Innate gender identity

So, this comment on Thinking as a value has been scratching at me all day, so I’m going to argue with it even though it will probably mean repeating things I’ve said about six times before.

Identifying as something in the gender and sexuality sense of the term is in reference to an innate gender identity and an innate sexuality that is immutable with regards to external force even if the experience of them can be internally fluid (see people who have fluid sexuality or are genderfluid).

I don’t believe in innate gender identity unless as a label for a way some people feel. I don’t believe in it as a universal description of how people relate to their own gender.

As such, “identifying as” is often a shorthand to describe quickly this innate phenomenon in gender and sexuality as these are often invisible states of being from an outside perspective.

Sadly, much like “theory” the popular usage of identity clouds the issue and makes it seem part of a spectrum of personal identities one may have that refer to an individual’s community, work, or social behaviors (“I identify as a nerd”, “I identify as a scientist”, “I identify as a feminist”).

Well that is one valid way to use the word. Amartya Sen uses it that way throughout Identity and Violence, for instance.

And this is an especially easy mistake for many people who are cis-identified to make as they can largely ignore their innate gender identity in the same way someone who is straight can ignore their sexuality or someone who is white can ignore their race.

Ok this is where we part company. You are using it as a universal description of how people relate to their own gender. I say no: it’s not universal. The analogy doesn’t work. Yes, white people can ignore their race, but that’s not because they’re overlooking the “fact” that whiteness is their innate racial identity – it’s because their whiteness is the default, and they’re not penalized for it. That’s a different thing. Privilege isn’t the same as innate identity. I have white skin privilege, absolutely…but that privilege is contingent, not innate.

As such, there is little disconnect or need to focus on the innate nature of gender, and this especially becomes true as gender is also a term that popularly gets universalized to not only mean innate gender identity, but also a basket of gender norms and expectations that not all individuals who are cis may be comfortable with.

Well some scholars – perhaps most or all scholars – say that is what gender means – the basket of gender norms and expectations.

And it can be hard to separate that out and see gender identity separate from that conflation when one’s own experience of gender is being perfectly comfortable with gender identity, but having a lot of uncomfortable interactions with expected gender roles.

And this is the part where I get pissed off. Don’t tell me my “experience of gender is being perfectly comfortable with gender identity.” Just stop telling me that. It’s not. That is not my experience. You can tell me what your experience is all day long, but you can’t tell me what mine is. I’ve never been “perfectly comfortable” with my putative gender identity.

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