kaigou: you live and learn. at any rate, you live. - doug adams (2 live and learn)
[personal profile] kaigou
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Over dinner tonight (and this is a normal dinner conversation in this house), we got to talking about gender-flipping in stories. CP noted that the trope is, of course, if a guy suddenly wakes up as a girl, his first expected reaction is to stay home and play with his new breasts. But seems to me, based on stories about women facing breast cancer, that this isn't just flippant, it's the complete opposite of what's likely. I mean, I've read plenty about, and by, women who've had to have radical mastectomies. Even knowing that removing one's breasts might be the chance for survival, women still grieve. And even those that don't emphasize loss of the organs per se, still speak of having somehow radically changed, of going through a time of questioning whether they're still women without breasts, and coming to grips with a changed sense of 'what it means to be a woman' and just how breasts do (or don't) figure into this.

I'm not saying that full mastectomies automatically equate to losing one's sex/gender/identity, but that those secondary sex attributes (breasts, genitals) get tied up in so many things of self-identity. That on top of the sense of loss that comes with amputation/body-part loss, there's also the shift in recognizing how much we emphasize, as a culture, something formerly taken-for-granted. That we don't realize -- until it's made obtrusive, impossible to ignore -- how much we make synonymous 'having breasts' with 'being female'.

(To the point that there's also a trope for girls complaining about being A-cups, with the subtext, sometimes text, that small breasts makes them 'less' of a woman. But then, the male version of that is the worry that a too-small penis makes a man 'less', too.)

Anyway, my point is I'd expect that a guy, waking up one morning to find his dick and balls gone, might spare a few seconds for the breasts but only after a serious amount of time panicking and/or denying and/or feeling lost about the body parts exchanged. I mean, I'm not even sure I'd see it as an 'exchange' in a sense of equivalency, since possibly the focus would be on "I don't have parts that are so much me that I never even thought about them except in passing, and now they're gone, I can't even fathom who/how I must be, or could be, without them" and only secondary "what the hell do I do with this other part of me". I guess sort of like waking to find you'd lost an arm but gained a tail... the tail was something you'd never lived with before, so it's not "you" but that arm? That was "you".

But the other side of that would be the person, I think, who never felt truly at peace in the body, perhaps? So to wake and find secondary sexual characteristics flipped... might be a shock, followed by joy. Wouldn't this be sort of like, say, being born with, I don't know, a third eye in the middle of your forehead and it never quite felt right and you were always off-balance... then you wake one morning with only two eyes and everything fits. Would you feel suddenly like the body had shifted, it'd all fallen into place, and now you could finally start taking your body for granted?

That's entirely my guess, extrapolating from one of the few areas where a body might change substantially but not necessarily as a result of desire. That is, mastectomies aren't only efficacious because the woman secretly wishes she lacked secondary female sex attributes or secretly wished she were male or some similar hogwash. It's one of the few instances where such removal is medically life-saving, but it still raises the questions and the aftermath.

Since it's a huge spoiler, I won't mention the book's title, but I recall a SFF novel in which the protagonist was (for her own protection) magically genderflipped into a boy. When puberty kicks in, this breaks the glamour, and she discovers she's really a girl. As I recall, the focus after this reveal is on her heartbreak over her best (male) friend's sense of betrayal and shock. What I recall of her part, though, was mostly resignation or acceptance for herself, and grief for her friend's denial/rejection. So the aftertaste (and why I didn't read the rest of the series) was that this massive change focused not on her own reactions but on wow, the wangst of the male friend. 'Cause, y'know, it's mostly about him.

And further, I don't recall much foreshadowing or hints about how she felt uncomfortable in her body, discontent in any way. It read like a usual coming-of-age story in which boy is spirited away from family enemies and grows up in idyllic freedom with best buds, and that could be anything from the Prydain series to The Once and Future King. So looking back, I realize now that what I expected to see, on parallel with women dealing with loss of secondary sex facets, was for this protagonist to do the same over loss of what had been 'her' (his) secondary sex attributes. For some level of grief, denial, confusion, imbalance, maybe even anger, but definitely loss. I mean, you spend all your life with your perception of who-you-are, and one morning it's not there anymore, wouldn't you wander around for awhile feeling like you'd lost an arm, or all the toes on your left foot, or some other equally disconcerting and possibly terrifying and identity-changing thing?

But if the loss were less consequential and the gain (of alternate sex attributes) comes with such ease (or any ease at all), wouldn't this have been something you'd have spent your life, up to then, feeling like you were missing? Wouldn't you have spent a good chunk of your life feeling like your body was 'wrong' or at the very least, just didn't 'fit' you? I mean, if you're content and take the shape of your body for granted, then a sudden change would throw you. But if that sudden change were to not throw you, then I'd expect that previously you were not content and did not take the shape of your body as a for-granted natural state of things.

I don't think an author can have it both ways, is all.

(There might be a few rare souls who disregard the body to such degree they're not imbalanced by the body, before and after, but seems to me those few souls would be very, very rare, indeed. And I'm not sure I'd even care to read about a character who disregards the physical so completely as to have no connection to, or investment in, his/her/hir own body. Unless I wanted to read about 80-year-old celibate Zen masters, or something. Which I don't. But I think even antique Zen masters would be disconcerted by the loss of body parts, if those body parts had always been contently part of the person's self-identity, even if the body's sexual aspects were virginal for life.)



I've been spending the afternoon alternating on trying to motivate myself to translate, trying to motivate myself to move the fridge and re-install the fridge cabinet, trying to motivate myself to dig open a mysql database and tweak, and mostly... ending up wasting time fixing to get ready with no real getting ready. But that's meant plenty of time to think! Which is where all ya'll come in, since even if it's not something you've thought about before, I'm sure plenty of you might have thoughts about it, now. I hope.

So. We're speaking in the context of fiction -- in case it's not obvious, since I'm pretty sure there aren't any medical, real-world cases of spontaneous secondary sexual attribute changes -- but trying to keep it still somewhat grounded, as in: if whatever fictional case were to happen in real life, what seems like how a reasonable person would react? And so on.

To some degree, then, it seems relatively clear (if maybe kinda obvious) that each of us learns, pretty early on, to identify our body's shape with our gender. And if our body's shape doesn't fit our gender, then we're going to spend our lives at odds with that shape. Either you connect, or you disconnect. Like I said, obvious, but I might be totally wrong on that assumption, so speak up if that should be extended or clarified or could be put some other way.

And gender -- here is where I'm starting to think out loud (in pixels?) -- is, like it or not, tied to secondary sexual characteristics. Or, hmm, that our behavior, dress, speech, roles, are the give-away in instances where secondary sexual characteristics are masked or cloaked in some way. (I'm emphasizing secondary, because primary -- whether you produce eggs or sperm -- is kind of irrelevant, I think; after all, you don't lose your penis just because you have a sperm count of zilch, or lose your breasts when you go through menopause and can't have babies anymore.) Back to characteristics: a woman of fair height dressed in a big yellow jumpsuit with the mask and protective booties (whatever they wear in movies about modern scary plagues) would still be identifiable as a 'woman' by some combination of clues. She uses female nouns/verbs to refer to herself (in some languages), or it's the way she defers to the men, maybe, or the fact that you can see she's wearing lipstick, or the style of her eye-glasses. Or the way she stands or walks.

Come to think of it, even in situations where gender makes no difference in one's ability to do a task -- say, being a chef, or a teacher, or a doctor, it seems to still be pretty universal to continue those gender-clues. I know, this is a lot of socialization and culturation going on here, and the over-compensation seems to be slowly stepping down (at least in the urban areas and/or industries I've worked in). But it's still there, as if to remind the onlooker that despite the task being gender-neutral, and the uniform possibly also, that the gender (read: implied secondary sex characteristics) is still identifiable.

As opposed to sexual-characteristic-reliant tasks, like, hmm, being the bass voice in the choir versus the alto soprano, since it'd be a rare woman who could manage the first and an equally rare man who could manage the second. But I don't know, since I'm not in a gender-specific industry. If one's tasks or speech or a specific behavior were clearly pegged as gender-identifying, would there be less emphasis on gender-identifying clothing (to indicate the secondary sex characteristics underneath)? I'm reminded of the sub-threads we had going on a previous post about textiles and garments, and that in the west, gender-coded clothing diverged dramatically starting around, hmm, by 1400, maybe? (When men's tunics went short and stayed short, and women's tunics dropped to the floor, though working-class in the fields tended to be more gender-neutral, come to think of it.)

Compared to, say, the yukata, which has certain clues to tell you gender -- pattern, width of the obi, color -- but the body-shape is... Not androgynous per se, but it certainly doesn't emphasize the major differences in the secondary sex characteristics. I was reading something yesterday about wearing the kimono and how if your breasts are too big, here's how to flatten them, because you don't want the front gaping open. Plus the whole three or four layers and whatnot around the waist, all designed to give a woman a columnar look, rather than a defined breast-waist-hips curve. And outside of those really fancy samurai coats with the huge exaggerated shoulders, much of the men's clothing doesn't really seem to emphasize male secondary sex characteristics, either (wide shoulders, hips/waist near to same but smaller, etc). Actually, looking back at the hanfu (in China) and the early qipao -- I think that's what it's called? -- before it went majorly tight-and-emphasizing as the cheongsam, that is -- that's also clothing that's not quite so gender-emphatic, too. Okay, the teeny-tiny bound feet and the pained expression would probably tell you right away that it's a woman, and I'm sure there were also patterns and colors, but the relatively straight-cut garments still didn't play up the secondary sex characteristics, not like western clothes of equivalent eras.

I meander on in that, because I'm wondering: if the gender roles (what 'a woman can do' versus 'what a man can do') are really well defined, does that mean the clothing can be less so? You can't tell at a glance, at a distance, that person is male or female but if the person is doing X versus Y, then unquestionably, the person must be this gender or that? To the point that a woman could dress in male clothing but if she uses female verb-endings, then clearly, this trumps all, she's female. Or if the person is wearing what might be female-coded clothing but also, I don't know, leading a crew of oxen or carrying a length of lumber, that this trumps the visual gender-neutral clothing?

Although I doubt that's universal in the real-world, because by that standard, western dress would've developed to compensate for women and men doing similar tasks. Such that you'd need the clothing to be the gender-role signal, and I'm no historian but I'm still pretty sure everyday tasks were sex-divided in the west, too, for most of western history. But in fiction, seems to me that it's a question you could raise: if what-you-do is regimented strongly based on gender roles, then how-you-look (or how-you-talk, or how-you-dress, or whatever) could be secondary or even non-existent as visual identifiers.

Hmm. Does that mean: if a character from a dress-as-gender society visits a role-as-gender society, the person would be quite confused. If you didn't know that only women draw water and only men are bakers and only women are teachers and only men are cart-pullers, you could end up baffled. Then again, if the role-as-gender person visited the dress-as-gender society, the person might be constantly thrown by seeing clearly clothing-based indicators of secondary sex characteristics (seeing cleavage? male leggings so tight you can tell what religion he is?) that doesn't appear to have any correlation to what people actual do.

I didn't grow up in a gender-neutral-dressing society (maybe sort of close, but still, women's jeans and women's t-shirts are cut differently from men's, and the time I spend in cargo shorts and a tank-top only barely outweighs the time I've spent in blouses and slacks cut for a woman's body). So I'm having a hard time dividing it, but... seems to me that if you grew up in a society where the clothes de-emphasize the secondary sex characteristics, emphasize a more androgynous and/or unisex-ified appearance, how would that change the experience of -- back to the original questions -- waking up and finding your body had changed? Thinking that over, seems like you would still go through a "this is not me" or a "oh, finally, this is me". It just might not be tied quite so tight to the "and now I question my female-ness" or "now my body finally fits my internal male-ness". I mean, if "having breasts" weren't the way you were ever taught to see (yourself or others) as being female, compared to, say, whether you're a doctor or a teacher or someone who wears this color or that color. Outside the body-adjustment (that we'd all go through for any major body change), it'd be like any other amputee, perhaps? Because losing your leg below the knee doesn't mean you can't still wear green, or still be a teacher.

Then why not a culture where one's gender is defined by what one is doing (or wearing)? Today, I am going to draw water from the well, therefore I use female speech and dress in female-coded clothing, and am effectively female despite having a Y-chromosome. Today I am baking bread, therefore I use male speech and wear male-coded clothing. And so on. What happens then? Would eventually the society become less gender-coded overall -- since wouldn't it eventually get ridiculous, because what if you baked bread in the morning and went to the well after lunch and then came back and baked some more bread? Or would the society eventually start to codify some other means to clarify who-is-what, and cut back on the fluidity between one and the next?

Practically speaking, after all, it's not like we're all going around, twenty-four hours a day, being sexual beings in the sense of, y'know, putting those primary sexual characteristics to use[*]. Okay, for nine months a woman is pregnant, and then for however long she might also nurse, but outside of that, and outside of the actual sex act itself, the rest of the time... what's getting used (if anything) -- in the sense of our self-identification, self-identity, I mean -- are those secondary sex characteristics. I don't know about the rest of you, but when I think of myself in terms of sex and/or gender, I don't think, "this is what I'm like in bed!" That's actually kind of the last thing I think of. I think of the pitch of my voice, the shape of my body, my height, my personality traits, whatever. I think of who I am when it's just me, going about my day, being me.

Although this raises questions in turn for self-identity for those characters in fiction whose day does consist of constant use of primary sexual characteristics. Wet nurses and gigolos and courtesans and, uhm, sperm donors. Do they eventually see their own sex/gender in different ways than those of us whose daily lives use mostly secondary means to self-identify?



Just checked with CP, and he says he'd not studied this enough (nor studied enough first-person, as opposed to outsider-anthropologists), so maybe someone else knows. But in some of the Plains (Indigenous American) tribes, one could choose to put away the sex-based gender role and take on the alternate set of gender roles. Biologically female, but the person would dress as a man, speak as a man, perform all the rites and duties of a man -- including taking one or more wives -- and for all intents and purposes, live and be respected as a man. And men could do the same, taking a female gender-coded set of behaviors, speech, duties, etc, including become someone's wife. What I can't recall is whether the person would then be known as "male" or whether the person would continue to be identified in some way, ie "woman who lives as a man" or "third sex" or some other signifier that means "not biologically male". I'm thinking (but not positive) that the Navajo separate it out, such that the cross-gender position becomes two-spirit, but I can't recall if there was a tribe/culture that didn't differentiate. Maybe one of all ya'll might know (and not just Native American, but anywhere else).

Of course, that comes with the caveat that there isn't a monolithic "Plains" culture or even any Indigenous culture -- it's not the 500 Nations for nothing. 500+ cultures will have 500+ ways of seeing things... but a real-world culture might provide patterns for seeing how such could be represented in fiction.

[In case you're wondering: do not use the term 'berdache', or I will smite you.]

fwiw, I'm not sure 'gay' or even 'queer' really applies here, either (does it?) -- since that's using a frame that doesn't really mesh. The Wikipedia entry has a nice way to put it (I think): that a relationship between a cisgender and a two-spirit is neither heterosexual nor homosexual, but hetero-gender.

A notion borne out by the mention also that in some tribes, two-spirits did not have sexual relations with other two-spirits. I guess in a way that's seen as a kind of homo-gender relationship? As long as the two people have differing genders, the primary sexual characteristics are, well, secondary?

Granted, we're talking about a world lacking today's surgical advances, and if you can't change your body to fit who you are inside... you could at least change the rest (behavior, clothing, the role you're expected to fulfill). And people would refer to you by your selected pronoun, if those changeable tertiary characteristics trump the primary characteristics.

But then, we're getting into the waters of sexuality (who you find attractive) and that can go in any direction with no regard to what's between your legs (or on your chest). Because being gay (liking someone of the same sex) does not make you 'female' even in a gender-sense, so I'm not sure how the real-world analogue of two-spirit meshes with someone who is quite happy being cisgender and cissexed but also much prefers others of the same cisgender and cissexed status. Since from the quick overview, it seems that the majority of two-spirit (or at least how it's generally defined) is as someone who merges both traditional male and traditional female gender roles, behavior, speech, etc, into a third gender. As opposed to being first-gender and only liking others of first-gender.



But I meander. What I've been trying to puzzle out is actually more related to the issue of attraction. In that... we all have 'types' we like, granted -- preferring partners who are taller, or younger, or who dress in a girly fashion or drive big trucks, whatever. But that I've heard plenty of times in my life that even when finding someone attractive, superficially (ie, straight men admiring drag queens for being beautiful women), that ultimately the body-parts involved do matter.

I remember talking two women-friends (one gay, one not) who were drunkenly and rather forthrightly discussing what's required for "good" sex. Or for sex at all, really: for the hetero friend, to be really blunt (as she was), while sex doesn't always mean penile penetration, it still was something she felt she'd feel the lack, were it not possible with a partner. For the lesbian friend, penile penetration was irrelevant, if not somewhat eww-inducing. Like, nothing's missing, compared to the hetero-response of seeing that as missing.[*]

Something's going on there, and it's tied to what we internally crave in our partners, that defines our sexuality, and it requires certain secondary sexual characteristics. (Since fertility or even existence of things like sperm and ovaries aren't something you can see just looking at a person, if all the secondary aspects are in place.) Which means that on some deep-down level, we do require, I think, those gender-clues that help us determine whether -- when naked -- we'll get the parts we need to make us feel 'complete' within the sexual act. Our dress, speech, behavior, roles, whatever, are all clues we look for, and use to help others look for, how to know what we'll get when the package is unwrapped.

Seems to me that as long as there are two or more sexes (including trans and intersex), then we're probably going to continue seeking ways to clue others in on what's underneath. Or else we'd have to get used to a lot of disappointed or upset people when you discover that all the clues led you in the wrong direction[*], and now you're facing a less-than-expected, or just incomplete, sexual experience. That might sound cruel, but I don't think anyone (of any persuasion) can be, or should be, guilted for liking what the person likes, and I think it's only human to be disappointed when you find out that all the clues were leading you into liking someone that doesn't fully fulfill what you hoped.

(But then, this is true in other ways, like to meet someone you really like... and then find out the person is a reformed felon, or never went to college, or hates Korean food. If one of those is a major issue for you, then it's probably just as much a deal-killer as unwrapping the package and finding different body-parts than you expected. And it can feel just as misleading if the clue you got was no mention of jail record, or comments about attending classes, or assurances that the person likes all cuisine. And then to find out, well, not quite.)

Getting back to fictional worlds and extrapolation... the notion of a third-gender makes sense, because in a way it's acting as a clue that tertiary sexual characteristics (gender) and secondary characteristics (sexual) have a different relationship/paradigm. If someone absolutely requires body-parts A and couldn't find attraction for body-parts B, then third-gender clues mean less jumping to assumptions that "gender behavior A" automatically indicates "sexual status A".

Hmmm. But this still kind of... erases? or maybe just sublimates? or some other word?... biologically intersexed peoples. Since if, say, the world were reasonably limited (as if, but for the sake of argument) to two sexes, two genders, then someone presenting with two sexes (like androgyn-resistence, I think it's called? or over/under-virilization, when a man has feminized traits like breasts or a woman has masculinized secondary sex characteristics)... Anyway, that'd be two sexes, but if cross-sex status is represented by blending gender-clues into a third gender, where does that leave someone who presents with both (or neither)? How could a world be constructed to allow that person to also have the outward/tertiary clues to alert potential mates?

I mean, if life is one big mating dance[*], then I'd think it's important. I don't think it's fair to have intersex characters/people expected to be permanently celibate just because it's celibacy or twenty times of rejection from partners who'd expected slot A or tab B, not both (or neither). Rejection is still rejection. The potential partner can be all kinds of gentle, and it still hurts to be turned down[*]... and the chances are reduced if you at least know your slots and tabs are the kinds of slots and tabs another person wants. Then we're back to what kind of gender-clues might, in a fictional world, be used to signal that, to attract potential lovers.

Dunno. I'm sure some of you must have some thoughts, though.

So, uhm. Thoughts?

Date: 2 May 2012 07:36 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
I think you have an extremely important hook there into the grieving that a guy who lost his dick and balls would feel. One of the best "magic gender ray" stories I've read involved the transformed man becoming a very angry woman. Since the character doesn't talk about things much before that, she doesn't explain herself afterward either--she's just furious all the time. This makes sense to me.
I feel that "Life as one big mating dance" as genetics doesn't necessarily rule on mental, psychological grounds because it doesn't allow enough for the needs of larger human social group. We aren't all Flo the matriarchal senior chimp, right? It may be be a particular phase for some people, at fairly narrow times of their life. In the female-reproductive triad of "maiden, mother, crone" it's mostly the ending of the maiden phase, and briefly at that. A mother trying to play smexy to obtain resources to support her babies has an unpleasant history and a bad name for good reasons.
It doesn't cover all the needs of the entire tribe or clan for thousands of years. I strongly suspect there's a fair number of soldiers out there who never expect to get married or have kids. That's not their job. They're tribal guards, proud of it, and while they might be terrific around kids, that's not their calling. Such folks feel it is inappropriate to their own personal lives.
You see medical folks like this, and scientists, and scholars.
I suspect there's a number of other interior models like this which alt-folks use to explain who they really are.
I know a lot of the ambiguous-gender folks and the gender-queer and various alt-lifestyle folks just get tired of fighting the awful, constant, gooey het-normative "breed those babies" rhetoric. It really hits a number of buttons for me, personally, but I would feel much better if some of the rhetoric from the gun-nut pro-life rightwing included some rhetoric about taking *care* of all those kids once they were born.
You might find it helpful to do some more reading on trans folks. Many are very, very clear on the dangers of misleading folks who see them as gender A and are shocked and upset to discover Gender B under the wrappings. The stats on what happens then are really horrible. They know all too well that being trans and pre-op can get you killed if you're caught outside some bar by a bunch of thugs, or in a prison, or merely in an overnight drunk tank. Handling the social anxiety is a big part of the condition. Safety, always. You know how that messes with your head as a woman--no such thing as enjoying a nice quiet moonlit stroll across a neglected, unlit campus, right?
I should kick in the additional sad fact that a fair number of trans folks have body dysphoria regardless of transition. There's no guarantee about it. It's not just that the identity inside the person has surprisingly little to do with the parts outside--it's that the hatred of the body is a mental condition all on its own, and might not be cured unless some kind of mental treatments can ease it. So that means that surgery to "fix" the alien body parts does not fix the problem for a percentage of transfolk. They remain in the same mental state of dissociation from this meat rack that doesn't fit right.
Also, trans folks on hormones have other issues that often make sex really not so great or important. Between the common inability to orgasm easily and the mood swings and PMS-type effects, plus the common poverty and inability to maintain the meds they need to be keeping steadily on to avoid those side effects--a trans person may be dealing with more important immediate survival, such as finding a job where they won't be fired for being sick too often.
Also, I would expect to hear that many lesbians are not into needing penetrative heternormative positions for sex--certainly the older ones. Younger ones, I get the sense they are reclaiming all their play with toys and so on. Too many of the ones I knew, ten-twenty years ago, had been raped or abused as children. Penetration is really not something those folks enjoyed.
Edited Date: 2 May 2012 07:54 am (UTC)

Date: 2 May 2012 08:09 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
Ahh, thank you for writing your ideas as positive stories--we really need more of those. I love seeing the queer folks in the corner get to live a happy life, thank you! Yes, I'm coming out of older-school, where you were lucky to see them on-screen for ten seconds before they got to die horribly.
I hear you on the speechless fury, too.
On gender cues, actors deal with that in regular training. There's quite a corpus of information on that, but I'm not sure how much of it would be available in reference books. For trans folks trying to make use of that accumulated knowledge, they have workshops to help with it along with the counseling you have to show you've undergone if you want to obtain surgery.
I understand the change in gender cues is not just relying on your own innate preferences (although there are a fair number of those too) but there's a fair amount of work and practice shifting into living 24/7 going either way on transitioning to the opposite gender-role. Things like training your voice to register in the right range further than just the hormones can take you, and get in the habit of it, for instance. And the way you use body-language, such as stride length and how you hold your elbows and allow your throat to be viewed. Staking out a careful and honest and deliberate presentation of ambiguous or mixed-gender presentation would be harder yet, I would think.

Date: 2 May 2012 08:13 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
ETA TO ADD:
Sorry, I did edit, it's a bad habit of mine. Reading the comment again I realized I might have been unclear. Plus, cat on keyboard help on distraction.

Date: 3 May 2012 04:58 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
Hmm, Cats Demanding Worship...is there any *other* mode?

Okay, right, there is the "refusing to accept contemptible worship from human who did X offending action and I haven't forgiven you one bit" of course.

Date: 3 May 2012 05:06 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
Serendipity strikes. You may have already seen lists like this before, but just in case...
http://pamshouseblend.firedoglake.com/2012/05/02/a-shopping-list-of-trans-womens-shame/

Date: 3 May 2012 10:57 pm (UTC)
boxofdelights: earring (Default)
From: [personal profile] boxofdelights
A mother trying to play smexy to obtain resources to support her babies has an unpleasant history and a bad name for good reasons.

Wait, what? You say that as though everyone will understand what you're referring to. Maybe everyone other than me does. But what are the good reasons?

Date: 4 May 2012 02:05 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
Ahh, my apologies for being obscure. Prostitute, whore, apply in the desperate cases. The subtler efforts would be greedy girlfriend, two-timer, any number of nasty pop song references. It would be an odd use of the old term gold-digger, but that applies too. Too many are also domestic abuse victims because they can't afford to leave the abusive partner.
Give them credit, the mommas I see a lot will do just about anything they have to for the baby, and some of the things they do are really extremely unpleasant, short-sighted, and criminal, so long as it gets more formula, more diapers, etc. With apologies for wandering off topic for gender-changes here, and at the risk of insulting dedicated sexworkers who like their work, I ride transit with a fair number of lower-economic-class hos. (It gets pretty blatant when they're working the commuter crowd. 7 am? It's just sad.) Among the folks I ride with, on transit from a poor neighborhood through a poorer one--a ghetto of economic class, instead of those based race or religious group--I see a fair amount of what some folks call baby-mommas riding in to the clinics or to the welfare offices or to court. Some of them talk loudly about what they're having to do to survive, often on the phone with their mother, with their baby-daddies, with their current boyfriends, with their best girlfriends, and so on. I hear the other side too: The grandmothers, the aunts, the church ladies, the current boyfriends--all getting mad at each other. There's a lot of anger, and rightfully so when you learn about some of the horrible housing and abusive family conditions the mommas are putting up with. Addiction problems are also non-trivial, but not the entire story there.
There may be an entire subculture based on surviving on welfare, but it's not nearly enough to raise kids. Women get desperate enough to use the same manipulative methods that junkies do to strip assets from their own families. Stealing food, bicycles, and pawnables from roomates, deadbeat on bills, business jealousy over other mommas stealing the attention of their current boyfriend, telling whatever lies they have to get that baby into the ER when it's sick.
As I said, bad names, and mostly for economic reasons. The central valley here has one of the highest unemployment rates in California (which is saying something) and people are hustling whatever they've got to sell. Guys briefly selling shoes on the bus before the guards boot them off, standing in lines near the Home Depots as undocumented day labor, you name it.

Date: 2 May 2012 01:37 pm (UTC)
ext_141054: (Default)
From: [identity profile] christeos-pir.livejournal.com
> CP noted that the trope is, of course, if a guy suddenly wakes up as a girl, his first expected reaction is to stay home and play with his new breasts.

Actually, my response was that while that might be what you find in a not-terribly-well-written story, I think the average guy* will think two things:

First, "the tits are all very well, but MY DICK IS MISSING - this is NOT a fair trade!"

And second (stop me if you've never seen this one in stories and films, especially ones targeting teens/tweens), "Hey, I'm a girl -- I CAN GET LAID ANY TIME, ALL THE TIME, ALL DAY LONG!"


* Note: I caveat this by insisting the influence of cultural context/worldview is of major importance here, and that the responses will likely be different to a greater or lesser extent in different contexts. A second caveat is that by "average guy" I am, in a somewhat elitist way, thinking of the mythical "Joe Sixpack" rather than a man with some notion of gender issues.

Date: 2 May 2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
ext_141054: (Default)
From: [identity profile] christeos-pir.livejournal.com
I wonder if instead most guys wouldn't even think of that, having been so accustomed to privilege, until they ran smack into it? "What do you mean I can't do that? I always could before!"

Date: 2 May 2012 08:55 pm (UTC)
wordweaverlynn: (phallus)
From: [personal profile] wordweaverlynn
Get laid? Not the way he would have experienced sex. There really is a difference in penetrating/being penetrated. Which is not to say that a women can't fuck a man, or be powerful in grasping her partner's penetrating organ. (Cock, dildo, hand.) But it is different.

Date: 2 May 2012 09:03 pm (UTC)
ext_141054: (Default)
From: [identity profile] christeos-pir.livejournal.com
I hear you; however I'm not talking about what the reality is (and how would I know, anyway), but rather the kneejerk reaction of the average teen/tween "guy."

Date: 2 May 2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
phoebe_zeitgeist: (Default)
From: [personal profile] phoebe_zeitgeist
I'm going to lurch off in a different direction (surprise, surprise) and talk for a bit about mastectomies, and body shifts in general, though I expect I'll want to come back later and actually try to address some of the other issues here. I don't know that this will be all that helpful, because I'm clearly a minority with this stuff -- and yet, at the same time, I have to wonder to what extent I'm a minority because I'm relatively immune to social conditioning, as opposed to being in the minority because of some innate oddity in my relationship to my body. That is, without the strong social conditioning that insists we (all of us, really, but women more than men, I suspect) pay obsessive attention to our bodies, and privilege them as absolutely central to who we are, to our subjective senses of self as well as to external society's treatment of us.

I'm not an 80-year-old monk of any denomination. But I recognize almost nothing in your description of how a person would respond to changes in his or her body. Indeed, my disconnection with it is so strong that I have trouble engaging with stories in which a person does freak out in response to something like a gender change. The "Oh, hey, breasts, this is interesting" trope actually feels much more accurate to me.

Part of this, I'm sure, is because I have a complicated medical history, and have lived through a number of major-ish body alterations. And then there are the minor ones most of us can do temporarily (wear six-inch platform shoes and the way people react to you at a cocktail party can shift dramatically, plus the physical world shifts around you; wear a wig that gives different social cues from your usual, and ditto). I've done the double mastectomy without reconstruction; I've done the near-instant shift from fat chick to hot thin girl; I've gone from weak-looking to scary-don't-mess-with-me looking and back; I've had mobility issues and no mobility issues. And so on, for most of my life.

This stuff, all of it, changes how people react to you on some level. (Have hot girl privilege, which is real, and people treat you as more important than when you don't. Have big breasts, and the butcher will do a better job of trimming your meat for you: there are situations where it can be useful to haul out the silicone fakes even if they give me a backache. Be tall, and commanding a room is simpler.) And we're social creatures, so how people react to you will always affect some aspects of who you are, at least in groups. But internally? My sense of self didn't change when I didn't have breasts any more, except in the practical-adjustment sense (no more backaches! but can I wear this dress without the chest to hold it up?); it didn't change when I was suddenly a beauty; it didn't change when I wasn't. It was more like, okay, I'm wearing a different costume now, and it has different implications, and I can work with it, and isn't it all just interesting as hell to see how it's different and how it isn't?

So anyway. I'm an extreme case, but all of us go through major changes in our bodies. We're children, we grow and change, and then we hit puberty and everything is really different, really suddenly. Our bodies change throughout adulthood, naturally as well as through potential medical interventions. We can change them ourselves through exercise or body modification practices. There are limits for most of us, imposed by biology and the limits of medicine and surgery -- I can take testosterone (and have, via HRT rather than for gender dysphoria), but I'm not going to become biologically male; I can wear heels, but I'm not going to grow a foot taller -- but none of us have a single, stable body with immutable characteristics. And yet, are you not the same person throughout your life, regardless of your current physical attributes?

So the idea that if I (or anyone) woke up tomorrow and found that we'd switched physical sex in our sleep, we'd necessarily feel a huge sense of loss or anger or grief feels off to me. And even more, it feels wrong to me to suggest that if we did not feel such a sense of loss, it would indicate that we'd felt something had been wrong with our original bodies, and that the wrongness had now been corrected. Certainly I'd expect a change that major to be kind of freaky and require a lot of getting used to, and there would be things about it that would turn out to be unpleasant to the point of rage-inducing. (I'm assuming. You get used to the ickiness of whatever body you're in; you'd have to adjust to the ickinesses you don't deal with because you've never lived in a body that had them before.) But it would be because of the objective unpleasantness of the new stuff, not because you mourned the loss of your previous body (unless, obviously, there was a clear overall loss in the change, as opposed to a good-with-the-bad exchange). But otherwise, I'd mostly expect it to be interesting, and an adventure, the same way other physical changes are mostly interesting and an adventure.

So if we have to have gender as somehow central to everything (and as all this suggests, I've never really understood why we do, or why we have to care about it so much), I don't see why it couldn't be attached to the role of the moment, and be as mutable as the costumes we wear. But more than that, I wonder from time to time why we have to care so much. As you say, the portion of our time spent being actively sexual is relatively small. Mostly we're doing other stuff. And when we are, does it really matter whether you're a person doing calculus or a woman doing calculus or a man doing calculus? Would we care, if our culture didn't spend all its time insisting that we should?

Date: 4 May 2012 02:29 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
What kinds of models could be created--how inventive are we?
I can bring up some current methods as a jumping-off point.
I think somebody mentioned Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, which had an outside observer revealing life as a race of mutable gender people. Who takes which role in the mating phase (like going into heat) is decided during the mutual pheromonal/biochemical interaction. During the neutral phase, they might have a slight bias away from neutral toward one gender or the other, but going too far by being mostly one gender-role all the time was perverse in that society.
I thought she did a nice job of conveying how this influenced larger social organizations without spending a lot of the reader's time and effort on info-dump. She did this with simple dialogue and the use of a few new words, like "kemmer", for the mating phase. This sort of thing could involve names for different styles/choices of gender just as easily.
More recent SF subgenres like cyberpunk just embed a lot of stuff into constructed words and names, expecting you to guess at the meanings from a range of associations, languages, and word-roots, without explaining it much. Some of the steampunk folks seem to be taking that approach to naming things even farther.
A fairly obvious example there is how Firefly/Serenity used Chinese words to convey chunks of the back-history in their world-building.
No reason why we couldn't use similar word choices to convey other kinds of information.
That's just a start--there's probably other playful, inventive methods being used already out there.

Date: 2 May 2012 08:57 pm (UTC)
wordweaverlynn: (russ)
From: [personal profile] wordweaverlynn
I need to come back to this post later, but I want to mention the sworn virgins of Albania. These women promise chastity and in turn are given the rights, duties, and clothing of men.