I've learned a lot from writing Lies, my April novel. One of the main characters is genderless. At first this genderless-ness means that no one can tell what gender the main is. The character is always in a mask and there are no identifying bulges where there should be if the character was male or female. Later it's found out that said character is biologically genderless.
Let that sink in for a moment. Yeah, no gender identifying ANYTHING. No ability to reproduce because despite having two holes there is no uterus or ovaries. There are no testicles, no penis, no breasts, and nothing else to biologically identify this character as male or female.
This brings up a few issues. The first is what personal pronoun to CALL said character. "He or she" obviously doesn't work for being too repetitive and just annoying. Great for word count mind you, but really annoying for an entire novel. "Ze" (the term used for transitioning transsexuals as far as my research told me) doesn't work because there is no transition. "One "wouldn't work because the main bad is "The One." "They" is grammatically incorrect. This issue was solved when the character decided on being called "she."
Why "she?" Well because the character leaned more towards dresses, skirts and feminine clothing. It just made life easier for everyone involved, including me. The NaNoWriMo April Cabin I had during that time knew about my sleepless nights figuring out what the HECK to call this character. And there were many sleepless nights until she decided to be she.
But this identification opened a whole other issue about gender roles and gender identity. See, there are people out there who are biologically male and dress as females. My character even brings up the question of "am I a female or am I a male who likes to dress like a female?" It leaves the poor thing confused about what to identify as. The character continues with being a she, again because it's easier. The second reason she remains as a she is because during her stint as a prisoner of sorts she was not allowed much to eat. When she's able to eat like a normal person, she begins to grow breasts (which she's quite proud of). Despite that she still has a somewhat masculine physical structure: strong jaw, abs, large biceps, and physically more powerful. She still isn't completely 100% in being called she but it stays because it seems to suit her more.
What does all this mean exactly? Well, it can mean different things to different people. Recently I heard about a school teaching children to call people "yo" as in "Yo hit me" rather than "she (or he) hit me." Exploring the issues a non-gendered character went through deciding what they were I don't think calling people "yo" is such a good idea.
In order to identify yourself as male or female (or the third gender) you have to have a jumping off point. You have to know the biological differences between male and female and know that despite everything males and females ARE different. Yes, a female can in theory do any job a man can BUT when physical labour is involved, men DO have more muscle mass and can do heavier loads. Yes, a female can lift heavy objects but men (in that instance) can do it better. It can't be helped.
Females are not genetically meant to be physically powerful. We're meant to be more flexible and faster. An instance of this is in the simple task of mail carrying. The maximum load a mailman (or woman) can carry out was lowered when women came into the job simply because the female mail carriers COULD NOT lift the same weight as male carriers. This meant more gray boxes, more trips to their bins, longer routes, and longer work for some. This extra physical power men have is due to higher testosterone levels in men which is also said to lead to "aggression" making men the more "violent" of the genders. Why do you think steroid pumped weight lifters are so angry? Extra testosterone. Yep.
Anyway, this whole issue about gender roles/identity in general will confuse the Hell out of kids if we simply decide to do away with gender. We have genders because we're born that way. We have to learn to embrace our genders rather than ignore them or group everyone into one. Yes, we have to learn gender roles. Yes, we have to teach kids the difference between a male and a female. That doesn't mean we have to tell the kid that because they're biologically male they have to do male things.
In fact, if a male child decides to pick the pink blanket we should allow him to. We should NOT tell him that because he likes pink he should be raised as a girl. A couple in the states did this and their six year old physically male son is trying to live as a female. Granted the kid might know the difference but he's six. I changed my mind every day on what I wanted to be growing up. I can't imagine changing my gender permanently that young. Let him decide on his own when he's older and knows the so-called expectations of both genders, don't tell him he's a girl just because he did some things like a girl.
Heck the only reason certain "genderless" models know whether they are male or female (or both) is because they were told about gender roles and decided they liked either both or liked identifying as opposite to what does or doesn't hang. Perfect example: Andrej Pejic. He identifies as neither: the perfect blend of male and female. If he was raised without a gender he likely would not be doing so well as a male model being female solely because male and female would not exist. Then there's the whole point of him not even knowing what male or female was or that he was unique because he's a he who works as a she.
**NOTE: An update on the Andrej Pejic gender-issue: 1) an ex says that in personal life Andrej prefers the female personal pronoun BUT Andrej has said that "it's whatever" AND Andrej's passport now holds the infamous "X" where a gender would be described. THEREFORE, I assume Andrej is continuing to live as a transgender: that is someone who lives between genders and therefore really doesn't mind what personal pronoun is used. Until Andrej changes his passport to reflect the female or outright says he wishes to use the female in ALL aspects of his life: I'm sticking with the he as I don't know him personally and he's made it clear that it's "whatever" or "X". Proof of the passport change (skip to about 2:30 if you don't want to watch the whole thing):
In a recent interview with La Monda Magzine:
How should we refer to you? He or she?
A lot of my close friends say ‘she’. But a lot of people say ‘he’ too and I am not offended by that; when you are in this position, living this life in between genders, you can’t be too offended by anything. Either way is fine, but I prefer “she”.
So from now on I'll try to stick with the "she" pronoun when referring to Andrej. It's only fair.
UPDATE 2014: Andrej has gone through SRS surgery to become Andreja. Go look it up, I'll wait.
Again, no I'm not changing the above because quite frankly I'd rather keep things as "original" and unedited on this blog as possible besides updates and notes. Moving on.
Anyway it's probably not healthy to force a kid one way or another based on what they like to do. Liking or disliking certain colors or activities DOES NOT make one male or female. Being male or female is not also just a physical thing. What we feel on the inside is what defines us as male or female: not the clothes, not the toys (ha), and certainly not the looks. This defining takes place because of what we learn or are told.
See this is what it comes down to: gender roles, physical roles, emotional roles, parental roles, and sociological roles for males and females are TAUGHT. They are not innate things we automatically know upon coming out of the womb. Teachers, parents, and other adults TEACH children that a girl plays with Barbies and a boy plays with GI Joe. Society teaches children that girls like frilly things and dresses while boys like sports and cars. Girls like make-up and pink, boys like mud and blue. I could go on but I think you get it.
If our children are taught that what you like doesn't make what you are or identify as, we won't need a "yo" pronoun to describe every person. Besides, can you imagine describing someone without using he or she? Trust me, I've tried and it's HARD. Now there's a bill that's attempting to make it through in Boston that will stop police from describing ANYTHING about a subject on the "politically correct thought" that gender and racial descriptions are "bad." So the cops in Boston will receive a description of a subject as such: "Be on the look out for a running person." Yeah, that'll help the crime rate.
We need gender description and physical description in order to know what we may or may not be looking for not only in criminals but in general life. Can you imagine walking up to someone and trying to tell them you're looking for your friend but you can't say if your friend is male, female, Caucasian, Asian, Africa-American or whatever else? Identifying characteristics can't be taken away.
We have genders (and physical differences) for a variety of reasons and instead of ignoring them to "protect our children from gender (or racial) stereotypes" we should be embracing them and teaching our children that what is or isn't between their legs (or what color their skin is) doesn't dictate what they can do or can't do or what they might identify as.
That's how I was raised. I was able to play with whatever toy I liked. I played with Barbies AND toy cars. I made model air planes, I played sports, I wanted to learn play piano and dance. I played with worms and went fishing. I played dress-up with my cat. I am a straight female and embrace my femininity instead of feeling repressed or threatened by it. I don't feel inferior because of plastic dolls, I don't feel like a man is better than me and I don't feel like I need a man in my life to make it better. I know I don't HAVE to be a housewife, that I can have a job and I can support myself. I am a well-adjusted, independent woman who loves her womanhood. Adding to this I was taught that skin color also doesn't matter. We're all the same pink, squishy-ness on the inside.
Regardless, people worry too much about gender roles and what it means when their little boy might want to play dress up or their little girl likes cars "too much." Who cares? Let your kid discover who they are for them self but for gosh sakes, don't tell them they have no gender or that they're one or the other because of what they do when they're curious about everything. Most people forget this: KIDS ARE CURIOUS AND WILL TRY EVERYTHING so let them figure it out on their own. Telling them they have no gender or are one or the other (opposite to what's between their legs) will only make things worse from an identity stand-point because let's face it, no matter what you identify as later in life, you knew growing up whether you were male or female and if it was right or wrong for you.
Yeah, you may have known it was a bit weird (I did) but you get over it and eventually you grow that lovely backbone that makes you say "So what? I like what I like, I'm not normal and I love me for me because of it." If we repress the differences we can't learn to stand-up for what makes us unique. We can't learn to tell people: "Yeah, I'm a girl who knows about cars, bugs and guns. What's your point?" or "Yeah, I'm a guy who wears make-up and sews. Big deal."
We'll learn instead that we're all the same and nothing is different or strange about everyone. If I was raised genderless I wouldn't feel so unique because I'm oddly fascinated by swords, video games, and skulls. I won't feel like I know myself because I'm not an individual if everyone is "normal" for being able to like everything. We need differences in life to make us appreciate and learn to accept those differences. We need weird. We need odd. We need unusual. Besides, what the heck do you call "mom" and "dad" when they're not supposed to have a gender? What about all those languages that aren't gender neutral like the a and o's commonly in French and Italian?
Furthering it, what happens to the kids who are biologically one gender but feel the other? Does this mean the transsexual will no longer exist? I mean, if they don't know or feel like one to start with how can they transition to the other? Are we really prepared for our entire society to become Gender X? Are we really prepared to raise children who can't create a solid identity for themselves because they have no jumping off point? Are we prepared to take away something that makes us different and instead be a single one-gendered "yo?" Are we prepared to deal with all those gender-confused individuals who have no idea what they are because someone told them they were the opposite when they were younger?
Are we prepared to stop describing people all together and never know what a person looks like in stories we read? Can we deal without knowing what or who the main character is? Can we cope with having gender neutral names abound? Are we prepared to sacrifice our individuality on the overly-politically correct assumption that describing a person belittles them? Are we ready to give up what makes us different, unique, and special because some people are going crazy about gender identity and physical descriptions? Can we deal with everyone being thought of as the same? Do you want to be the same as everyone else?