Here is the full transcript of Sam Killermann’s TED Talk: Understanding the Complexities of Gender at TEDxUofIChicago.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Understanding the Complexities of Gender by Sam Killermann at TEDxUofIChicago
Sam Killermann – Comedian and social justice advocate
So, I’m not gay. Thank you. I’m not. But I find myself saying that a lot. You could go so far as to say that I’m professionally not gay, which is weird, because my life revolves around a comedy show called It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, where I go onstage, and I talk about identity and snap judgments on sexuality. But the funniest thing about all of this is that none of it really has anything to do with sexuality. The reason why I started doing that show, and the reason why people always assume I’m gay has nothing to do with sexuality. It’s all about gender.
Gender and sexuality are often lumped together but they’re two different things. It’s like apples and sexy oranges. Not the same thing. They’re certainly related, but they’re independent concepts. It’s important to realize that one does not dictate the other. Today I’m going to be talking about gender and not sexuality.
Gender is something we all learn about as kids, but we learn a very limited concept of a concept that’s truly unlimited. What we learn as kids is just incomplete. It’s pieces of the puzzle, but it’s not the full scene. Now, in case you didn’t grow up in the States or missed it growing up, I’m going to give you a quick rundown on gender as it’s taught here, maybe you’ll relate.
Take all people and divide them into two. Boys line up on the left, girls line up on the right. Boys, let’s start with you. Boys are aggressive, impetuous, good at math, love the color blue. They get dirty, roughhouse, play sports, but not house. Trucks, and soldiers, and Legos are their toys, but they break them all. Because boys will be boys.
Boys can grow up and be whatever they want. The world is their oyster, and whether or not they realize, it’s their privilege to capitalize on this prize, it’s limited just to guys. It’s there for them: the Y chromosome prize.
Boys have no limit. The bar is as high as it can go. There is not extent to their privilege, unless they want to be a nurse, because that’s kind of gay. Right?
Girls, on the other hand, are docile, passive, natural caretakers, love the color pink, born to be good bakers. Girls hate bugs, love hugs, and are better at vacuuming rugs. Science. Dolls, and purses, and make-up make their days, while boys play with video games, girls would rather play with hairspray. Girls grow up to be moms and leave the other jobs to dads. Unless they want to be a teacher, a nurse, a receptionist, or a clerk.
Now, what I just described, certainly applies to a few of you. Yeah, there are people for which these descriptions end up being true. The problem here is options. And if you’re counting, we have only two. Two options to describe every 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 really that simple. It’s true. In fact, there are as many versions of gender as there are number of you. What I’m going to talk about tonight is a lot to wrap your mind around. But don’t worry. I’m here to break it down. [Beatboxing] No, I’m just kidding. I’m not. I’m not, that’s not. That’s not happening. Not at all. Not even a little bit.
The easiest way to understand gender is to break it into three distinct pieces: one, gender identity, which is who you in your head know yourself to be. More on this in a bit. Two, gender expression, the ways you present gender through your actions, dress, and demeanor. And three, biological sex, the physical characteristics you were born with. This will all get clearer.
Let’s start with biological sex, the physical traits you’re born with and develop that in many people’s eyes equals gender. We understand biological sex to be made up of a bunch of different things: chromosomes, hormones, hip to shoulder ratio, breast size, voice pitch, just to name a few. But we always think of one thing: reproductive organs a.k.a. penises and vaginas. Right? We equate gender to penises and vaginas.
But here’s the thing: gender is not universal, gender is not cross-cultural. And gender changes over time. You know what is universal? Penises and vaginas. You know what is cross-cultural? Penises and vaginas. And you know what doesn’t change over time? Pe — actually, evolution. But for the last 2,000 years, penises and vaginas. You know what you’re expecting me to yell onstage? Penises and vagi — sorry. I’m having a moment. Back to reality.
What I’m trying to say is that while biological sex is something that exists in a uniform and predictable way, something that can be measured around the world by scientists without much debate. You can’t say the same thing about gender. Gender is relative. Gender is cultural. And gender, the way we express and understand it, changes over time. But we still connect biological sex to gender.