Gender, Sex, and Sexuality–In other words, a post about all the important stuff

I’ve been wanting to clarify my position on whether there are essential differences between men and women, but I rely so heavily on analogies and I just couldn’t come up with one that really worked. Just as an example, the most useful analogy, the one that almost made this post had to do with pork burgers and pulled pork barbecue sandwiches.

Be thankful I spared you.

So, are men and women inherently different?

I think they are.

In what ways?

I don’t know. I know all the bullshit ways we’re supposed to be different. You are gruff and out of touch with your feelings and violent and career-oriented and want power. I want kindness and love and children and good relations between everyone. You like cars. I like cuddling on the couch. You’re good at wars. I’m good at knitting.

And, obviously, I don’t believe those dichotomies hold: they’re nonsense. For every gentle woman who loves her children more than anything, there’s a gentle man who loves his children more than anything. For every man who’d like to spend the afternoon at the shooting range, there’s a woman.

The saddest thing about the kinds of rigid gender roles we have is that the guy who loves his kids, it might never occur to him that he could stay home with them. The woman above might have never shot a gun; she might not know she’d like to spend the afternoon at the shooting range.

Our fucked up attitudes about gender hurt us both, and though clearly women bear more of the pain, to think that men aren’t damaged is asinine.

So, scholars say perfectly reasonable things, like “gender is performance” and “gender is learned and socially enforced,” and I think those things are true as well. It’s important that our assumptions are challenged and wondering whether gender is more performance than inherent state is pretty damn challenging.

But, I think there’s a core difference between men and women, a fundamental difference, not based in the body (which is where I differ from most essentialists), but based in the soul, for lack of a better word.

I don’t know what that difference is and I don’t believe, even if we knew what it was, it should dictate what your opportunities in life are. But I believe it’s there.

And here’s why:

I believe transsexuals.

I believe that, if someone tells me she was born with the wrong body when she was born a man, or that he knew from the time he was a little girl that he wasn’t a girl at all, that they’re not bullshitting, that they knew that their gender did not match their physical sex.

How can they know that if there’s not some essential difference?

Which leads me to my last point. I don’t believe that there are just two sexes, meaning that there aren’t just XY folks with penises and XX folks with ovaries and that all other variations are unfortunate “birth defects.” I don’t believe there are only two possible sexes. That’s as much a construct as gender is (the belief in two sexes).

I think that all variations–folks with XXY chromosomes, XY females, folks with ambiguous genitalia–are different sexes. We’re just so invested in the heteronormative myth of an individual’s primary “purpose” being passing on his or her genes that we view those people as having “birth defects,” but that’s a value judgment based on a myth, and another myth, another story, could be told that valued all our variety, even the variations that don’t produce children.

So, I also am not at all certain that there are just two genders. I suspect that “man” and “woman” are too broad categories to sufficiently represent all the variations one finds within those categories.

So, it could be that, if we were operating in a different paradigm, one that recognized multiple sexes and multiple genders, transsexuals might find a gender/sex combination that accurately represented who they were without having to resort to surgery, but that’s a grand social experiment I don’t think most folks are willing to participate it.

In the meantime (and even in that eventuality), I choose to believe folks when they tell me the truth about themselves.

Whew, okay, we’ve covered sex and gender. What’s left? Ah, sexuality.

Here goes: Straight America, we really ought to stop being such pretentious jackasses, acting like the unions we make are so fucking traditional. Please, even 100 years ago, you married who your parents told you to. If you were lucky, you got to marry the person you loved, but no guarantees. Marriages were to solidify community bonds and family social status and not for love.

The real, revolutionary paradigm shift–the belief that you should marry only for love–has already happened. You can’t go back from something that radical. You can do like most Christians and try to pretend like it wasn’t that revolutionary at all, that what we’re doing, the unions we’re making, are the same thing folks were doing 150 years ago, which was the same thing folks were doing 1000 years ago, but that’s an inherently dishonest position.

And, seriously, America, once you’ve so drastically redefined the nature of marriage, from political arrangement to love match, there’s no way to justify keeping loving, consenting adults from doing it.

America, you’re wrong about gay marriage. There’s nothing gay folks can do to fundamentally alter marriage any more drastic than what straight folks did at the turn of the last century.

It’s the end of the world, as I know it

Earth-shattering things have happened to me before, but never has one left me as rattled as what happened to me today.

I fell in love with Toby Keith.

I hate Toby Keith. I think he’s an arrogant, smug, sanctimonious jackass whose lips annoy me in ways I can’t even express. I hate all his music, except “How Do You Like Me Now?” and I hate that dirty, beat-up cowboy hat he always wears and that they now sell replicas of all over town. I hate the casual misogyny of his lyrics and his videos. I hate how he acts like he’s the first and only person to truly understand the plight of our troops and I hate how he acts like including them in his videos makes him some hero-by-proxy.

Gah. I loathe him.

But today, as I was doing research for my bitch about the New York Times, I stumbled across this article in today’s Tennessean, about how Toby Keith is going to start his own music label and why.

Nothing but good can come of this. As his arch-enemies, The Dixie Chicks, pointed out years ago, the system here in town is deeply flawed and any shake-up is a good shake-up.

But it’s not just the fact that he’s taken a page from rap (Ha, country music, you were so worried about what Tim was doing with Nelly that you failed to account for what Toby might be learning from Dr. Dre.) that’s made my hard heart soften to him just a little, it’s the reasons he gives for doing it. Toby knows how to speak to my soul.

I love people who are loyal to their friends and Keith is pissed that the folks from Dreamworks, who helped him become a star, were all fired when Universal bought Dreamworks.

I love people who can understand the broader reasons for problems, and he talks about how stupid it was for his label to release his greatest hits and Shania Twain’s greatest hits on the same day: ”’It waters the date down. Not everybody’s got $40 to lay down on two CDs. Middle America, blue-collar country people have enough trouble buying one CD,’ he said.”

And, oh, he also loves to bitch about the problems of blue-collar people!

He’s so dreamy.

In a perfect world, his first act would be to sign the Dixie Chicks to his label. That would be so great.

Who is the New York Times for?

Starting this fall, the New York Times is going to start charging folks to access the editorial page on-line. It’ll be roughly $50. I don’t know if it will be $50 a year or a one-time charge or a month, because I’m not going to pay it.

For now, everything else will be available for “free” (“free” because you have to register and if you think your demographic information isn’t extremely valuable to them and their advertisers, you are wrong) online.

In Salon today, Frank Rich says that he believes that people will eventually not read newspapers in print, but online and thus, newspapers have got to figure out how to make money from their online readers.

The problem with this is that no newspaper makes money from its readers. They make money from advertising. The main, unspoken, purpose of a subscription list is to prove to advertisers that there are a bunch of people who will be reading the paper and, thus, might see their ads.

But ad revenues on the net are notoriously unreliable.

All this is to say that I understand that part of the argument: newspapers need to make money if they’re going to hire folks to provide the news, and if they can’t make money the old way, they need to make it a new way.

But here’s what bugs me about it. The Times sets itself up as the paper of record, not just for New York, but for the nation. And yet, what are the two biggest problems with the Times? Its coastalphilic attitude that everything important happens in New York, D.C., and L.A. and its insistence on talking about the rest of the nation (and even the working class people in its own city) as if it should obviously have the last word on what our experiences mean.

What is the only antidote for those two things? For people from the bottom rungs of the class ladder in NYC and from all walks of life from the rest of the country to read the paper and call them on their bullshit. You see that all the time in the letters to the editor, people from all over writing in to agree or disagree with what they saw in yesterday’s paper.

I’m certain that most of these folks don’t subscribe to the paper. They probably read it online like I do. (I don’t pay the $180 it costs to subscribe to my own hometown paper [and won’t until Brad About You is gone]; I’m not going to pay $600 to subscribe to the Times.)

And why do we read it?

Because, for all its flaws, it may not be the paper of record it wants to be, but it certainly is the paper of discussion. People read it and talk about what they’ve read in it.

But here they go, doing exactly the thing you’d expect from a paper that can’t decide who it’s for, building a little wall to sort out its readership for it.

Unfortunately, the very people who can’t be bothered to pay $50 for the “privilege” of reading the op/ed page are the very people the Times needs to read it.

People, listen up!

If the women in your life need cookies every day for a week, that week is not the time to get all self-righteously indignant about the amount of cookies you have to buy to satisfy them and thus declare that there will be no more talk of cookies and that you are never buying cookies again.

Wait until next week and see if the problem doesn’t resolve itself.

Otherwise, you may find that all of the animals have been shut in your bedroom at 3 in the morning. And you may find, thanks to the dog’s barking, that the cats have been given a three-pack of condoms to bat around to keep themselves occupied until you wake up.

Just a word of caution.