Gender and Fashion

I think we can agree that there are attributes that are inherent to people, and those we can consciously choose. I am right handed and always will be; there is nothing I can do to change that. On the other hand, I wear a blue baseball cap: I wear it every day, but I could change it if wished. What you choose to wear comes and goes with fashion; the hand you prefer to use does not. Thus there are things about ourselves which we can change and those we can’t, sitting at either end of a continuum.

Yet where does gender exist on that line? We are usually either men or women, and I think most people are comfortable with that distinction. Sometimes, however, there are people who feel that they were born into the wrong body, or assigned the wrong gender at birth. They feel so uncomfortable with their assigned gender that they need to transition from one gender to another, often taking hormones and/or undergoing surgery to do so. In many cases it is a choice between that or committing suicide, the dysphoria is so intense.

Nobody has any right to claim such experiences are not genuine. In recent years, though, people have begun to view gender as more and more interchangeable: less an inherent attribute of people and more like a fashion to be selected as and when social trends dictate. These days we hear people describing their selves as gender fluid or non conforming, but apparently without having experienced the intense dysphoria transgender people describe. It seems to have become trendy not to conform, recalling the kind of cultural intrusion I wrote about here. Gender identity arises from a complex interweaving of biology and psychology, not politics or the conscious, socially motivated desire to break social barriers.

There’s no doubt gender is a continuum: people can be male, female or a bit of both. The problem is, people have started to treat that line more and more flippantly, like something they can play with or politicise at will. It has become politically fashionable not to conform, or claim that you don’t. Rather than being an inherent attribute of one’s personality, gender is becoming a political plaything which can be changed or subverted as fashion demands. People seem ever more eager to distance theirselves from positions of social privilege as if being white, straight and able-bodied disqualifies you from political activism: activists need something to rebel against, so they place theirselves into social categories they might not previously have done. That, however, seems to me to make a mockery of the experiences of those for whom this is not so flippant, but far more vital.

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