The Shadow
Published in

The Shadow

Revolutionary act of defining your own gender

It is easy to define gender with a fixed binary of male and female. Many of the societies we inhabit assume that this binary is fixed, a rigid axis within which the societal structures we build revolve. The conceptualise something different, to see gender in the vast hinterland beyond, is essentially to break apart the very foundations of our societies. Though, if gender expression is a performative act, then why should it matter how you define your gender?

The old jibe about Apache attack helicopters belies a more interesting point. What exactly does it mean to be male or female? There is a whole bundled set of assumptions about both labels that many folk simply set aside, cherry picking the bits that bet suit them. There is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about clothing, hairstyle, names, make-up, colours, indeed any of the other elements that society routinely assigns to one gender of the other. Pink is inherently “female” only because we accept and acknowledge it as such. Except, each of those acceptances has been layered in over decades and centuries, with things added in and taken out of gender specific brackets.

Why question this process? Would it not be better to simply accept the binary male and femaleness of it all, making it easier for society to effectively categorise and package us up? This is where the performative aspects of gender rub up against the realities we find ourselves in. Pink razors could more, women of colour are excluded from formative experiences because their gender expression is considered beneath polite society, and men of all stripes are expected to be stoic. Binary genders primarily serve three functions: patriarchal control, marketing gimmicks, and ease of language. Oppression on all levels, only suiting us because it makes our lives easier.

When you break down those constructs, what are you left with? Breaking through patriarchal control is not about smashing men into dust; rather, it uplifts men from the rigid constraints they too find themselves in. Feminism uplifts all into equity, removing the heavy shackles of shame and stoic “logic” which shuns emotions. Women’s work is only such because it is less valuable and seen as beneath men, yet when it becomes valuable, like computer science, men seek to monopolise. Gender performativity and the need to masculinise success embeggars women and emotionally cripples men.

Shattering marketing’s constructed gender binaries takes the feminine out of female, and the masculine out of male. That binary gender is easy to sell, easy to promote, and easy for people to buy into. That those marketed products are used as signifiers and markers for gender, Disney princesses and toy soldiers are freighted with meaning, is used to further reinforce gender even when a person steps outside of the gender binary axis. Gendered products are gender performativity writ large, reinforcing norms of behaviour even for those who reject a binary gender construct.

This then flows into societal use of language, which rigidly polices gender to the extent that in many societies the reclamation of they/them pronouns from the derogatory to the personal is a revolutionary act. The English language is not historically equipped to handle non-gendered pronouns, though ironically unlike many other languages it does not inherently gender objects. The revolution is asking the English-speaking world to do the same for people, to neuter the rigid gender boundaries, and shift people into gender neutral linguistics. Ease of language serves to make things “easy” for the majority, at the same time straight jacketing those who wish to leave that behind.

Defining your own message is as much transcending the performative aspects of society as it is about pronouns and externalising your gendered self. To set aside the social conditioning we all undergo from birth, to recognise that our gender is something more that what we were assigned, that is a radical act. It is radical because it expects all around us to think and actively consider gender. It is radical because by reconceptualising your gender expression you force everyone else to see gender beyond their own social conditioning. Non-cis, non-binary, and trans identities are not the problem, it is the gender paradigms society fixes from cradle to grave that are the root of performative gender inequalities.

By conceptualising yourself beyond your assigned gender at birth you radicalise gender in ways that threaten the easy gender binary people want and expect. Few people would radically accept an absolute gender policing, as everyone transgressed gender boundaries, yet only non-cis folk are castigated for shattering the binary gender myths society builds. The power of self-defining your gender radicalises the self, and while all of us perform a self-defined gendered role within society, the externalisation of rejecting assigned birth genders is possibly one of the most revolutionary acts one can do within the gender binary society we live in only because society has wedded itself so completely to this binary construct. That is why transgressing gender boundaries is cisgender problem, for the inequalities flow directly from the rigid policing of gender rather than the revolutionary acts themselves.



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