Elevate Difference

Doing Gender Diversity: Readings in Theory and Real-World Experience

What does it mean to be female or male in modern American society? How does this limit the endless ways in which human beings are capable of expressing themselves? More importantly, how do we promote open-mindedness in a world that grooms people from birth to fit in one of two check-yes boxes? I cautiously pose an attitude change as necessary, with all due respect given to gender’s role in society. Reading Doing Gender Diversity, a collection of essays and articles, only confirmed what I’ve suspected for years: what we need is not a dissolution of gender divisions, but rather a softening of expectations that allows for identities ranging from “elective-straight queer men” to heterosexual women with typically masculine qualities, and everything in between.

Jamison Green affirms this eloquently in his contribution, "Part of the Package: Ideas of Masculinity among Male-Identified Transpeople," by quoting sociologist Holly Devor: “The time is upon us to reevaluate how we think about gender, sex and sexuality. It now seems perfectly clear to me that we live in a world which is far more diverse than any number of simplistic dichotomies can describe.” Hear, hear.

Doing Gender Diversity is a skillfully edited collection of eye-opening accounts of gender issues from multiple perspectives—that of activists, social scientists, and individuals living gender expressions that make them virtually invisible (or worse). The academic leanings and sheer heft of the book make Doing Gender Diversity appear more like a textbook than casual reading, but don’t let that fool you. The majority of the articles have main points in layman’s terms and make for interesting reading. Not a page-turner, certainly, but thought-provoking in all the right ways.

The only criticism I have is that the summary of research methodology can be dry occasionally, and anyone who has not taken a statistics class might have difficulty deciphering the majority of the figures quoted. However, this doesn’t interfere with its overall accessibility, as every article includes a section that explains the significance of the quantitative data.

Americans are so anxious to catalog every individual into a cookie-cutter construction of gender. This is understandable: gender is one of the most influential ways with which we make meaning out of our lives and interactions. This collection of refreshing articles emphasizes that the real problem lies not with those individuals who, through no choice of their own, land in a gender-bending gray area (be it physical, behavioral, or emotional), but with a society that causes so much heartache and pain for anyone that doesn’t meet a stringent list of heteronormative gender criteria.

Above and beyond its educational use, this skillfully edited grouping of gender articles is the perfect read for anyone who has ever—in any way—felt he or she missed the mark in gender expression. Everyone can take something away from Doing Gender Diversity: the straight man who’s surprisingly nurturing, the “top” in a gay relationship who prefers being the little spoon, the straight woman who can fix a flat tire, and the lesbian who can’t. You are not alone—and there is nothing wrong with you.

Written by: Sam Williams, November 26th 2009