One of the things I talked about in my last post was questioning assumptions. I then realised I really needed to confirm what I mean to be saying when I talk about gender – men/women/biological gender. Because that is just FULL of assumptions and I make some, others make others. Gender is actually one of those things you can’t just make assumptions on.
I’m not trying to man/womansplain this here, just show the logic behind my assumptions. If you know this, feel free to skip it or by all mean give me feedback on any inaccuracies. I’m by no means an expert on gender, but I do try and think this stuff out a lot, and really this is about what I mean when I’m talking about men and women.
So. I work in software development. One of the truisms of any piece of work I’ve ever been involved in is the 90/10% rule of thumb: you can do 90% of the work in 10% of the time, that last 10% of the work will be all the exceptions and fiddly bits that take about 90% of the time you’ve got to complete it. As a software tester, this is the bit where the bulk of my work is – defining that last 10% where standard, ‘cleanskin’ processes break down.
The same thing is very true of ‘how do you explain what gender is?’. If you hit that easy, 90%, that would mean that you are born with the ‘normal’ set of chromosomes, and your body ‘correctly’ deals with the hormones to express your ‘natural’ gender. That’s the ‘expected’ gender definition, and it covers certainly the bulk of humans. It covers me.
Ie, I have XX chromosomes, my body (despite it being a total tool at me on occasion) has the ‘correct’ amounts of hormones to be female, and I feel female, I’m sure the doctor told my parents “congratulations, Mr and Mrs Jean, it’s a girl!”, and I was brought up as a girl and it all fit. I am therefore ‘cisgender’ – I have never felt anything but female and my body is clearly female and I was identified as female. I lie in the bell curve of the ‘easy’ female definition. Same goes for men. XY/male/male gendered people out there.
Don’t get gender mixed up with sexuality, that’s a different scale that is quite separate to gender; though I rather think a lot of traditionalists might protest at that, and when I say traditionalist, I mean people who are for, whatever reason, uncomfortable with men being attracted to men and women being attracted to women.
Notice the words ‘normal’, ‘natural’, and ‘correctly’, ‘cis’ are highlighted in my paragraph above, this is the equivalent to the 90% software rule. The rules, which are society defined norms, break down pretty rapidly after that.
I was once attempting to explain to a colleague that she had a very out dated definition of male and female – this was relevant to a piece of work we were doing about putting in non defined gender into our system.
“It’s obvious, if you have a penis, you’re a man. If you don’t, you’re a woman,” she said.
I said,”So if a lumberjack called Steve, who has a wife and kids, has an accident with a chainsaw and cuts his penis off, then he now now a woman?” I asked her.
“So the absence/presence of a penis is therefore NOT and indicator of gender?”
Since I had her attention I talked a bit about some of the issues surrounding people who have harder time to define their gender, or who define their gender as something that does not look like their assigned gender. And that M and F is not going to cover it all. And that there are no hard and fast rules on how or why. How people feel and look and define themselves, cannot be prescribed, no matter how many ‘normal’ people in society wish that were so.
So when i talk about women, I mean, people who define themselves as women. When I talk about men, I mean, people who define themselves as men. If you want to define yourself as both or neither, or bits of both, I mean that too. I seriously don’t give a stuff what you define yourself as, it’s up to you to decide. And I will stand up and say things when I see ignorance, even knowing that I am ignorant myself because I am cisgendered. So there may be disjoint/disconnect when I talk about things like beards and sexual characteristics and definitions of women and men based on biology, if you’re trans or not cis-gendered, please accept my apologies. I will make effort to moderate my language to be more inclusive and not be so black and white.
A good introduction to the concepts for younger people (or frankly anyone) if you’re not overly familiar could be this book, Introducing Teddy, by Jess Walton illus by Dougal MacPherson.
I am so not an expert on this stuff. There are thousands of pages out there to look at where it’s said with way more clarity and understanding than I can give it.. Information ranges from very medical through to personal stories. If you’re interested, just go have a look at what is out there. Here are some links I’ve found just after about 5 seconds of googling….
EDIT 14/2/2016: One of my good friends said the following on reading this article, which was worth adding in here, adds in another dimension that i certainly didn’t think about:
I’m not sure you are right about the 90/10% thing.. I suspect more people are non binary than they know, they just never questioned or thought about it. It seems like a nice way to package your simile but I think people are more fluid than that. Gender can change throughout your life, it can fluctuate, gender is not your hormones, it is part of who you are.
The best resource I have found? Tumblr. There is a lot on the genders there.
It isn’t as simple as cis or trans, intersex or agender, there is also genderfluid, bigender, agenderflux, and so many more non binary genders. Enbys come in all shapes, sizes and ages and some experience dysphoria and some don’t. You don’t need to experience dysphoria to be trans or enby. Gender identity is a very hard thing to quantify but I think it is important for everyone to explore for themselves.
For me, I never felt like a girl or woman, I mean, I sometimes did, but not all the time. I wasn’t comfortable with that label. And when I started hearing the word cis and read the definition I was deeply uncomfortable because I felt like that was a term that should describe me, but didn’t sit right, because I didn’t equate myself as the gender I was assigned at birth. It took a lot of soul and web searching to find out what genderfluid was and what it meant for me. I’m still exploring. It isn’t easy but I feel so much better knowing now what I have been feeling my whole life. Knowing that my gender changes along the spectrum helps me with so much of my life and mental health.
Everyone should take time to examine their gender and explore their privilege.