Enforced sexual dimorphism in an age when we’ve all but mastered our reproductive capacity is a matter of taste and not necessity. We are no longer purely at the mercy of biology. We can plan when, how, and whether we will bear offspring via the many forms of birth control, abortion, in vitro fertilization, etc., which continue to advance and improve every day. Many of these methods are relatively cheap and readily accessible, at least in nations and regions of relative wealth. Shulamith Firestone predicted that gendered class distinctions would erode as women gained complete access to the means of reproduction, and envisioned a future in which women were completely freed from hosting new life at all. In only a few decades since her Dialectic of Sex was published, we’re closer to that reality than she probably could have dreamed.
If we were still a threatened population on the verge of extinction, needing to know whether your potential mate was the “right” kind to either receive your seed or inseminate you in as certain terms as possible might make sense, but it’s intellectually dishonest to pretend that’s where we are as a species. We’re among the most prolific mammals who’ve ever lived, and you can find us in nearly climate and region of the world. We also know that unlike many of our non-human brethren, we engage in sex for pleasure without the intention of getting pregnant every time. Many of us never have sex in a way that could ever get us pregnant, whether through acts that don’t involve the genitals meeting, (oral, manual) or with non-bodily implements (sex toys, whips, rope). Many of us don’t care much about sex, if at all, and should perhaps be the least among us to be pressured to present in a way “telling” of our biological gender.
Is it really valuable to advertise our genitals via external presentation – see “cultural genitals” – particularly in this cultural moment? I’m struck by this as I also muse on what, exactly, the qualitative difference is between the so-called “female”(vagina/vulva/clitoris, etc.) and “male” (penis/testicles, etc.) reproductive organs… From my estimation, we’re talking about the difference between .5″-6″ (on average) of erectile tissue, and perhaps the presence/absence of a “vaginal” opening. An erogenous zone is an erogenous zone, and while we might have certain preferences with regard to what we like to have done to ours or whose we do what with, when it comes down to it there’s really not a whole lot of variance. When I do talks on pegging, I discuss not only the reality that almost everyone has an anus, but I take the opportunity to show a slide of the Quigley scale which shows that, like cultural gender, our supposedly fixed biological/material gender includes many non-binary modes of being.
photo credit: http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com/
An anthropologist from another time and place might find the importance we place on this minutiae puzzling.
As I read about the case of Jennifer Laude’s murderer, Joseph Scott Pemberton, (and think of the many, many trans people – mostly women – who have died in similar attacks) I’m struck by how plausible arguments like his have been regarded throughout the course of Western civilization. One who does not conform to a popular conception of “womanhood” or “femininity” is punished by the most severe means imaginable, and men of the establishment have nodded along in agreement. The presence of a penis, in their minds, negates all possibility of identification as woman. What is at stake, then, is the attacker’s sexuality. Despite the claim that Pemberton felt duped or raped, the real repulsion men like him feel is a self-repudiation: it is a betrayal of themselves evidenced by their own arousal. Like every other woman who is raped or beaten by men, these women become not only the victim but the supposed perpetrator of their own victimization. To spell it out plainly, Jennifer Laude and her many fallen siblings did not die because they were “found out” – they died because they turned their attacker on. It is internalized homophobia manifested in pure rage. Killing her is killing the part of himself that is suspect, the part that “fails” to be heterosexual. In a culture that demands 100% obedience to the gender binary, this is only realized for men in 100% heterosexuality. Doing sexuality wrong here is not an option.
I won’t claim to exist in a vacuum where I don’t realize that culture plays a huge role in how we are socialized, and who we become. Yet I value the chances when I get to be surrounded by those who openly reject the pressure to choose a gender and settle down; those who realize that our genitals are just that, and that the rest of who we are is up to us. In my day to day life, I’m often inundated with experiences where I am gendered as either male or female, and sometimes it simply makes my day easier to go with it. At work, my gender is seldom the central focus. When I am misgendered, it’s often not in a context where it makes sense for me to correct (in dealing with a crisis situation, for instance). Sometimes, I just don’t have the energy or mental wherewithal to do it. Still, I find myself resentful. I want to be seen as a whole human being, and part of that is my non-binary gender. I want to be more than seen, but accepted and appreciated. A few of my clients share with me that they do not know whether I am AFAB or AMAB, and many of them admire this about me. I like to think that for some of them, I can serve as a kind of role model, or at least evidence that it is possible to do this non-binary gender thing as an adult.
Like Firestone, I look forward to a day when gendered class divisions are completely exploded and allow for the possibilities of complete freedom from prescribed gender roles. I hope daily for gender equality, and I extend that beyond simply women and men. I think the only way we can do this is to get away from the claims of TERFs and “gender critical” feminists, whose conservative views of biological determinism only serve to set us back as human beings. We need to be open to the possibility that many of us will betray what our genetics supposedly dictate. We need to admit that we do not know why some people are trans, or non-binary, or neutrois, or Muxes, or two-spirit, or third gender, or any of the array of genders that refute the Eurocentric woman/man dyad, but that there is nothing wrong with those who do not “appropriately” advertise their genitals. We need to allow all people to determine what parts of gendered experience make the most sense to them, and for each of us to express a gender most fitting to our own personal preferences – AND to be respected while doing it.
In short, I look forward to a day when women like Jennifer Laude are allowed to live and thrive.
Photo credit: autostraddle