Lately I’ve been spending time on Twitter. Besides my occasional tweets, I follow quite a few people, and it’s been a great way to find out what people are up to, including politicians.
Kansas Sens. Sam Brownback (@SenSamBrownback) and Pat Roberts (@SenPatRoberts) and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) are Twitter users. McCaskill has been known to occasionally respond to tweets (I don’t know about Brownback and Roberts because I don’t follow them). Twitter has proven to be a great way to contact people that you would normally have no chance of meeting.
One of the people I follow on Twitter is Lizz Winstead, the comedian and political satirist who is the co-creator of The Daily Show. She was heavily involved with Air America Radio, the progressive answer to conservative talk radio, including being co-host of Unfiltered, with Rachel Maddow and Chuck D of Public Enemy. She also appears regularly on MSNBC’s The Ed Show.
On March 2, she tweeted that she was at a party to celebrate columnist Michael Musto’s anniversary at The Village Voice. That evening, she tweeted this: “at Michael Musto’s anniversary party where I am one of 3 actual women.” I had to question what she meant by “actual women.”
I’ve spent some time over the last several years questioning gender and, when I have gotten around to writing, explaining some of the complexities of gender identities. I replied to her tweet with “ ‘actual’ woman? As a queer activist, that’s a troubling term.”
What I and many other people have suggested is that probably the best way to get rid of some of the marriage laws that have been passed since the federal government instituted the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 was to force the government, state or local, to define who’s an “actual woman” and who’s an “actual man.”
Does an “actual woman” have to have two X chromosomes, or is the lack of a Y chromosome sufficient? What if a woman has a Y chromosome and has given birth to a child? In 2002, the Kansas Supreme Court made reproductive function the primary determinant of gender, potentially rendering genderless thousands of Kansans who have had a hysterectomy at some point.
Does an “actual woman” have to have all the female reproductive organs, or do a few suffice? Can the presence of a single ovary, for example, make someone an “actual woman,” even if that ovary happens to be in what appears to be a man’s scrotum?
In Lizz Winstead’s follow-up tweet, she said she meant that most of the people dressed as women were drag queens. I don’t know Ms. Winstead personally, but I’m assuming that she was born female and grew up as one.
Many people would consider, for example, transgender women to be “actual women.” Passibility is a factor — there have been transgender fashion models, for example, who, without knowing their personal history, most people would consider “actual women.”
What about the transmen? Can they be “actual men” if they don’t have the genitalia?
I think what might make a person an “actual man” or “actual woman” is not the physical being, but how that person acts toward others and his or her own life. Perhaps the question is not whether one is an “actual” man or woman, but whether one is an “actualized” woman or man. Self-actualization is defined by the renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow as using your full potential, or as fulfillment on all levels.
Are each of us the best we can be? Probably not. There is always room for improvement, more knowledge, better relationships. There is always room for striving for a better world.