Gender: Transgender and Twentieth Centuries Essay

Submitted By carlito713
Words: 1968
Pages: 8

Troubling Conceptions of Gender and Sexuality As children many of us are socialized to believe that we are ‘normal’ and that to be ‘normal’ is the ultimate goal. We are taught by our parents, teachers and the media how to act in ways that are socially appropriate for our class, race, nationality and gender. It is assumed that we are cisgender, heterosexual, patriotic beings that will maintain that identity throughout our whole life. However, as we grow up some of us realize that perhaps there isn’t an actual ‘normal’ and that there are other ways of being that fall outside the norm of what we are assumed to be or assigned at birth. The way that we perceive our gender and sexuality has been shaped by social, legal and political narratives throughout history. Perhaps we would not view ourselves as falling outside of the norm if we had not been taught by our parents who had been taught by their parents and so on what the socially accepted definition of a normal person or body was and still is. From the moment we are born labels are placed on our bodies and we are socialized to act in certain ways that correspond with our assigned gender. If we stray from these guidelines then our bodies are looked down upon and devalued. An abnormal gender or sexuality leads to a person’s legal rights being trampled on simply because they fall out of line with the ideal body and personhood. Those that create the laws, politicians, often employ the rhetoric of ‘family values’ to disregard and punish the queer body in a public forum. We must ask ourselves if our conceptions of gender and sexuality have actually improved over the course of history, specifically the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and we must also ask what led to the marginalization of queer bodies and in turn a need for improvement in understandings of different genders and sexualities. In our society we sometimes think of ourselves as very forward thinking and accepting of alternative lifestyles. But why must we label certain lifestyles as ‘alternative’ and have to ‘accept’ them? Why are cisgender hetero people given the authority to legitimize somebody else? It is because their bodies are viewed as more valuable. Boyd purports that “Bodies that inhabit or enact naturalized states of being remain culturally intelligible, socially valuable and as a result gain and retain the privileges of citizenship and its associated rights and protections”.# We place too much value on a person who displays ‘normal’ gender characteristics and in turn devalue genders and sexualities that don’t fit neatly into that norm. Those ‘naturalized’ bodies are rewarded through varying institutions of power and by society as a whole. The French philosopher Michele Foucalt coined the term biopower to mean "an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations".# More simply put biopower is the control and manipulation of bodies through institutions such as schools and hospitals to create a more productive body and in result workforce. In the nineteenth century following the incredibly repressive Victorian Era sexuality became much more important for identifying people as abnormal and pitting them against those that were perceived to be normal. Foucalt believed that it was due to our sexual repression that we placed such a high importance on people’s sexual behaviors. In the seventeenth century sexual practices were not as inflated with meaning and secrecy as they were in the following centuries. According to him, the less public sex and sexuality became, the more important it was to classify it.# In the Victorian era it was viewed to be against the moral code of the time for a person not to conform with state accepted expressions of sexuality. Sex had only one real purpose: reproduction. Those that did not conform were ostracized from society and treated as lepers. The belief that discussion of sex was taboo prevailed in the