The Many Aspects of Gender

By Romana

I have gained a lot of experience in my seven and a half years living full-time as a transgender woman.  My Buddhist meditation practice has revealed many unexpected insights.  My life has always been experiential, constantly trying new things out.  I guess Asperger’s syndrome has enabled me to be quite bold.  I have never been in the closet.  My hormones had been out-of-balance for years, but that has been fixed, causing my entire psyche has come into focus. I am now legally Romana and legally female, without any gender-altering surgeries.  Recently, I have been communicating with women just like another woman, so I think I now have a woman’s point-of-view.  Women’s issues have become mine, and I have developed a true desire to improve women’s lives.  I have reached, or aspire to reach all my recommendations.
I think that image and clothing is a catalyst that can provide a gateway to variations of gender expression beyond standard.  New gender experiences can be liberating, because they can allow one to try out a diversity of behaviors that might otherwise have been severely restricted.

I. Conception to birth

It all begins when a sperm meets an egg; then an embryo starts to develop.  This starts a chain of parallel developments that create a fetus.  As human beings, we all start out as female.  If a male is to develop, there has to be as Y-chromosome. 
This expectation of childbirth is the product of millions of years of evolution.  We are a sexually dimorphic species.  We are naked apes, so we have a lot of visible secondary sexual characteristics.  Since our ape and monkey cousins are fully-furred, there are often fewer secondary sexual differences.  As our ancestors expanded throughout the world, they had to develop clothing that covered up their naked bodies.  So a lot of clothing acquired the attribute of gender, to prevent confusion.
When a child is born, there could be a surprise if the ultrasound was not accurate.  An even bigger surprise can send doctors into a huddle, if there are ambiguous sexual characteristics. Fetal development is a series of parallel events that produce a large number of children who are sexually accurate, but as many as seven percent of children are born with a wide variety of intersex conditions, some of which will not be identified at birth.  We live in a world that wants children to fit a fairly strict gender-binary, so exceptions cause a lot of concern.  The dash to perform corrective surgeries has abated in recent years, since time has shown that many intersex adults are not happy with those early medical decisions.

II. The acquisition of gender

The majority of children born can be accurately sexed.  Next, a child develops an identity during the first years of life.  Children develop individual identities, which may or may not resemble those of parents and siblings.  Some of this is genetic, some cultural, and some environmental, but a large part of it is from none of these sources.  Buddhists call it karma; others describe it instinct, spirit, soul, or intuition.    Every child develops some kind of an identity.  I and many of my friends think everyone has both a male-identity and a female-identity.  This means that practically anyone could learn how to bend gender.  Despite the fact that gender-bending is now a world-wide phenomena, it appears that ten percent or less of the world population are actually be interested in this kind of exploration.
For most children, what gender they will first pick really isn’t optional; luckily, most children want to be standard. This means that boys will be encouraged to align with their male-identity.  Testosterone will dominate theirs lives for several years, and most will become interested in girls.  In turn, girls will be encouraged to align with their female-identity.  Estrogen will govern their lives for many years, and most will become interested in boys. 
Everyone one associated with children can pressure them to conform.  Almost any adult will scold children who bend gender.  Many people think current cultural dress and deportment are the only way things should be, so those who vary from this plan are often accused of being defiant or perverted. 
Children can actually be a mix of masculine and feminine qualities.  I think children readily show this, until they are told not to.  What is masculine and what is feminine can vary from culture to culture.  Some of it is genetic, since boys and girls have obviously different reproductive roles.  Some of it is identity, as a measure of who we are: a spectrum of personalities that include mixtures of masculine and feminine.  And, some of it is cultural: some attributes arbitrarily assigned just to boys, and others just to girls.  Boys and girls often resent being boxed in, but a variety of pressures can arise if they resist.  This can come from parents, peers, and school.  When they grow up, employers and other institutions can restrict people by creating only one way to fit in and make a living.  In marriage, husbands and wives can become the gender enforcers for each other. 
A lot of people will fret about children who deviate from gender standards.  Many will be labeled non-conforming, defiant, rebels, marching to a different drummer, non-respecting of authority, queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and so forth.  While such children are no longer viewed having asocial behaviors, this was not the case in the past.  The odd children were often sent to psychiatrists, given electric shock therapy, or even institutionalized.  Attempts to change these children have been like arcane punishments.  All children have a measure resistance to indoctrination.  Forced transformations that were once labeled successful are now considered bogus.
There are actually no cookie cutter people.  Everyone comes into the world sensing the infinite and divine.  We grow, and gain insight and experience.  Nearly all of us want a life partner, and want our relationships to include intimacy and sex.  Much of what we feel can’t be written down.  The wealth of wisdom and knowledge possessed by just one individual can be astounding.

III. The gender-binary

I am only talking about the Western form of the gender-binary.  The term gender-binary has an unknown origin, but it has been adopted by transgender communities, as part of the belief that present gender biases are quite unfair, and so make life harder for transgenders. There is a hope that, if there were to be total equality between men and women, transgenders would be treated better.  This idea is not currently testable.
In our current culture, boys and girls don’t seem intended to grow up equal.  Gender identities are not really black and white, but there is little allowance for variation.  Men seem expected to be masculine leaders, and women feminine followers.  Women have gained more equality over time, so they can carefully stray into the masculine.  Men traditionally are not supposed to stray into the feminine.  A few husbands and wives even think they own each other, but this is simply not true.
Women can be emotional, nurturing, loving, sharing, peaceful, and compassionate.  Women tend to treat each other with respect as equals, take interest in each other’s lives, and develop good social skills.  They get to wear a variety of clothing, some of which is called sexy.  Women traditionally are not supposed to do things that are assigned to men, such as technology, mechanics, administration, and protection; so they are often told they need a man to do that for them in their lives.  If women become divorced or widowed, they readily learn such masculine skills.
Men can grow up with a limited emotional vocabulary.  Men build things and run the world, and they are traditionally not supposed to worry about home-making, child-rearing, social skills, sharing, and so forth.  Men often do not treat women respect as equals, and can mistreat them publically in ways reserved for bedrooms, referencing them as hot, making outlines of breasts with their hands, and doing unwanted touching, such as pinching their butts. 
Men often don’t treat each other as equals, so they end up maintaining territory and fighting for a slot in the pecking order.  The three-piece suit has been a trademark of male power, but it is being phased out.  Being a man can be frustrating, especially for men who can’t play the game.  Men who can’t compete become runners up.  Life can be tough.   Finding a mate is more difficult, because traditional dating urges women to hunt for the men who can best provide the masculine things in their lives.  Being standard is almost impossible for a man who has Asperger’s syndrome or some other atypical personality.
Turnabout can happen when women become high-powered players in law, government, and business.  Some of these women can overdo the masculine side of their personality, and end up not treating other women as equals.
Women are too often treated as sex objects in the media to sell products.  Unless movies have some science fiction or fantasy content, women seem to have secondary roles, or end up being characters for men to rescue. 
When men and women meet, they often have a traditional courtship where men check out a woman’s femininity, and a woman checks out a man’s masculinity.  After they marry, they may have to face reality, since they might not have investigated each other as proper partners.  Men may have trouble treating their wives with respect as equals, who have important lives of their own.  Men can be reluctant to communicate.  Many wives do not know to manage husbands, so they may devise schemes to work around the communications barrier.  Frustration can lead to anger, causing fights break out.  Most couples find ways to work around gender differences, but others can end up with life-long issues, as wives fight for equality and communication, and men struggle to defend themselves using masculine power.  Some men really get into a bind, when they have to stray into the feminine, which is taboo.  I remember the early arguments with my wife, where I always hung up at my concept the masculine-feminine boundary.
A few wives do not even want to be equal.  Relying on a husband for major decisions can be good for some wives, and disastrous for others.
When marital problems don’t get managed, the frustration can be taken to the public arena.   Partners may get angry, skip counseling, and go directly into divorce proceedings.  Anger, violence, and revenge never solve any problems, but men especially, and women, may not see any other way out of their predicament.  The gender-binary is only one of a large number of possible cultures, but its dark nature feeds back and drags everyone in.  Life can seem hopeless. This is a generational problem, which most of us are working hard to resolve, but solutions may take several generations.

IV. Transgender

Sociologists have always been classifying people into groups.  This seemed to intensify in the in the 1950’s, when almost anything out of the ordinary became subject to attack.  Gays and lesbians were perverted, and any kind of gender-bending was classified as a fetish. 
In the 1920’s, women commandeered men’s clothing to fashion their own kinds of pants and slacks.  This was quite shocking.  Women started making other demands on their road to equality.  I think this was an example how wearing clothing styled for men introduced women to their male-identity.  Women essentially earned the right to crossdress into clothing territory once only allowed for men.  Going the other way—men dressing in women’s clothing—was taboo.  Much of this taboo is still in effect, but it is eroding.  Still, the general consensus is that it is humiliating, degrading, and emasculating for men to dress as women.  In past years, it looked a lot like slapstick, but there are now salons that can make up men to resemble attractive women.
Many men can think up ingenious ways to access their feminine side.  A few do this through crossdressing, but they can literally go crazy, which can drive everyone else crazy.  Crossdressing can offer men an escape from a trap of excessive maleness.  Crossdressing among young boys has become common, and it has tripled among men in the last few years.  Wives can get angry at crossdressing husbands, accusing them of violating social contracts.  Crossdressing is not common male hobby, because it can change the dynamics of a marriage.  For a lot of men, it can be like playing with a euphoric new fantasy.  We don’t have social scripts for this kind of behavior.  A few men become so obsessed that they start talking irrationally about transitioning to become women.
Crossdressing husbands bring confusion to a marriage.  Some blame their wives for the conflict, but wives are fighting to maintain order.  Wives often hear the comment, “It’s nothing; I am still the same person.”  We have a gender-binary, so a husband is not supposed to be dressed as a woman while providing the masculine part of the marriage.  Some people focus of the crossdressing itself as the problem, but that is not true.  Crossdressing is a natural kind of exploration; men are actually very curious about women’s lives.
Major problems with crossdressing can arise if husbands do not treat their wives as equals.  They may not even have explored who their wives are.  While I think all men have a female-identity, they do not know how to use it.  Gender transition is a lot of work.  A crossdressed husband needs to know how to function somewhat like a woman, rather than just being an outrageous pretty face.  Women tend to approach each other as equals, and use good communication skills, but men do not.  A crossdressed husband facing his wife creates contradictions, if he does not know how to act in the situation.  Impersonating a woman is not a good idea, so he needs to learn how to ease into his own version of a woman.
A number of women do not really want to be involved their husbands crossdressing or transgender activities.  This is unfortunate and dangerous.   The couple really needs to see a therapist.  Somehow, a therapist or friends need to take the wife aside and explain to her that ignorance is not bliss in this case.
Women often view crossdressers as men who mock women.  It does not help that there are lots male ranting and deep voices when crossdressers get together.  When crossdressers stray too much from a feminine pattern, there can be looks of disapproval.  Crossdressers need to learn to work on their feminine skills, and to communicate somewhat like women, respect women, and to treat women as equals.  Otherwise, the crossdressing hobby will not earn any favors.  Men who crossdress or are transgender really do not need to seek any approval from men; instead, they should work to gain acceptance from women.
A lot of crossdressers are actually transgender, so they will want to integrate their female-identity into their lives.  If married, they often think up schemes to do this, especially when they think wives get in the way.  If a wife asks why, a lot husbands say something like, “My friends are all doing it, and their wives are just fine with it.” Actually, other wives seldom think it is okay.  
In marriage to a transgender husband, a wife will constantly check what it means to their relationship.  She will want to be reassured that she is still loved.  Sharing becomes important, so a transgender husband must share this part of himself.  This means allowing the wife to be involved so she can learn about this side of her husband, and she must be given the opportunity to give advice.  I know this well, because when I did this for my wife, tensions really went down.
Some husbands think that only being transgender part-time is a kindness to a wife, but switching back and forth between a man and woman can create more problems.  Our culture does not allow for switching genders back and forth.  A husband who wants to experience life as a woman must learn the ropes.  Not all wives can handle this, but I think the majority can.
My late wife eventually allowed me switch gender, because I learned to treat her as an equal and talked to her.  I gave her the right to make comments and to ask any questions she wanted.  Treating my wife as an equal led to many unexpected outcomes in our lives.  I am, still working on talking to and treating all women as equals.  My search for a new woman partner depends on me living life as a transgender woman, not a man in a dress.
I think a lot of urban myths are wrong.  I don’t believe anyone is ever trapped in the wrong body.  We only get one body.  Transgender feelings can arise shortly after birth, or take years to gestate.  Those children who want to pick the opposite gender shortly after birth are often sensationalized.  Internet hype often claims that men will switch sexual orientation by dressing as women, but this is not true.  There is no mystery here, no special transgender state, since everyone’s psyches have both gender identities.
I want to talk next about the dark side of being transgender.  While transgenders often encounter prejudice, they are not innocent and can leave a trail of damage.  Transgender women need to learn to act somewhat like women, and not just pass visually.  Transgender husbands can bulldoze along, destroying home and family.  If wives are not given a say, the results are not pretty.  Too many husbands force a transition on their wives. This is because they fear wives are not smart enough to deal with the complexities of transition, or might block their husband’s gender-bending entirely.  Wives are a lot more compassionate and smarter than that.  Everyone suffers when a husband forces breast implants and gender-reassignment surgery into the marriage without permission.  Most wives would most certainly veto this, if they had the power; often, wives are forced to seek divorce.  We are entering into an age where a lot of gender-modifying surgeries are no longer required.  Transgender husbands should keep this in mind.  A transgender husband should view his wife as his treasured partner and a passport to an inclusive life. 
Transgender husbands who become self-centered, and trash their relationships, can end up living morbid lives with no relationships.

V. Conclusion

Gender is a part of our lives, so we need to learn to use it; it can be enriching and enlightening.  Everyone has problems with gender.  The gender-binary is a product of a time when people did not understand the diversity of gender.  It is an unfortunate cultural artifact.  It should not be viewed as men oppressing women, or anyone being victims.  The gender-binary is maintained by word-of-mouth, by social pressures, by urban legend, fear, and social controls.  If all the hundreds of rules were to be put in a handbook, there would surely be protests.

There is an almost equal number of male crossdressers and female crossdressers.  The same is true for transgenders.  Gender transition is usually a way to deal with major problems in life, not a stunt or a perverse act.  Wives and other women should understand that men who crossdress or are transgender have usually kept such thoughts well-guarded in their psyches for years.  Not all such men will even have inkling, until goaded into crossdressing on Halloween, crossdressing parties at women’s social clubs, or even as an entry in a womanless beauty pageant for charity.  Men really need tacit permission to speak about who they think they are.

1 comment:

  1. You make a number of very good points. You have walked the walk and now we can learn how things were for you as you talk the talk.
    We are all different and are faced with different choices but it is good to see the support you put towards understanding that acceptance is not a one way street.