Natalie has a new post up, which you should read in its entirety, but this in particular stood out to me:
One of the immediate issues I have with “gender dysphoria” is that it falls into the very common pattern of people taking a varied range of things and variables and stuff related to gender, sex or sexuality and acting like they’re all one single variable. Sometimes as a binary (“man or woman”), a spectrum (like the Kinsey Scale), or one component of a simplified combinatoric thingy (like the Genderbread Person). And sometimes it’s just one giant stupid spectrum between two poles “I don’t see men and women as binary, really. I see it as, like, a spectrum. You’ve got manly straight men on one end and girly straight women on the other, and then you have gays, lesbians, transsexuals, guys who wear berets, and women who wear jeans, in between” (this, including “guys who wear berets”, was an actual conversation I had when I was 14 with an adult artist from Montreal, a friend of my stepmom’s. It was shortly after I’d tried coming out to my family as trans, and during a time when my body was rather obviously intersexed, so my guess is that she was trying to be supportive and helpful after my stepmom told her I was “struggling with gender” or “confused” or whatever.)
This expresses a problem I’ve had for a long time with spectrum models of gender, sexuality, and so on. “Ranges” of gender with men on one end and women on the other are wholly inadequate, and lead to shallow and wrong understandings of gender. For example, here are just a few instances of the confusion it foments:
- A woman is not defined by being the polar opposite of a man, and a man is not defined by being the polar opposite of a woman, but that’s what this MEN ———————— WOMEN spectrum mistakenly suggests.
- It puts trans people somewhere in the middle of all this. Some trans people aren’t binary-identified, and that’s awesome, but some trans people are binary-identified. And we’re not occupants of some middle ground. We aren’t inexact approximations of women or men, who can only approach, but never reach, womanhood or manhood.
- Conversely, it implies that men who don’t totally adhere to some ultra-masculine manly stereotype in every respect are somehow inching closer to womanhood, and vice versa for women and manhood. That’s not what it means to be a man or a woman, and your gender identity doesn’t depend on to what degree you conform to some opposing stereotypes. (Also, whoa, heterosexuality is not a defining feature of manhood or womanhood. Holy cow.)
More generally, I have the same problems with the “transgender umbrella” concept when it includes “feminine men” and “masculine women” and anyone who isn’t SUPER MANLY MAN and SUPER WOMANLY WOMAN. A cis guy who wears pink or likes Celine Dion doesn’t stop being cis or a guy just because he wears pink or likes Celine Dion. He’s still a cis guy if he identifies as a cis guy. (This also repeats the mistake of designating certain behaviors, attitudes, preferences and so on as inherently “masculine” or “feminine”, when there’s no reason to do so.) Parents of boys who like to dress up as princesses might expect that their son will grow up to be their daughter, but as long as these boys identify themselves as boys, they’re still boys and they’re still cis.
I have a bit of a personal vendetta against the “umbrella” since it was used for a long time to categorize me as being trans, by people who told me “trans is an umbrella term, so you’re trans!” Yeah, maybe under that definition – but this was back when I didn’t identify as anything other than cis and had no intention of transitioning. I didn’t see how just presenting a certain way, or taking a certain name, had to mean that I was no longer cis.
And yes, if the development of my gender and identity had just stopped there, if that was the place I chose to stop and settle down, I’d still feel the same way. I’d still consider myself cis. The reason I stopped being cis, and started being trans, is that I began to identify and understand myself as primarily a woman, and then exclusively a woman.
This didn’t change because I took a female-designated name or wore female-designated clothes. I had already been doing that for years, and it hadn’t made me any less cis. It doesn’t necessarily make anyone any less cis or more trans, if that’s not how they see themselves.
I still have much of the same clothes – and the same makeup kit, and the same online alias – that I’ve had for the past several years. By the time I did begin to see myself as a woman, I had already made a comfortable gender nest out of the kind of self-defined femininity that works for me, but such a nest doesn’t need to have a sign on the outside that says “GIRLS ONLY, BOYS KEEP OUT.” It fit me just fine when I still considered myself cis. If other cis people like the decor, it can fit them just as well, too, without requiring them to be trans.
Particularly, that “Genderbread Person” (and please, let’s never speak of it again) doesn’t actually solve any of these problems. It may have separated gender and sexuality into independent spectrums of gender identity, gender expression, physical sex, and sexual orientation, but the issues presented by a spectrum in this context are not remedied by making more spectrums. Bi people are not a colorful blend of pure concentrated Gay and pure concentrated Straight. Trans people are not some novel and flavorful combination of Essence of Man and Essence of Woman.
There are a lot of troubling social implications arising from the idea that those who fall near the endpoints of all these lines – men and women, gay and straight, masculine and feminine – are the pristine original ingredients, the Coca-Cola and the Sprite, while the rest of us are the graveyard drink that comes from pressing every button on the soda fountain and throwing it all in one cup. The people who come up with these spectrums might think they’re improving on the two-box model of “you’re either in this category, or that category”, but the end result often seems to amount to little more than adding another box: you’re either in the one box, or the other, or you’re the contents of both boxes thrown together and jumbled up a bit.
That’s why every time I hear someone say something like “there’s room in the middle, some guys are feminine”, I’m just like “…lol, no.” Yes, people are diverse and have a variety of gendered features, but that’s not what this is about. While their intention is understandable, the implementation is all wrong. Count me in as not a fan of Giant Stupid Spectrums.