JJ Vincent asked a 41-year-old about gender, identity, self-expression, and what defines a man.
Chris, 41, is from San Diego. He’s an old college friend. My guypartner asked how I met Chris, and I could not remember. It could have been through one of two threads of people. It might have been through both, at different times. He was happy to answer these 10 questions for me. I am happy to have the answers.
Q: The dictionary is being rewritten. How would you define gender?
A: At it’s most basic, gender is the state of being male or female. However, it seems that as science has learned more about the psychological and sociological aspects of gender, our definition should be more of a sliding scale than a binary measurement in order to accommodate all the possible permutations.
Q: How would you identify your own gender?
A: I identify as ‘Male’.
Q: What do you think makes someone a man?
A: I consider being a man much more than being biologically male. Being a physically and emotionally mature male is a big part of being a man. I tend to be much more concerned with one’s behavior and how he treats others than simply his genitalia. Taking responsibility for himself, his loved ones and his actions are major factors. So, I would have to say “Being a mature adult male.”
Q: There’s a lot of current discussion about children being raised without gender. If you had care of a very young child, how would you approached gendered issues (toys, clothing, activities)?
A. This is a tough question to answer … I understand the motivation to have a genderless society, but wonder about the feasibility. Right or wrong, our culture is divided by gender. While the concept of removing that divide can be attractive, I fear that it could cause far more trouble than it might solve. If I were raising a young child, I would strive to teach them that people are different, but not better or worse than others. I find traditional gender roles in our culture to be antiquated and would not necessarily adhere to them, however I also would not simply try to reverse them – as that is just as bad. Every child needs to be raised in a healthy, supportive environment and given the opportunity to figure out who they want to be as an adult. Hopefully, they will be a healthy, happy adult. And one important thing to remember: Life is a journey, not a destination. We are all a work in progress – so figuring out who we want to be and being healthy and happy about it may take some time. Different people have different paths, so no one should judge another persons path.
Q: Most forms and surveys have boxes on them for M or F. Would you change this if you could and if so, how what would you put instead?
A: I think that most forms that specify gender do this for simple identification reasons (unless it is a medical form), so simply selecting which gender you most identify as should be sufficient. In the case of medical forms, your biological gender seems to be most important. I think that in most instances a simple Male or Female would suffice.
Q: Do you think topics of gender identity and expression should be discussed in schools? Why/why not?
A: Yes, definitely. Bigots are not born, they are made. Education is the best way to help people be more open minded and tolerant of others. I think that all students should be required to take courses in sociology and anthropology, as well as biology. In these courses, students should be presented with the facts – ie, how our world works and how their bodies work. They should be exposed to different cultures and points of view – though instructors should be careful to present facts without rhetoric or endorsement of particular perspectives. Included should be specific instruction about how gender is more of a sliding scale than simply Male or Female – while some will undoubtedly complain about this, it is important (especially for kids that are struggling to understand their sexuality) for kids to understand that they are not alone.
Q: A question about relationships. If a person identifies themselves outside of the traditional M/F, should this be an early topic of conversation? Should it be a topic at all?
A: In a romantic relationship I think that it should be a topic of discussion – as for when it should be brought up? I think that it should be about the time when a casual relationship becomes serious.
Q: You said you “find traditional gender roles in our culture to be antiquated.” In your opinion, what are most significant changes you are seeing in gender roles?
A: I see many of the old paradigms falling away, our society is far more tolerant of diversity than it was even a few decades ago. As recently as the 1960s women were struggling to find places in the workforce outside of the few professions considered ‘acceptable’ for women (ie, secretary, teacher, librarian, etc). Today, women are able to work in virtually any job. Same sex marriage has become legal in many states (and will likely continue throughout the rest of the U.S.) Today, gender, race and sexual orientation are far more accepted and even legally protected. There is definitely more work to be done, but we have made more progress faster than anyone expected.
Q: Do you think men’s gender roles have significantly changed? Why or why not?
A: Yes, men’s roles have also evolved. I think that gender roles used to be much more clearly defined, today there seems to be much more grey area than black or white. Simple things like being the primary breadwinner, division of housework and childcare responsibilities are much more fluid than before. Also, more complex things like emotional gender roles are much more fluid as well. For instance, I find that men today tend to be far less stoic than previous generations. We tend to be much more sensitive to others and more in touch with our feelings. Yet it can be difficult to find the right balance of strength and sensitivity. How to be a man that is neither a wimp nor a barbaric thug.
Q: Last question. You have the chance to display/show your gender identity. Anything goes, no questions asked. What do you wear?
A: Hmmm, my normal mode of dress would be a t-shirt and jeans (or shorts, depending on weather). If I were to want to wear something that exemplifies my gender – I would probably have to go with a suit and tie. I have always thought that was the quintessential image of male adulthood.
photo courtesy of Chris, used by author with permission
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