As a preface, I respect transgender and transexual folks.  It's a rough world, and it takes guts to redefine yourself like that.

But I don't like the term "transgender."  Identifying as transgender means you are accepting gender roles.  Men are one way, and women are another.  It means that if you are one sex, you identify with the roles associated with the other.  The thing is, I don't believe people should feel like something is wrong because they don't associate with their accepted gender roles.  (By that logic, I would totally be bigender.)  Instead, I think that gender roles should be eliminated or adapted to be made more inclusive.  People shouldn't feel broken for being themselves.

Identifying as transexual, on the other hand, is more of a physical matter.  You feel like you're in the wrong body.  I can't speak to that, and this post isn't really covering it, though the two are obviously closely intertwined.

The reason I bring this up is this post on growing up transgender in the LDS church.  I identified with lots of the gender issues the author covered.  Gender roles are huge in the LDS church.  Women and men are separated by the clothes they wear, the domestic and familial roles they're supposed to perform, and their roles in ordinances and other community endeavors.  When you're eight, boys get a blue book and girls get a pink/brown book.  Then, as soon as you're twelve, you're expected to spend an hour (Sunday services) or more (weeknight activities) each week in classes specifically for your gender.  Boys get the priesthood and girls don't.  Missions, callings, Temple.  Gender, gender, gender.

As a kid, I came home upset or crying many-a-time because I was too boyish.  Mostly, I wanted to do well in school (especially math) and have a career eventually (heaven forbid).  But, I also wanted to climb trees and play with plastic dinosaurs.  I didn't want to have my eyebrows plucked by other teenagers, plan my wedding, or babysit.  The thought crossed my mind that I should have been a boy, but I pushed it aside.  I like who I am, I told myself, I'm not the one that needs to change.  They need to change their expectations.

Gender roles should not make people feel broken.  They should not make them feel sad or limited.  So before I propose a genderless society, why is gender useful?  Are there instances where gender roles improve people or societies?  If so, I want to know.


Rachael said...

i've been thinking a lot about this. i have always identified as a feminine tomboy, in that i like makeup and jewelry and "girly" things, but i also like sports and weight lifting and fighting, or "boy" things. I do believe gender is eternal and it is assigned based on biology, but i feel like a lot of what our culture and society deem as gender specific has no eternal hold. if a boy likes dolls, who cares? if a girl loves sports, who cares? (And you can insert almost any gender specific activity into those examples.) those things shouldn't define us and i really don't believe God cares about those items. i am trying to decide WHAT God cares about and assigns to each gender. as far as I can tell, genitals and their use are a main focus. and there is something to be said about the way men and women think differently, but even that doesn't always apply. so woman bear children and men...impregnate us, I guess? I'm still trying to figure out what our eternal gender roles really are. but the societal roles forced on us are frustrating and an unnecessary source of confusion and sadness for a lot of people. even though i like girly stuff, i hated YW because i felt like a lot of what we did during activities was demeaning. men learn life skills; girls talk about makeup? it seemed to sell us and our potential short, and i don't think that is God's intention for His daughters.

I am hardcore rambling now. the point is, i find this very interesting and am curious about the real eternal role of gender. i wish someone would clear it up.

Jeff Kaufman said...

"before I propose a genderless society, why is gender useful? Are there instances where gender roles improve people or societies? If so, I want to know."

I'm not aware of any cases where gender roles are needed. (I wrote about this some:

There may be some benefits based on the simple bias where you tell someone "you are an X and people who are X have positive traits Y". But you could do this on any attribute, not just sex.

Because so many societies have had some sort of gender roles, though, I would be cautious about fully jettisoning them without some experiments. Maybe some communities drop them and we see how it goes.

ajbc said...

Rachael - I've always interpreted "gender is eternal" to mean "sex is eternal;" after all, we believe in a physical afterlife. Everyone just seems to be queasy about saying the word "sex" at church. It's entirely possible that women will trend one way and men another on various issues, like they do now, but I don't think gender roles will strictly divide the heavens. I think the most important thing is finding one's personal role in family and community, regardless of gender. I think gender roles should serve as soft guidelines: "oh, you're a woman, that means you might like this okay!"

Jeff - There's a difference between something being needed and that same thing improving an individual's life or group dynamics. I need food, but good-tasting food improves my life. Lots of gender roles make my life better: women wear skirts, women cook, etc.. I like these practices and the role has made it easier for me to adopt them. But, lots of men also like to cook, and many of them might like skirts. The trick is for roles not to be exclusive or guilt-inducing.

Let's say a higher proportion of women like cooking; it's not that unreasonable given that they have a more sensitive sense of smell. So say society nudges women to cook (a gender role), such that the overall happiness of the society is increased. Is that a bad thing? How do we determine the optimum strength of the nudge?

Anonymous said...

Hi Allison, you're so very brave to continue to be true to yourself despite of what everyone is doing around you. I'm not a Mormon, but I was also a tomboy. I got a Master's in CS and I only wear t-shirts (most of them free tshirts from school events). Even though I'm now a stay-at-home mom, I made the choice to quit my CS job. But all the Mormon females I've met in my life seem like they didn't have the choice. I thought: "How sad to be born in their culture. It's like being born hundreds of years ago, where women's top occupation is being a housewife. I wonder if some of them are sad that they are conditioned to not pursue STEM." And then I came upon your blog today and I see that it's not all the case. I don't know how many Mormon girls are reading your blog, but maybe in the future you could be the inspiration to Mormon girls giving talks at elementary schools in Utah, or becoming the first female CS professor at a Mormon university.

ajbc said...

Thanks for the encouragement! I think there is certainly gender conditioning in Mormon culture, but the worst bits are slowly breaking, especially further outside of the highly-concentrated Mormon areas. I'm glad to be part of that. :)