What is it like to feel gender?

3 years 1 month ago #355200 by TheDude
I understand that there is a difference between sex and gender. Sex is physiological while gender is psychological; sex is easily recognizable while gender is internal; sex has many defined traits while gender doesn't seem to. But I've never experienced gender. I don't know what it means to "feel like a (man/woman/etc)". I suppose I'm recognized socially as a man -- though with my long hair, people have misgendered me before. I feel no urge to dress in a way specific to my sex, though I usually end up wearing "masculine" clothes since that's what family members have bought for me for my whole life. I'm not sure it means anything to "act like a (man/woman/etc)" because I see people of different sexes acting in many different ways.
So that got me thinking. I don't understand what it's like to experience gender. From where I'm standing it seems to be about stereotypes and historic gender roles. Like, you "feel like a woman" because you want to adhere to a stereotype of a woman, or you "feel like a man" because you want to fill a historically male social role. That's what appears to be happening, to me, when a person affirms their gender identity.
But outside of stereotypes (e.g. "men aren't emotional!") and gender roles (e.g. "I want to stay at home and cook and clean") I'm not aware of any observable behaviors which can be accurately deemed "gendered". And this kind of bothers me. When you say "I feel like a man" is it because you have an image in your head of what a stereotypical man is like, and you feel like that or you want to be that? Is that what is meant by gender? I see men and women perform different behaviors all the time which don't adhere to their sex stereotypes.
Is it the way they dress? Like, feeling like a woman means you want to dress in a certain way? If I wear a skirt, does it make me a woman? I've seen men and women wear all different types of clothing, so I don't think it's that.
Is it a way of thinking? Like, you think like a man, or you think like a woman? But surely you wouldn't know what it's like to think like another gender if you're not that gender? So how would anyone know they think like a man or like a woman when they have no experience in thinking like the other gender to reference?
Given the diversity of human thought and actions, I don't think it's right to label one group of behaviors or thoughts as being specifically gendered. But people do say that they feel like a gender. So is gender a feeling, rather than a thought or an action? If it is a feeling, how does it feel?
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3 years 1 month ago #355201 by rugadd
Clarification: For me, we are all human and unique.

If your looking for a dichotomy between men and women, or perhaps the difference between the concepts, try studying what happened when hunters and gatherers split on which was the best approach.
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3 years 1 month ago #355215 by rugadd
Hint: Herding vs agriculture
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3 years 1 month ago #355220 by Gisteron
What "is it like" to feel anything, really? What is anything like? Is there even something "it is like" to be/experience something? Ever since I came to really think about a question like that I have been struggling understanding what it even means. What does an answer to it look like, and how would one go about finding an answer to it, if there even is one at all? Frankly, at the risk of sounding dismissive about it, I have at the very least yet to talk to someone who could coherently explain what they mean by their respective question of this sort, without attempting to appeal to an intuition I am supposed to have deep down, that the question really means something. And perhaps in day to day casual conversation I might drop the phrase as all of us drop any number of expressions we really don't spend much time thinking about. Still, I'd insist one needn't be obtuse to question things like that, and if "oh, come on, you know what I mean, don't be silly" is all one can ever reply with, as might come back at times when this challenge is raised, then perhaps one really doesn't know what's really going on, anyway.

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3 years 1 month ago - 3 years 1 month ago #355222 by Adder
Wow, that is a heavy topic. Depends what baseline language, and working assumptions one accepts to talk to as a point.
I have my own approach which makes it more tractable in terms of experiential…. which may or may not be mainstream, but they aren't far off.
I’m gonna limit to healthy functioning organs, and XY or XX allosome, otherwise it becomes about the broader topic of culture etc etc.

I'd say probably consider it in 3 ways; the sex as determined through sexual differentiation which includes reproductive purpose, the physical gender of being a person who has all external form of a particular sex, and the mental gender of being a person who aligns to the culture of the other two ways.

So to comment on the experience of feeling like a gender, in backwards order;

A. if referring to the 3rd of those, is the feeling of doing whatever things that 'they' do.

B. the 2nd of those, which probably tends towards inheriting the 3rd as well, but with the addition of the distinct physicality's. And I'd split it into two main categories that are closely related;
1. Consider structural differences, which relate to postural differences. This translates across into movement, and therefore mannerisms. Movement differences often tending to be exaggerated compared to resting differences because the difference being starting and end points means the 'path' plotted can vary disproportionately to the reduced differences of the starting and ending positions. The inherent nature of it makes it persistent, and therefore often a defining attribute (no matter how small) of those sharing it. The female pelvis is aligned and shaped differently, and this directly impacts all posture and movement, which therefore has a role in all movement. The smaller shoulders and reduced bone density likewise have continuous impact on movement and bearing.
2. Consider differences in the nature of mental focus on different parts of the body. Not only the structural differences, but the different placement and sizes of organs unique to one sex or the other really play a role in both the structure, movement, fashion and postures. This starts to relate more to A, but both these 1 and 2 may at times seem to be small factors but they persist and add up to infer real, enduring and defining changes IMO.

C. The hormonal landscape during development (even before puberty to some extent perhaps?) shapes form and focus (to some extent in the awareness at any moment, but also influences the structures over time - what gets used gets predominant). In a way te reproductive organs generate their own ‘footprint’ in the body, be it hormonal influences shaping focus, instinctual drive swings, altering bone structure, muscle mass, sexual arousal/depression, menstrual cycle, etc…. and the longer someone is of this category the more their minds and body probably align to those impacts. This way also includes the other two. This really cannot begin at levels approaching adult expression until the later parts of puberty.

A person in any one of those categories would probably define gender is their own experience, but only C is actually of that sex IMO. B would be mimicry to that sex. And A would be more like acting as a sex. As ‘gender’ though I’d say it could fall across all categories, as such a person is only acting a gender if they do not consider it their normal gender, mimicking a gender if they are normalising to a gender, and of that gender if that is what they are all the time.

But I'd say there is a tendency for people to normalize the potential scope of differences in the base physiological and its impacts over time, and then different cultural fashions and forms become mainstreamed and adopted, such that what gender means can fairly less be about sex and more about the cultural manifestations of sex and gender roles and rights more in line with fashion (or politics if its oppressive).

For clarity to context of the above, me personally, I think gender for an adult is up to them! I'm not touching the kids though, that issue speaks to deeper science which would then go to inform a deeper debate about the definitions, which I find beyond the scope of this thread or my approach in this post.
Last edit: 3 years 1 month ago by Adder.
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3 years 1 month ago - 3 years 1 month ago #355223 by
Replied by on topic What is it like to feel gender?
Feeling your gender is just like feeling attraction. It's difficult to describe, but you know it if you feel it. If you have trouble relating, it might actually help to look into agender experiences.

My partner is agender, meaning they don't identify as a specific gender, but rather a lack of one. I often call her my girlfriend for simplicities sake, because it doesn't bother her, and they're not out to their family, but my partner doesn't feel attachment to any set of pronouns, so I switch here depending on the scenario. But pronouns are a whole other discussion. When I mentioned this post, they described their experience of gender as "getting tastes of it." Working in a location where she was wearing a dress and presenting very feminine, she felt like she got a taste of femininity. Working in a location with a tie and vest, he got a taste of masculinity. It seems they experience the "idea of" a gender through performance, but feel really detached from it as a self-concept.

By contrast, I experience a very static masculine gender (boy/man). I have my entire life. All of my role models are guys, and I feel uncomfortable with being perceived as feminine as it feels disconnected from my reality. I've always known I enjoy masculinity just as easily as I know I hate the taste of lima beans or that I like Star Wars. It's just a preference, and some people know what they like and dislike more easily than others.

I also have many friends who are non-binary. One of them identifies as genderfluid. The genderfluid individual I am mentioning here prefers they pronouns only, so I will use the remainder of the paragraph on this individual to avoid confusion. They described their own experience of gender as being a body of liquid, with all the genders poured into this one place. And sometimes the liquids swirl and mix in unexpected ways, so they feel differing amounts of masculine, feminine, agender, and neutral at any given moment, and it is in a constant flux.

Some of my other nonbinary friends are trans men, some are trans women, and some are just nonbinary and don't care to expand on it. Many use they/them pronouns as well as one preferred binary, some use both he/him and she/her as well. Some are a little more creative with pronouns and are forgiving when I have to ask for a reminder which they use. Some are a third gender that they have trouble defining to others who don't know what it feels like. Some are more fluid or lack gender altogether. It's amazing how many varieties can fit in the nonbinary umbrella, and I'm still learning about how differently we all experience something that we barely have the words to describe it.

If you meant this thread to be more vaguely about gender theory, there are resources for that as well that I can find. My experience is that people who are questioning learn how to relate to our own gender through personal stories and connection more easily than through dry theory. But my experience is shaped by the people I already know, and the world is a pretty big place. After all, we're all unique blends of experience that can't be replicated by anyone else. At any rate, I hope these experiences of others might shed some light on the complexity that is gender. There's an entire study devoted to it, and one could major in gender theory and still just scratch the surface. Humans are so complex, it's mind-blowing!
Last edit: 3 years 1 month ago by .

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