Features

We’re not more genderfluid now. We’re just duller about it

Sex has always been less binary than it looks - but we've never been this boring about it

7 November 2015

9:00 AM

7 November 2015

9:00 AM

Even yew trees are at it. It seems the ancient Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, which everyone had assumed to be male, is bearing berries and is therefore, at least in part, female. Dr Max Coleman of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, observed: ‘The rest of the tree was clearly male. One small branch in the outer part of the crown has switched and now behaves as female.’ Which makes this not just the oldest but the most socially progressive tree in Britain, the Caitlyn Jenner of topiary. Or perhaps it was just one transgressive branch making a bid for attention, having been trapped in the wrong trunk all this time.

You can’t go far this year without encountering someone in the process of transitioning between genders or who has already arrived at their gender of choice. As a woman supervising a drama group for trans actors put it on BBC Radio 4 last Sunday, ‘There’s a moment happening.’ And if you’re not easy with the whole genderqueer approach to the boys and girls question, if you’re stuck in the binary (bad) view that your gender is a matter of XX or XY chromosomes or the possession of something as obvious as a penis, well, you’re going to have to catch up fast and learn how to pronounce Mx — the non-binary alternative to Mr, Miss, Mrs or Ms. One could only applaud the blind man on last week’s radio programme for the visually impaired, In Touch, who confessed to panicking at a diversity training workshop because he wasn’t sure whether one of the contributors was male or female — the voice register was plainly male, but that was no guide. With admirable tact, he leaned over and asked what pronoun the speaker preferred; it turned out to be ‘she’.

The trend isn’t without its comic elements, as with the Guardian’s cookery writer Jack Monroe, who was presented with a ‘Woman of the Future’ award last week although she had just come out as transgender, as opposed to merely butch lesbian. ‘To reject that award would have been disingenuous,’ she wrote in the paper. ‘I am the same person I was when Sandi Toksvig gave me a Woman of the Year award in 2014. Should I reject that too?’


Mind you, Monroe has a point. She goes on to write: ‘Why do we segregate awards by gender anyway? Or children’s clothing? Aren’t we all a bit “non-binary” inside?’ You know, if the whole trans thing wasn’t so tiresomely political and self-important and focused on the physical — lopping your bits off or having prosthetic ones added at public expense, or stuffing yourself full of opposite-sex hormones — I think I’d be right with her there. Especially on the preposterous awards-for-women industry, which serves only to emphasise the extent to which the sexes aren’t level-pegging and which confers its accolades on those, like Mx Monroe or Ms Toksvig, of whom the political class approves.

My views are regressively biological; if you’ve got those two XX or XY chromosomes, you’re a girl or a boy. But when it comes to the attributes normally assigned to the opposite sex, I think many of us are a little genderfluid. Indeed lots of people have been in previous generations without going on about it. Marlene Dietrich was, you might say, genderfluid, but she’d have given the contemporary category very short shrift. Old-fashioned dandies were in touch with their feminine side, but just dressed the part.

As a student I liked exams and loathed continuous assessment. I enjoy Latin. I have rows about politics when women are meant to be consensual— I’m with Nicola Sturgeon there, who has little time for that notion. I love P.G. Wodehouse, and apparently women don’t.

My daughter is only eight but she’s pleasingly non-binary too. She did a little autobiographical note for school in which she was asked to categorise herself. She duly drew up four categories, boy, tomboy, girl, tomgirl, and put herself in the tomboy category. She doesn’t have time for what she calls girly girls, which means she’s eschewed — hurrah! — all the really toxic stuff to do with princesses, My Little Pony and the more horrible versions of the colour pink. She has to be bribed into dresses. But it doesn’t mean to say she’s what my mother would call peculiar; she has a crush on Alfred Noyes’s highwayman, as in the poem, and thinks gay marriage is funny.

The thing about the new political take on gender is that it’s nothing new. Sex has never been really binary but we’ve never been this boring about it. I’m not trans, thanks, but I don’t fancy the pink/blue dichotomy either. Just call me mauve.

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Show comments
  • thetrashheap

    0.3 percent of population is trans. That makes Gender fluid only if you are an idealistic idiot.

    • Frank

      Any scientific evidence to back up that number?

    • The Dybbuk

      Merely a trickle then?

  • MacGuffin

    ”But it doesn’t mean to say she’s what my mother would call peculiar; she…thinks gay marriage is funny.”

    Oh how wonderful that you have managed to inculcate bigotry into your little brat at such a young age. If I ever hear her laughing at a same-sex couple I will be pleased to give her a hard smack.

    • KingEric

      Oh get over yourself. It’s not compulsory to be wildly supportive of gay marriage. Personally I’m ambivalent but know other people feel differently. Some people find it amusing, so what? Move on please.

      • MacGuffin

        Some people may very well find it amusing; they may not be laughing when I am done with them, however.

        • The Dybbuk

          BDSM?

          • King Zog

            Back Door Syrian Muslim? Sorry, now I’m just bored and drunk…

          • So is MacGuffin, by the looks of it.

        • MikeF

          You might not be laughing when their parents are done with you.

          • MacGuffin

            They’re British. They will be mortified when I discipline their child. They will probably even apologise to me.

        • Ridcully

          Internet hard men; don’t you just love ’em?

      • MacGuffin

        I find it amusing to smack children when they make bigoted comments. So what? Move on please.

        • MDoran

          Well said. The only way to end bigotry is by beating people – and especially children – who hold different opinions to us. Hurrah! Oh, wait…

        • Right, so when someone calls the police and you’re taken off in handcuffs, you can feel smug about it. And you can tell the officers that you’re not actually a petty tyrant pimped up by righteous indignation — really, officer.

        • Mr B J Mann

          Does that make you a liberal fundamentalist?!

          If you were braver would you be beheading them?!?!!!

          Or is this an extreme version of suggesting braising babies to solve starvation?!

    • FrankS2

      You seem to be bratophobic. And you threaten violence to a child. Still, maybe you’re just being ironic. It doesn’t always work in print.

    • Tony

      Moronic poof-tart.
      It’s not funny actually, it’s sick.

      • MacGuffin

        Save the world. Smack a bigoted child.

  • MC73

    Oh dear gods can we STFU about this please? No-one apart from a hard core of nutters and a fluffy outer rim of virtue-signallers cares about this rot. Oh, yeah and people like me who despair of the nonsense. The whole concept of ‘gender’ as applied to human being is fairly recent and is a load of pseudo-science nonsense, originally dreamt up by a dodgy shrink in the 50s. However it has been a comfort to fifth-rate academics and narcissists ever since.

    • Michael H Kenyon

      who was the idiot shrink who decided to introduce the ‘gender’ trope in the 50s? Another Marxist or sexual opportunist?

      • Precambrian

        John Money. A “sexologist”. O.o

        Yes, its the normalising of make-believe language; part of the whole post-structuralist / post-modern / deconstructionist bull that want’s to destroy knowledge and replace it with fantasy.

        • Michael H Kenyon

          Many thanks. Sexual behaviour is an important and legitimate subject for scientists and clinicians to investigate, but one has to watch out: many of the gamekeepers in this field were once poachers. I agree that post-modern thinking is a pernicious and irrational influence. So is the idea that cosmetic surgery and hormones can create anything other than a chimera.

  • ViolinSonaten b minor.

    Doesn’t Jack Monroe want to remove her breasts as she’s decided to be genderless- insanity.
    Honestly the world had gone quite mad.
    The whole making an issue out of ‘ gender’ needs a spot of reality before some transgender camel
    tries mating with a lesbian.
    I had to fill a form in the other week, it said: Male, Female or Other, good grief.

    • Good grief, indeed. And how anyway do they plan to treat those Others?

    • Dogsnob

      This is all looking good for bathroom manufacturers.

    • Precambrian

      Small furry creature from Alpha Centauri?

    • Andy M

      She is removing them because females in her family have a history of breast cancer, so even I, a Jack loather, think that this is probably a good idea as it just kills two birds with one stone for her particular circumstance. However, she is still an idiot who is just looking for the next alternative lifestyle/subversive trait to try to make us all sick with next.

      • You are probably right in your first sentence; at least I hope you are. But I can’t help thinking that the whiff of publicity lucre has proved to a little too intoxicating.

        There was a time when selling your body to the highest bidder meant something completely different. And I don’t refer to Dr Robert Knox; he was at least training medical students.

    • blandings

      “I had to fill a form in the other week, it said: Male, Female or Other, good grief.”
      I always answer “Other”. – They can check if they want.

  • grutchyngfysch

    People identifying as transgender are, mercifully, few in number; but I am concerned that we are overlooking a far more common “trans” phenomenon through our bias towards sexuality and gender. How often have I heard older people say (usually around liminal events like birthdays) that they do not “feel old” or that they “feel the same inside as they did when they were 20”?

    I propose that it is the oppressive, ageist and chronophobic nature of our society that forces people to identify as their biological age. Instead of this normative hegemony, people should be free to identify as the age they feel like, and accrue all the benefits thereof. For instance, going to the cinema always makes me feel like a giddy teenager. Why should I have to accept the age identity which society foists on me? I demand a child’s ticket.

    • King Zog

      And I just laughed myself off my chair…

    • Precambrian

      Funniest thing on the internet so far today.

    • MikePage

      And a happy meal 😉

    • MacGuffin

      I demand teenage kicks all through the night.

  • The Dybbuk

    Is there anywhere in the media where someone isn’t wittering on about gender? This fixation with bits seems to be taking over with our preoccupation with the weather.

  • Women don’t love Wodehouse? News to me!

    • King Zog

      Lemmy from Motorhead loves Wodehouse.

      • FrankS2

        Ah, a fine exemplar of womanhood!

  • Dogsnob

    ‘Gender fluid’?
    The image conjured has quite ruined my marmite on toast.

  • King Zog

    Gender fluids…? yuck…

  • FrankS2

    “Jack” (aka Melissa) Monroe butch? Surely you mean gamin. Or should that be gamine? Well at least we English linguaphobes are spared that additional layer of confusion. Le plume de mon tante…

    • Apparently Audrey Hepburn was ‘gamine’. But not butch. Thank god.

  • Miss Floribunda Rose

    I wonder what gender fluid tastes like? Seamen?

    • Your second line: that is strictly a matter of opinion!

      • Miss Floribunda Rose

        One man’s drink is another man’s poison.

    • DavidL

      What do seamen taste like? Only a shipwreck survivor would know.

  • Precambrian

    When did it become required that we speak of orientations rather than perversions?

    • Doctor Crackles

      Good analysis.

      I am sure ‘justice’ is a horribly outdated term these days, apart from when it is paired with social. So, there is no longer personal ‘guilt and responsibility’, but society’s ills.

  • MikePage

    I flip flop between confident apathy and wanting the whole thing to F.R.O.

  • jim

    Of course people have the right to define themselves as they please.The question is to what extent am I going to be forced to confirm their delusions.

  • Ade

    And what of public conveniences? Assigned by DNA test, or genital configuration?

  • Doctor Crackles

    Why is it racist to ‘blacken-up’, but not sexist for a man to dress as a woman?

  • HSouth

    People come in all shapes and sizes, it’s grown up to accept that.

  • Dr Bock

    Very much related to issues of diversity, which are actually quite prescriptive, I read quite a lot of transgressive literature, J.G.Ballard, etc, and while we must celebrate Caitlyn Jenner as a woman, supposedly, which is good, because it means the 70s were less sexist, as women were always allowed to compete against men at the Olympics, it does leave us lionising someone who killed someone, which for the more morally sensitive among is, in that favourite term of theirs, problematic; but it also means we’re, sadly, never going to see a Satanist dendrophile on the Supreme Court, or Vogue’s cover resplendent with a wrongskin type who has to live as a minstrel, which is a real pity. Why stop there, before, I used to think it would be nice if Songs of Praise broadcast a black mass just once a year, but increasingly feel that West African animist child sacrifice is a part of the religious experience that a diverse culture should allow for and introduce to the rest of us, while why Thought for the Day can’t include the occasional black evangelical inveighing against the evils of sodomy, I don’t know?

  • Aleks

    “Old-fashioned dandies were in touch with their feminine side, but just dressed the part.”
    The very notion that concern for elegance stems from being in touch with one’s ‘feminine side’ strikes me as a unnecessarily sexist stereotype.Why would caring about your looks be less masculine than feminine ? While men may strive to project a different image than women through their attire, caring about your appearance does not make you any more, or less of a man, in my view.
    Actually, the view of men as sturdy workhorses who need not apply any effort to looking good, since it doesn’t make any difference for them, sounds stupidly modern and quite oppressive to me.
    While I’m far from being a dandy, though I do enjoy dressing up occasionally, I’ll end this comment by quoting Thomas Carlyle; for him, a dandy was no more than “a clothes-wearing man”.

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