Lessons learned: race and gender.

Miri
3 min readNov 16, 2019

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I have struggled all my life to cope with my sense of misfit gender.

In society, nearly every detail in our choice of feeling, dress, and behavior is classified as for ‘men’ or ‘women’, and this is the basis for ordering social rights and privileges and obligations. Race is used this way as well.

Celebrities, being ‘special’, have options to enjoy privileges and status outside the racial and gender boundaries enforced for ordinary people, and prove the point that inherited body type is not determinate or limiting.

I learned in early childhood that there people came in four races [white, black, yellow, and red], and two broadly inclusive genders, males and females. Each of these classes was understood to be determinate of performance expectations, important privileges, and damaging restrictions.

On the playground, though, it became obvious to me that boys and girls were a lot more alike than different, with each straining under the burden of gender expectations. Race was clearly not meaningful in relationship — kids were either fun to be with or not, and race was clearly superficial. But race was talked about with hushed tones and was all about resources and economic and social power.

I lived in a white world, and my concerns were more immediate. I identified with girls. I felt that at my core I was one of the girls around me, somehow, despite having a boy’s body. I was living proof that having a boy’s body did not a ‘boy’ make. I did and do not see my body as the problem, but for others my body was conveniently determinate.

One day in high school I witnessed the cold rejecting stares pummeling a black girl who wanted to join in with an as yet all-white girl’s group, perhaps the cheerleading squad. The details are foggy, but the feeling was clear. “Your body, and therefore you, are ‘black’, therefore not like ‘us’, whose bodies are ‘white’.” It was so baseless, and yet so far-reaching in its impact.

To me, she was just like the other girls,- same physical energy, openness, emotional range, capabilities, language. Somehow, skin color trumped all that? A moment’s reflection shows that skin color, or any aspect of body type, has no actual operative role when being a person with others. We are kind, brave, helpful, creative, etc. with no part played by our bodies.

Just so, my body plays no part in whether I can feel and behave like a woman or man. And just like that sweet girl born black, I am classified, feared, and rejected — or trusted, welcomed,and embraced depending on how people perceive my body.

The societal and cultural dual gender framework makes clearly incorrect assignments of children to gender groups based on their bodies. Plenty of young males are not masculine in nature, and plenty of young females are. From an early age I often heard girls complaining that they had to endure painful restrictions and unreasonable demands because they were female.

Anyone white, or non-white, in America experienced a similar terrible process of classifying and being classified, and given, or not given, privileges, obligations, etc. by virtue of their skin color, eye shape, hair quality, etc.

Why?

We have all learned over and over that race is not definable. That physical body characteristics are diverse and that the qualities of human personality are completely independent from the body. Yet the engine of race and gender enforcement remains. We are all drenched daily with regard to expectations, classifying people by race, and then gender.

Eventually, ‘gender’ perception, like ‘race’ perception, feels so easy and natural to those who benefit from it. We relish the clarity and simplicity of it, and if we are the favored ones, we guard the privileges we associate with our place. The convenience of oversimplification is so seductive. The victims are children, who are already powerless, or those who we can keep powerless.

It only takes a few moments of reflection to see that racial categorizations are so broad and superficial as to be useless. What can we actually know about a person from their skin coloration or shape of eyes? Nothing.

Beyond the fact that differences in sexual anatomy are critical for reproduction, gender category labels like ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are as seductive and useless as ‘black’ or ‘white’ .

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Miri

We can all help each other a lot by freely expressing our gender