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In consideration of
"Toward a Sociology of Transgendered Bodies,"
by Richard Ekins and Dave King
and (c) 1999, The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review, where it was (presumably) first published. p.580: 23 pages.

Node your homework, and present it to your professor on E2.


This article provides, as authors Ekins and King write in their conclusion, "a conceptual framework for a comprehensive sociology of transgendered bodies" (598). They categorize transgendered persons by four "styles" (Ibid.):

  • migrating: in which a person makes physical changes to the body in order to align it with the opposite sex
  • oscillating: in which migration occurs both ways, back and forth from male to female to male, as social pressures necessitate
  • erasing: in which sexuality is repressed altogether, often not by the eraser him/her-self, but by abusive caretakers
  • and transcending: in which, the authors write, "the whole process of transgendering is radically redefined by rendering problematic the binary gender divide" (595).

The most interesting example to me is that of a person named Phaedra, who considers saself a "'gender transient' - a person who puts their gender in transcience in order both to study it and to live a life which maximally integrates the masculine and feminine in one's personality" (598). I find this interesting because I have long viewed the very idea of gender -- and allowing one's sex to be such a large part of one's personal identity by means of gender adoption or assignment -- to be spiritually slippery. That is, I view my strong personal identity as a "man" (or even, more clinically, a "male"), to serve as a distraction to understanding who or what I truly am.

It is difficult to conceptually divorce gender and identity, isn't it? For brief moments, I've been able to accomplish an understanding of myself as a genderless, sexless, spiritual being, but not for long. The importance of one's penis or vagina to his or her identity is immense. We have crafted a society in which it is nearly impossible to reconcile genderlessness and humanity. And though I wish it weren't so, I think I understand nonetheless why it is so.1

Here is the explanation in a vastly oversimplified nutshell:

First, we must understand that the conflict, suffering, and clinical phenomena that Ekins and King write about in "Toward a Sociology of Transgendered Bodies" are mere tips of the iceberg of social fallout caused by importing gender into identity. Our attitudes toward social behavior, including sexuality, have been shaped by evolutionary forces. Some of these forces may have worked on the "hardwiring" of the human brain, causing us to prefer thinking in binary terms when it comes to gender. But some cultures, including, arguably, some Western cultures, don't really limit themselves to two genders. So at least part (if not all) of the importance we give a person's gender certainly is socially determined.

My explanation for this importance is that natural selection occurs not only for genes, but also for cultures. A culture which values reproduction gets to survive; a culture which doesn't won't be around very long. In fact, if we look at human social interaction through a Darwinian lens, we can see that survival and reproduction are THE most important -- and the most emphasized -- subjects in social interaction.

And of course, one can't emphasize the importance of reproduction without also emphasizing the importance of sexuality, (euphemisms notwithstanding). And you can't talk about sexuality without talking about assigned genders. So, like it or not, even in the most socially conservative Western circles, (and perhaps MOST OBVIOUSLY in the case of religious and social conservatives), there is a prevailing attitude that a person's sexuality is not private at all. After all, survival of the species is everybody's business.

In order to cause large-scale reproductive success for high-quality genes (i.e., those which create durable, reproductively-viable offspring), fertile males and fertile females need to copulate with each other often, but selectively. Males and females need to be readily distinguished despite the use of clothing, if large-scale reproductive success is to occur. Enforcement of the sexual code requires adherence to 'correct' use of clothing and behaviors which are consistent with one's assigned gender, which, as I have illustrated, corresponds with genitals because of the highly public nature of sexuality, and the importance of reproduction to the species.

But in natural selection, traits are not selected for their ability to achieve survival and reproduction minimally. Frequently, traits arise in a species which could be deemed "overkill"; a less elaborate adaptation could have accomplished the same thing. This is also true in cultural natural selection. Mere recognition of the importance of reproduction is sufficient to achieve reproductive success. Assigning gender to people as a means of identifying them as people is unnecessary. It's too elaborate, and it has the obvious consequence of denying personal exploration, since gender is thrust upon a person at birth. It deems the person who rejects or modifies his/her assigned gender as 'diseased', rather than recognizing the society itself as such.

All of the categories of transgendered persons examined by Ekins and King, and the fact that they are academically notable, result from the ubiquitous social insistence that a person's reproductive status is the rightful business of everyone. Nonconformity with one's assigned gender norms is viewed as potentially dangerous, and certainly threatening. It is my conclusion that this view has survived in human culture because it has been selected-for, and that at the same time, there exists a less virulent alternative -- one which embraces and celebrates the spiritual mission of self-understanding with which we are all charged.

Notes

1. I plan to one day write a comprehensive paper documenting the details of this explanation. It warrants entire books. It warrants the devotion of an entire department of a University, in fact. And I don't just mean the study of gender, but the study of the origins of gender and the reasons for its social importance. Currently, this subject is only studied as a footnote in LGBT studies, or Women's Studies, departments which, sadly, are rarely taken seriously by the academic community at large.

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