What Purpose Is There to Gender Indicators, Anyway?

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(Note: “Gender” is not the same as “sex”; there are various usages for both words, but I am using “gender” to mean the general picture one presents to others, as male or female. Note also: I am not making any argument from religion here, and I will not accept any comments that make arguments from religion, so don’t bother.)

I’ve done a lot of thinking about gender over the years.From as far back as I can remember, I have liked, related to, at least as many “boy” things as “girl” things. I liked dolls, and toy trucks, and toy guns, and paper dolls, and later chemistry sets and microscopes. Luckily for me, my parents were willing to get me whichever I asked for as a birthday or Christmas present.

Most of my friends in childhood were boys, and I continued to have male friends throughout my teen years. In fourth grade, my male friends helped elect me class president, while one of them became class secretary! But I also was precociously heterosexual, having crushes on boys (and the occasional male celebrity) from at least age six onward.

As a teen and young adult, I had waist and hip measurements that were men’s, not women’s, proportions, and wore “men’s” jeans. (These days I’m a fat old broad, and no jeans fit me right.) With my long arms, to wear long-sleeved shirts or jackets that covered my wrists, I chose men’s. Fine with me–I always favor comfort over fashion. On occasion, when my hair was short and I was bundled up, I was addressed as “sir.” Who cares?

In school I was really good at reading and writing–but I was also really good at math. (Until calculus–but my spouse was defeated by calculus, too.) Some said that I should hide my intelligence, because “boys don’t like smart girls.” Well, I had firsthand proof that it wasn’t so, and why would I want a boy who didn’t like what I was, anyway?

I never once had a crush on or felt sexually or romantically attracted to a woman, but by the time I was 18 or 19 I would have been open to such a relationship if I had felt it. How much of my lack of such feeling was part of my psyche and how much physiological (pheromones and such), who can say? But what if neither I nor anyone I met had to be identified by gender? What if we had all been just “person”? One male lover later came out as a transwoman–what if I had met her then, rather than when I did?

When my husband and I started the adoption process for our second child, he wanted to request a girl, as the first was a boy, and “Unless we have one of each, I won’t know that I am raising them gender-equally.” It hadn’t occurred to me that we would raise them any other way, but his reason made sense. (They’re now 30, 29, 26, and 22, and it seems to have turned out well.)

If one wants to have biological children with a partner, there’s a reason to want to know whether potential such partners are physically male or female. But there’s equal reason to want to know, for example, whether they are sterile. Yet we don’t require people to wear physical markers that indicate sterility or fertility.

So what purpose is there to setting it up that this clothing, hairstyle, makeup, behavior, etc., indicates “female” and that clothing, hairstyle, makeup, behavior, etc., indicates “male”? Why can’t everyone appear as they want to appear, without it being taken as an indicator of anything other than “This is how I see myself” or “This is how I want to look.” It isn’t (in the U.S.) legal to discriminate of the basis of whether one is male or female, so why are we required to display being one or the other–and why is there such an uproar when someone changes the way one “presents,” or refuses to choose at all ?

One’s gender may mean a great deal to oneself, or it may mean little or nothing. (I am in the “little” category, and probably would be in the “nothing” category if it weren’t for social conditioning.) But why should one’s gender mean anything at all to others?

When our oldest child was very young, he asked my spouse why those metal things were called “manhole covers.” His dad explained that the opening they covered was called a “manhole,” and that was because at one time only men were allowed to do the work underground that the hole accessed.

Our child said, “That’s unfair and really stupid.”

That pretty well sums it up.



Pope Francis’s Recent Statement

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This is the one–this translation is from Vatican Radio’s website:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

(Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/05/22/pope_at_mass:_culture_of_encounter_is_the_foundation_of_peace/en1-694445
of the Vatican Radio website.)
I am a nontheist who has a background of 12 years of Catholic school and many years of editing theology. I find theology an interesting intellectual exercise, and because of the power of the Catholic Church, I think that what the pope–any pope–says has social and political significance.
I think a comment made by Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association is worth pointing out: “While humanists have been saying for years that one can be good without a god, hearing this from the leader of the Catholic Church is quite heartening.” There is some debate about what exactly Pope Francis meant in his comments as a whole, but I don’t think there’s the slightest unclarity about this: he said, outright, that atheists can do “good.”

Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, a Catholic priest, wrote:  “He was clear that salvation is only through Christ’s Sacrifice. In other words, he is not suggesting – and I think some are taking it this way – that you can be saved, get to heaven, without Christ.”  Of course the pope is affirming that the only way to heaven is through Jesus’ redemptive power–that’s a given in Catholic theology. But I don’t think he is saying that one must believe in that redemptive power to get to heaven; I think he is, possibly quite deliberately, avoiding saying that.

Carrying It with Me

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

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