Gender + the “natural” self
‘Is there a true, “natural” self that should/would indicate our true gender?’
Nope. Now, in further response to this questios written on the board during class today, I thought back to Hannah’s well thought out post on the various connotations of the words “nature” and “natural.” The anonymous questioner I quote uses the word “natural” to refer to something that is inborn, pure, untouched by society, intrinsic in one’s being. I’ve no issue with the first part of the question- is there something basic, inherent in people, under all the parts we play and masks we wear? It’s how I operate in the world, so yeah, I really think so. However, does this “natural” part indicate an equally “natural” gender?
In my eyes, gender is a tool. We use tools to make our lives better, to express ourselves, to slather some paint on our cave walls so we don’t get so mind-numbingly bored in the winter. But at the end of the day, I think it’s extremely important to draw a boundary between what is the tool and who is the tool user. Gender helps us express how we feel, deep down in the marrow of our bones, when we look at another self-identified female (or male, or trans, or Red Sox fan*) and go ‘Hey. Hey. That’s me. That’s what my mirror should show. And that person there? They’re another me too.’ Kinship, belonging, understanding.
How you express yourself is not yourself, the same way that Monet isn’t real lilies and that Hatfield isn’t a real McCoy. I want people to realize this when dealing with me, and I need to keep it in mind when dealing with others in turn. We’ll never know another person’s true self, and not only is that okay, it’s necessary. It brings me immeasurable comfort to know that even when I’m judged, even if my known (or assumed) gender, orientation, religious preferences, or whatever come into play, there is a place deep deep deep in my marrow the the other person won’t ever see and is totally, completely mine. It precedes gender (and orientation, and religious preference…) by a lot. My “natural” self is the one pulling the strings, one of which is the fact I’m pretty apathetic on my gender, but accept “she’s a chick” for convenience’s sake. I think this is really really super important to keep in mind you guys because of the debate surrounding gender/sex/identity and whether or not these things are intrinsic.
That said, I’m nowhere near declaring that gender/sex/identity are things that we totally control, just that a gay man is, first and foremost, just some random, probably nice and average person on the streets who identifies as both male and homosexual. There is something that comes before either of those, something that would remain if you subtracted both ‘male’ and ‘homosexual’ from the equation. The real you. The natural you. This is part of what I wanted to get at in my first post about a utopia in which technology allowed people to completely strip themselves of gender. It is my fervent belief that something remains without it, and as with any tool, should be picked up and put to the side as the needs of the user demand.
*-I know, I already used this joke in a comment today. My humor levels are easily met.