UNITED STATES – In the beginning, there was biology. In biology sexual reproduction happened. For various reasons, usually called natural selection, sex was a heck of a good thing for the diversification and adaptation of different forms of life to different types of habitats. The essential and most important part of sex is when the genetic inheritance of individual A meets and associates with the inheritance of individual B, and produces offspring C, who is not an exact copy of either A or B.
Everybody is with me so far, I am sure. In basic, or primitive kinds of life, the sexual congress is left largely to chance. Individual organisms devote a huge portion of their energy toward producing astronomical numbers of eggs or sperm and cast them into the winds or currents and hope that they will fruitfully combine. As creatures evolved, they invented things like instincts, intelligence and the Internet in an attempt to impose some kind of order on chaos so that the right A can meet the right B, and produce the optimal C with less expenditure of energy and effort.
Most higher life forms engage in a direct physical mating to reduce the volume of reproductive material they must produce. So, given a population of possible mates, what is the best method for weeding out the unacceptable matches and narrowing down the field to the most ideal or beneficial mates? Different animals have evolved traits that made it easier for other members of their own species to decide if they are a good possible mate. They evolved different physical characteristics for males and females so that they looked, smelled, or sounded different. They evolved behaviors that would give an inquiring potential mate a clue whether they were currently sexually available, or a worthwhile mate.
We are apes, and apes have many ways of showing their sexual colors. Some of what humans use to show this we call gender expression. It is a construct that is composed of all kinds of things, from important pieces like body parts, to really inconsequential learned trivialities, like how we move our eyebrows. We are social animals, too, so we evolve social norms and rules to enforce them. We are complicated animals with a hodgepodge of social traditions from all kinds of times and places. Much of this structure doesn’t strictly make a whole lot of sense in the 21st century developed world, but at some time or place in the past it was really important to someone, and maybe even useful.
When we were little kids, when we survived infancy and it seemed relative possible we might live long enough to make our own kids someday, we were taught by our parents and our teachers and most of all by our friends a whole bunch of stuff about how to be a successful person and how to succeed in having sex. We were taught to look a certain way, stand a certain way, wear these kinds of clothes and go to these kinds of places for fun. The basic theory is that we were learning how to be able to make updated inexact replicas of our folks.
Daddies are like this and they like Mommies. Mommies are like this and they like Daddies. Very simple and more or less true in general. Of course, in specific (when speaking of individuals) it may be totally and spectacularly inaccurate, wrong and harmful. This is particularly true for people whose main ambition in life is not having as many children as possible. Like I said, it is complex because we are.
A person’s gender expression is a series of things: dress, including fashion, demeanor, behavior and expectation that a person has associated with themselves. Its purpose is to make an impression on other people, particularly other people who might be potential mates. It has an ultimate purpose. It is supposed to bring those to whom one is attracted closer and to move those to whom one is not attracted further away. We learn what other people are attracted to and we think we know who we are attracted to, so logically we try to exhibit the traits that will draw those to whom we are attracted to, to us. Except that we’re not so very logical.
We form likings for things, and attachments to things, that are honestly inappropriate for our current situations. We see something that someone we like or admire does and we try to imitate some part of that in some way ourselves. Fashion happens. Good and bad experiences happen, which may or may not be connected to these gender expressions we were exhibiting, but which get associated in our minds with those things.
In all honesty, it is a mess when viewed close up. Many people don’t try and analyze it or understand it. They go out there and do what seems good and natural and if they’re lucky it ends up in somebody’s bed and they both have fun.
What really makes trouble is that in addition to being able to think about things in a complex way we try to make things simple again by grouping them under labels to make stuff easier to understand. Labels cause an awful lot of trouble. The minute we start saying that behavior X is a masculine behavior and that behavior Y is a feminine behavior we are defining what people are now, were then and always should be. That is often harmful and inaccurate.
It is a simple fact that there are two biological sexes that cover the overwhelming majority of all who have been or ever will be human beings. In order to orderly procreate, we, as instinctual animals first, then as tribal apes, then as civilized denizens of urban centers, created a variety of different cultural, legal and social frameworks to take a lot of the guesswork and embarrassment out of sex. It ain’t perfect. It ain’t logical. It ain’t even accurate some of the time. But it’s like traffic laws: we all know them, and we mostly obey them just to avoid headaches and body shop bills.
There are few civil laws, anymore, that constrain an individual to conform to a gender, but there are consequences to changing one’s gender expression and it is surprising that more people do not seem to be able to see the woods for the trees when they start changing their gender expression. Any number of people can be heard moaning about not being accepted because of their non-standard gender. Sometimes what they’re really complaining about is that they can’t seem to find people they are attracted to who are attracted to them.
Years ago, I used to give people advice about how to interview well for jobs they wanted. One of the things I told them was to be clear and direct in their answers, to not be afraid of coming down on one side of the fence or the other. While it may be true that you might put yourself on the wrong side of the fence and not be hired, it is possible you will land on the right side and get the job. Some people even get hired for being on the wrong side of the fence. But no one ever got hired for being stuck on the fence. Gender can be a lot like that.
It’s a pity we can’t seem to have a human world where everybody can be themselves, and we can all get along. Where everybody has a lot of good sex, and nobody gets hurt. Where people get enough of what they need, and nobody gets too much. But in the real world, we are who we are, and we put on a face to meet those other faces we meet every day. We do what we have to do to get by and when we get home we just want a little peace and quiet and maybe a cat.
I am sorry, but no one is masculine because they like to play baseball. No one is feminine because they wear dresses. Being a man is not about beer and football. Being a woman is not about makeup or clothes sense. Being a man is not about dominance or violence. Women are not naturally submissive or afraid.
The biggest divide between this idea and much of the transgender community’s mantra, is that many of them operate on the theory that there are things that make you a woman and other things that make you a man. I think that there are things that make you human and that men and women share these traits. It isn’t a binary, it never was. If it is anything, it is a spectrum, from one extreme that no one really is, to another extreme that no one really is. People fall all over this spectrum and we all move about on it depending on where we are, what we are doing, what is important to us, who we want to be with, and where we want to be.
In our 21st century society we have certain things that usually fall into the male side of the spectrum or the female side, but those are guidelines, not rules. And those guidelines are getting broader and fuzzier every year, which is a good thing. In a just world they should overlap completely, and give people the social freedom to be, and to be with, whomever they please.
Some feminists detest the transgender mantra because it seems to be going in the other direction: teaching people that there ARE always essential, immutable and important differences between men and women and that therefore equality between men and women is an impossibility. Separate but equal is not a worthwhile goal, it never works, ever. To say that men and women are essentially different, which implies unequal, and can never really be the same or equal is, in my opinion, hate speech. It is on a par with saying that Jews are inferior to Christians or that Asians are innately superior to Caucasians. All those things are intrinsically inaccurate, arrogant, and just plain wrong. And to the extent that trans people support the notion of essential differences between men and women, they are just plain wrong.
All humans are not the same, and we never should be the same, but our differences should be our strength – diversity. We should build on that diversity to make us something greater than the sum of our constituent parts. Recognizing and celebrating real diversity is the best way to ensure that no one is unequal in employment, opportunity, human rights, or dignity – nor on any other basis.