Gender as a Tool of Control


The entry below is an excerpt from Holding on to Hope: Help for friends and family of transgender people.

 

In a Vox article[1], transfeminine author Emily St. James wrote about gender being an interconnection of three ideas: gender as an innate part of the self, gender as a performance for society, and gender as a tool for dominance, hegemony, and control.


The first idea (gender as innate) is pretty straightforward, and you’ve probably heard your loved one express it: they simply aren’t the gender they were assigned at birth.


Gender performance refers to the ways a person conveys male or femaleness to the world, through mode of dress, speech, behavior, hairstyle, makeup, etc. This is also relatively straightforward. Your loved one may have already talked to you about wanting to alter gender performance as part of their transition.


The last issue is a bit more complicated but has a great deal of significance both for your situation and for society as a whole.


People who have control typically want to retain or even increase it. Politicians run for consecutive terms, dictators kill those who try to unseat them, and people who supervise others want to get promotions so they can have a wider span of control. Power dynamics within families mimic these scenarios on a smaller scale. Gender has played a huge role in dominance structures throughout history, with males and uber masculinity holding the highest position in most cultures. Hebrew and Christian scripture is filled with stories about how this plays out, and it continues in Western culture today. Women’s ability to vote is a relatively recent achievement, and pay inequality, sexual assault and abuse, and lower levels of representation in elected office are all examples of the ongoing inequity in action.


Transgender people throw a monkey wrench into this system, because without a binary it becomes much harder to draw lines of who belongs where, and therefore, who should hold control, who might be a threat to control, or who can be dismissed as essentially irrelevant.


For those interested in dismantling age-old inequitable power systems, this should be seen as a very good thing. But for a man who sees his AMAB child embracing their femininity, it can feel like a loss of the power he planned to hand down to the next generation. Similarly, transmasculine people can seem like threats to the power cisgender men have wielded throughout the centuries.


Shaking the basis of control systems is required for creating societies which demonstrate that all people have equal worth and equal rights to contribute in whatever ways their gifts lean.


People stepping out in boldness to live their authentic gender help end unhealthy power structures. But those who are threatened with losing power aren’t going to like it.


The best countries at closing the gender gap are the most peaceful. The best countries at closing the gender gap are the most prosperous.


The most peaceful countries are the happiest. The most peaceful countries are best on the environment.

Laurie Levin

[1] How Twitter can ruin a life, Vox, June 30, 2021.


 

Suzanne DeWitt Hall is the author of the Where True Love Is devotional series, the Living in Hope series of books supporting the loved ones of transgender people, The Language of Bodies (Woodhall Press, 2022), and the Rumplepimpleadventures.

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