Friday, June 08, 2012

In Which I Step in It

See, over here, you've got your sex, and over there, you've got your gender, and the two don't always meet.

I don't know whether or not to treat my readers like sophisticates of The Second Sex who all, themselves, know that there is a construction in society and by society of roles for sexes and that these roles are more or less dormant scripts. We call these "gender," and they are, as it were, the two halves of the Dramatis Personae of the play. Within each half, there are subtypes, but each is defined ahead of time by the corporate authorship of the audience and the other players.

"Why were we crucified into sex?
Why were we not left rounded off, and finished in ourselves?" -- D. H. Lawrence, "Tortoise Shout" (in magenta, no less!)

In addition, there is a social play going on, whereby one sex or gender gets to be the normative one and the foreground object to the organization and the other is the supporting role. This is an elaborately negotiated and continually adjustable script as well. Both of these together constitute gender.

Or should I treat my readers as people who believe that "gender" and "sex" are synonyms and that "masculine" is simply an adjective of "male?" I kind of need you guys to buy into the first set of assumptions, at least for what follows, because, even though it might sound airy fairy, it's actually the conservative position.

I know how the complaint that "the boys look like girls, and the girls want to be boys" goes back to the 1960's in the U.S., and then the 1760's, and then Juvenal's Satire II, where "Gracchus has presented to a cornet player-or perhaps it was a player on the straight horn-a dowry of four hundred thousand sesterces. The contract has been signed; the benedictions have been pronounced; a crowd of banqueters seated, the new made bride is reclining on the bosom of her husband. O ye nobles of Rome! is it a soothsayer that we need, or a Censor? Would you be more aghast, would you deem it a greater portent, if a woman gave birth to a calf, or a cow to a lamb? The man who is now arraying himself in the flounces and train and veil of a bride once carried the nodding shields[21] of Mars by the sacred thongs and sweated under the sacred burden!" (By the way, all you right wing flip-outs, the second satire is not about homosexuality. It's about hypocrisy and gluttony and the chasing of pleasure in neglect of duty while, at the same time, pretending to being a moral authority. Read with both of your eyes open.)

However, things have sped up thanks to our wonders of technology. Medicine -- the science, and art, of eliminating physical maladies, sought, caught, and targeted the very serious diseases that industrialization had made ubiquitous among women. Estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, and a host of hormones secreted in amounts previously undetectable are now known, pretty well understood, and reproducible from biological sources. Cancerous conditions and failures to survive infancy led to the laudable pursuit of testosterone's cousins and children, and all of the growth hormones and muscle mass factors, which the body orchestrates so subtly that it would take a fetal heart monitor in a concert hall to hear the notes, are comprehended, cataloged, and producible on demand. Plastic reconstructive surgery -- impelled by the viciousness of our military technologies and their own responses to medicine -- learned to make faces, shape cartilage, and craft features, and, because of cancer's ravages and Oncology's growing successes, how to mold soft tissue and bring sensation to it.

In short, boys can be girls. Girls... not entirely.  The spongy mass down below on men remains an unique signifier so far, but it will fall to persistence and desire.

I mentioned some time ago that I was posting essays at DailyKos. There are several recurrent themes to the essays there. One of them is job loss. One is death. One is, "I just got a vagina," or "I just bought my son her first bra," and I'm so proud. I was not shocked at this last. After all, at Wikipedia a shocking number of editors and chatterboxes were transsexual (compared to international norms). One was thirteen and undergoing transition from male to female.

Indeed, the wider world has largely been buffaloed into silence on the issue of transgender for good and bad reason. There is a lightning quick accusation of anyone with any question of any sexual reassignment of either homophobia or patriarchy or repression. A long list of stories of misery and repression will follow. The dire and genuine instances of grievous wrongs done are now serving to disable any consideration of any expression of reassignment. This is a mistake. The world cocked an eyebrow only when a pair of parents joyfully began sexual reassignment on their five year old boy who was or felt or wanted to be a girl.

If one knew of no real biographical case and only considered transgendered as a phenomenon of biology and brains (sex and the squirts of hormone), then we would expect it to be roughly evenly distributed between men and women, and yet male to female vastly outnumber female to male transsexuals. Given the potency of male hormone and the exquisite balance and perfect recipe of female sex hormones it requires to manifest in a brain/behavioral change, it would seem far easier, biologically, to err in female to male, not male to female.

Additionally, we would not expect to find sexual orientation and gender identification to be at odds at any great degree. In other words, there shouldn't be a great many male-to-female lesbians, and yet there are quite a few. Obviously, sexual orientation and sexual identity are not the same, and gay men are not really women any more than lesbians are pseudo-men.

Me? I'll be the one. I'll step in it. I'll say what no one will say. I'll say that no child should be given sexual reassignment therapy. Puberty and menopause/andropause are the two biggest biological revolutions we experience, shy of birth and death, and darn near everything can change. Puberty is also the time when gender is its worst, and where both sexes might wish devoutly to be the other.

Specifically, though, gender -- the code of behavior -- is freer for girls than boys, from a boy's perspective, but it is not freer for boys from a girl's perspective. The actual sex of female or male is equally awful and annoying or pleasant and liberating, but the gender...that's different.

What a male child sees is that girls get attention. They can act out and be the center of attention and be admired. Boys are not allowed to do that. Girls can also opt to stay home, can be retiring, and can be wounded, where boys must be vigorous, outward looking, and strong. They see the ability to appreciate art and giggle, where their own code demands that they ride skateboards and break their knees. The male adolescent sees feminine as being free to choose, as girls can be boyish or dandy and be acceptable, while their code tightens on them and demands muscular competition. They see feminine as offering, again, attention and the freedom to feel, while their world has only the category of "man enough" and "fag." Only the adult man sees feminine as no greater than what he has, because only the adult is free from (one hopes) being defined by others.

A female child sees boys being allowed to go out, when they must watch their clothes and looks. She sees that boys can go screaming at full voice into a muddy stream without a thought in their heads, and people applaud it, where they have to worry about every detail of how it will look to other people. They see masculine as being unlimited and free. The female adolescent sees masculine as powerful. Boys can ask for what they want, and no one will judge them for it. They can go out whenever, and they can say whatever they want, because no one is keeping score on them. Boys don't have to take an hour getting dressed so as to not be made fun of by the other girls for having some fashion that they can fault. Only a woman can see masculinity's restrictions and adjust her own degree of participation in the codes she passed through.

Now, if a boy child says he wants to be a princess, then no stinking wonder! If a male adolescent is miserable and thinks girls have it made, and he'd be such a dyke, if he were a girl... then that's just poppycock. We have found ways of making each other miserable and suicidal, of gouging out chunks of affection and memory from one another through gender, simply because we're all enslaved for five to ten years by a wild, flaming itch of desire.

Are environmental estrogens and endocrine blockers doing a number on the males of the United States? You bet your "Just Bitten" lip gloss they are! Are little boys ready for the joy of buying their first breast forms and picking out their vaginas? No. That's sexual reassignment, and sexuality isn't, I think, the issue, as much as gender.

By the way, below is a photo of your author holding The Ladder he built and described in the post below.