The word “gender” is not just a fancy word for your personality

Another visit to Rebecca Reilly-Cooper’s post on “Gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum” because there are so many lines I long to quote I can’t leave it at just one.

If you identify as pangender, is the claim that you represent every possible point on that spectrum? All at the same time? How might that be possible, since the extremes represent opposites of one another? Pure femininity is passivity, weakness and submission, while pure masculinity is aggression, strength and dominance. It is simply impossible to be all of these things at the same time. (If you don’t agree with me – if you’re angry right now about my “femmephobia”, because I’ve defined femininity as weakness and submission – feel free to give me alternative definitions of masculinity and femininity. Whatever you come up with, they’re going to represent opposites of one another.)

It’s true. You could define femininity as empathy, interpersonal understanding, intuition – but then if that’s femininity, you have to say that masculinity is callousness and mind-blindness. If you define any X as part of femininity, you’ve committed yourself to defining not-X as part of masculinity. Otherwise the X wouldn’t be part of femininity, it would just be something some people have more of and other people have less of.

If we do go with the idea that “gender is a spectrum” then how many possible genders are there?

The only consistent answer to this is: 7 billion, give or take. There are as many possible gender identities as there are humans on the planet. Your gender can be frost or the Sun or music or the sea or Jupiter or pure darkness. Your gender can be pizza.

But if this is so, it’s not clear how it makes sense, or adds anything to our understanding, to call any of this stuff “gender”, as opposed to just “human personality” or “stuff I like”. The word “gender” is not just a fancy word for your personality or your tastes and preferences, and it is not just a label to adopt so that you now have a way to convey just how large and multitudinous and interesting and misunderstood you are.

It’s not, or it shouldn’t be, but by god it certainly is being used that way, to terrible and nauseating effect. All those boring yet privileged cis people who are convinced there are only two dull genders, when the clever exciting breakthrough Young People are all special rainbows. They are the first people in history to be gender nonconforming; please give them all MacArthur grants immediately.

I want to quote the whole of the next bit too, but I won’t. Go read it if you haven’t already.

Fortunately, what is a spectrum is human personality, in all its variety and complexity. (Actually that’s not a spectrum either, because it is not simply one continuum between two extremes. It’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, humany-wumany stuff.) Gender is the value system that says there are two types of personality, determined by the reproductive organs you were born with. The first step to liberating people from the cage that is gender is to challenge established gender norms, and to play with and explore your gender expression and presentation.

So go for it; by all means. Define yourself however you want to. Have a blast.

A problem only emerges when you start making political claims on the basis of that label – when you start demanding that others call themselves cis, because you require there to be a bunch of boring binary cis people for you to define yourself in reference to; and when you insist that these cis women have structural advantage and political privilege over you, because they are socially read as the women they know themselves to be, while nobody really understands just how complex and interesting your gender identity is.

And there’s more, as good as that, and then there’s the knockout final paragraph. Go read it if you haven’t already. At More Radical With Age.

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