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Class Notes February 9, 2011

Hillary G's picture

GIST Class Notes from Wednesday, February 9, 2011 by Hillary Godwin: Self-Shaping Technologies
We began by acknowledging that Monday would end the first section of our class, “The Science and Technology of Gender: Making and Re-making Ourselves.” Most of the class was centered on asking provocative questions, rather than necessarily finding definitive answers.


We then began discussing categories:

-       Many students in class agreed that we as human beings are biologically inclined to make and use categories as a way to make sense of the world.

-       However, these categories can change. We can re-wire the categories in our brains to adapt to our changing views and perceptions.

-       Education may help this process but it’s not the end all, be all solution to changing categories on the macro level.

-       We reached the consensus that we do need labels and categories, but they should not necessarily be in the form of binaries. Viewing them as such limits our abilities to advance in our thinking.


Some questions we posed about identity:

-       Do our opinions and beliefs make us who we are?

-       If we are constantly revising our beliefs, how do we know what we “truly” believe? Or who we “really” are?

-       If science, like our identities, is always changing, how can we be sure of what we know?


The class also discussed the activity we did on Monday, in which we voted on whether we would support health care funding particular cosmetic/re-constructive surgeries:

-      We distinguished between two categories: our decision as an individual (micro), and our decision as a Congress person (macro).

-      We asked how one can separate between the micro and macro levels in weighing their decisions in each case. How can we decide what is reasonable for the individual person vs. in a political/financial context that affects others on a macro level?

-      A few students said that they had to disregard personal anecdotes and feelings in order to make a decision on the macro level that would benefit people as a whole.


Then, Kim Surkan, a professor at MIT and an expert on Gender Passing, took over the class discussion:

-       We discussed the distinction between body and gender and how these distinctions are perceived differently in different places.

-       She posed the question: would bringing the female perspective more prominently into the scientific field change technology as we currently know it?

-       Would incorporating the female perspective result in making technology more innovative?


Kim then drew 2 charts on the chalkboard labeled WHAT and HOW, drawing distinctions between Sex, Gender, and Sexuality:


Sex                        Gender                        Sexuality

Male                     Masculinity                   Heterosexual

Female                 Femininity                    Homosexual

Intersex                Men                             Asexual

                            Women                        Pansexual (many)

                           Gender-queer                Bisexual (2-binary)

                           Transgender                  Bestiality

                           A-gendered                   Romantic/A-romantic

                           Cisgendered                  Transensuality




Sex                              Gender                        Sexuality

Biology                        Cultural                        Sexual practice

Anatomy                     Behavior                       Desire

Chromosomes            Self-narrative                 MF = Heterosexual

Structure                    Identity                        FM = Heterosexual

Facial features            Self-presentation           MM = Homosexual

Height                         Roles                            FF = Homosexual

Muscle                        Parenting                        MTF = ?

Adam’s apple             Performance/Gestures       FTM = ?


We discussed questions such as:

-       If I’m attracted to someone in the 3rd gender category (gender-queer/transgender), am I heterosexual? Am I homosexual? Does it matter?

-       If an MTF transgendered person is attracted to women, is he a lesbian?

-       What do these distinctions mean for transgendered people who attend/want to attend women’s colleges (like Bryn Mawr)?

-       Should women’s colleges distinguish between MTF and FTM transgendered people when considering them for admission? (*Note: Upon further investigation, I found that these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.)


We concluded the class by discussing that:

-       Human beings often assume sexuality corresponds with gender presentation, but that is not always the case.

-       Often when we see a feminine gender presentation on a male body, we have trouble processing it and assume he is queer or gay, when we don’t actually know the person’s sexuality or gender identity.

-       Similarly, when we see a woman that presents herself in a socially recognized masculine way, we are tempted to assume she is a “butch lesbian.”

-       Perceptions of sexuality are dependent upon one’s cultural context.

-       These assumptions are often based on heteronormative expectations.  



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