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Yet Another Line in the Sand
Now here’s something you don’t think about every day: Gender and power. No, wait. You really don’t think much about it. Gender is just a fact of life, right? And power is politics, and like death and taxes, is ever with us.

But let’s say for the sake of discussion that you aren’t really who you think you are. Let’s say God in the form of a doctor decided your parts weren’t quite right when he delivered you and made a few nips and tucks. Which left you with a shorter, more cavernous version of yourself with some attendant nagging suspicions. Or maybe moved a few things around, sealed off this, removed that, and left the more prominent of two options. But also left you with some nagging suspicions.

If you haven’t already read about this issue, you should know that doctors, sometimes without consulting with parents, sometimes in collusion with them, decide about a child’s gender when God tends toward the ambivalent. Particularly when what appears to be female parts come in a larger than average size. Can’t have that, of course. And it’s easier surgically to make a girl from a boy, rather than the other way around. According to Brown University medical researcher Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, 2,000 intersex infants are genitally cut for cosmetic reasons in US hospitals annually. 8 babies, 3 weeks old to 3 years old, rearranged every day for cosmetic reasons, or for supposed "emotional, cognitive or body image" reasons. Every day. In Africa and other "third world" countries, accepted, ritualized female genital mutilation is a practice of unimaginable horror to the "civilized" world, yet the American Academy of Pediatricians’ own statement on our own brand of surgery says our infants are genitally cut to minimize "emotional, cognitive, and body image" problems and not for any medical reason.

The surgery itself, of course, couldn’t possibly cause any emotional, cognitive or body image problems.

Gender is such a powerful issue that we *have* to know from birth which one a baby has. As if there are only two, and as if there isn’t a spectrum. As if it could possibly matter to the child for another 12 years or so, without the institutionalized insistence that everyone care, what procreative potential she/he stores within. No real reason other than for the child to take its "proper" place within the power structure. So we can know on sight how to think of the child without having to take the time to get to know him or her.

And gender power is also the basis of all homophobia. Think for a moment about what the problems really are when the epithets start flying. A gay boy is a "sissy". A lesbian girl is a "tomboy". Blurring the lines along the front of the battle of the sexes. Sissy is short for sister, who by definition has to be female. A boy who is a sissy has defected. He’s no longer within the ranks of the purely male, and therefore a traitor. The tomboy can be tolerated much more readily, but not forever, because it’s "understandable" that *anyone* would aspire to be male if the choice were available. Uh huh. So until 14 or so, a girl can pretend to a power she is not entitled to. A feminine lesbian or a macho gay man gets a lot less trash from the public because they can "pass". And a feminine lesbian is always seen as just experimenting, still always really available to the man who is persistent enough. And certainly available in any porn movie you pick up. (God, why won’t they give this fantasy UP??) Macho gay men are a little more of a problem since the "traitorous enemy" can then hide within the ranks. And no REAL man wants to have to watch his ass in the daily battle of maintaining his toehold on the side of the pyramid.

All this is changing a little, what with Niki commercials and various other kinds of coming out and public education, but it is through stubborn defense of the battle lines and the insistence on only two sides of the gender issue that homophobia finds its sustenance. You gotta be either a boy or a girl, and if God didn’t decide, then somebody else has to. Somebody with a sharp knife before you can protest.

But if you think it’s not a war destined to be with us for a while, just listen to your own gut response the next time someone calls you sir if you’re not one. Or worse (or so I hear) ma’am if you’re not one of those. That little lurch in your gut is your foot slipping on the muddy side of the trench on a battle line drawn in the dirt at least 5,000 years ago.

It would be nice if we could all just put down all our weapons. Maybe a nice pointed instrument to start with would be the names we call each other. And the scalpel.


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