azurelunatic: slashgirl (slash character, symbol for woman) (slashgirl)
Azure Jane Lunatic (Azz) 🌺 ([personal profile] azurelunatic) wrote2009-09-03 01:57 pm
Entry tags:

Community, gender, Don[na|o] Vorrutyer, and me

So after literally months of debate, I left [community profile] theladiesloos, not because of anything said or done in there (I barely participated at all, and the activity level is of public record on the profile: see start date, see number of posts = light use) but because while I understand the need that others have for gendered private spaces on a regular basis, and have occasionally sought them out myself, it makes me profoundly uncomfortable to be a part of one implemented in that fashion. I am perfectly comfortable to participate in the community discussions. I suspect that the thing that has me running so hard and so fast is the intersection of the enforced privacy, the standard for admission being self-defining as a woman, and a gatekeeper effect where an existing member must confirm that you are a woman.

I am OK with being a woman. It's what the genetic dice rolled up for me, and I'm OK with being me for the most part. I like lipstick, long hair, and skirts, in the performative department. My genital arrangement does not displease me. (My reproductive system does displease me; I have all but given up on the idea of a body birth.) (My brain chemistry also displeases me, but that's not this topic although doubtless it would be affected in some way.)

But, see, I'm not attached to it. Girl stuff and boy stuff were not emphasized as part of my childhood. I got to adolescence without too much of the "but girls don't...!" and "but boys don't...!" attached to me. My brain does tricks like "All right, since all the girls are leaving in the van to go get ice, and all the boys are staying at the park with the baguettes and hummus and their books, and I am at the park with a book, and that hummus does look tasty, I must be a boy!" This, in my long hair and lipstick and frilly skirt, with a body that is exceptionally hard to mistake for male. (It has been done, but it was by a 5-year-old, and I was in full Darth Vader getup at the time, with a very concealing shirt.)

I am often "one of the guys". I do not often have problems with being one of the guys. I tend to hang out with men who are "one of the girls" and women who are "one of the guys". (My hobbies, computers and slash fandom, are strongly skewed, however. Tech skews male. Slash skews female.)

A female-bodied friend once confessed to me that they had gone to a campus LBGTQ meeting, intending to have gone there for the B, and realized that, if all things in the world were as they liked them, they would have been born as a man. They (and I don't know which they prefer to be called, so I'm using 'they') mentioned a mental exercise for cisgendered people to put themselves through.
Imagine that one day you woke up and you were the opposite sex. Not a Metamorphosis-like change, but as if it had always been this way. You have a closet full of clothes that suit your biological sex. Your orientation has also remained consistent relative to your body -- if you are straight you are still straight, if you are gay you are still gay, if you are bisexual you are still of course bisexual. Everyone treats you according to the sex of your body.

How would you react? To what lengths would you go to regain the body you currently have?

My answer surprised them. "I think I'd be mostly okay with it," I said thoughtfully. Evidently this is not the usual response. My one point of conflict at the thought was predictable: at the time I was courting a man who was a true Kinsey 0, and the thought of such a fundamental incompatibility with him was unbearable. But absent that, I did not think that I would have any motivation to attempt to again live as a woman. Not if that would mean making a fuss and going out of my way any more than I already do. I might still maintain long hair. I would probably go in for kilts. I would still lose tubes of Burt's Bees lip balm to the washer on a semi-regular basis, and they might even be tinted. Learning the societal expectations for a man would probably be just as painful as my unlamented adolescence. I wouldn't know how I'd actually cope unless I were actually thrust into that existence, unless there are psychologists out there who have tests that can accurately assess these things, and I don't think that modern psychology is quite up to the task.

At the end of the day, it's still a thought experiment, and in no way equivalent to the special hell that is having been born and living in a body that is the wrong sex.

But the older I get, the more and more I start to identify with Donna Vorrutyer. I don't know if she was deliberately written this way, but when I think of her decision to make the transition, I hear a frustrated oath with overtones of triumph. "All right, I'll play by your fucking rules, boys!"

I am not Donna Vorrutyer, nor Dono. There is nothing that I desire and need so much as Donna needed to inherit her late brother's post, that I am legally barred from on account of being female. Betan medicine does not yet exist. These are the factors that separate me from her: legally encoded gender discrimination, a time-sensitive goal, the need to work within the existing law to reach the goal, and the availability of a tested/straightforward/complete technological solution within that span of time.

Donna's solution is not a viable one for most scenarios of sex/gender based legal discrimination. As a long-term solution, it is always more ethical to enact change to the law. Two men who want to get married should not have to have one of them turn into a woman in order to do it, even if it's just a legal fiction and no one actually goes through a transition. That's just fucking stupid. Transition should be for people who actually want it, not for people who are trying to jump through legal hoops.

Right now, the state of medicine is such that only people who are fundamentally not OK with their body as it is will (or should) consent to go through gender reassignment surgery. I believe that as it gets better, easier, and cheaper, more people will have it done, and for perhaps different reasons than people today are going through it. I believe that one day, it will be good enough and affordable enough that people who do not actually dislike the sex their body got at birth will have it as an option, and that they will do it for what would now be considered frivolous reasons.

These procedures are going to continue getting better. As they get better, more people will choose to transition. (People who are fundamentally attached to their current gender will never transition unless the technology gets good enough that they can do it quickly, easily, cheaply, and have no chance in the slightest of getting "stuck" in the wrong gender.) As more people choose to transition, there will be a larger sample size to isolate the factors that make people require a permanent and full transition from other factors, and there will be more actual science and less halfassed guessing behind stuff on gender.

If Betan-standard medicine existed, and there were a reason for me to have done it, I might well be one of those people that Dono offhandedly mentioned, those who have made the switch more than once.

It's all academic now. That sort of technology will likely not exist in my lifetime, and I'm unlikely to encounter anything that will prod me out of my gender inertia, particularly since the current political climate makes me skew female out of sheer stubbornness.
aedifica: Photo of me playing my trombone at the Renaissance Festival (Fest 2008 with trombone)

[personal profile] aedifica 2009-09-03 09:43 pm (UTC)(link)
Interesting post. I was just thinking about it yesterday or the day before myself. I think I used to be more attached to my gender than I am now, but I decided I'd still rather be (remain) female because of types of relationships it lets me have with other females. It might be just as fulfilling to be "one of the guys," but I can't know.

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jmtorres: From Lady Gaga's Bad Romance music video; the peach-haired, wide-eyed iteration (Default)

[personal profile] jmtorres 2009-09-03 10:35 pm (UTC)(link)
I resemble your remarks. I am also in the 'I wouldn't mind' camp to wake-up-male with a side order of 'the society I live in make it drastically easier to be male than female; that sounds like a good reason to me.' I suspect that when it's easier to transition, and when being identified as trans doesn't put you a rung lower than male or female on the ladder of societal privelege--I suspect that when that happens, a lot of male privelege will evaporate. And good riddance.

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[personal profile] juliet 2009-09-03 10:38 pm (UTC)(link)
Hm. I think my reaction to that question is "I don't know: I don't know what it's like to be a man & thus how I'd feel about it". I am happy with being female; I *think* that all other things being equal, if I woke up male, I'd probably be inclined to change back again were that straightforwardly possible. (I certainly have political identity stuffs around being female.) But that is an interesting question!

My feelings around gender-specific space are more complicated, & it is late :)
princessofgeeks: (Damn Fangirls by Lotr Junkie)

[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2009-09-03 10:55 pm (UTC)(link)
this is fascinating; thank you.

i have thought more and learned more about gender since I got into fandom than at any point previously. It's been very eye opening.

What you wrote about yourself resonated strongly with me -- except one difference is I have had two kids of my own. But I took your thought experiment and it's amazing to note that I too, would not work too hard at getting back to my original state. I have no idea what this means.

Have you read the Sandman comics? Remember the Endless named Desire? That whole concept blew me away.

I have nothing definitive to add here, but thank you so much for the discussion.

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fairlight: I look kind of wistful and smart.  Wow. (Unholy Experiment)

[personal profile] fairlight 2009-09-04 12:39 am (UTC)(link)
Oh God I'd be horrified if I woke up and I were a lesbian. I don't know why. I just...that's not ME.


No no no no no no. I would be so not okay with it.

Also, the thought of not being able to be married to Jim is giving me hives. Metaphorically anyway. Not that we actually get to be married, but I like this relationship and not having it would bother me.

(Although I think I'd like women not being afraid of me. But then I don't get the reaction that a guy who is actually average height gets because I am five foot four and am sometimes taken for a woman at a distance, particularly if all you see of me is long hair, a leather jacket and jeans, so when someone does act like I might be a rapist I'm always so very confused.)
Edited 2009-09-04 00:43 (UTC)

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[personal profile] axelrod 2009-09-04 05:05 am (UTC)(link)
Everyone treats you according to the sex of your body.

You mean, everyone misgenders you it and it hurts like fuck and when you tell them, no, you're really *that* and you'd rather wear those clothes and have that name, they tell you that you can't or laugh at you or fire you from your job or beat you up or kill you. Don't you? Or is this some sort of thought experiment for cis people to ponder their gender identity? Think you could manage that without pretending for two seconds that you all are transgendered, except leaving out all the worst parts?

I am so deeply unsatisfied by how Donna/Dono was written. It looks like Bujold decided to try to write a trans character, and then did absolutely no research. To sum it up: there was no gender-related angst on his/her part. Either Donna should be gritting her teeth and bearing it - for the District, for Barrayar - or Dono should be relieved to finally be in a body that feels right (and the scads of male privilege are nice, too). I find it bizarre that anyone can *identify with Donna*, Donna/Dono seems so poorly written. (I also think Donna/Dono is a really unhelpful legal precedent for Barrayar, and it's going to bite the Progressives at some point, but that's all fictional - different from Bujold screwing up her one sort-of-trans character and a lot of fans not seeing what's wrong with it.)

I'd like to wake up either cis gendered, or in a world where there is conceptual and linguistic space for me. And no, I wouldn't for a minute think about changing things back.

I'm acquainted with some ppl who are female and cis but who don't much identify as "women". I have a helluva time grokking this, bc I'm third gender and female-but-in-an-ideal-world-wouldn't-be - I don't grok being cis anyway. I don't understand to what extent cisgendered females, like you, are rejecting a lot of the associations of "woman" and to what extent you represent a kind of grey space between cis and trans. I do think there aren't enough words for different kinds of masculinity and femininity - I mean, female masculinity kinda starts and stops with "butch".
aedifica: Old woodcut of one man with an accordian and another man dressed for morris dancing. (Morris)

[personal profile] aedifica 2009-09-04 11:29 pm (UTC)(link)
I (and I know I have cis privilege which is almost certainly affecting my reading) read Donna/Dono as, well, trans from the outside in instead of the inside out. I think she chose the change purely as a response to the legal situation, but he discovered that it fit him better than he'd dreamed. But now that you mention it, I realize we really never do see things from the inside of Donna's or Dono's head, so he could be having angst we don't see. It's essential to his plan that he not show it even if he were feeling it, otherwise he'd certainly never be accepted as a man in Barrayar's culture.

I'd be interested in your response, if you have one you'd like to share. (Which is to say, I'm trying to acknowledge my cis privilege and express that I neither ignore your opinion nor demand that you tell me what you're thinking.)

But in response to your first paragraph, [personal profile] azurelunatic did specify that the thought experiment was aimed at cisgendered people.

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toraks: (Default)

[personal profile] toraks 2009-09-04 01:01 pm (UTC)(link)

Thanks for the extremely interesting post.

I am completely and totally female. If I woke up male, I would try as hard as possible to go back to being female. I love being female and totally identify with being female, from always having wanted and loving having borne babies to dressing and looking very girlie.

I'm very grateful that I've never had any gender identification issues. And wish that there was more gender/transgender equality in the world. And while I'm at it, that I could easily have an extremely successful scientific career while also being a great mother of more than one child.

But I wouldn't want to be male. At all. Ever. Not even if it got me the career.

Still an interesting topic to think about & discuss. thanks
owl: Stylized barn owl (Default)

[personal profile] owl 2009-09-04 08:34 pm (UTC)(link)
My social life would be a good deal less complicated right now if I were a straight male. I think I would mostly be okay with it, except that the physicality of a different body would be weird. Quite often I don't feel like my body quite belongs to me anyway.
andrewducker: (Default)

[personal profile] andrewducker 2009-09-09 07:53 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't feel terribly attached to being male. But that could well be my privilege speaking - I don't feel terribly attached to being white either, but it's perfectly likely I'd feel different if either of those situations changed.

[personal profile] sethg 2009-09-10 04:22 pm (UTC)(link)
I went through a period in my twenties when I wondered if I might be trans, because I felt zero loyalty to men-as-a-tribe and because it seemed to me that if I toted up my "stereotypically male" and "stereotypically female" interests/traits, the second list would be longer. I finally decided that if being trans carried as little social stigma as, say, left-handedness, or surgery could give me a working female reproductive system, then I woulda done it--but, well, neither condition is true.

I keep trying to wrap my head around why most other cissexual people do have an OMG NO reaction to the "what if you woke up as a member of the other sex" thought-experiment, and I think I keep failing. Maybe I have some extremely localized form of autism.

(By contrast, curiously enough, if I woke up in an identity that wasn't Jewish, I would hie myself over to get converted as quickly as possible. Go figure.)

[identity profile] 2009-09-03 09:35 pm (UTC)(link)
Actually, one of the things that bothers me about sex-change surgery currently is that I believe it is basically impossible to get unless you can show that you have psychological issues such that your gender does not match your physical body. I think this is tangling two different issues together.

Some people have a gender mismatch and should be seen and treated as a gender other than the one people assumed they had when they were born.

But I wouldn't be surprised if some people have a body mismatch. Sure, many people likely have both. But there are issues of body image that aren't linked to gender. The brain seems to have a mental mapping of what your body is and if your body doesn't match that it can cause distress. Extreme cases show up when the body image does not include a limb and the person is in extreme psychological distress because of the presence of normal limbs. There seems to be some sort of inherent psychological distress caused by feeling like your body is wrong. Given that it can happen without gender issues, it seems possible one could have a body mismatch by feeling one has the wrong genitalia without feeling like one has the wrong gender. I would support being able to have whichever genitalia causes one the least psychological distress (to the extent that it is medically possible) regardless of which gender one has. I want to decouple sex and gender. Your body can be one thing and your gender another, and that might even be the better way for it to be for you.

However, given how our society pretty much defines gender by sexual organs, it's hard to really determine what the actual range of issues is or how often people might want to be one gender with the sexual characteristics usually assumed for a different sex.

I don't know how I'd feel about having always been male. I suspect I'd be curious about being female, but feel like being male was normal, given that I was pretty much raised with the view that being male was the normal default and being female was a bit weird. Too much of what I was exposed to was from the male perspective with women treated as these impossible to understand other creatures. Mainly, I'm not sure how I'd have handled relationships with women. It's hard to think of who I might possibly have wanted to get into a relationship with and how my life would have gone if I couldn't have relationships with men. I might have gotten depressed and assumed I was too socially awkward to ever find a relationship. Maybe I'd have stayed more solipsistic. Maybe I'd have been happy being by myself and decide that relationships weren't important to me. That actually is fairly plausible.

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[personal profile] trobadora 2009-09-03 09:38 pm (UTC)(link)
My answer surprised them. "I think I'd be mostly okay with it," I said thoughtfully.

That makes sense to me, even though I'm in a bit of a different place. I can't imagine not being biologically female, but at the same time, I find it hard to understand what identifying as female even means. Like you, I wasn't exposed to much "girls this, boys that" stuff as a kid (one could say I grew up oblivious), and I've never been able to see those fundamental differences so many people seem so convinced of. Social and cultural conditioning, yes. Innate differences? Not so much. And so, with no clear conviction about what "being female" or "being male" means, gender is often a difficult concept for me ...

Er. Sorry for rambling in your journal! Didn't mean to make it All About MEEEE!!1! :(

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[identity profile] 2009-09-03 09:39 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, kinda have that outlook myself -- I kinda remember being male, been told it's a "past-life recall" but could just be very vivid dreams. Was OK, being female is OK too (except when it gets messy every month or so), I'd just as soon have a wardrobe of bodies to wear! :)

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[identity profile] 2009-09-03 10:31 pm (UTC)(link)
Random anecdata: in ninth grade, my English teacher had us each write an essay whose premise was waking up one day as a member of the opposite sex. Then she grouped us in single-sex groups and had us read the essays of the opposite sex (without names attached), before pulling us all together in a discussion group.

The girls' essays ranged all over the place, from blase through curious to freaked out. The boys' essays were uniformly extremely freaked out.

Clearly this is not a rigorous scientific study. I think it'd be a great basis for one, though.

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[identity profile] 2009-09-04 12:09 am (UTC)(link)
If Betan tech allowed me to switch and switch back without permanent damage I'd be tempted to go be a tourist. I'd expect the tech would also add an interesting dimension to "do we want to have more kids" discussions if replicators haven't been perfected by then.

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[identity profile] 2009-09-04 02:25 am (UTC)(link)
This is a fascinating discussion. I had about the same reaction you did to the gender swap question, and I once had an astrologer friend examine my chart and ask me, "this is the first time you've been female, isn't it?" which explained way too much about my life.

I would have enjoyed being a father, I think. It's really too bad that one is assigned by one's sex to be either a father or a mother. I have never had any desire whatsoever to be a mother, but there's part of me that would have liked having kids in some other way.

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[identity profile] 2009-09-04 06:48 am (UTC)(link)
My answer surprised them. "I think I'd be mostly okay with it," I said thoughtfully.

Probably not going to surprise you to learn that I would have the same reaction. My top sexual fantasies mostly involve a sex change (I'm a guy having sex with a girl, I'm a guy having sex with a guy, and I'm a girl OR a guy watching two guys have sex are the top three). But it's more than mere curiosity, it's hard to quantify.

Being married has probably actually done the most to convince me of my female-ness, I think. There's a certain feeling I get immediately following really intense penetrative sex that I can only define as the essence of femininity, I can't describe it really, and I don't know if other women feel the same way. I'm not sure if having sex with a woman caused the same feelings - it's been just a little too long ago to remember clearly.

But most of the time, when I'm at work, etc, I feel like I'm set at neutral in terms of gender. I'm aware that I don't look like I'm set at neutral in terms of gender, but whenever someone references my gender, it's always a surprise, in a very small and hidden way.

I feel like I'm approaching both masculinity and femininity from the outside, ultimately. And that's why I'd be mostly okay with a sex change - it wouldn't really make any difference to the way I see myself.
pauamma: Cartooney crab holding drink (Default)

Surprise! pauamma is going on a tangent!

[personal profile] pauamma 2009-09-04 03:34 pm (UTC)(link)
Your orientation has also remained consistent relative to your body -- if you are straight you are still straight, if you are gay you are still gay, if you are bisexual you are still of course bisexual.
I'm curious about one thing in this premise: is the root cause (biological, psychological, genetic, or whatever it may be) of gender attraction expressed as "attracted to same/other", or as "attracted to men/women"? (The outcome - phenotype, as it is - is described as "attracted to same/other", but that says nothing about the mechanisms involved - just as TTBOMK - Mendel's experiments on peas may be explained equally well by "yellow vs. green" and "yellow+smooth or green+wrinkly vs. yellow+wrinkly or green+smooth" feature pairs as with the more common explanation, "yellow vs. green" and "smooth vs. wrinkly".

[identity profile] 2009-09-04 05:34 pm (UTC)(link)
To what lengths would you go to regain the body you currently have?

If the rest of my life were the same as it currently is? Great lengths. Because Chris is mostly straight. So unless the new male body were one of the 1 in 10,000 males that he thinks are hot? I'd want my boobs back.

Barring my relationship with Chris, or if he still wanted to fuck me? I'd be doing the Snoopy dance. Mind you, my attitude is very similar to yours. I like skirts, and doing my hair, and swishing is always fun. (I can give or take the makeup, and haven't actually used it in years, but I would pull it out for a special occasion if anybody else wanted to see me with it - though Chris thinks I'm prettier without it, which is why I don't bother.)

But I *hate* hormonal cycles and periods. HATE HATE HATE. If I were younger, I'd be sad about not carrying any more children, but my last two pregnancies were hell and convinced me that my body was too old for that any more. (Not that I want more children to raise, anyway. Just that pregnancy and babies feel good in my head.)

And I have good enough memories of some of my previous lives, and dreams where I've been male, that I remember what it feels like to have a penis. Hell, I remember sex as a male. I like it better, honestly. Though multiple orgasms are cool, I like the way the penis feels better than the vagina.

Though I'd probably be kind of a femme guy. I'd still keep my hair long, for instance. But then, I have a hair fetish...

[identity profile] 2009-09-05 12:37 am (UTC)(link)
I've always been envious of the quick-n-easy gender reassignment biotech in John Varley's Luna stories. (But then, it should surprise nobody who knows me that I am quite certain I'm one of those who'd swap gender, experimentally, in a heartbeat if it was complete, reliable, and reversible.)
lacey: Me and my leather :D (Default)

[personal profile] lacey 2009-09-07 01:30 am (UTC)(link)
Imagine that one day you woke up and you were the opposite sex. Not a Metamorphosis-like change, but as if it had always been this way. You have a closet full of clothes that suit your biological sex. Your orientation has also remained consistent relative to your body -- if you are straight you are still straight, if you are gay you are still gay, if you are bisexual you are still of course bisexual. Everyone treats you according to the sex of your body.

How would you react? To what lengths would you go to regain the body you currently have?

My first reaction?


I probably wouldn't fight very hard to regain this form. At all.

Edited 2009-09-07 01:31 (UTC)

[identity profile] 2009-09-07 09:04 am (UTC)(link)
Excellent post, and I sympathize with a LOT of the stuff you've written here.

Sorry I haven't got the brain for a longer response -- headed off to bed at the moment.