Gender Identity Research Paper

Concepts such as gender or race are social constructs, therefore they are rather fluid than rigid. Identities are rather dynamic than static: people reconstruct their identities, sometimes under the influence of political opportunities and economic inducements. However, this is not a process that is always occurring painlessly and smoothly. There were numerous attempts to suggest a method for integrating identities effectively. For example, the concept of ‘The Third Place’1 was elaborated to define a point of intersection where people possessing different racial or ethnic identities can interact freely and transcend their differences. The opposition between tolerance of difference and active participation in ‘otherness’ illustrates the limited nature of certain forms of interaction between people with different identities. The negotiation of ‘The Third Place’ between the self and the foreign is a prerequisite for mutually advantageous encounters.

It is often the case that the dominant groups are often reluctant to participate in any forms of cultural exchange that might affect their own ways and values, thus distancing themselves from truly understanding and experiencing ‘otherness.’ Current politics of identity arbitrarily creates static yet vague ethic categories, and such practice ‘undermines efforts to create more fluid cosmopolitan identities that transcend as well as tolerate differences and thus provide the basis for broad social solidarity’.

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There is a often dilemma posed between assuming a foreign identity or retaining one’s own identity instead of a suggestion to renegotiate both identities to arrive at a new, hybrid, more functional identity. In fact, when identities blend in ‘The Third Place,’ the distinction between primary and foreign attachments blurs providing for a functional interaction. Negotiation of identities rather than acknowledgement of differences is the prerequisite for a fully functional society characterized by acceptance and tolerance. As scholars argue, ‘the very essence of any…identity lies in its dialogical character with others’.

However, it does not automatically translate into deserting one’s own frame and assimilating into the frame of the other. The very essence of ‘The Third Place’ is the creation of mediating space between different identities. Such encounters are dynamic processes that build on creation of new forms of and places for interaction rather than simply accommodating differences. Complexities are associated, however, with perceiving differences within the context of similarity, so that counterdisposition of a person’s own and target identity are not seen as conflictive in nature. The inability of communicative partners to create ‘The Third Place’ and make it free from dominance and subordination might be a serious problem. Reification of identities as static and embedded as opposed to complex and fluid is problematic in a society that values personal freedom above all.

The issue of fluidness of identities and problems associated with social acceptance of dynamic identities is explored in the film ‘Boys Don’t Cry.’ The film is devoted to exploring the complexities of a transgender experience. ‘Boys don’t cry’ is surprisingly true to life, perhaps due to the fact that the film is based on a true story. Brandon Teena, also known as Teena Brandon, a woman masquerading for a man, moves from Lincoln to Falls City, a remote place in Nebraska. Falls City is a town of rednecks, factory girls and high-school dropouts. Teena Brandon behaves herself like a man — drinking beer, watching football, stealing cars and, eventually, falling in love with a girl. The story has tragic end where Teena is raped and murdered by her gang when they discover that she is not a man but a girl. Their horrible action is a revolt of backward men against free and independent women who chooses everything herself, even her gender. The film can be regarded as ‘a metaphor for the experience of female rebels against gender binarity, both lesbian and transsexual’.

The film is not aimed at providing positive or negative role models. There is a certain amount of moralization in the picture, but it is not the issue of transsexuality that is condemn or advertised. The film is full of the sharp criticism of the narrow-mindedness and prudishness of the one-storeyed America. American West has always symbolized a new beginning, a pioneer’s land. Teena Brandon is also a courageous pioneer, but at the end of the 20th century the Midwest meets her with rudeness and intolerance:

‘And what is Teena Brandon if not a contemporary update of the 19th-century frontiersman, a sexual pioneer who sheds her old skin in Lincoln to become a plaid-shirted lad about town in Falls City?’

Teena does not delve into psychological analysis of the nature of her sexuality; she wants a simple and beautiful life though being in harmony with her own desires and soul movements. And she dares to live so.

She is straightforward and determined like a man but also caring and empathetic like a woman:
‘Brandon Teena differs most from the biological males in his environment not in that his genitalia do not match his gender identity, but in that he is far more emotive’.

The combination of features traditionally associated with either male or female gender identity suggests that gender is indeed a social construct.

The tragic story of Brandon Teena is interesting not only from a purely scientific point of view; there are certain value judgments attached to it. The film raises serious questions about the ability of our society to accommodate differences. Being non-judgmental implies that ‘otherness’ is not perceived as a deviation from the accepted norm in that person’s society but rather as a field for exploration and exchange. The realization of relativity of identities should precede such a position. Constant questioning of what is normal is necessary not to run into the position that merely observes and classifies the difference.

Tolerance implies deep understanding of one’s own identity, perceptions, stereotypes and preferences. Devoting more time to self-reflection helps people gain insights into the nature and formation of identities without operating rigid categories imposed by the society. Deeper understanding of one’s own self helps to understand other peoples’ concerns. Self-reflection is of paramount importance, since modern racism and sexism are frequently implicit and unconscious.

Understanding of fluidity of gender identities can benefit individuals and society as a whole. Appropriating features of both male and female identity can help individuals to discover their true self and live a more genuine and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, incidents of intolerance like the one discussed in the film are still frequent. However, there has been a tremendous progress made in the past several decades towards greater acceptance of gender-bending and mixed gender identities.

Sociology has an important part to play in this process. Planting the notion that many things accepted as natural are in fact socially constructed help individuals to question and challenge their identities and corresponding social roles. Many personality conflicts originate from inability to negotiate a functional gender identity. Therefore, more freedom in choosing and constructing one’s identity should be viewed as an important gain.

While conservatives argue that such freedom breeds confusion, confusion is not necessarily a bad thing. A more self-reflexive approach to identity might pose some initial difficulties, yet it should be more productive in the longer perspective.

For Brandon Teena, accepting her biological gender identity was not an option. For many transsexual and transgendered people, the liberty associated with the growing acceptance of the fact that gender is socially constructed is a matter of life and death.

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