Who Polices Gender? Thoughts On Invented & Sustained Difference.


Graphic from ‘You Have Been Toilet Trained’ PDF.

A couple of years ago, when the topic of gender came up in conversation with my friend, A.J. Durand, the first place I went to in my mind was to the thoughts of my uterus, ovaries, vulva and vagina and that I was a woman because how could I really be different from my biology?

Don’t “I” emanate from my biology? At the time, I was also reading Wild Feminine. The author, Tami Lynn Kent has a loosely biological determining philosophy that guides her notion of wild femininity. In the book she allows for different expressions for femininity, and simultaneously shares a mostly ideal narrative (in our popular culture) for what that means. The book tells an abuse-free story for healing (hard for me to identify with that, as I consider our culture to be quite abusive). This book had me thinking about birthing my spiritual self and life expression through my uterus. It’s not a bad book, even helpful when it comes to female bodies and normalizing vaginal massage (which I think is good). It also holds a model for a healthy life that seems to say that a woman is happiest when she is in her place in the natural order of things as determined by her biology or feminine spirituality—to be determined by the woman, herself.

When the question came up: “Do you think you are a woman?” Or similar question…

I thought and said, “Of course.” Feeling that my identity was determined by my crotch.

Energetically—the root chakra, which is in the pelvis, is thought to house our sense of home and security. And I have found it to be true that to focus on the pelvis in yoga is super-helpful for increasing feelings of being safe and comfortable in the body.

What if some of what we learn about our pelvises teach us to not trust ourselves, and therefore to feel unsafe in ourselves?

In his lectures to young communists in Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, psychologist Wilhelm Reich theorized that the suppression of sexuality was essential to an authoritarian government. Without the imposition of antisexual morality, he believed, people would be free from shame and would trust their own sense of right and wrong.
~Dossie Easton & Janet W. Hardy, ‘The Ethical Slut’

What role do I play in policing the bodies and identities of others?
~’You Have Been Toilet Trained’ PDF

This second quote from the toilet training PDF helped me to make a connection to why what I’m wanting to talk about is so slippery.

Many of us assume that it’s normal to be either male with masculine traits, or female with feminine traits, and we also very often will correct one another, or talk about it/laugh about it when we see something that fails to fit what we think of as the right behavior for how we identify the person we are seeing based on physical attributes.

These slights can seem so small and usual for many of us and we just go through life hardly noticing, and basically accepting these standards as reasonable for men and women, as well as doing our best to conform to these standards ourselves. Many people also feel that they are performing aspects of their identified gender that aren’t really them, but help meet expectations. Some of it is forced.

This tendency of seeing people, discerning a “gender” and then expecting divergent behavior based on a read of “male” or “female” particularly damages people who identify as trans or those who feel that the expectations of their perceived gender do not agree with how they want to be (or are) in the world.

One place this shows up is around bathrooms. I know I’ve received a funny look when leaving a men’s bathroom before. Why should someone else care if I just relieved my bladder in there? I had to pee.

Why do we police basic bodily functions?

I was thinking about segregation in American history, and how there was a time when people of color were expected to use different bathrooms than white people. Now we are in a time when it is common that women are expected to use different bathrooms than men. This separation confirms many times a day for many of us that there is a recognized difference and reasonable separation and even class difference between women and men. It is one of the ways that difference is maintained that seems to legitimate a power differential between men and women.

And it all stems from our pelvises! And imagined sex organs! …since we rarely see what people have “down there.”

What if the differences of our sex organs really represent more about what we might need to do to pleasure and play, rather than dictating who goes where and can do what? What if these commonly held beliefs about what men and women can and should do are really false, and have more to do with maintaining power structures based on class differences, rather than having much to do with determinations from nature?

A great thing: gender neutral bathrooms. One step towards accepting people as they are (needing to pee), and welcoming expected and unexpected gender expressions…


Gender neutral bathrooms at Saturn Cafe in Berkeley, California where everybody can pee!


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