Cissexual?

by Laura // 21 March 2008, 15:48

I've been thinking about this concept ever since I read Helen G's latest article, where she defines cissexual as:

[…] people who are not transsexual and who have only ever experienced their subconscious and physical sexes as being aligned

I have never experienced this. I have never consciously or subconciously perceived myself as a woman. I just am (I just exist).

I have always been incredibly uncomfortable with the socially constructed female gender and as a result wanted to be a boy when I was little. As my friends turned themselves into women during our teenage years, I felt alienated, but gave in and tried to play at being a "woman" too. It made me feel phyically sick to see myself all dolled up. I became a punk/goth to give myself an identity and avoid having to conform to the mainstream female appearance and behaviours.

Later, in my first years at uni, I tried again to conform, and again felt alienated and alone. It was only when I discovered feminism about three years ago that I began to realise that I can define what woman means, that disliking femininity and the typical female gender role doesn't mean I have to reject the identity of woman. Growing my body hair out and training myself to feel normal and acceptable in public without wearing a scrap of make-up have helped me create my own definition of womanhood, free (more or less) from patriarchal definitions of what it is to be a woman.

I am now happy to call myself a woman; doing so has allowed me to recognise that many of my personal problems were linked to patriarchal oppression of women, and identifying myself as a woman allows me to address this oppression.

However, I still do not feel gendered in any way. If I am cissexual, then I should have always experienced my "subconscious and physical sexes as being aligned". But there is nothing to align for me, I exist as an experiencing being within a female body, but who I am is not female. I am an ungendered, conscious being within a female sexed body.

Am I alone in this?

Comments From You

Helen G // Posted 21 March 2008 at 16:47

Hello Laura

Mandolin's post at Alas! a blog contains many interesting thoughts on this subject; in particular, the quote "Sex is a continuum, with most people falling to one side or the other. Gender is a constellation." speaks volumes to me.

Mary Tracy9 // Posted 21 March 2008 at 17:42

I feel pretty much the same way. I believe that in order to consider yourself "cissexual" you have to agree with the idea of gender in the first place. If you are a gender abolitionist, as many feminists are, then you are not likely to find "your subconscious and physical sexes aligned".

Helen G // Posted 21 March 2008 at 17:55

Laura - For me, one of the key moments in beginning to come to terms with my condition was understanding my gender dissonance, or body dissonance: my brain was expecting a female body. It's as simple as that and it's as complicated as that. The problem was that, no matter that I knew myself as Helen, I had been born with a male body and raised as such, and Helen was not what the world called me. It never occurred to the world to ask, and it took me a long time to get to the place where I could tell the world that was my name. Also the idea that 'sex' and 'gender' are different things was initially hard for me to grasp. The old truism: 'sex' is between your legs, 'gender' is between your ears was helpful to me at that time. I also think that 'sex' and 'gender' are inextricably interlinked. But it must be difficult for someone who has never experienced that dislocation between 'brain' and 'body', who's always seen 'sex' and 'gender' as being largely synonymous. It's just as hard for me to imagine how it might be to experience life without that dissonance.

Beyond that, though, are matters of how people present themselves and how other people perceive them. I routinely overhear people saying to each other "I can't tell if it's a man or a woman" - it was a while before I realised that the really offensive part of that comment was referring to me as "it". But I also realise that comments like that generally come from a fear born of ignorance and, although it hurts to be dehumanised, othered, ungendered, whatever, it's just as upsetting that people feel the need to judge me instantly, largely on the basis of appearance, without bothering to take the time to get to know me. Yes, I suppose I am arguing in favour of doing away with gender as social construct (even though I also think it's more than just social in origin)...

But I'm not sure how doing away with gender - if such a thing is possible - would help matters. Frinstance, if we did get rid of Class Man/Class Woman, and nobody cared if I called myself a woman or not, then where does that leave the argument in favour of women-only spaces? And how would this gender-free world be regulated? Other boundaries would come into being instead, I suspect - the pessimist in me thinks this is just human nature.

Point is, in the context of gender, you have to live the life that's yours and to hell with anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. In my case, that would be something like, "So, oh Random Passer-by, you can't tell if I'm a man or a woman? Well, I'm a woman, actually, thank you for asking - but why do you think it's any of your damn business?"

:-/

Lynne Miles // Posted 21 March 2008 at 18:25

@Helen

The thing is that I *don't* think that "sex is between your legs and gender is between your ears". I think sex is between your legs and gender is imposed on you. My own understanding of my gender is that it is the way I am expected to behave and the criteria against which my actions are evaluated, and the *only* relation of that to my sex is the rules society ascribes to my behaviour and opportunities in life. So, for me, the dislocation between my sex and my gender isn't anything particularly innate in me - it manifests itself only in irritation and anger when I'm brought smack up against someone who wants me to behave in a way that is unnatural to me.

I think the reason why feminism can sometimes seem resistant to the trans* cause is that many feel that in a perfect world - the one we see ourselves as striving for - there would be no 'other' for you to feel as though you belonged to. Of course that isn't the world we live in, and, like you say, we're all kicking against imposed labels and styles of behaviour, and I love your phrase "you have to live the life that's yours".

Oh and if we got to the perfect world where nobody cared if you were man or woman, we wouldn't need women-only spaces!

@Laura

I agree that I don't generally feel sub-conscious "womanhood" and I haven't throughout most of my life. The only way I'm conscious of myself as "woman" is in relation to the old biological clock (yup, that old chestnut). Increasingly as I get older I'm aware of broodiness (or whatever you want to call it) that feels quite physical and innate sometimes.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 21 March 2008 at 18:27

Hi Laura, I feel a similar way that you do in understanding the concept of cissexual and in the same way as you, feel that I just AM. I don't feel 'like a woman' as I don't know what that means. But I like and enjoy being a woman and am pleased I am one.

However, I think that that is exactly the point thought isn't it? Whilst we take it for granted, others aren't that lucky. Perhaps the concept of cissexual and the experience of trans that Helen and others describe is so alien and difficult to comprehend (speaking for myself) precisely because we have always experienced 'alignment' without realising it.

I have difficulty understanding what it must be like to be trans and I can't quite imagine what it must be like no matter how much I try, but I'm willing to accept that someone else experiences life differently than I do.

On the other hand, there's nothing to say that new words/concepts/definitions are always perfect and could be subject to tweaking or improvement over time. So I think it is good to question them and explore what they mean and whether the definition works or could do with a bit of improvement.

Lynne Miles // Posted 21 March 2008 at 18:33

Oh - and also - what Catherine said!

Anne Onne // Posted 21 March 2008 at 19:30

I don't really know what 'cisgendered' is. I know what it means, but I can't define it.

My interpretation is that being cisgendered is that privileged position where you've never felt a discord between what you are (or appear to be), and what you feel yourself to be.

I wonder how being trans, and knowing you belong to the other gender feels, because it's not something I have felt. I may experiment with typically masculine body language, and I may try to imagine what it must feel like to be physically male, for instance, but beyond that, I don't have any desire to be anything. That's why I think it's important to support our transgendered brothers and sisters, because I can't imagine the dissonance between what other people think you are, and what you feel you are, must be like.

But when we break it down, what is thinking you're a woman (or a man)? Is it the gendered behaviour? I don't think it's down to gender stereotypes (although it's so hard to divorce ourselves from them it hurts), but something less tangible, just feeling like something else is you. So I guess I agree that not feeling any dissonance, we'd find it hard to understand it. That not feeling something isn't quite us IS what makes us cisgendered, I guess.

I feel that most of the identifying as 'female' I've done has been in response to social pressure, in a kind of rebellion. If it hadn't mattered to society to treat me differently as a girl, it would not have mattered to me to say 'yeah, I'm a girl, so what?', so I guess it's the gender binary that makes me identify as female so strongly, and if we didn't worry about it as a society, I'd just be a person with a vagina.

I know I need to read more trans literature and discussion, and hear what their experience is like. But thank you for raising this, I've been wondering for some time, just how DO you describe gender? It needn't be physical, it isn't the behaviour, so what the hell is it?
I don't know if we'll ever know, if it even really exists.

Laura // Posted 21 March 2008 at 19:32

Helen, I was about to reply at length, but Lynne got in there first!

I don't think that gender is what's between your ears - as I said, there is no concept of gendered being between my ears. Like Lynne, I see gender as a social construction, imposed on me because I was born female, just as male gender is imposed on those born men. I want to destroy the gender binary because it traps people, prevents us from constructing our own identity and, crucially, has for centuries been used to "justify" female oppression. That justification is shattered when gender is exposed as a construct rather than biological fact.

Lynne got there first with women-only space, too - it is a means to effecting our liberation; in a gender free world we won't need it, it will be irrelevant!

Helen G // Posted 21 March 2008 at 19:35

Catherine said "I don't feel 'like a woman' as I don't know what that means. But I like and enjoy being a woman and am pleased I am one."

Same here.

Laura // Posted 21 March 2008 at 19:36

@Catherine,

"I have difficulty understanding what it must be like to be trans and I can't quite imagine what it must be like no matter how much I try, but I'm willing to accept that someone else experiences life differently than I do."

Indeedy.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 21 March 2008 at 21:01

I think that being female (as defined by patriarchal culture) is about being less than human; second to men; other. I think that is something that the mind (in this historical moment at least?) finds hard to accept, which is why so many women fail to want to be socialised as women. Yet, we don't want to be men either, and we don't mind our sexed bodies (perhaps unlike trans people?), so we just are. Neither female, but performing femaleness to varying degress, nor male. We cannot embrace what it is to be female full-heartedly as we cannot accept that we actually are less or other (rather than that being the social construction that it is) because we cannot deny our humanity.

Lauren O // Posted 21 March 2008 at 21:54

That is so fascinating to me. I definitely feel that I experience the world in a gendered way. My mind is totally in sync with my body that way; I feel "like a woman." All the time. Which is not to say that I think I experience the world in stereotypically "female" ways. I mean maybe some of what I feel is stereotypical, and maybe some of that is because I'm acculturated, but I think that whether what I think/feel lines up with what women are supposed to think/feel or not, I think/feel it as a woman. Like a lot of the issues brought up by this post, I'm not sure I can really define that. But I am totally cisgendered. It is just something that I am on a fundamental level.

And actually, semi-ironically, feeling totally cisgendered is something that makes transgendered people seem totally normal (and very fascinating) to me. My self is so female. If I were born in a man's body, it would still be so female. I was just lucky enough to be born in a body that corresponds to to my mind.

Lara The Second // Posted 22 March 2008 at 11:37

I agree with Laura, I don't think gender is between your ears. Gender tests that don't include aggression as a masculine trait (ugh!) can't place me. As far as I'm concerned there's no gender between my ears. I don't feel like a woman in my head, in my head I just feel like me. When I'm by myself I'm me. Me. Not Me A Woman. I don't need to identify myself, I'm me! The only time I have to deal with being a woman is when I interact with other people, and enter the minefield of feminine expectations. Then I'm Lara, A Woman. Actually, I'm Lara A White, Working-Class, Passing For Heterosexual Woman, but anyway.

chem_fem // Posted 22 March 2008 at 13:13

'My interpretation is that being cisgendered is that privileged position where you've never felt a discord between what you are (or appear to be), and what you feel yourself to be.'

I just don't think that many people feel like this though. The number of people who have no discord between what they are and who they feel themselves to be - whether that be to do with gender or otherwise, must be so tiny.

I've never grown up with any real discord because I was just very accepting as a child. When I finally did start to think for myself I found that very little of what I grew up with applied to me and gender was one of them.

My body doesn't work the way a womans body should anyway, so even if I didn't feel this discord now, I probably wouldn't have felt very comfortable. My body very obviously isn't at all male though, so I'm like many other people stuck somewhere else.

That so many women need to make many drastic changes to their bodies to feel like women, should tell us that cis-gendered women are not as common as we might think.

Maria N // Posted 22 March 2008 at 16:48

The 'I just am' a woman feeling is precisely the feeling of being cissexual. My body feels right to me. Would you want to be in a male body? Why not? That's it.

It kind of makes sense that your brain expects your body to be a certain way (think of the phantom limb syndrome felt by amputees). Exactly why trans people might experience brain/body dissonance is not known, as far as I understand, but I don't doubt that they do and I do not doubt that the dissonance is distressing. I do not doubt that taking hormones and seeking sex reassignment surgery may relieve that dissonance and that the decision to undergo these treatments is not a frivolous one.

Gender is another thing entirely. It is a a social construct, it is a keystone of heteronormative patriarchy and its resulting oppressions. Gender is only between our ears to the extent that we internalise it - it is socialised into us, imposed on us.

I don't see any need to defend, reclaim or own femininity - I'd like to destroy it, the concept that there is a set of behaviours or tastes or strengths/weakness proper to or in any way natural to a person who is female. Same with masculinity and men. I cannot think of ANYTHING with regard to things I do, how I present myself, how I think or feel, or what I am good at or poor at that is somehow essentially wedded to the fact that I have female body.

I can wear skirts or trousers, so can men. I can wear colourful, decorated, fancy clothes or plain, dull, utilitarian clothes, so can men. I can knit and I can program, so can men. I can cry and be emotional about one thing and I can be logical and unemotional about another - so can men. Let's don't call any of these things masculine or feminine any more, "for" men/boys or "for" women/girls, let's just describe them as what they are and not make assumptions or links to the fact that the person manifesting them is male or female.

Gendering is also done to us. Someone looks at us and determines whether to 'read' us as being a man or a woman and is likely, under patriarchy, to treat us differently accordingly and to make assumptions about what we capable of, about the things we like, whether to treat us as an equal or as inferior/superior to us.

"Cisgender" is perhaps more widely used term than "cissexual". It was the word I first heard to describe not experiencing the dissonance that trans people experience and I was delighted with it, it was a levelling idea, a deconstruction of the unquestioned unconscious assumption of what we take to be normal or normative, the kind of assumption and privilege that erases or others the identities and experiences of people who don't fit that norm. I like the fact that cis and trans sit equally opposites not the hierarchy of "normality" and transsexuality as some kind of "abnormality", in a similar relation as homo and hetero sexuality.

But I realised that "cissexual" or "cissexed" are terms I prefer, thought they sometimes feel more awkward to use or say than "cisgender", because I choose to distinguish gender and physical sex (male/female) in the way I describe above and so for me "cisgender" implies lack of dissonance with expected gender roles, and as many people have stated in comments here, as feminists we often resist and trangress gender conformity. But that is not the same as transitioning from one sex to the other. Trans women receive the same cultural messages about gender conformity and the conflation of being a woman with being "feminine" as cis women do - and may either conform with or jibe against patriarchally-imposed gender roles the same as cis women do.

Language around these issues is muddy - we all use "gender" and "sex" to mean different things or the same thing at different times, (precisely because we are used to them being interchangeable) and so it is important to sort out in our heads what we mean by them and to make it clear what we mean by them when we use them in writing or speaking. (Not to mention the fact that "transsexual" and "cissexual" don't have anything to do with sexual orientation even though the form of words seems similar to homosexual and heterosexual).

Sorry that was so long!

Steph Jones // Posted 22 March 2008 at 16:52

A few thoughts on this - myself a transsexual female, and a feminist one!...

I've always preferred the meaning of 'cissexual' to be on the lines of "where your biological sex and subconscious sex are aligned". This sums up how I have always felt about such things. And thus, 'cissexism' is where someone that does experience the feeling of biological/subconscious sex being congruent ('at ease' perhaps better phrase?), tries to reduce/dismiss anothers where it does not.

I've always considered gender as a societal/cultural construct - not that I've ness. escaped being bound by it in some ways. Its somewhat ubiquitous for most of us, whether we like it or not.

As I think I have argued elsewhere, take away gender, and I will still exist, and I'd have very likely still sought sex reassignment - it was my birth sex/body/genitals that I could not reconcile from a young age. I've argued this with Julie Bindel, for example, in the past, when she regurgitates the so very tired argument of certain Feminist thought about transsexuals existence being purely based on 'gender construction'!

My 'gender' (if we must consider such a concept), has always remained constant - it does not need reassigning! I find myself rather dispising any now-accepted into the mainstream terminology as such 'gender reassignment', 'gender surgery' that has grown up instead of 'sex change' or 'sex reassignment'. I'd rather we have the older terms back! I'm first and foremost transsexual, not transgendered, although I am happy to be considered as both - I'm certainly not anti-transgender.

I happily accept Helen's concept of 'my brain was expecting a female body' wholly... I think the important thing here is the 'my brain' - I would never use such phrases as 'male brain' and 'female brain' (and thus 'in wrong body'), because despite certain aetiology differences that may or may not exist, I'm wary of such 'theories' that try and support a sex/gender binary call it what you will - e.g. males are better at... females are better at... I just don't think it works like this whatsoever. We all have individual strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes regardless of our birth sex (or 'gender').

Laura // Posted 22 March 2008 at 17:07

I find this fascinating too, hence the post. Thanks for sharing, everyone, and no need to apologise for length, Maria! I think these are the kind of productive and respectful discussions/sharing that need to be had; listening to each other's feelings and experiences rather than judging and condemning, as I have seen in some places recently.

I found your comment particularly interesting, Steph, as from my (still limited) reading on the subject it does seem that there is a difference between wanting to be a different gender/feeling that your identity is more aligned with a different gender and the desire - the need - to change sex, to have one's body fit the sex one feels oneself to be (apologies if that's not worded very well). Bindel and others seem to fail to take this into account.

Naomi Mc // Posted 22 March 2008 at 18:29

I find this a fascinating subject and I haven't completely made my mind up about all the issues. I certainly feel "like a woman" but haven't always. Much of my problem in the past was feeling that I didn't naturally conform to gender stereotypes and being told that I had a "male brain" (Steph - agree, yuk). However, much of how I got over this was about refusing to have a passive relationship with gender and I think this is where I differ slightly with some of the comments.

Yes currently, femininity is linked to biological female and weaknesses and masculinity is linked to biological male and strengths. But notions of femininity and masculinity have never been fixed but float above the female-male continuum, sometimes overlapping, sometimes merging. I like to actively engage with my gender identity, pick and choose my feminine and masculine traits and which I choose to accentuate on a daily basis. I do this to unsettle people's gender stereotypes but it does involve engaging with gender and not abolishing it.

What I reject is the binary nature of feminine and masculine, being one or the other or one only existing in relation to the other. And I obviously reject the normative associations of feminine being lesser, weaker, and masculine being greater and stronger.

Some people argue that abolishing gender will lead to "everyone being the same" and not being able to tell the difference between female and male. I see gender diversity as being exciting, multi-faceted and dynamic. I feel like a woman because I feel that this actually offers me more scope for exploring my gender and sexual identity.

Jess // Posted 22 March 2008 at 19:39

I understood cissexual to simply mean 'not trans'.

Perhaps that is no help, but I feel like this gets into some complicated territory to navigate!

I can only talk about my own experience, and respect what others say about their own lived experiences.

Olly // Posted 22 March 2008 at 19:51

I've struggled with this too, in the past, but it was helpful to me to separate gender identity from gender roles - gender identity being the inner sense of yourself as male or female, and gender roles being the feminine or masculine performances society expects from us.

Obviously I'll defer to actual trans people on that if it's not what they've experienced; it's just what helped me reconcile the two ideas in my head.

Since I'm cisgendered I don't know what "being a woman" feels like either, and it's diffficult to separate that from everything I absorbed growing up as female. Just like because I'm white, I don't automatically notice when people of colour aren't represented around me, but I'd sure notice if people of colour were the only people represented! If something meets my expectations of normal, I don't really register it, and our expectations of normal are informed by privilege.

Lisa Harney // Posted 22 March 2008 at 23:41

I like to think of "cissexual" as simply meaning "not transsexual." I like to think of cisgendered as "Society doesn't invalidate your gender," rather than something that comes from you (although butch women will say that society does invalidate their gender, and they don't identify as transgendered, so it's not that simple, either).

I don't believe there will ever be a time when no one will ever want to change their sex. Even if all gender were eliminated, I think that some people would be more comfortable with a body of the other (not othered) sex.

It frustrates me when I read about how femaleness and womanhood is seen as second-class and thus should be rejected. This is because I come at it from the perspective of Pride, where being a lesbian is something to be proud of, not lesser, not weaker, not immoral. I don't believe that actually taking pride in my own identity as a woman (and as a female person) is acquiescing to the idea that being a woman is other and second-class.

Also, I had to work hard to get there.

Lisa Harney // Posted 23 March 2008 at 01:08

Sorry about the double post. I also think that when I or another trans woman says "cissexual is not wanting to change your sex, your brain and body agree," people start looking for a sense of being male or female in relation to their bodies...but I don't think it's that simple. Trans people are hyper aware of our sense of ourselves as male or female because our brains expect our bodies to be one when they're actually the other.

Cissexual people simply do not have this dissonance between body and brain. It's not the same as wanting larger or smaller breasts, or wanting to lose weight, or gain weight. For you, your sense of yourself matches your body.

There's also the way that sex and gender are separate - sex is physical, gender is social. Cissexual makes no comment on gender.

More seriously, though, it's pretty simple:

Do you want to change sex? If yes, you're probably transsexual. If no, you're probably cissexual. It doesn't have to go deeper than that.

It's hard to say that if you were male, you'd be okay with that, because you don't really know - you haven't had the experience of being male with your brain as it exists now. You might be fine, or you might find yourself screaming inside because your body is wrong and gender is 10 times more oppressive to you because people are not just using it to pigeonhole you, but to deny your own reality.

chem_fem // Posted 23 March 2008 at 10:22

'Cissexual people simply do not have this dissonance between body and brain. It's not the same as wanting larger or smaller breasts, or wanting to lose weight, or gain weight. For you, your sense of yourself matches your body.'

I wasn't saying it was the same dissonance.

Rather that not being trans sexual, doesn't mean that a dissonance isn't there at all. I was saying that: many do feel that their sense of themselves and their bodies don't match. That simply calling them cissexual, and that defining cissexual as having no dissonance at all is a very polar way of looking at it.

That cissexual means not wanting to change to the other sex, would be a fine label for non-trans*, but to then to also define it as having no dissonance at all is to make assumptions about people that is not fair. I am 'Cis' by the first definition but not by the last (and not because of my weight or breast size).

Lisa Harney // Posted 23 March 2008 at 11:44

I regretted that sentence as soon as I saw my posts approved. I'm trying to think of a better way to say it without implying what I implied there.

I think it is overly simplistic of me to say there's no dissonance there - a good friend of mine has some rather specific dissonance and is not trans herself, and I'm ignoring her when I say what I said above.

As far as I prefer to use it, it means you don't want to change your sex. It doesn't mean there's no dissonance.

I mentioned weight and breast size, etc. because others have specifically used those arguments to explain that their body dissatisfaction was exactly like mine, and since they could live with theirs, I should have lived with mine. No one here implied anything like that, so it doesn't really apply either.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 23 March 2008 at 12:02

Yeah I think that many non-trans people do experience a 'dissonance' around gender that Laura described in the original post, because of the way society is and the way we are all expected to behave because of our sex. And thats why many of us are feminists.

However I think that's different to the 'dissonance' that trans people experience, that they argure is something more internal and innate, and would exist regardless of external sexism and the society that we're in. So even in a perfect feminist society the argument is that trans people would still experience that dissonance.

So perhaps the definition doesn't really distinguish between those two points well enough?

chem_fem // Posted 23 March 2008 at 15:18

Lisa and Catharine -

That sounds about right to me, it has been a really interesting read here, thanks.

I think I'm just about beginning to 'get it' a bit more and understand the issues.

Dw3t-Hthr // Posted 23 March 2008 at 21:01

As I posted at Lisa's place --

I hate menstruation. I find it icky, unpleasant, and painful. I am deeply weirded out by the Oh My Spiritual Moonblood Time people. Okay.

Every trans guy I know has referred to his menstrual period experience as "cognitive dissonance week". Sometimes, that discussion has included extensive commentary about the trauma, alienation, wrongness of the experience, the sheer *horror* of it, the sense of being othered by one's own body, having nowhere to belong to.

And I say, to that, genderqueer as I may be (which I am), I am still a cis woman. "Ucky and unpleasant" doesn't translate to my own personal horror movie.

Laura // Posted 24 March 2008 at 14:52

For the record: I'm all onboard with cisexual simply meaning "not wanting to have a sex change" or "non-trans". I just thought that the definition Helen G referenced brought up some interesting ideas.

Lisa Harney // Posted 24 March 2008 at 20:33

Sorry, was carrying baggage from another, somewhat more disagreeable discussion on the same topic. Wasn't trying to say "No, no no!"

I probably should turn around and try walking back in. :)

April_B // Posted 14 June 2008 at 22:36

First I must say this is a fascinating discussion. But I really have to say I do believe that there is in some part a biological factor to gender. Gender roles I will whole heartedly agree are social constructs, but gender, I don't think so. I've felt slightly uncomfortable with my body, but never horribly so, perhaps because my body has never been very masculine anyways. Although now that I'm on hormones my skin is a much more comfortable space to live in.

But there has always been a part of me that cringes whenever I'm called sir. A part that feels kicked and stepped on every time someone refers to me as "he" or "him". That part of me is my gender, and it has absolutely nothing to do with skirts, makeup, or anything else that is stereotypically feminine.

And so what if it is because of something to do with the shape of some aspect of my brain or because the neurons fire in order "B" instead of order "C". If there are some biological differences in the behavior between women and men you have to realize that those differences have been amplified by thousands of years and billions of people. What happens if you take a whisper and amplify it by millions of watts and play it at full volume through billions of speakers?

To me the whole debate as to whether or not gender is biological or not has no bearing on human rights. The biological difference, real or imagined, is not the problem. The Problem is that we value certain traits and characteristics above others. Being the "provider" somehow became more valuable then being the "homemaker". We used these values to build our societies hierarchy and strict stereotypical roles to bind people to their position within that hierarchy. We fail to recognize that all of these human traits have value that is beyond estimation. What would the world be like if there were only doctors, technicians, and scientist, if there were no poets, singers, painters, or artists of any kind? We need everyone, we all have something valuable to contribute. And if anything is stereotypically true about the human race it is our variance. Sexual physical ambiguities exist in our species, not just the physically intersexed but women who have "masculine" features, and men who have "feminine" bone structures. People come in all shapes and sizes and consistently blur what is physically consider masculine or feminine. So if there are general biological gender differences in the brain, an area that is immensely sensitive to chemicals and hormones, why is it so hard to think that those biological differences wouldn't have and extreme degree of variance and be extremely likely to be ambiguous?

That being said I believe your gender is unique to you, and can only be defined by you. Terms like cisgendered and transgendered are nothing more then a loose guideline. Concentrating on what makes us the same doesn't give us value, we need to learn to embrace our diversity if we ever want a society that even comes close to equality.

Diane // Posted 07 February 2010 at 07:34

Hmm. I'm a born and self-identified woman--although that "self-identified" is kind of tentative. I see a lot of truth in points made here that the dissonance with sex and gender for transsexuals and, for instance, my own dissonance with them are distinct. My brain has never expected my body to be male.

At the same time, I do, strongly, feel dissonant from female-ness. A lot of it stems from issues with gender, growing up bisexual and in the closet.

But I remember when I was 17, a teacher having a classmate and I perform a little exercise. The thing is, if you put a chair against a wall, and then bend forward over it, head against the wall--a woman's hips will adjust just so to allow her to pick it up, but not a man's. So he selected me, a little thang, and a big, athletic guy to illustrate this to the class. My heart was pounding in my throat, because I was sure the jig was up. I wasn't a woman, not really, and I wouldn't be able to pick up the chair, and everyone would know. Of course, I was able to pick up the chair because I have the hips.

Considering the Dresden Dolls song, Half Jack, where fellow bi gal Amanda Palmer expresses her frustration of being half jack, half jill, I wonder if my kind of dissonance mightn't be partly an artifact of my bisexuality. I do carry both in me, and I'm learning to merge that into a real whole. But in the meantime, in some ways I relate much more to men, and in others--to women.

Perhaps this is all just a response to the socialization of gender. But it feels more complicated than that. I don't know. Just my thoughts.

Karina Ruben // Posted 30 December 2012 at 22:49

Well, glad to find this conversation even if it took me a few YEARS...

I am female, bi, and never ever felt like a woman. I am able to enjoy sexuality as female because, well, I decided not to be miserable. And because I don't feel like that person I am on the outside, sometimes it is difficult to believe that people are attracted to me as I am, but I get over it. :) I have always found it weird and often inconvenient to be female. I would definitely feel more at home as a male person, though I don't think that would change whatever my gender identity feels like, as I have not bought in to a lot of that. I am happy that many other people have recognized gender as imposed in any case.

So I hope that gives yet another answer to your initial, years-old question, Laura. I doubt that in any of our diversity, we are any of us alone in any little corner of it we might find ourselves in. It's nice not to FEEL alone in it, though! Thanks for you all.

lastiers // Posted 01 April 2013 at 19:55

It was reassuring to read the kind hearted and thoughtful comments from all above...sometimes I am dismayed by how quickly conversations about gender become unhappy. I guess it is just that the energies around these aspects of being human (generally speaking) are so fundamental, that some people feel the need to aggressively protect their societally sanctioned role...but sometimes the ability to define and then live one's true self is very hard-won. I hope for a day when the entire spectrum of sexuality is respected and treated in a nurturing and joyful way. I guess all I can do to bring that about is try in my own way, feeling quite fumbling about it at times, to live that happy acceptance and create the place where it is safe to be who you are, no matter who you are.

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