Gender is an illusion that has made its way into reality though language. Society has created the notion of the gender binary system: you’re either born male or female. We perform gender through our sex identity (speaks to the way one views him/herself as either male or female), but what if the sex identity you were born with didn’t align with the “appropriate” gender identity (the recognition of the perceived social gender attributed to a person- either man or woman)? A problem arises: the binary is disrupted, and thus you’re perceived as abnormal.
In society’s eyes, Transgender people are perceived as deviant beings, and are considered to have a disorder, which is referred to as “GID (Gender Identity Disorder)”. Transgender individuals experience scrutiny, and a lack of respect as they continuously try to place themselves under this invisible system. Riki Wilchins believes the source of the problem is the structure society has implanted. “We’re not the ones who are broken. It’s the model that’s broken. The model of Western thought about bodies itself, and much more besides” (35). By “model”, Riki is specifically referring to every model of reality, and she goes on to say that each reality has margins where it begins to “run out of explanatory steam”, where problems are visible. “We” refers to individuals who’ve found their bodies the target of judgment. Gender is embedded so thoroughly in our institution, our actions, our beliefs, and our desires, that it appears to us as completely natural, and equivalent to “sex”.
This system is made up of contrasting vocabulary (one is born either male or female, nothing else) that doesn’t allow for transgender people to fully express themselves comfortably. You’re either male or female, you’re a women or a man, but there’s one key element missing - the array of genders blocked out due to society’s love of dyadic expressions. The language used to define gender/sex is constraining to those whom identify outside the binary, which complicates a transgender person’s ability to self-identify.
We can better understand the concept “Transgender”, and the constant struggles these individuals face through the personal narrative of Mr. Barb Greve, which will bring to light the difficulties with identity due to inadequate language. In his personal narrative “Courage From Necessity,” Barb begins to state that he was born female, was adopted at an early age, and continued to be raised by his parents as “Barbara”. When Barb was younger he self-identified as a boy, even though he was born “female”, and he truly felt, since kindergarten, that he would grow up to be a guy. This is a clear example of sex being different than gender.
As years went by, he began to unearth his identity. “When I hit puberty in junior high, I discovered I was attracted to girls” (Wilchins 248). One day after one of his classes, a girl called Barb a lesbian, and therefore he looked it up later that day to discover it’s definitional term: “women who love women” (Wilchins 248). As of that day he started becoming more in tune with his inner self, and exploring his true sexual orientation, which is far beyond the notion of heterosexuality.
As years went by, Barb had a new sense of self, but still had difficulty in regards to self-identifying under only one label. His story illustrates the consequences of not having language to describe options for gender beyond man and woman. He came out publicly as a lesbian in college, but he felt as though the more he hung out with these women, the more he didn’t belong. His understanding of gender identity was the same as it was 20 years ago. “The differences between then and now are (1) the words I use to describe myself and (2) the way they express my identity. As a child I never heard the word transgender. No one ever told me it was OK to identify as something other than male or female” (Wilchins 249). Barb identifies under male pronouns, but decided to keep the name “Barb” because of the great significance it upholds towards him. This constant need for society to label aggravates individuals like Barb, who just want labels stripped off so others can really understand them. “My journey is about becoming a whole person. It is about being the best person I can be: A transgender guy named Barb” (Wilchins 249).
Eathan Zimmerman is another individual whose identity is complicated by a lack of adequate language. In his personal narrative, “Transie”, he explains his “transfag” identity- he’s attracted to boys of both sexes. He was born a girl, but feels he is a man, who is attracted to other men. His short narrative is an emotional rollercoaster due to the fact that he points out emotional experiences via how others perceive him and how he perceives himself. He encounters individuals who ask him questions regarding his gender, and as a result suffers for lack of adequate language to identify his gender and sexual orientation. “Are you a he or a she? Are you a girl or a boy? You’re a he/she, aren’t you? What sex are you? How can you be a faggot?" (Wilchins 190). Utterances such as these that have crossed his path are only confused thoughts. Individuals “try” to label him, and are only getting confused because he disrupts the binary. The way in which he sees himself is also in a bewildered state of mind. He questions why he was born the way he was, when he should really be questioning society.
The gender binary system needs to be deconstructed, redefined, and reestablished to decrease the scrutiny and struggles that transgender individuals such as Mr. Barb and Zimmerman go through. We need more categories, new language, beyond man and woman because some individuals such as Mr. Barb and Zimmerman have struggled to identify. Constant reevaluation of the self is prime for these individuals, who are seem as abnormal, when they’re really just like anybody in society trying to find the answer to life: happiness.
Mr. Greve Barb. “Courage From Necessity.” Genderqueer. Ed. Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, Riki Wilchins. First. New York: Alyson Books, 2002. 247-249. Print.
Zimmerman Eathan. “Transie.” Genderqueer. Ed. Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, Riki Wilchins. First. New York: Alyson Books, 2002. 190-193. Print.