The overtly innocuous gender labels, male and female, entrench a destructive divide in our society that far too often distorts our unique individuality. Multi-layered myths and false fantasies encompass gender labels that males and females share nothing in common. So what assumptions are implicit in these labels and/or are they just a social convenience to fit us neatly into a frame of reference?
The Macquarie Dictionary suggests a clear message of difference: male as masculine equals strong, and pertains to reproduction with the female element. Female as feminine equals weak, ‘a human being… which conceives and brings forth young’. Based on biology, and extreme physical assumptions it seems, our physicality defines our gender, but what psychology prevails in our society where the commonality of males’ and females’ attitudes, values, thoughts, behaviours and feelings are so often shrouded in selective exclusivity; our sexuality apparently playing havoc with our humanness, trapping us in our own genitalia and unable to appreciate what we share together as human beings?
Should we perhaps define ourselves as androgynous, embodying both the masculine and feminine with gender specificity irrelevant or even transgender, highlighting that physicality can contradict psychology. Moreover, when an individual’s sexuality is not the defining element in their psyche, what does that make of the male/female divide? In his 1972 book, Ways of Seeing, art critic John Berger, wrote ‘Seeing comes before words …It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words..(but) the way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe….’
What then are our knowledge and beliefs based on when we extrapolate from the particular to the general and are we unconsciously perhaps hoping to understand both males and females as part of a specific gender? Constantly pressured with words and images about gender difference, we become easy prey to gender propaganda dictating how we should feel, think and behave as individual males and females.
The 2014 landmark Australian High Court decision affirming that Norrie, a person, could be legally regarded as of ‘non-specific’ gender suggests a more salutary wisdom to be appreciated beyond legality per se. On one level, it makes a mockery of our manifest gender specific divide, implying, albeit with subtlety, that maybe we should all adopt that identity definition irrespective of our sexual diversity or preferences. Norrie’s issue was however physiologically inspired, but on another level, the court’s ruling also implies that gender specific identification can often obfuscate who we are, what we want, need and what we feel like beyond our sexuality, engendering stereotyped scripts for males and females to pursue in life.
Specialists have implored others to consider transgender people as human beings in recognition for their internal feelings, not how they appear physically. This quest for a human dimension would help destroy the double think about our gender definitive extremes, which too often limit our aspirations and perceptions, exemplified very lucidly by the same-sex marriage debate. Furthermore, maybe the transgender label can epitomise how many of us feel; not because we feel ‘trapped’ in the wrong body physically, but because our minds psychologically relate in different ways and at different times with the so-called opposite gender. Indeed, we may not necessarily be consciously ‘seeing’ that other as male or female but as a human being we can empathise with; gender non-specific.
There has been much discussion about gender-specific toys, and while I played with dolls, even making them clothes and basking in their beauty, football, politics and sex were my passionate obsessions, but as an adolescent in the 60s, these interests were regarded as male-only domains. Was I crossing the gender divide in a manner that defied the so-called female norm and how significant was that? I was also an avid reader, often relating to male characters’ thoughts and feelings as much as to females, though my sexuality always inclined me to males so I never felt ‘trapped’ in the wrong body as transgender people articulate. What ‘trapped’ me was the label ‘female’ with its sanctioned social norms about what I should be focusing on in my life, where my interests were assumed as distorted, albeit ‘genderfied’, to supposedly determine my destiny. At that time, confusion reigned inside me, as well as others, about who I really was.
We should stop and think that there can be as many similarities between the sexes as there supposedly is within them and conversely, that there can be as many differences within the sexes as there supposedly is between them! Hopefully, mutual respect as ‘non-specific’ human beings with our sexuality irrelevant in the perceptions, understandings and intelligence about us might render gender a no-brainer so we can celebrate being human instead.