This is a question that I have been ruminating and mulling over in my mind. In my A to Z post I dealt with what a lesbian is, but on a deeper level, can I be classified as one?
Now we know that sex, gender and sexuality are complementary to one another but are very different things. Sex is our biological definition, how we are defined from birth as either male or female. Just like that. No quibbles, or differences of opinion and no shades of grey, no third gender, no alternative lifestyle, just a boring binary.
Gender on the other hand, is a social category and is by implication more fluid and flexible. It is open to self definition and endless interpretation. Thus, it is infinitely more useful to those seeking to determine their place in the world, and where they see themselves, within or outwith the socially constructed limitations we have.
Sexuality determines our sexual attractions. We may be attracted to men, women, or three headed aliens or all of the above. Whether all or none, it does not concern me. Plurality excites me baby. Oh yes!
So sex, gender, and sexuality are separate categories. But they do have a bearing on each other. For ease, let’s look at each category as a couple. Mr and Mrs Gender would have no problem accepting me as lesbian, because they are the sort of couple who promote fludity, and experimentation and finding out who you really are. Mr and Mrs Sexuality would have no problem either, because they are quite good friends with Mr and Mrs Gender and they regularly go out together for drinks and have fun together.
But the problem comes with Mr and Mrs Biology. They are both old enough to be my grandparents, and frankly, were around before I was born. They are very resistant to change, like things as they are, keep their neighbours at arms length and complain about them regularly.
So through that helpful if slightly childish illustration, at first glance, transsexuals have a problem. Due to biology’s lack of interpretivism and alternative ways of thinking, it would not let me be lesbian.
The latest classification developed by Thomas Cavalier-Smith in 2004 is as follows;
I am not going to go into the classifications in depth, as it is not really my area of expertise, and I am sure there are numerous blogs in the blogosphere that deal extensively with the subject of Biology.
My point though is that Biology’s f0cus is on systemising and tight categorisation. There is no room for shades of grey, only black and white. Something either is or is not.
Indeed, one of the first sentences a midwife will utter is, “you’ve got a little boy/girl”, via visual inspection of the child. Therefore, this one sentence unleashes a monster for the transsexual because along with it are a plethora of social and behavioural expectations from the parents towards the child. Thus, when the transsexual child goes against those norms, Mr and Mrs Biology stay silent, leaving behind nothing but a legacy of heartache and future pain, as the child will fight a constant battle during everyday life. So, taking evidence from Biology alone, as a transsexual woman I cannot call myself a lesbian. A natal lesbian can, as she is born with the right genitalia coalescent with her sexual attraction.
So, if Biology has nothing to offer me, what of gender?
Well the good news is, gender is far more fluid and flexible. It allows for the trichotomy between assigned biological sex, gender role, and social role in wider society. Indeed, there is a suggestion that children should be given hormone blockers earlier to prevent them from going through the heartache that our generation, and previous generations have had to suffer. Drew Ashlyn-Cunningham, star of Channel 4’s My Transsexual Summer, and patron of Gendered Intelligence supports this move.
In a recent talk given to students at Kingston University in Surrey, she had this to say.
“I am all for youngsters who are confused being helped to postpone puberty so they can decide what gender they really are. I only wish this option had been available to me.”(© Drew Ashlyn-Cunningham, Kingston University Press Office. Retrieved from The World Wide Web).
I am aware some are bothered by the term confused, thanks to the Daily Mail using it in the wrong context. However, what it boils down t0 is this. Confusion does come before the more direct realisation you are not your biological sex. You are confused as to why you do not fit in and conform. You ask yourself what is wrong with you. You ask yourself a million questions, then psychiatrists ask you more.
But like Drew, I very much want to see young people being empowered over this issue given that children usually have awareness from an early age, as can be seen from the Livvy James publicity. She is indeed very eloquent and able to justify and argue her viewpoint with coherent and reasonable, non confrontational argument. If I had the choice to do what Livvy is, and turn the clock back I would. Why should future generations have to suffer?
So it sounds like gender and sexuality may have something to offer.
But now we come to the big crescendo. How other lesbians define me, and how indeed I define myself.
Being honest and truthful here, I am like a woman, I always have been, and it would appear from my little bits of chatting on Faceb0ok to my friends in preparation for this post that they see me as one too.
I think in a sense it boils down to this. Whether you define yourself by physiology and biology, or whether by sexuality, and put simply your own freedom to ch0ose.
My friend Lianne said that she gets asked why lesbians look like boys if they fancy women, and why they do not have long hair. There is nothing enshrined in law to say that women have to have long hair. Granted, short hair is seen as more androgynous if you view it sterotypically, but I sure as heck don’t, at all.
Also my friend Beth again said that women appreciate the little things that others miss, like the look on her girlfriend Gemma’s face when she is about to tell her a secret for example. I definitely agree here. Women including me appreciate small things, insignificant details matter.
I definitely view myself as lesbian after labouring over this entry. I would rather that than sexuality non-specific.
This is in spite of my pre op status. I did not choose my genitalia, biology did, and I knew there was a conflict between my soul and b0dy from a young age. Sexuality and gender are independent variables. Lianne suggested that as a woman you are expected to fancy men in terms of social expectations. Now, being honest, most MTF transsexuals are straight, but there is no law saying they have to be.
Being a lesbian means different things to different people. For me I love the diversity of, and breadth of representation in womankind. But my genitalia does not make me a non lesbian. I did not become attracted to women due to it. I became attracted to women via my brain, which fuels my attraction.
So really, yes I am a lesbian because I say so. If other women want to define lesbian by genitalia alone, then they are shallow and missing out. I wouldn’t wish to be attracted to them anyway.
So, where biology has shortcomings, gender, sexuality and self definition as variables compensate for them. I have a right and a completely healthy desire to choose who I am attracted to. If other lesbians want to say that their vagina makes them a lesbian, I ask this. Did their vagina help them to fall in love? No no no no no. It was their brain.
I tell you, the journey towards arriving at the destination of who you really are is difficult and scary. That said, it is rewarding because once you have that definition, no one can take it away. As long as I know I am a lesbian, that, is what matters. No one can alter that or knock down my brick wall, because over a long time, I have built secure foundations of self definition, and a brick wall around them. The journey of self definition is the only one you need to go on.
It does not matter how biology defines you, it does not matter how gender defines you, and it does not really matter how sexuality defines you in all honesty. It matters only how you do, because once you have built your foundations and wall, mere categories do not matter. You can skip around, move the pieces around and have fun.
In short, once you have that strong wall around you, whilst it may need reinforcing from time to time as we are all human and have ups and downs, no one can knock it down. Isn’t that a fab thought? I think so.
NB: I support the Livvy James campaign.` They are campaigning against labels like gender confused in the press. I support this. I was expressing a feeling. Not a lack of support.