Gender and gender identity are a spectrum

Sundays at the Kitty Household are lazy days.  Oh, we might get some laundry done and we’ll make dinner and all that.  But the rest of our food intake is predominantly the result of scrounging about the kitchen cupboards and counters.

And that’s also when I blog the most, setting posts up to publish at various times throughout the week so as to maintain a steady presence without bombardment and still be able to focus on the to-do list of work projects.

Three cheers for presence of mind, and three more for having my cake and eating it too (grin).

And Sundays are also when I think the most.  And today, I got to thinking about gender.

According to conventional thought, there’s male and there’s female.  According to this line of thinking, you’re either one or the other, it’s pretty clear cut, black and white, no question, no gray areas to be had, case closed.

The reality is, it’s not that simple.

What exactly constitutes male or female?  Stereotypical examples are easy to spot, but when hairs are split, the waters get much less clear and much more cloudy.

Is it merely a matter of biology?  Is one’s gender dictated solely by their anatomy?

Most of the world is starting to pick up on the fact that one’s anatomy does not automatically translate to one’s identity.

Case in point: my partner once worked in law enforcement, and in the department for which he worked, there was a police officer who had female anatomy, but was male in every other respect.  (She identified with female pronouns, so that’s what I’ll use.)  She was self-described as “butch”; she was stout, sturdy, and muscular.  She had very short, spiky hair.  She loved being a cop.  And more often than not, she was itching to fight (her words).  She had little tolerance for cis-gender testosterone (I.e., straight males), but she had plenty of her own (I’m still using her paraphrased words, and I have been throughout).

If someone were to classify her based solely on her anatomy, would they be incorrect?

That depends on who you ask.  Some would say, she’s got Girl Parts and therefore, she’s female.  Others would say that she might be better off transitioning to male anatomy or at least a fully-male identity.  And still others would say, “ask her.”

I agree with the idea of asking her. Making assumptions and suppositions without seeking input from the source is murky and potentially dangerous (harmful).  After all, she can speak for herself.

But that was a long time ago, and she’s merely the stuff of long-term memory now.  I don’t have the opportunity to ask her anymore.  What then?

What if she was not simply a lesbian (as she had described herself back in that time period)?  Instead, what if she had confessed one day that she actually felt more like a man trapped in a female body?

This happened to a friend of mine, only the pronouns were switched.  This person’s body was male, but everything else about them was female.  (I’ll use “she/her” pronouns here, too, because in this case, I have the benefit of knowing that she identifies herself as female.)

Indeed, everything about her is female, and when at long last she felt comfortable enough with her identity to start making the anatomical transition (which is still in its early stages, so a fully complete transition is still a while away yet), she immediately began to feel more comfortable.

She went out and began doing her nails, shopping for clothes, trying on wigs until her hair grew out, and applying makeup.  She’s been kind enough to share pictures of herself along the way, some of the first pictures she’s ever shown publicly.  That’s how inspired, confident, and comfortable she feels.

She is not a man experiencing an “identity crisis” or “gender dysphoria”.  She is “full-blown” female, with a mistaken anatomy.  Who is anyone else to claim any differently?  Is anyone else more of an expert on a person than the person themselves?

Nope.  Each of us is our own expert.  And I can’t think of an instance where anyone else could top a person’s own expertise.  For the very concept of expertise implies a directly-associated level of familiarity.  And no one is more familiar with someone than themselves.

And if you were to ask my friend about her pronoun preference, I know for a fact that she would say, “female, please”.

Obviously, my friend is not a man.  I don’t care what the structures are named or what they look like.  This person is a woman in every sense of the word.

(Not an actual picture of my friend; “androgyny HD” Google Image Search)
Resolved: a person (and their identity) is not the sum of their anatomical parts.

Settling that debate (and I do consider it settled; now we’re just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up) is a giant leap in the right direction.  An interesting side effect is that it raises many more questions, questions most people never thought to ask and if they did, the answers were swift and concrete.  They were “givens”.

(Except for the rare, murky case of congenital hermaphroditism, but nobody wanted to go there; “Those People” were not factored into anyone’s equation.  Historically, their only date was to be cast in a sideshow as a “freak” fit for exploitation by unscrupulous opportunists, and later in more recent “compassionate” times, they had been shut away, keys thrown away, and never spoken of again.  That is, until surgery came along, and new parents flipped coins to cherry-pick which gender of child they wanted, with a 50-50 shot at getting it right–or catastrophically wrong.)

Suddenly, those “givens” found themselves in patches of quicksand, dissolving and disintegrating, revealed for the house-of-cards mirage they actually were.  Question marks appeared at the ends of the sentences where only flat periods, or even exclamation points, had been.

And as a result, the classification of gender becomes much grayer.

Male and female phenotypes still exist, but they’re not necessarily tethered to anatomy.  If one’s anatomy does not automatically dictate their gender, then what does?  What gives an aura of male or female, or androgyny?

Is it behavior-based?  To make determinations about a person and perceive their true colors, one need only examine the person’s actions, right?

That makes sense, at least at first glance.

After all, my male-to-female transgender friend is an easy play to call (not meant to be offensive in the slightest!).  She wears women’s clothing, wears makeup, loves to shop, does her nails, and so on.

But then, there are people like me.  I appear to be female, such that no one would raise any question of doubt.  I’m married to a man, I took his name, I have long hair, and I wear some women’s casual clothes (jeans and other pants especially, because they’re cut with my female curves in mind).

But that’s the extent of my femaleness.  I hate to shop, I can’t stand makeup, I’m hardly domesticated, and I can’t stand most of the tastes, topics, or activities of most females.  I’m even uncomfortable associating the word “woman” with myself.  (I use female pronouns on myself, and the words “girl” and “female” are fine, and I suppose “lady” is OK, given that I’m approaching 40, but “woman”–no.  Just no.  I’ve always shuddered upon hearing it used in reference to me.)

I drive a pickup truck, I like action movies, I like both “genders” of music, I can’t stand drama or manipulation, I don’t care (much) if my clothes make my butt look fat, I hardly acknowledge the existence of my female anatomy, I don’t need to be pampered, I root myself in logic as much as possible, I can’t identify with most women, and romance novels are an extreme no-go.

Even as a child, I preferred Legos over Barbies, Matchbox cars over Cabbage Patch Kids, Star Wars over My Little Pony, big trucks over cute little cars, guys as friends over girls as friends, outside activities over long phone conversations, and Motor Trend (magazine) over Seventeen.

Except that I did get “into” Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and a few other “female” magazines, too.  Right alongside Popular Science, Spin, and Rolling Stone.  And although I preferred men’s shirts to female blouses, there were some female casual clothes that made me feel really upbeat.  My nails are untreated and worn very short.  My hair, on the other hand, can’t get long enough for my tastes, and I absolutely love to have it elaborately colored, with very specific instructions, for a very specific look.  I still don’t own any makeup, though.  I think I might have a loofah somewhere…

What–what?

So if actions are what determines one’s gender identity, where does that put me?  Obviously I’m not male, but I also share next-to-nothing in common with “average” females.  (I reckon it wouldn’t surprise you much if I disclosed the loneliness I felt growing up, all the way into my adult years.)

Up until about two or three years ago, I was extremely confused about my gender identity and even my sexual orientation.  The way I self-identify is much too dramatic a mouthful, but it’s 100% truth:

Biromantic, asexual, non-binary female.

Yep, told’ja it was a mouthful (wink).

But the important part is, I have answers.  And those answers are that I don’t fit in with women, nor am I a big fan of the stereotypical male persona, either.  I can take or leave sexual intimacy, and that’s not weird.  I like a few “male”-oriented things, and I like a few “female”-oriented things.  I teeter on the fence, and play both sides.  I can be affectionate with males or females; their gender does not matter to me one iota.  I like what and whom I like.

So again, where does that put me?  My now-female transgender friend is much more girly than I am.  I know several females who identify as women, are unquestionably heterosexual, and yet, their interests run more along the lines of those of stereotypical males (amateur radio), with some stereotypically-female interests thrown in (gardening, child-caretaking, teaching, etc).  Where do they fit in?

I can’t speak for them, but speaking for myself, I would probably put myself into the conventional category of “female”, but with a twist.

And it’s these “twists” that begin to give shape to gender as more of a spectrum.  On a spectrum, there exists a gradient, a slide rule, along which anyone can plot themselves anywhere.  The “butch” police officer I described earlier would probably be several notches more “male” than I am; my transgender friend, probably several notches more “female”.  And my heterosexual, conservative ham radio operator friend?  Hard to tell; she probably sits in between my transgender friend and myself.

Here’s what it might look like on a basic visual level:

My version of a “gender spectrum” using a few specific people. “Ham” = my ham radio female friend; “Tr” = my now-female transgender friend; “P” = my partner, for reference; I’m “Me”.
None of us is in exactly the same place.  It’s not as cut-and-dry as the “Stereotypical” Zones of “Male vs Female”.  The “Male-Female” binary (two-part, either-or) system is dead.  Non-binary people are everywhere, and we’re here to stay, and we might not be visibly “obvious”.  But we’re all OK.  On a spectrum, everyone belongs, and that’s what’s important. 🙂

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