(Yes, this could be considered a getting to know you node, but isn't it better to have any writeups on the topic here, instead of in home nodes? After all, not many people are likely to talk or write about it on their own, and everything together here makes it more interesting and more connected.)

I don't mean how you define your sex. Your sex is the parts you have. Whether you have an innie or an outie.

I mean your gender. What makes you male, female, or other? If you were in an accident and lost all your reproductive organs, what would be left to define that part of you? Is it what types of interests you have, or how you communicate with others? Is it based on who you're attracted to? (even though many would say sexuality and gender are different things) Or something else entirely?

It's something I've been thinking about, of course, but had some difficulty coming up with an answer other than just saying "I just know". So I'd like to get some other views on it.

I'll add my definition to this soon when I come up with something...

Take a tissue sample. Isolate a single cell. Look at the chromosomes under a microscope. See if I can find a Y.

Really, that's it for me.

I'm not noding this to be willfully naive or ultra-conservative or flamebait or anything like that, so please just read before you vote. I'm trying to make a sincere point here.

I am a guy. One X, one Y, a penis and two testicles, testosterone, and all the secondary sexual characteristics that derive from the above. Sexually attracted to women. Born, raised, and lived my whole life as a male of the human species. And for as long as I've been alive, save for the past few years, the above has been sufficient to define me as having male gender.

It's only recently that I've been exposed to the notion of sex and gender being two separate things. But the vast majority of the planet still uses them interchangably, and for a very simple and obvious reason.

So here I am, a young adult living on the cusp of the twenty-first century, trying to integrate my understanding of the word "gender" with homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, transvestites, and every other variation on the sex/gender pairing that can possibly exist. Thanks to the Internet, I've known one person from just about every category. I've watched most of the movies. I've considered all the possibilities. I've opened my mind about as far as it can go without snapping off the hinges.

But do you know what I keep coming back to? "Men have penises, women have vaginas." "Men should be attracted to women and women should be attracted to men." Anything else is and should be considered an anomaly. Not because that's the way I was brought up or because that's the position my religion holds, but because that's the way I am.

Sex, gender, orientation, they're all the same to me. Doubtless they always will be. Asking me to define my gender separate from my sex is like asking me to define the clouds separate from the sky.

I like to think that somewhere in there, I've been both. And when this gig is up, I'll go back to being better than either one.

Doesn't make any sense to bitch about what you happen to be in this HereAndNow©, does it? I mean, it hardly matters once your equipment rots off. And if your "residual self-image" (a good way to put it, BTW) happens to differ from your equipment, maybe that just makes you really empathetic...
Gender roles are something I've perpetually had issues with. My nature is that of a tomboy with a cutsey girlish slant, and an occasional super girly girl that rears it's mini-diva head. However, I have my days where the boi or butch in me comes out to play. I'm fine with having been born female, but yet peek under my dress and there's a 50/50 chance of finding either a thong or men's underwear. But when it comes down to it, I never feel consistently FEMALE (as opposed to feminine) enough to be doing girlish things.

Getting a manicure/pedicure for me is something I'd prefer to do with shades on so noone will recognize me. My nailpolish starts chipping away a day later anyway so I don't do them often, but I crave them. I buy practical (yet usually chunky or platform or BIG) shoes. Meanwhile, my fetish boots of choice are Riot Grrrl-ish with a big ole girly heel and shiny vinyl. And I almost wore NaughtyGrrrl leopard print pumps to Wicker's last party. I wear glitter often and do my makeup dramatically and I'm the first to jump at the opportunity to play dress up -- so long as it's just dress up and not having to be dressed up for more than a few hours! I can't stand being a girly girl for much longer.

What makes me feel the most awkward, though, is that I like to read girly girl magazines. This has only really hit me recently. Somehow I have a subscription to Mademoiselle, for starters. I started reading it on the subway, and then a few articles later I was too embarrassed to continue and put it away, whipping out my Utne Reader joyfully, although I couldn't focus at that point. My face was a shade of pink and I just generally felt strange about feeling strange about reading the Millie their new nickname issue in public.

So then the I start wondering...am I embarrassed because of the concept of "You must be X amount girly-girl to read this magazine in public"? Or is it that the magazine is like a status thing? My initial thought was that the articles are so lame I couldn't believe I'd read this stuff in public because people would start doubting my intelligence. Yes, that must be it. Pop culture couldn't possibly have any serious influence on me.

Last night I curled up with said magazine and finished it up, ripping out keepsakes like an article about make-out parties and two unique advertisements for my scrapbook. Oh, and I also ripped out an offer for a free nailpolish (a light pink, nonetheless, which is one of the shades I don't think I have). Then, after I closed the back cover, I orgasmically deposited the magazine into the garbage can. Throwing it out is just *so* satisfying, as if it was dirtydirty pr0n I wouldn't want my parents to catch me having. Except, I don't even live at home.

And yet, it continues. My flatmate gives me her copy of Elle when it arrives before she even reads it. She has subscriptions to a few different girly girl magazines, all of which end up in my room. I'm elated, and disturbed.

I don't understand how the very magazines I mock while reading end up playing such a big role in affecting how I view my gender. I know better than to chide myself because I don't look like the chicks in there. I like my curves. I'm not turning to the magazine for anything more than amusement and a peek into the mind of the Norms. I think. I'm just someone who adopts bits and pieces from different cultures and corners of society into my identity.

Now if only I had the balls to just be myself.

I can't imagine too many people actually define their gender based upon their chromosomes. Until recently, who knew? Probably most of the 6+ billion people alive today, let alone the 80+ billion living in the past, couldn't tell you what a chromosome was. And of those who can, how many have actually had theirs examined to verify they are exhibiting the correct gender expression based upon their genes? Or have had parents do so at their births to ensure they were reared so as to conform to the proper gender role? Realistically, people can't and don't define their gender based on knowing about their 46th chromosome, because they don't have that information.

Maybe it makes a bit more sense if we define our gender based on how our genes manifest themselves through our bodies. We can see that, at least when we're naked. Unless the child is one of those 1-in-2000 born with anomalous genitalia (i.e. intersexed), a doctor or midwife feels pretty confident declaring, "It's a girl" or "It's a boy" after a simple external examination.

They are, however, on occasion, wrong. Take, for example, people with CAIS or Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, one of the many possible variations of the 46th human chromosome. (Androgen insensitivity as a syndrome exists along a spectrum. Those with PAIS or Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome have a range of response, from near normal to just short of complete insensitivity.) These CAIS children look like girls, act like girls (with all the variation that implies) and carry an internal sense that they are girls. Then puberty hits. They develop ample breasts and a womanly figure. But they never begin to menstruate. Concerned, their parents take them to the doctors, who finds these girls have no uterus, perhaps incomplete vaginas, and instead of ovaries, undescended testicles. These girls are genetically male. They have a fully functioning Y chromosome, which triggers the appropriate production of androgens in utero and later in life. However, a defect in the X chromosome prevents the body from responding to these androgens.

In a normal XY fetus, at about 2 months after conception, a "hormonal wash" of androgens (the first of many) begins a masculinization process. If this "wash" does not occur, as in normal XX fetuses, or if the androgens cannot affect it, as in an XY fetus with CAIS, the fetus continues development as a female. The Y chromosome triggers the production of androgens after birth as well, most notably at puberty, but the bodies of these androgen-insensitive XY people cannot react to them. They don't even grow hair in the armpits and pubic area, which is a response in normal XX people to the androgens their bodies produce. However, while those with CAIS are sterile and may need some reconstructive surgery to have comfortable vaginal intercourse, they for the most part look and act like "normal" women. To declare them men based solely on their XY chromosomes would be absurd. They don't look or behave like men, nor do they have that internal sense of being men. As far as they are concerned -- XY chromosomes notwithstanding -- they are women. And this is only one of the many variations of chromosomes and sex in humans.

The drawback of inflexibly linking gender with chromosomes or even genitalia/reproductive organs is that it misses all that spiffy diversity found both biologically and culturally. Because while gender expression might be tied to the physical sex of the body, it is, essentially, a social role and an individual's sense of who he/she/(it?) is. Human beings, as a species, do not have one way of being a man or one way of being a woman. How we play those parts is determined by what culture we're born into. And many cultures allow for more than two genders. They may have the concept of a third sex, such as the hijras in India, the two-spirit people or berdache of the Native Americans, and the gallae of ancient Rome. Some, without the concept of a third sex, have acceptable means for someone to opt out of one gender into another. An example is the sworn virgins of the Balkans, female-bodied people who become, for all intents and purposes (except siring children), men.

Most of these people have (or had) "normal" male or female bodies, however. To those of us raised in a modern Western society, the idea that there are two genders -- man and woman -- based upon physical sexual characteristics -- male and female -- is so obvious that it's tough for us to tease what are actually two separate things apart. It seems so intuitive and, well, common sense. It's in our cultural atmosphere, and we breathe it in like we breathe in air, without giving it much thought. So why would these people think their gender to be anything other than what their bodies signaled to the rest of us?

We don't know. For some, it may simply be a feeling of being psychologically constrained by the roles dictated by the bodies they wear. However, there is some fairly recent research that hints that hormones present in utero influence not only what form our bodies take, but where our sexual attractions will lie and what gender we will perceive ourselves to be. It's possible our sense of our gender is formed, in part, in the womb. Those whose bodies are congruent with their internal sense of gender would have very little cause to question it and the role their culture prescribes they play. Those whose sense of gender and body are incongruent will find themselves out of place in their own skin. Some cultures provide social roles within which these people find relief for this gender dysphoria. Many others do not. Western society, for example, is highly suspicious of those who don't or can't conform to the behavior assigned to them by their biological sex. (Note the mockery and viciousness faced by many homosexuals (who violate the expectations of which sex each gender will be attracted to) and transgenders.)

We carry our sense of gender within us, just as we do all those other traits which make us us. For those who are comfortable, both in their skin and with what their culture expects from them, the conflation of physical sex with gender expression may seem intuitively obvious. That others do struggle with a dissonance between body and gender offers the insight that it's not quite as obvious as we might think, spurring us on to ask questions we never would otherwise.

Biological Exuberance, Bruce Bagemihl, Ph.D
Brain Sex, Ann Moir, Ph.D. & David Jessel
Gender Blending, edited by Bonnie Bollough, Ph.D., R.N., Vern L. Bollough, Ph.D., R.N. & James Elias, Ph.D.

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