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non-traditional marriages, ctd.

July 22, 2011

I shared my most recent post with my husband just before he left, and I’ve been asked to make some clarifications.

“I’m not really all that feminine,” he said, after a pause.

“Nor am I all that masculine,” I responded. “I was using rhetoric to make a point about the mutable relationship of sex and gender.”

“Well,” he said, after another pause, “You could expand on that.”

I’m actually pretty girly. I really like makeup and to have my hair look nice. I like sparkly things like jewelry, glitter, and metallic stars. But I’m also very aggressive and not a little argumentative. My husband makes a big mess and doesn’t care, doesn’t shower as much as some of us would like, and is capable of thinking about nothing but baseball for days on end. But he’s also a little sensitive and gets his feelings easily hurt. He often has trouble hanging out with other men; I have met plenty of girlie girls I could do without.

The point is that we are the unique people that we are sometimes because of sex and sometimes regardless of it. Our genders exist not on a spectrum from masculine to feminine but as every possible combination of elements of both. Our genders are influenced by our sex as well as by our society, our attractions, our learned behaviors, our brains, our hormones, and our beliefs. Gender is, in a sense, the performance of these things in combination, it is the way we create and express ourselves to the world. Often people perform the roles written for them by society, and sometimes that casting is a actually a great fit. Oftentimes it’s not, and yet these people, like myself, continue to find ways to be themselves, to form healthy relationships, and to make lasting commitments. And society continues not to be destroyed. The question of “at what point of deviation” we draw the legal line seems spurious to me at best. (And before you say “Polygamy! Bestiality!” keep in mind that I already defined marriage as a partnership between two people, whereas with those you got A) not two, and B) not people).

When JCrew got in trouble last spring for an ad campaign that featured a young boy with his toenails painted, conservatives decried the breakdown of distinctions between the genders. It’s necessary, they said, to a stable society. They never said why.

We have seen the definitions of masculine and feminine, of gender itself, change many times over human history, and many times in American history alone. And we still have a great society, a free society, in which people are increasingly allowed to live as themselves, to form relationships that work for them, and to have those relationships recognized equally under the law. (And I mean law – not religion. Churches can and will recognize whichever marriages they want, but the state respects no establishment of that.) It seems to me that the breakdown of the distinction between genders is directly related to a society being more genuinely, in the American sense of liberty to pursue your own happiness, free.

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