Hi Oly! I’ve been thinking about gender and identity a lot recently and I’m just really confused about my own. Like, I get that there are trans people who got sex dysphoria and that doesn’t apply to me but I also read stuff about dysphoria not being the only thing to define gender. But what is it then? Because I don’t think it’s gender roles, right? What IS gender? How do you know whether you feel female / male / something else?
Wow, ok. Big question. Well first and foremost we need to agree that gender is a culture bound concept. American culture operates with two pretty rigid genders (masculinity being more rigid, I would say… there’s always more wiggle room outside of the role that receives privilege). Other cultures use a binary system, but a lot don’t. Even those that use a binary system don’t necessarily have the same categorization that we do, nor the same strictness about people adhering to the gender they are assigned. Gender is… there’s only so many times you can say “gender is a social construct” before it sounds like nails on a chalkboard but that’s what it is. Your understandings of “male” and “female” are dependent on the fact that you grew up in this culture that have these structures for gender. It’s reinforced ad nauseum by tropes in media and weird pointless dichotomies. It is sold to us in a really simple, easily consumable but heavily flawed and skewed way that erases a lot of people and doesn’t encourage personal growth. So.
So, how do you know what you feel like. That’s really complicated! I mean, I don’t think it’s too oversimplifying for me to say that generally, trans people discover their identification as trans because something feels wrong about the way they are being gendered. And that can include physical issues, but it doesn’t have to. Bodies are incredibly gendered, but so are actions, affects, aesthetics, etc. Maybe you are assigned female but something in your core screams male. Maybe you were assigned male but you feel out of place in the gender category you’ve been dumped in, and the “other side” doesn’t look too hot either. It’s a feeling of discomfort that permeates your experience as a person in a gendered society. I think something that’s also happening more with the increased visibility of trans narratives is cis people who are relatively apathetic about their identification taking a step back and thinking, “Do I actually identify this way? Why do I identify this way? What informed this? Would I be more comfortable being seen as something else?” It’s something that absolutely deserves experimentation, and if you’re feeling so… vague about it, I 100% encourage you to explore that. I hope it’s something that you play around with and find something productive in! Gender is weird and a pretty paper-thin structure that I am all for poking holes in.