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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Gender Issues » What if you aren't just male or female?

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Author Topic: What if you aren't just male or female?
Heather
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We're discussed intersexuality at Scarleteen before, but it seemed to me one aspect of that often gets overlooked.

Many scientists and theorists working in gnder state very clearly that the great MINORITY of people fit solidy into a complete sexual identity in one of the two poles (male or female), in terms of the full combination of genetics, physical appearance, brain chemistry, orientation and gender identity. And with as many as one in every 2000 births being a chromosomal structure other than XX or XY, as well as the transsexual and transgendered folks, you're talking about a LOT of people who don't fit those two poles.

It seems that many people (here and elsewhere) are quick to identify as male or female (likely based on our birth certificates, or what gender "mold" we were raised in), and see anything in between as either a grand mistake or as a chosen androgyny.

But what if it isn't that simple? What if -- in fact -- MOST of us are not simply "male" or "female." How important is that identity to you, and how much could our hanging on to those two poles do in terms of disempowering ourselves and others?

And why do we cling to much to those poles and the ideals and types we attach to them?

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Heather Corinna
Editor and Founder, Scarleteen

"If you're a bird, be an early early bird --
But if you're a worm, sleep late." - Shel Silverstein


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rambler
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Hmmm...

Well I just did the customary lesson in sociology on sex vs.gender, so this is kinda interesting...

In sociology, as I was just taught the other day, they distinguish between NOT just between sex vs gender but between "female" and "woman" (which would be my two categories). A female has the genitalia and reproductive organs for childbearing, and is socialized to be a woman.... So as far as they're concerned I think what you're putting all together here are really sorta separate. Which kinda makes sense to me because I have the reproductive organs of females but for, probably, the first 18.5-19 years of my life, I related to or as a "woman" about 1 time in fifty. It is getting a bit better now but better is relative. I am feeling more comfortable in my "identity as a female" or whatever. But whether or not that's my own doing or society's doing who knows. I mean, I feel more comfortable because I feel more womanly and I THEREFORE know that I will (and have) somewhat stop acting like the tomboy I am, and thus be better accepted.

The tomboy thing is really pretty common, moreso than (I think -- or maybe I just hang out around the wrong girls!) people really think, so I definitely think that we aren't entirely one gender if we go by what society says gender is. I.E. I didn't fit my gender roll, which was to like pretty dresses and playing house. I collected rocks. But biologically I am still a female. Now, I simultaneously have a good and bad way out here. 1) I was born with XX, so I'm a female, but I don't act like one so I've gotten a lot of flack, especially from family who are kinda baffled by me. But on the other hand, I know exactly what my gender roll is and what I am "rebelling" against by purposely keeping away from "girl" things.

I don't really know how I would react to all of those things if I were XYY or XXY or whatever, nor if I was a teenaged boy who liked "girl" things. But the whole thing about what girls like and/or are supposed to do is REALLY different in different places despite our stereotypes, so I really can't judge -- I can really only judge from the basis of being biologically a female in "Western Culture."

I think, though, that there would be two major paths I could go down. Either 1) I would have turned out completely differently, with a different life path altogether, and maybe just encounter a ton of confusion, or else 2) I could be a person rather like myself except for this one issue, in which case I would have eventually met people from all walks of life and probably been helped along by those people to be okay with myself.

I definitely agree that there are more genders and sexes than we think, though, just because of how subjective it is... In another culture I might very well be considered the norm for women and not "just a tomboy."

rambler (ranting as usual)

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rambler
Visit disabledsex.org -- Disability and Sexuality.
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smittenkitten
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Hmmm...this will probably ve alot of thinking out loud. I'm doing genetics in science at the moment and the chemical part is fascinating so I haven't really though about the social bit.

I generally get along better with males, and always have, but am in no way a tomboy. Maybe it's my sick mind. Or it could be the fact that my closest female friend never stops saying how everyone should'nt be bitchy, then starts bitching about practically eveyone. Either way I consider myself a bit like Daria, especially the perky younger sister, and sarcasm thing.

My ultimate friendship group would probably be mostly male, with a lesbian gilfriend for me, and a funky transgender couple (ala Billy Elliot).

Love,
Winnie (aka the dreamer)


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Lynne
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I am physically female. I know for a fact that I have two X chromosomes (due to an amniocentesis done on my mother when she was pregnant with me).

More and more these days, though, that's where my identification as a woman ends. I happen to have a female body. That's it.

I consider myself genderless at heart. I'm discovering as I get older that I don't fit very well into the mold of male or female -- I'd make as bad a macho man (or even a tomboy) as I would a frilly fluffy girly girl. Sometimes I'll do things that are stereotypically feminine and sometimes I'll do things that are stereotypically masculine, but gender is usually the last thing on my mind when I'm doing them.

I was going to write that my gender and sex weren't a very important part of my identity -- I could wake up tomorrow with a male body and not be particularly upset, for example, or not care if I were forced into circumstances that would make others feel less womanly -- and then I realized that that's not entirely true. My androgyny is important to me (not that you'd know from looking at me; I don't dress the part); I generally get quite irritated when somebody assumes that I possess typical feminine characteristics.

To answer one of the questions posed by Miz S, I think that people are so attached to the idea of gender because it gives them and others an identity. It makes things easier for many people to think that males act in a certain way and females act in a certain way. It gives them something to cling to and throw themselves into, something to point to and say "This is what I am!" I don't think that's the mark of somebody who's really comfortable with who they are (with the possible exception of the rare individuals who naturally fit the Western molds of male and female perfectly; they're just being themselves), but I think that being comfortable with your own self and not needing to cling so tightly to labels is a very long process.

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To the rational mind there can be no offense, no obscenity, no blasphemy, but only information of greater or lesser value.
-- Jennifer Diane Reitz


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kytynn
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I think most people cling to the terms of being male or female without realizing that they are clinging. Alot of people don't think to question this basic identification. Lately alot of people have been questioning gender roles - who *should* do what in relationships and society, but I've never thought of people not really being male or female, it never occured to me. My best friend used to be a huge tomboy, but i would never say she isn't female. My best friend is a gay guy, and i would never say he isn't totally male... even if he does like dressing up and wearing makeup and glitter.
Maybe people do need these distinctions if only to literally specify anatomy. People don't necessarily cling to them because they are insecure with themselves... it's part of who they are. There are all kinds of women and all kinds of men.

[This message has been edited by kytynn (edited 03-29-2001).]


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Eclipse
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I'm very attached to being female. I guess I've thought/read about 'gender issues' for at least four years now, and really it hasn't changed how I think about myself, or how I want to think about myself. I have a lot of culturally 'womanly' characteristics, and almost none that I can specfically point to as culturally 'manly.' I tend to be friends with males. I think I'm physically attracted to people regardless of sex/gender, but I've only fallen in love three times so far, all with males.

I think the thing that I'm most attached to as part of my biological femaleness is the potential ability to have children (the old fashioned way, I mean).


(On the other hand, I rather envy Krazy Kat.

Though I don't think I *could* be as innocently gender-unspecific as she is without being an innocent, semi-magical creature. Ideally, a magical creature in Krazy's own Coconino County.)


I do not feel that I primarily define myself in as much as I am 'womanly,' but rather in as much as I have considered the choices available to me in life at any given time. I define myself by my conscious decisions.


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Bobolink
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In the area of sex and gender, I think that a good article to read is here:
http://www.pfc.org.uk/news/1998/johnjoan.htm

It deals with a very real occurrance of a male raised as a female for what appeared to be, at the time, very good reasons. I'm not advocating a point of view here but think that this case gives pause for thought. There is a personal tragedy here but I'm not sure if I could create a better resolution.

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"A free society is a place where it's safe to be unpopular."

- Adlai Stevenson


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Keeri
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This is one of my favorite subjects! For you fantasy fans, there's a few books you oughta read that are my current favorites!

James Alan Gardner's Commitment Hour (also wrote Expendable and Vigilant which are great!)
Carolyn Ives Gilman's Almost Human...guaranteed to blow you away.
Stephen Leigh's Dark Waters Embrace is also really good and has some fascinating ideas.
Dhalgren by Samuel Delany is the one I'm on now, and it's alittle harder to digest, but it's also supposed to have gender issues in it.
Would love to hear from anyone who's read these too!
As for myself, I think I'm more androgynous. I don't want to be a man, but I'm not quite really feminine.

[This message has been edited by Keeri (edited 04-03-2001).]


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froggy_dear
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Ahh, search function, how I love thee.

I'm drudging up this old topic because I have this yearning to talk about intersexed individuals. The topic of nontraditional sex is the first we've tackled in a class I'm taking and I find it to be very interesting.

It's more than just because intersexed individuals are the physical range of our gender expression (trying to tie this in to Miz S's original prompt), but because there is so much that goes under the rug when it comes to talking about non male and non female individuals. I mean, every day, at least 5 sexual reconstruction surgeries are performed on babies in the US. (I don't have the source beyond saying that my prof. said it) One or two births in a thousand have "ambiguous genitals." That's a lot of people. A lot of people who don't fit easily into our overwhelmingly gender binary society.

Right now there's a sort of a movement to raise awareness of intersexed individuals and the challenges society presents them with (and the challenge they present to society). There's also been a rethinking of how the medical establishment handles intersexed births.

I'm not intersexed personally, but I do agree that people aren't entirely a singele gender. I have many androgynous tendencies, at least. Not to mention a lot of gender-bending dreams. And I think the topic of, well, alternative sexes to be something that we don't hear enough about.

I don't have any conclusive thoughts on the matter, nor do I know (to my knowledge) any intersexed individuals, but I'm curious to see what you all might say about it.

(also Intersex and Identity by Sharon Preves is a good, if somewhat biased, book on the subject)

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fairywings
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this is a really interesting topic. thanks for pulling it up again.
personally, i just consider myself me. i am a female and a woman, but i don't want to add more labels to myself. what really concerns me is all the double standards. just because i have breasts and a uterus doesn't mean society should be able to call me a slut if i were to decide to be sexually active with multiple partners! similairly, just because someone has a penis doesn't mean they want to have sex as soon as possible.

at my old school, the student council president came out as transgender. he adopted a female name and dresses in women's clothing. a lot of people, including teachers, were uncomfortable. but the support shown by other people at the school is amazing. most people just talk to her as if she is "normal" and nothing has changed (except her name). it really is too bad some people don't understand that just because your anatomy is one way, your mind and spirit can't be different!


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ibdaemoone
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well anthropology class was interesting last week b/c we read about the hijra of inda- a third gender (people born male but with no genitals, hermaphridites, homosexuals, etc) they're not looked down on, infact, their blessings are considered special at births and weddings and other major life ceremonies- many western societies demonize them as transgendered prostitues, but they are not "evil" as many western societies percieve them to be. i thought it was interesting. we also did an exercise, where for 4 days we were to act as if we were of the opposite gender- dressing and acting as a man (in my case).. it was very enlightening, there are more cultural peramiters for the sexes than biological ones. all in all, gender is the first thing that anyone of any culture is taught, and creates the most forceful of social identities in the world... but most of it is made up by society.
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