Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Amber's Take on Gender Roles

Man, where do I start?

I graduated from BYU with a degree in anthropology, which has a good chunk of the entire field dedicated to gender roles in different cultures. To summarize, there are different genders and gender roles everywhere, and not all of them are just male or female. There are forms of being transgender and different forms of intersex across the world, and to say that only the western form of male and female is valid is a rejection of the validity of belief of millions of people across the world.

That's the strange thing about our current sociocultural atmosphere of our generation. We are not afraid to build up our own definitions of what culture and love and civil rights and tolerance should be, and we're not afraid to take those definitions and use them in our daily lives. We could have waxed soulful and longing in our coffeehouses and hidden ourselves away out of fear of the thoughts of our fellow men, but no. No, we said. Our ideals of individualism have gone so far and so strong that we can go ahead and start changing the very framework that directs our daily lives.

Why not, you ask. This is normal, why bother explaining it?

It's not normal for everyone in the United States, and it's certainly not normal across the world. While living in India, I realized very quickly just what kind of reaction and what public abuse I would receive if I came out as bisexual there. My project would be compromised and my translators would have refused to work with me. At worst, physical abuse from the community was possible. However, this little story about a couple just twenty miles outside of the town I lived in (Visag) reveals that things are changing across the world, and that the globalization of our ideal of individuality is spreading.

I think the fight for and against gay rights and for equality of genders is only going to get harder. The economic struggle we are all facing isn't going away anytime soon, it seems. As the economy falls, and the ideals of how the markets and wealth should grow fall away in turn, there will be a greater and greater call to return to religion. We may even see a decline in the realism of national art and art that represents the government--as was the case in the empires of the world such as those of Rome, Egypt, Persia, China, not to mention the Ottoman and British empires. Falling from near-perfect realism that reflects the realized dreams of the economy, we would see slightly more and more abstract work that reflects the ethereal nature of what was once ours and no longer is. In the United States, the biggest call will be to return to Christianity and what is considered extreme now may become moderate over the course of the next twenty years if things keep up in the direction they are going. I pray that it's not the case.

All of my life, I have desired to not bear the label of male or female.

With that said, I have never considered myself girly or a feminine woman, not of the thin-boned, transcendent, cute sort that need physical protection and could have a bisexual like me falling head over heels for their lovely graces. I never got to be that girl, physically. I'm built like a giant--with biceps, calf muscles, and a belly twice the size that of my boyfriend. I'm overweight and I'm quite brawny. My dad quickly attained morbid obesity while working hard to keep my family fed while I was still a fetus. I caught that genetic trait, and now in turn, it's hard for me to shed pounds as well. I was a fat little kid in elementary school, and I'm certainly overweight, now. My height makes up for some of it, but there's no denying that I've got rolls where I don't want them to be. I walk with my boyfriend before he goes to work, and while I certainly could be more active, I've gotten more used to the skin I'm in.

It's also forged my personality and my gender expression, in a few ways.

Before I go further, I should explain my interpretation of gender theory. You have gender identity, which is what gender you consider yourself to be. Thanks to my generation's respect of individual self-discovery, this doesn't have to correspond with any label whatsoever. It can be female, it can be male, genderqueer, or whatever you feel is your gender. I personally made up my own gender label, and tell people off the cuff that I consider myself psychologically genderqueer and biologically female. I have lived through many forms of abuse for transgressing against traditional female roles, and that likely won't change. Why I don't psychologically consider myself female will come in another post.

Besides gender identity, there is also gender expression, and sexual orientation. I have friends that identify as males for their gender, express their maleness in stereotypical Anglo-American ways, and have a sexual orientation for other white men. I express my gender in fairly gender-neutral ways, sometimes going a little more butch or a little more lipstick, to use lesbian terms. It's pretty fluid. My sexual orientation is equally bisexual, a three on the Kinsey scale. Some days, I feel more lesbian, and other days, I feel more straight. It's fluid--likely because of the tendency of people raised as biological females to associate sexual relations more with emotional connection thanks to social conditioning.

Should your gender identity or sexual orientation prescribe what roles you should take on? 
(insert swear here) No. Absolutely not. They should be whatever you desire them to be, as long as you're making a good effort to be part of the lives of the people that love you--simply showing that you love them back. Your gender expression and the roles associated with it should reflect what you're comfortable with and what you desire to become and reflect. 

If you feel uncomfortable being in the skin of a female destined for motherhood--reframe yourself! Figure out what you are comfortable in--it's the only skin you have. There's nothing wrong with that skin I described, by the way. It's just not something I was comfortable with. The label I gave myself bears aspects of manhood and womanhood without being either. I'm still trying to figure out what it means. The word itself is derived both from the word amazon and a word I once heard in a dream, where I lived out an entire lifetime as a man in a much different world. I still mark my papers as female just to process information without slowing down the operation and getting questions, but inwardly, this is my own identity. I promise to explore it further in later posts, but to be honest, this is all I can say today. 

Everyone's path in finding what they are--on so many different levels is a tough one and one to be respected. However, this is what I feel right with. I hope that everyone can respect that and that everyone can understand that gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation are not prescribed by what genitals you had at birth. It's not all just a little neat psychological package you can give to yourself and others. If that was the case, what can be said for hermaphrodites or androgynous people? 

I hope my words can help you come further in understanding yourself.


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