Reconsidering gender-reveal parties, among other things.
It’s a construct. You thought I was going to say “it’s a thing”, right? Well, you’re right! It IS a thing. It’s created. But it’s not actually real.
I first learned that gender was a construct in college. Like other serendipitous events in my life that failed to make sense at the time but manifested their meaning years later, I randomly signed up for Cultural Anthropology in my freshman year. I had an open elective and it fulfilled something.
“Don’t take that class,” someone said. Yeah. I love it when people tell me not to do something. Basically, all I hear is, “I dare you to do that.”
It happened during my gender transition. But I’ll come back to that. Probably not today.
But I took that cultural anthropology class, which I thought would be about apes, and it was actually all about how society exists and evolves. HELLO! Super cool and interesting. And it was then I learned how society makes rules for conformity to keep us in line. It blends in some psychology and sociology and basically, we are programmed to be “normal” so we don’t kill each other. But that doesn’t work perfectly, which is getting more obvious by the day. And I posit that it’s because many of the long-standing norms that held us relatively together as a society (or world) are rapidly breaking down for better…and sometimes for worse.
In that class, gender broke down for me. And with one assignment, my whole life changed. I had to analyze afternoon commercials to see how the media gendered toys toward boys and girls.
I was 19. And my brain almost exploded. Or, #mindblown
I sat there, on my dorm room floor, gaping at what I saw. The images and sounds I’d been conditioned by all these years was one big intentional ploy to sell me things, not the least of which was the idea that there were two boxes to choose from and there were matching colors, concepts and appropriate tools to use for the rest of my goddamn life.
You could say a seed of my transgender identity was planted back then because it was the first time I considered that there could even be a box labeled OTHER. Actually, I didn’t even take it that far back then. I was just in shock that there were even boxes as things and that they were created rather than inherently natural. It took me years to integrate that moment into a larger concept of who I was and could become.
Even many (if not most) college-educated people don’t understand this, let alone people who don’t have access to higher education. I spoke with two women in their mid-50s this week, both brilliant open-minded highly-educated women, and they struggled to grasp the concept of gender being more than two choices.
It helped me understand why so many cisgender people struggle so much with understanding transgender people. As one woman asked, “why does it have to be all these options? Why aren’t two enough?” I realized how and why people get jammed up. She wasn’t being intentionally obtuse. She wasn’t being a bigot. She wasn’t being an ignorant jerk. I mean, there are plenty of those around, but this well-intentioned woman was merely struggling with some basic Psych 101 stuff. She was failing to incorporate this concept into her existing schema or conceptions about how the world works. And who can blame her? Schema is what we are fed and reinforced to accept day after day from the moment we are born and socialized into this world.
We have gender-reveal parties with cakes baked either blue or pink.
We have gender-specific toys.
We have gender-specific jobs and pay differences and…you know the rest.
But gender is a concept or construct we create. It isn’t actually real. We decide this baby was born with these sex characteristics (male or female) and so it will fit into this box we designate male or female. It’s a concept. It’s a schema. And we all subscribe to schemas to communicate and function — until we don’t.
But we try really hard to impress it upon each other from our first introduction to the world. PINK CAKE FOR YOU! BLUE CAKE FOR YOU! We’ve already decided what you’ll be and like and want for yourself, we hope you don’t care. Actually, we don’t hope. Deal with it.
That’s what we do to each other. That’s what we do to our kids. And we call it love. We call those parties “normal” and we get so caught up in our excitement that we never stop to think that we’re projecting all our collective societal and individual personal shit onto this baby before it even has a chance to determine what identity it claims for itself.
And then we wonder why anxiety, depression and suicide rates are at all time highs. We wonder why people go on rampages killing people because they can’t integrate the new rules with old existing schemas. We grieve. We shake our heads. We say we don’t understand how people can be so cruel.
But we still keep having those gender-reveal parties.
We still keep selling toys and we keep saying, “I don’t get why all those options are necessary” like we actually are entitled to have some sort of say over how other people live their lives.
We feel and cling to that entitlement, born of fear and confusion, to keep those boxes solid and rigid as things even when the evidence all around us says they aren’t real.
It’s perhaps idealistic to suggest that society could continue to exist if everyone did whatever they wanted. God knows the anarchists believe in it. We see what’s happening as the Great Divide widens. Isn’t it chaotic, don’t ya think?
But chaos and destruction precedes change, individually and collectively. It’s messy to watch and often painful to experience but none of us would be here if it hadn’t happened in evolutionary stages since the dawn of time.
That is, if you even believe in evolution. That could just be a construct. ;)
So all those other gender identity options are necessary because they are reality. They are more real than the social constructs that try to force us into conformity. By claiming a gender identity other than male or female, we bold, brave pioneers of social change (we being me and my gender-variant friends) are saying, “hey, hi! We exist. We are living and breathing and this is who we are. Your gender construct boxes were poor-fitting so we made new ones. We know you got SO EXCITED about that cake and frilly dresses and trucks because generations before you did the same thing and you’ve been living YOUR WHOLE LIFE IN THOSE BOXES TOO but…we don’t want to live our lives to make you happy. Are you even happy in those boxes? It might be best if you opened your eyes and considered that the baby you’re celebrating may have ideas of its own that don’t or won’t match what you’re hoping or wanting for it. And you might want to reconsider how those constructs are working for you, too.”