I present myself in the world, and am easily perceived, as a female person, which is who I was socialized to be. I face many challenges as a female in this world, but for the most part, do not struggle with the challenges transgender and genderqueer folk face. As I start to unravel what gender construction means to me, I want to be clear that in this facet of oppression, I am on the privileged end of things. I find it tolerable, even enjoyable sometimes, and in harmony with my essence, to embody some of the expectations put on me by social gender constructs. As someone who has considered what gender means to me, I think I bring a unique perspective to the conversation about breaking down the gender binary, especially why this radical project is beneficial to those of us who didn't really think to question it until someone else brought the subject up.
This story could start in two places: in a teepee at the rainbow gathering in Utah this July, or with my newly acquired habit of introducing myself as, "My name is Meagan, and I like 'she' pronouns." I'll come back to the teepee. To most folks, saying what pronoun I prefer lands like a foreign language. Some people ignore it completely, even though it is an implicit (maybe passive-aggressive?) invitation for them to tell me their preferred pronoun as well--though I haven't been asking.
Not long ago, I would not have started a conversation in this way. I'm pretty sure I would have thought that it was an inauthentic act of solidarity intended to a) help transgendered persons in a group feel safe, and b) encourage trans-awareness, with the cost of alienating me from the large majority of binaried people in the world. As someone who facilitates workshops and leads groups, I feared that using those spaces to advocate for trans-awareness would be seen as a distraction from the intention of the meeting (often to learn and practice Nonviolent Communication), and negatively affect my reputation as a teacher/facilitator.
Now, I think that saying I like she pronouns enhances my contrbution to any group I am in. I see the whole pronoun thing completely differently now, no longer as something that is only relevant to a minority of people. I have realized the power of saying that I prefer she pronouns. The power is that I chose. I continue to choose. I am not just accepting on blind faith what was handed down to me from the doctor's check mark on a birth certificate. If and when a different pronoun resonates more strongly with my soul, I can choose that too. I want everyone to feel the power of this intentionality, whether the conclusion they come to fits with social expectations or not.
What if this were a normal part of growing up? What if every adolescent were invited to question whether the pronoun given to them at birth really fits them, just as some people change their names? It would accomplish the two goals stated above in a) and b), as well as c): Give all people a chance to truly explore our most basic assumptions about who we are, delving deeply into our psyches and coming out wiser for the self-knowledge, whether or not we can accept and live with the binary gender system. (I imagine if we all did this kind of inner searching, a lot of binaries would break down--not just gender.)
Coming back to the teepee I mentioned earlier, it was a workshop/ritual called Sister Circle, Brother Circle. The idea is this: the women all sit in an inner circle, with the men in an outer circle. The women go around and share about "the beauty and struggle of being a woman" while the men listen silently. Then we switch and do the same thing, with women listening to the beauty and struggle of being a man.
I want to be clear that I think this process was invaluable, and I am eternally grateful for the elders who held this space and have been doing so for almost 30 years. Genderqueer activists may think of it as an oppressive/unwelcoming approach, but I feel strongly that there is an immense amount of healing that longs to happen in and across the gender binary, even as we also transcend it. In fact what I came away from the teepee with is a much clearer understanding of how harmful binary gender construction is. In that space, when the women spoke about our beauty and struggles, the only things that rang true for me were the struggles--and I felt them deeply. It isn't that I didn't resonate with some of the beauty named, but all of those things seemed like human characteristics, rather than uniquely female.
The focus on our capacity to create life was a particular turn off for me, for two main and equally significant reasons: One is that I do not plan to ever be a biological mother, and in this day and age of overpopulation, I dislike the glorification of procreation and pregnancy as a reclaiming of Goddess power. It gives me the sense that women in the New Age community will never respect me as an adult if I don't have biological children, and that they aren't holding other species and our ecosphere with the care I long for. I am positive there are ways to call in Goddess energy that respect choice and reverence for other forms of life, which brings me to the other point: by claiming nurturing a creation as a female characteristic, we deny men and other nonfemale genders access to the exact qualities they need to cultivate to restore peace on the planet.
Men may not carry babies in a physical womb, but they definitely contribute to the physical process, and are a necessary element without high tech, expensive technology. Beyond sperm, men can support a partner by holding an energetic womb of care during pregnancy and beyond. And all people, regardless of their bodies, have a metaphysical womb--the ability to conceive of an idea, vision, project, and, sometimes, nurture it to fruition. This is the type of creation and motherhood I intend to participate in in my life, and I would like to be seen that this contribution is as sacred and in many instances more responsible than making yet another homo sapien.
In the teepee, when we switched to the men speaking, it was as bad as when the women spoke. None of them even knew what it meant to be a man, despite having been told to be one their whole lives. The few positive qualities listed--strength, resourcefulness, protection, making things happen--again seemed contrived and are actually human qualities available to all people to cultivate and develop. So here's what I walked away from the teepee convinced of, because my consciousness had been so altered by that experience:
If we didn't have gender construction, all humans could have free and equal access to any quality and characteristic they are naturally called to embody, leaving our individual lives and collective culture much richer.
When I have shared this with friends, they usually assume it means I want to abolish all reference to differences between men, women, and anyone else. I don't. There are physical differences between people that can be divided into imprecise categories. And, there are many real psychological differences between people rooted in gender socialization. These are not going to disappear overnight, and I want to acknowledge them and work with them, including inside the binary.
I am not interested in debating which specific things are innate versus socialized, because most of them we can't know for sure. But I bet that a large majority of gendered qualities are based extensively in socialization, and that by focusing on embodying the full range of humanity--or at least the parts we are naturally drawn to--we can blow away the chaff of arbitrary, obligatory social behaviors (such as limiting how we dress), getting closer to expressing our individual essences more truthfully, which will make our society more mature and beautiful.