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Understanding the Complexities of Gender: Sam Killermann at TEDxUofIChicago

Jun 01, 2021
Translator: Pavel Tchérnof Reviewer: Denise RQ So, I'm not gay. (Laughs) Thank you. I am not. But I find myself saying that a lot. You could go so far as to say that I'm not professionally gay, which is strange, because my life revolves around a comedy show called "It's Pronounced Metrosexual," where I go on stage and talk about identity and harsh judgments about sexuality. . But the funniest thing about all of this is that none of this really has anything to do with sexuality. The reason I started doing that show and the reason people always assume I'm gay has nothing to do with sexuality.
understanding the complexities of gender sam killermann at tedxuofichicago
It's about


. Gender and sexuality are often lumped together, but they are two different things. It's like sexy apples and oranges. (Laughs) It's not the same. They are certainly related, but they are independent concepts. It is important to realize that one does not dictate the other. Today I am going to talk about


and not sexuality. Gender is something we all learn as children, but we learn a very limited concept of a concept that is truly limitless. What we learn as children is simply incomplete. They are pieces of the puzzle, but it is not the whole scene.
understanding the complexities of gender sam killermann at tedxuofichicago

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understanding the complexities of gender sam killermann at tedxuofichicago...

Now, in case you didn't grow up in the United States or missed it growing up, I'll give you a quick rundown on the genre as taught here, maybe you'll relate. Take all the people and divide them in two. Boys line up on the left and girls line up on the right. Guys, let's start with you. The children are aggressive, impetuous, good at math, they love the color blue. They get dirty, they fight, they play sports, but not at home. Trucks, soldiers and Legos are their toys, but they break them all. Because boys will be boys. Children can grow up and be whatever they want.
understanding the complexities of gender sam killermann at tedxuofichicago
The world is your oyster, and whether you realize it or not, it is your privilege to take advantage of this prize, it is limited only to the kids. It's there for them: the prize of the Y chromosome. Boys have no limit. The bar is as high as it can go. Their privilege has no reach, unless they want to be nurses, because that's a gay thing. (Laughs) Right? Girls, on the other hand, are docile, passive, natural caregivers, they love the color pink, they were born to be good bakers. Girls hate bugs, love hugs, and are better at vacuuming carpets.
understanding the complexities of gender sam killermann at tedxuofichicago
Science. (Laughter) Dolls, purses and makeup brighten their day, while boys play with video games, girls prefer to play with hairspray. The girls grow up and become mothers and leave the other jobs to the fathers. Unless they want to be a teacher, nurse, receptionist or administrator. Now, what I just described certainly applies to some of you. Yes, there are people for whom these descriptions end up being true. The problem here is the options. And if you're counting, we only have two. Two options to describe each person in this room; each and every one of you. Two options to describe every person in this world: seven billion individual identities simplified into two.
Now, as you can probably guess, gender isn't that simple. It's true. In fact, there are as many gender versions as you. There is a lot to understand about what I am going to talk about tonight. But do not worry. I'm here to take it down. (Beatboxing) No, I'm just kidding. I am not. (Laughs) I'm not, that's not it. That's not happening. You are welcome. Not even a little bit. The easiest way to understand gender is to divide it into three different parts: one, gender identity, which is what you know you are in your head. More on that in a moment.
Two, gender expression, the ways you present gender through your actions, clothing, and behavior. And three, biological sex, the physical characteristics with which you were born. All this will become clearer. Let's start with biological sex, the physical traits you are born with and develop that, in the eyes of many people, equate to gender. We understand that biological sex is made up of a lot of different things: chromosomes, hormones, hip-to-shoulder ratio, breast size, tone of voice, just to name a few. But we always think about one thing: the reproductive organs, also known as penises and vaginas. (Laughs) Right?
We equate gender with penises and vaginas. But here's the thing: gender is not universal, gender is not cross-cultural. And the genre changes over time. Do you know what is universal? Penises and vaginas. (Laughs) Do you know what transcultural is? Penises and vaginas. And you know what doesn't change over time? But... - actually, evolution. (Laughter) But for the last 2,000 years, penises and vaginas. Do you know what you expect me to shout on stage? Penises and vagi...sorry. I'm having a moment. (Laughs) Back to reality. What I'm trying to say is that while biological sex is something that exists uniformly and predictably, something that scientists can measure around the world without much debate.
The same cannot be said about gender. Gender is relative. Gender is cultural. And gender, the way we express it and understand it, changes over time. But we still connect biological sex with gender. If someone is born with a penis and testicles, he is a male. He is a he and we raise him to be a he. If someone is born with a vagina, he is a woman. She is her and we raised her to be her. And when we're not sure, when someone is born intersex, with ambiguous genitalia, we assume. We guess if he is he or she is she.
And based on that assumption, we raise him to be him or to be her. Which, as you can probably guess, can be problematic. And it's not just problematic to assign a gender based on sex to people who are born intersex. I'll get to that in a minute. First, I want to talk about gender identity. I'm going to say this again, because it needs to be said: gender isn't the parts that make up your body, it's what's in your head. To understand the difference between gender identity and biological sex, we must first make sense of what we have in our heads.
All the world is a stage, and all the men and women mere actors. Shakespeare said this 200 years before we had a word for sociology. But Will knew what he was doing. In every way, he was a prodigy. And what he said here rings true in my ears all these years later, as I think about norms, folk customs, and what Durkheim called customs, and all the descriptive roles we play in our daily lives without even really... OKAY. (Laughs) I had another moment. What I'm trying to say is what Shakespeare said on stage: he hit the nail on the head.
When you are born, you are chosen for a play, given a role, given a script, and told to play that role until you die. The directors of our works follow us every day of our lives. Directors are our parents, our teachers, our peers, our preachers, newscasters, book writers, TV show producers, firefighters, every person in your life that has an impact on you, know the script they've given you. and knows when you've been missing your cues. And as we grow, we become directors of other people's works. We know when a boy is not playing his role as a boy well, or when a girl is going astray.
All that is sociology. But it is important to understand it if you want to understand gender identity. Because gender identity has its roots in sociology. It is rooted in gender norms and roles and the way we perpetuate and reinforce those ideas in society. Your gender identity is how you make sense of yourself in your head and how much you do or do not align with what you understand gender choices to be. Those choices, and your


of them, are based on how you were socialized to understand what gender is. And that will be different from continent to continent, country to country, state to state, and even person to person.
But for the most part, we have a shared idea as a society of what it means to be a man, a woman, or something else. Gender identity is, in essence, a way of classifying personality. But we have much more than two personalities. So why do we set our gender choices as binary? Well, not us. At least not all of us. Let me give you a rundown of some gender identities I know. I'll try to do it alphabetically. But I can assure you that that is not my strong suit. One gender, bigender, genderless, genderqueer, genderfluid, man, nonbinary, nongender, trans, third gender, transgender, transsexual, transvestite, two spirit, woman.
I could move on. There are more than two. So, we can leave it like that. I don't have time to define all of those terms, but they're easy to look up. That's what the Internet is for. Well, and porn, but... (Laughs) Don't do that! (Laughter) What I do want to say is that what unites all of those identities, the reason they exist, is because there are groups of people who are neither men nor women who needed to apply a completely new label to them. . These are people who have historically been labeled with a psychological condition, a gender identity disorder, gender dysphoria.
They have been called troubled, confused and sick, a danger to themselves and to our moral fabric, when in reality it is society that is confused. Our


of gender as binary is unhealthy. And having someone limit themselves to one of two options when in their mind they know that role is not for them... Take the script down and mark it with a pen. This is not the role I was born to play. I know myself better than you could ever know me. And who are you to say what is healthy when your idea of ​​health is destroying a part of me?
Our understanding of gender as a binary is not only incomplete, but also dangerous. In a recent study conducted in the United Kingdom, 84% of trans people reported that they had considered suicide. Half of them tried it. They did this because they didn't feel welcome. They didn't feel well. They didn't fit. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that gender identity or non-binary gender identity is something dark. Or at least it shouldn't be. We just need to shed some light on it. So, I have talked about biological sex - penises and vaginas -, I have talked about gender identity;
I want to talk about gender expression, which is something completely different. I'm a man. It's probably not a surprise to most of you to hear that. Because I am very manly. (Laughs) Why do people laugh when I say that? (Laughs) I mean, no one doubts my masculine identity, right? The answer to that question is the difference between gender identity and gender expression. People laugh when I call myself manly because, although they don't question my virility, they question my masculinity. I am a man who wears pants that are too tight, colors that are too bright, my voice is too loud, and my hair is perfect.
To be honest, I cried during "The Lion King." If you don't, I think you're dead inside. (Laughter) (Applause) I clean well. And I smell delicious. And I use words like "cute" and, well, "charming." (Laughs) Gender expression is all that and more. It's the ways we present ourselves and what those things represent. Gender expression changes from one culture to another because what gender means in ours means something completely different in another. We tend to think that gender expression exists on a scale from masculine to feminine. When in reality they are two separate scales and a measurement in each of them.
On a scale we can measure how much we express femininity. All those things I told you about myself would increase exponentially. But on the other scale we measure masculinity. Does having a beard make my salmon-colored pants less feminine? No, not really. But it slightly increases my masculinity. Gender expression changes quite easily. In some cases, it changes from one activity to another. Think about a typical day for you. That's how it starts for me. I wake up with my hair matted on the side of my head; I drool in my face, I wear boxer briefs, I growl obscenities.
It is at this time of my day that I express the most masculinity. But it changes quickly. Because the first step of my day is to go to the bathroom and get pretty. (Laughs) I get in the shower and wash my hair. Awapuhi Ginger Leave-In Conditioner, Facial Scrub, and Complete Body Wash. Get out of the bathtub, I smell like a flower. (Laughs) And then I pluck my eyebrows. I'll comb my hair, I'll try on clothes in the mirror, which I'm sure is something all the boys do here, right, bros? (Laughs) No? Then I get on a bus.
I'll do phone meetings for my nonprofit and work with slang phrases like "dude" and "shit" because in that part of my life, and I hate to admit it, expressing masculinity is a pretty big benefit. And then I go to a coffee shop, order a black tea, and sit quietly, working and being silent all day. So, in just a few hours, I have expressed both masculinity and femininity. In just the few minutes I've been on this stage, I've done the same thing. It's something you've been noticing, even if unconsciously. Many people express gender that aligns with their gender identity; some people don't, whether for convenience, pleasure, or personal creativity.
And for some people, gender expression is a performance, a display of hypermasculinity or femininity. You've probably heard of these people. They call them drag kings and drag queens. So let's figure it all outthis. Let's put all this together. I have talked about a lot in a very short time. I did my best to condense it and make it understandable, I made it rhyme. (Laughs) But gender isn't something you're going to fully understand in 15 minutes. If I were to write a book about gender, it would be very difficult to do it in less than 200 pages. And I know this because I wrote a book about gender and it was very difficult to do it in less than 200 pages.
But we still talk a lot. So, let's recap. First, let's all agree that gender is more complex than we learned as children. Second, while biological sex is certainly a component of gender, it is not a determinant. That's the biological sex characteristics you are born with really have no mandate on who you will be when you grow up. People who are born with penises are taught to be boys. People born with vaginas are taught to be girls. Three, gender identity, the way you make sense of gender in your head, sometimes aligns with your biological sex and sometimes it doesn't.
Fourth, your gender expression is something completely different. It's how you present gender to the world, and sometimes it aligns with your biological sex and gender identity, and often it doesn't. And fifth, let's all agree that gender, as we learned as children, is not as complex as it should be. Now I know that was number one. But it is also number five; because it's very important. In my ideal world, well, let's put it this way. Socrates said, "The only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing." After this talk, I hope it serves as a catalyst to help you realize how little you really know about gender, as well as an inspiration to open your mind and be willing to learn more.
We are all constantly learning about gender. And we have time to do it. But you have to be willing to do it. You have to be willing to unlearn all the things you learned as a child and open your mind to some things that might scare you. But that's just it. Now, in my dreams, I don't foresee a gender-blind society. But I do foresee and want one that is creative in terms of gender, where people can discover who they are and be themselves, exploring what that means and what they will be supported by. Where questioning one's gender will not be a rejection, but an expectation, and where realizing that you do not fit this gender mold will not lead to isolation and depression, but will be a source of celebration.
And, above all, a society where people, regardless of their gender background, are safe. But in the meantime, can we at least install some gender-neutral bathrooms in this piece? (Applause) Thank you. (Applause)

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