Gender is an outrageously complicated thing. I’ve been trying to figure it out since I was barely pubescent, and I barely have down the basics. And even those basics are really, really weird. In order to have any kind of grasp on it, I have to believe that gender is (at least) three things simultaneously.
1. Gender is a spectrum, a kind of mental flavor, that intellectualists would scoff at and that on the streets is a vital people-reading skill, much like fluency in body language and intuition. Gender is not a continuum; it’s a complete three-dimensional realm all on its own that most people don’t notice because they’re too busy living it. Because of the huge amounts of variation, gender very rarely correlates to any kind of physical attribute (including sex), but because sex/gender correlation is assumed too often to actually be explained, most people assume that their gender just matches their sex.
2. In greater society, gender is a mental sensation that correlates exactly to your physical sex, unless you’re a freak. Even among many of those “freaks,” though, gender correlates to sex; it just may be the opposite socially-defined sex. Gender is binary (masculine/feminine) except in very rare cases.
3. Gender is a binary-segregated pattern of behaviors that you are indoctrinated into from the day you’re born based on the sex you’re assigned, most of which are unconscious or automatic. You can have gendered behaviors that do not match your gender/sex identity. Gender behavior goes way beyond “male” and “female” and instead defines “maleness” and “femaleness,” which are (again) behavior sets that are then conflated with both social gender laws (masculine/feminine) in addition to sex (male/female) so it all seems very “natural.”
All of these things can be true, because you have to take into account more than just personal or social realities. And often they’re still quite contradictory. You can be a woman who happened to be born with male genitals, because gender is a personal and behavioral reality as well; you can also be a male-bodied person who identifies as female, but acts with male-socialized behaviors. You can be an FTM who identifies as both transsexual and genderqueer (or insert gender-variant-label here) and vice versa. Sex, sexual, and gender identity, like most identities, are convoluted at best for most people.
You can feel like a woman and still act like a man. You can feel like a man and still act like a woman. You can feel like a complete freak and revolve around any one of those. That’s just reality. It’s messy, sometimes unsanitary, more often just strange, and occasionally unpleasant.
So, no. For the record, I don’t think that your gender must match the body you were born into. For the record, I don’t believe that “women” can never be “men” and vice versa, because it’s inaccurate; women and men are not biological realities—they’re social ones. For the record, I’m not saying that your genitals are or should be inescapable. A lot of people seem to think I have, which confuses me, because I’m not sure whether to feel sad or contemptuous. Nuance—detail, variation, innumerable shades of color and texture and flavor—is the way of the world. I can’t accept “men are men and women are women, period” any more than I can accept the idea that one person’s inner reality should override the perception of everyone else—that, for example, a transsexual person that the right to demand everyone accept their identity as a particular social caste when they’re acting like the opposite social caste all over the place, especially when those social castes are defined by behavior—and they’re still participating in the same illusion as everyone else.
I can accept your personal reality as valid while still pointing out that your behavioral reality is at odds with what you believe to be true. I can respect you and still not adopt your worldview wholesale. I can believe you are transsexual and respect that identity while still pointing out that you’re acting with male-socialized behaviors and that those behaviors, regardless of who’s using them, are harmful and wrong. If you can’t understand that, it’s pretty much a problem on your end, not mine.
But more to the point: I learned pretty early on in my internet life* that, even when someone claims to merely want me to accept them as a woman (/man, but rarely), they’re lying out their ass. I can say, “Okay, you’re a woman,” and it won’t be enough. I can say, “I understand it’s hard for you. I understand that you face social pressures and threats that no one should have to face. I understand you have to fight for your identity to be respected,” and it is not enough. I carried on being extremely confused for a while until I realized that it’s not so much about having your identity respected as it is that disagreement on the subject of identity itself—not your identity, ’cause yes, okay, You Are A Woman/Man, since I have never really given two fucks about ovaries and testes—is seen as a threat.
That’s the only conclusion I was able to derive. That, because their politics are integral to their identity, you must agree with their politics in order to respect their identity. And I can’t.
Because in my experience, that means I have to stop thinking about and questioning and developing new layers of nuance and new, better ways to understand the way the human social world works. I have to stop talking about women who were forced to be women, who did not choose it and the attendant oppression that goes along with it, and for whom it was a prison just as much as any forced identity is. It means that I have to adopt the use of “transmisogyny,” even though I’ve never been able to get anyone to explain to me how it’s supposed to differ from either transphobia or misogyny, and similar for “cissexism”—that I have to accept concepts that I believe are unrealistic or simplistic or diversionary.
It means that I have to accept a version of reality that I had to build myself up from in the first place: in order to not be “cissexist,” I have to become ignorant again. I have to regress. I have to give up the personal growth I’ve fought so desperately for, because otherwise a bunch of people will come and be very aggressive and hostile towards me and think badly of me (maybe even talk behind my back!).
What I have been shown it means by these people is that I’m not allowed to have my own identity, and my own way of looking at the world, ultimately so they don’t have to change their way of thinking of the world. Fucking carnists; they’re always insisting vegans are rude to them, or proselytizing, but I never met a carnist that didn’t try to convert me instead of leaving me alone—even when I was over in the corner, calmly eating my smoothie.
I respect your identity, and the suffering that’s been heaped on you from that supposed “deviance.” I also disagree with you. These things are not mutually exclusive; I don’t have to move in lockstep with you so as to not be perpetuating oppression, even and especially if I don’t believe what you do about that oppression. You’re not the only one experiencing it, after all.
It is the most dangerous thing to think you are absolutely right. Because if you do, there’s a high probability you’re wrong.
By the way, negative comments are still welcome, provided you don’t engage in anti-feminist tropes (goodbye, Iambic!), actually explain why it is how you say it is, and otherwise not be a total jerk. (Being a little bit of one is fine.) Some of them are actually pretty good brain-fodder, and one or two have actually been changing my beliefs.
Because I care more about actually being right than just “being right.”
*Because, weirdly enough, it’s only the transfolk active on internet trans communities that act this way. I’ve never known any transdude (yes, it’s a gender-neutral pronoun and I’ll continue using it on literally everyone, deal with it) IRL who’s acted in any way close to this. Is it a problem with the internet transcommunity? Or is it a problem with the internet? I’ve no idea.