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Teaching Gender 101

August 22, 2009

Today, our psychology teacher suddenly started talking about sex and gender (she’s my most open-minded teacher, which is why I sort-of came out as trans to her). She did a pretty good job. For instance, she didn’t state that “some people’s genders don’t match their sex”, which is a common thing to say but favors one sex/gender combination over another. Instead, she said that we usually associate a certain sex with a certain gender, although other combinations are certainly possible.

Alas, she kept speaking in binaries, and defined gender in a peculiar way: as masculinity and femininity. I do agree that those are important parts of gender, but I tried to point out that there’s another significant component — being a man or a woman (or something else). I think these are very different concepts. Sure, they tend to be bound together –which is why I sometimes feel conflicted over wearing pink pajamas– but they aren’t inextricable: I have learned to embrace my traditionally feminine traits without feeling any less of a guy. The example I gave in class: a person can be “born” “male”, identify as a woman, and be masculine.

Unfortunately, the teacher didn’t understand my point, but at the end of the class she approached me and said “I’m not an expert on these subject; you could bring some material to the class, if you want”. I think I accepted; I was very nervous at that point, having talked about something so close to home, and in the environment which makes me most insecure about my gender.

I usually love discussing issues of sex/gender/sexuality, but maybe it isn’t worth doing that among these particular classmates. On the other hand, it might be an opportunity to make my them understand my identity. They do sort of know I’m trans, although I haven’t come out directly to most of them; I guess, to them, I’m a butch lesbian who wants to be a man. It would be a great relief if they started using my chosen name.

I don’t know what I’m going to do — I don’t even know what the teacher meant by “bringing something to the class”– but, just in case, I’m looking through Audacia Ray’s Human Sexuality Syllabus 2.0 for articles explaining gender/trans 101. Scarleteen’s Genderpalooza article is a good resource, too. When the teacher approached me, I mumbled something about Judith Butler, although I don’t know if she’s written anything short and accessible; I also thought about the theorist Beatriz Preciado, but the same goes for her.

Do you have any recommendations? Trans 101 articles, or websites that help you to explain the complexities of gender?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2009 9:47 am

    I would look @ some blogs, like Jasper’s Wardrobe and questioningingtransphobia–both on wordpress. These are some blogs that I found interesting. Also, a lot of the entries are easily accessible.

  2. terry permalink
    August 22, 2009 1:31 pm

    “The example I gave in class: a person can be “born” “male”, identify as a woman, and be masculine.”

    Interesting point, thanks you. This addresses one thing I’ve sometimes found puzzling about transgender-ism – whether it doesn’t actually reinforce the link between sex and gender when, for instance, a person who “feels like a man” then also wants to “become a man”.

    But I guess this kind of reasoning reflects ignorance of just how complex issues of transgender-ism really are, an incorrect assumption that all trans-men, for instance, are also masculine. In reality, however, as you pointed out, there are also feminine trans-men and masculine trans-women…

    • genderkid permalink*
      August 22, 2009 9:20 pm

      The link between sex and gender is hard to untangle — like you pointed out, “switching” genders often implies some sort of physical change, but why should that happen if sex and gender are different things? The answer, I think, is that sex and gender aren’t completely separate — both are complex cultural products, and even theorizing can’t isolate them completely in real life.

      In any case, I wouldn’t say that trans people reinforce sex/gender rules any more than cis people. Almost everyone feels identified with a certain gender, only some people have to struggle to have their gender recognized.

      Sometimes I do wonder why I can’t be a male-identified woman, or why I want to go on testosterone, or why I’m more comfortable with male pronouns. But I can’t really change my feelings. I could go against them, but that wouldn’t be liberating at all — and what’s the point of fighting the binary if I won’t be happy?

      Yeah, it’s all really complicated.

  3. August 22, 2009 9:06 pm

    Yeah, it’s hard to find every aspect of gender in just one source. My own ideas about gender are built upon reading a large amount of text –from queer theory to transition blogs–, meeting people with different identities, and thinking for hours about my own experience.

    Now I think about it, it’s impossible to understand the complexity of gender by reading just one source. For me, it was vital to encounter many different points of view in order to realize that it can’t reduce be reduced to a single theory: we can only shed some light on the issue through constant dialogue and sharing.

    Luke, thanks for the offer! I might email you if I get over the shyness (yes, email makes me shy). And g531, those are good blogs to spark discussion.

  4. August 23, 2009 6:05 am

    Most markers have been about power for me. I feel more feminine in men’s clothing, and yet find myself needing to be professionally ‘masculine’ and emotionally ‘feminine,’ switching ‘concepts’ depending on the context of the situation and relationship. Reading emotions and behaviors as gendered is frustrating and yet there still remains that temptation. i used to look in the mirror contemplating the masculinity in my features and in my expression. Apparently, when talking to some doctors about wanting to transition, one cannot do so for ‘power’–meaning that someone read as female socially cannot want to become ‘male’ so that ze has more social power. The negotiation of freedom and power in any given situation is still something I mull over. I appreciate theory but find myself unable to feel through who I am when so immersed in it–I am in school at the moment, hence the frustration.
    Funny thing: my ethnic identity has always been a spiritual connection and yet my gender/so has been one informed by the politicization of my ethnic identity. In what ways can I practice gender./sexual freedom within the confines of not being white? Your posts and responses have helped me think critically about this, so I thank you, genderkid. :)

  5. nome permalink
    August 23, 2009 4:38 pm

    It’s really noble of you to take that on. A zine might be something helpful for them. They’re small, interesting and there are some great ones on gender out there. collects queer zines and could be a good resource for this, perhaps.

    I start my classes up tomorrow and am crazy-nervous, as this is my first semester as a fully-out genderqueer so hopefully I’ll run into profs who are as accepting and open. :)

  6. August 23, 2009 8:09 pm

    Oh, another thing: any resources in English I’ll have to translate to Spanish. And I haven’t found many online resources in Spanish, although there are some great theorists like Beatriz Preciado. (There are a whole lot of issues here that can be analyzed: the privilege of knowing English, cultural colonialism…)

    g531, you’re welcome and thanks for sparking interesting debates. Nome, best of luck tomorrow! Meeting new profs is exciting and scary.

  7. August 23, 2009 9:49 pm

    Thank for Preciado as a resource, reading her interview in between writing this…lots of food for thought. :)

  8. August 24, 2009 9:28 am

    Sadly all the stuff I can recommend is in English, such as the trans@MIT website.

    I do volunteer, however, to help you translate any sources you choose into spanish! You know where to find me (hint: email!)


  9. Rory Nuage permalink
    August 29, 2009 7:23 pm

    Funny, I was actually trying to find some good websites for a basic Gender 101, especially genderqueer/gender variant related because I’ve been feeling that most of my local friends STILL don’t understand or get what is going on with me and keep using female pronouns/call me a girl/say generally ignorant things… so I’m thinking about doing a much more in depth post for my friends and family to read and want to provide links but there’s really a very limited amount of genderqueer related websites out there :\

  10. nome permalink
    August 30, 2009 3:49 am

    Rory, the PDF on this page is the best I’ve found anywhere to explain trans/gq issues to cisfolk. The whole zine is amazing. It’s called “Timtum: A Trans Jew Zine” and can be found easily at

    • genderkid permalink*
      September 2, 2009 4:26 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation!

  11. Shelley permalink
    October 28, 2010 5:25 pm

    Plus, you never know what your classmates are actually all about. We always assume things about people, I mean, maybe their boyfriend is a transguy, we don’t know this (we don’t flaunt everything so why should they). There’s a lot of stuff we don’t know about people and I don’t think we should assume anything really, especially since we’re constantly accusing THEM of assuming things about US.

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