"We are born naked and the rest is drag" -Ru Paul.

Monday, February 21, 2011

on a serious note

Once again, the ugly label wars are raging online so I am posting this essay again, for all the good it has ever done to make people realize that labels are for clothes and that it costs nothing to pay others respect. But if a cat has nine lives, there is no reason why my words can't also, so here we go again.

Everyone is so consumed by labels, by what makes a male a male, and a female, a female, and what it means to be attracted to one or the other or both. But ultimately, all of the things that we think of to divide male from female: hair and skin and body size and shape and breasts, are all secondary sexual characteristics, and as such, they differentiate but they don't define. For human beings, there is only really one primary sexual characteristic, and for better or worse, that's the external genitalia. You can talk about genetics and xx and xy and xyy and all the chromosomal variations, but ultimately, how those genes are expressed physically is what counts. Males have penises, female have vaginas

But Male is not man and female is not woman. Your anatomy is not your gender, which is much more of a psychological construct than a physical absolute. Genitals are not what makes a man a man, or woman, a woman. Having a penis doesn't make you a man, or exclude you from being a woman. Your gender is between your ears, not your legs.

Same with homo vs heterosexual. homo=same. hetero=different. In the strict, literal sense of the terms, if you have a penis and your partner has one as well, that is a homosexual act.

But homosexual isn't the same as gay, just like hetero isn't the same as straight. Gay and Straight are social and cultural constructs, not easy absolutes. Being gay or straight is more about who you are attracted to, and why, and how you interact with them, and how you interrelate to the rest of the world. Being "gay" is more of a social political identity than a sexual one, just as being straight is. If an open admitted gay guy becomes celibate, he is still gay. If he sleeps with women, I would argue he is still gay as well. A man who is attracted to a transgendered woman can be straight. but he can't technically claim to be wholly heterosexual.

The term transsexual is an unfortunate one, because unlike homo and heterosexual, being transsexual is not about sex, its about gender. If they would have started with the term transgendered at the outset, instead of it evolving slowly and fitfully into more common usage, there might be a lot less confusion and angst among the transgendered community.

but we can never un-ring the bell as far as the terminology of transsexualism goes, so the term will continue to define gender and to confound how we deal with it.

I think rather than worrying about labels, that you should love who you love, or lust for those who you lust for, and do so proudly, and openly and shrug off those who would try to define or confine you. Sexuality is nothing if not fluid, and too many people are swimming against its current instead of going with the flow.




  1. Felicia, I just discovered your blog and I love your pictures!

    I agree with your points about labels, but wanted to add that thinking of the external genitalia as either male or female is also "labeling". Somewhere on the order of 0.1% to 1% of live births have some degree of sexual ambiguity, sometimes requiring surgical "correction" to enforce the male/female dichotomy. My use of quotation marks is not meant to imply that this is a bad thing, but just to point out that we have to recognize that we, as a society, are imposing our labels on nature.

  2. thank you for comment and compliments. I agree with you on your point and am aware that nature doesn't really care about our neat binary system (which is why I reference the chromosomal variants) but I'm working within and trying change or at least clarify the social construct, and its often destructive impact on relationships. :)