Good little neutrois?
Time for some more gender reflections, I think.
The other day I said something about gender being both a social construct and a personal one. Society decides basic gender roles and gendered behaviour, but within those specified roles there is usually at least some flexibility (I nearly said “wiggle room”, but that could have caused a few mental images of the sort that were more mental than others), which means that you get to define, at least to some extent, how you’re going to interpret being whichever gender society throws at you. Now sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes the gender you get thrown at you is such a poor fit, and the opposite gender such a good fit, that you simply can’t deal with it, and that makes you transgender. But once you realise you’re transgender, you then get to define how you interpret being the gender you’re more comfortable with. Whether it’s the one you were expected to be or the opposite one, there is always a certain amount of personal interpretation – or, as I called it the other day, customisation – going on, unless you live in a society with extremely restrictive gender norms. Such societies are usually particularly hard on people who are biologically female and therefore expected to be female-gendered, but it’s also worth pointing out that societies which force women into heavily restrictive gender norms also tend to be intolerant towards anyone who deviates from any gender norm in any way.
Even in more tolerant societies, there is still quite a lot of social pressure to be a good little boy or a good little girl, because boys and girls are what we’re used to. Even though a lot of parents consciously try to counter the pressure and allow their children a free choice of toys (and sometimes clothes, though perhaps to a slightly lesser extent), that pressure is still pretty ubiquitous. You’ve only got to walk into any toy shop or children’s clothes section to see that, and in fact children’s stuff is considerably more gendered now than it was when I was a little girl, not less. I don’t think I even had anything pink after babyhood, except for one jumper which was definitely not sugar pink or Barbie pink, but full-on film-fogging fuchsia (a shade I still really like). I was never very bothered about dolls, although I did like my Action Girl, who got to wear practical stuff and have various adventures rescuing the cuddly gonks when they had wandered into difficulties; most of the things I liked were pretty non-gendered, thinking about it. Well, if you don’t count the racing cars, but since those were a nuisance to grown-ups (the track took up most of the hall) I wasn’t allowed to play with those very often anyway, and it was a real treat when I was. I did enjoy my little cars.
But neutrois is… interesting. Neutrois is the one gender that you get to define completely the way you want it, because there is nobody around trying to tell you how to be a good little neutrois. You obviously don’t get colour-coded from the word go, largely because nobody expects you to be neutrois at the word go; you get gendered according to your biological sex, or, if you’re hermaphrodite or intersex, you get gendered according to whatever seems most suitable (which may mean “most convenient”). And it’s not an unreasonable default assumption. When you’re born, you can’t gender yourself; most people are cisgender, and most people are going to end up having a use for a gender once they hit puberty. So if you’re going to subscribe to the view that everyone needs a gender from birth, it’s reasonable to gender infants in that way.
What is not so reasonable is to assume that your initial default assumption is automatically going to hold true once the person is capable of gendering hirself.
I’m actually starting to question the idea that everyone needs to be gendered from birth in the first place. I don’t see that society would collapse if we all started using neutral pronouns for kids until they made up their own minds. It’s true that you would then get some kids who decided that they were a girl today, a boy tomorrow, maybe a boy for the next week, then a girl again for three or four days, then “I think I’m going to be both”, then just a girl, then neither, then… well, you know what I’m saying. Of course that would get confusing for the adults around them. Fine. We’re adults. We should be able to handle a bit of confusion by now. I actually suspect that if we did this, most kids would decide fairly early that their gender lined up with their biological sex and things wouldn’t be greatly different, except that there would be much less force-feeding of gender roles going on. If everyone is clear that it’s the child who gets to decide hir gender, and to do so exactly when ze is ready and not before, then all of a sudden the adult who tries to push a rigid gender role on the child is the one who is obviously out of line, not the adult who is trying to allow experimentation and choice.
This is an interesting byway and one that I think is worth following, but it doesn’t address the specific issue I’m working on at the moment, which is this. Do I:
- continue to consider myself as basically female, given the fact that I have enough freedom to interpret “female” in a way that reasonably reflects who I am;
- consider myself neutrois and construct a gender identity which exactly reflects who I am, but which then needs a lot of explaining to other people;
- do both, and define myself as genderqueer on the scale between female and neutrois;
- or vacillate, and be female in some situations and neutrois in others? (And, if I adopt this one, what would it even mean to vacillate in this way?)
This quadrilemma, to coin a word, brings up another head of the genderhydra: how far, exactly, can/does a person choose hir gender? If you are strongly transgender or strongly cisgender, especially if it’s the former, you probably feel that you have no choice at all; there is one gender with which you identify, and that is your gender whether you like it or not. I’d be interested to gather the thoughts of a few genderqueer people here. Do you wake up on a particular morning and just feel that you’re a certain gender today (or more of one gender than another), but it changes over time? Or do you identify with more than one gender and feel that you can, to a greater or lesser extent, choose which one suits you today, as you can with your gender presentation?
As for me, I don’t know. There are still more questions than answers. All I know is that I’m having a really interesting time asking the questions.