Category Archives: Gender

1000 Words: Gender Musing

I don’t know many men who, in the course of everyday conversation, make mention of the raw deal women have gotten in pretty much every society on Earth. Many friends of mine take to the chit-chat soapbox to decry racism, America’s history of slavery, the Native American holocaust, the savaging of our environment, the exploding wealth gap, and even bad refereeing in the NCAA basketball tournament.

But, try as I might, I can’t recall my liberal, progressive brethren pounding on the table and getting red in the face over unequal pay for women, the fact that we haven’t had a woman president yet, and the institutionalized maleness of science labs, corporate boardrooms, and Senate cloakrooms.

I can’t explain this other than to suppose my guy friends’ oxen are not being gored, so why should they get all het up over it? Then again, none of my friends is a Native American and, as I say, they’re uniformly offended by this holy land’s history of wiping that swath of humanity out.

Could it be some vestigial trace of the sex-typing lessons we all endure as little boys growing up? You know, the same gender-conforming pressure that forbids many, many, many men from admitting that, say, another man is handsome or sexy. Be a man. Don’t cry. Don’t be a queer. Other people should take care of their own problems. Guys, we’re instructed from infancy on, don’t feel for people other than themselves and others like them. Women, on the other hand, are encouraged to think of the other before themselves.

A lot of that has to do with biological imperatives, the hard-wiring that separates us, in most cases, into different genders. Women possess uteri, give birth, and suckle their children. All those things and more make the female spec list more conducive to producing loving, empathetic, sensitive humans. The sentient among us wish everybody possessed in more ample quantities those and other altruistic qualities.

Part of what makes me slightly itchy about today’s rewriting of gender rules and roles is the idea that gender is strictly a societal construct, that if it weren’t for some villainous puppet masters directing the rest of us eight billion from a fortified island in the South Pacific, we’d all be able to choose our genders the same way we choose which pair of socks to wear this morning.

And, this new line of thinking goes, we’ll wear a different pair of socks tomorrow morning.

This is not to say people can’t identify with one, the other, both, or many different genders. Me? I’ve always felt more of an affinity and identification with women than men. Maleness, especially toxic masculinity, not only bores me, it repulses me. I never wanted to outdrink anybody. I never wanted to break another person’s nose. When I played baseball, I didn’t care who won or lost, only that I was running in the sunshine. I indulged myself in “womanly” things: crying at movies or while listening to music, often wanting to please people, not caring if my domestic partner makes more money than I do, and so on.

And I accept that there are scads of women who’ll stand on their heads to win a game or are competitive in any other area. I’m happy to live in a world where one may choose to define one’s self according to whatever gender paradigm appeals to them.

But testosterone and estrogen levels play a huge role in those decisions. I know my own surging T-levels, especially when I was a raging youth, have made me act far more guy-like than I’d ever want to be absent them. They don’t totally define me but they do indeed have a hell of a lot to do with my behavior and self-image. Throughout the years, I’ve had to actively wrestled with chemical guy-ness in order for me to, as I’ve indicated, identify more with women than men.

All the above is predicated on the reality that not everybody is constructed according to the strict dictates of the binary gender system. Every one of us is on spectra that cover hormone levels, physical anatomy, psychological predilections, and perhaps a hundred or a thousand other factors.

Maybe I was lucky. I recall gym class at the boys high school I attended. Fenwick, in Oak Park, Illinois. Don’t ask me why but we were compelled to swim in the nude whenever the gym class schedule called for a week in the pool. Don’t get me started on that one, with fully-dressed swim coaches watching over fifty or so stark naked adolescents for 45 minutes a day. I shudder to think what drove that line of thinking.

Anyway, I recall one kid — let’s call him Paul — who, alone among us, had a hairless, curvy, jiggly body and whose genital package was shockingly minuscule. Fifteen-year-old guys universally check each other out to see whose junk is bigger, more dangly, more manly. Paul could never hope to win out that competition over anybody else. His stuff was so small as to be nearly non-existent.

Thankfully, none of us teased or bullied Paul. Perhaps we felt sympathy for him. Perhaps we said to ourselves, Thank god that’s not me. But, make no mistake, none of us failed to note Paul’s differences, even if none of us ever brought them up.

It’s because we swam in the nude that I was able to see that certain people are born with indistinct, undeveloped, or otherwise “un-average” gender anatomy. When I was 15, I began to understand people like Paul very possibly would be candidates for gender reassignment surgery. That’s something his parents would might have suspected from his earliest days. His differences surely were driven into in his consciousness every day he walked into the Fenwick pool along with 49 other adolescent boys.

All this is to say the idea of gender is far more complicated than This one’s a man and That one’s a woman. These lunkheaded anencephalics in Florida and Tennessee and every other statehouse where lawmakers are trying to codify gender may as well try to legislate which way a candy bar wrapper will flutter in a whirlwind.

The Gold-anodized Discs Attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11 Space Probes.

1000 Words: Trendy

Bill Maher on his weekly gabfest “Real Time” recently put forth an opinion that is sure to get him run out of town, any town, but especially a college town. Take Bloomington, for example, a town filled with folks who believe with all their hearts and souls they know what is right and just and good and, damn it, you’d better listen.

Well, Bill Maher isn’t listening. He caveat-ed that it’s good and great that people confused about their assigned genders — and those not confused but certain their specific assignment is in error — are becoming more welcomed in workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, and the whole of western society in general. His kumbaya props established, he then pointed out, awkwardly and sloppily, something I’ve suspected for a while: that today’s focus on gender fluidity and trans people in general is largely The Latest Big Thing.

I could rip apart his essay piece by piece, talking about how he mixes up gays and lesbians with trans people and cites stats about the one while trying to make the point about the other and…, well, as I say, it was a mess. Hidden somewhere in his pile of confusion was something I’ve suspected for a few years now.

I wrote several years ago that the increasing number of young men who wore skirts or halters or painted their fingernails or otherwise thumbed their noses at the rigid binary gender rules the world has imposed since…, oh, forever, seemed to be today’s version of my generation’s Long Hair.

See, I grew up in the late 1960s and into the ’70s, a time of dramatic social and cultural change. And those who wanted the world to know they were on the right side of that change very often communicated it by growing their hair long. That went for both males and females. The guys sprouted wild bushes or mussed, asymmetrical, tortuously parted mops, or even long, straight, Rapunzel tresses. The young women of the day tended to go the long, straight route, a la Julie from The Mod Squad.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


By 1970, merely by shunning the barber, you were able to let everyone know you were against the war in Vietnam, you supported civil rights, you were concerned about the environment, and more. Dang, long hair just might have been one of the most effective communications tools ever conceived.

And let’s not forget youth’s eternal urge to shock the bejesus out of mom and dad, the school principal, the cops, the fussy old lady neighbor down the block or, simply, The Man.

In the ’70s, I grew my own hair out at different times in a shoulder blades-length cascade of waves and curls and a beach ball-sized white boy ‘fro. Then, a few years later when I was 23 and 24 and my pal Sophia and I went out clubbing and dancing all night long, I wore eyeliner and colored fingernails and dangling ear piercings. I did those things because I thought they made me look cool and I wanted all the passing frat boys and South Side lunkheads who’d see me to know I wasn’t one of them. Mom and Dad and The Man, too.

Today, that 22-year-old barista who has a five o’clock shadow and shoulders as wide as a doorway but is sporting a slinky, sleeveless dress and affects a Kathleen Turner-style coy yet come-hither accent may or may not be grappling with his-in-the-process-of-becoming-her gender identity. Or he-slash-she may simply be saying, Hey, Mom & Dad, up yours!

Like Maher, I don’t say this to denigrate people wondering what their genitals mean, why their packages aren’t maturing as magnificently as others’ of their putative gender, or why they feel so wrong in their own skin. Just that I can’t shake this feeling that signaling gender fluidity may be hot today and a lot cooler tomorrow.

And it isn’t just the rebellious young doing this displaying. At the bookstore not long ago a sweet little old granny came up to me and asked if we carried any books for trans children. I asked: “How old is the kid?”

“Three,” she replied. “He — oh, I should say they — are questioning their gender.”

I resisted the urge to to silently stare at her with my head cocked to the side, like a dog hearing a doorbell on TV. Three years old. As George Carlin once observed, a three year old hasn’t even located his dick yet. And he wasn’t talking about gender questioning.

Bill Maher noted:

Maybe the boy who thinks he’s a girl is just gay…. Maybe the girl who hates girly stuff just needs to learn that being female doesn’t mean you have to act like a Kardashian…. I understand being trans is different, it’s  innate, but kids do also have phases. They’re kids; it’s all phases: the dinosaur phase, the Hello Kitty phase. One day they want to be an astronaut, the next day you can’t get them to leave their room. Gender fluid? Kids are fluid about everything! If kids knew what they wanted to be at age eight, the world would be filled with cowboys and princesses.

The people I know who’ve undergone sex reassignment surgery spent years wrestling with their own feelings, trying to understand their nearly inscrutable perceptions and reactions, working with counselors and medical professionals, undergoing genetic and hormone testing, and any number of other hurdles.

Being trans is not like putting on a new shirt. If that barista is indeed shouting to the world that he despises the rigid binary sex typing imposed on us from birth onward — hell, people paint the nursery either pink or blue even before the kid is born! — and that everyone deserves dignity and respect no matter where they reside on the huge gender spectrum, then I’m with him. But if he’s wearing that slinky, sleeveless dress and doing a breathy Kathleen Turner voice for the same reasons I made my eyes up, polished my fingernails, and wore a dangling earring 40 years ago, at least let’s recognize that there are far fewer trans people these days than people trying to make a point.

And his display, in a lot of ways, is a slap in the face to people who’ve endured the ordeal of becoming trans.

%d bloggers like this: