So this past weekend I had what I can only describe as uncomfortable experiences in hyper-masculinity. Let me explain. On Friday my wife and I were invited to a dinner party for one of her Architecture firm’s clients in order to celebrate the completion of a project for a local hunting club (I’ll omit the official name for anonymity’s sake). The person throwing this party was the head of that hunting club and is a man who prides himself on his hunting accolades. He even has a couple (not just one, but multiple) hunting shows on television, countless hunting awards and honors, as well as a massive collection of dead animal trophies littering every wall and corner of his 5 million dollar mansion.
Needless to say, this man is sitting on the pinnacle of the pyramid of social power. He’s white, rich, fertile (has kids), married, educated, and undeniably “manly” in his interactions with others. He was so manly, in fact, that the secondary objective to this party was for him and his appropriately feminized wife to march us around their giant house to observe all the things he has killed (as a Buddhist and a vegetarian, you can probably guess how excited I was for this “dead things” tour; yes that’s what Mr. Manly-pants called it too, with an ear-to-ear grin I might add).
After parading us through his mausoleum of once beautiful and majestic creatures (buffalos, moose, ducks, antelope, impalas, etc.) we were treated to a dinner of recently murdered pheasant (yes, he served us an animal he’d slain just days earlier, can you feel his manliness just pouring through your screen right now? Are you as painfully aware of his big throbbing manhood as he wanted us to be?), during which my wife and I were forced to entertain the company of many other privileged guests. When I say privileged I don’t mean that it was their honor to be there, I mean that they too were romping around at the peak of the pyramid of social power. We were surrounded by lawyers, engineers, self-made millionaire businessmen, contractors and architects, all of whom were white, educated, fertile, and appropriately gendered. We listened to banter about the women birthing multiple additional children because their manly husbands demanded more babies to solidify the survival of their virile genetics (okay, I’m paraphrasing with a biased tone, but are you not entertained?). We listened as the men joked about their hard work and their love of killing defenseless animals while the women stayed at home to tend to the children (no need to work or have dreams/aspirations of their own with all that manliness bringing home the bacon, right?). I was even lucky enough to have to join the men as they flocked around the big screen TV to watch some professional hockey (beers in hand and all). Not that I have issue with hockey, I love hockey.
So everything was fine and well, right? I mean, because of my male appearance I was accepted without question at this party. Sure, there might have been some initial questions about what I do for a living, but once I mentioned that I worked at a law firm and it came out that I was also a published author, any doubt about my validity in this social setting was erased. But here are the questions that I found the most interesting. What if I’d come to that party as Emma instead of Robert? What if I’d shown up in a dress, with makeup and nail polish on? Do you think that I would have been accepted so easily? Do you think that I would have been welcomed and shuffled together with the men as “one of the boys” without question or complaint?
And what about my wife? Do you think that my wife would have been accepted so easily? Would they have treated her differently if she showed up with her transwoman wife instead of her white, educated, seemingly manly-enough husband?
If, by some stretch of the imagination, they did accept me for the transwoman that I am, where would they have expected me to go? Would I have been invited into the group of women? Or would the men have been comfortable enough to let me socialize with them? Would me having or not having a penis (pre or post op SRS) make any difference in their mind? And what about my wife? Would the women still accept her so easily if they knew she was married to a transwoman? Would they chat her up assuming nothing was wrong or different about her life?
Obviously these are all hypothetical questions to which there can be no sure answer but I believe that considering them is an excellent exercise in revealing where we think the gender boundary exists in social settings like this. I personally believe that I would not have even been invited to the party had I been openly transgender. Sure, my wife’s boss (white, educated, married, fertile, business owner, wife stays at home with the kids) might have still invited her to avoid any obvious discrimination, but I have my doubts that the invitation would have extended to me too. If, for some I was still invited I believe that I would have been treated with both ignorance and unacceptance. I have my doubts that they would have been so rude as to openly call me out and say that my “lifestyle” (I have no doubts they’d use that term) was unacceptable in their home, but I would have been the butt of their jokes after leaving. They would have felt awkward, unsure, confused, and possibly angry at my appearance. The entire party would have been a completely different experience and that’s the point that needs to be understood and explored.
Why, if I was the same exact person, would I be treated so differently (hypothetically) just because my gender and sex don’t match? What is it about the social pyramid of power game that causes the whole thing to break down into chaos when someone isn’t abiding by the most basic of the rules? Isn’t such a system a flawed one if something so simple, so arbitrary, so innocuous could bring the whole thing crashing down? Isn’t the system built on a flawed premise if even questioning that premise (sex-to-gender absolutism) is an act of anarchy or treason?
A perceived man wearing women’s clothing would have been seen as weird, strange, out-there, wrong, or even immoral in this situation, but does anyone even know why that is? So many just accept that it’s weird, strange or wrong, but they almost never question why they think that way. A person killing another is wrong for obvious reasons because it’s a deprivation of life against another’s will. The stealing of an item that does not belong to you is wrong for obvious reasons, because you are depriving another of their property or possession. But an individual with a penis wears an article of clothing normally associated with the opposite sex and the same reaction is aroused, as if a crime has been committed? Am I the only one who sees this as madness? Where is the harm in a dress covering up a penis instead of a vagina? Why is it wrong to deprive another person of their life, but it’s not wrong to deprive that person of their identity? You are allowed to live, but gosh-darnit you better live the way we tell you too, otherwise we’re going to have some problems.
Perhaps it’s time we started questioning the assumptions we make about reality if those assumptions are leading to the deprivation of identity, and that’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to question those assumptions, not because I have all the answers, but because they are the questions we need to start considering as a society if we ever hope to live in a more inclusive world. Why is gender so important to social power? Have a true, socially accepted gender and you are automatically accepted and granted some amount of power (more if you are white, educated, and fertile). Move beyond, bend, or break from those socially accepted genders and your power evaporates into thin air… why?
Is it possible that the gender binary is left over clutter from earlier stages in human evolution? Is it possible that gender was a result of a need to accumulate and divide resources for the purpose of propagating the species? If you observe primates and their social structure, it becomes apparent how gender (note that I didn’t say sex) plays a role in their survival. They have a very real and overwhelming need to allocate resources to the strongest of their species for the greatest chance of continued genetic survival, and typically the best candidates for that “strongest” position are the very masculine males and the competitively attractive, fertile females.
Let that really sink in for a moment…. Is it sinking in? Here, I’ll say it again. The primates who are at the top of their respective social pyramid of power are the large, hyper-masculine, dominate males, and the most competitively attractive and fertile females. Is that ringing any bells? Is there a twitch in the back of your mind that’s saying, “Hmmm… this sounds kind of familiar,” because there should be.
Still not registering? Then let’s make one tiny word substitution and see if it makes sense. The humans who are at the top of their respective social pyramid of power are the large, hyper-masculine, dominate males, and the most competitively attractive and fertile females. Now, definitely let the ramifications of that substitution sink in because we are starting to get to the core of our issue here. The gender binary system we see in human society is, in my opinion, left over clutter from our early days in evolution, which means that the transcendence of gender by people like me and many others is indicative of an evolutionary change in our species.
As humans we have escaped the food chain and have managed to surpass the limitations of resources (mostly), which means we are no longer subject to the process of natural selection. Natural selection dictates that the strongest of a species is the most likely to survive, so competition for resources (and breeding) is highly aggressive with the masculine males and fertile females getting the lion’s share (top of the pyramid) and lesser males/females getting smaller portions. You can see this evident in our society today as the majority of those with the greatest quantity of resources or influence are the dominate males and aggressively attractive (sexy) females.
Maybe you are thinking that I’m making a stretch so let’s simply it a bit. Think about High School for a moment. Who were the most popular people in High School? Weren’t they almost always the hyper-masculine, dominate guys (jocks/bad boys) and the aggressively attractive females (cheerleaders/mean-girls)? Did you ever question that? I’m guessing that you probably didn’t and that’s because we are still operating on an old evolutionary blueprint that no longer applies to our world.
Gender is no longer necessary for the propagation of the species because we aren’t competing for resources the same way we used to. You can still have children and continue the species regardless of your gender or where you stack up in the social pyramid, so why are we still using that system? My guess is habit, but thankfully those habits are changing. More and more people are recognizing that gender shouldn’t be tied to social empowerment or disempowerment. More and more we are seeing compassion win over competition, but we have a long way to go.
So today’s homework, boys, girls, androgyns, bigenders, and nongenders is to observe the world around you to see where old-school, primate-esque, natural selection-driven social mechanisms are still in place and to evaluate, objectively if possible, if there is still any good reason to continue those mechanisms. The only way to evolve is to do things differently, to break the habits of our fore-apes and set new trends.