How do children (and also people in general) decide what kind of clothes they like? People don’t pick their favorite outfits in a cultural vacuum. They don’t figure out how to clothe themselves from scratch. Instead, they look at what their peers are wearing. Sometimes, they also look at what some role model like, for example, a movie star, is wearing. Never mind advertisements. Fashion companies market specific clothes directly to children, and corporations wouldn’t be spending so much money on marketing to kids if it wasn’t effective.
Here’s the problem—clothes signal a person’s status of belonging to some group. If all your friends wear clothes that look in a certain way, you also will feel peer pressure to wear similar clothes.
Sometimes peer pressure is relatively harmless. For example, when children collectively decide that silly-looking pants are fashionable right now, then there is little harm from it. It’s just a fashion fad that will go away in some years, and a group of kids collectively wearing the same silly looking pants isn’t going to harm anybody.
Here is a practical example. In my opinion, ripped jeans look silly. Nonetheless, I have no reason to object to kids and teens wearing such garments, because they don’t cause any actual harm in addition to looking silly. Both girls and boys can wear them, they do not contribute to enforcing a visual gender segregation or a gender norm/expectation, they aren’t a gender marker, nor are they being pushed for only a certain subgroup of children. Boys and girls, white and brown, rich and poor—all young people can wear ripped jeans and feel that they look cool in them.
Pink clothes for girls and blue clothes for boys, however, is something that I consider a bad idea. Firstly, I prefer more gender neutral upbringing. Secondly, I believe that no item of clothing or toy should be culturally perceived as reserved strictly for either girls or boys. Colors are just colors, clothes are just clothes, and toys are just toys, they can have no gender. Any child regardless of their anatomical sex or preferred gender ought to feel free to explore and experiment and try out all the available toy and clothing options. A cis AMAB child should feel free to have long hair, wear pink pants, and play with toy cars if that’s what he likes. Every child should feel free to pick and choose, mix and match.
Unfortunately, this is not the kind of culture we live in. Following a fashion trend helps children to identify and connect with other children who have the same choices as them. In other words—if a child wants to befriend another child they know, doing so will feel easier if both dress the same way.
The result is that we live in a culture in which children themselves are collectively enforcing gender stereotypes upon their peers. And that, in my opinion, is terrible. A few days ago I saw a photo of a four years old female child dressed in nothing but pink. I commented that this is a problem. The response from the mother was exactly what I have started to expect:
Actually, my daughter picks out her own clothes.
When she was a baby we went for more gender-neutral clothes. She wore a lot of yellows, greens, purples, navy, etc. About a year ago she wanted pink clothes when we went to the store. Now that’s all she will wear. She gets upset if all her pink clothes are dirty and she has to wear something else. Pink is her favorite color now. It’s like the gender-neutral thing backfired. It could be influenced by the other kids at daycare.
My daughter doesn’t wear pink clothes because she’s a girl; she wears pink clothes because it’s her favorite color and it’s what she picks out…
Should we discourage girls from liking anything that’s considered traditionally “feminine”? Even if they’re exposed to a variety of activities and interests? I don’t think we should label “girl” activities as bad. That in a way is putting women down as well.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a child having pink as their favorite color. Nor is there anything inherently wrong with adults of any gender liking make-up and pink dresses. These fashion items shouldn’t be reserved for trans and cis women and girls, also people who identify as male should feel free to have fun with this form of self-expression. If those were individual choices not subject to peer pressure, then everything would be great.
Here’s the problem—I have talked with numerous parents who tried to raise their children in a more gender neutral fashion, but when their kids got old enough to pick their own clothes and toys, they started to pick whatever is stereotypically associated with their gender. I have heard the same words again and again: “I tried to dress my daughter in gender neutral clothes when she was younger, but now her favorite color is pink and she insists upon wearing pink dresses all the time, it’s not like I can forbid her from making such a choice.” Sure, I can sympathize with the parent, it’s not like they personally can counter all the gendered messages their child is bound to pick up from friends in the kindergarten, TV shows, advertisements, kids’ magazines… Nor can parents forbid their child from choosing to wear whatever clothes they like.
But really, how do you explain that so many four or five years old girls have pink as their favorite color and that each of them asks their parents for pink clothes? What is the statistical probability that a four years old AFAB child just happened to independently pick pink as their favorite color? I mean totally independently, without any indoctrination from the society? Neither subtle, neither overt. Why not yellow? Or orange? Or green? Why exactly pink? There are numerous other bright and pretty colors that a child could pick as their favorite color. And what is the statistical probability that so many young girls independently picked one and the same favorite color?
Of course, it is better for parents to let their children choose what they like. If you have a daughter who insists that pink is her favorite color and who wants pink clothes, forbidding her from wearing pink would be a terrible idea. But do keep in mind that our culture is fucked up and everybody is obsessed about gendering children. Babies are dressed in clothes that work as gender markers, because strangers expect to be able to tell the gender of some baby by merely glancing at this child. Fashion for girls and boys is strictly separated in stores with some isles for boys and other isles for girls. You wanted to enter a store with unisex children’s clothing section? Good luck finding one. And it is not just adults who are obsessed about gendering all children’s toys and clothes. Also children actively police each other and enforce gender norms upon their peers.
If you are cis and actually enjoy the things that are stereotypically intended for people who have your gender, you might have not noticed all this social pressure. I did notice it. Being trans, I had to fight against it on a daily basis.
By the time I was six years old, my favorite color was dark blue. The color of sea, night sky, and cornflowers. And dark blue has been my favorite color ever since then. Do you think I got to wear blue clothes as a child? Yeah right.
When I was 6 years old, in kindergarten I once had the following conversation with a girl:
Me: “When parents get a new baby, how do they tell whether their new child is a boy or a girl?”
Her: “Baby boys and girls scream differently.”
Me: “Are you sure? I would guess that baby girls have long hair while baby boys have short hair.”
In kindergarten none of us had any clue about the anatomical differences between boys and girls. Instead, girls where children who wore pink dresses, had long hair, and played with girl toys like dolls. Boys were children who wore blue pants, had short hair, and played with boy toys like cars. In kindergarten kids adamantly policed each other to make sure nobody dared to display any gender-inappropriate behavior. For example, boy toy corner was in one side of the play room while girl toy corner was in the opposite side. Even approaching the inappropriate toy corner was forbidden for kids. If some kid touched the wrong toys, other kids harassed this child.
I still remember one incident when a boy entered the girl toy corner and tried to play with girl toys. Upon noticing the offense, all girls surrounded the poor boy and started screaming at him to immediately go away from girl toys. I actually have no memories about what I did at that moment, but the chances are that I succumbed to peer pressure and participated in this bullying. If you wanted to have friends in kindergarten, gender-appropriate behavior was mandatory, and you also had to police other kids to make sure they behaved and followed the gender norms. Gender was serious business for six years old children, and we all policed each other to make sure nobody ever dared to do anything that we believed was inappropriate for their gender.
When I was six years old, I insisted upon wearing dresses and having long hair. Was this a free choice? Not really. In all those children’s books mother had read for me, the prettiest princess had the longest hair and she wore a beautiful dress. Children’s books had taught me that a woman’s value depended upon how pretty she was, while a man’s value depended upon how strong he was. After all, the prettiest princess always got to marry the strongest prince, and the strongest prince got to marry the prettiest princess. (By the way, children’s books are marriage-obsessed, who gets to marry whom is often the culmination of the story, because being able to marry a prince/princess is the greatest reward.) I was taught that my value as a person depended upon how pretty I was. I was also taught that long hair and a dress made a girl pretty. Moreover, adults constantly complimented how pretty my long hair was or how nice some dress looked on me. So yes, I kept telling my parents that I “wanted” to have long hair and wear dresses. But this wasn’t my own free independent choice, instead my actions were the result of the fucked up society I lived in.
By the time I was 8, I still didn’t know that boys had penises. I still kept on living in this imaginary gendered world that the society had constructed for me. As a child, I was a coward, and I also wanted to be praised. Thus doing anything boyish was unthinkable. I didn’t have the courage to disobey the rules. Moreover, getting praised meant behaving like a cute little girl. If I behaved like a cute little girl, I got positive words from adults. On top of that, all my female friends also behaved like cute little girls, which resulted in me experiencing some peer pressure.
By the time I was 10, I finally started to realize that gender roles were bullshit. I had also finally learned that there existed certain anatomical differences between men and women. Those finally gave me a solid explanation for why there existed men and women, boys and girls. I no longer assumed that male and female people were identical except for their fashion, haircuts, and hobbies. I had also encountered some progressive ideas about gender roles being just silly cultural norms that people don’t really need to follow. More importantly, I was finally free to choose my own books that I wanted to read. I was no longer forced to stick to all those stories, which ended with a pretty princess getting married to a strong prince. I started reading books written for boys. I even secretly purchased some boy toys (which I hid from my mother, I played with them only when I was alone in my room).
Nonetheless, at this age I still routinely wore pink clothes (despite having had blue as my favorite color for years). Here’s why:
1. Social pressure. Children are subject to peer pressure. If some child is told that she is a girl and she sees that around her every other girl wears pink dresses, then she also will feel that she must wear pink dresses.
2. Little choice in clothing stores. Yes, I picked my own clothes in stores. But blue girl clothes were a rarity. Most of the girl clothes in stores were pink, thus I picked pink clothes for myself. Back then pink was just another color for me, I didn’t hate it yet, thus I didn’t throw temper tantrums each time I saw nothing but pink clothes in a store. I just agreed to buy and wear them.
3. School uniforms. My school literally forced me to wear pink blouses up until I was about 15 years old. At my school, boys had to wear dark blue shirts, girls had to wear pink blouses. (As if school uniforms needed to function as gender markers!)
By the time I was 16, I started to hate pink color, because the society had been forcing pink color upon me for years. By then my body was finally large enough that I could get all my clothes in stores that sold adult clothing. Thus purging pink from my wardrobe was finally a realistic possibility. I made it a principle to never ever buy anything that was either pink or came in a pink package. By the way, back then I still lived as female. This meant picking the most masculine-looking clothes I could possibly find in women’s clothing stores.
I realized that I am trans only when I was already 23 years old. I didn’t have the courage to wear male clothes up until I finally realized that I was not a woman, and by then I absolutely needed to stop with this femininity charade. Get out of the closet or get a depression were the only choices I had then. At that point living as male became essential for my emotional wellbeing, thus I had no other choice but to finally get bolder and more courageous. And, yes, the first time I bought male clothes in a store, it was a nerve wrecking experience. Since early childhood I had been indoctrinated that transvestites are sick and evil. Of course I was nervous when I started breaking the taboo dictating that living as male was forbidden for me.
Avoiding pink, incidentally, is harder than you might imagine. As an adult trans masculine person, I still occasionally struggle to purge pink consumer goods from my life.
Do you need a menstrual cup? Most come in pink.
Do you want a clitoral vibrator? More pink.
Do you need a medical test to make sure you don’t have a breast cancer? The reminder for this test will come in pink.
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with pink color or pink clothes. And they can look fabulous on men.
The reason why I now often avoid pink as a matter of principle is because for me it symbolizes femininity that used to be forced upon me. I avoid only consumer goods that are pink as a result of marketing professionals deciding that all women love pink. Guess what, trans men and butch lesbians also need menstrual products and clitoral vibrators. And many of us don’t adore pink color. Never mind that plenty of straight cis women aren’t so fond of pink either. I will avoid pink menstrual products, but I have nothing against strawberry ice cream or light bulbs that come in pink packaging, because then the color choice either makes sense (strawberry ice cream actually being pink) or it is plain random.
I find it awful how society forces young people to behave according to outdated gender norms. For example, at school even when I put on feminine clothes exactly once in three years (due to being forced to dress up for a celebration), my teachers had to compliment my visual appearance on that day.
Here’s the photo from my school’s graduation ceremony. Everybody is dressed in gender-appropriate clothes, it must be because men and women really do like different outfits, and therefore we can conclude that all this gender neutral hoax is pulled out of thin air! Or is it really? How can anybody be so sure that all the teens in this image are happy to follow gender norms?
Can you spot the unhappy trans masculine person hiding somewhere in the crowd and erased from existence? Look for the person who has no make-up, who has never bothered to pluck his eyebrows, who looks like he hasn’t been to a hairdresser for years, who never bothered to use contacts instead of glasses in order to look prettier, who never bothered to get a cosmetic tan despite it being fashionable among women. I sucked with being feminine even back when I still felt pressured to do so. Oh, and there’s one more giveaway. Look for shoes that appear somewhat old-fashioned. I never learned to walk on high heel shoes. I didn’t feel like buying new shoes in order to wear them exactly once. Thus I just wore a pair of my mother’s old shoes from some decades ago. Incidentally, this creates an interesting question. We all know that high heel shoes are harmful for the wearer’s feet. Yet I would argue that my school literally forced me to wear such shoes even though I have never learned to walk in them and I was risking a faceplant on that day. Or would you instead argue that it wasn’t my school teachers who forced this footwear choice upon me and that I chose to wear uncomfortable shoes free willingly?
By the way, nowadays I just wear men’s suits and try to not give a damn about transphobia and social norms against cross dressing (I still cannot pass for a man).
And it wasn’t just school teachers who tried to force me to be more feminine. My mother, my female friends, my female university classmates—everybody had to give me some fucked up advice about how I should wear more feminine clothes and use make-up. Sure, all this advice was well intentioned. Girls and women mistakenly imagined that they were doing me a favor by teaching this lost tomboy how to be a proper lady. But damn, they sure were very far off the mark. Not only I developed resentment and even started to hate a certain color, I actually turned out to be a trans masculine person who is better off living as male.
Conclusions: The child who loves either pink or blue color didn’t obtain this preference in a cultural vacuum, instead this child was probably lead to believe that they must like this color, because all other boys or girls like either pink or blue according to their gender. Of course, I am not blaming any individual parent for failing to raise their child in a more gender-neutral way. Children teach and police each other, thus establishing “rules” for what they consider proper gender expression.
If some people freely choose either masculine or feminine gender expression, then that’s great. There is nothing wrong with an AFAB person who enjoys wearing pink clothes. It’s just that I question whether these choices really are free for some people. We live in a fucked up society, which insists upon gendering small children. A society, which abuses and marginalizes trans people erasing our existence and questioning the legitimacy of our experiences.
More importantly, once a sizeable portion of girls and boys start to collectively behave in a certain way, this creates an environment that is toxic for trans and gender nonconforming children. Just like you couldn’t easily spot the trans masculine person being forced to hide among his cis peers in my school’s graduation ceremony photo, you probably also don’t notice all the other trans and gender nonconforming children and teens out there who are quietly suffering. My unpleasant experiences growing up among cis peers couldn’t have been rare. It must be common. In order to thrive, children and teens like me need an environment in which being gender nonconforming is relatively common and accepted as normal. If most boys wear blue pants and most girls wear pink dresses, we stick out and become subject to painful peer pressure.
Marcus Ranum says
I love my baby pink 16 ton hydraulic forging press!
It doesn’t even have to be colour. The ignorant “think” hair and clothes justify them opening their mouths.
I was born in 1967, so I was preteen in the 1970s when almost every man in sports and rock music had long hair, and a teen in the 1980s when every Metalhead had long hair. But at school, in a redneck “country music only!” town and with bigots in the house I had to live in, long hair was deemed “girls’ hair” and any attempt to grow it was forcibly prevented or ridiculed with homophobia. Very few XYs at my elementary or junior high school had long hair, those all with parents who permitted and defended it. I’ve also heard a lot of homophobic and negative comments over the decades because I wear tights / leggings when cycling and running. Post transition, nobody says a word.
In mid-April, boys in Taiwan refused to wear pink face masks even though masks had become mandatory on all public transit, at schools and at many businesses. Chen Shih-chung and other doctors wore pink masks at a press conference. (“Taiwan news” is fourth rate ‘journalism’, but good enough here.) Chen made a point that there is nothing wrong with boys or men in pink and that his favourite cartoon as a boy was “The Pink Panther”. True or not, he defeated their arguments. I wear purple obsessively (which is considered a “girl’s colour”) and nail polish while working “male” and am constantly asked by students if I’m a woman. Not if I’m attracted to men, but if I’m a woman.
I often wonder about these sorts of issues, because I was never really much affected by them myself. I never really felt much by way of pressure to conform to gender norms growing up and, while I mostly did boy things, and didn’t wear anything significantly feminine-coded, I did have a fair number of girl toys for a while, as well as boy toys, and got on perfectly happily with that mixture of both. As far as clothing went I just wore colourful tracksuits of various colours – red, blue, green, grey, even one peachy-pink one. Truth be told, even today in my 30s, I generally still do, because that’s what I find comfortable. My school uniform in both primary and secondary school was unisex too – dark trousers and blue jumper for the former, dark blue blazer with white shirt and red tie for the latter. Students of all genders wore this.
So, I do sometimes wonder why I never got any pushback from anyone when I did break gender norms as a child. Maybe I did, but I wasn’t aware of it (I didn’t pay other children a great deal of mind, truth be told. I wasn’t very social). Or maybe the community I grew up in was genuinely less bothered with this whole charade. I don’t know. But I do sometimes think that I ended up processing the whole business of identity markers differently from others for various reasons – most prominently that I had a twin brother.
When you grow up as a twin, you start thinking about differences and similarities from an early age. It primes you to frame the issues in slightly different ways. For me, growing up, there was little need to stake out an understanding of gender differences because the primary business was establishing my identity with regard to my twin brother, not with regard to other people outside. Girls were not really something I thought about at all – I was primed to think about how I differed from other boys. I was probably vaguely aware that, somewhere out there, there were these people called girls, who were different in some ways, probably, and had their own business in trying to establish how one of them was different from another, but that had nothing to do with me and I was quite content to leave it be. There were Chinese people out there too, and their internal debates and discussions were nothing to do with me either. What did matter to me, what was immediate and important and engaging, was exploring how I differed from someone who looked pretty much exactly the same as me. Partly because I felt the need to let others know which one of us I actually was, and didn’t like being mixed up with my brother, partly because our parents were very keen that we each develop our own interests and personalities, and didn’t grow up like those creepy twins you see in some places who are pretty much carbon copies of each other, like the same things, and do everything together.
Anyway, I bring that up in the context of gender identity because I remember quite strongly that I used society’s gendered constructions for my own ends here. I was aware that society did divide children’s things into two streams: the one pink and fluffy and full of princesses and magic and cute animals, the other blue and energetic and full of robots and cars and laser guns. I just didn’t realise that one’s gender was supposed to place you in one camp or another. Between about 6 and 8 I tended very much to go for the “girl” stuff, and I did so perhaps in conscious opposition to my brother’s “boy” stuff, not because I thought I was a different gender to him, but because I felt that it was somehow right and proper that these two apparently contradictory and complementary aesthetic worlds reflected our differences. But it wasn’t a question of opposition: I remember that we played all sorts of games mixing together the two, where a combination of his power and might and my beauty and magic achieved all ends.
Between about 8 and 11 I tended to mix together both sorts of toys and consume media intended for both genders, but did gravitate more towards the “boyish” end of the spectrum. I certainly developed an antipathy towards the standard macho character types you got in boys’ media in the late 80s and early 90s. I very much realised I wasn’t your He-man type, didn’t get on with the dynamic muscled action hero at all, and felt that those characters were not for me. But I didn’t find the fluffy, vacuous, milksop heroines of girl media to my tastes either. So I gravitated to the supporting cast. I liked the intellectuals, the misfits, the quirky ones. I found myself in the wise mentor figure, the clever wizard, the scientist back at base who solved the problems, the bumbling comic relief. Curiously these figures tended to be of all genders and none, and I didn’t discriminate. Returning to the He-man analogy, I very much found myself liking both the Sorceress, who was obviously feminine, and Orko, who was functionally genderless (to this day I’m still not sure what gender they were meant to be). Gender was very much a set of secondary aesthetics here – the important thing was that these characters got by through wisdom, intelligence and powers beyond straightforward physical might or overweening charisma.
I did, of course, become aware of social gender roles and expectations. But in my early teenage years I took a kind of impish delight in challenging and breaking them. They seemed to me a silly idea that other people followed without the slightest idea why, and I enjoyed making them feel uncomfortable when I showed them how little regard I held for such things. I remember making flamboyant gestures of disdain for athletics at school, prompting one PE teacher to lose his temper with me and shout “what are you, some kind of nancy boy?”, to which I turned, smiled, and replied without a hint of shame “yes, that’s right, do you have a problem with that?”. He was dumbfounded, and I enjoyed that day immensely. Looking back on this, I recognise that I was benefiting from the considerable privilege that being a white, middle-class, cisgendered and male person afforded me. I was able to laugh in the face of gender norms because they worked in my favour and would continue to work in my favour whether I challenged them or not. I felt like the world was safe and accepting enough of me that I could transgress, and if I were not so privileged, maybe I wouldn’t have felt that way. I certainly don’t recall any pushback. Somehow I had not been primed with the idea that I had to perform my gender a certain way, and that doing so was important. To some extent there was a degree of arrogant and patronising superiority to me back then – I felt that I was better than all those silly sheep who followed the norms so slavishly, because I could see how fundamentally ridiculous it all was and they could not. I’ve never said I was a very nice person all my life.
So, to round up on this, it strikes me that there can be important influences, early on, on developing a relationship with societal gender norms, and the process is far from straightforward. I think there can be other axes of distinction that influence and transform one’s uptake of such messages (class might be another one – clearly there are messages in some societies that working-class activities are associated with masculinity, while upper-class activities can be branded effete and femine – or race perhaps). I think that removing the straightforward binarism is a very good idea, and would be very positive, but there is probably a lot more and a lot more subtle social restructuring that might be helpful too.
I hate clothes full stop.
But at least their not my body which ditto.
Just wish I was covered in feathers or fur or scales – like not from something else but growing from &covering /instead of my skin instead. Sigh.
So many times I wish I wasn’t the species I am or had the body I have.
Paradoxically all too typcially a human desire?
My mother would have hated the ripped clothes. She was the youngest daughter of 5 in a poor family, and got mostly
Andreas Avester says
I really hate this particular cultural norm. Long hair looks fabulous on men. And, of course, short hair is perfectly fine for women too.
Latvia is a pretty transphobic and homophobic place. I am not surprised to hear that things where better where you grew up.
Sounds like your parents did well at least in this aspect.
I suspect that my mother never wanted me to have a personality. Instead, she wanted a straight, cis, neurotypical, normal daughter with age-appropriate feminine interests and generic life goals. When I was a child, she often criticized me for being “not normal” and considered my various abnormal behaviors as flaws that needed to be corrected. When I chose to spend my free time reading books instead of playing with girls my age, she tried to change this. When I started attending martial arts lessons, she tried to make me stop and tried to steer me towards more appropriate hobbies like cooking or knitting.
She still doesn’t know that I am trans, bisexual, sterilized, and with no intentions of ever getting married. I strongly suspect that I would lose my mother if she found out who I really am. She doesn’t even know me as a person. Instead, she is imagining that I am somebody totally different—the generic and normal daughter she wanted.
Childhood can be Hell. If you’re lucky, you can escape it in the home, but once you step outside all bets are off. Kids do what they have to in order to survive in the outside world. All a parent can do is try to teach them what’s right and give them love, comfort and support. We can only hope that our kids make it into adulthood with their heads reasonably intact, that they absorbed the things we tried to teach them, and that they have the courage and wisdom to make the choices that are best for them.
Our kindergarten class had three play areas, a book nook, a “house” region with a toy stove, refrigerator, etc., and a play area with toy cars and bulldozers and what not.
At the time, I didn’t understand the gendering.
I had no interest in the third area. Vehicles and construction stuff? Why?
So I went into the “house” area. It was full of girls, of course. They were thrilled to have me, because they needed a “dad” for the family drama they were pantomiming. So, we settled into the game and things were going well, right up until I felt the teacher grab my collar and drag me out.
“What were you doing in there?” she demanded. I was too flabbergasted to come up with an answer, so she turned to the girls, who were looking about as confused as I was. “Did he do anything to you?” They assured her nothing was going wrong.
So I was unceremoniously thrown at the boy’s area, where I was promptly mocked by all the residents thereof.
I didn’t spend any play-time outside the book nook for the entire year after that. I read all the books there, and then started bringing my own books. On the plus side, by the end of kindergarten, I was reading at a fourth-grade level!
Andreas, I appreciate all you’re trying to do to help us understand trans issues. I’m trying to learn more and figure out what bad assumptions I’ve made in the past.
One of those assumptions was that a key difference between trans activists and TERFS was over the issue of the reality of gender. I read Ophelia Benson for many years when she was an FtB regular, where she constantly reiterated that gender roles were arbitrary and determined by society. So in my mind, an imaginary dialogue between a TERF and a trans person would look like this:
TERF: Gender roles are purely a societal construct, with no basis in reality!
Trans: No, there is inherent “male-ness” and “female-ness,” and I know, because my internal sense of my own gender is at odds with the gender that has been assigned to me.
Since I want to support trans rights, my tentative conclusion was that there is some combination of background & genetics & psychological factors that determine what gender we’re attracted to (the homo-/hetero sexual continuum) and another set that determine what gender we identify ourselves as, all of which are poorly understood but largely outside our control.
However, here I see that you’re saying basically the same thing that she said about gender roles being arbitrary societal constructs. So I’m questioning my assumptions, now.
Do you see anything contradictory between your assertion that gender constructs are purely constructs, and your own sense of yourself as male? Maybe you’ve already addressed this in an earlier post.
Andreas Avester says
Gender roles are arbitrarily constructed by the society. Gender identities of individual people are innate.
Let’s start with gender roles. Why was pink clothes picked for girls and blue clothes for boys? There was no innate reason, it was arbitrary. A century ago all kids wore white dresses, because that was practical for parents who had to wash those garments by hand. Here’s some history on that— https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/
Alternatively, why are some jobs associated with men and others with women? Again, there is no innate reason why women should cook dinner at home and work as nurses while men work as doctors. For example, programming used to be perceived as a “female job” up until a few decades ago. Then it just flipped to being seen as a “men’s job.”
Also, notice how “women’s jobs” are perceived as lower prestige, while “men’s jobs” are more prestigious. That’s thanks to sexism, but really, there are no innate reasons why people of a specific biological sex should do any specific job.
Personally, I am very aware how some of my lifestyle choices are the way they are just because of arbitrary and silly norms. If men wore pink kilts and women wore neckties, I would want to wear a pink kilt and I’d dislike wearing neckties. But since our cultural expectations are what they are, I wear neckties and dislike wearing pink skirts. I choose to wear clothes intended for men, because I am more comfortable living as male.
Gender identities are what are innate and probably determined by our genes.
Just like TERFs, I also want a society in which every person feels free to pick their preferred forms of expression, clothing, hobbies, jobs, and none of those should be reserved for one gender only. If a cis woman enjoys wearing masculine-looking clothes, wants to work as a blacksmith, and hates parenting, she should feel free to follow her preferences. And cis men should feel free to use nail polish, be stay-at-home dads, and have needlepoint for a hobby if that’s what they like. The difference between me and such hypothetical cis people is that unlike them I do not have a gender identity that matches the gender I was assigned at birth. Gender identity is separate matter from what fashion or hobbies a person likes. It is perfectly possible to be a cis man who loves using pink nail polish and enjoys needlepoint. Just like it is also possible to be a trans woman who prefers athletic clothes and doesn’t enjoy make-up or high heels.
According to TERFs, I am free to wear male clothes, remain childfree, and pick a stereotypically “masculine” profession or hobbies. But that is not enough for me. The moment I choose to go further and also use male pronouns, a male name, and surgically remove my female reproductive organs and breasts, TERFs will attempt to deny me this choice. Oh yeah, and I also want gender neutral public toilets. And this is where I disagree with TERFs. In my opinion, I have a right to be as masculine as I want. TERFs cannot have a right to deny me certain medical procedures, they cannot tell me that I am only allowed to be this masculine and not a step further.
According to TERFs, I am just a confused butch lesbian (impossible, because I am perfectly happy to have sex with men). Alternatively, I am just a woman who attempts to live as male, because I hate being subject to sexism and gender discrimination in a society, which treats men better than women. I certainly do hate sexism, but there’s more. A cis woman would want to live as a woman in a world in which sexism has been eradicated. I want to live as a man in a world in which sexism has been eradicated.
Just like TERFs, I also want a society in which gender roles are not rigidly enforced upon people. Since I cannot visually pass for a man anyway, I am better off living in a society, which doesn’t abuse me due to looking like a drag king. Moreover, trans and gender nonconforming children suffer in societies which rigidly enforce gender roles.
I agree. My suspicion that that probably genes are what determine our sexual orientation and gender identity.
Most trans people don’t want to live in sexist societies with rigidly enforced arbitrary gender roles. Trans rights and gender equality are not conflicting wishes.
Thanks, that was very helpful. But it still leaves a question.
You’ve said that gender identity is innate. But it doesn’t consist of culturally constructed markers (clothes, makeup, jobs, child-care) or forms of expression (aggression for men, nurturing for women). You mention wanting to use male pronouns and name — but that isn’t what it means to be male either, clearly. So if innate gender identity is NOT all of these things, what is it?
When you say “I feel myself to be male,” what do you mean, exactly? Is it a group identification thing — I feel as if I identify with this subset of humans, rather than this other subset? Or is it just a genital/body image sense — the image of yourself that you see in your mind doesn’t match the body you happen to inhabit?
To put it another way — suppose there was the society that you imagine, in which nobody had any preconceived ideas about gender roles and everyone was free to adopt any hobby, job, clothes, or lifestyle they chose, independent of gender. Gender matters solely when it comes to figuring out what goes where during lovemaking and who bears the kids — otherwise, no-one pays it much attention. (I’m plotting an sf novel set in such a society, so that’s one reason I’m interested in this question.) Would anyone be trans in such a world?
Andreas Avester says
Trans people are not all the same, it depends on the person. Group identification and body image is a factor for most of them, though. So yes, in general you are correct about both here. In my case, I do not have a female gender identity, meaning that “woman” is simply not part of how I see myself. And I also do not like looking like a woman.
“Trans” is an umbrella term. There are transsexual, transgender, agender, non-binary, gender fluid, etc. people. My guess is that in your hypothetical scenario there would still probably exist trans people who would want hormone therapy and surgeries, because they want their bodies to look a certain way. That being said, it is still a guess. It is tricky for me to try to imagine how people would feel in an imaginary society that has never existed in real life. But trans people differ from each other. For some hormones and surgeries are very important, because they absolutely want their bodies to look differently from what they got at birth. For others living as either male or female is more about the social aspect, and they aren’t even that interested in having their genitals surgically fixed. Such people probably would not qualify as trans in your proposed imaginary society, because then they would be ordinary people who would be free to pick their lifestyle preferences, which would not get perceived as weird anymore by the rest of society. And then there are also the non-binary people who would probably happily live in peace not worrying about what their gender is supposed to be or what gender norms the society expects them to follow.
Personally, I know I would be happy in the kind of imaginary world you are describing. My life would be simpler if the society didn’t demand me to live in a certain way just because of how my genitals happen to look like. And I really want a world in which toilets, pronouns, and people’s names are unisex. That would really simplify my daily life. We live in a society with male and female names and pronouns, thus I have to pick male versions, but I would be perfectly happy also with a unisex name and pronouns.
Thank you for your answers!
I was raised by a misogynistic father whose favorite expression was”girls can’t do that “ . He said it to me so often it became my name . I was a little bit of a tomboy and hated the restrictions girls clothes ( and my fathers idiocy) placed on doing certain activities. You can’t climb a fence or a tree because people will see your underwear and that was a huge no-no in the 50s . Little girls rarely wore pants but thank God we were able to wear shorts . As far as pink I hated it. With my skin color it looked good on me but I just didn’t like it . I loved red but I couldn’t wear that as it was the devil’s color. 🙄
My oldest son loved pink and I agree with the OP that gendered colors are just stupid . So he got his room painted pink the way he wanted . Of course his grandfather damn near had a kitten but he also damn near had another kitten when my youngest son wore a shirt with a brightly colored large design on it. It was too feminine for my father. I politely told him to mind his own business as far as the kids’ clothes were concerned. Since my youngest was in his mid teens at the time, he picked out his own clothes
It’s funny you should mention needlepoint because it was a favorite hobby of the late Roosevelt Greer who was a huge muscular football player and actor . He didn’t care if people teased him about it because he said it was relaxing . (The Thing with 2 Heads was on YouTube a few months ago )
Andreas Avester says
My mother was born in 1953, and her parents also told her the same crap. In my case (I was born in 1992), I wasn’t explicitly forbidden from doing “boy things,” instead adults and other children subtly discouraged me from doing anything non-ladylike. Granted, sometimes it wasn’t that subtle at all, but I still wasn’t told that I am “not allowed” to do something. Instead I was recommended to do some alternative feminine thing.
I had heard about Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men, which was why I picked needlepoint for an example. In my opinion, it is cool when people just do what they enjoy without worrying about gender expectations.
I was in Walmart earlier this year and overheard a dad telling his young son “No, don’t look at any toys from this aisle, it’s the girls’ aisle. Come on, the boy’s aisle is over here.” It made my blood boil and I actually thought of confronting him, but I’m not that sort of person. But I’m very sad that that sort of thing is still going on, and I agree that we need to stamp it out!
You are describing me and I’m a cis woman. Also never wore heels.
I disliked pink as a child because I saw it as a babyish color. Real girls wear red! or dark blue! What’s with all those pastels?