By Zani Wilson
The barber thought I was trans. I watched him contemplate my hairline more quizzically than usual as I told him I was writing this. It probably didn’t help that I’d been booked in as ‘Alexandra’ by the lady on the phone. Bearded and bloke-like, Alexandra I was not.
Anyway, why am I writing about gender? Well, the other day I had a conversation with Anna Gibbs (who edits the creative writing section of Palatinate) on the subject and it seemed to me an interesting and important one. She asked if I could write about it and impetuously I said that I could.
It’s approximately half chance, whether you’re born male or female (51% and 49%). Gender identity is more subjective and takes longer to develop. As well as prenatal factors, nature and nurture in early childhood are thought to influence the gender (if any) with which a person comes to identify. Children encounter the gender ideals attributed to either sex and ask the question ‘do I fit into prescribed cultural gender norms?’. Well they don’t say that do they Zani? No, of course not. That would be ridiculous. But they think it.
Some people don’t identify with either set of gender norms. Some do but it’s not the set typically associated with their sex. I haven’t personally felt alienated by the gender norms associated with being a guy. But I have felt personally victimized by Regina George and that says something. I remember in primary school I used to love playing football at break times. But I always thought playing houses and plaiting hair looked like great fun too and I would’ve been well up for that. I told that to my ex once and she said she found it attractive.
That reminds me of the lyric in Loud Places by Jamie XX: “I go to loud places to search for someone to be quiet with.” It seems to suggest that what people look for when they find and choose partners often isn’t the stuff that matters in a relationship. How does that relate to gender? Well I think caring too much for gender ideals is like going to the loud places.
I’m interested to know what we stand to gain by having these two sets of norms with which to identify. I think identifying as anything can offer a sense of stability, connection and empowerment. However, all identities have limitations in the extreme and I’d contend that, despite the changes in gender roles in the last century, gender expectations remain inflexible and overbearing. A society that doesn’t impose gender ideals, but allows people the freedom to incorporate or forgo ‘gendered’ characteristics according to a personal identity sounds like the right kind of society.
Illustration: Anna Gibbs