“I have the best of both worlds! By selecting the gendered behaviours and symbols that I like from the Gender Smörgåsbord, I have created my own unique gender expression! People should love who I am because I picked the best!”
Gender is a system of communication, using symbol to communicate who we know ourselves to be and our gendered training in the world. Our gender expression locates us, advertising who we are to others.
When we approach gender as a smörgåsbord, just taking the bits we like and leaving behind the bits that are not to our taste, we create a lot of noise in the system. The standard assumptions about what gender expression means go out the window, replaced by our own personal creation.
Communication doesn’t work without at least two players, someone to convey meaning, the sender, and someone who reads those signs & signals to interpret meaning. Does communication that others can not or do not understand really communication, or is it just noise?
It takes work to craft messages and it takes work to interpret them. If the receiver isn’t playing attention, even the best sender can’t convey a message to them.
For transpeople, the experience of trying to tell our stories, our truths and having them fall on deaf ears is very common. For people who can’t imagine life outside conventional boundaries, we are just baffling.
In large part, it is this difficulty in finding people to understand and value what we share that makes being a transperson so lonely. We don’t get the feedback and affirmation that we so need as humans.
We need to tell our own story, share our own experience, but we need to tell it in a way that makes sense to other people. As much as we need our receivers to do the work and understand us, we need to be willing to do the work to make sense to them.
Since gender is such a relational thing, a basis for desire and for relationships, wit means that actually offering what we seem to advertise with our gendered symbols is important.
Gender is the basis for the human dance. This may mean dancing with people like you, in a chorus line or in close order drill, may mean dancing solo, but the dance is most powerful when done in kind of a gracious tension with a partner who neither just mirrors you or leaves you alone, but with whom you show strength and possibility beyond what just one can do.
Every woman knows that what is is looking for is a good partner, one she can help become more and one that will help her find strength. The basis of simple gender is reproductive biology, finding a partner who will play their part in creating a strong and successful family, doing the complimentary work with respect and care, is crucial.
Men also find the need for a good partner, one that both satisfies and pushes them, cares for them in a way that helps them become better and more connected.
This partnership requirement for gender is why we want our partners not just to be good at the bits of gender they chose, but also at the hard, responsible bits that create strong relationships. Traditional gender training teaches people to be responsible with and for their own reproductive biology, but also to be responsible in relationship, being a good, present partner who does both the fun things and the important things.
We are not gendered in the abstract, but are gendered in relationship, advertising what we love and are trained to do in the world and connecting with other people who find what we offer compelling, either because they see commonalities with us or because they see us as complimentary to them.
The joy of gender is, in the end, in the relationships that our gendered self creates in the world. By being present for other people and having them be present for us we develop a deep intimacy and trust that allows us to be valued and seen in a way that can never happen if we won’t do the hard work of being partnered.
The kind of mutual respect that builds strong relationships is rooted in the respect for gender diversity, an acknowledgement that there are different approaches, strategies and skills sets, an acknowledgement that we build a better world when we come together with respect. We can’t just take on the attractive bits of gender roles, we have to take on the responsible bits, too.
Every interpersonal relationship both has roots in gendered behaviour, either with people like us or people who compliment us, but also has places where it transcends gender, allowing deep personal truths to be honoured and seen. Doing the right and responsible thing is usually the basis for doing the powerful thing.
Gender is a system of communication, communicating who we are, how we are trained, what we desire and who we are willing to be in relationship. To move outside gendered conventions, we need to not just claim freedom we need to also claim responsibility, respecting others and their own gendered expectations.
“How could someone ever imagine being with someone like you when the never met anyone like you?” a friend asked years ago.
Creating a gender plate that satisfies you is never enough. To create an effective gender in the world, you have to create a gender that works well in relationships. That means you have to respect and partner other people’s genders well, creating two way communication, working to help everyone become better.
It takes two to tango and it takes a whole society to shape gender, a cultural artifact. To strike out against compulsory gendering to claim the truth of hearts over reproductive gender can be a lonely process, but it is not one we can do alone, just demanding that people accept and love our own invocation of our gender role.
Gender expectations are shaped by people coming together to find new ways to partner, respecting other people and respecting our own nature. We give and we take in an attempt to find common ground, a system of assumptions, codes, symbols and choices that we can share. It is in this way that we care for each other, being there for other people and helping them be there for us.
Trying to shape our own gender roles and then demand that people respect our arbitrary and self-focused choices will never be successful. If we want to be in relationship with other people — and who doesn’t want that — we have to respond to their needs, desires and expectations as well as our own inner identity.
The system of gender has always used this fact, asking us to gender ourselves in conventional ways in order to get the affirmation, connection and partnership we desire. The benefit of following gendered expectations is being attractive to others who desire those things in a partner.
Gender is a system of communication that puts us in our place in the world. While no one wants to feel trapped in place, everyone does want to have a place, somewhere we feel at home, seen valued and desired.
Gender is a dance.