Writing my master’s thesis on women and success allowed me to immerse myself in the history of and current issues pertaining to gender. So while my scholarship did not focus on transgender issues, it did start some wheels turning in my head and I wanted a space to just share some thoughts which I’ll bet others have had too.
I’ll also preface this entry with saying that I myself do not identify as transgender, so I do not have the lived experience of what it’s like to feel like the essence of “me” does not match with the biological parts I was born with and/or the gender that society subsequently prescribed for me. I have cis-gendered privilege, but I can say that I often feel like I present as more masculine than some people are comfortable with–at least when it comes to my assertiveness and calling it like it is. Anyhow.
Gender is such a pervasive and ubiquitous construct that I’ve often wondered how I would be different had I been born a male or if I presented myself aesthetically as more masculine. Would I be taken more seriously? Labeled differently? Have my sexuality called into question? Gender can create so much anxiety if one does not fit neatly into the category prescribed to them… so I’ve often found myself wondering how the construct of transgender would be different if there weren’t so stringent gender categories. If society at large did not associate certain traits, behaviors, appearances, etc with penises and vaginas–would some people experience such discord and discomfort if they wanted to present themselves in xyz way? I’m not sure. I don’t think that we can necessarily find an answer to this as we cannot exist without context (I’m huge on social constructionism, yes). But I’ve often found myself wondering if the concept of transgender would “exist” the way it does today if gender categories were not so strict and stringent. I by no means want to diminish the experience of transgendered people and say they wouldn’t “exist” if gender didn’t in the way that it does; I just wonder how it would be different. I believe such extreme discomfort could likely be avoided if people did not feel compelled to present themselves the way society expects. Would people feel so inclined to have their physical parts “match” a societally prescribed value if those values did not exist or exist in the mutually exclusive fashion such as masculinity versus femininity? I am not sure.
Strict gender categories cause all sorts of different problems including safety issues. One need look no further than the timely bathroom debates going on regarding transgender bodies in public spaces. What’s more, the CDC actually delineates strict adherence to traditional gender norms as a risk factor for intimate partner violence (link to source). I recognize norms are hard to change … but it can be done. Especially in terms of transgender issues, lives are at stake. Transgender suicide rates are sky high when compared to the general population–so issues like this and how gender constructs contribute must be addressed. I would love to hear more thoughts on this topic.