Gender, Shmender

We have so much free time on our hands that now we can argue about gender.  Let me show you how I see it: on the one side you’ve got science, which says that sex and gender are the same thing (you have a vagina, you are a woman, you have a penis, you are a man), and on the other side is a group of people who believe that gender is a subjective feeling, and not exactly related to genitalia (which is interesting because for most of the planet, the genitalia and the feeling pretty much match, or at least match enough that they don’t have to have sexual reassignment surgery to make them match sufficiently).

Somewhere floating around in the middle of this is some interesting gender theory (you might think gender studies, though I encountered it in a graduate level literary theory class).  Judith Butler, for example, has written on the performativity of gender stating that one’s gender identity is not simply the expression of one’s inner gender (because the self has no gender) but rather it is something that is co-constructed through the interaction between the individual and society.

This is not to suggest that gender identity can be put on and taken off like a pair of pants, but that what makes gender identity appear to be a uniform aspect of a person’s self is merely an effect caused by similarly repeated performances of gender identity day in and day out.  That is, if you look like a duck, walk like a duck, and quack like a duck all day every day, people are going to call you a duck.  They’re not saying that there is a duck essence behind the duck performance.  People see the duck being the definition we have given ducks and call the animal a duck (people like to categorize things; it makes the world easier to understand).

But what do we say about those who feel like a woman right down to the core (regardless of genitalia)?  What if the animal performing the duck says it really feels like a swan?  Should we redefine ducks? Or Swans? Should subjective feelings about gender be used to redefine gender?  That seems to be what is happening (or at least what some people may want).  Sex and gender are being deconstructed into separate parts, with science defining the former and subjective experience defining the latter because science cannot tell us whether or not the self has a gender (arguably identity lies outside of the realm of hard science).

This is fine for me, but people also like to be right and have other people tell them they are right. So the gender debate is going to go on and on just like the God debate; faith can’t prove science wrong and science can’t prove faith wrong because they are in utterly different realms (which is interesting because science is also subjective and filled with theory, but that isn’t this conversation).  With that in mind, can I just suggest that we let people call themselves what they want and pee where they want, and move onto something that actually matters?  Otherwise, we are going to be doing this ( forever.


Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader.   Ed. Henry Abelove et al. Routledge, 1993.


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