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Gender, gender, gender. It’s a slippery road from the start. From the moment a person is born, their sex is put into one of two categories: boy or girl. There are only two boxes that can be checked, and as soon as one is checked, much of life is sealed. The baby gets a blue or pink hat, and this starts the construction of gender in their life.
To clarify, there is a difference between sex and gender. Sex is what the doctor decides a person’s body is at birth. Gender is what the person feels like internally. Society mixes sex into gender. Sex is simply the biological makeup of someone’s body. It has an influence on, but does not ultimately define, gender. If it did, there would be no trans people in the world (with the exception of intersex people, who have more than the simple XY or XX chromosome set).
Gender, at its root, is just a construct of society.
Because of gender’s relationship with society, many stereotypes are created to keep people in line. These range from girls being the damsel in distress to the idea that men shouldn’t show emotion. These stereotypes build together to create masculinity and femininity, which root themselves deeply in the idea of how people should act in society. They create the mores that everyone is expected to follow.
When people deviate from this, gender becomes more confusing, especially for queer folks. When people aren’t sexually attracted to the opposite gender, it forces gender stereotypes to take on new roles. The expectation is that how one expresses their gender is expected to inversely correlate with who they are attracted to; men who are attracted to men should act more like women, and vice versa with women in the same situation.
As a gay man, society anticipates that I should have a lisp and be effeminate. I should wear lots of makeup and be into fashion. I’m expected to only be able to talk about boys and not think much deeper than my appearance or finding a man who solves all of my issues. This, in itself, is a paradox — how can a gay man find a masculine man when every gay man should follow feminine stereotypes?
As someone who found myself on the outside from an early age, I struggled with how I should express myself. I received the societal messages to be a manly man, but that didn’t fit how I felt I should be. However, I also didn’t cleanly fit the feminine stereotypes that I would be pushed toward as a gay man. I fell in a gray area where I was a mix of both.
I came out in eighth grade, and gradually shaped my social group to be almost exclusively people in the LGBT community. I saw what typically happens when a person comes out. They started out with a hyper-suppressed identity where they tried to fit their sex’s gender role as closely as they could. Next, they fit what society wants of them as a gay or lesbian person. The gay men become hyper-effeminate, and the lesbians become hyper-masculine. After trying to be the opposite extreme, each person levels out to find what fits best for them. Some people would stay close to one extreme, but most would even out at a median between masculine and feminine.
As outsiders, most of the community finds that gender roles and stereotypes don’t mean much, and that if you be yourself, everyone will be happier. If that means a mix between masculine and feminine, that’s great. If it means more one way or the other, that works too. It’s different for each person.
I had this myself. It took me a while to figure out how to express my own personal gender. I’ve found that I sometimes like to wear makeup, but it’s mostly to make a statement. I also recently discovered I like to perform as a drag queen named Karissa Mighty.
Gender, as a whole, is a suggested way to act, not something set in stone. Act how you want; don’t feel like you need to fit what society wants.
To everyone who asked me, “Why aren’t you gayer,” I am who I am and have embraced it. To all the people who have said, “Why are you such a fag,” I do it to make you uncomfortable and break your system that only confines.
The bottom line is, do you. Don’t let anyone tell you how to be.
An interview with RuPaul, a famous drag queen, sums up quite well the ways that gender is a construct of society, and how to look at it from an outside perspective.
For those interested in seeing how gender is a construct, check out CU’s Drag Show next Saturday, Nov. 14.