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Gender Rules – Then and Now

After the Big Bang, after the molten iron, dirt, salt water, fresh water and gaseous atmosphere sifted and accreted into the planet we call home, unicellular organisms began splitting into more of the same sending forth genetic codes that adapted to the circumstances at the time.  Primitive life forms reproduced themselves through parthenogenesis a self-involved process requiring no new clothes.  At some point, plants and animals developed sex organs so nature could benefit from better combinations of better DNA.  

mind-girl-athlete-soccer Obviously, there is more to life than sending new DNA combinations forward.  Technologically advanced and cosmopolitan civilizations have lower birth rates.  Still, from the time we arrive in our birthday suits, those who perceive us perceive us first in terms of our visible DNA delivery systems.  We are all so much more.

We all perceive our world and our worlds based on where we have been.  When I sat down on my living room floor to stretch my hamstrings while watching Diane Sawyer’s television interview of Bruce Jenner, I did not think I would relate to it.  To my surprise, footage of Jenner running victorious across the finish line snapped me back to a time in my childhood when I was a fan of a few of the athletes who played for our parochial school.  An older trusted confidante admonished me- nice girls would never like more than one boy and that the boys were athletes did not make the liking right.  I internalized that false and negative message. mind-bruce-jenner-run

At home, my mother told me about Babe Didrikson Zaharias, a woman athlete and Olympic star.  My father told me that girls can’t play on boys’ basketball teams and there are no girls’ basketball teams to play on. There was no Title IX.  I focused on playing with dolls and tried not imagining myself shooting foul shots.  I surreptitiously watched roller derby on TV before Mass.  I kept my inner athlete under wraps.

Bruce Jenner was keeping things under wraps as well.

In Vanity Fair, Caitlyn Jenner addresses how she felt as Bruce, “Underneath my suit I have a bra and panty hose…they know nothing about me.”  It might be lucky for Caitlyn now that the young Bruce Jenner then, dressed in his sister’s clothing and wearing his mother’s scarves, always made it safely back into his family’s townhouse before the wrong person saw him.  In the not so distant past, people not conforming to other people’s preconceived gender notions might find themselves beaten, medicated, electroshocked, institutionalized or all four.  Bruce Jenner covered up and ran from his femininity by striving to be the strongest male he could be.

People forced to dissociate parts of themselves rarely live happy lives and their families and friends feel that unhappiness.  Bruce Jenner’s children felt Bruce’s discontent. Those interviewed for Vanity Fair say that as Bruce transitioned, they got their father back.

fit-pink-pillMany questions about Caitlyn involve whom she will date and Jenner remains circumspect.  For most people, gender itself equates to sex.  Gender and sex are different.  Everyone has gender; not everyone has sex or wants sex but when people judge people based on gender, they judge them in terms of sex.   Our sex organs serve to define gender whether the gender-defined person uses those sex organs or not.  A newborn’s opportunities in life are expanded or limited based on one particular body part with society tacitly encouraging boys to try out those body parts while sometimes demeaning girls who do. Much modern day sex-related discussion revolves around how to keep reproductive apparatus from creating new DNA combinations.  We are all chemical beings with reproductive related chemical systems programmed to activate during a timeframe often out of sync with the demands of our current socioeconomic system.

The same week Buzz Bissinger’s Vanity Fair piece “Call me Caitlyn” hit the marketplace, several major news outlets reported on a new drug geared toward treating low libido in women.  Flibanserin is a drug a woman would take daily, altering her brain chemistry so she can feel more sexual overall. Flibanserin might allow a low- libido woman to feel some sort of baseline sexual anticipation while she writes reports at work, gardens or prepares lunch.  Side effects include sudden drops in blood pressure and fainting.  Flibanserin lowers serotonin while raising dopamine levels.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter connected with the higher sex drive of teenage boys.

I try to keep up with new neuroscientific developments and writing as a free thinker with a couple long ago gender-related axes to grind, I wonder just how far human consciousness has evolved when experts are so quick to medicalize our individual natures.

Of her own individual nature, Caitlyn Jenner said, “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying ‘You just blew your entire life.’”  Jenner did not.

Happy Independence Day.

Debra Merryweather