At times clumsy and trashy, but Genderquake gives us permission to be honest

So channel 4 just ran this series of programmes exploring gender. It started with two episodes of a kind of gender-themed Big Brother with people of various sexual orientations and gender identities. It then culminated in a debate involving the likes of Germaine Greer, Munroe Bergdorf and Caitlyn Jenner.

Gender is such a sensitive topic. Some invited participants did not want to take part in the debate because they saw the idea of a debate offensive in itself. They probably made the right call because hecklers in the audience seemed to have free reign to shout their sometimes abusive opinions. But that aside, the programmes have surely been useful, allowing us to consider many different perspectives. And they have even given space for J Bloggs’ (see what I did there?) view, such as Tom from Barnsley who upon entering ‘the house’ said that men are just men and women are women. Such views are commonly held but often censored from mainstream media for the same reason cited above; that it’s thought they shouldn’t be ‘up for discussion’. Touchingly, on his last night, Tom arrived at the conclusion none of it matters anyway – if someone wants to become a woman, they can become a woman; ‘life’s too short’.

I’ve pulled out three interesting themes raised by Genderquake and I discuss them below.

Angry feminists

Before watching the debate I had not quite appreciated how angry some feminists get about transgender women. The idea is… If you follow the feminist argument that women are oppressed by men, then for a biologically male person to become a female person is a position of privilege. Such feminists are offended that transwomen dare to compare their experiences with that of ‘CIS’ women.

If I were a feminist, I could see their point but then it does seem a bit petty. I mean, it’s not a competition for who has it the toughest. One must have some respect for the personal account and experiences of the transgender person. They’re not just doing this for kicks.

Femininity is a lie

Those were Greer’s words (above) and Ditum made a similar point saying that young people are in crisis over gender, caused partly by the ‘pinkification’ and ‘blueification’ (i.e. heavily gendered messages) of our children. She said that if a girl, for instance, doesn’t feel like what she thinks a girl should feel, then she might assume she needs to escape. She warned that we should not get hung up on an ‘absolute identity’ to which we should align our body.

I think there’s a lot in this. When people say they don’t fit into the pre-defined gender categories, one wonders exactly what these categories are anyway. Surely none of us ever really feel gendered. Our gender is just a biological fact about our bodies but to ourselves, we are just the person we are. We may think we perceive gender around us, in other people’s attempts to fulfil their gender role, but it is just that – observed and external. The lie is not femininity alone; the lie is all forms of gender exhibition.

The best example of this is long-term relationships which become ultimately just two people. If we got with that person because we thought they were wonderfully feminine/masculine, we will realise over time that we deceived ourselves. A healthy long-term relationship relies on respect and kindness between two people who are people first.

Gender itself is at once a harmless yet essential matter of fact. We don’t need to feel controlled or bound by it – those are processes within our own minds. We must stand firm in our identities as people without admonishing our own gender. This is a form of self-hatred and is unkind to ourselves.

Gender neutral toilets

A non-binary member of the debate said that ‘they’ found it horrendous trying to choose which toilet to go into. Germain Greer called for genderless toilets, but then various other implications were considered, such as prisons or sports. And Sarah Ditum made a somewhat feeble point about dangers to ‘CIS’ women because transwomen might actually be rapists in disguise.

In light of all this, surely, transgender people will always occupy a slightly different space to ‘CIS’ women. If transgender sports people compete against non-transgender sportspeople, the whole thing just isn’t going to work. Though individual toilets, along the lines of disabled toilet cubicles, sounds dreamy.

Transgender people have the right to be treated as the gender they have transitioned to but it seems that we cannot, conceptually, abandon the biological reality of gender, even if transformed, or even if blurred by genetics. Just as we cannot, conceptually, throw out gender altogether.

This sadly is the greatest tragedy for transgender people. It brings to mind Romario’s story, from ‘the house’, who kissed a girl without telling her he was a transsexual man. She was, understandably, upset and felt deceived. Romario had obstinately kept his business private which at first seemed really freakin’ out of order. Until you later learn that it’s coming from a very vulnerable place. And when interviewed alone he asks a couple of times that he wants to know when will he get to actually be a man and stop being a transgender man?

As a person who now considers himself a man, it’s easy to see why Romario overlooked the girl’s rights and feelings. But it’s impossible to see how such an approach would ever be socially/morally acceptable.