Sex and Destiny: Gender identity
“The phenomenon of the drag queen dramatically demonstrates such boundary violation. Like whites playing “black face”, he plays at incorporation of the oppressed role without being incorporated in it.” Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology – 1978
Many of us who grew up in the liberal/humanist/socialist tradition often accept male-born transgendered people as ‘women’ because of a complete mind-boggling insanity denying the facts of biology, physics and chemistry. Socially constructed insanity I might add.
Many born women do reconstruct themselves to ‘fit’ male definitions of femininity in its various forms, much as male-born transgendered people do. Biologically speaking, this version of male-defined definition of femininity either removes the clitoris or reconstructs it as an ‘equivalent’ version of the penis in born-women. Breasts are denied any function other than decorative, the vagina is an artificial cavity without complex musculature or nervous system of its own, (ie forced to “fit” within male pelvic structures) and the uterus, ovaries and other female musculature and biochemistry disappears altogether. From any of the traditional viewpoints, be it essentialist, or biological determinist, or complete social constructionist – I find it difficult to accept human bodies reconstructed to mimic female physicality can be included in the category ‘Woman’ however ill-defined and problematic that category may be.
Femininity, (and masculinity), in all its various forms (and there are a lot of them), is totally a social construction, but is always a male construction based on male-bodied life experience, and any *bits* of female-bodied life-experience which don’t correspond to male experience, are removed from the Human Condition altogether.
Erasure and denial of femaleness, and replacing it with male-bodied definitions of femininity, is something women are socially conditioned to share with men the world over. Men hate women, and so women hate women too, and in particular, we are taught to hate the femaleness in our own bodies and those of other women. We are trained and conditioned into masochism of the female body.
In human females the expression of Self-Hatred and masochistic rituals is displayed in many ways, some socially acceptable or promoted and marketed as desirable, eg the global beauty industry, shoes, cosmetics, clothing, the public ‘uniforms’ of masochistic femininity. Other displays of the Sado-Ritual Syndrome of ‘femininity’, are a myriad of eating disorders, self-harming behaviours, (from self-cutting to ‘choosing’ prostitution), to surgical body reconstructions and drug and alcohol abuse.
The male-born transgendered people socially reinforce an underlying concept of the inherent body masochism of femininity, as being the sole and only definition of womanhood, in Erasing femaleness. The female-born transgendered are erasing femaleness in their bodies, through masochistic self-harm which is still the hallmark of femininity.
Both socially constructed gendered roles attempt to Erase the Female from existence. One attempts to Erase their own femaleness in Self-hatred by removing all their uniquely female bits, and the other is also Erasing the female, by replacing it with a femininity which similarly excludes all the uniquely female bits, which biological males can’t do anyway.
Both roles are based on definitions of socially constructed femininity, which has nothing to do with femaleness. Either way, the female bits that can’t conform to a male biological “equivalent” standard are removed, denied any importance or value, or any humanity. Only male biology matters. Only male biology and life experience is ‘human’, so only male biology and socially constructed reality can be our ‘Destiny’. In other words, both are insisting that the female has no right to existence.
Even from a purely social constructionist perspective, the socialisation of the female begins in infancy, and the oppression is very much played out through and onto our physical bodies. Our bodies are our minds, there is no Mind/Body split. Our Bodies, are indeed, Our Selves. They cannot be disconnected without, to paraphrase Robert Graves, ‘without a huge intellectual effort that destroys their humanity’.
Since femininity is socially constructed on the base of male definitions, it is in essence, just an alternate form of masculinity. There has often been binary twinning in male social constructions, from religious to secular, but the binary is of male to male, with the castrated male, or effeminate, or the Gentle-Man, being the ‘feminine’ version. The female is in reality, a Third Pole of humanity, but has been mostly, if not totally, erased and invisibilised from ‘human’ consciousness. For females to have any social privileges at all, they must socially and/or physically reconstruct themselves, to ‘fit’ the social and/or physical form of the feminine male.
The so-called gender binary, is a male binary. Good/Evil – God/Satan – Yin/Yang – in mainstream politics the ‘hawks’ and the ‘doves’, the ‘left’ and the ‘right’. One face of the binary is feminised, gentler or androgynised – Loving Gentle Jesus versus his fire and brimstone macho Father.
This male binary or ‘twinning’ is seen in all sorts of patriarchal institutions, from religious to contemporary pop culture to secular and mainstream political and educational institutions. In religious symbolism, many of the earliest used conflict between twin brothers as metaphors for balancing the cycles of life and death. One is seen as Evil, the other Good, (and sometimes hard to tell apart) –Cain and Abel, Castor and Pollux who became the star constellation of Geminii, and Romulus and Remus, the brothers who founded Rome through the Rape of the Sabine women. In the myth of the Egyptian brother-demigods, Osiris and Set, each ruled half the year, and each had to symbolically “die” in his time and season. However, both were over-ruled by Isis, the Triple Goddess, who is eternal and rules all life and death. In later mythologies the Goddess is completely erased altogether, or gradually disappears into an empty inanimate object. The two male brother gods, evolved into macho Father and gentle Son figures. The masculine or dominant male, versus the feminine or submissive male. In some mythologies, the ‘gentle-man’ figure would appear in pseudo-female form – such as Dionysis, or Athena – a.k.a – Daddy’s Girl figures– androgynous or masculinised females who were subordinate to Father Gods.
The ‘Other’ that male philosophers have railed about for millennia, is himself, not Woman at all. The gender binary is dominant and submissive, not male and female. It is just the male social construction means that nearly all females are automatically socially engineered by force, coercion and propaganda into the feminine gender role, but it remains optional for males – but femininity as a gender is still a male gender, so can only be defined in terms of male bodied experience.
I suspect that is why drag is not seen as offensive as racialised parody. It is men laughing at themselves. For women socialised into femininity have none other but the feminised male to identify with, and to receive even the smallest privileges of humanity, must erase their femaleness and side with the men in drag.
May those Mad, Mad Women, those Misfit Female Bodies, Rest in Peace.