Published on April 25th, 2014 | by Rayne


Privilege and perceptions: masculinity vs femininity

I want to relay to you, dear readers, my experiences being a cisgender woman experimenting with drag-kinging and the perceptions of gender.

For those of you who don’t know – a drag king is the opposite of a drag queen. A drag-king is a woman who dresses in such a way as to be perceived by society to be a man and/or male often for performance or entertainment (such as performing at nightclubs). My experimentation with drag-kinging wasn’t for entertainment purposes – it was for personal reasons. I consider myself a cisgender woman who likes to express herself in however she feels comfortable and sometimes I like going out into the world being perceived as male and/or man because reasons.

Over the years I have accumulated a variety of styles that I feel comfortable with on any given day. I own a variety of clothing from dresses to skirts to pants (for those who aren’t Australian – these are pants) to band shirts to trench coats to combat boots and high heels. I’ve had long hair, short hair, mohawks, blue hair, pink hair, black hair and green hair.

The one thing that has stood out for me on my days I feel like binding my breasts, donning a pair of pants, a shirt and a coat that hides my hips is that with my prominent jawline and facial features – regardless of my hair color, regardless of my hair length or style – I have gotten perceived by society as a man. These events aren’t limited to wearing what would be considered “men’s clothing” but also when I wear skirts and a corset – I’ve had women start to abuse me when they see me from behind in a public toilet – simply because I’ve had short or shaven hair at the time.

We all know gender identity, gender expression and gender roles are three separate entities (well most of us):

Gender identity refers to the internal perception of oneself. In simple terms whether someone feels like a man or a woman or someone who is neither or both or however they feel. When people are transgender, it means that their sex assigned at birth doesn’t match how they feel internally.

Gender expression refers to the behaviors, traits and mannerisms of an individual. Usually this is quantified as masculine or feminine. Sadly it seems society is on a mission to divide the world into two – so those traits and mannerism are often divided into either masculine or feminine. Society seems to have gotten to point where even emotions can be assigned as either masculine or feminine – assertive and opinionated for masculine, passive and submissive for feminine. In the lesbian world being a butch lesbian is typically associated with masculinity while being femme is typically associated with femininity.

Gender roles refers to the roles assigned to each gender by society. They are the “acceptable standards” that society has depending on the sex you were assigned at birth. Again it seem society is on a mission to divide the world into two with roles being assigned to females and to males. Further to that those roles can be assigned to people based on whether they are perceived as men or women or masculine or feminine.

Sex assigned at birth refers to the sex a doctor assigns an infant when they are born. The typical criteria is usually penis = male baby, vagina = female baby but in the case of Intersex infants with ambiguous genitalia – genetic testing is done and doctors will make recommendations based on primary and secondary sex characteristics present within the infant. Some Intersex conditions defy the accepted social standards of assigning sex at birth – one being Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Typically individuals with AIS will have the genetic structure typically assigned to males (XY chromosomes) but the sex characteristics typically assigned to females (breasts, vaginas but no uterus) – making sex assignment at birth a game of random chance. Sometimes doctors make mistakes and assign a sex that doesn’t feel right to the individual, their gender identity may feel different and they may feel like they’ve been born in the wrong body. Hence they are transgender.

An interesting case study into the separation of gender identity and sex assigned at birth is the case of David Reimer. David was assigned as male at birth but due to an accident – his penis was maimed during a circumcision. On the recommendation of psychologist John Money – David’s parents decided to raise him as a girl with doctors performing sex reassignment surgery on him. David was raised as Brenda and given hormone therapy. John Money also attempted to teach David how to be a female and attempted to teach him and reinforce gender roles assigned to females. David reports that he never “felt like a girl” and at 14, he decided to start the process to reverse the sex reassignment and live full time as a man. Further research into gender identity has found that gender identity is innate quite similar to sexuality – it just is, it cannot be changed or altered. Which is why the treatment for having gender dysphoria is hormones and surgery – one cannot changes ones gender identity but changes to ones body can be made.

As stated previously gender identity, gender expression, gender roles and sex assigned at birth are entirely separate entities. An individual such as myself who was assigned female at birth, who is not transgender (I perceive myself as a woman and do not experience gender dysphoria), whose  expression and mannerisms can be anywhere from masculine in dress and behaviors to feminine in dress and behaviors. Mannerisms and behaviors can mix and match as well – masculine dress and feminine behaviors for instance. Whereas another person can be a cisgender male who is attracted to the opposite sex but has feminine mannerism, masculine appearance.

Now we all know societies division of the population into two for everything is bullshit – emotions and mannerism shouldn’t be gendered but we’re talking about a place that even codifies colors as having a gender – pink for girls and blue for boys (at least in modern society, in earlier times it was reversed).

Society tends to use gender expression, dress, mannerisms, facial structure, tone and pitch of voice largely as the references for perceiving a persons sex or gender identity. Societies division of all things gender and therefore the privileges assigned to individuals based on that gender/sex perception – at least in my experience – at rooted in societies perceptions of the individual in question. On its most basic level – if you are perceived as male and/or man – you will be granted access to male privileges (specifically cisgender privilege) and advantages and if you are perceived as female and/or a woman (or even acting “womanly” – expressing traits assigned to women) you will have access to female privilege (or more specifically cisgender privilege).

So what does that mean for masculine women or feminine men? Or feminine women and butch men? How does that affect whether a transgender person passes in society (and by passing I mean passing as a cisgender person)?. How many butch lesbians get misgendered on a daily basis and therefore have access to male privilege? Probably quite a few. I know I’ve been in male dominant fields and been regarded as “one of the guys” and experienced less sexism and claptrap based upon what I assume is my butch gayness cisgenderness. Some men often forgot I was a woman after a while.

Sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are all rooted in perceptions and the division of the world into two. Homophobia stems from homophobes and sexists regulating gay men to the status of women based on decades worth of stereotypes that all gay men are Richard Simmons and women being considered second class citizens over men in our patriarchal society – gay men get “downgraded” on the social hierarchy. Transphobia on the other hand stems from our kyriarchal society – non transgender people have more access to privilege than transgender people as being non transgender (or cisgender) is viewed more as the acceptable standard. Regardless of whether you are a cisgender man or women – you have more privilege and life advantages than a transgender person.

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists like to assert the notion that gender identity is a destructive concept because it somehow reinforces the notion that women need to adhere to femininity and men need to adhere to masculinity based on their own skewed perceptions of gender identity and the inability to separate gender identity from gender expressions. They like to assert that gender identity reinforces gender stereotypes. All and all this assertion is nothing more than another policing tactic on behalf of TERFs – they know full well that women (whether trans or cisgender) can dress/act/look however they feel comfortable. Contrary to TERF opinion – women do have a sense of agency, they do have the ability to consent and think for themselves. Sex assigned at birth doesn’t determine gender identity nor gender expression and vice versa.

I know of a few TERFs who actively reject femininity because of some strange thought process that because they are female – any display of femininity means they are adhering to patriarchal standards and are therefore under patriarchal rule. This it seems, is an exercise in taking sex/gender politics too far.

I don’t know about TERFs but I will walk around town in a short skirt and combat boots all I want without adhering to anyone elses rules but my own.

If you like some of the things I say – feel free to add me to your RSS feed, comment or email me: rayne@insufferableintolerance.com. I now have a facebook page! Feel free to like my page by clicking here!

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4 Responses to Privilege and perceptions: masculinity vs femininity

  1. Pingback: Privilege and perceptions: masculinity vs femininity Insufferable Intolerance | Charissa's Grace Notes

  2. kiwi_n_aussie says:

    “Sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are all rooted in perceptions and the division of the world into two.”

    Why do you believe this? Isn’t it more likely that it is because those who fall out side the norm are a very small minority. Us gay guys are pushing maybe 5% of the male population? Lesbians around 1 – 2%. Transsexuals and the others ( there seems to be more ‘identities’ popping up like mushrooms eg “demisexuals”, “pansexuals” ) far less than that. Minorities of any sort are likely to face out group disadvantages – that is human nature.

    How do you leap from a tiny minority who fall out side the normal range to the conclusion that gender, sexuality and sex are all arbitrary and everyone needs to embrace some kind of radical sexuality?

    The underlying ideology has serious philosophical flaws, eg “social constructionism”. Just to say that something is socially constructed” is not really saying anything at all. The real question is “why is something socially constructed in that particular way.”

    It seems that Feminists and Deconstrucionist like Judith Butler are desperate to escape from basic biological reality. Men and women have profound differences that can not be ignored just because they are not ideologically convenient.

  3. Pingback: » What TERFs really mean when they say they want to abolish gender

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