Gender Divisions as The Most Common Perversity

In Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex Pat Califia asserts that our dependence and belief in sex differences is primarily driven by sexual pleasure; this pleasure thus becomes the most common perversion. The fact that eroticization of the other clearly drives our society allows only two genders; it is a system that works effectively and often fanatically, to keep gender and sex differences polarized.

“Strict gender division,” Califia asserts, “is so important to people’s sexual pleasure that they want to disguise it as nature or biology, so nothing will threaten to change it.  The differences between men and women are seized upon, encouraged, artificially exaggerated, and even lied about to create a distance and a tension that give heterosexuals [and those finding heterosexist, male/female modalities sexually pleasing] something to struggle with, a strange territory to explore, a mystery to apprentice themselves to and celebrate” (178).

The assertion is that rather than celebrate gender diversity, the eroticization of the other, combined with the fear of loosing the object and source of one’s sexual desire, drives institutional sexism and heteronormativity. This pattern is “so recalcitrant” Califia writes, “because even people who realize how bad it is are afraid that getting rid of it would mean getting rid of the pleasure they obtain from the dual-gender system.” Homosexuality “both challenges and reinforces this system … the dialectic – the fact that homosexuals are challenging and resisting, yet simultaneously dependent upon and deeply attracted to gender differences” contributes to a relatively closed and coded gender and sex system (178-79).

Continuing to look at the dual-gender system In The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough, biologist, feminist, and historian of science Anne Fausto-Sterling states that during the 20th century the legal and medical communities have completely erased “any form of embodied sex that does not conform to a male-female, heterosexual pattern.” She notes the irony of “a more sophisticated knowledge of the complexity of sexual systems” leading to “the repression of such intricacy” (41).

Controlling the Body … Questions to Get You Thinking 

If we are to think about how can we actively choose to be in progressive action(s) with fully accepting and honoring the ever-evolving ranges of modern gender identities and sexual deviances—no matter how “different” they are from our own experiences or how seemingly hostile, antagonistic, or threatening they may appear—it seems incumbent that each of us ask:  why should I care if a “woman” defines herself as one?  If she has breasts, a vagina, a uterus, ovaries?  If she menstruates or has a clitoris large enough to penetrate the vagina of another woman? Why should I care if there are people whose biological equipment enables them to have sex “naturally” with both men and women?

The answers seem to lie in a cultural need to maintain clear distinctions between the sexes.  So why are we so wedded to maintaining singular, clear, identity distinctions that do not serve us, people we may know, or our progressive communities? What do we get out of that?  Safety?  A sense of moral rightness or superiority?  Why are we seemingly committed to notions of identity as fixed, invariant, and stable when we know that changeability and impermanence is the only constant of time?  Seeing what we get from keeping these kind of attachments to traditional beliefs about sexual and gender difference is important … perhaps even more important is the action of giving up that we need such singular, mono categories and distinctions in the first place.

Fausto-Sterling contextualizes the increase in post-1960 surgical interventions with inter-sexed and differently gendered people with societies “mandating the control of the body”: because those of us that are different “blur and bridge the great divide”; by challenging traditional beliefs we “possess the irritating ability to live sometimes as one sex and sometimes the other” thus raising “the spectrum of homosexuality” (41).

Making other people’s choices and claims of identity our business, or having meaning about us, blurs the bridges that connect us. We could ask ourselves: what is one assumption, fear, or judgment I can give up? Right now, in this moment?  What is one action I can take, no matter how small or large, that would contribute to my community’s base being one that supports equality and safety rather than scarcity, survival, and/or profit?   Fausto-Sterling echoes:

What if things were altogether different? Imagine a world in which the same knowledge that has involved me to intervene in the management of intersexual patients [or any sexually or gender variant subject] has been placed at the service of multiple sexualities. Imagine that the sexes have multiplied beyond currently imaginable limits … oppositions and others would have to be dissolved as sources of division. A new ethics of medial treatment [as well as laws, education, social systems, and structures] would arise, one that would permit ambiguity in a culture of divisions. Conforming to society would no longer be the medical issue (41).

These imaginings and questionings are important because despite over two decades ripe with scholarship, discussions, and active social movements on diversifying gender identity, sexual identity, and variancy we still live in a dualistic, two-sexed, masculine/feminine, sexually repressed and controlled world. Despite forward thinking books like My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely (published in 1998), generations and professions being bridged extensively enough to modify medical plan coverage to pay for gender-based, surgical procedures and reassignments, universities expanding their Women’s Studies department’s to include Gender and Sexuality Studies, and countless personal narratives and organizational actions that have made it to the mainstream media to challenge what it is to be a “real” woman or man, the third gender, trans, and non-normative genders and sexualities continue to be hyper-eroticized and/or unacceptable. We simply are still in the process of connecting movements for inclusion, respect, equality, acceptance, imagination, and compassion. We still live in a world of tolerance towards sexual and gender division and difference rather than a creation-based culture.

Looking at our own belief and truth systems as we consider some of the above provides a framework to unpack and reflect where we, as keen thinkers, theorists, and cultural makers.  It serves our greater commitment to creativity and freedom to consider our beliefs, fears, and any discomforts we have with sex and gender norms and variances. This important step is often shied away from, yet acknowledging our points of view, moral judgments, and biases, where and how they are formed, and what conversations and contexts they are really based on, is good fuel for brain re-thinkings.  Let us ask: where do we allow ourselves room to reconsider, rethink, and move beyond what we know to be “true”? These reflections are advantageous for us as progressive thinkers.  And what’s more, our lives actually become all the more amazing and dynamic when we take the time to think outside the box.

© 2013