Tag Archives: identity

The straightjacket of gender


I originally had something else scheduled for today, but then this article caught my eye on Twitter: a couple in Canada has decided not to disclose the sex of their child to their friends and family. To the parents raising a “genderless” child is a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a logical continuation from the upbringing they are giving their other two children, two boys, who are allowed to put on a dress or wear their hair in braids if they wish so.

I find the story, and especially the underlying philosophy, incredibly fascinating. I have been giving quite some thought to the whole transgender-debate after the addition of a transgender male-to-female character to one of the fanfictions I’m following caused quite a stir within the fandom – in a positive way. The amount of people writing to the author of the story, thanking her for creating a character which they could relate to, and a positive, accepted character at that, was simply overwhelming.

First off, I have nothing for or against transgenders. I cannot understand what would bring a person to make such a huge change in their life, because I have never felt uncomfortable with my gender or my body (to that extent), but I do believe that people should have the freedom to make this decision, to change gender physically, if they wish to do so. This may sound condescending (though that is not the intent) and I might get this all wrong, but I find it similar to getting a boob job or getting tattoo’s all over – you shape your body the way you feel best in it.
That said, I can’t help but wonder if people would be less inclined to match their ‘male’ body to their ‘female’ soul (or vice versa) if society would allow more freedom to the individual to determine the boundaries of their gender. If a man wants to wear skirts, is he a man who likes to wear skirts or is he really a female inside? I realize many transgenders hate their “birth-body”, but do they actually hate the boobs or do they hate what they represent: a symbol that leads your peers to determine what you can and cannot do in terms of expressing yourself?

So imagine that you are not burdened with the presumptions and assumptions that exist in society today, that you don’t need to limit yourself in any way to whichever package of actions, feelings, … is deemed appropriate for the type of body you happened to have been born with. This goes further than buying your baby girl a toy tractor or giving you little son a doll to play with – you eliminate all conscious AND subconscious prejudices and expectations people might have towards your gender: you can wear heels, play football, work as a trucker, take salsa classes as the follower and nobody would bat an eye (note that the aforementioned might be accepted when you were born female, but likely not so much when you are born male). It means a whole new type of freedom…

… and thus also a whole new type of responsibility.

I love the idea. I really, truly love the idea and I honestly believe many people would feel more comfortable with themselves if they didn’t feel the need to restrict themselves to a pre-defined set of actions and feelings which are supposed to go with their gender. However – gender is not just a collection of societal can’s and cannot’s, it is also a biological given, with certain implications and limitations (the average female body cannot develop as much power as the average male body), and it is important to be aware of those (being a female athlete in a male competition would be a very frustrating experience indeed). Allowing overflow of what is deemed appropriate behavior for either gender is not the same as eliminating gender altogether. And however interesting an experiment it would be to study how strong the influence of society on gender identity is exactly, it is still an experiment, and I don’t feel children should be made part of it.

At this point I am tempted to argue that, in a sense, every type of upbringing is an experiment, the outcome of which depends both on the parent(s) and the child(ren) involved. But – raising a gender-less child automatically implies that the gender be kept secret, and secrets are never (rarely) a good thing. It is and will be confusing for the child, if not directly, then through the second-hand confusion it experiences from its peers who will likely not always know how to approach the child. It gives plenty of food for thought on how widespread gender-based preconceptions are, sure, but there should be other ways to have this discussion than letting a child be the instigator.