Sex and Gender

Sex and gender are inextricably linked.

I know, I know.  That’s not the line from trans dogma.

And I do agree with that line; reproductive sex and cultural gender are not the same thing.  Sexual characteristics are cross species, but gender is a human construction for communicating who we are and what we can do in the world.  We do need to break the limits of compulsory, heterosexist gender, which says that what you must do, who you must be is defined by the shape of your external reproductive bits.

It’s not biological sex and gender that are inextricably linked, though there is a strong association there; most females do like being women, most males like being men.

But good old dirty sexual relations sex and gender are always linked.   We express our Eros through our gender expression, our gender expression is an important part of attracting partners, and lots of people shape their own gender expression specifically to attract and keep relationship partners.  After all, the reward for good compliance with gender roles is always easier partnering.

I’m not saying every gender expression is about attracting partners.  We may in fact signal that we are asexual, or that we aren’t interested in partnering, that our interests lie elsewhere.

What I am saying is that the language of attraction always shapes gender expression, even if that shape is a negative response to attraction. Clearly, a nun’s habit signifies woman, but it also signifies unavailability for partnering.

The big problem with attraction, though, is the heterosexist idea of the binary.  You are either man or woman, you desire either man or woman, you are either straight or gay.  That’s it, pick one or the other, that simple.

So many transpeople have been trained in these ideas that it gets very odd.   The old Jim Bridges joke goes “What’s the difference between a straight crossdresser and a gay crossdresser?   Three drinks!”

Do we really change sexual orientation after three drinks, or is something else at play here?

Isn’t what is really happening is that we are letting loose our inner bisexual?  We become not just beyond gender but also beyond heterosexism.

When someone is in a relationship with a transperson, they have to face up to their inner bisexuality, because in the end, they are in relationship with all of us.  Our biology and our history are in the bed and at the dinner table, not just our current shape.

The liberation of transgender and the liberation of bisexuality are part of the same process, the process away from group identities and towards valuing the unique and individual.  Both the B and the T are challenging to straights and to L & G, to anyone who defines their identity as one or the other.

For everyone in this culture, our acculturation in partnering is a key part of how we develop our identity.   We learn to attract, or at least to try and attract, those who we find desirable. And that means we swim in the sea we find ourselves in; straight guy, gay man, lesbian, whatever.

“I just had great sex with a straight guy!” one fellow at a gay bar proudly announced.  “It was so hot!”

“If he would do it with you, was he really a straight guy?” I asked.  “Wasn’t he bisexual?”

“Oooh, Ick!” came the reply.  “Of course he was a straight guy!  I would never fuck a damn bisexual!”

We learn the habits and mores of the culture we are raised in, and to leave them is terrifying.

When I say that the only person I could be with is a post-therapy person who had embraced their own queerness, much of what I mean is that they have accepted their own bisexual nature, their own desire beyond the binary and more than that, accepted that they be seen by others as not having to defend group identity.  In other words, they have to say that bisexuality is real and I practice love beyond boxes, rather than enforcing the gay/straight homo/hetero boundaries that so many cling to.

That’s one reason I use the word queer rather than the word bisexual, which starts with the premise there are only two types.  Humans are more complicated and more beautiful than that.

Ava thinks the world is changing, and that young people are coming to a place where hot is hot, no matter if it fixes the box or not.  A place that when your mates taunt you that your partner is really a man, you can just answer “So what?”

I’m not seeing that as much from where I sit, but this basement is pretty secluded.    Ava admits that she has no problem being intimate and even sexual with other women, but that it’s men who still get her blood hot.  Bisexuals will tell you that bisexuality isn’t about desiring everyone equally, rather it is about not being constrained by the limits of sex boxes in intimacy.

Your gender is a construction, always, not just to say who you know yourself to be, but also to say who you want to attract.   And those lines will always be fuzzy, because we don’t always know when we are putting out signals that others find attractive.  After all, there are those people who always wanted to screw a nun.

It’s the walls we hold, the boundaries and separations that we keep behind our gender expression that are so important to defence.  “I may wear mini skirts and fuck-me pumps, but I am really a man, ” some hold.   One self-described tranny porn star, a chemist by day, did a shoot for a sex site.  “But,” she hastened to add, in front of her beautiful lesbian companion, “I only do solo sets.   Only solos!”  Clearly, she has no control over who is sexually stimulated by her photos, but what would it mean if there was photographic evidence of her giving and receiving sexual pleasure with other transwomen, with men?   Could she still be a heterosexual man, a male lesbian?  Why would it matter?

Transporn where people born male first want to be feminized and then worry about being turned into a faggot amuses me.  Don’t they want to be a woman having relations with a man?  But two penises must always be gay in a world of heterosexual boxes, which seems ludicrous to me, as I know many women who haven’t had the pipes chopped and channeled just to fit into those boxes.

Sex and gender are inextricably linked.  Gender expression and desire can never be separated, even by those who feel the need to demand that regulated, heterosexist boxes be strictly kept, and those people often also include gays and lesbians who haven’t embraced the queerness of individual expression.

And we are shaped by our exposure to the system of desire, often desperately trying to cling on to the bits we think we need to hold onto to have any hope of attracting a desirable partner.

But if liberation of gender comes in moving beyond the rigid links between biological sex and gender expression, the liberation of transpeople comes in moving beyond the rigid boxes of heterosexuality.   We need to move towards unique individual desire beyond gay/straight definitions in order to open up the possibility of having more humans find both authentic expression and honest connection.

What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine;
what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.

Susan Sontag

Shouldn’t we be more concerned about the beauty than about the box it comes in?

That’s the whole idea behind queerness.   Beauty.

At The Empire Conference, I spoke with Sarah Carpenter-Vascik, a pastor who has a new book out,  Religion, Faith and the GLBT Community: A Ground Level View From a Faithful Exile.

I remembered a series of pieces I had published by in 2002, and offered her links to them.  I reread them, and you know, they aren’t bad

In case you are interested, here are the links:

Callan Williams

Are You a Crucifixion Person or a Resurrection Person?

Ordaining Challenges

Too Much Is Not Enough

Are You Ready for Community?