I've recently had cause to consider labels. Some labels are imposed on us and some are chosen, but how often are/should these labels be accepted - by us and by those we seek acceptance from. And once given/chosen, can they be changed at will?
I explored the matter in my most recent book
While I expected the book to be somewhat controversial, some of the comments were unexpected. In particular they raised the following issues.
Do we get to choose our gender?
There's no doubt that someone who has undergone gender realignment surgery has crossed the line and has every right to live and be accepted as their chosen gender but short of that where is the line drawn, and by whom? Does everyone have the right to choose their gender and their pronouns? Can someone who lives as a woman choose to be referred to and accepted as a man if that's what they feel they are on the inside?
In Ari, Benji is a boy. He dresses as a boy, lives as a boy and considers himself to be a boy, However, he has no desire to change his physical appearance to match his chosen gender. He's comfortable with his body. Although he would rather have a penis than a vagina, he has no desire to physically alter that, neither does he want to take hormones to grow hair and deepen his voice. His breasts are small and fairly inconspicuous so he doesn't want them to be surgically changed to pecs, and he likes to wear high heels and suspenders on occasion, although he feels that he is essentially a man wearing clothes traditionally attributed to women, rather than a woman.
The question is - does Benji have the right to call himself trans, to choose his pronouns, to be referred to as a boy. Or is he a girl until he 'has the op' or does something physical, other than in the clothes he wears, the name he goes by or the role he adopts and lives by? Does the body maketh the man, or does the man make himself?
This begs the question does anyone have the right to dictate whether he can or he can't?
The question becomes even more complex when we consider Ari. Ari was born intersex, with ambiguous genitalia, neither a girl nor a boy. His physiology is similar to that depicted on this page (the left of the black and white ones) http://dxline.info/diseases/ambiguous-genitalia (note this is NOT a disease).
Fortunately, Ari's parents were able to resist pressure to make a choice for him, and allowed Ari to grow into his own understanding of his gender and to make his own choices. It's caused some issues in his early life, but Ari is quite happy with this, and is more than capable of making his own decisions and sticking by them.
The thing with Ari, is that he tends to be very literal. He doesn't really believe in labels, and when they have to exist they should be susceptible to change. By that I mean that Ari does not so much choose his labels as let them choose him. When feels like girl he is a girl and when he feels like a boy he is a boy. This can be confusing to those around him but makes perfect sense to him.
Question. Can someone change their gender at will? If so does that choice have to be permanent I suppose Ari can be considered as the ultimate representation of gender fluid, but where is the line drawn? Should Ari be recognized as male when he is AND female when he is female, or should he make a choice and stick to it?
Another question I've been pondering is what is the definition of gay? Is one able to chose to consider themselves gay or is it something that is chosen for them/imposed on them, by the wider rainbow community?
Benji identifies very strongly as a boy. He has no doubt in his mind about that. Assuming he is accepted as such, is he gay when he's with Ari, who primarily identifies as male? Setting aside Ari's fluidity, is Benji gay when he's with another boy? OR, because of his female physical appearance, is sex with a boy heterosexual? Does he have the right to make that decision? Or does he have to accept other labels that are imposed on him?
Ari and Benji are unique for sure, but I think they raise interesting questions. From my point of view they have the absolute right to choose their gender and to be accepted and referred to as the gender of their choice.
In the same way, I believe that labels are fluid and although they are useful for many things, they are not useful when they are imposed on someone who has chosen different ones. Whatever community we belong to we have to make decisions, I think. Are we inclusive or exclusive? Do we welcome everyone with open arms, or only those who conform to our own imposed rules? Are limits hard limits or are they open to change and re interpretation.
For myself, I believe that exclusivism in anything is absolutely wrong and hard lines are dangerous. We're all under the rainbow and surely we should be allowed to choose our place on it and to change that place as and when we feel. We're all looking for acceptance, so who are we to pick and chose who we give acceptance to?