So, I was just reading an interview in the Observer New Review (04/09/22) with Perry Zurn and Dani S Bassett, who have co-authored a fascinating-sounding book, Curious Minds: The Power of Connection (2022, MIT Press.) The article includes a lovely portrait shot of these twins. They are dressed in traditionally masculine attire (Jackets and shirts; a tie and a short-back-and-sides haircut for one of them.) They are slim, androgenous, gamine, of indeterminate gender. Sure enough, we learn “Basset and Zurn were assigned female at birth – the twins now use they/them and he/him pronouns respectively” [my italics]. In other words, they were born female, with, presumably, XX chromosome pairings still treacherously residing in every cell, betraying this biological and undeniable fact, however the choose to project themselves superficially.
The dissonance between the gender you want to be (or your desire to be free of any gender) and that your body insists you are, must be very difficult to process for those who feel this way, especially as the internet enables the most appalling hostility and trolling against this small and vulnerable minority. We should support them on their journey, their struggles, and in the decisions they make, in any way we can.
Luckily, Zurn and Bassett seem to have freed themselves from their distress enough to carve out successful academic careers: Zurn “Researches political philosophy at American University in Washington DC; Bassett is “a professor of physics, astronomy, engineering, neurology and psychiatry”(!) I suspect they find solace and freedom from such earthy concerns in these cerebral pursuits, and possibly in the love and support they find in each other.
However, it is worth noting that, growing up, they found “there was a tight constraint on who we could be socially” and “the twins’ parents believed that men should go to college and have careers while women should instead get married and “serve and obey” their husbands.” Zurn is quoted as saying, “School was really my heartbeat…I remember being incredibly frustrated and disappointed when we came up against this expectation that we not continue on into academics.”
So, Bassett and Zurn’s were taught to hold the most rigid and conservative of views of gender, ones where their femaleness was an obstacle to the academic ambitions that had become most dear to their hearts, and thus to their sense of self and self-fulfilment. Is it any wonder, then, that they should reject traditional femininity?
Much Transgender thinking seems to labour under exactly this ultra-conservative view of male and female roles: to be a “Cisman” is to be trapped in the grip of a completely inflexible world of football and competitive individualism, of macho, boastful strutting, physical violence and domination. To be a “Ciswoman” is to unquestioningly accept motherhood, home-making, and nurture, beauty, subordination, and being cared for and protected.
Trans activists seem to conceive of gender only in these most extreme forms, so if you are uncomfortable with any aspects of traditional masculinity or femininity, your only option is to abandon your biological gender completely and either embrace a superficial and performative parody of the other gender, one you have no direct experience of, and that your own body denies, or try to be content drifting through a rootless, neutered, genderless limbo, like a ghost.
In either case, you are attempting to deny the truth of your own biology, surely an impossible task that can only deepen any sense of existential angst.
Frustratingly, all this could be avoided if, rather than categorising everyone as types, we could just accept them as individuals with equal value and rights, free to express themselves exactly as they wanted. Without expectations to behave in a certain way, there would be no reason not to acknowledge our true, biological, genetic gender because it need not impinge on how we live our lives, although it would allow us to predict, and prepare for, certain experiences we are likely to have in common with other members of our sex or gender.
In other words, we should resist traditional gender roles and norms, not gender itself.