Gender Performance and Cis Privilege

Gender isn’t a binary, it’s a spectrum.  However, a great deal of people seem very attached to the concept of there being two ways to perform gender:

1) the demure, pink dress wearing, barbie doll loving, home making lady with long hair, perfect make-up and a uterus full of babies,

2) the bold, blue loving, sportball fanatic, breadwinning man with short hair and balls so full of sperm he could make you pregnant with a coy smile.

A world with only these two options would be horrifying.  We all know that in reality, very few people fully conform to these stereotypes.  So why do we teach it to children?  Why do some adults tell children off for being themselves?  Some children learn to wear certain clothes, enjoy certain activities, and affect certain behaviours because any deviation from that norm results in scorn, suspicion, fear.  This learned behaviour confirms to the adults that they were right about the gender binary.  The cycle continues.  The message that these children learn about themselves is that they are wrong.  That there is an invisible line drawn across the universe that they cannot cross, and that wanting to do so means there is something wrong with them.  People grow up with an internalised fear that they may step over the invisible line and reveal to others all along that they never cared about barbies or action men.  Adults have to learn that they are allowed to be themselves.  A lot of time and effort has to be spent learning that the great pink vs blue debate doesn’t matter.  But not everyone catches up to this idea.  A man wearing a pink shirt will still be mocked by some, his sexual identity called into question as if homosexuality is some great insult.

This obviously ties in with how doctors can withhold treatment from trans folks if they don’t seem to readily fit the binary construct.

“If you want to have gender reassignment surgery, you will usually first need to live in your preferred gender identity full time for at least a year. This is known as “social gender role transition” (previously known as “real life experience” or “RLE”) and it will help in confirming whether permanent surgery is the right option.”

What does it mean to live as a woman or to live as a man?  What qualifies you?  Even in the quest to be happy with yourself and your gender presentation, you have to jump through gender binary hoops.  You still have to perform gender, just a different one.  This is fine if you are happiest as one of the two gender options above, but what if you’re a trans woman who loves monster trucks or a trans man who loves to knit?  Monster trucks and knitting are both awesome.  Who decided that they have anything to do with gender?

Trans and gender queer people are told with alarming regularity that they are incorrect about themselves, going through a phase, and confused.  How is it anyone’s business where you fall on the gender spectrum?  Why does the existence of people who don’t want to conform to the gender binary threaten those who do?  And so what if it is a phase?  What’s so bad about phases?  Why can’t we play with gender identity?  If I want to be a boy tomorrow and a girl the day after, who am I actually hurting?  If I don’t want to be either, why is that a problem for anyone?


Of Course I’m Sensitive About Sexism

Imagine someone stomped on your foot every day for your whole life, so that it was constantly bruised and bleeding, never getting time to heal before the next daily stomping. Then someone treads on your toe, and tells you that it shouldn’t hurt you, because they didn’t tread very hard, because they didn’t mean it, because your foot isn’t that injured, because they’ve never seen anyone stomping on your foot so you must have imagined it.


Imagine you grew up your whole life being told that your value as a human being was measured on your appearance, being a potential partner to the opposite sex, your fertility and your gender performance.  Then someone jokes that you should stop voicing your opinions, get back in the kitchen and make them a sandwich.  Woah why are you taking it personally it was only a joke.


Silencing people by devaluing their experience is a common tactic.  Telling them that their reactions are incorrect asserts the implication that their thoughts and feelings are neither worthwhile nor welcome.  Criticising people for the emotions they have as a response to a lifetime of conditioning is like a bully asking you why you are hitting yourself.  If you have the luxury of being emotionally distanced from the discrimination in question then you don’t get to tell people who experience it how they are allowed to feel.


Of course I’m sensitive about sexism: I have to live it.