The Problem of Gender
“Femininity and masculinity are social constructs! Your body is feminine; it’s whatever you want it to be!”
“If your friends and family really loved you, they’d accept you for who you are!”
Dear white cis Twitter feminist, wittily and succinctly tweeting your wise and uplifting and progressive statements to your thousands of followers, please. Shut Up.
I know you mean well, I know your tweet will probably be screencapped and reblogged fifty thousand times on Tumblr, I know you’ll get points in the eyes of The Progressives, whoever they are, I don’t care. I’ve seen sixty thousand variations of those two sentences in twice as many articles and three times as many Tumblr posts, I know the first is true and I believe the second to be well-intentioned, if vastly oversimplified and misguided, and I quite frankly could live without seeing or hearing either again in my entire life. I’m sure they’re of help to some — I do not pretend to speak for all trans people — but these two statements are omnipresent on the liberal net and they do not need to be restated by every white woman with a mild celebrity status among similarly minded white women with lesser but not insignificant followings.
I’m a trans woman, half Native but adopted into a white family, living in a very conservative rural area, still attending a church that’s extremely conservative even by conservative standards, and both statements I’ve mentioned grate me. The general attitude within the online liberal community towards trans issues in conservative areas grates me, in fact, but I’m going to focus on these two ideas, because all the problems I have with Online Liberalism™ are far beyond the scope of a Medium article.
I do believe that my body is however feminine or masculine I want it to be. I don’t hate it. It’s a rather nice body. I don’t hate my chest — it’s very flat and fairly unremarkable — but it’s not a bad chest. I don’t hate my voice — deep even by typical masculine standards — it’s rich and and thick and melodic and beautiful. I don’t hate my dick. It’s a good dick. I like dicks.
But there’s still times I wish all of that could change.
I live in a small town. When I go to the grocer there’s a very good chance I’ll run into Scotty, who’ll beam a smile at me and ask me how things are going, and maybe update me on the little old lady who lives across the street from him and mows her own lawn despite being almost 90. Mrs. Swingle might ask me if I want any of the excess pears or apples she and her husband grow. The choir director might invite me over to have a (highly alcoholic) drink with her and her husband, an enticement I’ll have to politely but firmly decline.
These are people I've known since I was eight years old. People I've grown up knowing, people I've helped, people who've helped me, people I've gone to church with and celebrated birthdays with. People who've grown very dear to me.
People who will never see me as a woman because my body is a man’s.
“Your body isn't a man’s! It’s yours! You’re a woman!”
I. Know. That.
They strongly believe to the contrary.
“If they were really your friends they’d accept you for who you are.”
It’s really not that simple.
Gender is a social construct, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a real thing. Social constructs are very much real; it’s true that gender, as a social construct, isn’t something innate or inherit in humans from the moment of their birth, but it’s also true that for something to be created or constructed, it must exist to an extent, even if not on a physical plane. (Lots of non-physical things exist, but that’s a discussion for philosophy class, which this is not). Gender has a very real effect on you and the world around you, especially if you live in rural Pennsylvania where everyone who isn’t Catholic is Presbyterian and everyone who isn’t either Catholic or Presbyterian belongs to a church that is an offshoot of Catholicism or Presbyterianism. If gender, as a social construct, did not exist, in the strictest sense, everyone who became aware that it was, in fact, a social construct, would instantly be nonbinary without any more thought of the matter.
But gender affects how we see ourselves and how we see those around us. I’m a woman. The concepts known“man” and “woman” may be completely made up, but they’re real in that they’re so ingrained into society that they are ultimately expressions of self.
Here’s the catch.
How others see gender affects how they see you. I am a man to most people in my life. When I‘m mowing lawns with the tractor that’s just as old as Godzilla and Sue pulls up in the ambulance with a drink and promises me that one day she’ll learn to operate the damn thing, I’m a man to her. Her ideas of what makes a “man” are different from mine, and more importantly, they’re wrong, and no matter what she thinks, I Am No Man, but they’re still ideas that exist; I’m a man to her because of my body.
It’s not my body’s fault, it’s not my fault, to some extent it isn’t even her fault, but that doesn’t matter. We all want to be accepted for who we are. I want to be accepted for who I am. And the thing in the way is my body. More accurately speaking, it’s the ignorance and strongly taught bigotry that’s so omnipresent in Western culture, but again, the bigotry and ignorance of others affects how I view myself, and I believe most people would sympathize with this statement.
Worse yet, I know all these people love me. I know that if I were to come out to them the choir director would be holding novenas in hopes that I’d “come back to the Church”, I know that mothers would be telling their sons that they can’t take piano from Hia anymore but that they “should pray very strongly for him.” I know that Mrs. Swingle would still give me apples, I know that Scotty would still keep me up to date on the local gossip, but I also know that they’d be trying to bring me “back to my senses”.
I’ve been aware of this ever since I realized I’m sexually attracted to men, thanks to holy cards depicting male saints in various stages of undress undergoing martyrdom. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a horrible, bigoted statement that’s used to justify hatred towards a group of people as a whole, but is also a real sentiment when referring to an individual. My mother is a absolutely terrible person who would probably consider the death of everyone “like that” God’s divine retribution, even if that “divine retribution” including her “son”, but I know that she’d still think she loved me.
I really wish they hated me. It’d make things so much more simple.
Overall, I live a pretty happy life. I can dress “like a woman” in my home quite safely and it gives me a lot of comfort. I know that once I firmly believed that God created man and woman differently, and so I have hope for Sue and Scotty and Mrs. Swingles and the rest, hope that they’ll change for the better, even if I’ve left the area by that time. Transphobia barely phases me at this point, partially because I’ve become used to my identity being seen as evil since I’ve been twelve, but also because I’m fairly well off compared to many, if not most transgender people.
Dear cis white Twitter feminist, I probably shouldn’t be too rude to you. Your well-meaning (if grating) tweet isn’t actively harmful and wicked like heartfelt transphobia. Please, however, be aware that trans people have varied experiences, and that it’s very easy to oversimplify the problem of gender.