“Nature loves diversity and it’s human beings who have an awful time with it” ~ Diagnosing Difference
Today’s documentary, Diagnosing Difference, highlighted the various subtle stigmas that are overlooked by society in the discourse surrounding the transsexual question. Like many other societal problems that are so often defined by their huge, general and overarching stereotypes, the problems associated with transgender people are no different. We try to categorize them based on their outward appearance or we assume that they want to be in either binary category. Neither of these strategies or tendencies will be fruitful in improving the social conditions and cultural environment of transgender issues. Today’s class focused on medical care and the steps taken by the medical community to define transgender no longer as a mental disorder but as a less stigmatized condition. We need to find an outlet in order for everyone to have affordable and available access to any resources they may need.
However, I think an interesting issue to look at—that was also addressed in the documentary—is the question of the binary gender categorization. Why should choosing a bathroom in a public park by the source of an existential crisis for anybody? Merely looking at the stick figures often depicted on the door: a skirt means the girl and the legs mean the boy raise a red flag when observed by a critical eye. However, in answering my big question I need to highlight a paradox. As somebody who identifies as a woman, I personally feel uncomfortable with the idea of going into a bathroom marked for men. Walking down the street I feel objectified almost every single day, and there is no way I will put myself alone with a male stranger in a secluded area. Therefore, in order to protect my own sexual comfort I do not agree with the idea of a unisex bathroom. My unpopular opinion renders an unpopular compromise; three bathrooms are perhaps necessary as a potential solution. Yet, therein lies another contradiction. We have thus created three categories: the men’s room, the ladies room, and the arbitrary unisex or gender-neutral room. I wonder if this has the potential to become another binary with which we measure our identities.
Moreover, this problem can be connected back to the college experience and the recent discussions about sexual abuse in college. More specifically cat calling and the question of men treating women. Many colleges are debating incorporating hours at the gym that are strictly female. Personally, I would be extremely pro this; however, of course we must then beg the question who are we excluding? Who are we punishing?
The DiGiorno commercial ties very well with the main ideas discussed in Beauvior’s text titled The Second Sex: Introduction and Lorber’s text titled The Social Construction of Gender. In this commercial both genders are stereotyped into traditional gender roles as the men are seen relaxing outside while viewing sports and the woman is seen heading into her home with two large grocery bags. The men decide to order a pizza – but the main male character decides to call his spouse instead to demand her to make him a pizza the way he likes it. She replies, “you know I hate when you do this” as if this is an everyday occurrence between the two of them. He then demands her to make the pizza quickly. This commercial resembles how Beauvior discusses gender: “man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him” (Beauvior 33). Her existence is dependent on serving men instead of being independent to do the task she enjoys. Lober’s belief that gender “creates the social difference that define woman and man” because people “learn what is expected…thus simultaneously construct and maintain the gender order” (Lorber 115). This construction is seen as the woman is expected to make the pizza for the men as she always does. After making the pizza the woman retaliates by turning the sprinkler on the three men. The men have no reaction and continue to watch sports, as if they are oblivious to her existence. Their actions demonstrate that men are seen as the supreme and the woman is only significant in service to men. Therefore, the woman is only defined according to the men’s terms.
Judith Lorber, “The Social Construction of Gender”, 1990.
De Beauvoir, Simone. “The Second Sex: Introduction.”, 2003.
Fairness involves an equal, unprejudiced representation for all genders. The term “Gender Identity Disorder” does not allow a fair representation for individuals that identify themselves as transgender. “Gender Identity Disorder” is an unfair portrayal because of the negative connotations surrounding the word “disorder”. GID is used to describe a person who experiences discomfort with their biological gender and identifies with the opposite gender as a more appropriate presentation.
I first heard the term while viewing “I Am Jazz – A Family Transition” on Oprah’s channel OWN. The show is a documentary following the life of a transgender preteen that identifies as a female. While viewing the show I analyzed that the people associated with her are open and fair about her decisions but the term used to describe her condition throughout the documentary is unfair. The term depicts transgendered individuals with a disadvantage because it is not favorable. It identifies their sexual behavior as a mental disorder that should be fixed. It positions them in a category that conflicts with the natural social conditions in society. “Disorder” implies that transgenders are not performing gender correctly and as a result the phrase can create social inequality. Transgenders are subjected to a diagnosis that defines them as a disturbance.
This dynamics can affect the representation of self with dominant gender standards because transgenders may feel like they don’t belong in a society that categorizes them negatively. It also doesn’t allow them the freedom to be themselves without scrutiny. Overall, I think it is unfair to define transgenders as a disorder in our society. There should be an unprejudiced representation for all genders.
What do you think about the term? Am I being overly sensitive about the issue considering this isn’t a widely used term to describe transgendered individuals?
In the United States we feel we have freedom, but how much freedom do we really have? When we are born we are assigned to a sex which dictates how we are treated and what is expected of us for the rest of our lives. Our freedom is confined to our gender roles. Societal norms cast out those who want to or try to expand outside of the norms for our particular gender. Lorber states ” Gendered norms and expectations are enforced through informal sanctions of gender-inappropiate behaviour by peers and by formal punishment or threat of punishment by those in authority should behaviour deviate to far from socially imposed standard for women and men.” If we are to be punished for trying to experience something outside of our gendered norm expectation, then how can we feel we are free? Freedom is being able to, at its most basic principle, express oneself in whichever gender one feels comfortable. Punishing one for this most basic of freedoms is not freedom at all. It confines one to boundaries placed by society. An expectation that may not be wanted by the individual. In Gloria Anzaldua’s La conciencia de la mestiza/towards a new Consciousness”The borders and walls that are supposed to keep the undesirable ideas out are entrenched habits and patterns of behavior; these habits and patterns are the enemy within. Rigidity means death.” If we accept these norms and we do not allow ourselves and others to explore fully what we are, how can we truly believe in freedom for ourselves? Freedom, in its most basic form, is allowing oneself and others to discover what and who they truly want to be without fear of punishment from society.
Oppression is when societal norms are used to define everyone’s identity, regardless of whether the same conditions are applicable to the individual. Intersexuals are oppressed when they are pressured to change themselves to fit into male-female gender categories.
Society frames intersexual genitalia as an undesirable aberration from the norm that must be rectified. Intersexuals are expected to reconstruct their genitalia to cosmetically appear male or female. Medical authorities recommend parents to raise hermaphrodite children as one gender and not the other. These are examples of oppression – people use societal norms to justify preventing intersexuals from creating their own unique gender identity.
Our dependence on norms are reflected in the language that psychologists, writers, etc. use. They describe intersexuals as having “manifest sexual problems” (Colapinto 233), even though their genitalia are not truly “problems” until society frames them that way. Medical experts predict that intersexuals will “break down under the strain” (Colapinto 233) or, if they’re lucky, find out that “adjustment to unusual genitalia is possible” (Fausto-Sterling 95) – as if it is necessary and difficult for people to “adjust” to the genitals they’ve always had. In reality, genitals play a “strikingly insignificant” (Colapinto 234) role in one’s gender identity and self-image. Intersexuals’ gender identity issues, if any, likely stem from constantly being told that their genitals are abnormal rather than the abnormal genitals themselves.
Colapinto, John. As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Should There Be Only Two Sexes?” Sexing the Body. New York: Basic Books, 2000. 78-114. Print.
When discussing the concepts of gender and sex, many of our readings and class talks have raised the question of whether or not something is “natural.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there seem to be two groups of definitions for natural. One is “usual or expected,” and the other is “existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature.” I think that often the authors and we as students employ the first definition – for instance, when discussing if it is “natural” for a child to be born intersex.
However, this intersex case especially perplexes me. In As Nature Made Him, many figures consider it “unnatural” for a child to be born with ambiguous genitalia. But to me, looking at the second definition of natural, it seems that the very fact the child was born with it makes it natural. What is unnatural is the construction of new, unambiguous genitalia.
Though perhaps not explicitly framed in these terms, I think that As Nature Made Him also delves into the debate of whether gender is “natural” or constructed. While I tend to think of gender as largely socially constructed, David’s experience as Brenda has convinced me that gender is at least partly natural – meaning one is born with an inherent inclining toward a certain gender identity. So I consider “natural” to be something one is born with, or something internal in origin.
Colapinto, John. As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.
Within the last month, California governor Jerry Brown approved Assembly Bill No. 1266, an amendment to the California Education Code commonly known as the “transgender bathroom bill” for Clause (f) which states that students can participate in activities and use facilities our their gender identity instead of their prescribed gender.
Despite the polarity of reactions ranging from celebratory to outraged, AB-1266 raises societal questions on how we define gender and sex, and how we conceive their construction/identification. Based on the Clause line “irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records”, it appears in Californian legislation terms that gender and sex have an intertwined relationship, if not mean the same thing. Their construction are culturally based and solidify that gender comes before sex as the transcripts are read by markers of gender, not biological genitalia. In expanding the construction of gender and the subsequent gender identification assumed in AB-1266, it answers the question of whether gender is something we have or are by allowing gender to transcend biological fact (have) and develop into our identity (are).
Ammiano. “AB-1266 Pupil Rights: Sex-segregated School Programs and Activities.” California Legislation Information. N/a, 12 Aug. 2013. Web. 14 Sept. 2013.