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Gender + the “natural” self

2009 February 11
by The Doctor

‘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.

One Response
  1. SarahLeia permalink
    February 12, 2009

    How interesting that you pulled my quote from today! (now it is no longer anonymous.) And I’m really glad you did, because this makes me look at my question in a different way. I guess the reason I had this question comes from two things I’ve heard in different class discussions we’ve had. First, about two weeks ago (maybe?), Solomon said something in class questioning whether or not our thoughts are our own or if they are created by society…something along those lines. I’m pretty sure we killed that line of inquiry before it got more complicated (and got us off-topic).

    I see now that using the term natural gender was a mistake, it wasn’t really what I was trying to get at, especially looking at it with your definition of gender. During today’s exercise I defined gender as “the set of social norms made into a category that we are put into or choose to put ourselves into”, so I can see now that my question about a natural gender actually contradicts what I think a gender is. If a gender is a set of social constructions than it follows that there would be no true gender that can be defined by nature. It is something we can determine as a form of expression once we discover we are able to do so, like using a tool. What I was thinking of when I wrote this question was the idea that some people are born “wrong”, which is a statement I myself don’t agree with but is still something I keep hearing around me. But to not agree with the notion that a certain gender can be firmly defined does make the second part of my question troublesome.

    What I seem to be struggling with personally is the existence a natural self deep-down that is pulling the strings, as you put it. This is what the real motivation was behind my question. Somedays I feel as if this is true, but then I have my moments of cynicism where I step back and think, well isn’t it possible that I am just reflecting society around me? Am I really making my own choices, what is motivating my likes/dislikes, etc? This goes back to Solomon’s comment in class that I mentioned earlier. I am not sure how to approach this question and the uneasiness I have about the idea of there being no natural self…I guess this is something I will have to wrestle with more to become more clear about it.

    Okay Doctor, thank you so much for replying to my question – I don’t think I would have thought this much about what I really meant to say if no one had responded. (this is why comments etc are important, people; it helps people like me who are unsure about their ideas develop them further!)

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