Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Gender

At night, as I sneak out into the backyard for a smoke (yeah yeah, bad for me, blah, blah blah.) I find myself contemplating gender.

What kicked off this navel-gazing was a box on a form. I stared at the damn thing and tried, with all the powers of my rather wild imagination, to figure out why my gender mattered for a computer service. After a moment or two of furrowed brow, I blithely skipped the question. Unlike paper forms, computers can make sure you Xd every damn box though, so there was no moving forward without declaring the contents of my panties.

I checked Male just for the hell of it and hit enter.

Back not so long ago in the US, gender was an important category, because you had different rights depending on your sex. Females were an underclass, and they had to make sure that no women were sneaking through and getting male privileges (like decent pay, credit, voting, the right to own or sell land, etc.). Theoretically nowadays we’ve worked out that inequality issue, but the boxes remain. Why?

And why are there only two boxes? This country is obsessed with a Boolean model of the universe where everything is black or white, on or off, male or female, right or wrong. We have no tolerance for gray. We’re so obsessed with the idea that there are only two distinct genders that we manipulate the genitals of children who don’t fit the mold and force them in to category A or B. We never let them grow up as they are and leave the decision to them. Heaven forbid we let them exist in the zone of betweeness, even if it pleases them. And we make life miserable for adults brave enough to reclaim their personal gender identity if it exists outside those boxes.

Why isn’t there a box for “None of your damn business, Nosy Parker,” and another for “I’m too complex to fit into your narrow world view.” Hell, I’d settle for a box labeled “Other.”

I was at a writer’s conference where a published author stated that when she was done with her novel, she went through and arbitrarily changed the gender of her characters. I had two reactions to that – at opposite ends of the scale. At first I thought, “Wow, so she believes that people are people are people, and gender is irrelevant. Cool.” My next thought was, “Are her characters so one-dimensional that their gender has no bearing on their basic personal identity? Not cool.”

Regardless of sexual preferences, my characters are influenced down to their cores by their mental gender. Physical gender is also incredibly important to the definition of who those characters are. Maybe it’s because I write sex, and sex and gender are tangled together, but I can’t imagine arbitrarily changing the gender without it completely changing that character. We’ll see. After all, I checked the M box on that computer form. Somewhere, somehow, that must have deep consequences – the ramifications only becoming clear at the peak of some world-changing calamity.

Either that, or gender truly doesn't matter.

1 comment:

Nan said...

I'm so glad I have friends that think so deeply about the world, in areas other than the ones I seem to obsess about, and write about it so that I can share their deep thoughts.

Keep it coming.