In England, the most intellectually serious newspaper is The Financial Times. Today 28 November 2015, India Ross interviews Jill Soloway, creator of an American TV series Transparent which has a transgender theme. They talk about gender issues and at the end Soloway says:
“People will recognise that just because somebody is masculine, it doesn’t mean they have a penis. Just because somebody’s feminine, it doesn’t mean they have a vagina. That’s going to be the revolution over the next five years”
India Ross adds:
“I suggest that, even today, that’s a fairly radical thing to say. She agrees …”
I paused. When, if ever, has this “radical thing” not been recognised as true – and even platitudinously true?
Think of “cissy” and “tomboy”. A cissy was a boy who displayed feminine tastes and traits, deemed unacceptable. A tomboy was a girl who displayed masculine tastes and traits, though sometimes these were treated more indulgently than cissy traits. To go back just fifty years, think To Kill a Mockingbird.
Both terms involve using a fundamental distinction between sex and gender. Both recognise that sex and gender can be mismatched in a person. Neither supposes that cis-gendering (the matching of sex and gender) is inevitable, though as judgemental terms, they assume that cis-gendering is desirable.
So maybe the revolution is simply to remove the judgemental aspect. No one will get called out as a cissy or laughed at as a tomboy. They will just be accepted.
Didn’t that also happen in the past?
Caring has been marked + feminine in my culture and for a very long time. Let’s go back a hundred years. In war, there were male officers who distinguished themselves by caring for their men. This was regarded as admirable, not cissy.
Bravery has been marked + masculine in my culture, also for a very long time. But go back to 1838 and read the story of Grace Darling at Wikipedia. This 23 year old woman got marked + for Bravery (in fact, + + +). But no one dismissed her as a tomboy and several men who had never met her wrote seeking her hand in marriage. No one called her out for rowing the boat.
It would be interesting to me but perhaps tedious to you if I multiplied examples.
It is simply not true that the sex / gender distinction has ever been unclear to anyone (except perhaps to those who have been made to read Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble). It is also - perhaps surprisingly - untrue that society has been consistently and remorselessly unwilling to recognise, accept, and even applaud, trans – gender characteristics.
Of course, it’s tolerance has never been whole-hearted and probably never consistent. But a flicker of tolerance has always been there.