I’ve recently begun leading classes and workshops on gender. I have a degree in Gender Studies and am a theory lover and this is something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time but only recently did I get in touch with the right people here in Seattle to make that dream a reality. The more I think about gender the more I realize there is no basis for gender, the more I try to grasp and understand gender the more I realize there is nothing there to hold.
Now, this is not a new concept both in general or to me. As I said, I’ve got a degree in this and I’ve read quite a lot of gender theory and I know the concepts of “gender is constructed” and “all gender is drag,” but for the longest time that didn’t stop me from trying to figure out what gender is. How can we figure out what something is when there is nothing there in the first place?
I’m sure some would say that it’s obvious, that masculinity has to do with maleness and femininity has to do with femaleness, because that’s what we’re told, and that’s supposedly how the world works, but I (and hopefully you) know that is just not true. If it were there would be no instance of female masculinity or male femininity or genderqueerness or third gendered identities or all the other options that we now have words for. If it were true there wouldn’t be examples of trans* people throughout the entirety of human history and pre-history (or at least people who we can put our label of “trans*” on even though they may or may not have had a similar concept).
In looking at, studying, teaching about, dissecting, and attempting to put my own gender back together like some sort of Frankenstein’s Monster creation I came to the only reasonable (in my mind) explanation of what gender is: self expression. But I mean the core of the self, in the same way that art is or can be self-expression. And therefore too, perhaps, is gender art.
Whether or not a gender preference is inherent in all of us could easily turn into some sort of nature vs. nurture debate, but really, since gender is a language and gender changes throughout cultures and time periods there may be activities that we all have some sort of draw to, but I can’t say where that originates.
All I know is that gender is tricky and complex. If we look at it as a language as Riki Wilchins says (“Gender is a language, a system of meanings and symbols, along with the rules, privileges, and punishments pertaining to their use—for power and sexuality (masculinity and femininity, strength and vulnerability, action and passivity, dominance and weakness). Since it is a system of meanings, gender can be applied to almost anything” – Queer Theory/Gender Theory p35) then I think hegemonic socialization only knows enough for us to scrape by, it knows enough to survive but it doesn’t know how to write poetry, and I want to write poetry.
There are new gendered words springing up all the time these days, which I think is wonderful, and anyone constructing their own gendered way of living in the world is doing the work of learning the language, no matter how that gender ends up looking. We are starting to create the rest of the language that we have been missing, or discover the bits of language that have been relegated to the shadows for years. Because of this it is becoming easier to learn how to create our own conscious gender presentations so there are more people doing just that.