Gendered Socialization

Some caveats before we begin. I will mostly touch upon the binary trans woman experience here, since that’s the target of the most hostility in this subject. I will briefly touch upon the transmasculine and non-binary aspects of this at the end.

I sometimes stumble upon the concept of “being socialized male” or “being socialized female” and while this may make sense on the surface, there are some hidden assumptions that are being made when this concept is applied to trans people.

The first assumption is that there is one singular trans experience, especially when growing up, that enough trans people have gone through to make it generalizable.

From the way this is framed in the discussion of trans rights, and especially how the discussion is often framed as a conflict between trans women’s rights and cis women’s rights, and as far as I understand that assumed experience, it’s that (most) trans women grew up until, at least, their early teens as boys, who had no idea before, and took the norms of man/boyhood to heart.

There are many things to unpack here. But we can start off by showing some scientific studies that can, at least, debunk the “had no idea before” argument of that assumption

Most people in that study report experiencing gender dysphoria as early as between the ages of 3 and 7. And as such, it’s a stretch to assume that gendered socialization work in the same way for trans people as for cis people.

Being trans is often having non-standard relationships between society and oneself when it comes to gender. And the concept of gendered socialization is entirely about that relationship.

I’m not saying I was socialized female when I was a child, I did, however grow up with a feeling of “off-ness” that I couldn’t describe for the longest time, that I never understood where I fit in. I did try to learn what society wanted of me, to play a role, always waiting for that moment where all what I was doing would “click” where I understood “A-ha, that’s the point of all this weird stuff I’m expected to do”. But, that never happened, it all kept feeling like a mask, all that “male socialization” that I supposedly experienced got attached to a mask. When I cracked as trans, and things started to click, I didn’t feel like I was chasing an understanding anymore. It’s taken a while to learn the new rules. To realize that my place in society is allowed a lot less space now. That getting harassed on the streets isn’t an uncommon experience with misogyny thrown at you. That my expertise now comes with need of “more proof” than it ever did when I was perceived as a man.

I’m also not saying I was socialized male, it never really… made sense to me, society, what they said, what was expected of me. I think it’s a very big false dichotomy that one has to be either socialized female, or socialized male. I was socialized trans, my relationship with society, my experiences growing up, doesn’t map neatly onto either of the “socialized male” nor “socialized female” experience. I could probably write an entire book of how I kept clashing with society at random points in my life, but I feel like I’ve made my point here, and there’s more to cover.

Moving on from there, there’s a lot of difference between how trans people who DO come out at a young age get treated. If you come out to a loving and supporting family, with a community and school that, at least in large part, accepts you, you’re gonna have a vastly different experience with society and socialization growing up than someone who comes out to unsupportive parents, and a community that doesn’t accept you.

Someone could even argue that someone who comes out at 5, gets accepted by parents, family and school, gets on puberty blockers, and never goes through first puberty or gets treated as their assigned gender after they came out, is more socialized as their actual gender than their assigned gender. I mean, not entirely, there’s always gonna be some form of feeling different in these cases. Regardless of how well things are handled by society, as long as being trans is being a minority, you’re gonna have moments of “I’m different” regardless of how things like locker-room situations work in P.E, for instance. If you get to change by yourself, you’re getting singled out. If you have to change with your assigned gender, then that’s being misgendered, if you’re changing with your gender noticing your anatomy is different is all but impossible. But they still probably have more in common with the “traditional gendered socializing experience” than I ever had.

Transmasculinity and gendered socialization

The narrative people most often try to support when they bring up socialization is “trans women are predators”, the narrative around transmasculine people tend to be one of infantilization and denial of personal agency. And while I think the socialization aspect plays a part of this (especially for people calling trans men “lost sisters”, sometimes citing gendered socialization as justification), there seems to be no shortage of other ways to infantilize people, making the “socialized female” approach less prominent.

Non-binary people and gendered socialization

I’m not really that experienced here, and haven’t encountered these two concepts in the same conversation to really have a say here. But since the topic of gendered socialization often is brought up by people arguing in bad faith, and those kind of people are often woefully uneducated on these subjects. I’ve seen a bunch of explicitly non-binary people get “you will never be a man” or “you will never be a woman” thrown at them and them going “… okay? Cool, I wasn’t trying to in the first place, so thanks?”. And I expect something similar to be the case here.

Gendered socialization in cis people

Okay, so now the last point I wanna make is this. Is gendered socialization a thing at all? We’ve explored that the subject becomes so nuanced and muddied in the topic of trans people that it’s more or less a useless lens to view the trans experience through. But what about cis people? Is it a concept that makes sense there? Spoiler on my opinions here, but I’m gonna go with a resounding “maybe”.

There are differences here. It’s more common for an assaulter, especially sexually so, to be a man for instance, which is what the whole “trans women are socialized male” narrative is trying to tie into. But at the same time, I don’t really see it framed this way when talking about gender inequality issues outside the context of trans people. Like, if the problem with trans women is that they’re “socialized male”, then wouldn’t the problem with cis men be that they’re “socialized male”, and if the issue is with the “socialized male” part, wouldn’t there be a bigger push from the people spinning these narratives to treat your young sons as girls, to give them the “not making horrible people” socialization instead?

But see, it’s not as simple as that. The relationship with society is a lot more complex, and there are a lot of things that play into it. What color your skin has, the shape of your eyes, the wealth of your parents, whether you’re autistic or some other form of neurodiversity, if you have full mobility of your body or not, etc.

There are so many aspects to human life beyond gender, and so many groups to be “in” or “out” from that, hyperfocusing on the gendered socialization part can blind you to intersectional issues. But then, I’m not denying that looking into gender equality is a bad thing, so it really depends on how you use the concept. Hence, a resounding “maybe”.

– Linn