Are We All “Prisoners of Gender?”

In Fascinating Aida’s show “Charm Offensive”, there’s much to laugh at, much to delight. But when I saw it a few years ago,  the highlight was something of a different order altogether: a number by Adèle Anderson which was intensely personal and deeply moving – “Prisoner of Gender”.


In it, she describes the childhood experience of feeling trapped in the wrong body – a boy’s body, which gives her the witty and appropriate title for her song. I suspect though, that it is not only trans people who will be able to relate to this image. From an early age, I never doubted that I was in fact a boy, but knew that I was somehow “different” from other boys, and often felt uncomfortable at being expected to enjoy boys’ activities and toys, but not girls’ things. I too, was a “prisoner of gender”, albeit to a lesser degree than Anderson.  I am certain that many other gay men and lesbians will be able to relate in the same way, to some disconnect between who they are in their innermost being, and the expectations placed on them by gender.

More interesting, is that many heterosexuals, perhaps even most, experience to some degree, precisely the same disjunction.  We all think we know the characteristics that society believes are typically feminine or masculine – but surprisingly few people, of any gender or sexual orientation, in fact claim to share every characteristic or interest usually associated with their biological sex. When I participated in a workshop on gender at the “Embodied Ministry” conference in 2014, it was notable that NO participants, gay or straight, trans or cis, reported fitting into all the assorted characteristics associated with their assigned birth sex.  To a greater or lesser degree, we can all sing, along with Fascinating Aida, that we are  “Prisoners of gender”.

 It is a fact that worldwide, every society recognized distinct gender roles and forms of dress.  However, societies do NOT all agree on what is distinctively male, or distinctively female, either in work or in clothing. In Europe, dairy work was traditionally women’s work (dairymaids, not dairyboys), but in many of Africa’s societies, anything to do with the highly valued cattle is reserved for the men. Scottish men may wear kilts, ie, skirts, Pakistani women wear trousers.  For much of the twentieth century, men were expected to wear their hair cropped short, or be ridiculed as sissies – but centuries before, for the Vikings, men with pony-tails or pigtails were the norm.

In the Catholic Church, it is astonishing that there have in recent years, been strong objections raised to what is incorrectly described as “gender ideology” – and should more accurately be referred to as simply gender theory , an academic approach to understanding the evidence around gender and how it is perceived and constructed around the world. It is in fact the Vatican itself which is promoting a rigid gender ideology, insisting on a clear, universal distinction between what it is to be male or female in denial of all the available empirical evidence.

(The annual Quest Conference for 2016, under the title “Feathers on the Breath of God”, will have a particular focus on issues of gender and sexual identity, with workshops led by Rev Tina Beardsley).

See Also:

Conference 2016: Feathers on the Breath of God

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