Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gender Identity

This is based on a comment from Chairm, in my discussion with Jose at Opine:

Gender is a lot more than a social assumption. This is the same mistake many feminists make in their effort to break free of the restrictive gender roles of our patriarchal culture – they mistake gender roles for gender (or vice versa). Gender is our subjective, "sexual Self-Map, how we feel ourselves to be: male or female." (Bushong) "Like pain, it is unambiguously felt but one is unable to prove or display it to others. One's subjective gender is just as real and immalleable as one's physical gender but unfortunately not recognized in our culture."

So while it is true that I am not a genetic woman, and cannot share the complete experience of what that means (as far as the physical, embodied experience of living in a female body, and also as far as socialization from birth), it is at least as true to say I am a woman as it is to say I am a man. Probably more so, because gender identity certainly appears to be more immalleable than physical bodies.

In the same way, can you say whether an intersexed person is a man or a woman? Their bodies are ambiguous; so my gender is ambiguous. I'm neither man nor woman, but transwoman – some of both. I choose to live as a woman because it's a lot more comfortable. And that's not a bad thing, even though our culture works hard to make it so. It just is. It's beautiful in its own right. Between day and night is the beauty of twilight.

Gender is not plastic, but gender roles are. Gender roles are defined and delineated by culture and society, and they change over time and from place to place, culture to culture. When I speak of living in the role of a woman, I'm speaking of sharing that gender role with other women in our culture.

Given our culture and the discrepancy between sex and gender (or physical gender and gender identity), one of the biggest challenges faced by transpeople is integrating mind and body. Certainly that's been one of the hardest things I've tried to do, but, thankfully, I have had some success with it. I've still got plenty of room to grow there, but it is, I think, an important – maybe the most important – aspect of the peace that fills my life. I believe that there is a Universal Being (usually called God) which creates us all – Life, Love, Mind. Which means that I have a purpose in being a female person in a male body. That purpose is to love, but it must also be more – perhaps to demonstrate the integration of male and female aspects in the fullness of humanity, I don't know. Or maybe it's just a cozmic joke. :-)


David Carrel said...

Seda, I have a question here. You just explained something that made me think about why it is hard for me to vote for these equal rights for the Gay/Lesbian/Trans community. You have constantly written about how hard your journey has been. I can't imagine what it would be like. But with all these rights being voted on, the teaching in school has changed as well to where they teach these things to elementary school kids. Now, what if there is some kid who is straight and fine with it, but he hears this teaching. What you just wrote confused me; wouldn't it totally confuse kids too? And could that not result in unnecessary confusion through their childhood?
I am trying hard to be loving and tolerant, but I still do not think that I could ever teach a child these things. Do my concerns have any validity?

Seda said...

I'll give you an answer soon, but don't have time today. I'd like to move it to Culture Pax (, reprint your question there and answer it fully in a post.

Be well,

Anonymous said...

"That purpose is to love, but it must also be more – perhaps to demonstrate the integration of male and female aspects in the fullness of humanity..."

Yes! To demonstrate the integration! It is a part of the fullness of humanity! I don't believe we were made to only experience one perspective, but many. We somehow separate ourselves into these two categories, male and female, only further separating us as a society. Integration provides us with understanding, and moves us closer to a loving disposition.

DAVID - Seda is a very smart lady. She sometimes uses big words, or speaks of things that she knows a lot about. She has spent so much time and life on being knowledgeable about the things she discusses. I think for someone who is unfamiliar with the struggle, sometimes--sometimes--it can be confusing.

When discussing the education of children--we have to be careful about what we mean. Simply presenting information to children in an understandable manner doesn't serve to influence them, but merely to educate. Teaching a young child about John Wilkes Booth shooting Abraham Lincoln doesn't influence that child to grow up and be a murderer. It simply educates them on a historical fact.

Education is very different from INDOCTRINATION. If I want to INFLUENCE a child to believe something, that is easy--I must only indoctrinate that belief into the child from a young age. This happens all the time. Young children are "taught" one way of believing, or living, and then repeatedly told that this is the best way.

Educating a child means I present ALL of the information, and let the child form their own reasonings and opinions as they grow within the knowledge of the world. This has been proven, over and over again, as the best means of educating children. It gives them a broader understanding of the world, and helps them to grow up less ignorant of other ways of life.

If we're going to TRULY educate and TEACH children, we should make sure they have ALL the information possible--at an AGE-appropriate level of course.

This coming from a future educator.

Seda said...

What did I write that confused you? If I know specifically what it is, I think I can respond better.

What rights do you find it hard to vote for? ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), which would make it illegal for an employer to fire someone just because they are gay or trans? Gay marriage? Everything that would make life easier for LGBT people, or just one or two?

I think that teaching should always be age-appropriate. I don't know if you've seen the book, "Heather Has Two Mommies." It puts the differences among families into language that is easy to understand, non-judgmental, and totally age-appropriate. A straight kid reading it is not confused, but finds clarity. At least, that happened with my kids, and I don't understand how something like that could confuse kids.

My own explanation of my transition was also age appropriate, and easier than I expected. My eldest son is into science; comparing that to clownfish and parrotfish, both of which change sex naturally, satisfied them both.

Further in my own case, I was confused by the lack of teaching in my schools. I didn't know gay people existed until I was sixteen, and the possibility of being trans had so little social support that I didn't understand it until long after that. Consequently, I went through many years of confusion, isolation, and alcohol abuse before I began to figure it out. I would like to save other kids from that, if I could.

Your concerns for your kids are, I think, valid - but that doesn't mean they can't be relieved. My answer here is not intended to end the conversation, but to continue it and expand it. Thank you for your curiosity and respectful requests.

David Carrel said...

I think my thoughts are the following: If being gay or trans is so difficult and causes so much pain or hurt, I would not want my kids to think that life as a gay person is normal.
But I think what you are saying is: Educate kids to not be judgmental about people being gay so that the hurt does not exist.
And if we are teaching them, what are we teaching them? Cause what about teaching them the facts about a gay lifestyle? There are probably positives to being gay that are taught, and teachers teaching about the gay lifestyle will say that it is normal. But what about the risks of being gay? My dad wrote a book and gave plenty of statistics that make being a gay person have drastically different health statistics than someone who is straight.
Anyway, I guess I am going a little off the original topic. My whole point was what I wrote in the first couple of paragraphs. You don't have to respond if you don't want to.

Seda said...

Hey, thanks, David. That helps me understand what you're getting at.

When I talk about the pain of being trans, I'm referring to one of two things: denial and deception (my own), or discrimination (from others).

Discrimination hurts everyone it touches - check out some blogs like Angry Black Woman or Field Negro. Field is really good, there are a lot of comments from a wide range of people.

As for my own body dysphoria - well, how many women do you know who are 100% satisfied with their bodies?

I'm not trying to downplay what you're saying, or my own pain. I'm just putting it in perspective. When I denied my own nature, when I lived a lie, in deception, I lived always in some level of psychic pain, and it grew bad enough that I was on the verge of committing suicide.

But when I accepted myself - when I embraced myself and set out on a journey of genuine self discovery and self-expression, the pain leaked away to become, instead, peace, and a growing, deepening connection and love with all living things.

David, my life today is damn good. It is filled with the joy of family, close friendships, deep meaning, purposeful work, growing spirituality, gentle peace, fierce love. I don't curse being trans. Sure, I'd change some things about my body if I could. But don't make the mistake of hearing the path that led me to where I am today as a constant, ongoing thing. And don't make the mistake of thinking that pain is bad. Pain helps you grow - or at least, it can. It is the body's and the spirit's signal that something is wrong, and you'd better fix it. It burns away the dross, and leaves the gold (though not always). I am grateful for it.

But the pain, if it is not from discrimination, comes from denial. Not self-denial, but denial of self. If there is anything I would like you to take away from this, it is to be true to yourself. And let other people be true to themselves, as well.

As for the gay lifestyle you worry about, I'm a little confused. Is that the lifestyle of my friends Kent and Tim, who've been together 17 years, live in a high-rise condo, have professional jobs, and go traveling overseas each year? Or Anne and Chris, who parent their son with care, who have one of the most incredible gardens, who teach composting and gardening to the community? Or Jaime, who is single and slowly covering her body with tattoos, who plays a mean game of raquetball (best in my office)? Or Annette, who knits wonderful sweaters and teaches others to knit? or Kim (partner of Richard for 6 years now), who loves to play with my boys? Just what is the gay lifestyle, anyway? Ce and Angie are college professors; Ce writes poetry, and sometimes Angie and I make beer together. Will is a slovenly college student. Inbal teaches parents to communicate with their children - and, in doing so, has saved the marriage of at least one straight couple that I know of. Steen's an editor. Sue's a wildland firefighter. JJ's a carpenter. Damn, I know a lot of gay people! :-)

Face it, David. We're everywhere. We blend right in. We're bankers and airplane pilots and artists and dancers and martial arts experts and motorcycle mechanics and soldiers and priests and ...

And we all feel pain and we all feel joy and we all love.

I dont' think there is a gay lifestyle. Sure, you read about promiscuous sleeping around stuff, but straight people do that, too. You hear about drug abuse, but straight people do that, too. And statistics are just statistics, and how do you leach out all the variables to determine why they fall as they do?

So I guess, teach the truth, at the appropriate age level. Gay is gay, and it just is what it is. Normal, but neither good nor bad. Promiscuity leads to health problems such as HIV and STD's - whether you're gay or straight. So teach that. Read "Heather Has Two Mommies." See gay people. We're all the same. "The line that divides good from evil cuts through every human heart," Alexandr Solzenheitsyn said, and I think he knew. THAT is what I would like teachers to teach. Sure, some gay people have an unhealthy lifestyle. Some straight people do, too.

I'm glad you're here, David. I'll recommend Suburban Lesbian Housewife to get a good sense of the "gay lifestyle." You can link from my blog. Keep getting to know us. We're the folks Jesus hung out with.

David Carrel said...

I know you are happy and satisfied and have gay friends that are as well. I guess it is just the statistics that my dad has that are a little disturbing. I am going by memory here, but I think he wrote that the average lifespan for a gay person is 50, gays have an average of 95 partners and the average relationship is a year. Now, I know you have great friends with great examples and I believe you. I know that there are plenty of happy gay people. So I hear what you are saying and I totally believe you. But I hear both ends of it and that is why I asked you those questions.
You are definitely right when you write "And we all feel pain and we all feel joy and we all love."
And pain is a good thing. You are right. Seda, you are right about so much, but I am still not convinced that being gay is healthy and something I would want for my kids.
Don't worry I am not going to stop reading the blog. (at least until we get to our final destination in the Amazon where we will not have good internet). I appreciate your time in writing me back. Sorry I have been slow.

Seda said...

Wow! Pretty radical statistics. I hope you don't mind if I question them. Were they taken from selected populations in large urban areas during the height of the AIDS epidemic? Does he cite the source of them?

I don't have any statistics that would relate to that, but anecdotally, I can say that fits none of the gay people I know. But then, I come from a small city, and I don't go out partying much.

I agree that being gay isn't good. But it isn't bad, either. It just is. Same with trans. And I wouldn't wish it for my kids, either. I don't want them to live with that discrimination and social approbation, and I'd like it to be easier for them to have kids. Life is easier for heterosexuals, in many ways. But, if they do turn out to be gay, I'm sure going to accept them wholly, love them as I already do, and welcome their partners into my family. Mostly, I'll hope that they are happy and fulfilled, with solid values and ethics. And that's all stuff they'll have to find within themselves, regardless of their circumstance. I can set an example for them, but I can't give it to them.

Don't worry about being slow, or anything, David. Just be. Be happy. Be blessed. Know the Creator in all her love and glory.

David Carrel said...

Yes, those were radical statistics cause I can not find them in my dad's book. haha. I don't know how I had them in my mind. Here are some of the things he does say. Homosexual boys have a 30% suicide rate according to Patient Care magazine. He talks about HIV/AIDS, in the 80's there were thousands of cases, now it is over a million (HIV), a third have AIDS.
According to a recent editorial "Sex in cities, having little to do with marriage" by David Brooks, he quoted a survey that reported that 43 percent of gay men in a neighborhood in Chicago (like you said Seda, the city not the suburbs) had over 60 sexual contacts in their lifetime. So he asked a 19 year old gay man if that could be true and the guy said that he had over 100 and another guy he knew over thousands. He also talked about the violence of being gay because of gay serial killers and then how young men who are abused when they are younger have a greater chance of being gay, and then they also abuse young kids.
He might have had those other statistics in the Word prepublished version of his book that I read.
My dad also said in the book that he is sure that there are many happy gay couples that stay in one relationship, like those you know Seda. I believe that too. I just think that there are many more dangers with being gay and getting diseases than, well, you know what I believe in one man, one woman for a lifetime. That's all.

Seda said...

Hey, David,
I suspect there are lots of gay people who have multiple partners, even ridiculous amounts, but that's fairly common among heterosexuals, too. I think Magic Johnson, for instance, is in the hundreds if not thousands of partners, which is one of the reasons he got HIV. So it's the behavior that's risky, I think, not the orientation. If we were to follow the logic of risky orientation, we should encourage our daughters to be lesbian and our sons to be straight, since lesbians have the lowest level of those diseases and risk factors! I think a better approach is to promote monogamous relationships and safe sex. We're not going to end promiscuity, but it makes sense to me to do all we can to mitigate the damage from it.

As for abuse making someone gay, I find that very unlikely. Typically, as I understand it, it is straight men who are the usual abusers, and yes, that is usually a direct consequence of the abuse they've survived as children. That doesn't change their orientation, it just gives them a multitude of psychological pathology that ends up being expressed in more abuse, in continuing the cycle. Tragic, but not, I think, related to genuine orientation.

Serial killers, too, are mostly straight men. Not all. But again, I think that is an individual pathology, not a universal among people of gay orientation, nor necessarily more common. I do think it's possible that gay people experience more psychological pathology than the general population, but if so, I suspect it's a lot more due to the social abuse and condemnation they experience just for being themselves, and for hiding in the closet, than having anything to do with orientation.

And yes, I do know what you think about one man, one woman. Aren't you lucky to be straight, yourself!

Be well,

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our