What IS It?

My society conditioned me. As soon aa a proud mother or father hands over their new born baby for me to hold, I reflexively demand, What is it? As if the sex of the child will change the way I hold her or him or them.

Perhaps it is a basic human need to determine the sex of another or simply a bad societal habit we’ve developed? I do the same thing with adults.

Just the other day with my niece, an androgynous looking person passed us, and I immediately turned to my niece, Was that a guy or a girl? Why do I need to know? I don’t even have a relationship with the person. Just a stranger passing by.Wanna read more?

Alex writes a post entitled Male Mumble in which he reflects on terms he can use to describe non-trans men.

So what to call them? The male ones that never did any changing? Birth-males? But I have known forever that I wanted to be a boy and research tells us the transconfusion probably comes long before we are born. So transdudes are birth-males as well.

XY-men? Well, there are quite a few men that have Klinefelter with XXY or other variants. But just to call them Y-men, nahh, thats just not right ether.

Whenever I nose around trying to determine someone’s gender and gender history, I feel like a dog sniffing between other dog’s legs. At least when dogs sniff each other, they gather useful info.

…a sniff of the rear tells a dog all sorts of things, including what the other dog likes to eat, its general health, and if a female pooch is pregnant.

I have been writing a lot about “trans issues”. In part this comes from my friendships with trans men and women and my desire to beome a better ally. But even before I met Alex and Elliot and Diana and friends from the web, I thought loads about gender. The ex-gay movement is as much about gender reorientation as it is about subverting sexual desire.

In fact, the two get blended so much people assume that a guy is no longer gay if he is no longer fem. Butch up the boys, butch down the girls. Get everyone to act their gender and the world is a happy place.

It reminds me of the Paul Lawrence Dunbar poem, We Wear the Mask. In order to succeed and even survive in school, church, families, neighborhoods and jobs, we often feel compelled to stick on a mask. A Black man growing up in a very anti-Black America, Dunbar speaks loudly about this to mask wearers today.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

images: stain glass window from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Palm Springs and Flandrin‘s Naked Young Man Sitting by the Sea.

This post has 7 Comments

  1. Anna HP on November 26, 2006 at 4:16 pm Reply

    I think it´s all about the human need to put labels on everything. We need to understand what we see, feel, and encounter in order to feel safe. Whenever we find ourself in a situation that we can´t explain, big or small, we get a little scared. Or maybe it´s just curiosity?

  2. Peterson Toscano on November 26, 2006 at 5:35 pm Reply

    anna HP, so the idea of having to name something in order to conquer it or own it. Naming is powerful. The victor’s get to name the towns. It takes a strong person to rename herself.

    But even when we label ourselves, we run the risk of mislabeling of boxing ourselves in. I guess that is one of the things I like about post modern thought. The deconstruction of labels and identities helps to liberate us (and confuse us at the same time).

  3. alex resare on November 26, 2006 at 5:58 pm Reply

    My sister Maria (everybody seems to have one of those, my is the best) have given birth two times. Both times she have called me and told me that she have given birth to a baby and talked about the birth without reviling the children sex. I don’t know if it was deliberately as activism, I think it just is the way she is. When they had decided names the sex told it self.

    When we met another sister of mine and her child the first time a third sister of mine asked my two oldest children if they knew if it was a boy or a girl. My oldest, then 4 years old just laughed and answered “no, no, it is just a baby, can’t you see?” (but in Swedish of course). I think that was a lovely reaction. Unfortunately their open view of gender disappeared when they started day care this summer.

  4. Anna HP on November 26, 2006 at 9:21 pm Reply

    Sweet P, what´s in a name? Just kidding, a name is everything. I hated my name growing up, it´s so easy to use for bullies. I wanted to change to my middle name, Juliana, but Mom refused to let me. Today I like my name, because I love the way my friends say it. (That probably sounds totally mental)Anna is just who I am.

  5. Elliot on November 26, 2006 at 9:21 pm Reply

    I think that labels are horrible things as well, Peterson. When I used to try to fit myself into them, I was doing so in order to try to match myself up with someone else, so that I could feel a deeper connection with them. That’s why I felt so emotionally exhausted and confused when I finally just said “That’s enough. I’m not going to try to fit myself into a subcategory of Transgender anymore”–in some ways, I was still just as green and confused as I was when I was trying to fit myself into someone else’s identity. But then I realized that I could invent my own personal, individual identity as a Transgender person, or I could have no identity at all except Trans. I didn’t even have to create another subcategory if I didn’t want to–I could just be me. And that’s what I like about the Transgender people that I know–they just let me be myself and figure some of this out on my own as I transition as they sit back and watch and nurture the best they can, because they know that that’s what I need for myself and from them.

  6. Willie Hewes on November 27, 2006 at 8:47 am Reply

    I think there is a certain amount of genetic brain programming going on; it’s pretty important – from an evolutionary point of view – to know if another person is male or female. We seem to care a lot less when it’s pets for instance (though some people are more precise about that than others).

    I always find it really interesting when I can’t tell, and keep looking to figure it out (or convince myself I could still be wrong). Maybe that’s partly because it’s so mentally jarring though, in the same way that high-contrast images are interesting to look at.

  7. puck on November 27, 2006 at 10:37 am Reply

    i was in a class recently where the teacher brought that up – and my favorite part of it was when someone new to trans stuff (cos this was a trans class) responded to the “why?” with “so we know what color blanket to give it!”

    my goodness.

    in other news, i wanted to plug my partner’s blog, the seams of a (newly) peculiar queer to you. because you’re a quaker! and i’m going to tell every quaker i meet in the blogosphere about it. because i’m just that overwhelmingly supportive.

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