If you’ve caught on to the Douglas Adams reference in the title, maybe you’ll be disappointed: it’s not 42. What am I talking about? Well, think of this as an informative post that only relates to me in the sense that I’ve had so many discussions and arguments on the subject that my brain ‘sploded many times over. I’ve taken the time to digest all these interactions with other people I’ve spoken to as well as what I’ve read on the almighty Internet and I’ve decided to contribute to the debate. Poorly, maybe, I dunno, you be the judge of that.
So what am I blabbing on about? Variations on human life. Diversity and individuality. See, part of the problem when we talk to the uninitiated about transsexuality or transgenderism is that most people are happily stuck in their binary view of people, and they sometimes don’t expect, or have no desire, to have their comprehension ripped open. But here I’ll try to do that in a concise, clear manner. Yeah I know, you can laugh about my use of “concise” because I’m always pretty far from that mark 😛 … So in that vein, I need to talk about what people generally see the world as, in terms of sex and gender, and then we’ll build from there, more or less from the point of view of someone that’s being educated (hey, maybe that’s you, right?).
We start in our quest to find the answer with a simple truth: the world is binary. There are men, there are women. Men like women, they act like men, they think like men, they look like men. They’re strong and powerful and all that jazz. Think of the most manly man you can think of, that’s the “left” extreme of the binary scale. Women, on the other hand, like men, they act like women, they think like women, they look like women. They’re somewhat vulnerable, smaller, but they got curves, where men have muscles.
From this binary standpoint (the one so many people want to hold, the one that causes so much discrimination), we add just a single thing: sexual attraction can vary. Because, you know, even if some religious fanatics won’t accept it, some men like men and some women like women. But this means that on top of our “man <-> woman” scale above, we need to add on another layer: Sexual Orientation.
But, you ask, what about bisexual people? They’re not heterosexual, they’re not homosexual…So that means that the sexual orientation scale isn’t binary, it’s not a left or right kind of thing: it’s actually an analog scale where people can place themselves anywhere on it, or, in some cases, not even be on it at all (asexuality is a reality after all).
Some people “act like men” and others “act like women” though, and of both sexes. From metrosexuals to lumbersexuals to the most flamboyant gay you’ve ever met, those are different variations of Gender Expression. A lesbian butch can catcall someone on the street with her legs spread wide and wink at you like an old pervert, well that’s a male gender expression. Gender Expression and Sexual Orientation are two completely separate, individual scales. Because here’s the thing: you can be a man that is 100% attracted to women but also 100% acting like a woman (ok rare are the flamboyant heterosexuals but they do exist). And I’ve met plenty of women that “acted like men”, drinking beer whilst working on their car in the garage, and yet they’re not attracted to women at all. They’re not lesbians, they’re just… manly women. So our third scale is here. Oh, are we so far from being done my friends.
Now we come into the territory that affects me the most: Gender Identity. While Gender Expression is about the outwardly behavior of a person or how they act, Gender Identity is how they feel; who they are. Saying “I am a woman” is talking about my own gender identity and it has nothing to do, really, with the other scales that I’ve presented above. I mean, a transgender woman could absolutely be a manly butch lesbian transgender. It’s not about orientation, attraction, it’s not about expression (aka “femininity vs masculinity”). It’s purely about how the brain, the self, identifies itself.
So up to now I’ve covered Sexual Orientation, Gender Expression and Gender Identity as “analog” scales that have variations. I probably should have started with Sex, aka the physical attributes of a person, their primary and secondary sexual characteristics. But even sex itself isn’t binary. Intersex people make up those variations in this scale. Sex is definitely the scale that generally doesn’t change, or if it does, it does so only once. Maybe that wouldn’t be true if we had technology to switch sexes every day, but for now, expensive, painful and complex surgeries make it, generally, a one-way trip.
But wait, there’s more! Here’s an added bonus to Sexual Orientation: sometimes, it’s different to Romantic/Affective Attraction. For example: I’m romantically attracted to women only. While one may say, “well you’re a lesbian then”… well not quite: I’ve slept with men before and may do it again – but I don’t have any romantic desires for men. I don’t want to date men, I just occasionally feel like sleeping with one. So what does that make me? Bisexual/homoaffective, basically.
Alright. So we have, what, 5 scales now? Sex, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Sexual Orientation and Romantic Attraction. Now, ignoring the current physical limitations on changing sexes, all of these scales are not only analog in that anyone can be on any point of each of that scale, they’re also completely separate (being transgender doesn’t make you switch sexual or romantic affection for instance), and for some individuals, they actually vary from day to day, from hour to hour. I’ve mentioned Z plenty of times in the past, so here’s another tidbit on her: she’s gender variant. Or genderfluid. Or whatever name you want to give it. One morning she’ll wake up all manly, put on her big black sneakers, cargo jeans and a hoodie, exiting da house with a “fuck y’all, all o y’all”, and the next day she’ll put on her heels, her nicest bra and shirt, some sexy skinny jeans and she’ll be the cutest person I’ve ever met. This true for the other scales – the possibility of switching from one place in the scale to another. In Z’s case (and for most people), gender identity and gender expression go mostly hand in hand. It would simply look weird for her to be all nicely dressed as a woman but act like she’s straight outta the ghetto, know what I mean?
Whew! Alright we’ll almost to the end now. But I started this article stating the “binary” view of the majority of humans on this planet, where does that come in to the above scales? Well, the fact of the matter is, it’s a combination of all of them. In a binary world, all of the different scales line up perfectly, and the manliest of men is just on the male spectrum of all the scales: sexually a man (it’s gots a peeeeeenisssss in its pocketses), knows he’s a man (identity), acts like a man (expression), loves women (attraction) and has sex with them (orientation). And vice versa for women. But that’s so… normal. The one thing that I learned since my realization moment, is that life is not made up of binaries. The above “perfect man” doesn’t exist, nor does the perfect woman. We’re all variations on the same theme, we’re a matrix (or if you want to geek out, a tesseract) of so many different scales, it’s perfectly pointless to try to take anyone and put them in a box: nobody fits in only one. Because beyond the scales of sex and gender, you have 42 hundred others like the color of your hair to whether you love Mozart to your body weight and the tone of your skin.
Humanity is Variety, and anyone who denies that is simply blind to the beauty that is that variety. We are the spice of life.