My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Gender, Sex and Society

Physically I am a woman,
In terms of sexuality, I am broadly bisexual. 
In terms of personality, I am my own individual self and those other two facts have no relation on this. 

I don't think that biological gender determines personality traits, because there are so many people who are biologically male or female who simply don't fit society's conception of those genders. These conceptions of what gender is revolve about a persons personality, sexuality, and role in society. Those things vary widely between individuals, and it is about time people saw each other as individual human beings instead of making assumptions about anything, least of all what reproductive organs they have. I think there is broadly a correlation between some personality traits and biological sex, but it is not set in concrete, there is a large amount of variation. 

What I've come to realise is that physical femininity and masculinity are more of a greyscale than merely only being black and white, and people's personalities are every colour of the rainbow. Some people are masculine in terms of what society thinks of masculine personality traits as well as being masculine in body, others are masculine in body but fit in with what society thinks of as feminine in personality traits. Some go as far as to see themselves as a woman's mind in a man's body, and all of this vice versa, and there are a variety of inbetweens. That is the reality of the situation, and it is not a black-and-white divide  of manly men and ladylike women. 

As a teenager, I was an outcast, initially desperate to fit in. I shed my tomboyish clothes for firstly attempts to be fashionable, and then attempts to be variously subcultural, and outwardly I looked girly. But I did not feel girly - I did not fit in with the other girls around me, who talked of makeup, fashion, celebrities, and boyfriends, and put social interaction and their emotional lives as the priority. What I did not realise is that this behaviour is not the definition of being girly, just of being the mainstream version of "girly", and that being into more "masculine" things (for example being outdoorsy and into martial arts) and having no interest in such things as clothes and makeup (it took me until my early 20s to realise that I didn't completely hate makeup) did not make me "unwoman". As far as the other girls were concerned, it made me a "lesbo" "dyke" and "freak", the first two implying that because I was not into traditionally feminine things, that I had to be a lesbian, and worse, that if I was a lesbian, that this was terrible. 

This of course, was made additionally complicated by initially believing that how gender-normative one's behaviour is was interlaced with one's sexuality. My first crush being female, and my second crush being male, and possibly only a crush because I'd convinced myself that I had to fancy someone of the opposite gender in order to not be a lesbian because being a lesbian was clearly a 'Bad Thing'... It took me a while to finally actually fall in love for the first time - with somebody male. It took a while for me to realise that a) I am bisexual, not lesbian, and b)being bisexual, lesbian, or any other form of non-hetero is not a Bad Thing. At the time, I was terrified of admitting my feelings to the girl I fancied, even though she was actually interested in girls, partly because she was older than me by a couple of years, but mostly because I was being bullied enough and I didn't want to do anything that would confirm the rumours. Love is love, regardless of the participants genitals, and lust is lust, regardless of the participants genitals.

Eventually, when I got to college and realised that I was in a fairly tolerant environment, I started cross-dressing male-to-female as well as dressing in steampunk/Neo-Victorian fashion (which perhaps just had my style choices dismissed as "weird" without further examination of my perceptions of gender), but felt this just as restrictive as dressing in only female style-archetypes. I could not fit myself into one or the other, I enjoyed too much of both. I turned towards Aristocrat and Lolita, a fashion-world known for gender fluidity, but did see that this occurred more in effeminate (as the term is generally understood) men being androgynous or cross-dressing than with women being masculine (as the term is generally understood) or androgynous. With time I got more interested in Goth, but simultaneously, I realised that I could dress a different way each day, and that I did not have to be consistent in my gender style-archetypes if I did not want to, that I did not have to go along with something simply because that was the way a style tribe I admired did things, and that in terms of fashion gender indicators and style-archetypes, I had the freedom to experiment and do whatever I pleased because I am lucky enough to live in a free country where such things are not against the law, and no more likely to get me beaten up than being subcultural within female style-archetypes would. 

Eventually I realised that I do not act or think in ways that match the mainstream view of things, and this was just another way in which I did not adhere to these roles and suppositions.  I came to the conclusion that societal assumptions as to what it means to be a woman should not mean anything to me, especially as societal assumptions about everything else did not, and that I would stick to the biological definition - I was born with a vagina and uterus, and then developed breasts, that makes me a woman. It does not, to me, mean that I should think or feel in any specific way, or in any way influence my inner self. To me, it only means that I have these biological parts. 

Now that I  no longer worry whether or not I adhere to society's definition of gender, I feel free to be my actual self, regardless of what others may think of me, and I don't think I consider other people's genders much when thinking of them as people, except for in the context of where other's prejudices come into play, and I realise that gender stereotyping is as harmful to men as to women, because it is just another layer of walls built into society that stop people from being themselves and cause them to needlessly worry. As far as I am concerned, biology is merely biology, and the rest of it is made up of identities written by ourselves and society that are no more than constructs. This is not to say that these constructs have zero use - if that were true, they would not have come to exist in the first place, but they have become harmful and restrictive. Simply understanding that these are constructs addresses their harmful characteristics without destroying their utility. 

I am myself.
Identity labels are just a short-hand way of broadly explaining an aspect of oneself. 
Labels do not define a person. 
People are far too complicated for assuming anything to ever be useful.
People are ultimately individuals, no two will ever think exactly alike, and this is more important than any label. 

18 comments:

  1. For obvious reasons, this post hits home for me. I can only hope one day in the future I have the determination and inner strength to make it through. I think the fact that I'm discovering who I am at such a time as my late teens (going on 20, here) isn't helping my anxiety and worry at all...

    For now, at least, I have decided to just accept who I am, but not dress or act much differently from the way I usually do...Even though I want to do so much more...

    Just for now...

    At least until I get away from home...

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    1. It was reading your posts that made me start thinking about my own journey. I think everyone must come to their own conclusions over time, these are just mine. It was not until I was about 20 that I came to a conclusion that felt comfortable, although I think I always knew that I was somehow... different? That the way other people were and the way I was didn't match.

      I'm generally of the opinion that people are people, and how they identify is how they identify, and not really any of my business, and the only thing I will judge people on are their actions. I've had enough unnecessary judgements thrown at me in life to realise that they do nobody any good and a lot of people harm.

      While it was you that got me thinking, I didn't want to address this sort of thing directly to you personally because I know how much anxiety gender issues are causing you right now, and I didn't want to do anything that would make that worse. (I've been a tad worried about you behind the glass, wires and keyboard) but at the same time, I wanted to express my own... journey? Path through the forest? I did figure you might find this, and was hoping that if you did find it that the fact that I came to a comfortable conclusion about myself eventually, even if it is a different one to the one you eventually come to, would be of some comfort.

      Personally, if outwardly changing would make life a whole lot more difficult right now, not changing outwardly in any drastic measure might be a better course of action. When I was a younger teenager I was obstinate and quite deliberately rebellious and decided that I was going to be whatever I thought I was at the time at any cost, and the amount of stress it induced in me was nearly as much as the stress of pretending to be "normal" by the standards of others... Eventually I realised that I could walk a middle road, myself when it was suitable, and carefully omitting that which would cause trouble when appropriate.

      As I re-read this, I worry I will come across as condescending. I haven't seen it all and done it all before, and I realise that you probably come across a lot of hardships the likes of which I have not experienced, and I have the utmost respect for your decision to be yourself. Being oneself can take a lot of courage in this world.

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    2. No, actually, this post has helped. You didn't come across as condescending at all, just simply telling your story and views.

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    3. That's good to know :) I hope things are improving for you.

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  2. So, you had gone through hard time as well. I understand what you went through, but I'm very sure that you are still a good person. I was kind of like you too; I was also an outcast all along, so I tried to fit in with all those celebrity crushes, being "girly", and feigned being sad around events. However, I really failed at fitting in. It's best for me to be myself. I got into Goth scene because I love the darkness and I will embrace my shadow. We both need to know that life is not fair, so well have to be firm and strong. By the way, thank you for sharing this.

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    1. I tried to fit for a while, but it caused me far more worry than being a "freak" did - I started at a new school in my mid teens, a long way from home, where nobody new me, and was determined to make a fresh start where I'd "fit in"... All it did was make utterly paranoid that someone would uncover my "real" nature, which just added to the pressures on me, and as I was not really mentally stable at the time anyway, I would say that trying too hard to fit in and be normal was probably a contributing factor in the breakdown I went through about a year later.

      I realised the hard way the importance of being myself, and also learnt the hard way that there is a difference between individualistic eccentricity and insanity, and that I'd gone beyond the former and into the latter, but unfortunately I refused to admit it at the time. What I did learn, though, was it was a lot easier to sort out sanity from insanity when I didn't have to sort through other people's prejudices first.

      I got into the Goth scene because I was too darkly inclined to be just a Romantic. Maybe because I've seen the dark side of life first hand it has given me a compulsive curiosity regarding it.

      We do indeed need to know that life is not fair, and stand firm and be strong. Adversity strikes us all at one point or another, nobody goes through life without some kind of suffering, but if we did not suffer, happiness would not be quite as sweet.

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    2. I understand now. Everyone including you and I have to feel sad a little in order to live our life. Then we have to feel depressed sometimes too. Yet, we can still be happy after we suffer a little. Instead, think of suffering is one of our experiences; it's not a shame at all! Thank you for posting many articles in your blog. Without you, I would have become my own enemy and I wouldn't see beauties in darkness. I will continue to find what's behind the darkness of human nature until I die. Now then, I guess I'll just live my life to the fullest whether everyone around me like it or not. You should hang in there too. Don't worry about what people think of you because it's their problems. Once again, thank you.

      P.S. Just one question, you mean we have to feel pain to live our life?

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    3. Never become your own enemy - there's enough other people out there willing to do the job :P Personally, I don't think there is one unified reason behind human darkness, all I can say is that people have a propensity to harm to each other, sometimes through malevolence and sometimes through ignorance, and sometimes through laziness, and occasionally through madness. I think it is important to see the beauty in the darkness.

      You should ALWAYS live life to the fullest - never let anyone try to diminish who you are! You're only you once, and could be struck by lightning tomorrow, or some such, and it would be a terrible waste to let that one opportunity to be a you go to waste because of other people's narrowness. Let them narrow their own lives, that is their problem, but don't let them narrow yours. I don't worry what people think of me much anymore - I will listen to the advice of people who know their topic and to my friends and close family, but the comments of strangers and judgemental types mean nothing to me.

      I don't think we HAVE to feel pain to live, but I do think that we nearly all will feel pain while we do live. Pain is not a prerequisite of living, just part of the scope of emotions that humans, and other species, feel, and in terms of physical pain, a useful way of knowing stuff like if you're burning your hand on the stove. Maybe emotional pain serves as a similar notice - to point out to us that something in our lives is wrong and harming us, even if sometimes that is us hurting ourselves.

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  3. It's sad that so many people, especially as youngsters, are forced to endure so much pain and turmoil because of these societal constructs.

    Eventually, many of us (but not all) get it figured out and come to accept ourselves for who we are. But how long does it take? How many years of our lives are spent dealing with these issues before we have enough maturity and understanding to gain self-acceptance and confidence? Sadly, some struggle with these issues all of their lives.

    William Shakespeare put it very well when he said, "This above all: To thine own self be true."

    I really enjoyed this post.

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    1. There is also the tragedy of those who struggle but find no answers, and never come to accept themselves, and then go on to kill themselves, and all over the narrowness of others. Coming to understand oneself is a tricky part of adolescence as it is, without the prejudice and constriction imposed on young people by segments of society and the constructs of society itself. I think the world is slowly learning how to be tolerant of each other, and that older, narrower ways of thinking are becoming thankfully outdated and left like the ideas of the world being flat.

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  4. It's unfortunate that people see gender as a black and white issue - either you're male or you're female, period - and have trouble accepting any shades of grey. Parents are sad when their baby has a heart murmur or a big birthmark, but they're horrified if baby is born with ambiguous gender. I'd wager that people of physically or mentally "grey" gender are some of the most tormented on the planet.

    I've not had true gender issues - my parts match my inner self and I'm heterosexual. However, I do go against the norm in one big way - I have ZERO maternal instinct. The very idea of being pregnant freaks me out a bit; having a little creature growing inside me is too much like "Aliens" for my comfort. I'm totally uninterested in infants. Show me a baby animal, and I'm all OHMYGODIT'SSOCUUUUUTE!!. But baby humans... not appealing.

    I generally keep this to myself because people react so negatively. Society will more or less accept (though maybe not understand) a woman who doesn't want kids. But a woman who finds pregnancy creepy* and childbirth repulsive is a horrid abomination... barely human at all, and certainly not a real woman.

    *To be clear - I find the idea of my OWN pregnancy creepy. Those feelings do not apply to others. I don't think pregnant women are creepy.

    A fair slice of society believe the ability and desire to bear children is what makes a woman a woman. I believe it's much more complex than that.

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    1. I think that it's not just gender, but a lot of assumptions that are made with a "black and white" worldview, but gender is one of the worst because it encompasses everybody. I don't see why someone being of ambiguous gender is such a bad thing. It actually happens more frequently in nature than people think. My cat actually had incomplete female parts as well as male, now he's not completely either because he was neutered by the rescue centre, but it hasn't done him any harm.

      Pregnancy and childbirth are still seen as a HUGE part of being female, which makes it very awkward for those who can't have children or who don't want children, as if not bearing children makes them "unwoman". Personally, I'm not particularly broody or maternal at the moment, maybe that will change, but I haven't really ever been the broody type. I think we're no longer at a stage of civilisation where fertility is the best possible thing, and some places are suffering the strains of over-population. Resources are finite.

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  5. I understand what you have been through and be yourself as an individual. Unfortunately society sees gender as a one way. I see gender as a crossover or a mix such as guys are born male, but can wear anything feminine as girls are born female and can wear anything masculine as their own choice. Gender equality is fairer and less conformist than society's societal norms of that involving stereotypes that guys must wear the 'smart and manly' look and girls wear 'dresses and make-up' and is just limiting.

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    1. I definitely agree that gender roles are a societal concept, and that people should just carry on as themselves, regardless of what society think of them - like with everything else in life, as long as you aren't hurting yourself or others, be yourself.

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  6. Thank you for this post.

    I identify myself as a bisexual human.

    I think in a way, that's said to be masculin. For example I can handle maps and never-ever get permanently lost in an unknown place, if people have a problem, I try to solve it, instead of listening to them, (Stop whining and DO something!) I mean what I say, no games, if I ask my Love "what's the matter?" and he answers "nothing." I believe it, and it's a surprise, when it means "you f_cked something up" as he thinks in a way precieved to be feminine. I love him.

    I like shoes, makeup, girly chats, clothes, beauty magazines, classical music, and cooking yummie food.

    A couple of times someone tought I am a guy, as I have tendencies to dress and move the way I feel on a day. Once they thought I'm my sister's boyfriend, that was sort of awkward, but I was wearing a borrowed oversized hoodie. :D

    Bane: As part of "typical female roles" I'd love to have a baby. I want at least three kids, or have one, see how much it hurts and think about it again, but as a part of my education I've learnt loads of ways a pregnancy can go wrong, that developed a sort of "tokophobia".

    If you hear "well, it was a BIT complicated birth, they had to take out the mother's uterus on the spot." sort of sentences every day...

    I'm also frightened of how my body will react, to that nine month, and in the end I don't want to imagine, how a huge baby comes through my vagina.
    Breastfeeding also sort of disgusts me, when i think about doing it myself, but I know all the scientific reasons why it's important.

    Just like Bane, I don't think pregnant woman are frightening, but the thought of my own pregnancy is.
    Also, mothers breastfeeding their babyes are touching and cute, but watching and doing is totally different.

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    1. I think in a way that is generally perceived as "masculine" too, and as a teen, before I got curves, I was frequently mistaken for a boy.

      I don't like talking about the whole pregnancy thing - there are too many issues personal to me in that - but other people still like to ask me things like "when" I am planning to have children. I just don't think it's polite; people don't know a person's situation and there are plenty of reasons why that could be a hurtful topic.

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  7. Just because people are into fashions and makeup doesn't mean that they are "girly". The word "girly" is only a label, so that doesn't define people for who there are. Not only the girly label; there are some people who loves to read books, but they don't consider themselves as bookworm. They just enjoy reading. When I read Amy Asphodel's article in Bohemian Bloomers, she still enjoys cemeteries and dark fashions. But, she doesn't call herself a goth anymore. Recently, I finally learned that labels sounds very restrictive and it's not healthy. I enjoy for what I'm doing and Housecat, you should do whatever that makes you happy too. Men and women are ordinary people, nothing more.

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    1. I think you have misunderstood me; I am all for exactly what you are proposing.

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