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Max Wedding

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Is true gender-neutrality/genderlessness possible?

I organize an annual drag dance at my college called Crystal Ball, wherein 1,000 people show up (we hope) in some form of drag or gender-bending outfit to dance for a couple of hours. Considering we're a school of only 1,350 students, it's pretty safe to say that this is one of campus' favorite events. Inevitably, however, many of the outfits worn to the event only prove to reinforce gender norms, and even if the outfits are "legitimate drag", the gender norms snap right back into place the day after the dance.

Regardless, the event always bring up pleeeenty of questions, both specific to the college as well as general to society. One of the most interesting to me is, "Can the concept gender ever be truly broken?" I know it's a very Judith Butler question, but it pops up every year and I'm curious to know what other people think about it.

PS, I'm not a huge fan of the Blakley talk, but it's one of the few pertinent ones out there that I'm aware of.

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  • Jun 12 2011: If Gender is purely a social construct, how do we explain the existence of Transsexuals?

    From Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF Endocr Dev. 2010;17:22-35 [1]

    "The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in extreme cases in trans-sexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation."

    Note that the majority of what we call "Gendered behaviour" is indeed socially constructed. But a minority is not. Moreover, individuals differ, so although behaviour is sexually dimorphic, there's a bimodal distribution with considerable overlap. Someone can be "typically masculine" in some areas, but somewhat feminine in others, and vice-versa, even in the biologically determined areas.

    To take an obvious physical example: height. Men are taller than women, few would dispute that. Yet no-one seriously suggests that all people above average height are male, those below, female. Neurologically determined instincts and behaviour are similar, differences are statistical.

    [1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19955753?dopt=Abstract
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    Jun 11 2011: Just want everyone who is interested in these issues to be aware that there is an interesting new talk which has just been posted. The speaker is Alice Dreger.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/alice_dreger_is_anatomy_destiny.html
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    Jun 9 2011: "Girls will be boys and boys will be girls it's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.." Ray Davies, Lola.

    Everybody needs a role to play, we just have to learn to accept ALL of them - traditional or radically new.

    "Love is all you need" John Lennon.
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    Jun 8 2011: Hi Max!

    As I read the articles about the parents who are raising their child without gender identification, I thought of the children who are born with ambiguous genitalia. Why on earth are these parents being subjected to the opinons of others when there are people who are trying to give their children who are not born gender specific the opportunity to self identify? How amazingly tortuously difficult must it be in our socieites to allow those children that freedom!

    Sometimes we are just not smart enough to consider all the issues and we are cruel in our self righteousness.
  • Jun 8 2011: I think a gender-indifferent society would be preferable to a gender-neutral one. In my life, my first response to anyone's concerns about "awkwardness" in regards to their sexuality or gender identity is a smile and a shrug.

    It's easier to conquer social bias than it is to ignore or try to change physiological differences. It's not easy, granted, but easier. I think we're on the right track, even if there's very, very stubborn resistance to ideas of gender flexibility.
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      Jun 8 2011: I'm totally with you on the gender-indifference, and I do think we're on the right track. Rocks my world whenever I genderfuck and somebody couldn't care less. But we're nowhere near where we need to be. The fact that feminism is still an f-word is testament to that. I guess I'm just wondering what society would look like if the concept of gender had never been invented, or if it were uninvented somewhere. Not that I think either is necessarily possible, but it's an interesting question for me.
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    Jun 8 2011: Hi Max!
    You might find it interesting to know that there is a couple in Toronto who are raising their six month old child without gender identification. No one but the parents know what the child's physiology is - not even the grandparents. The child has a gender neutral name and they allow all of their 3 children to wear what they want . I guess the fact that others knew the gender of the first two influenced them more than the parents wanted. so with this latest child they have kept tthe sex a secret.
    So, I don't know the answer to your question but this is an interesting development and we'll see what happens.
    Have fun at the ball!
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      Jun 8 2011: Hi Debra!

      That's a really interesting story. How did you come across it? I'd love to read more about the parents and what reactions they/the kid have received. Thanks!
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        Jun 8 2011: Here's an excerpt that I put on my blog:

        Mr Stocker and Ms Witterick say the decision to keep Storm's sex a secret was "a tribute to freedom" A Toronto couple are defending their decision to keep their infant's sex a secret in order to allow the child to develop his or her own gender identity. Kathy Witterick and David Stocker have been widely accused of imposing their ideology on four-month-old Storm.

        The family were the subject of a recent profile in the Toronto Star newspaper.In an e-mail, Ms Witterick wrote that the idea that "the whole world must know what is between the baby's legs is unhealthy, unsafe, and voyeuristic".Ms Witterick, 38, and Mr Stocker, 39, have also been criticised over the manner in which they are raising their two sons Jazz, five, and Kio, two.

        (I'll see if I can find a reference for you so you can read the article in the newspaper. They were also interviewed on a Canadian program called 'Agenda' )

        http://www.parentcentral.ca/parent/babiespregnancy/babies/article/995112--parents-keep-child-s-gender-secret

        http://news.yahoo.com/s/ac/20110525/us_ac/8531397_toronto_couple_keeps_child_genderless_wont_tell_storms_sex_1
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      Jun 8 2011: We (in Malaysia) have heard about it too!!!! I don't know if its the same news but the case is similar.No matter what the child's sex may be, we all must pray that the child receives all the love she can get from her parents as well as the community.
    • Jun 8 2011: I read about this too. Honestly, I think it's a terrible idea. Although we can argue that gender norms in our society should be changed, I don't think subjecting your child to the world's prejudices is a good way to change them. I fully support loving your child for who they are, but I think these parents are still forcing a gender identity onto their kid, although not in a traditional manner. Also, how is this going to bode for the child for the rest of their lives? Kids can be cruel, school will be hell for Storm. The parents are being naive by not considering that.
      My verdict is that this is a fascinating experiment, but the parents have seriously poor judgement.
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    Jun 8 2011: Do you think a gender neutral culture would be preferable. I don't know how that could be possible without a degree of repression. As long as women give birth and men don't I think there will be gender distinctions. We have different evolutionary histories and hormonal balances that make the foundation for our gender identities. I don't know how we can have respect for each other if we don't acknowledge our differences.
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      Jun 8 2011: I don't really agree with you that the evolutional histories and hormonal balances make the foundation our gender identities. Sex identities, sure, but not gender -- I think that a concept that's been pretty much fabricated by humans throughout history. Whether or not we can make it past the women-give-birth-and-men-don't point is something I always tend to rub up against, though. Like, can we have different biological functions but neutral societal spaces within those differences? And what of transfolk or anyone else who aren't within the M/F binary?
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        Jun 8 2011: Yes much of gender identity is socially based, and can be quite arbitrary (boys wear blue girls wear pink sort of thing which used to be the other way around ), but they are based on legitimate difference. I think it healthy to keep these difference fluid and open to change. I'm also all for neutral space in society, but we do have to observe real difference between us. I recommend watching Ali Carr Chellman talk, http://www.ted.com/talks/ali_carr_chellman_gaming_to_re_engage_boys_in_learning.html which deals with problems concerning boys in the education system that would arguably not exist if we were truly gender neutral.

        As for the Trans community, if we really wanted to neutralize gender then there would be no social implications here. Changing ones sex would be no different than plastic surgery. In reality it creates 1 or two more genders. Due to it being somewhat culturally new, I think it will take a while for society at large to really grasp it, and I also think for the trans community to form a cultural identity.