Well, my last post seemed to be a little offensive, defensive, or negative to some readers. Sorry to scare the few of you who read it. I'm just feeling a bit negative about the trajectory of the nation and how much people don't really care for peace, justice, or coming to terms with differences.
Today, I want to make some notes on something that I'm working out.
Gender and sexuality have become topics of reading and reflection for me since coming out. There is a lot of confusion about the two. I have been trying to develop an image to help people get the way that gender and sexuality are different. I also see a lot of people trying to keep them separate categories. That isn't fair. There are overlapping concerns between gender and sexuality that require keeping them in connection while dealing with them as separate aspects of personhood.
So here is my crazy "shower idea".
Gender and sexuality can be compared to tasting something. When you taste something, there is a combined system of organs and nervous system responses. Gender is an internal system of subjective feelings and thoughts and impulses. Some attribute gender to social upbringing, biochemistry, and neurological development. It appears, for the most part, that gender is a complex system of developing the inner "picture" a person carries around of themselves for their entire life. Sexuality is a biological system that, while connected to the nervous system, is much more dependent upon hormonal production, biochemical reactions, and organs designed to facilitate responses to attraction to another person.
In my working illustration sexuality is the "sense" of taste. We all learned (to some degree inaccurately) that there is an organ that is responsible for taste with special "flavor" receptors embedded within that organ: the tongue. When you put something in your mouth, there is a chemical reaction between the object and the chemical receptors. Your mouth produces saliva to help break the food down so that it will be easier to digest, but in the process, it releases more of the chemical pieces that you can taste. Your "taste" as a subjective response is based upon a lot of different things. Tastes change over time. Some tastes are dominant and produce positive responses over a lifetime. Some are dominant and produce negative responses over a lifetime.
In my illustration, a persons sexuality is compared to taste as an experience of attraction or rejection. There are special organs at work. There is a subjective response that confirms or rejects the subjective "taste" a person has.
Gender is the sense of smell. Yes, smell is very important to tasting. It is not necessary to be able to taste something, though. The tongue can do that without the work of the nose. That is why you can still taste chicken noodle soup when your nose is stopped up. Or maybe some of you did the silly "science" experiment in grade-school where you put a clothespin on your nose and eat a bite of something while blindfolded. Taste still operates without smell. Smell, though, brings a nuance to the flavors of something we put in our mouth. Wines and liquors are breathed in before tasting and it changes the profile of how something tastes. Pinching your nose to swallow medicine, while really doesn't make it easier to choke down, I guess it does something. But smell is directly linked to tasting. And you don't just taste through your nose. You can taste through the upper respiratory system. There isn't just an organ that does the smelling. In fact, your brain does the smelling.
Smell is the most powerful memory trigger we have. When we encounter a smell that is familiar, the memory centers of our brain engage. A scent of a perfume may remind us of our mother or aftershave of our grandfather. The smell of a favorite meal brings us to a time when family gathered to share in the meal. Some smells are connected to trauma and produce post-traumatic episodes. Smell is a neurological response. We can smell without even having the smell present. We catch a hint of something on the air, but we know it is impossible for that to be there. It is our brain producing the association of that smell with something.
Gender is comparable to smell because it is an internal response, as well as an imprint on our brain. Science has been doing brain scans on trans women. In a significant number of subjects, the brain of a trans woman reacts in the same way that a ciswoman brain works. When exposed to a stimulus, the brain of a trans woman responds in the same areas that a ciswoman's brain responds while a cismale's brain respond in different areas. The neurology for this to work is hardwired into a person. Hormones do not impact this development as much as originally assumed.
So now we have to put taste together between the "sense" of taste and the sense of smell. Gender is the inner image that a person carries within through their entire life. It shapes how they respond to the world. It is connected to memory as well as brain functions in other areas. Gender is something a lot of people take for granted. They don't really "think" about it. We don't think about smelling, but we do it all of the time. We are constantly smelling when we breathe. The only time we may think about smelling is when there is a bouquet of flowers or a pan of bacon sizzling in the kitchen. Gender is something we don't "think" about, but it shapes every moment of our lives. It may not come into conscious thought until we are presented with something that brings it to our attention. Yet, it still is at work in every moment of living.
Gender also plays into sexuality. Sexuality is about responding to a stimulus. Someone is attractive to us because a set of chemicals are released to produce a subjective attraction. When we are physically intimate with someone, our organs respond to the stimulus that are acted upon them. But our sexuality is also about subjective "taste". We can map the kinds of people who we are attracted to. We can differentiate between the qualities that turn us on and turn us off to another person. And part of that on/off difference has to do with our image of self that we carry.
Gender and sexuality are inseparable because gender is always at work in the background. Being accepted or rejected by someone we are attracted to produces a marker in our mind. That marker stays with us and we recall it over and over in settings that bring us back to that moment our sexuality was affirmed or negated. In the interplay with another person the fact that we see ourselves as a particular person is reinforced or dismantled when we are sexually accepted or repudiated.
Okay, this is a thought in process. As most of mine are.