Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Maze of Gender

Gender is confusing. When I first started questioning my gender this is something that I said regularly and frankly, that hasn't changed much in the last year or so. Growing up it's always boy or girl, no in between, this idea is reinforced in school until as adults we are so used to a binary that is difficult for most people to change. Unless you are one of those kids who never really felt like they sat right in their gender. That little kid who did all of the 'boy things' and who didn't like the 'girl stuff' and didn't get why other kids wanted to do silly things rather than run around outside and climb trees. Thankfully University came along and I got one more opportunity to question again. Now here I am supposedly an adult and I get to do all of the gender exploration that I never got to do as a child.

My reading and researching has led me to divide gender into five categories; gender identity, gender expression, gender attribution, gender identity fluidity and gender expression fluidity. These five categories tell us what gender a person is, how often that changes as well as how that is presented to the world. As with Sex, these aren't necessarily stable quantities - a persons identity can change over time and their expression surely does. From what I have seen in my reading so far this is especially true for afab people because society is more accepting of their gender exploration than people who are amab. Now for a little more detail on each of the categories, what research needs to be done on the different hypothesis involved and then what can be done with the information.

Gender identity is one of the characteristics that people are likely most familiar with because this is where trans gender people become known. The category is a little more complicated that just cis vs trans though because we have two classifications to start with, binary and non-binary then we break those down even further. On the binary side we have cis male and cis female as well as trans male and trans female. On the non-binary side things are more complicated. We have neutrois, gender fluid, gender queer, gender neutral, agender, and I am sure there are more that I don't know of yet. Each of these non-binary classifications can have a trans history as well, though that is up to the person to identify.

Gender expression gets even more complicated with gender fucks and gender queers intentionally playing with peoples attributions. There are what are considered 'masculine' and 'feminine' expressions and dyke, boi, femme, androgynous, and all of the different combinations and classifications that can appear. For the sake of my brain I have just those I have listed here as well as an 'other' category but that may change as the research finds what people feel their expression best falls into.

Gender attribution is what other people think is your gender identity (and often your asab) just from your gender expression. This is most commonly male, female or trans but depending on the person doing the attribution the range of options can be just as broad as the range of potential identities. As with any attribution, those who are active in the gender world likely will ask a persons gender identity and their pronouns before this attribution is fully made.

Gender identity and expression fluidity can both very drastically for people, especially gender expression. The difference here though is if people attribute you to be a female then more fluidity in gender expression is accepted vs the tighter levels of acceptable gender expression exploration that society finds acceptable in males. The variation can be from essentially stable or small amounts of fluidity to semi-regular, or moderate fluidity and finally to high fluidity where your identity or expression changes quite a bit. These are two different categories but both have a big impact on a person both in how others perceive them to if they get cis privilege or not.

There have been a number of studies already into gender identity but, as is common in many programmes, non-binary identities have largely been ignored. I would like to try to replicate some of the research that has been done on gender identity while taking into account that there are non-binary people out there. I would also like to see about modifying some of the existing questionnaires to be more inclusive of non-binary people and to be able to accurately measure the gender identity of a person, rather than just leaving things in the binary.

For gender expression the best way to get this information would be a survey of people with a variety of different gender identities asking them what kinds of expression they do to show the world their gender. This can range from clothing and jewelry to body language and even methods of speaking. Clinical interviews would also be useful for this because then more information can be gathered on points that need clarification.

For gender attribution, the best way to do this would be to have a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds look at people of a variety of gender identities and expressions and have them label each with what they think the persons gender identity is. This would not only give the different kinds of labels people give but the frequency of the labels as per different identities and expressions.

Gender identity fluidity and gender expression fluidity can both be done in similar ways to the body map fluidity research I outlined last post. This would be a preliminary retrospective survey on the persons gender identity and expression and how the changes over time and a follow up longitudinal study having people journal their identity and expression over time. This combination would give both how people perceive themselves changing over time as well as the reality of what is occurring.

The practical aspect of this is that it can help a person who is struggling with their identity to clearly see what is going on, or for their therapist to get a better idea of what they are presenting. Especially if measures can be made or adapted to be used to determine this information. Examples of the use of this is to help people who are trans and want to either have surgery or go on hormones. A clinical interview to get the needed information on sex and gender in this system would tell someone that the person is trans and if they want to do hormones or surgery it can inform the process from there while validating the persons gender. The current system is invalidating for people with non-binary genders and even may binary trans people find the system to be deeply problematic. While this wouldn't entirely renovate the system a therapist using this base to evaluate the persons need for alignment processes while removing the invalidation of either the therapist denying your gender identity or having to lie about it, thus rendering your actual identity invisible. 

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