Culturally Influenced Narratives

I found Dean Spade’s “Resisting Medicine, Remodeling Gender” to be highly informative and empowering. So much so that I forwarded the link to a friend of mine who has been the victim of workplace discrimination and public discrimination due to her transitioning in the last few years. Spade’s recommendations for deregulating gender would help so many people including my friend. She would be able to dress, speak, act, etc. in any way she chooses without being lawfully ridiculed for her choices which do no harm to others. She would also not be required to continually repeat a self-narrative which matched every detail a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist is looking for in order to be considered for “treatment.” Spade’s recollection of trying to receive top surgery, and not meeting the requirements because of the “intellectualized” narrative he gave was disturbing to me. I mean, geesh, at least he was being honest! Not everyone goes through life in the exact same way, so why would every person who wants to have surgeries associated with transition have gone through his/her life the same way?

This point moves me to my favorite part of Spade’s piece when he writes about GID and children (not) performing gender transgressions because of cultural influences. Spade writes, “But gender behavior is learned, and children are not born with some innate sense that girls should wear dresses and boys shouldn’t like anything pink. So how can a desire to transgress an assigned gender category be read outside of cultural meaning? Such a standard naturalizes and depoliticizes gender and gender role distress. It creates a fictional transsexual who just knows in hir gut what man is and what woman is, and knows that sie is trapped in the wrong body” (p. 25). I believe Spade put the issue perfectly. How, indeed, can a person know deep down what men and women are outside of cultural understandings? Is it not common knowledge that the terms man and woman, and what each is (expected) to wear are not innate? Thinking about the way children are influenced to know what a man is, what a woman is, and what is expected of each in terms of actions, apparel, general performance, I began looking at my collection of children’s films. I realized that each of the animated classics (especially) and newbies had something to say about gender and sexuality roles. Each film presents models for children to follow and obey without them even realizing what is happening. These animated films provide the building blocks for understanding the ways in which society is desperate for people to not transgress the norms of gender performance.

Below is a link to a thesis paper written by Jonathan Tye Decker at Auburn University in 2010. In this paper, Decker analyzes and studies the “The Portrayal of Gender in the Feature-LengthFilms of Pixar Animation Studios.” Decker, and those he cites, note that children’s programs including animated films have always portrayed men and women in ways as to coincide with norms.

With children’s films being produced in such a manner is it not obvious how the narratives could not all be the same? Those children who grow up being told over and over again what is expected of them as members of their assigned genders and sexes are not necessarily going to fall into the category of always knowing they were “different.” They may or may not have had the big realizations and traumas which doctors so often look for in order to okay operations. They may be like Dean Spade and realize that the medicalization of gender is completely ridiculous. They may not fit within any mold because they are unique human beings with unique experiences!

-Jocelyn Crizer


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