Would it surprise you that most people don’t choose their gender expression as a bold statement of individuality, of how they stand apart from the system of gender?
Instead, most people see their gender expression as a form of advertising, a way to indicate to others what role they are trained and willing to play in social engagements. We do want to show our strengths, but we also want to show how we fit in, how we are useful, how we can do the job.
Gender roles are social roles. In this binary — heterosexist — culture, there are only two clearly defined roles, linked to birth genital configuration. This isn’t true in all known human civilizations, though. In some cultures, there were a range of roles, often assumed after or around puberty. (Binary, heterosexist societies are usually focused around the primacy of procreation, of growing the population for economic reasons, while non-binary societies tend to be stable in birthrate, so more diverse.)
All these roles, though, include a measure of service to the group, signalling what duties you are prepared and obligated to take for protection and growth of the tribe.
I respect people who have chosen to be good women — moms — and good men — dads — in the context of gender. Their commitment to their families and to the wider family of the shared community, is something to be honoured and praised. This is one reason I have spoken highly of those who continue to perform their duty after trans emergence, and spoken against those who believe that rejecting obligations is justified.
I understand why the erosion of gender enforcement can feel like a loss for defenders of traditional family values, just as I understand why trying to pound someone into a gender role that breaks their heart is a loss not only for those individuals but also for society in general.
The challenge, as I see it, is how to support a system of gender that doesn’t try to impose a divisive binary but rather finds a way for all to participate in the life of the community, helping with child rearing, growth and development.
As long as queer people are seen as unable or improper to participate in caring for what we know to be precious, they will always have to decide between being of service and claiming their own hearts. Forcing that decision is guaranteed to enforce the binary, minimizing diversity to venerate fear in the name of comfort.
My personal gender expression, as I have said many times before, is about my work. Sometimes that means I need to show up in raiment, ready to represent my inner nature, empowering others to reveal theirs or sharing a viewpoint with a wider audience, but at other times, that means it is easier just to walk in my gender neutral expression, allowing me to just to blend in and participate.
I have been out since the mid 1990s, always trans identified, but that doesn’t mean I have always tried to look any particular way. I need the social connection that often evades me as I try to self-police a feminine appearance, need to be clear that my heart is always one rather than changing along with my clothes.
Dancing along the Guy-In-A-Dress-Line has always been tough for me, knowing that any dream of my birth sex becoming invisible just would lead me to being a failed transsexual. Maybe that choice for immersion would be easier if it was done today, leading me to relax and feel secure in making only woman choices, or maybe I would still stand out, stand between, stand in a limimal space where my trans voice cut across boundaries to speak for continuous common humanity. I just don’t know.
I do, however, understand why every human culture has had a system of gender roles, even if they weren’t simply binary & tied to biology, and why the biggest beneficiaries of that system has been children. Gender, at heart, creates obligations around reproduction and child-rearing, even if today it has been loaded up by marketers with plenty of other expectations around appearance and consumption.
Humans move from the dependence of children to the independence of adolescence to the interdependence of parenthood. Eventually we have to be part of building and maintaining safe spaces rather than just trying to tear down what offends us. We have to be for something lasting, not just against what we don’t like, have to build up with compromises rather than just tear down with idealism.
Emergence as a transperson takes a lot of “what the fuck” and a quantity of “fuck you.” It’s not as simple as just trying to fit in, dashing to “the closet at the end of the rainbow,” hoping hormones will work magic and allow us to have our fantasies created.
In the long run, becoming who you are is the gift of a lifetime, even if who you are crosses conventions. We are the choices we make when it counts, and to me, and to the voices I respect, choices of service and duty, of sacrifice and balance, of giving ourselves to those in need are choices that create a full and fulfilling life.
As I hear tales of history it is stories of people who don’t indulge sensation or seek comfort but rather engage the challenges and conflicts to take care of others that they love which touch my soul.
Gender roles, like any social roles, come with a sense of duty, an obligation to what created us, be that the universe, family or society, and the willingness to set our own needs aside so we can do the right thing, do our work.
Being a good person is valuable. Most people do that by being a good man or a good woman and that is to be honoured. Some of us may need to do that by being a good queer, one who stands for diversity, for individual empowerment, for continuous common humanity.
Doing our duty, the duty of giving our gifts back to the shared world, moves us beyond fear, self-pity and indulgence, moves us to act with the power of love.
What is your role in building safe spaces where kids can grow up better everyday?