A couple of nights ago I was at the youth poetry workshop I'm co-facilitating in Philadelphia, and our week's topic was gender. What defines it, what describes it, what indicates it, what we love and hate about it. Our sessions usually involve ample time for discussions, but this week we had another activity we wanted to get to and so the discussion time was cut short. But the questions we'd raised were ones I wanted to bring here, to see what folks had to say.
Before asking them, though, I want to give a quick rundown of what I mean when I say "gender," because a lot of people have terms confused. To break it down in a simplistic way (and not everyone would agree with this breakdown), "gender" refers to the outward characteristics you use to indicate the pronouns you prefer to use, your personal style, etc. "Gender" is also something that other people read on you, in part because of these characteristics you have. "Sex" refers to your physical characteristics- your chromosomes, your genitalia, your hormones- and is often read to be synonymous with gender. "Sexual orientation" or "sexuality" refers to who you're sexually attracted to and what you do/don't like to do with the people you have intimate relationships with. Again, it's often assumed to follow straight from your sex and gender identities- but again, it's a whole separate thing. Even for people who DO appear to have all these ducks in a row- female body, woman identity, attracted to males- how these ducks appear (curvy? busty? skinny? tomboy? high-fashion femme? yoga master? promiscuous? housewife? serial monogamist?) varies from person to person.
For example, I was born female-bodied and I identify myself as a woman who is sexually and romantically attracted to people of a variety of sexes and genders. I like wearing my hair long, earrings and necklaces, and occasionally makeup, but I also like wearing clothes and shoes that let me be ready for anything- especially physical outdoor activities. As a White woman, part of my gender identity has been formed in reaction to the old stereotype that White women are supposed to be sheltered, protected, dependent, and weak.
So the questions for today focus on your gender identity. They are:
-What are some of the characteristics of your personal gender?
-What are some of the ways that your gender identity has affected your intimate relationships?
-What are some of the ways your gender identity has affected your life choices?
-How have you been treated, positively or negatively, as a result of your gender presentation?
-How do some of your other identities- your race, your socioeconomic status, your level of ability, for example- affect your gender identity and the way others perceive it?