Returning briefly to the topic of gender norms, I’ve been reading up on, and watching videos related to, non-binary gender identities. To put it in greatly simplified terms, while we’re all aware of masculine and feminine gender identities, there are a minority of people whose identity doesn’t fit neatly into those categories, so they sit either outside or across the gender binary. There are a vast array of different identities which, as far as I understand, depends on where you identify on the masculine-feminine spectrum, and how that identity moves within that spectrum.
I couldn’t help but notice that the people I watched or read about were predominantly young Americans. Why were there so few Europeans? Why did I find just one gender-fluid person in their forties? The answer, if you believe the critics of such identities, is because of Tumblr. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Before I continue, I must say that while I don’t claim to be an expert on American culture, it is beamed into our homes on a daily basis so it does hold some influence over here; this is not just some random Brit sticking his oar in. Whatever happens within American culture has a habit of happening over here too. I believe that America is having a bit of an identity crisis – especially when there are some pockets of American culture that are so strongly ring-fenced along gender lines. Take the “Gamergate” controversy for example:
“Observers have generally described Gamergate as part of a long-running culture war against efforts to diversify the traditionally male video gaming community, particularly targeting outspoken women. They cite Gamergate supporters’ frequent harassment of female figures in the gaming industry and its overt hostility toward people involved in social criticism and analysis of video games.” — from Wikipedia
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that where a particular culture (gaming culture in this instance) is so rigorously defined and defended as a “masculine” pursuit that any women who wish to be a part of that culture might begin to exhibit more masculine traits, and may end up believing that their love for gaming comes from some kind of gender dissonance. It’s not as simple as just turning up and saying “Hi – I like playing video games”, even though it really should be. I kind of get the impression that the whole Gamergate controversy was fuelled by some irrational, alpha-male fear of being “beaten by a girl”. Emasculation and losing face rear their ugly heads once more.
From a British/European perspective, something like Gamergate is just baffling – they’re only video games, so why go to war over something whose sole purpose is to entertain? There are millions of Americans who no doubt feel the same way. Likewise, the many different gender identities are seldom understood and rarely uttered over here – not out of ignorance or intolerance, but because it’s not really an issue given that our cultural gender norms are neither as strict nor as aggressively policed. We still have our share of conservatives, but they’re mostly harmless and they’re not given quite so much media attention.
I can see the point made by some critics of these non-binary gender identities in that they merely stick a label onto an expression of one’s own personality, and their definition can be as ambiguous as the binary itself; I can also understand the confusion and the need to define a new identity when society hands you one that just doesn’t work for you. I do believe that such labels are unnecessary – but that is just my opinion. To me, it matters not what you are but who you are, and therefore the only label you really need is your name. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about how people define their gender, it just means that they don’t have to explain or justify it to me – you had me at “hello”!
But, when all is said and done, all these young people are doing is trying to make sense of their complex identities in an equally-complex world – if having an lexicon of names and definitions helps that process, then far be it from me to complain. The easiest thing to do is just let them carry on working it all out amongst themselves.
And let them play video games if they want to.