July 16, 2011

Gender: WTF Does It Mean?

Recently, I read Julia Serano's Whipping Girl and Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw, and they have me thinking.

Serano considers gender identity - femaleness, maleness, femininity, masculinity - to be to some extent innate, in part because of her own experience growing up socialized male but with an unavoidable sense of her own femaleness. Bornstein, on the other hand, comes to the conclusion that all of gender is a social construct, and our own sense of ourselves as one or the other is just a result of buying into an inherently oppressive system.

A woman at my office to talked to all of us HRC interns about trans issues described gender identity of how we understand ourselves in relation to social categories of maleness and femaleness, which could encompass a little bit of each of Serano's and Bornstein's ideas, and which I found very helpful.

But all of that has me thinking. I consider myself both female and feminine, and this is a pretty important part of how I identify, but I've never given a lot of thought to what it means, to me, to be female or feminine. I've been going around asking my friends, and I've been surprised at the diversity of answers I've gotten - female friends who consider themselves more masculine, or equally both, or neither, but rarely one or the other, and always having put significant consideration into it. (I haven't had a chance to chat with any men about it yet.) For myself, when I try to define my femininity, the first images that come to mind are Belle from Beauty and the Beast, fairies, and the photo I have on my wall of girls about my age in a Victorian women's sports association, but obviously that doesn't explain anything.

So that's been at the front of my mind lately, and I want to keep exploring that question - what does being female/feminine mean to me? How do other people identify, and what does it mean to them? I'll be putting up posts as I come up with more thoughts on the subject, and I hope you'll join the conversation and tell me about your own experiences!

In fact, if you want to write about what you think on the topic of gender and gender identity, e-mail me at katie@casey.com; I'd love to share some other perspectives on the blog!

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