Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Gender Spectrum Explained

I've been following the various controversies regarding gender issues with increasing interest over the last year or so. In the process my opinions have become a little more fixed, and I feel it may be time to express them here on this blog. Some of the opinions will no doubt offend some readers, however this is not my aim, so I hope anyone reading will appreciate my sincerity if not the content.

The idea of gender-fluidity in particular seems something shrouded in confusion at the moment. I would agree that there is some fluidity regarding gender, but that the fluidity isn't quite as fluid as many of the more vocal proponents of the idea often claim.

It might be easier if we imagine a spectrum of gender. At one end extreme masculinity, at the other extreme femininity. With a slightly blurred dividing line in the middle.

(A hypothetical Gender Spectrum where 100 on the left would
represent extreme masculinity and 100 on the right extreme femininity)

Now each of us are born somewhere on this hypothetical (though admittedly crude) spectrum. For instance, I myself am male. However, I'm not the most manly male you'll ever meet. I'm not especially muscly. I don't have a very deep voice. I don't have particularly masculine features. If I had to put myself somewhere on the above chart I'd probably reluctantly put myself somewhere roundabout the 40 mark on the male side. I say reluctantly, because as well as being male I'm also straight, and if I'm being truly honest I would have to say that I'd like members of the opposite sex to see me as being very masculine and consequently more attractive.

Now this gets to the point at hand quite neatly. I could make myself more masculine. I could go to the gym everyday to build my muscles. I could change my diet and lifestyle with the aim of increasing the flow of my male hormones. I could even seek medical treatment and utilise medication. Likewise I could do these things to make myself more feminine. However, there is a limit to how far I can change my nature. No matter how much I try to make myself more manly I'll never be as manly as someone who was born at the far end of the masculine spectrum. And the women that I hope to impress by my endeavours may still view me as being less manly than the more brutish, lumbering jocks I'm up against.

Now, sadly, this is just the way it is, and there isn't too much I can do about it. I may think that the women judging me are being unfair, however I can't force them to see me as more manly. Nor would I want them to pretend they see me as being more masculine just to make me feel better. Though a little sympathy and consideration would be nice :)

If I was born around the 40 mark on the male side of this graph then to some extent I'll always be around that mark, whatever I do - though there is some fluidity, and I may be able to move myself a little one way or the other. Plus, because I'm comfortably on the male side, I'll always be male. And my underlying physiology will always be male, no matter how extremely I try to change this.

So, people can become more feminine or masculine, but the only people who can truly move from the male side to the female side (or vice versa) are the people born around the middle of this chart.

Of course, it should also be noted that there are people who are born with actual physical hermaphroditism. Where their gender is physically undefined or difficult to define. There are also other genetic conditions such as Klinefelter syndrome that can result in hormonal problems. (These issues go beyond the scope of this article and my knowledge on such topics is very limited. So my apologies to anyone reading this if I've misunderstood or misrepresented these issues in any way.)

My own feeling is that people born with actual physical, biological conditions that result in gender issues are often under-represented in the debates surrounding this topic. I feel it's important that everyone on all sides of the argument appreciate that in some cases these decisions are forced upon people, and the parents of people born with such conditions, through no choice of their own.

As for the more contentious issue of people that are born with no such physical condition, but who feel that they have been assigned, or have been born into the wrong gender, this is a slightly different matter. My honest position is one of scepticism. How can someone define what it feels like to be a certain gender? Or how a female brain thinks in a way that is fundamentally different to how a man would think? How can someone make this judgement without it being anything other than subjective? I may feel I think like a man, but without experiencing life through the eyes of another man, or indeed the eyes of a woman, how can I make a relative judgement?

However, saying this, I am very much open to the possibility that some people may have this exact experience, and may feel like the opposite sex from a very early age. I know one transgender person in my real everyday life who claims to have always felt "like a girl" from as young as three years old. I remain sceptical though.

What I would say is that I think it's fundamentally wrong for parents to allow children to be given gender reassignment medication or medical treatment if it's simply based on such feelings. To base such important and serious decisions on something so subjective, without any objective physical evidence to back that up is very dangerous and irresponsible in my opinion.

Of course, that's not to say that I have an issue with adults doing such things for the same reasons. In a free society adults should always have the freedom to change their own body as they wish, and I would always defend a persons right to do so - though I may disagree with their choices at times myself. However, to put an otherwise physically healthy child through such treatment is something I'm very much opposed to, and I can't stress that enough in this article.

I also feel uncomfortable with the idea of telling children that their gender is fluid in school lessons. Especially if it gives the impression that it's perfectly easy to transition from one sex to another. I think gay and lesbian children will be particularly confused by such talk. It's not too hard to imagine that a young girl, noticing that she's attracted to other girls and not boys, could easily come to the erroneous conclusion that she's a boy trapped in a girls body. The idea that it's easy and completely routine to make such a transition would no doubt make the temptation to think such thoughts even more likely.

People often point out that sexual preference and gender are two different things, and they're quite right to do so. However, there is a little bit of correlation between the two. Obviously sex and gender are quite heavily linked - the very purpose of sex in nature being to procreate. So the two issues can't ever be completely separated.

It's also interesting to note, though I may be wandering a little off topic here, that there are benefits and disadvantages to being born on all parts of the gender and sexual spectrum. It could also be argued that it's beneficial to society to have people from all parts of it.

In my general experience there seems to be a bit of a balanced relationship between sex and creativity. For example, at both ends of the spectrum we have the same stereotypical image - at one end the dizzy, ditzy, but attractive woman, and at the other end the ape-like dominant male. The stereotypical bimbo and the stereotypical jock. Now both these stereotypes are generalisations and perhaps a little bit unfair as well. However, there is some truth to these generalisations, and in a general sense at least I think most people would agree they recognise these stereotypes. The people at the extreme ends of the gender spectrum also tend to be the people who are more successful with the opposite sex, and more likely to settle down and have children. A very important job in society of course.

Alternately we can also see that people towards the middle of this spectrum tend to be more creative and academic. Most pop stars and musicians, both male and female, have a tendency towards the androgynous. This is quite clear to see from Bowie to Lady Gaga and so on. Also, if you imagine say, a science laboratory, you'll probably notice that most the men working there are a little more on the geeky side than the musclebound. And likewise the women there will tend to be more serious than girly. Again these are stereotypical generalisations, and there are of course countless exceptions to the rule. There is though a certain truth to these observations.

Returning to myself. Though it's a little disappointing that I'll never be considered the most rough and manly of males to many of the women I meet. At the same time I probably wouldn't be sat here writing this article if I was more of a stereotypical unthinking hulk. There are benefits to both positions, and neither are necessarily right or wrong - just different. Wider society probably benefits from having this variation too.

The natural influence sexual desire has on society means that it can be hard for people outside the statistical norms of both sex and gender. We all have this innate desire to be found attractive. Or even just to simply fit in. So if we don't fit the norm it can be difficult, and the further from the norm the harder it often gets. Consequently the small fraction of people that are born on the blurred line of the gender divide often have it hardest of all. So it's important that such people are given the utmost consideration by wider society. However, it's also important that honest consideration is given. The reality is that there may be no easy answers for people born in such difficult positions. Pretending everyone is equally normal doesn't really work in real life. It just creates a false facade over an already existing reality.

I also worry that our desire to normalise people that are statistically-speaking not normal is kind of missing the point a little bit. Maybe this otherness should be acknowledged as other and celebrated as such. Androgynous rock stars are not normal people, and if everyone was normal there would be no such rock stars. Or poets, or painters, or original thinkers.

There are benefits to being different as well as negative consequences. Maybe both these aspects need to be considered when we think about the type of society we'd like to live in. I often think of how in India people born with physical differences are worshipped as gods. I'm not sure how true this is, or how practically useful this would be in reality, but in some ways it does seem like a more healthy attitude to have. Maybe it's because of our inherited western mindset that we have this situation where if a child is born, let's say hermaphrodite, we see the need to medicate the "problem" away so no one ever sees it, and so that the child can go through life appearing perfectly normal to everyone else.

Maybe if we had a different cultural heritage having a friend that was hermaphrodite would be no different to having a friend that was gay or lesbian. Maybe it would just be another natural variation of the human type.

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