. I also have to consciously remember to not sit with my ankle up on my knee when at my mother’s house…she acknowledges that I’m “a tomboy” but I don’t think she would fully understand or accept that I’d like to start taking testosterone.

      I’d like to touch on another point you made, that of not thinking of yourself as a man. According to my (probably feminist) Woman’s Health teacher in college, studies have been conducted where male and female students are asked to write down anywhere from 5-10 things that “define” them. Supposedly, the male students never/hardly ever include their sex in said list, but the majority of female students include it in theirs. This (again, supposedly) shows that men have such privilege of maleness that they are “blind to their sex”. Since I don’t think of myself as being female till circumstances make it obvious…does that mean *I* suffer from male privilege?

      Please note that the preceding sentence contains toxic levels of sarcasm. ;)

      • Francis Roy says:

        The only difference is that you, probably in the back of your mind, know you’re male in sex and gender. For me, I just have to remember that I’m female in sex and that my “inner body” aka how I think of myself is very different than my actual body

        Right.

        Have you ever been accused of “flirting” when all you are doing is making jokes or being relaxed around someone?

        All the time.

        Apparently “comfortable” in male body language means “hit on me” in female body language.

        That’s interesting. I’m going to have to think about that for some time.

        she acknowledges that I’m “a tomboy”

        Just as an aside that probably pushes the limits on what should be said on a blog, I’ve always preferred tomboys. As a kid, they were the ones that you could play with, and explore and build forts. I tend to have a particular appreciation for the more “medium” bisexuals or gays, because often they’ve had to do a lot of soul searching, which generally gives them a bit more depth, in my mind, than the hyper-femmes. That soul-searching, however, leads in one of two directions. Anger or acceptance. I prefer the latter.

        This (again, supposedly) shows that men have such privilege of maleness that they are “blind to their sex”. Since I don’t think of myself as being female till circumstances make it obvious…does that mean *I* suffer from male privilege?

        That would depend on what the standard is, now, wouldn’t it? Is it that we are blind to our sex, and thus it is privilege, or is it that they are hyper-aware of their own and project their sense of privilege?

      • Tarnished says:

        Lol, if you think that’s “pushing the limits” then you should stop by my blog more…or try a lot harder to be offensive, I’m unsure which. ;)

        The sad thing about girls who are tomboys is that, in general, they grow up to be typical women. I used to have tomboy friends when I was younger, but one by one they gave up the “silly boy stuff” and embraced feminine activities and mannerisms. It kinda makes me wonder…did society get to them and subconsciously force them to change in order to find more acceptance? Or did they never really enjoy the “boyish” hobbies and were only doing it for attention? My guess is a combination, depending on the woman.

        I’m bisexual, as I mentioned before, and I agree with you there. The tough butches and hyper-femmes are okay in their own right, and I’d never tell them to change just to suit me…but mediums are certainly easier to talk to in my experience. For me, it’s actually rather fun; I can go to the mall or a restaurant with my lover and point out attractive women that we both think are sexy. I’m sure this makes me a disgusting sex-minded pig though, so don’t tell anyone…

        As for this last part, the world may never know. However, I’m more likely to go with your latter statement. In the same way that people “protest too much” when they’re trying to deny something clearly evident, I believe that if you feel so strongly that your body is a “trait” that you put it down on paper…Well, it’s obviously something you spend some amount of time considering.

      • Francis Roy says:

        The sad thing about girls who are tomboys is that, in general, they grow up to be typical women. I used to have tomboy friends when I was younger, but one by one they gave up the “silly boy stuff” and embraced feminine activities and mannerisms. It kinda makes me wonder…did society get to them and subconsciously force them to change in order to find more acceptance? Or did they never really enjoy the “boyish” hobbies and were only doing it for attention? My guess is a combination, depending on the woman.

        Or, is it possible that it is merely a question of hormones? I know that when I work out that my testosterone builds back up, that two things happen. The first is that I start to get a clear crystal focus and I behave as a strong person. I’m more confident, clearer, more apt to say and do things that in a weaker body I won’t tend to do. It has nothing to do with muscle mass, it only requires a month of working out or so. The other is that there’s a downside. Testosterone does a lot of good things for you, but then sex becomes a preoccupation. Whereas once you could just slide your eyes over a woman’s breasts quickly and enjoy it, suddenly, it’s harder to look away, and often takes an act of will to not fix on them.

        These are not things that I choose to do, they are, from my perspective, things that “happen to me”, in the way that when you drink, you don’t work away your inhibitions, they fall away, and your behaviour changes automatically.

      • Tarnished says:

        Hmm, this is rather interesting. I’ve noticed the same thing, though I always have a difficult time not thinking about sex. I did a personal experiment where I put a check mark on a piece of paper every time I thought of something sex-related for 1 week. I averaged 384 times a day…not sure if this means I’m a pervert or not, lol. Then again I don’t have exceptionally high standards for what I deem physically attractive, and being bi means I get to look at men and women both.

        Surprisingly, in spite of my gender dysphoria, catching someone just looking at my tits doesn’t upset me. For one thing, they’re not vocally pointing out that I have them and it’s honestly just bemusing most of the time. Probably comes from the fact that I enjoy looking at other people’s, so why should I get offended by someone appreciating mine? Would be hypocritical otherwise, methinks.

      • Francis Roy says:

        I once had a conversation with an acquaintance, where I claimed that “bi means I get to look at men and women both.” His reply was that it was a curse rather than a blessing, due to the the societal expectations of monogamy. Rather than seeing it as having more choice, he saw it as being forced to give up a choice.

        I guess it’s a half-full or half-empty glass situation. Personally, I often thought that were I bi, that I’d see it as a glass half-full scenario.

        But then again, in theory, practice and theory are the same. In practice, they’re not.

      • Tarnished says:

        Hardly a curse from my perspective…I get the most delicious of goosebumps from watching a Shakira music video *or* from watching Sean Connery as a secret agent. It’s the best of both worlds…especially if one doesn’t give in to the aforementioned social expectations. Though what stopped him from seeking a polyamorous relationship, I wonder? Just because you can only *wed* a single person at a time in no way precludes having happily agreed upon open relations.

        Do you truly not find any men attractive? My lover claims he is hetero, but he never gets upset or uncomfortable when I talk about having a threesome with him and another man (a favorite fantasy of mine). I suppose he could just be indulging me since I enjoy his fantasies of me plus another woman…but I always assumed that cis men find at least a small number of themselves attractive. My friends in high school certainly never thought acknowledging another guy’s attractiveness to be a threat to their masculinity or sexuality.

      • Francis Roy says:

        I can find a man’s beauty attractive in the sense that it pleases me to see beauty. I can be attracted to someone because of their character attributes, they are fun, intelligent and deeply inner resourceful, but I have no attraction to the notion of touching men or being touched by one in any way other than a friendliness. I’m a very tactile man; at a family gathering Saturday last, the back of my mind surprised me by noticing how I frequently patted my cousins on the arms, backs and chests, but none of it was anything other than an expression of affection and kinship. I also cuddled the kids and hugged the women. I don’t consider being attracted to attractive people threatening in the least bit, the impulse to get sexual simply isn’t there for me. It’s not a question of a switch in the off position, but rather than that circuitry doesn’t seem to exist for me.

      • Tarnished says:

        Wow, I’d have to retreat after an hour of that! I have a touch “phobia”, as in the idea (and practice) of being hugged/kissed/touched by other people is…unpleasant…to me. I can get around this by initiating the contact first (it’s not as bad that way) or by letting people know my safe zones (hands, hair, shoulders). But even a room full of people drains my energy, and even if I go to a reunion or convention I’ve been looking forward to after a few hours you’ll probably find me in my hotel room/out on the porch taking a “break” from being around others.

        Sex itself is different, especially as it’s one-on-one with a single, highly trusted person. But even afterwards, I can’t cuddle for more than a few minutes without feeling caged or suffocated. It seems we are polar opposites in this regard, Francis. The taste-feel of other humans is just too much for me to handle…yet another reason I like animals – they don’t feel this way, even when it’s an entire pack of dogs.

    • Tarnished says:

      Hey, wait a minute there!
      You don’t like freckles? :P
      I only have them sprinkled across my nose and under my eyes like a raccoon…promise!

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