Friday, April 12, 2013

An Exercise for Explaining Gender Policing

Here's something I wrote as a tool for helping people to understand and empathize with the corrosive influence of gender policing:

Try this thought experiment.

Think about something that you are or do that is very important to you, and that you've worked very hard on. Something at the core of your sense of self. Maybe it's being strong, or kind, or honest, or analytic. Maybe it's being a teacher, or a dancer, or a good parent. Have an identity in mind?

Now imagine that every time you leave your apartment or house, you run into people who undermine that identity. Grocery store clerks say, "Can I help you, weakling?" Sometimes they do it casually, saying "Excuse me, liar," as they brush by. Other times they're confrontational: "You are a terrible parent and you make me sick!" And sometimes they treat you like a joke, elbowing one another as you walk past, snickering and muttering, "Look, it's one of those ridiculous bad dancers." This happens to you day after day, year after year. Not everyone acts like this, and you have friends who tell you that you are indeed kind or logical or whatever and to hang in there. But the majority opinion is that this is just what you should expect when you decide to do something strange like be a teacher or be honest. And every day, people undermine and mock you.

How would you feel? What would happen to your self-esteem, your character?

This is what it's like to encounter gender policing. People call you by the wrong pronoun in a loud voice. Strangers confront you, comment negatively on your appearance, tell you to stop trying to be some gender they are sure you are not.

People have to deal with gender policing every day because they are intersex, trans, queer, living with a disability, or none of the above but simply. . . different looking. Gender policing is especially intense if you're perceived as a visibly trans gender woman. This is something we have to solve as a society--those who are marginalized by it can't do it themselves.

Gender policing is insidious, cruel, and pervasive. Please, friends, name it as a social problem. Think about how you might participate in it, and resolve to change that. Notice when people say gender policing things around you, and confront them. Teach your children to appreciate sex and gender variability. Please help us work toward a world in which people are judged on the content of their character, not on the conformity of their appearance.


  1. In theory, with every pregnancy a couple should have a 50/50 chance of having a boy or a girl. And while those odds could dictate a family producing children of predominantly one gender, from the standpoint of statistics and probability, the genders should be split equally. And yet, there are many families with children of only one gender, even in larger families with upwards of 3 children or more.

    ZIFT Gender Selection

  2. Yep, even spam comments are about gender policing of the eugenic kind. Ugh.