Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gender, and Attraction

As I have stated before (and I guess it's significant that I still feel this way), I have mixed feelings about the value and purpose of "gender" in our social interactions as a society. To begin with - like many black and white concepts that people take for granted (like art, or porn) - gender is incredibly difficult to define. It is my hope that progressive attitudes re: feminism and gay rights is evolving society's understanding of gender and demonstrating how nebulous a concept it is. And as a person with experience and an identity that could be considered to be under the umbrella of "transgender", I think that gender stereotypes and expectations are toxic and damaging, and I support growing acceptance for people who flout the gendered conventions of our society (especially men, whose gender experimentations are usually less tolerated than women's, due to prevailing attitudes of sexism in our culture, that are directed toward women and anything they're associated with).

Truthfully, the very nebulous nature of the concept of gender is evidence to support its abolishment. We make a distinction between males and females in our species because there is a very real and scientific difference between the two. But that is sex, which is independent of gender. So what, then, is gender? I think that it is more psychological, but also more cultural. Indeed, there are countless gendered qualities that are nothing short of arbitrary, and if you poll different cultures in different time periods, you'll find that what is considered to be "masculine" or "feminine" varies wildly. A lot of it depends on cultural traditions - women are expected to be one way (the caretakers and homemakers), and men another (the soldiers and breadwinners). But what value do these traditions have in a "post-gendered" world where women are allowed to be soldiers, and men are allowed to be homemakers?

I don't know to what extent these differences were inspired by real biological differences in the sexes. Certainly, there are some qualities that suggest - whether or not this is indeed the case - a biological trigger, such as aggression or sensitivity. But even if that turned out to be true (and I'm not sure that it is), there are still exceptions, even biologically, and they deserve acceptance as much as anyone who fits the stereotype. But then you have these gendered attributes that are so totally arbitrary that it's obvious. Why should girls like the color pink, and boys blue? Why should it be verboten for a man to wear a skirt and paint his face when men have traditionally done so in other cultures throughout history? Except that this is just the way we're used to it being.

The reason I have mixed feelings about gender is because, as much as I want to break down the barrier between the genders, I also find that I am very strongly attracted to the notion of femininity. Of course, that begs a number of questions. Am I attracted to femininity simply because it's associated with the sex I'm attracted to? Would I be attracted to different qualities if I lived in a different culture where different things were associated with women? The truth is, I am not very attracted to women who express masculine characteristics. And while I find men with feminine characteristics to be far more attractive than those with masculine characteristics (because they are closer to the feminine women I am attracted to), I am still not especially attracted to them in any strong way because they are, physically speaking, men and not women.

But the thing is, there is something about femininity that I find very appealing. It's like the icing on the cake. Put icing on a loaf of bread, and you can make it more superficially appealing to my sensibilities, even if it is ultimately still a loaf of bread. And a cake without icing is lacking some of its significant charm. But a cake with icing is just divine. Now, the question is, if we abolished expectations of each gender's attributes, what effect will that have on my attraction to the gender female? If short skirts and shaved legs, for example, were as common on men as on women, would that change the way I feel about them at all? I wasn't sure, but thinking about it now, I don't know that it would. But that's a quality that emphasizes the body, and the body is something physical that I am attracted to. What about more arbitrary gendered qualities?

I like the color pink, for example, partly because it's pretty, but largely because it's associated with girls. If it became "just another color", I might be less enthusiastic about it. I think that's part of the conditioned nature of sexual response. If girls stereotypically started liking a different color in its place, I'd probably become more attracted to it as a result of its psychological association with girls. But what if we abolished any and all gendered associations with colors? What if there were no "girly" colors? What if individual people were simply free to pick whatever color they like free from such expectations? I imagine I would be drawn more to the colors I like for their non-gendered attributes (the ones I think are pretty), and perhaps the ones I associate with individual females I am attracted to rather than the illusory concept of "the female" that exists largely as a result of stereotypes and expectations.

But that's the thing that I'm a little bit concerned about. I'm attracted to "the feminine". And I can't say that I would be better or worse off if I got rid of that "fetish", but being that it's something I like, I'm not real eager to get rid of it. "Masculine" and "feminine" are archetypes. I actually don't have a problem that they exist. The problem, in my mind, is that people are expected to adhere to one or the other role model based on an arbitrary designation - their sex - and not on which model they associate or identify with more. Because we assume that sex and gender are one, when they are not.

It's like a girl and a boy entering a costume gallery, and the girl being forced to dress like a princess, and the boy like a wrestler. I don't have a problem with the princess being considered feminine, and the wrestler being considered masculine, so long as the girl and the boy are free to choose either the feminine or masculine costume depending on their interest, and not because of the anatomy God (or the Divine Random Number Generator) saw fit to put between their legs. I celebrate the girl who wants to be a wrestler, because why not? And I celebrate the boy who wants to be a princess, because I can relate - I think princesses are awesome. I still like girls who are princesses more than girls who are wrestlers, and more than boys who are princesses, but that's just my personal preference, and there's room for all kinds in this world.

But then, I'm not against initiatives to change what is considered masculine and feminine in our culture - and I imagine that my own preferences will evolve as that happens. Plus, I've kind of ignored the fact that very few if any people in the entire population strictly adhere to one or the other gender in all things. Gender is too splintered and fragmented among too many qualities for that. You don't have to be either masculine or feminine; indeed, most people wander between the two throughout their life, they just tend to avoid (or hide) the more obvious and glaring transgressions from their peers. Just because you put on the princess dress, for example, doesn't mean you can't still play with trucks. And I think that is the ideal. Whether feminine, or masculine, who cares? People should be allowed to pick and choose and just be themselves. It's the policing of gender, more than the construction of it, that is a problem.

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