What the heck IS gender anyway?

I’m a transgender woman. This blog is about my perspective on gender and sexuality. I would gladly chat with someone about gender more-or-less continuously for days on end. The funny thing about real life is that people eventually get sick of you talking about your hobby horse. It’s like sitting and listening to your Aunt Mable talking about her knitting club. “Yes, I get it, Aunt Mable. Gertrude has an interesting pattern for a sweater. Please for the love of god can we talk about something else now?!”

Plus, I don’t really want to position myself as trans in the real world. To a lot of people, it’s like saying, “Hi, I’m not a real woman.” Wow, gotta love that, huh? No thanks.

But I do have plenty I want to say, and lots of questions about gender and what gender is all about. For cisgender people who are fine with their assigned gender, there’s really no reason to question what gender is. But for me at least, as I’ve finally come to terms with identifying as a female, the concept of gender has become increasingly strange. When the world is nice and tidy, and there are only two kinds of people, boys and girls, gender is pretty straightforward. It’s a sign for what parts are between your legs. But when your own experience doesn’t match up to that, and you start to meet some trans- and gender-non-conforming folks who don’t nicely fit into boxes, gender gets a lot messier.

I have no idea what gender is about. No really. It’s a lot of what I spend my day thinking about. Like being questioned by Socrates, what I thought I knew ended up not being accurate.

Why do I feel more comfortable going to work every day in women’s clothing than in men’s? When someone at the store says, “Thank you ma’am,” why does it produce an involuntary smile? What does it mean that society divides people into “he” and “she,” and why does it matter so deeply to me?

The answer is because I’m trans.

I can’t get any further back behind it than that, though I’ve tried. Well maybe it’s because of something that happened to me in my youth? So I probe that experience in my mind, asking myself why I behaved in a certain way. And the answer inevitably goes something like this: that experience came out of my feelings about girls; my feelings about girls arose from wishing I could be one; I wished I could be one because… oh, because I’m trans. The end conclusion is that I’m trans because I’m trans. Dang. Dead end.

I hate gender. I love gender. I’m mad at gender. I can’t stop thinking about gender. I loathe thinking about gender. Gender saved my life and gender messed up my life. What is gender? I have no idea. But whatever it is, it matters. It matters a lot.