Androgyny

gdragon
G-Dragon

Apart from being *really* hard to spell, what is androgyny and how does it apply to this blog and indeed this blogger?

Note: As with pretty much all my blog posts, this is a “stream of conscientiousness” ramble

As with almost all such questions in this day and age, let’s jump over the the font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia! (Certain amount of sarcasm intended….although a lot of this article had it’s jumping off point there)

Androgyny as a noun came into use c.1850, nominalizing the adjective androgynous. The adjective use dates from the early 17th century and is itself derived from the older French (14th Century) and English (c.1550) term androgyne.

So straight away we can see that this is in no way a modern construct. The word itself is a mesh of two ancient Greek words:

Andr – Man
Gyne – Woman

Brian Molko
Brian Molko of Placebo

There have been references to androgyny for as long as we have records. The ancient Greeks had the legend of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis who fused to become one androgynous immortal being. Hermaphroditus of course gave it’s name to the term “hermaphrodite”, which in the common parlance is used to mean one living being/animal that expresses both sets of genitalia. I won’t be discussing this as it muddies the water at times and has no impact on androgyny at all.

One of the earliest mentions of androgyny is from Plato. He tells a tale of how humans used to be very different than how they are now, they were like two people joined back to back. A person which was both halves male was from the sun, both halves female was from the earth, and male-female was from the moon.

These people tried to usurp the gods and when they failed Zeus cut them all in half, leaving the navel as a reminder that if they tried it again he would slice them up even further and leave everyone hopping around on one leg!

Plato says that the people who are descended from the “Moon People” are now what we would call androgynous. Another interesting and important snippet from this story is that Plato states categorically that homosexuality is not shameful, thanks Plato! Seriously though, this is just one example of how someone many thousands of years ago, growing up in a completely different era with a completely non-christian set of morals saw what is blatantly obvious but missed by so many today…

Anyway, moving on…

luisacapatillo
Luisa Capatillo

Androgyny has, since the start of the 20th century at least, been closely connected with the gender equality movement. Luisa Capatillo is a great example of this. She was the first woman in Peurto Rico to wear trousers in public and a strong women’s rights campaigner in a very masculine culture during the late 1800’s and early 1900s.

The androgynous look soon got into fashion, most notably Coco Chanel promoted the androgynous look, and Marlene Dietrich took it on and ran with it, being the first female star to wear trousers to a premiere.

Up until the middle of the 20th century, it is primarily women who are identified as choosing to appear androgynous. In the 50s and 60s this started to change though. Something that I found quite surprising (until I actually thought about it and revisited soem early photographs) was that one of the earliest examples of male androgynous appearance was none other than Elvis Presley! As soon as you think about it, it makes sense though!

elvis

In his early incarnation and right up until the 70’s, Elvis was a “pretty boy” and enhanced his looks with makeup, one of the very first male pop/rock stars to do so. He was such a success (and I don’t need to say how much the girls loved him!) that the androgynous look was taken up by many other pop/rock artists.

Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, John Travolta and even Jimi Hendrix can all be said to have embraced the androgynous look to a greater or lesser extent, and to great success!

Outside of the music world, it was much more a “women dressing as men thing” than a “men dressing as women” thing. Yes I appreciate that this statement tramples all over modern thinking (thinking that I 100% subscribe to) but it is how it was seen at the time. The majority of people would probably still see it that way today.

The androgynous look continued in the pop world through the 80s with Grace Jones and Nick Rhodes to name just a few.

Skipping forward to the modern world, androgyny is discussed a little less than “gender fluidity”. I blow hot and cold on this term. In one way I like it, but in another I think that gender fluidity encompasses a lot more than androgyny, which tends to be a purely visual statement. Gender is such a hot topic and at the cutting edge of understanding for the world at large that I think any widely used term which includes the word needs to be very careful.

Lady Gaga VMA 2011Artists like Lady Gaga, Ruby Rose, Jaden Smith and Lily-Rose Depp are being pointed at with regards “Gender Fluidity”, but for me it’s unfair and impossible to label them (as well as plain wrong) as such because I don’t know what their Gender Identity is. I can see how they are dressing and how they are portraying themselves, but that’s it. Are they doing it for artistic reasons? Are they making a point? Or is this how they actually identify their own gender? I don’t know.

Wikipedia says that:

An androgyne is a person who does not fit neatly into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles of their society. Androgynes may also use the term “ambigender” or “polygender” to describe themselves. Many androgynes identify as being mentally between woman and man. They may identify as “non-gender”, “gender-neutral”, “agender”, “between genders”, “genderqueer”, “non-binary”, “multigender”, “intergendered”, “pangender” or “gender fluid”.

Using the above description, I would have to identify myself as androgynous. In a previous post I described how I do not identify with either male or female despite being in appearance an obvious male with a beard and a bit of a podge. My brain simply will not put me into either bracket when I think about my identity.

Out of interest, I recently carried out an online Bem Sex-role Inventory Self Assessment. This is a test designed in the 70s by Sandra Bem and is apparently one of the more widely used gender measures. The possible outcomes are Masculine, Feminine, Androgynous and Undifferentiated.  Interestingly, and fitting with my statement above my result was “undifferentiated” since I had Masculine, Feminine and Androgynous scores all under 70/100. I guess this reflects the fact that I really don’t care, and it’s not a “thing” for me.

I guess I am still a little confused about whether androgyny is a look, a lifestyle, a gender-type expression, or all of the above!

I would be really excited and interested to hear your thoughts. Shoot me down, educate me, discuss any of this post, please!

Above all, thanks for reading.

Progress

I am currently looking at new job opportunities. It’s not that I am unhappy as such, but there is a good market out there for my skills at the moment so it could be a chance to advance my career.

Anyway, the only reason I mention it is because of a positive experience I have had.

Quite a lot of job opportunities these days are found and applied for on-line. Companies use services such as “Workday” which acts as the interface between the company and the applicant allowing a seamless application and submission of CV file etc.

One such application recently sent me to a “diversity questionnaire” after the actual application part. This is a big national company. The asked for the usual kind of stuff but what struck me where the “Sexual Orientation” and “Gender Identity” questions.

What gender do you most readily identify with?

This was the first time I have seen that exact question on such a questionnaire. Most often it’s just a single word.

Gender?

The available answers to choose from were extensive and I would imagine that most non-binary-identifying people would find something that they were comfortable with, if they were comfortable answering the question (Which is of course another matter entirely).

What is your sexual orientation?

This one really impressed me as it’s the first time that I have ever seen my identity on there.

Pansexual

It’s still one of the less well known and mentioned ones and as such I have never seen it available as an option. I selected it with a smile.

We spend a lot of time bemoaning the lack of understanding of gender and sexuality so if feels good to just take a few minutes to celebrate a bit of progress.

Aaaaand just as a bit of an added bonus – here’s a sizzler……watch it/him!
lucifer

Moment of Clarity

Do you have, or have you ever had a moment of clarity? It’s a sudden flash of understanding where everything is laid out in front of you, perfectly understandable and obvious. Religious people might call it a flash of divine inspiration.

I have had a few in my life, and I had one this morning. It went something like:

Of course sexuality and gender are both societal constructs

I am a person; an animal with a mental, spiritual and physical being, just like every other “person” and “animal” on the planet. I have preferences and I self-identify in a particular way.

Some examples, and for clarity I am using “boy” and “girl” to refer to gender identities, not young examples of biological “gender”.

  1. I like music. I really like music. My favourites are Blues, Black Metal and Folk, but I listen happily to almost everything.
  2. I don’t really self-identify as “boy” or “girl” (recent realisation). I just don’t have strong feelings either way. I don’t feel like that puts me in any sort of box, it’s just a complete non-issue for me.
  3. I can be attracted to anyone. I prefer “girls” (and one in particular 🙂 ) but again, it’s not really an issue for me, if I am pulled towards someone who identifies as a “boy” then so what? If I am attracted to someone who identifies as a “boy” but who was assigned “girl” at birth, then so what?

It’s society that tells us what a “boy” and a “girl” are; how they should behave, what they should wear, what jobs they should do, who they should fancy etc. People are just people and they have individuality. They have their own individual set of morals, beliefs, thoughts and self-identifications.

Let people be people m’kay!

Orange is the new Awesome!

There are many reasons to love Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black”. It’s funny, touching, life affirming and at times even a bit scary; it is set in a prison after all.

The cast is wonderful. Kate Mulgrew is so good as “Red” that I have forgotten all about Captain Janeway (Not a bad thing at all!). She is one of the more complex characters, at once domineering and autocratic but also caring and supportive. Laverne Cox is amazing. A breakthrough role for a trans woman playing a trans woman. It helps that she is drop dead gorgeous but the part certainly isn’t played for that. Again she is shown having her own struggles (At least she has been sent to a women’s prison though, plenty of trans people have their gender completely ignored and are sent to the wrong institution with what I can only imagine are pretty terrible consequences a lot of the time.)

Laverne 1

So yeah, watch it! I imagine that quite a few readers already do, it’s one of the most popular shows of the last few years.

The particular scene that made me want to write about it was in an episode we watched last night. The show is obviously very LGBT friendly and has explored Piper as a bisexual young woman, Sophia as a (I think) straight trans woman, and various characters that are along the LGBT spectrum in various places. All have been women. In the episodes we have been watching there have been strong hints of a male same-sex relationship behind the scenes and we had it confirmed.

We had it confirmed in one of the best gay scenes I have ever seen in mainstream TV. It was a tender obviously loving kiss between two grown men. It was beautiful. There was no camp, no sordid undertones (Besides it being in secret). It was a kiss like we have seen for almost a hundred years on the silver screen between a man and a woman, but it was between two men. Brilliant.

You and I – Gaga

Just……wow!

Completely blown away by how completely awesome this is. I love how all the “poperazzi” are just sat staring, confused as all hell, and Dave Grohl is sat there loving it 🙂 Makes me proud to be me, proud to be able to love what is good and great, proud to accept that I am part of the LGBT rainbow in my own way.

Watch this and love it.

Gender – Some thoughts.

Of all the words in the English language, the one whose generally accepted meaning has changed (and is changing) the most must be GENDER. This is quite a long post but I hope you will persevere and add your comments to get some discussion going.

Growing up I, along with most people my age I imagine, linked gender with the physical attributes of our bodies. There were boys and there were girls and they were well defined by their bumps, curves and dangly bits. If I were to be completely honest (And that’s kind of the point of this blog…) then I still thought in those terms until relatively recently, the last few years or so.

What I have come to realise is that it isn’t the definition of the word that has changed. That’s important.

It isn’t that the OED has suddenly changed it’s wording. It isn’t that a group of people has been mangling the English language (Well it is, that group is “almost everyone” in global terms). The movement is currently towards using the word in it’s ACTUAL context as defined over the last few hundred years and as described in the OED etc; not it’s colloquially understood definition that I (And most people) grew up with.

The entry for “gender” in the Oxford English Dictionary reads:

The state of being male or female (Typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)

This is revolutionary and allows for a much expanded language surrounding a persons “state of being” that is more accurate, sympathetic and downright “true”.

As a contrast, the word “sex” as used in a similar context has the meaning of

Either of the two main categories into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive function.

As a further expansion, the definition of “male” in a “sex” context is

Of or denoting the sex that produces gametes, specifically spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilised or inseminated to produce offspring

So, two completely different sets of definitions which unfortunately use the same two terms of “male” and “female”. It is unfortunately completely correct from a language point of view to say “I am a (sex) female (gender) male” which isn’t very helpful although it does illustrate the point.

The “sex” definition isn’t absolutely perfect as it excludes people born with physical indicators and expressions of both or neither “sex”. It kind of refers to this by using the term “…two main categories…” though.

So, we have gender and we have sex. It’s complicated further by gender not being a binary system in the real world. It’s all very well to say that it refers to societal males and females but in reality a lot of people show traits applicable to both. Gender is much more of a spectrum than a switch that is one way or the other.

After realising all this I started to look at myself and see how I fit in. I should say that I also know that I have a long way to go before I understand this subject anywhere near perfectly, and I think that it’s an area that is still having its boundaries pushed so there is probably no-one who has that perfect understanding. Most recently I have read an article on the difference between “Gender expression” and “Gender identity”; and so it goes on. I find the whole subject absolutely fascinating so will continue to try and improve my understanding.

Anyway, back to me!

To use the “sex” term, I am male. That’s a pretty easy one for me. My body is built the way you would typically expect a (sex) male to be built. I should add that I am also a cis male in that my gender identity matches my body.

The interesting bit for the purposes of this post comes when I start to try and analyse my own gender. I think that I am talking about “gender expression” here, but that’s a sub classification that I am still working on my understanding of so please do comment on whether I have this right.

I have a beard. Not a big bushy one but a full face beard none the less. This obviously scores a point in the direction of a male gender expression. I wear and feel comfortable in what my society considers to be attire appropriate to the male gender so there’s another point towards it. I use male pronouns and would rather other people do too so there is another.

I am not competitive at all. I have no drive to win be that in a computer game, a running race, or in my career. In these terms I think that is a more female expression. When I sit down on a chair I cross my legs, and if I am on a sofa I tend to fold them beside me. Again, more of a female expression.

If I were to go through all of my behaviour and drop each one into those slots I think I would be on the male side of the centre of the spectrum, but not by a huge amount. I am happy and conmfortable with that.

I hope that you enjoyed this little intro to my understanding of gender. If you are on this journey with me then please let me know your understanding. If your understanding differs or you think I am way off mark please dive in and let me know.