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by Caroline Gaudriault

Are we born or do we become male, female, or transgendered?

Simone de Beauvoir replied to the question by saying that “You’re not born a woman, you become one”. In the United States in the 1960s, the Queer movement defended the idea that human beings had the choice of appropriating the gender given to them a priori at birth or choosing another one. Now Sweden is responding by taking precise action backed up by draft legislation: politician Viggo Hansen wants to fight gender discrimination by making it illegal for men to urinate standing up; a Stockholm high school is providing students with a “neutral” cloakroom for those who regard themselves as neither male nor female; and a “transgender” maternity school that considers pupils as “children” rather than as boys and girls opened in 2010.

Amusing, isn’t it? But all these projects are attracting sustained interest on the part of EU institutions and studies are underway on the possibility of extending such initiatives, notably in schools.
In the end, the question is whether culture is more powerful than nature in terms of the construction of sexual identity.
Even if the debate is not a new one, the major novelty is to be found in the institutions, which are becoming increasingly sensitive to evolutions in social attitudes and, in consequence, are willing to legislate. In France, gay marriage legislation implies issues of homo-parenthood and filiation. Children born “socially” to same sex parents will inevitably ask questions about their genetic, social and sexual identity.

The question of determinism in the human condition is a fascinating one. Are we all characterised by our respective feminine and masculine genders according to a heterosexual norm? The high priestess of gender theory, the American philosopher, Judith Butler, develops the idea that gender is not determined by biological sex but by social and cultural environment. For the author of Gender Trouble, the heterosexual norm is a social representation from which it is possible to escape. She defends the existence of a plurality of identities claiming that “we run the risk of excluding human beings on the pretext that they do not identify with the dominant definition.”
In terms of human gender, the waters have become troubled. According to Butler’s theory, gender is no longer defined by a male/female duality, but also encompasses alternative sexual identities.

If we refer to the numerous studies of biologists, we observe undeniable differences in behaviours between young boys and girls. Of course, cultural pressure emphasises these behaviours, encouraging us to develop innate characteristics which enclose men in their masculinity – a relationship with violence and war – and women in their femininity – the wearing of the veil in Muslim societies. Historically, society defines stereotypes that contemporary mentalities are attempting to attenuate or destroy.
But with the exception of hermaphroditism, which results from a different morphology, nature focuses exclusively on the masculine and the feminine. Gender theory does not deny biological laws but wants to go beyond them, push the limits until there are no more limits left. Are there other choices than Drag Queen-style parodies of masculine and feminine stereotypes? Transgender remains a highly theoretical concept. It supposedly applies to “all the others”, to all those who no longer distinguish between the masculine and feminine sexes. But a modern contradiction emerges in the form of a desire to recognise all differences by erasing them.
Whatever the case may be, if gender is constituted throughout the lifetime of the individual, in a process of long-term acquisition, why no leave it to the “children” to choose their sexual identity. So long Barbie and Ken. So long blue and pink colour coding. So long model cars and pretty dolls.

But isn’t transgender the best way of getting caught up in a new kind of institutionalism?


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