May 15, 2004

I was really sad to hear about the suicide of David Reimer, a boy who, after a freak accident, was raised as a girl until he reasserted his gender identity. I read the book that the article refers to, and it was really depressing, but the ending seemed hopeful. No more, alas.

I should say that, though I was criticizing gender "essentializing" in the last post, that doesn't mean I think you "can put on or take off genders like changing coats," as David Morrison puts it. To me, both this and the suffering of people who fail to conform to the norms of their actual gender come from trying to force human beings into your own ideas of what they should be. Can we find a middle here between saying gender is optional and saying it's all-consuming?

One of the Reimer story's many ironies, actually, was that John Money convinced his parents to go along with this partly by persuading them that he would be totally miserable trying to live as a man without a penis, but he would be just fine living as a "woman" without any real female reproductive organs. I remember thinking at the time that, for all of Money's sexual-liberation rhetoric, there was this sexist assumption that to be a woman is all about what you don't have, while being a man is about what you do have. All of that may have been so much hot air to try to get himself a human subject to test his theories, but I can't help thinking that this anemic concept of woman was partly at fault here.

Posted by Camassia at May 15, 2004 11:19 AM | TrackBack

Good point about his concept of what it means to be a woman. I also notice, quoted in David Morrison's post, a statement that Money's work influenced recommendations regarding people born intersex: "In the vast majority of these cases, parents are told that their children should be raised as girls." I have to wonder: why do they assume that the children would rather be raised as girls? It seems to be more of the same; it's OK for a woman to be not quite normally female, but a man had just better have all his parts in order.

Posted by: Lynn Gazis-Sax on May 15, 2004 08:40 PM

I see your point about an anemic concept of woman, but Dr. Money wasn't exactly enunciating a flattering concept of man either, to suggest that the male identity can be removed simply by removing the penis.

The point that "it's OK for a woman to be not quite normally female, but a man had just better have all his parts in order," strikes me the same way. You're right that it's a bad way of looking at the world, because it focuses on our genitalia rather than our personhood. As for its sexism, again I see where you're coming from, but I find it also insulting as a man that the people making these judgments would assume that a man is only a man if he has a proper penis.

Posted by: Tom T. on May 17, 2004 09:34 PM

Yes, it did also occur to me that the image of man isn't very good either. But I think that male chauvinism, as a rule, never favored all men. Men who fail to be manly enough are its other victims.

Posted by: Camassia on May 17, 2004 09:59 PM
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