Reaction to “Does everyone ‘have’ a gender?” Medium article

I’m briefly resurfacing from my graduate class work to react to an article by Canton Winer, you can read for yourself here. Basically I know of Canton Winer because he’s formally studying asexuality as an academic and will post insights from his research on Twitter. Since his research is focused on the intersection between gender and asexuality it shouldn’t be too big of a surprise (but I was still pleasantly surprised anyway) that he noticed a quirk in the gender responses. It’s the same thing I threw out a reference to about a year ago on Hottakes:

screen shot of tweet by @aphobehottakes 8:10 PM 5/23/21 “Oh man if you thought sex was a pervasive concept in western society just wait until you hear about romance. and gender. I understand the presumption of gender is usually a safe bet statistically speaking but not 100% and literally no one is ready for that convo”

I had written the orginal tweet in response to aro erasure within the [twitter] ace community (something that is common even though community surveys have repeatedly shown that aromantics make up about a third of the ace community). A lot of ace responses to aphobia (on Twitter especially) tend to throw aros under the bus (so to speak) and amatonormativity is a hard idea for people to unpack and understand. I understood at the time that the “gender thing” was basically shelved for later, but I knew we’d get to it eventually.

What is the “gender thing”?

When I started my research, I planned to compare the gendered experiences of asexual men, women, and “beyond the binary” asexuals. I quickly found that these categories weren’t exhaustive. One major reason: about 1/3 of the people I spoke with felt detached from gender altogether.

(Winer, 2022)

The word “detached” is definitely growing on me. What does it mean to be “detached” from gender? Well for me I didn’t even know gender had a psychological element until I was 25. I knew there was a biological element (specifically in western society and I’ll expand on that train a thought in a minute) and I knew there was a social element, but until I was 25 I thought ALL genders were assigned. The reason I thought this was because of grammatical gender. If you took Spanish, French, German, or Latin (as I did) in for your high school language credit you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Because I grew up thinking all genders were assigned, I didn’t think the existence of trans people or indigenous gender categories were weird or unnatural or in conflict with my word view. Old English had grammatical gender, but Modern English doesn’t. I figured Indigenous genders existed because their cultures had time to diversify independently before colonization. For every English grammar “rule” there’s an Indigenous language bebopping along just fine doing the exact opposite, so I didn’t think it was weird for a non-wastern cultures to have three, four, or five genders just because.

My “oh, shit, you we’re being literal/that wasn’t a metaphor” moment (my fellow aces and aros are probably very familiar with that experience) came from a diversity training I did for work. Naturally asexuals didn’t get a mention, but the main sticking point is the presenters mentioned that two-spirit people felt like their gender. Wait, what??? That meant that gender wasn’t just assigned because of cultural reasons. That was a scary moment because even then I knew that I didn’t feel like anything, but that wasn’t an exactly a safe place to ask questions. I wouldn’t be able to do a deep dive until I got on tumblr a couple years later. On tumblr I looked at every single possible gender post and description and I talked with trans aces. The response I got was always, “you just know” and I didn’t know, and while a lot of agender/nullgender/etc… folks said the “you just know” answer was super not helpful, it did help me figure out that “none of the above” was it for me.

Ollia, the interviewee quoted in the article, said “My gender is like an empty lot.” For me it’s more like when I ping my brain for “gender.exe” I get a “404 error, gender not found”. I’ve described it in past posts as a “chasm” with me on one side and gender on the other.

I introduce the concept of “gender detachment,” or individually-held feelings that gender presentation/identity is irrelevant, pointless, or even oppressive

(Winer, 2022)

That about sums it up actually. I guess it’s easier to describe as an outside observer because you’re not also dealing with the crippling anxiety that comes with bracing for the presumption of gender. My dysphoria doesn’t come from how I see my body, but how society sees me. It’s sooo frustrating seeing “gender critical” people on Twitter using hastags like “genderfree” because they’re pushing hate instead of liberation. My reaction to Canton Winer’s article is simply relief because this is a conversation starter. Instead of nobody being ready for that conversation, Canton is showing us that at least someone in academia is listening.

When I asked this question, nearly all respondents gave a gender identity. But with probing, many said that they basically give a gender identity because they don’t feel they have a choice. This suggests that gender detachment is almost undoubtedly more common than we realize — and that the questions researchers ask can submerge detached experiences of gender.

Winer 2022

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