Gender. Masculinity & Femininity. These are complicated topics. I know that a lot of folks would like to see gender as black and white. You’re a boy or a girl. Male or female. Straight. No other option there. But that’s not how it is. Between Kinsey and Masters & Johnson starting the conversation in the otherwise Puritanical 50s and 60s, and then the sexual revolution, gay rights and feminist movements, Gloria Steinam, Betty Friedan and others, we now have a lot more information about human sexuality and its complexities. We’re not there by any stretch, but I’m glad we’re collectively moving to a more open view of gender and sexuality.
This week I got the news that I need to have a hysterectomy. It’s probably going to happen around Christmas, so look for your invitation to my Holiday Hysterectomy event. The first thing I thought about when I was discussing this with the doctor was a story arc on the TV show thirtysomething, which was a cultural touchstone amongst my friends in high school. We lived and died by the Tuesday night lineup and were often chastised for talking during chapel on Wednesday mornings because we had to talk about Hope & Michael, et al. The story line that came into my head was when Patricia Wettig’s character, Nancy, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had to have a hysterectomy. It was very emotionally traumatic for her and she talked about feeling like she’d been “castrated.”
I just don’t feel that way. I am a slow emotional processor and so maybe I’ll have some negative reaction to this, but at this point, all I can think about is how much easier my life will be once I’ve gone through the recovery process. I’ve never associated the (theoretical) ability to reproduce with “femininity”. In fact, I’ve never seen motherhood as the ultimate expression of being a woman. It’s one of many. I have never wanted to have biological children, so not being able to has never been a big issue for me.
Gender fascinates me. What makes one “masculine” or “feminine”? Those are cultural constructs. They mean something different now than they did 50 years ago, and something different in India than Mexico. I took another one of those stupid internet quizzes and discovered that I’m “40% girly.” I have no idea what that means.
One of the more ridiculous arguments against marriage equality is that the purpose of marriage is procreation and since the gays can’t naturally reproduce then they shouldn’t get married. Ummm….I can’t naturally reproduce. Should I also not be allowed to to marry? Should anyone over the age of 50 not be allowed to marry? Gender, sex, and our bodies are complicated. It’s not just about whether or not one can reproduce, one “looks” like a certain gender or one “acts” in a way that conforms with the cultural gender norms at this point in history. People should be seen and received as individuals, with their own set of complicated identities and values.
In the next couple of months, I’m going to be slightly lighter on the lady parts but that’s got nothing to do with whether or not I’m a lady. Gender identity is complicated and fluid for many and it’s about time we recognize and respect our differences. I’m certain of my identity but I hope to offer compassionate support for those who aren’t.