13 August 2007
Snakes, Snails, Puppy-dogs' Tails
Gender politics in Northampton, Massachusetts, the small city where I live, goes way beyond whether or not men help with the housework and childrearing. Here in Northampton we discuss whether or not public restrooms should be labeled "Men/Transgender" and "Women/Transgender." Here in Northampton, home of Smith College, which nurtured such luminaries as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinham, and Molly Ivins, we discuss whether a female-to-male transgender person should be allowed to attend an all-women's college. Here in Northampton, which the television show 60 Minutes labeled "Lesbianville, USA" in 1995, transgender people live comfortably and are welcomed and participating members of the community.
I've been wondering about gender for a long time. Back in the 1970s, when I was in my teens, I remember watching a television documentary with my family about "The Sexual Revolution" and there was a quiz to see where you would fall on a male/female continuum. We all got out our paper and pens and I distinctly remember the strange feeling I had when we looked at our scores and I discovered that I landed smack in the middle of the spectrum, a perfect androgyne.
I have no science to back this up, but I believe that a lot of one's gender identity is biologically based. In addition to being psychologically androgynous, I'm also gay, and my mother's theory is that it's partly due to the fact that she took a synthetic estrogen-like drug called DES (diethylstilbestrol) which was hyped in the 1950s by obstetricians for prevention of miscarriage. I have all of the "normal abnormalities" associated with in-utero DES exposure. DES is now defined as an endocrine disrupting chemical, so my mother's theory that DES made me gay (or androgynous!) may hold some truth. Who knows what else DES may have caused; I keep my fingers crossed that there will not be any other repercussions as I age.
This print I'm working on explores gender identity. I was struck by the photo above, a view of the human karyotype. Those little chromosomes look like snakes and snails and puppy-dogs' tails!