Sunday, May 15, 2016

I Went to You, a Woman-Man, a Courageous Friend, I Thought

Janice Turner (non-paywalled version here):
I'd never thought about my gender identity before. It hadn't occurred to me that not being a "girly" girl meant I wasn't 100 per cent woman. The point, I've always believed, is to expand the categories "man" and "woman", to tear down pink and blue prisons. So a little girl can like trucks, spacemen, getting dirty and still be a girl; a boy can put on nail polish, play with dolls and be no less a boy.

...The trans cause is hailed as the latest liberation struggle. And we should defend trans men and women from discrimination and the hideous violence many have endured. But this should not stop us opposing a view of gender, spun off from the trans movement, that is as conservative as the Mad Men 1950s. Until recently Eddie Izzard was a transvestite, wearing skirts and make-up: "These aren't women's clothes," he'd say, "they're my clothes". Like Bowie, Prince and Grayson Perry, he made the category of man bigger, brighter, less confined. Now Izzard says he has "boy genetics and girl genetics". Filmed rushing into a manicurist, he gushed: "Being a transgender guy, I do like my nails."

Men, I've found, can't understand why this enrages women. Why are feminist ladies so mean to Eddie? Well, because he's no longer saying "I'm a bloke who likes pretty nails". He has declared: "Because I like pretty nails I am female." He is reducing being a woman down to make-up and sparkly shoes. By which definition, he's more woman than "gender fluid" ol' me.

...The challenge now is how to support genuine, heartfelt young trans people, while addressing an internet culture that lures teenagers, amid the maelstrom of adolescence, towards ever greater confusion. At heart the trans lobby upholds the same nonsense that underpins porn and men's mags and the Tea Party right: that men are muscly hunks and women are passive pink fem-bots. To feel you are neither doesn't make you gender fluid - or any of the other 72 crazy gender categories on Facebook - it just makes you human.

As I've said before, growing up in the '80s and imprinting on the norms of glam metal gave me a far more progressive view of gender than the current trans fashion allows. My mom still has pictures of me at four years old, wearing some of her clothes, along with wigs, makeup and nail polish. At that age, the only thought I had about it was that it was fun. As a teenager, I had long, straight hair reaching halfway down my back, and in keeping with the glam fashion in rock music at that time, I liked to wear poet's shirts, leather boots and gaudy earrings. Again, there was no existential angst involved, no sense of dueling gender identities. I wasn't a "typical" guy, but I was still unquestionably a young man, and still attracted exclusively to girls. There was never any anxiety over the possibility of being gay, and I don't think the idea of being a woman in a man's body would have even seemed coherent to me and my friends. If asked, I would have said that I was expanding the idea of what it means to be a guy. I was rebelling against the idea that you are predictably defined by your clothes or your interests.

And yet, I didn't feel constrained at all by being defined, in a very basic sense, by biology. By contrast, I know several people who seem existentially aggrieved by the existence of biological limitations and determined to overcome them, but in their rebellion, they paradoxically end up empowering those old social conventions to define them instead. Now, a woman I know who sometimes likes to wear t-shirts and cargo shorts muses that perhaps this means she's gender-fluid. An acquaintance who "identifies" as an extinct apex predator wants to be addressed by the impersonal pronoun "it". Social constructions like clothes and language are now considered to convey something essential about you, while the unexceptional fact of biology is experienced as tyrannical oppression.

According to the progressive narrative, glam metal was politically insignificant, culturally irrelevant, one particularly prominent example of why we're all better off forgetting the '80s ever happened. And yet, the attitude toward gender norms that can be found in any typical hair band video of the period — playful, irreverent, incapable of taking itself too seriously — is far healthier than the current climate of opinion. The funniest part, though, is that our reigning progressive fashion pertaining to gender is just another fad, no different than men wearing hairspray, makeup, and pink, tiger-striped spandex, and destined to look just as ridiculous in hindsight. They just don't know it yet.