In part 1 I only dealt with biological sex. But there’s more to this than biology right?
For me this is where it gets tricky. My so far limited understanding of gender critical theory (I have books in the post!) has come from the views I’ve encountered from some feminists. Their view is that gender is an entirely man made construct. Other than biology, there is no fundamental difference between males and females and these roles are a man made construct to oppress females.
Whilst I think that the view that “there is only nurture not nature” is an extreme view, I can accept that there is a huge amount of manipulation in society’s expectations of gender roles. I see it. Everyday. And I’ve seen it from both sides. I’ve lived in the social role of “man” and been around other males and seen (and been angered by) their “behind closed doors” misogynistic views. I’ve also been on the receiving end of misogyny since I started to live in such a way that means I get perceived to be a woman. I can completely understand the desire to de-construct these roles. That indeed this is necessary for for all people to be truly treated as equal.
If gender doesn’t exist, then there would be nothing to transition from or to.
My view is that deconstruction does not mean elimination. Deconstruction means to stop reinforcing gender stereotypes. It does not, to me, mean that there are no differences between the sexes. That view has become a dogma to some that itself needs to be deconstructed.
Within our current society, gender roles certainly exist. The majority of people conform, to greater and lesser degrees, to the role of “man” or the role of “woman”. This is what most of society still expects. There are countless pieces discussing the socialisation of men and women, and the privileges and oppressions associated with these roles. Obviously I have experienced both the socialisation and the privilege.
To give my parents credit, even though I was brought up in a religious environment that was intolerant of anything that strayed from very strict expectations of gender and sexuality, I wasn’t subjected to particularly stereotypical masculine socialisation. Outside of the home I always rejected masculine socialisation too.
I wasn’t tough. I didn’t fight. I didn’t tease the girls. I didn’t enjoy competitive sport. I didn’t talk about girls the way that other guys did. I wasn’t forceful. I didn’t use people. It seemed that that was how people expected me to behave. Now, I am not making the leap that these things somehow made me a girl. Just that I have never been comfortable with the constraints that society placed on me as a male.
This became even more apparent when I started work in a large corporate environment. Senior managers would give me helpful guidance on how to be more assertive. My posture. My walk. My voice. My handshake. I needed to stop caring about other people’s feelings and get the job done. This it seemed, was what was required to be a a man in this world. I was young. I complied. I wanted to be good.
Girls on the other hand had to be pretty. All application forms had to be submitted with a photograph. If a girl was pretty, her qualifications were less important. If a girl was pretty, or better still flirty it was easier to progress. Male managers slept with female juniors. This was what was required to be a woman.
I didn’t fit. I had no self worth. I wasn’t a good man. I wasn’t a woman. I didn’t identify with the men around me. Neither at work or in social situations. I just couldn’t relate in any way. I related much more to the women I encountered. But I wasn’t a woman either. So I became marginalised and excluded from society.
On the other hand, I was still the beneficiary of male privilege. I hold a very good job. I very much doubt that I would have made it to where I am now If I had always been perceived to be a woman.
I married. I married the only woman I have ever had sex with. I had children. I played my part in patriarchy and misogyny. I worked. My wife looked after the children. It couldn’t possibly be the other way round because she would never earn what I did. Yes I was a man now.
Where am I going with this? Well I suppose just to acknowledge that:
- gender socialisation exists and I experienced male socialisation that shaped me to a certain extent;
- and male privilege exists and I benefited from that.
Even if gender is a man made construct that we should strive to de-construct. I still have to live in the society that currently exists. A society where gender does exist. A society that has the roles of “man” and “woman”.
I could no longer act out the role that was so different from how I felt. Eventually, when I couldn’t cope with life any longer, I stopped trying to. I stopped fighting the unstoppable desire I’d had for decades to live in the social role assigned to women.
I transitioned from the social role assigned to men, to the social role assigned to women.
Does that make me a woman? I’m not sure yet. It certainly doesn’t make me female. But I’m certainly not a man.
Maybe I’m a gender non-conforming male. Maybe I’m a trans woman. Maybe these are the same thing.
Maybe gender is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe it really doesn’t matter. I’m still me.
More on why it does actually matter in part three.