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.