The recent case of Bradley Manning has brought into public attention once again the question of what to do about someone who believes himself to be in the wrong body. The politics of this issue have even compelled a new category to be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-V. The term de jour is gender dysphoria.
Oy, where to begin? My dictionary tells me that gender is the term to describe the grammatical form of a word. German, for example, has three: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Other languages have more. This dictionary also tells me that gender is used in the colloquial (read, informal, loose, sloppy) sense as a synonym for sex, as in male or female.
Yes, my dictionary is an old one. That is a quality in its favor. Unfortunately, many today use gender to mean the expected characteristics of a given sex. Men are supposedly
while women are
and anyone who doesn’t seem to fit should have the chance to go through radical surgeries and druggings to be transformed into the right appearance.
Now I have no objection to those who have more money than brains and wish to tinker with themselves. But as a matter of scientific and psychological and humanist clarity and rationality, shouldn’t we accept that being a man or being a woman essentially has only limited anatomical meaning?
Some will say, be a man. That’s usually directed at a male who is crying or complaining. I prefer to say, grow up. Be an adult. Be responsible, self-reliant, skillful. Those aren’t limited to one sex or the other. In fact, I know of no worthy characteristic that is.
But what about things that are stereotypically “masculine” or “feminine”?
I have a cat. In fact, as I’m writing this, he’s playing his usual game with me of jumping on my desk or on my lap, only to be shoved off and jump back on. Sharing my life with a feline doesn’t affect my DNA. It’s still XY. In the same line, I can’t stand American football. It is to me a pointless exercise and a waste of a good soccer field. But again, that has no effect on my identity.
On that subject, I recall a member of the band in college who expressed her fanaticism for a particular football team. When I shook my head, she asked if it was because she was a woman who loved football. No, I replied, it was amazement over fandom for such a thing in general, not tied to her being a woman. And that’s my point. If we stop overdefining what it means to be a man or a woman, we open up a lot of freedom to people who don’t identify with the stereotypes and remove the burden to conform or change.
Of course, I still won’t understand a man who wants to wear a dress, but that’s because I can’t understand anyone wanting to wear one. The damned things have no pockets and nowhere to strap on an inside-the-waistband holster.