I’ve been talking a whole lot about my post about the Genderbread system for talking about gender. The conversations have been really great and have really helped me to think about how I tackled that subject, my own views on gender, how to be empathetic, and really how I approach writing altogether. I have a few things to add and to clarify, and I do not want to just keep editing and adding to the same post, so here we are!
The most important thing that I want to make sure is ultra ultra clear to everyone is that I really really like Genderbread! In fact, this entire conversation was sparked by me leaving a comment that started with “I love EVERYTHING about this except…” I don’t think that the “except” part means that I don’t love it. I don’t think that criticizing something means that I don’t think a thing is great. Now, I framed my post in terms of criticisms, that’s true, and looking back on it, I’m not sure that was the best format to choose. I was trying to get my thoughts out, and that was the most obvious way for me. I was hearing a lot of criticism, and I wanted to engage with it and respond to it. Some of the criticisms I agreed with, true, but many of them I actually argued against. I brought them up because I thought they were important to respond to, but my response was actually in defense of Genderbread. Here, I’ll show you by going ahead and quoting myself like some self obsessed jerk:
I disagree with this more than any other point I’m going to bring up here. I do not think that it is condescending to try to offer an explanation in an accessible way, particularly when so much of the conversation around gender is SO VERY ACADEMIC that people who haven’t (and in some cases haven’t had the opportunity to) take a gender studies class are a) afraid to talk about gender or b) think it’s all elitist bullshit. But you don’t have to take a gender studies class to understand gender, and you shouldn’t have to!
And lastly, I just want to say that when I hear this argument, I kind of feel like it’s akin to saying that we shouldn’t speak English because it is a very gendered language (or French, or Spanish, or, you get the idea!) and maybe there’s a point to that, but when you are trying to explain something to someone who SPEAKS English, if you expect them to learn German before they talk to you, you aren’t going to get anywhere. You have to start with what you have.
But the fact that this was not obvious to several different people means something to me. I’m still learning, and I’m going to just assume that people found it to be unclear because it was unclear. I’ll try to do better in the future! In the meantime, let me be extremely clear: I really like Genderbread. I am going to print out a bunch of them to keep around my house.
What I don’t think though, is that liking it somehow makes it infallible. I don’t think that the fact that it does a good job of helping to start the conversation about gender makes it above criticism. On the contrary, I think that the conversation that it does a good job of starting, that’s the conversation that I’m having. I want to keep having that conversation. That will continue to mean being critical sometimes.
I also want to make a note about the difference between sex and gender, and the difference between transsexual people and transgender people. Let’s start with the second one. I made a huge oversight in my first post, I failed to realize that MANY MANY TRANS* PEOPLE ARE BOTH TRANSGENDER AND TRANSSEXUAL. This should have been so obvious to me, and it wasn’t. I treated the two as two distinct categories, and they’re not, and it’s not about that, and I shouldn’t have done that and I’m sorry. And this leads into the thing about sex and gender, because it is all well and good, for me, a cis gender woman, to sit here and say that sex and gender are totally separate and we should view them and treat them as such, but the reality is that we live in the world, and the world doesn’t always do that. And human experiences matter. The fact is that I have never looked at a form that said “gender: check one, male, female” and wondered if my choice would be respected, or wondered at which one I should choose at all. That is not my reality. I can say all day long that “male” and “female” are biological categories and nothing more, but the fact is that they are loaded words for many people. It is not my job to police anyone’s experience or try to force anyone into a category. Emotional reality MATTERS, and I think sometimes it matters a great deal more than the reality of where one fits on paper, whether it’s your driver’s license or a Genderbread worksheet.
I’m not asking Genderbread, or myself, to be perfect. But I do think that we need to talk about the ways that we can make things better.