On today's show, we discuss the terminology of gender identity and the history of how gender issues were addressed on the American frontier.
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Inspire is sponsored by Kansas Furniture Mart, using furniture to inspire conversation.
And by the Blanche Bryden Foundation.
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Honored to support programs and services that enrich the lives of our viewers.
And the Raymond C. and Marguerite Gibson Foundation.
Hello and welcome to Inspire.
I'm pleased to be here with my wonderful co-hosts, Danielle Norwood and Amy Kelly.
And you are glad you're there.
On today's program, we're going to discuss gender identity.
At one time.
Most of us believe that the word gender simply referred to male and female.
But now it seems that gender encompasses a wide variety of categories.
So many, in fact, that it can be very confusing, especially to older citizens or folks who aren't familiar with the LGBTQIA populations.
Joining us to help us understand gender identity and is a repeat guest on Inspire were honored to be in the prese of Sharon Sullivan, professor and chair of the theater department at Washburn University.
Sharon also teaches classes on women's studies and gender issues.
And joining us all the way from Washington state.
It's a pleasure to welcome Peter Boag.
Peter is a professor of history and Columbia Chair in the History of the American West at Washington State University.
And Peter is the author of "“Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past"”.
Sharon and Peter, welcome to Inspire.
So glad to have you both here.
Happy to be here.
its a pleasure.
So we're going to be talking about gender before we get into the meaty part of this.
I would like to get a working definition for the word gender.
So I'm going to start with you, Sharon.
Can you give that to us?
Well, I think the easiest way to understand is that there's a difference between sex and gender.
So sex is biological and gender is behavior.
So all those times that my mother said, young ladies don't do that.
She was teaching me how to be a female in this world.
So there's a lot of different ways that we play out our gender.
And so when we're looking at these kinds of issues, I think we have to think about it as a continuum because none of us are exactly the same kind of woman at this table.
We're all different.
And so when we think about genders, it's learned behavior versus what we're born with.
And Peter, would you also go along with that?
It is a social and cultural creation that our society and other societies, depending upon what genders they have assigned to people.
Our society in particular assigns genders what we've created to be genders, to to what we see as biological sexes or sexes that are assigned at birth.
So the idea of gender seems like for a long time it's always been male and female, and I understand other cultures have seen it as more of a continuum.
Why is this an issue now?
You know, especially transgender today seems to be an issue.
And I happened to just be watching the news yesterday and reading the news about what has now happened in Tennessee, the banning of public drag performances and gender has always been important and it's always been significant.
But today it it can't be separated from politics.
And it seems in our society right now with the increasingly polarized nature of our politics, that this is just one more issue that is easy for some to pluck out and focus on.
And it's being focused on a group of people who are you know, among the most vulnerable in society and have little means for fighting back.
But beyond that gender, it's always evolving.
And as the 20th century progressed, with the changes in society, the abilities of people to have more freedom, to express themselves, it made it possible for more people to publicly proclaim a gender identity.
And celebrate and take pride in those gender identities.
And people are realizing that gender is not something that is for many people, is not something that just can be a straitjacket placed on on them.
Why is the the discussion of gender and gender identity so complicated and so confusing, Sharon?
Well, I think part of the problem is that we try to make gender binary, like there's only women or men.
Instead of understanding gender as a continuum and, you know, everyone enacts their gender in different ways and different times and different cultures.
I can think back, you know, for example, there was a time when women didn't wear pants that were scandalous.
But now women wear pants all the time and it's very common.
So our our understanding and expectations of different genders is is always changing.
And it changes in different cultures.
And genders aren't binary.
And if you think about it, I mean, I think the problem is we try to insist on the binary.
And in truth, if we if why would gender be any more binary than anything else?
We all have different colored eyes here.
We all have different color, hair, here.
So why would suddenly nature only be binary?
I mean, we can talk about it in a lot of different ways.
We could talk about sexuality, for example, in the same way.
Like bisexual people often are given a hard time, like you have to be one or the other, when really they're attracted to both or to diverse people, you know.
And so I think that insistence on the binary is really harming us.
What I have seen is that people today are really trying to become their authentic selves, express their authentic self.
And as a culture, we're trying to some of us are trying to inhibit that because we want to stick to the old rules, because it's what we understand.
Right, right, right.
Help us understand, though, some of the terminology like LBGT.
Then it went LGBTQ, then LGBTQIA Yeah, that was new to me.
And the those it's it is getting longer, right.
Because it's becoming more inclusive and recognizing our differences and, and, and validating them through that recognition of adding the, the the queer and questioning for "“Q"” right?
So that it's not just LGBT folk, right?
What does that stand for?
For those who... Who are... Really, they don't know.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning or both.
I intersex and asexual.
Let's go back to that, because some people may be like, okay, what?
So intersex usually refers to someone who is born with characteristics of both male and female biology.
So it could be chromosomes, it could be genitalia, it could be reproductive.
Did they call that a hermaphrodite?
Back in the day.
That is not the appropriate term now?
That's a very that's a pejorative term.
So we say intersex and said but yeah, that is what we used to say was hermaphrodite.
And, and of course that was many times people were treated as freaks and put into circus for that.
And, and so that's one of the reasons that that terminology has been abandoned.
Now we're going to talk about gender identities in the Old West.
Peter Boag is the author of "“Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past"”.
Peter, first of all, tell us about your book, What is It's About and and give us a couple of your aha moments that you found in doing all this research.
It was purely, purely accidental.
I was working on a previous book and I started coming across a few cases in the American west of people who were arrested and prosecuted under local ordinances for wearing clothing that was considered not suitable for how society understood their sex to be.
And I thought that I would do just a an article on that topic.
But a few people I found here in the Pacific Northwest.
But when I started working on that article and I started doing more research, I found more and more and more and more and more such individuals who lived in the American West.
My time period is basically from 1850 to 1920.
The period of the classic American West.
And I found more across the American West, people who dressed and in some cases lived long periods of time as the sex that they were not assigned at birth.
And so it was also a surprise to me.
I'm a Western American historian, and I got my Ph.D. in the 1980s, and I'd been working on Western American history for a long time.
And so it was a surprise to me when I started finding so many of them.
So I wanted to write a book that kind of rewrote those people back into Western history.
But I also wanted to write a book to try to figure out why we've forgotten these people in our past when there were in fact so many of them, they were not a rare thing.
And if I were to replicate the research now with more materials that are coming out that make it easier to do this type of research, I probably would find hundreds and hundreds or thousands, thousands more.
And so I was curious, why have we forgotten these people in the history of the American West?
So the book is also written to try to not just recover these people, but try to figure out why, what it is about the American culture that has worked to suppress, to hide, to write these people out of this iconic region and in American culture.
So let me ask you, because I'm sure some of our viewers are like, okay, maybe this is just a West Coast thing.
But I ask you during the break, you know, how far inland are we talking?
Does this also include the state of Kansas?
And you said yes.
Talk about that.
So, of course, I found many people in Kansas and you will find them scattered throughout the book.
In fact, one of the most famous transgender people in the history of Washington state and the larger Pacific Northwest with somebody who was born in Howe Summit, Kansas, which is just down the road from Topeka.
And when born, the parents gave the child a female sex and named her Alberta Lucille Hart grew up in Oregon and then later transitioned to become a man and is considered to have been one of the earliest forms, underwent one of the earliest forms of transsexual surgery in the United States.
That was in Portland in roughly 1917, and assumed the identity of the male became known as Allen Hart, which he was known as for the rest of his life until he died in the early 1960s.
By then, Connecticut.
How were the people treated at that time?
Because, again, this is all kind of eye opening because it breaks what we thought of your rural history to hear about all of this.
And also, why do you think these people aren't talked about?
Is is it because it makes folks uncomfortable to think that there were people back in society who lived like that?
The way they were treated varies from place to place.
In some cases, you actually find they were accepted into their communities and they were some might have been seen as a little odd, but they were largely left alone to live their lives.
In other cases, of course, they were treated very badly and they were run out of town.
They were jailed and those sorts of things.
So it really depended upon the individual and the place.
One of the most heartwarming stories, of course, is this, in my estimation, is the story of Joe Monahan, who was born Johanna Monahan in upstate New York, and when Johanna was about 14 years old, after years of feeling themselves to be a boy headed off for the Gold Rush country of Idaho and showed up in Idaho, southeastern Idaho in the late 1860s and live the rest of his life as a man and left New York as Johanna arrived in Idaho as Joe and lived the next 30 some years of his life in this community.
And it was only when he died in 1904 and his body was prepared for burial that here, the people who did this, his friends, discovered to their satisfaction they had wondered for years.
In fact, you can go to the 1880 census and the person who took down the information of all the individuals in the neighborhood who knew Joe Monahan wrote down he was male, which the census wanted to know how many females and males there were, but also wrote next to it "doubtful sex".
Kind of this editorial comment.
So people had wondered for years when he died, they prepared his body for burial and they discovered to their satisfaction that he had the body of what's understood to be a woman as something of a sensation away from this community.
But people in the community still afterward continued to refer to him using male pronouns and still called him a man.
So he is clearly somebody who was accepted, accepted there and lived there and was integrated into that community for years.
Why have we forgotten these people?
That's a complicated story, and it took up over more than half of my book.
But I Danielle, I think you're right.
It is because there is discomfort with this ambiguity and people not living by what other people feel are the norms.
And it just doesn't seem to fit into this story of America's frontier, frontier past that has been hijacked for years by myth makers who have turned it into this place of rugged men and delicate women.
And there can't be anything in between.
The reality, of course, is that it's a much more interesting place when you look at the history and you look past these binaries that limit how we can really tell the story of this of this region, of our country.
Sharon and Peter, thank you so much for being on the show today.
I know personally, I've learned a lot and I know our viewers have as well.
So this has been a really enlightening discussion.
And we're going to take a short break, then we're going to be back with more on gender identities right here on Inspire.
Thank you for being with us.
We're going to talk even more about some of the definitions of the terms that could be confusing to some of our viewers and could be confusing to some of us here at the table as well.
So let's go back to the word queer, because to some people, you know, growing up, the word queer was not a nice word to say to people.
Talk about how it's used in society now.
So you're absolutely right.
At some point, queer, the term queer became a slur and specifically against gay people.
But originally just meant different.
And around 1980s, then LGBTQ folks started reclaiming that word as their own.
And we see that language all the time, right?
Like the term Yankee Yankee Doodle Dandy, that that was used as a slur for the British to the Americans.
And then they reclaimed it as, yes, we're the Yankee doodles.
So that's kind of what's happened with the term queer.
And when we think about even the term genderqueer, meaning that I don't I'm I'm queering the... OK what does that mean because you lost me on that one?
Genderqueer means that I'm not I'm not practicing binary gender.
So I'm queering gender.
So like as a non binary person, meaning that I'm gender queer, I might choose to dress in clothing that indicates both traditional male and female.
So like Peter talked about that the person who would dress one way today in a different way another day.
So, you know, maybe today I'm wearing earrings and a skirt, but tomorrow I'm wearing a tuxedo.
How is that not gender fluid?
It's very similar.
That's a difference between those two.
I would say gender, queer queering gender is is more of a general umbrella term.
And what's the word you just.
Gender fluid is very similar and that they don't the person doesn't identify as one or the other.
I think most everybody knows that.
But for those who may not.
So homophobia is a fear or hatred of homosexuals or homosexual activity.
Talk about pansexual, because I actually got this right out of myself.
So pansexual is someone who is emotionally sexually attracted to people based on their it doesn't matter what their parts are.
They're attracted to them because of who they are.
And the difference between that and bisexual is that bisexual choose to actually go with like a binary.
And pansexual is just about a feeling.
You're not ascribing to any particular thing.
You're just kind of open to whatever.
And and you fall in love with you.
Fall in love with the person.
It doesn't matter.
Yes, you've got it.
You got it.
So, okay, here's one transsexual versus transgender versus a cross-dresser.
So we can think of transgender as sort of an umbrella term for a lot of different queering of gender.
So let's start with the easy easiest.
Transgender is usually someone who identifies as a different sex than they were assigned at birth.
So if I was a the I came out of my mama and my doctor said, you got a girl and but I don't see myself as a girl.
And I begin to live as a as a male.
That would be transgender.
Similar to transsexual.
Very similar terms.
Cross-dressing is different in that the person might cross-dress for a lot of different reasons.
And that's just wearing the opposite gender clothing.
And we've seen that throughout history.
I mean, there's tons of stories of women dressing as men because that's the only way they had opportunity.
Or even in the movies, Barbara Streisand.
And then I want to throw, you know, talk about drag queens because that.
That is really a caricature of gender.
It's a character that's it's a performance of gender that's not related to actual women.
Because most of us don't wear those high heels and most of us don't wear it.
Like it's a character.
It's a character and an exaggerated stereotype.
It's a parody.
It's a performance.
And that's one of the things that I think is kind of challenging right now, is that politically, we've got all these things that people are talking, you know, seem so scared of drag queens when really drag queens and drag kings are they're performing something.
I haven't heard of the drag king.
So generally that's a male or a female who dress like dresses, that performs as a male and usually an over-the-top male.
We don't see those too much.
Yeah, there was a movie.
Yeah, there was.
In terms of performing on see them like out and about.
Like we would see the drag queen.
Not around here.
I think in other parts of the country, I think it's more common, but it's not as common as.
As drag queens.
So why is Tennessee in such a tizzy about it?
Was that the wrong question to ask?
No!, I think that's.
Because to me, it's like theater.
It's like theater.
So I think it comes from fear and it's not a fear that I can really understand or relate to because there's it seems like there's a fear that somehow drag queens are going to corrupt our children and make them want to be the opposite of what they are.
And I'm going to go back and say we let people dress up for Halloween, said, my niece plays a princess all the time.
Sometimes she's a chicken.
I'm not afraid she's going to become a chicken if she's hanging out with chickens right.
So for me, it's really hard for me to understand the kind of hatred other than culturally, socially.
We've sort of been programed to believe that to be fearful of people who are different than us.
And and, you know, just because something's been that way in the past doesn't mean we have to keep doing it that way.
I always embrace this idea that we really need to allow people to be their authentic self and express it.
I mean, we talk about gender expression, meaning how do I how do I express myself as a as a female or as a male or as non-binary?
What does that look like?
That's all the time we have for today.
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Inspire is sponsored by.
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By the Blanche Bryden Foundation.
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Honored to and services that enrich the lives of our viewers.
And the Raymond C. and Marguerite Gibson Foundation.