Thursday, 16 May 2013

Flushing through gender to see the rainbow more clearly

Most of us have rare cause to examine our gender.  We are born into bodies we take for granted, and only come to question when they no longer look as we'd like them to.  We might seek to change our bodies.  Investigating the next celebrity endorsed diet, for guaranteed weight loss or a smooth svelte outline.  We might take supplements, to enhance definition.  We may think about hopping on a sunbed, to achieve the perfect shade, or perhaps go for a spray tan when we're feeling deprived of Vitamin D.  We may enjoy modifying our bodies, with art, expressing ourselves and our views in ink or piercings, visible, or less visible to those we pass on the street.  

But for those among us who do not classify themselves as cisgendered, i.e. those individuals whose self-perception of their gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth, the body can be the landscape of self hatred, as a territory in which a very real battle can play out.  

The cultural discourses that exist around gender are wide and varied.  I've become familiar with a fair few of them, and the scripts and narratives that contain them.  The way in which they are carried and promulgated does not have to be explicit.  So many of these messages are those we inherit, absorb and perhaps never have cause to think about; they lie beneath the surface, internalised and embedded.  Then there is taboo, those things that, simply by virtue of the fact that they are unspoken carry so much weight.  After all, even something spoken about disparagingly, is speakable.  

In my work with those courageously wishing to think about their gender, and their relationship with it, I see it as my role and function to sit on an often deeply uncomfortable fence.  There are possibilities aplenty.  This can happen, but so too can this.  And then there is always that...  I give opinion, based on experience and understanding I have gathered.  I offer information, in order that my clients are armed with the facts.  Feelings are central, but knowledge is power.  And we are all in the business of learning.  

All too often gender has a very straight-forward narrative that we swallow at primary school.  And there, at that stage in our lives and cognitive development, it may well broadly fit.  It is simple, and reduced into two packages - you are either this, or that.  And herein arises the problem - because we don't know what to do with the other - we lack a third hand on which to consider that which doesn't neatly fit into either of the aforementioned, apparently only available options.  

As we grow up, we come to understand that alongside North, South, East and West are many more possibilities - take for instance North by North West.  Our perspective broadens with age.  So long as we are offered the language, and our understanding is informed and underpinned by affirmation.  Masculine and feminine are the two most commonly talked about expressions of gender.  But they do not, we now know, comprise the full story.  I wonder how we might go about enlightening the next generation more effectively as to the reality of the rainbow, in the interests of preserving and promoting mental health and well-being. 



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