Came across a post the other day which gave one of the best summaries of Gender, Sex, and Orientation I’ve seen in a while. A nifty infographic is linked here, and the feature image for this post is a snip from it.
Sally Raskoff’s post is linked here. She writes:
With more cross-cultural, biological, and social science research on the subtleties and issues in how sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual attraction (or orientation), we can see that these issues are all much more complex than we are taught. Other cultures have more than two genders yet our dominant social norms either do not recognize these categories at all or consider them to be viable or valid realities.
I urge everyone regardless of how much you think you know about gender and sex to spend a few minutes with her post. I’ve wanted to post about this since I saved Raskoff’s post, but what better justification for why this is so important, than the ongoing junk about outing Aaron Schock. John Aravosis at Americablog is using the way Schock dresses (and that he has a buff gym body) as proof that the guy is gay. This is little more than tired, old, stereotypical, and meaningless stuff. However, it touches on the need to really grasp gender and gender expression while recognizing how gender expression and sexual orientation are not one in the same thing.
John’s point is that he is trying to justify his efforts to out Aaron Schock. My point is that the way he dresses is all about his fashion taste and gender expression not his sexual orientation. But battling John’s archaic ideas about men, masculinity, sexual orientation and fashion are not useful. In fact I think trying to perpetuate the idea that you can tell someone is gay by how they dress is a step backwards for LGBTQ Rights.
Cis and Trans
One thing Raskoff does well is identify Cis and Trans, and how or why these terms have meaning. I vividly remember the very first time I became aware of the notion of “cis.” someone had referred to me that way in a comment to a blog post, and I had a conversation with a trans friend about it. The word was used in a dismissive and othering way. Sort of like saying, you’re not trans, so what would you know. Left me feeling pretty bad, but I also came to understand that it doesn’t have to be seen as dismissive or devaluing. Words can be weapons in anyone’s hands, or they can be tools to help create greater understanding.
The term “cisgender” has emerged in the last few years as a counterpart to “transgender” for a number of reasons. To normalize the transgender (or trans*) identities, one must have a label for the previously normative category. Trans with an asterisk (trans*) is emerging as a useful term to capture all the categories of experience and identity that exist outside the traditional cisgender definition. Thus, transgender, transsexual, and many other terms can be acknowledged and included when using the trans* label.
For me, it was the beginning (though was it the beginning or simply a step upon a path?) at trying to recognize how my world view was so entirely based in my own experience, and the way to see the bigger picture was to listen to, and try to understand another’s viewpoint. and I am so outside of the trans experience, that I benefit myself, what I write and others by owning my experience as cis. I really like this part of her post:
Our society’s heteronormativity is a form of prejudice based on privilege and on how gendered power is structured into our society. Heteronormativity and homophobia are potent tools for men to remain the dominant group over women (and “non-masculine” men).
Gendered power, that’s an awesome idea to ponder. This passage is directly related to what Aravosis s trying to perpetuate as he pushes the idea of gaydar:
Sexual orientation is really about sexual intimacy, not gender identity or expression. This is why “gaydar” is not usually accurate – it is not possible to identify heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or asexuality simply by looking at someone and how they express their gender identity. If someone is wearing a rainbow shirt that carries a positive message about being gay and/or lesbian, that doesn’t even mean that that person may be gay or lesbian. Such a person may simply be an ally, “straight but not narrow” as the saying goes.
One off the reasons, I’m a big fan of the acronym, LGBTQ, is that is suggests inclusivity of a great degree of diversity without prioritizing any one part of the whole over the other. Sure, the letters are in an order, but I’m not sure if that really suggests any one thing or another. Gay and gaydar are both terms that exclude and carry connotations that aren’t really very helpful today, or in thinking about changes to the heteronormativity of the status quo. Cis may include gay men and lesbian women, and therefor be familiar, but at the same time, it can seem foreign. I think that foreign-ness is highly important because it enables one to open their eyes and see things from a different vantage point.