Friday, April 13, 2012

The Language of Gender

With all the hoopla accompanying the recent decision of the Miss Universe Organization to allow transsexuals to compete in the Miss Universe pageant I decided to share my thoughts on the issue.

When I was growing up, there was hardly any mention of the “third sex” in either our family or school.  In my na├»ve, elementary view of life I simply accepted the prevalent belief that anyone not subscribing to the “two-sexes” policy of society was either abnormal or a troublemaker.  It was taboo then to even give a thought to the “different” people whose sexuality society could not really comprehend.

It still is taboo now to talk about the “others”, and by others I mean the people in our society who are branded as gays and lesbians.  More importantly, it should be stressed that the term “gay” for any effeminate man and the word “lesbian” to describe any manly woman no longer applies in the modern world.  The world has simply evolved into a more complex and diverse grouping that people can no longer be lumped into two separate categories: the straights and the not straights, the heteros and the homos, the normal and the abnormal.  Thus there is a need to redefine how society perceives and addresses these “different” people, who are more commonly known in a politically correct term as the Filipino Sexual Minorities (FSMs).

It is also a common misconception of people that gender and sex are the same.  For many, there are only two sexes, which is true.  Sex is of course biological, and thus, there could only be two sexes: male and female.  But gender is an altogether different thing.  Gender entails not just biology, but most importantly it also connotes psychological and sociological components.  Thus, it is now high time that society begins to redefine how it attaches the word “gender” to a particular group of people.

Like straight men and women, the FSMs also come in varying forms and dispositions.  In fact, while society before can just claim of two genders: feminine and masculine, there is now a whole new world of gender stratification.  To make it easier to remember, these new brands of the human sexuality can be given the initials LGBTIs, or the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, and the Intersexes.  A brief discussion on each is necessary to understand how truly complex society has become.

The term “gay” is generic for anyone who is psychologically and physically attracted to the same sex, and thus gay could refer to a male or female homosexual.  However, for convenience and simplistic purposes, it has been decided that the term gay should be used (but again not exclusively) to refer to a male homosexual, while the term “lesbian” is used to describe any woman attracted to another woman.

From the term itself, a bi-sexual is anybody who is attracted to both sexes, and while many would say that bi-sexuals are simply people who are still confused as to what exactly they want, or perhaps are people who want to get the best of both worlds, psychologists and medical experts now say that bi-sexuals are as normal as any of the other genders, albeit it is also admitted that real bi-sexuals are hard to find as they eventually would either turn out to be straight or gay in the end.

Further in the gender spectrum, a transgender is one who is psychologically different from his or her biological make up.  Transgender is a social, more generic term for people whose gender does not match or conflicts with their biological identity. While a homosexual is attracted to the same sex but is still content of his or her biological make-up, a transgender begins life thinking that somehow he or she has been given the “wrong” body.  A transgendered woman is what we can commonly term as a “woman trapped in a man’s body”, and the male transgender is the opposite.  Studies have shown that such people are harder to find, and that a real transgender eventually becomes a transsexual, or transgenders who have opted to have this gender conflict reassigned through medical procedures such as hormone replacement therapy or the actual gender reassignment operation, which most people erroneously call sex change operation.

Finally, an Intersex is somebody born with two sex organs, and while this is more of a biological and less of a psychological issue, inter-sexes are still considered part of the Filipino Sexual Minorities primarily because they are still considered abnormal by society because of their being “different”.  And in the long run, people born as inter-sexes tend also to be psychologically affected primarily because of their inability to comprehend exactly what they are, simply because they were born with two and not one organ.

As society progresses, gender roles also tend to become more and more complicated and diverse.  In fact, even among gays and lesbians, certain “groups” have also developed to distinguish one kind of gay or lesbian from the other.  The most common for gays are the “butch” and the “fairies”, where the former are the straight acting gays while the latter are the flamboyant, cross-dressing male homosexuals.  Added to these are also the “in-betweens”; gays who are neither butch nor fairy, and this is where most Filipino gay guys fall into.  Then for the lesbians, there are also two basic classifications: the “butch” and the “fam”.  The former refers to a manly lesbian; the latter to a very feminine lesbian.

A lot of people, especially in pre-dominantly Christian countries, still are unable to comprehend and accept the existence of these “different” people.  People still tend to see the FSMs as either people who are simply confused and can still be “cured” through medication, psychiatric sessions, or pray-overs, or as people who are abnormal and should either be ignored or eradicated.  Either way, it does not address the simple and basic truth: these people exist and, as most medical and psychological experts now are convinced, are just as normal and completely functional as any other straight men and women.

It is then a first step for society to learn more and understand the underlying factors which led to the existence and development of these people.  It must also be understood that in the viewing of human development, evolution should not just be seen in the biological perspective, but also in the emotional and psychological ones.  Like in any other issue, especially in the issues of discrimination, educating the people from all walks of life is a first logical step to stop misconceptions and bigotry.  And what more logical first step to take than to actually learn the most basic definition of these “different” genders. 

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