Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Gender Scale

One of Kinsey's most famous and lasting contributions to our collective understanding of human sexuality came in the form of "The Kinsey Scale", which emphasizes the fact that most human beings are not exclusively hetero- or homo-sexual, but exist on a graded continuum between those two extremes - some being either more predominantly hetero- or homo-sexual, and many being somewhere in the middle (what we would probably call "bisexual").

In my personal experience, I used to be pretty homophobic, in no small part due to my cultural conditioning (a tradition which is thankfully starting to change). But in the process of embracing the truth and my own sexuality, I've become increasingly more comfortable with homosexuality, understanding that it is as beautiful and natural a part of human sexuality as heterosexuality is. Knowledge of the Kinsey Scale also helps in this regard, as it reassures those who are afraid of being incorrectly labeled to understand that, rather than being gay or straight, incidental gay experience or desires (and the suspicion thereof, whether by oneself or one's peers, and whether founded or not) does not necessarily mean that one is not still predominantly attracted to the opposite sex.

Although, if you do turn out to be more or less "gay", the ultimate conclusion is that it doesn't matter, because being gay is fine, too. And with this understanding, I've been able to acknowledge to what extent I may be stimulated by homosexual triggers, without being frightened or threatened by that awareness. In fact, it makes me feel more tolerant, and like a more well-rounded person - especially as someone who spends time studying human sexuality and exploring, as an erotic artist, what turns people on - since I can, at least to some extent, understand how "the other half" feels. (And as long as we're talking about being sexually attracted to men, does it even matter if the one being attracted is male or female? A straight female is just as "gross" for thinking men are sexy as a gay male, from that perspective).

That having been said, I find that I am still far more interested in and attracted to female human beings, both physically and mentally. Though I can acknowledge the erotic symbolism of the phallus, for example, I still find guys to be mostly gross and unappealing, and girls, on the other hand, to be incredibly alluring and desirable (leading me to at one point utter the phrase, "sex is just so much more fun with girls!"). Of course, this is not true of every female human being, but then the terms "hetero-" and "homo-sexuality" imply a certain amount of generalization (or at least the existence of further specifications), as few people are attracted to 100% of the male or female population.

Now, to switch gears a little bit - since my sexuality is fairly straightforward, but my gender is not - the transgender community has applied something of a similar approach to the Kinsey Scale to the question of gender identity - criticizing, in the process, the concept of the "gender binary", which presumes that a human being is either male or female. Let's call this "The Gender Scale".

On one side of the Gender Scale, you have stereotypical males exhibiting stereotypical masculine behavior, and on the other side, you have stereotypical females exhibiting stereotypical female behavior. And in the middle would be the "androgynes", those persons exhibiting some blend of masculine and feminine behaviors so as to mark their gender somewhat ambiguous.

Now, here's a caveat - since, as the transgender community understands, one's sex is not always aligned with one's gender, your position on the scale doesn't really depend on whether you are "sexually" a male or female (referring, usually, to your sex organs). You could place yourself somewhere on the scale by using a male or female symbol, indicating your sex (with alternative options for hermaphrodites, the intersexed, and other non-binary sexes), and then your degree of trans- or cis-ness would simply depend upon how close your sex symbol matches the end of the gender spectrum that's stereotypically associated with that sex.

But, nice as all this sounds, there are some problems. Firstly, I've been wondering a lot about whether I can truly consider my gender to be male or female. While I identify more with my femininity, I find sometimes that I do have some qualities that I feel are traditionally masculine. Ultimately, it might be true that I have different qualities associated with different genders (and I really don't think this is rare, even among non-transgender, cis-persons). And while I've thought in the past that it might be the case that I can switch back and forth between male and female (this is mostly true only with regard to visual cues like fashion), the closer truth may be that I am actually something of a bigender person, simultaneously (rather than consecutively) possessing qualities of the different genders.

And that's where the Gender Scale becomes complicated. There are just too many different qualities that distinguish the sexes. And while society imposes a lot of pressure for one gender to align with its own set of stereotypes, I think most people are going to stray somewhere. Maybe you're a girl and you wear pants more than skirts. Maybe you're a guy and you wear makeup. Maybe you like the color pink and action movies, or the color blue and playing with dolls. And how much weight do any of these qualities have in determining your overall gender identity? Can you be a gendered girl and have masculine interests (or vice versa), or does that, in fact, mean you are a form of transgender individual? And none of this even brushes on the complication of the fact that most gender stereotypes are arbitrary - why should girls be expected to like pink, and boys to like blue, in the first place?

So, you see, it does get complicated, and far from straightforward, when you actually take the time to think about it. Although, if anything, I think this emphasizes the importance of de-emphasizing the differences between the sexes. And isn't that really the goal of feminism after all? Except, in practice, feminism just reinforces gender opposition in the form of the war between the sexes. As a person with transgender experience, I have a hard time getting behind that, and it seems to me that a more enlightened approach would take into account the greater diversity of human individuality.

In the interest of true "sexual equality", we should stop judging people on their sex or gender, and whether those two things match up in the way they're expected to or not. Don't assume that women are feminine, or men are masculine. Don't assume they will always have the personality attributes, make the fashion choices, and share interests that are "expected" of their sex/gender. Don't assume that males always have penises and females always have breasts - if there are reasonable distinctions to be made, indicate that they are to be made based on the anatomy a person possesses, not on their sex or gender, assuming that only certain sexes and/or certain genders will have certain combinations of anatomy. I really think this is the enlightened way to do things. Am I being too radical?

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