Today we’re bringing you an excerpt from Chapter 10 of Lee Schubert’s book Woman Incognito. Published with permission from the publicist, Smith Publicity.
My personal gender experience exists within the total context of gender as it is now understood. Now that gender is no longer seen as being the same as sex, it can be viewed as an entire spectrum comprising endless permutations. While sex is physical and therefore limited by biological realities, gender is psychological and limited only by imagination, which ultimately has no limits. There is a simple explanation of this that goes, “Sex is between the legs but gender is between the ears.” Gender is one case where thinking it can make it so.
This is a relatively new way of looking at gender, and it requires vocabulary that will be unfamiliar to many people. And to make it even more complicated, that vocabulary is still in a state of flux. Many of its terms do not yet have universally accepted meanings. Some have different meanings depending on who is using them. In this chapter I am going to define a lot of terms, but I know that some of them are defined differently by some people. In those cases, I shall attempt to explain why I have chosen a particular definition. In at least one case, I will introduce a term that may be my own invention, because I use it for something that I do not think has previously had a name.
Since I am discussing gender in the context of how it differs from biological sex, the first term to define pertains to sex itself. The term, one of many that I had probably never heard prior to my own gender explorations, is “assigned sex.” It refers to the sex the doctor writes down after delivering a baby. It is either male or female, and usually it is very easy to determine just by looking at the newborn’s genitals. But not always.
More often than most people realize, the genitals are actually somewhat ambiguous, not being what are usually found in either a male or a female. The correct term for such a person is “intersexed,” but the doctor still has to write down either male or female, so a decision must be made. Traditionally in such cases the female sex has been most commonly designated, and surgery is frequently performed to make the baby’s anatomy more closely resemble what is generally associated with the assigned sex.
Because of being so subjective, “gender” is considerably more difficult to define than is sex. It is usually thought of as a combination of behavioral, cultural, and psychological traits that is typically associated with one sex or the other. The crux is the word “typically.” What is typical in one nation, religion, class, or racial or ethnic group might not be typical in another. And even what is typical in a given context is only typical, not universal. An individual can perceive herself as more like most members of the other sex than of her own. What is most important for the individual is gender identity, meaning whether she self-identifies as male, female, or even something else.
If gender is not something objective like biological sex, what causes a person to identify as a given gender, especially if it is not the one usually associated with his or her assigned sex? Someday there may be a scientific answer based on variations of brain structure, nervous system, endocrinology, or some other physical characteristics. Research is being conducted in such areas. But for now, to me the only answer is expressed in a line from the classic blues song, “Stormy Weather.” In the words of the songwriter, “Something deep inside cannot be denied.”
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