“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.”
Simone de Beauvoir
When I started to write for this blog I knew I wanted to post something of substance on transphobia, and speak about the amazingly brave members of the transgendered community. We talk about homophobia, female oppression, racism, but we don’t talk about the lovely members of our trans community enough, at least in my opinion. When I started to research this post I realized, something that I already knew from taking gender studies in university, is that the topic of transgender people and indeed the idea of gender overall is complicated. So I thought it best to start of with a little bit of background before I dive into the nitty gritty. I don’t consider myself an expert in gender by any standard and I am constantly learning new gender theory and reading new research, like many other topics it is constantly growing and changing. As a disclaimer, what I am writing is not something I am proclaiming to be the one and only truth. There are many theories about gender and I realize that I am focusing mostly on the idea of preformative gender. Gender is a complex and often hot-button topic to discuss and I do not wish to offend anyone’s personal beliefs on the topic.
For a lot of people, myself included, when you delve into the topic of the “idea” of gender it requires you to let go of ideas you may have held into your mind to be true. For most people gender is being born with a penis or a vagina and that defines who you are, right down from whether you will play with dolls, or trucks to whether you will be a construction worker, or a nurse. The concept of gender, in many theories, is something that we, as a culture and society have created; a social construction. We have created roles for each gender to preform and we begin teaching these roles from the second a new life is born. I mean, really think about it, what is the first thing we say about a baby when they are born? “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” These beautiful new babies are wrapped in blue or pink blankets, adorned in gender appropriate sleepers and from that moment on they are taught to preform their gender for the rest of their lives. It begins with toys, and the colours of their nurseries, it’s in their names, and their clothes. It’s in the books they read, and the shows and movies they watch on television. It’s something that we act out our whole lives, it’s in the careers we aspire to, it’s in the people we choose as our life partners. Our gender is like a play we preform everyday, complete with costumes and makeup, movements and stage directions. When someone doesn’t fit comfortably into their respective roles we have names for them: tomboys, butch, a sissy or a nancy. These words are meant to hurt and ostracize people who just don’t fit in to one gender or another. These particular descriptive words are often used to describe children, and more often than not are used by adults, sometimes talking about other people’s children, and sometimes even talking about their own. They call out parents who haven’t done a good enough job teaching their children their appropriate roles, or berate their own kids for not acting out the parts that they have been taught to play. Of course the gendered roles differ per individual, and flow and change depending upon race, culture, class and sexuality, but for the most part there are distinct differences between they way males and females are treated.
While this is a very basic look at preformative gender, and gender as a social construction we can use it to build a base on which we can begin to talk about transphobia and the amazing journeys of transgendered peoples.
If you have an interest in learning more about the gender theory I have glanced at here I highly recommend the groundbreaking book Gender Trouble, by Judith Butler. It’s deep and complex often hard to wrap your head around, but it is well worth it.