Friday, September 4, 2009

Gender theory

I'm not well read on this topic, but I have a tiny bit to say anyways. I'll start to rectify this lack of knowledge, because now that I'll be back in school, I'll be able to get books via inter-library loan. And I won't need to hide books in my car and read them on my break at work any more.

Dyssonance had a long post on "Dogma, Women, and Gender theory."

Here's an extract:

If sex and gender are the same thing, then how you are born is, basically, how you are. Transsexual women are not women all their lives, nor are they women after surgery; they are just men who had surgery under this basis.

In general communication of people outside the realm of transsexuals and their related associatives, this particular understanding is what is still held, because for centuries it was taught to them that way. The concept of gender as separate from sex is relatively new – dating back only about 70 years or so.

And it wasn’t until the very late 1990’s and early 2000’s that the basis for them being separate was proven.

So, to a very real extent, it’s only been about 8 years that the entirety of our understanding of gender has changed.

And Véronique just pointed out that:

The word gender was originally a grammatical term. Words had gender: masculine, feminine, and in some languages neuter. Later, it took on two new meanings: a kind of euphemistic synonym for sex...

In my first post here, I mentioned a class that I took in Fall 2007. The teacher was likely gay, but he didn't state that. Discussing the term "gender", he pointed out that the term only newly exists in French. If you type in "Gender" into Wikipedia, you'll be taken to this page.

The first line of that page is "Gender is a term that refers to the set of characteristics that humans perceive as distinguishing between men and women, extending from one's biological sex to one's social role or gender identity. " Note you have to click the disambiguation page to visit the grammatical gender page.

However, if you type in "Genre" in the French language wikipedia, you come automatically to the disambiguation page. The first listing on that page is for grammatical gender, the second one takes you to the Genus page, and finally the third listing is for Gender(Social sciences).

The first little bit:
Le genre est un concept récent en sciences sociales et en médecine dont on peut simplement appréhender le sens au travers des deux citations suivantes :

* « Le sexe, c'est ce que l'on voit, le genre, c'est ce que l'on ressent » Dr Harry Benjamin[réf. souhaitée]
* « Le genre, c'est ce que l'on pourrait appeler le "sexe social" » Christine Delphy[réf. souhaitée]

Le concept de genre (gender) a été créé dans la langue anglaise car le mot sex y possède un champ sémantique beaucoup plus réduit que le mot « sexe » en français — rendant difficile la présentation de la place des hommes et des femmes dans la société — et sous l'influence des féministes, qui différencièrent le sexe anatomique du genre afin de remettre en cause les contraintes imposées par ce dernier.
Translation: (mine)
Gender is a recent concept in social science and in medicine via these two quotes:

"Sex is what you see, gender is what you feel," Dr. Harry Benjamin
"Gender is what you could call the social sex," Christine Delphy

The concept of gender was created in the English language because the English word sex has a much more reduced semantic field compared to the word "sexe" in French, which makes the presentation on the part of men and women in society difficult, and under feminist influence, who distinguish anatomical sex from gender in order to question the constraints of the latter.
Sorry about the comma splicing in the last paragraph, the original wasn't too clear.

What I'm trying to get at is that the term "gender" in English is a creation to explain a concept. This is actually a strength of the English language, the fact the new words are created to explain something new, or that words are borrowed from other languages to fill a gap in English. I'm not saying that new words are less worthy; I'm saying that they are extremely useful.

Gender is an essential word for the T* community. Without it, it would be more difficult to discuss gender identity. Since "genre" is less accepted in French than "gender" is in English, people must use less precise words to talk about it.

Unfortunately, in English at least, the terms "sex" and "gender" are sometimes used interchangeably. Forms that you have to fill out for whatever reason always used to have a box labelled "Sex". Now, some of them say "Gender". This makes it difficult for we gender variant types. Should we interpret the "Sex" box as meaning "legal sex" and a "Gender" box as meaning "social sex"? I'm not sure.

Another example is when I came out to my parents. My father cautioned me to not tell me too many people since "society doesn't understand sexual variation." I agreed, but clarified that it was "gender" that we were discussing. While he did use the wrong term, I was impressed that he showed at least some understanding. I wonder how he (and my mom) will react as I begin the difficult transition process. I'm not sure what to share with them and when. Do I slip it into a conversation that "oh, btw, I've been chemically castrated."?

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