Please look at the diagram below. This is how we describe GENDER to students. Notice the four divisions in our description of gender: identity, expression, biological sex, and orientation or attraction. Then you will be ready to read!
How often have you been told “I don’t get what you see in that guy!” by a friend who thinks your boyfriend is not very good looking or not very intelligent or perhaps abusive? You might answer that you don’t always get it either, but when he smiles . . . there you are. Or maybe you have said this to a child of your own: “That guy/girl is no good for you! Believe me!” But guess what? That’s not going to work.
There’s no accounting for tastes; it’s that simple. We do know what kind of partner or what kind of friend we want within some bounds – maybe we want someone as educated as we are, or someone always fun to be with, or someone with a good job. Maybe we want that person to be a Filipino, or white, or black, and rich, and educated.
Now suppose you have three or four such characteristics in mind and you meet someone who is totally ideal in some ways – he’s fun and has a good job, but isn’t a Filipino. Or he’s every thing you want except not very rich.
Or he turns out to be a woman.
That can happen. Our hearts make their own choices, and sometimes even our own brains don’t understand them. Our brains however do control or hold our sense of identity. If you are to identify yourself in one word, what do you say? I’d say “teacher”. You may say “wife” or “girl” or “Filipina” or “student”. Of course no one is only one thing, but your one word answer tells a lot: it tells us what is chief in your own mind, how you see yourself.
If you are specifically asked about gender, you might answer “male” or “female” or “Lesbian” or “gay” – or “bisexual” (although this generally refers to matters of attraction). Or you might feel your identity is more complicated: “I am male with a soft side”, or “I am a female who is brave and strong and independent.” A person born into a male body and classified as male from birth may have very strong feelings that he is really female. We all have a sense of identity which may or may not be accepted as true or valid – but still the maxim “Be true to yourself” carries weight; how else can you live with yourself?
Let’s turn to appearances or presentation. Imagine an elderly man with shoulder length gray hair. Is that okay? Does his hair tell you anything about his heart or his brain? Probably not. Imagine a young woman wearing long pants. Ah, this one used to be disturbing but it isn’t anymore. Imagine someone coloring his/her hair. Could it be anyone? Imagine someone loving clothes. Only appropriate for women? All women? Maybe a few men?
If we look above at our Genderbread diagram, we see something interesting: of the four elements that help make up gender, only one, presentation, is under our conscious control. We can dress and fix our hair as we wish – and we can do it differently tomorrow.
So what have we got here? A very complicated gender situation!! There are in general only two variations of physical sex organs (although there is an occasional exception to this rule.) But orientation or attraction comes in many forms, and is not opened to choice. Identity also comes in many forms, and does not necessarily ‘fit’ with orientation or attraction. Presentation or appearance alone is opened to conscious choice. So it might be time for us all to stop finding fault with people for any aspect of their gender characteristics and to decide to embrace the full variety of our amazing world! This is surely a more fair and more interesting approach to gender!