I am a subscriber to Parabola Magazine. I recently read an article by Patrick Laude published in summer 2008. Laude offered an interesting perspective on the question of how we, as trans individuals, define ourselves and how we are defined by the rest of the world. Is there really a rigid male/female dichotomy? Are we forever bound solely by binaries? How do we transcend this obsession for categorization and labels?

Ontology, the philosophy of what it means to be, suggests that the instant the primordial one split into two represents the beginning of duality: question and answer, dark and light, on and off, male and female. The myriad possibilities of how existence manifests often appears paradoxical. Is there any such thing as an absolute? Do we use the inherent opposites of dualism as a means for definition? Or, is existence more accurately apprehended through the lens of infinite possibilities? Maybe the paradox is that the absolute, the dual and the infinite coexist.

Dualities define the upper and lower limits of whatever we are describing. For example, the duality of dark and light implies complete dark at one end and complete light at the other, were such a thing possible. Degrees in between which manifest a combination of light and dark are what we generally experience. Same thing with black and white: they represent pure, radiant white and total inky black. Yet, there is much in between all those shades of gray. Our light dimmers show us that there is an alternative to just on and off in the real world.

In the Parabola piece, Laude writes of our understanding of the yin-yang icon, If yin and yang are in constant motion and alternation in this world, and if yin is in yang, and yang in yin, as illustrated by the black and white disk line symbol, it is because Reality both transcends and comprehends all dualities.

By way of analogy, might we not superimpose this concept of qualified duality upon our understanding of gender? To be sure, the implications are paradoxical. Unity, duality and infinity all seem to coexist; they simultaneously imply and deny the other. How does this qualified binary model work for gender?

If, as Laude suggests, yin is within yang, and yang within yin, then does it also not follow that male exists within female, and that female exists within male? Customary binary division of the sexes often breaks down; each may be infused in the other; or with each other. Reality often undercuts theory. It may be that a binary model, by itself, is inadequate for comprehending how people self-perceive their gender. Many individuals appear to manifest yin within yang, or yang within yin male within female, or female within male. Others, perhaps more, are comfortable with a more traditional understanding of gender.

It is human nature to label and categorize; it s part of our quest for knowledge. Actions of naming and sorting grant us either some kind of control or some kind of protection, or both, over what it is we have defined. Labels, however, have a dual nature. They are all too convenient, at best, and incitefully dangerous, at worst. Attempts to reduce human nature and the myriad modalities of expression to categories and labels are pathways down the proverbial slippery slope. Unless and until individuals and societies accept the coexistence of multifaceted ways of self-perceiving gender, the jeopardy of sliding down that slope will always remain.

Furthermore, if we accept the kind of divisiveness labeling breeds, we not only allow the rest of the world to define and thereby judge us, but we give them the means with which to attack us. The current status of the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (IV) is a perfect case in point. If gender identity disorder is accepted as a valid diagnosis, an incorrect medical determination will have been made that implies gender diversity is a form of mental illness. Transphobic organizations are all too ready to use weapons like this against us (they already are).

Laude said that Reality both transcends and comprehends all dualities. So it is with yin and yang, white and black, light and dark, male and female, straight and gay, transgender and transsexual. However we manifest gender is solely ours to determine. We may embrace a conventional male/female binary, or believe that our expression is something different. Or, that we are either all non-gendered or omni-gendered. Or, none of the above.

With a paradox like yin and yang, it all depends upon the individual.

Comments and corrections can be sent to editor@q-notes.com. To contact Robbi Cohn, email robbi_cohn108@yahoo.com.

2 replies on “Yin and Yang”

  1. (Obviously not my real name, but my real email addy is included)

    You’re hyper-accentuating the dichotomy and calling it bad, but you don’t really explore the spectrum.

    Yes, gender expression *could be* more of a spectrum rather than an either/or proposition. In fact, there are people out there doing “gender fuck” who are exploring that “no one’s land” in between. I’m not one of those people.

    I’m one of those people who always felt wrong in my skin. For me, crossing the “gender divide” was painful in many ways, and I lost relationships that were dear to me. However, looking back at that period now ten-plus years distant, I can say that I’m healthier mentally now than I ever was before. The wounds are healing and the scars… well, the scars remain as a reminder.

    Is the DSM-IV wrong for calling gender identity disorder a disorder? I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why: so long as you’re living in a body that doesn’t match what your brain says it should look like/act like/be like, that’s a problem. It can be so much a problem that you’re driven to distracton – or much, much worse. Until you can cross that gender divide and stop worrying, you have a problem that you need help with. The DSM-IV recognizes that. The purpose of that diagnosis isn’t to use it to bash you over the head. It’s to help you sort yourself.

    Other groups who wish to use the diagnosis as a basis for attack are misunderstanding and misusing it. The proper way to deal with this isn’t to “fix” the DSM, but to educate the other groups.

  2. Hello,

    thanks for your comment!

    re the DSM…I am one who sees a diagnosis in the DSM as either accepting that I have a birth defect or that there is something inherently wrong within me. Sorry…I have troubles with this. My belief is that the problem lies with a societal inability to accept diversity. Perhaps a diagnosis which states that an individual is exhibiting stress, as well as other negative behaviors, because of incogruities at work, home and elsewhere, would be more appropriate.

    As for children and youth…again…I think a living and accepting environment will allow people to understand and accept their diversity, no matter how it expresses.

    Yes…many of us experience a sense of confusion, but to tag it as GID is, imho, entirely incorrect as vehicle to help a person achieve emotional, psychological and physical alignment.

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