Archives for posts with tag: Julia Serano

For many of us, completely accepting the notion that our gender, sexuality, and even sex are culturally constructed, is very challenging. Many of us have grown up in our sexed bodies feeling that the gendered roles, characteristics, and rules that mark masculine and feminine genders were natural. After all, we don’t often wish to think of ourselves as abnormal and the socio-cultural process that occurs during engenderment happens consistently and from such a young age that it seems to go unnoticed. Julia Serano, however, takes issue with the idea of complete cultural construction. Like many, Serano questions the existence of those with “exceptional gender expression.” If our genders are completely regulated by social construction, how do you explain the existence of highly masculine females, feminine males, people who change their social gender through performance, or those who opt for a complete sex change? If the forces of culture regulate our gender, how did these individuals come to be?

Disagreeing with both social constructivists and gender essentialists, Serano proposes a new model for understanding the array of gender and sexual expressions. Her model is based around the rather complicated notion of intrinsic inclinations. Serano describes intrinsic inclinations as:

“Any persistent desire, affinity, or urge that predisposes us toward particular gender and sexual expressions and experiences.”

These inclinations are not of a biological nature, but they are intrinsic in that they are seeded deep in our subconscious.

According to Serano, we have separate, multifactorial intrinsic inclinations contributing to our gender and sexuality expression, which work independently of one another.  She also suggests that these inclinations are so strong, they may persist through social pressures placed on an individual by society. Lastly, she explains that these inclinations are loosely associated with sex.

This model of understanding gender and sexual difference is very agreeable in that it allows every individual recognition and legitimization for who they feel they are. It is a positive step forward in a greater goal of social acceptance of variety and difference. If this model was accepted on a large scale and social pressures to conform to certain gender and sexual roles subsided, the resulting variations in human gender embodiment and sexuality would be rather amazing.

Thinking towards a future that would tolerate such deviations from the current heteronormative culture of the west, it is interesting to think about current cultural changes in favor of a more diverse future. This current article about two lesbian mothers who decided to give their transgendered child hormone blockers to ward off the onset of puberty narrows in on a crux of the issue of gender and demonstrates the large cultural backlash to challenging such norms:


Jennifer Peper

I hate being told that I chose to be gay. Absolutely hate it. It doesn’t help that the majority of people who claim this are clutching to a Bible and never question their logic. Infuriating. As far back as I can recall, I’ve never made a conscious decision to find attraction to men. Of course I remember labeling my feelings as gay, but these feelings go further back than accepting that sexual identity.

This has also been a consistent peeve with a lot of gender studies classes I’ve taken. Of course I believe that gender roles, sexual identities, and meanings ascribed to the sexed body are socially constructed, but I never understood how we can talk about strict constructivism and not once question it. For example, strict constructivism would say my sexuality is totally molded by society and gender norms. But I’ve always known these feelings and I certainly wasn’t raised in an environment that endorsed it.

When Lady Gaga’s cd Born This Way came out, I remember a good chunk of my gender studies friends having a tizzy because it’s an essentialist claim and no one is born a said way but society creates it. I agree to an extent that the social meanings, labels, and even dichotomous understandings of gender are all socially constructed, and in that context my fury echos theirs. But I always think back to when I was growing up, knowing nothing about sexuality and attraction, and having the same feelings that I do today. I wasn’t born labeling myself gay or knowing the meanings and connotations behind queer attractions, but I knew there was something about the other boys that interested me.

This being the case, I dislike the essentialist/constructivism binary I’m presented with to explain gender and sexuality. It seems like we’ve left the problematic claims by essentialism in favor of constructivism without considering the potential limits it presents. How does constructivism explain these feelings? How do they validate the trans experience?

The relief I felt reading about Julia Serano’s intrinsic inclinations to explain human gender and sexual variation was great. It was the acknowledgement from a scholarly source that my feelings weren’t a result of ignorance or lack of understanding. Finally, there’s a way out of the the essential/construction binary that seems to suit me. Though the intrinsic inclinations can seem relatively simple and applicable to everything, at least it’s a start and I can sleep better tonight.


-Lucas Zigler