2009-09-07 11:08 am

How To Abolish Gender 101: Perpendicular Force

So, today I was responding to a commenter on Alas a Blog regarding Sarah Kohen's piece on trans folk and feminism. It's a bit of a transphobic piece, like most feminist material is but that's not actually my concern here. You see, the piece is speaking out against essentialism, which I think is great. Essentialism among trans folk is dangerous for us because as of now, there is absolutely no evidence of any essentialist brain structures or anything like that. So the NI model folk tend to base their approaches on an utter lack of scientific reasoning, which in turn leads to arbitrary bullshit like, "how feminine you are", "what your self expression is". You know, the kind of things that cis women have been trying to escape for centuries. It sets us up (the bomb! Er sorry, game joke) for a huge clusterfuck of in-house sexism (something trans folk do not need, at all) but that's a post for another day.

Today I wanted to discuss some of the flawed ideas behind certain (NOT ALL) gender deconstructionalist rad fems and how they treat nonbinaries (TS or TG nonbinaries, although the terms do not yet include nonbinary TS's), non gender normative binary trans folk and non gender normative binary transsexuals (basically everyone that the Neo HBS folk want to get the fuck away from forever and ever).

This is almost straight up copy paste from my comment on the blog, with some expansion because seriously, I wrote it fucking perfectly there:

"You wanna join ‘queue, girlie’, you better get it into your heads that ‘girlie’ is not something you believe yourself to be, it’s the name of the queue you want to join for some reason and you better learn the rules and stop lecturing/hectoring us."
Queuing for Beginners
By Sarah Kohen


I pointed out that believing that you are something is a reason to want to join the queue. Which really, in the end, is the primary inconsistency that seems to crop up here. None of them actually know why they let in who they let in. The rules are entirely arbitrary and often shift. “You want to join this queue for some unknown reasons, welcome!”, “you want to join this queue because you feel like you belong here? Fuck you!”.

It’s a problem, largely because it acts to cement the roles and the gender classification itself. If everyone is fighting to keep these binary states intact, solid, rigid and the borders kept (including the so called gender deconstructionalist rad fems) then they are only succeeding in keeping gender intact.

How do they think those queues get dissolved? Do they think one day we’ll all wave a magic wand and suddenly everyone will be able to leave the cues, leave the school and go out and play in the sandbox? With the trucks and and shovels and buckets?

If people keep shifting between queues, blurring the lines, or even standing in different queues, no matter how much people yell and tell them that they are dumb, this will dilute and distort gender. Social constructs have, always, depended upon the individuals of society to uphold their rules. Sarah (within the context of this piece only) continues to stand in her queue and uphold its rules, only allowing in the quiet, the similar. Many rad fems continue to stand in their queue and uphold its rules, yelling at the ones standing in the third and fourth wavy queue that they’re fucking it all up and being stupid. Forgetting that they're standing in a queue too.

Even I’m standing in a queue. I can understand the potent need for survival and that stepping out of that queue, refusing to be classified, working on attacking gender at its basis is rough. And that's why a lot of deconstructionists still call themselves women (or men, there are men gender deconstructionists too). Well nonbinaries are in a bind. Their survival depends on breaking away from the binary, which gives them the same bad attention that a gender breaker will get. After all, the binarist paradigm treats itself as the end all be all of the gender paradigm, so even though a nonbinary is still operating within the gender paradigm, they will still be treated as though they have broken out of the paradigm.

It seems like no one sees the potential here. I see people standing in all sorts of queues. Violating social convention. Refusing to fit the norms. They are expanding out, diluting the construct, making it more difficult to create the us and them mentality, because the us and them depends on a binary. They also act as a point of interest. People see these folk, "leaving gender". They aren’t actually leaving gender, they’re just expanding it, but cis and trans folk who think in the gender paradigm often think in the binary paradigm too and tend to equate them. This is the somewhat ignorant majority one deals with. Nonbinaries act as a baby step. Something that seems like it breaks or moves outside gender.

Real quick before I continue: Nonbinaries have a vested interest in moving out of their queues (just like binary trans folk do, but nonbinaries actually have an impact on gender classification itself, unlike me and other binary trans folk). Sure it might be a third queue (unless the nonbinary is also a gender deconstuctionist, and then chances are that nonbinary is just getting some body modification and telling people to fuck off with the queues) but it still breaks those conventions and needs to happen for their survival. Now I've said before that my body is not an agenda booster. This still applies to nonbinaries. Especially with how much people like to fuck them over. The difference between the statements raised as a problem in the nonbinaries post and here is that here we are passively allowing nonbinaries to do what they need. Forcing nonbinaries to transition, to make their queues is just as wrong as stopping them or even just telling them they're stupid or bad for it (which is still a form of oppression as victims of slut shaming can attest to). Nonbinaries have this potential to further break down the system of classification that is weaponized to oppress women and built in such a way that it is directly oppressive to a lot (but not all) of trans folk. And this potential is built from what they need to survive. So, this is a mutually beneficial situation. Anyways, onward!

Nobinaries make their queues, people yell and scream, but... the fact is, those nonbinaries are happy. Others see this and follow suit in different ways. Girls start stepping out of queue more. Guys start making the line into a zig zag. People shift around as the queues become more and more distorted (including the third and fourth and fifth new queues that upset the rad fems I'm directing this to so very much). Eventually the queues get overlaps, unconscious non purposeful overlaps. People suddenly realize that, "hey I’m kinda in the girlie cue now, weird... I don’t see myself as a girl." And that prompts realizations. People start realizing that, not only are the queues arbitrary and built on silliness, but they barely exist at all anymore.

One of the important things to remember about social change that adjusts a fundamental paradigm of thought in a society is that it can not ever happen quickly. No literally, it can't. There's simply too much inertia in society, too much momentum to directly oppose a paradigm and actually successfully stop it. In many martial arts, there is a skill trained into people to find the perpendicular point of force motion and apply pressure there. Your enemy moves his hand down? Don't block it upwards because then it is strength vs. strength and if your enemy is bigger and stronger, you're fucked. Block it sideways. Suddenly, his strength is diverted. He misses you and you barely exerted at all. Your smaller strength is no longer an issue.

These rad fems are practicing strength vs. strength (and oppressing nonbinaries and certain types of binary trans folk while doing so, something no decent person can advocate without being privileged and unaware as fuck). No wonder gender deconstuctionism hasn't made a lot of leaps and bounds. No wonder the majority of cis and trans people still firmly think in the gender paradigm.

Fighting the full strength, head on, of the dominant mode of thought in society is rife with failure. Especially when your group is small (and trust me, they're called radical feminists for a reason. There's not a lot of them). However, that paradigm is directed entirely in one direction. What if you moved at an angle? The karate chop will continue to fall, obviously (and the paradigm will still exist) but its force is weakened, its movement diverted. And it leaves openings to attack from.

Nonbinaries are that sideways attack. Originally transsexuals were that sideways attack. The fact that one could shift from spot to spot was something that broke the gender rigidity paradigm. And by passively allowing binary transsexuals to get what we needed, feminists benefited (actually it's more that TS folk fought like crazy while feminists stood in the way like giant concrete bricks, but you get the idea, they still benefited in the end). Then the transgender folk came along. The ones not strictly binarist transitioning and by passively allowing them to get what they needed we all benefited (actually same applies, they fought like crazy because the TS folk and the feminists were once again giant stupid assholes. See a pattern?). Now the nonbinaries are here. Had people actually passively just allowed those that came before to just do their own thing, gender would have been weakened quickly, through weakening the rigid gender paradigm and weakening the gender expression paradigm. So now, it's up to feminists to speed up the process by getting the fuck out of the way of nonbinaries so they can break the binary paradigm.

Because frankly, each of these pillars hold up gender. These elements are all the parts of gender that give it its strength. Rigidity allowed for precise definition and othering, which meant you could easily dismiss anyone who was precisely not a man. Essentialist expression allowed for regulation and dismissal. If one did not fit the expression rules, then one was not proper and could be ignored and shuffled into the othered set, further cementing the power of the masculine. And the binary paradigm keeps the us and them mentality intact and prevents mixing through segregation of the sexes based on that paradigm. There are more pillars than that, obviously, but those ones are nasty. And leaps and bounds have been made after each of the trans revolutions, because we destabilize these tools of oppression.

So, if you just stand back, shut the fuck up about how much nonbinaries "are breaking the rules" (those arbitrary, constructed rules you seek to abolish, silly goose) and let nonbinaries make their 3 and 5 and 10 queues, you'll find that one of the most effective and dangerous pillars used to weaponize and empower gender as a classification system (and use it as a tool of oppression) will degrade and fall apart from the erosion of nonbinaries simply doing what they need to do to be happy and survive.

And that is how you abolish gender. Not by standing in line and shouting, “HEY, WE SHOULD ALL GET OUT OF THIS LINE.” Because I can guarantee you, no one is going to step out of it when you stand in the line and shout about getting out of it.

The majority is not on your side, cis included. They need to be slowly, carefully, sneakily led into it. If you’re obvious, they’ll only shut you down. Strength vs. strength folks. You don't have the "muscles" to win that fight. Go perpendicular instead.

Quiz on friday. Don’t be late.
2009-09-03 09:54 pm

Get Your Agenda Off My Body

(As a note: This applies to womanism too, as womanism only fully expands the women's rights lens to issues of race but still leaves trans women in the dust more often than not.)

I'm sure we all have a pretty good idea of the cardinal elements of feminism. Feminism, at its most simple is a movement designed to combat the effects of sexism, misogyny and the power structure and marginalization created by the patriarchy. A social reform specialization of humanism/egalitarianism, if you will.

There are certain lacks in it that are understandable. It doesn't specifically handle a lot of men's issues (mostly because its hands are full with women's issues). It doesn't directly address things like race and disability (although some feminists try to). It doesn't directly address general trans issues (although it should be addressing transmisogyny as that's basically sexism squared.)

There's also womanism that attempts to address the racial issues that intersect on the bodies of WOC.

There are many subcategories, branch offs and connected zones of feminism. Gender deconstructionism, rad fem, essentialist feminism, etc. The ones I'm going to concentrate on right now is gender deconstructionism and rad fem (and some of this is also extendable to womanism).

There is this inclination to theorize on why trans people exist. After all, we flip a lot of apple carts just by being around. This inclination doesn't just take place in trans folk (we would naturally be curious as to our origins) but also among rad fems and gender deconstructionists. Unfortunately these attempts to figure us out usually involve a good chunk of generalization and ignorance of our experiences, mindsets, psychology and histories. But even the analysis being flawed isn't a serious issue. Where the serious issue arises is how people decide that suddenly trans bodies and trans lives come after the agenda.

I'm sure at least some of you had read over clarifications on Dworkin's viewpoint on the matter over at Daisy's locale. Her views are still pretty transphobic but for her time she was quite a bit ahead. And the things she points out in as guidelines for dealing with it are words to live by.

"every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition."

Yes, certainly a product of her times, in that the wording is transsexual, surgery and binary specific (and as is abundantly clear there is a wide wide world of transgender beyond the transsexual zone, that has entirely different needs and is classified differently within the trans movement) but here, let me highlight the really important part:

"...every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms."

Allow for social change and the expansion of the world comprehension to future day where the transgender community exists (and for the purposes of this post, I'm going to operate the terms normally, so TG includes TS under the umbrella envelope, as well as nonbinaries, who have enough fucking problems as it is) and you can extend this basic statement's intent to incorporate all those suffering from the misalignment that a gendered world at least contributes to badly:

"...every person in the TG umbrella has the right to survival on his/her/hir/their own terms"

It really doesn't matter what you think causes the varying types of "trans-ness". And quite obviously, even if you have a pet theory for one of the types (like why people crossdress without dysphoria or why transsexuals have dysphoria) chances are that won't yield much on the others. And for some things (like GID, which is based on symptoms and likely multicausal) even your pet theory may not describe every case. But really, it still doesn't matter what you think causes it, because in the end, any action you take must still honor our right to our own bodily domain and our self determination.

Any rights/social reform ideology, of any kind, that demands one group give up their basic self determination to what they do with their own bodies, is broken. Full stop. A social reform and rights movement can not hope to have the basic credibility it requires if it marginalizes another group based on its theories.

And when you interfere in things like transsexual surgeries and hormones, nonbinary self expression, crossdresser clothing choices (and etc) you are denying those groups their self determination. It is no different than a woman forced into being a housewife or forced into being a businesswoman. It is no different than the slut shamers demanding that you not have sex. But it goes even further than that. Even if you take no action, even if you don't interfere directly, just attacking it, demanding that I (and they) live according to your theories or views is unacceptable.

When you demand that a nonbinary just step away from gender entirely or tell a transsexual woman that her surgeries are encouraging the patriarchy and demand she stop, you are impinging on self determination. And in the end denial of choice for one's own body is against every fucking iota of what feminism and womanism stands for. Sure feminism might be specialized towards protecting women's choices and options regarding our own bodies. Sure womanism might extend that to include race. But that basic principle of bodily domain is central to feminism and womanism, to violate it on anyone else is the worst, most heinous, most disgusting form of hypocrisy. And to stand by while it happens, to not stand against it, is just as bad.

It is a hypocrisy that wears away at the very fabric of of your movement's credibility (for either movement). A hypocrisy that begs the question, "if you can't honor the bodies of others, why should anyone honor yours?" This makes you as bad as the patriarchy. This makes you as bad as the enemy you fight, because you dehumanized a group that has less power than you, all because it makes you feel like you achieved something.

This is unacceptable. This makes you a shit poor feminist if you do it or allow it to happen on your watch. Same for any womanist guilty of this. This is why many trans women do not trust you. This is why even those who do trust you are wary and careful, lest we get attacked or faced with unreasonable demands too.

The responsibility lies upon you to clean up your movement (whichever one it may be). To stop the abhorrent transphobic hypocrisy and the using of our bodies for your agenda. Every single one of you shares in that responsibility. Every single one of you bears that similar burden that every single one of men bear to fight violence against women, speak out against the rape culture and break the social cycles of oppression. And for the womanists, it's that similar burden that every single one of white folk bear to fight silencing of POC, see through the White Noise and fight the social cycles of oppression there. It's about damn time you all starting doing what you ask of, no DEMAND, men and white folk to do for you.

Get your agenda the fuck off my body.

Now.
2009-08-17 11:04 am

For the Uninformed: Privilege, Perspective and The Little Things That Jab

I also guest posted this one on Deeply Problematic. Much thanks to RMJ for letting me rant in her space. XD

I thought I was going to wait on this one till tomorrow, but then I read through one of the most clear, beautifully written posts I have ever seen on how even caring, completely loving, well intentioned men act towards women in general at Shakesville by Melissa (Please read here: "The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck"). After that, I realized that this post can't wait.

I truly suggest that if you have ever heard the word privilege and didn't understand it or was offended by it, you read that blog post. I truly suggest that if you feel that feminists or trans folk or any marginalized group are angry, oversensitive or dislike you because you are white, cisgendered or a man or whatever, you read that post.

Like all For The Uninformed posts, these words are built for an audience that does not have the experiences I do. For the cisgendered folk. For the guys out there. For people without a background in the science and theory that these rights and acceptance movements are built on. As always I will do my best to make those experiences comprehensible and explain the terms I am used to that you may not be.

Imagine, if you will, that you are denied things for something inherent to you. Something not only not really changeable but something you don't want to change. It isn't just big things, like housing or jobs or access to certain rights. It's little things too. Respect for your needs, not hearing words used for or related to you used as insults, and like in Melissa's post, not having the very unhelpful "those people are so and so, but not you, you're different" when you know that the so and so claim is bullshit. But responding as such will just get you slid back into the group thought to be so and so.

There are, literally, thousands and thousands of small little attacks, jabs and pokes built into our very language against women, trans folk, gay people, black folk, hispanic folk, the Rroma and countless other groups that do not possess a majority and do not possess power. Imagine if every time you spoke to people who cared for you, family, friends, even lovers, these subtle jabs showed up. Not on purpose. Not maliciously. They are just there. A joke about a stereotype that hits you hard because that stereotype has been used as reason to beat you up. A half joking/half serious claim about "those people" when those loved ones forget that you are one of "those people".

For me (on the trans side of it), it's the people making the jokes about those "ugly trannies" and then saying, "oh but not you." Yes me. That's been used against me before. It's the guys who knew me before transition and still call me "bro" and then when I complain they say, "bro is a gender neutral term, I use it for girls too" when actually, they've never once used it for girls. It's the people asking really personal questions, questions they would never ask anyone else, about my genitals, about how I have sex. It's the people who speculate on things like that when I'm around, forgetting that hey, maybe I don't like to hear about that kind of thing.

For me (on the woman side of it), it's the people using the word "rape" as a word for crushing someone in a video game or getting trounced on a test. "Man, that test totally raped me". As a person who was fed drinks by someone I trusted and then sexually assaulted by them, hearing something like that is intensely painful. But the moment I bring it up I get the arguments, the perspective lacking arguments about how it's just a word and he didn't mean it that way. It's the guys that joke about how all girls are so shallow or so pissy and then wonder why I get irritated. It's the guys that stare at my tits, eyes glazed over, listening to not a word I'm saying. Yeah, I'm attracted to girls too. I don't do that. I have self control.

These things add up. One or two of them alone? I could see how that wouldn't be a problem. And from your perspective, there's only been one joke, one stare, one problematic stereotype exploiting comment. Nothing to worry about right? Except that it isn't one comment. It isn't one joke. It is one out of thousands a day, embedded in regular language, seen as completely normal. Why is it normal for rape jokes to be funny? Why is it normal for stereotypes to be slung around about women? Or trans folk?

That's where perspective comes in. See, a lot of people get huffy with me (or other folks who say, wtf? to this kind of behavior) because they're only aware of their one comment. They don't put up with this constant stream, this wearing away of patience, defense and sanity. The erosion of self esteem, safety, and control that is created by this is awful. And you don't experience it. So you don't have perspective. You don't know why we get upset because you aren't exposed to what is upsetting us. But what really upsets me (and many others I can see) is the fact that you just don't trust us (the people you love, care about, claim to trust, want to help and/or are close with) to comprehend our own experiences and know what we need. Because you don't listen. You don't hear. You don't believe that we are hurt for a valid reason. Or at the very least, you assume your hurt is exactly the same, of the same intensity. But, it isn't. If you aren't being subjected to thousands of things in language alone every day eroding your sense of safety and control over your life, attacking your self esteem, from people you trust, then you aren't hurting the same as us. And you don't have the perspective to say that we're wrong. And when you dismiss our complaints, or requests to not make a certain joke, or call me "bro", it shows your lack of trust, your dismissal. And that's even worse.

There's a concept used to describe being in a position in which one is not exposed to or is protected from things like this. It is based on the English word describing the possession of an advantage not afforded to others. Privilege. This concept describes this complete lack of constant attack, an acceptance of one's form, structure, an actions as fine, as default, as unchallenged. It can be a component of bigotry, but it is not bigotry in and of itself. Privilege is a sparing from this constant challenging of one's existence and place in society, a sparing of the challenging of one's validity. One may have privilege in one area but lack it in another. Unfortunately this doesn't mean that a person will be able to see past their privilege in the former area just because they comprehend it in the latter. Because privilege is invisible and it is a component of a self propagating system.

Those are who not prejudiced or bigoted still defend their privilege because a lack of perspective that is so immense that those who respond to marginalization seem unreasonable, even hateful and bigoted towards them. When Melissa above says she doesn't trust men, many men would think to themselves, "but that's so bigoted! There are lots of trustworthy men!" and that would arise from their privilege of not having to be subjected to the awfulness that she is every day by people who profess to love her and care for her.

If the people you love constantly attacked who you were, without even realizing they were hurting you and were surprised or disbelieving when you said they were hurting you, would you be surprised if you stopped trusting them? And if all of those people were of a particular group, would you be surprised if you took a cautious wary tact with them from now on?

When I say that I'm wary of cisgendered guys, it may seem bigoted to a guy, but that guy lacks the perspective of hearing all sorts of awful jokes targeted directly at his group. Or of having his very existence challenged by the very language used in day to day talk. "Oh yeah, she's a trans woman. Oh I know, she looks so normal too! You'd never have guessed!"

What if that was this instead, "Oh yeah, he's white. Oh I know, he acts so normal too! You'd never have guessed!" And what if that was every day? Among thousands of other little comments that cut you from your friends. Said by people you cared for, valued the opinions of? Even a supposedly innocuous sentence like that paints me as a freak, an aberration, something to joke and express surprise over.

Another component of the self propagation of privilege is the fact that it is built into culture. You see it on television. You see it in the news. Children are taught it, if not by parents then by peers. Even the people who have kept themselves as separate as possible from the troublesome views espoused within a bigoted power system are still swimming in a sea of cultural connotations and impressions. They still use the language, with the bigoted words built in, and still operate under certain assumptions without realizing it. We all do. This is why ALL apparent white people are privileged. Why ALL apparent cisgendered people are privileged. Because these social elements are ubiquitous. They are everywhere in mass quantities. So if you are perceived as white by society, you are spared every inch of the things people of other races are exposed to by society and are denied that perspective. I have this problem too. I'm white. There are little references, jokes and things I say and do that are a part of that privilege. I guess the difference here is when that instinct comes up in my head to go, "oh come on" to a person of color who tells me to check my privilege, I push that reflex aside and go, "okay, gimme a sec to look over this and try to comprehend where I'm losing perspective"

One of the best ways to get a firm handle on privilege as a concept is to talk to someone who has shifted from privileged to unprivileged in a given area. It won't necessarily help you see past your specific privilege but it will make it easier overall to attempt to assess and comprehend privilege when you speak to the marginalized people who lack the privilege you have.

I am mtf trans (obviously from the blog title XD). I was born male bodied and I transitioned to female bodied. Unlike a lot of trans folk (who viewed things through the lens of their identities as a different gender and therefore wouldn't have had problems with how they were treated for the same reasons as others would) my identity hasn't really played a huge role in the lens I apply my own experiences. This was mostly because I came to the realization about why I hated the male structure I had very late in the game (I actually assumed it was normal to hate having a penis XD) So I consider myself formerly a guy who figured out that he needed a female body (due to dysphoria) and therefore was better off as a girl (identity and sociologically wise) for practicality sake. This is atypical, so don't expect all trans folk to have the perspective I do on gender.

Which means I experienced male privilege as male privilege (instead of being transformed into transphobia by the lens of identity) and I experienced the loss of male privilege (as I myself transformed from hormones and whatnot.)

It was a shock, I will tell you. As a person perceived as a guy by society, I was not constantly challenged, stereotyped, joked about and pushed down. There were some small things. Depictions of guys in tv were sometimes irritating. Occasionally there were jokes about the dumb guy stereotype. And there were constraints on self expression for guys that were a bit irritating. But even if I violated those rules, I usually could tell opposition to piss off or criticize my criticizers right back and everyone thought that was an utterly natural thing for me to fight the silly claims from people, even if they didn't agree.

Post sociological and HRT transition. What was an occasional flow of jokes, jabs and attacks became a torrent. I was bombarded. Television was filled with all sorts of stereotypes, attacks, mockeries of women. Pressure to conform was harsher and more persistent (instead of just guys calling me a fag for having long hair and wearing toe socks it was now everyone calling me a weird dyke or telling me that I need to femme out more for wearing guys cargos and t-shirts with a faux military jacket). And my attempts to dispute that pressure, my responses at all really (even the nice ones) were now regarded as me being a bitch, a harpy, a "feminazi" or being unreasonable. Whereas before, people disagreed and discussed with me, now, they simply dismiss it completely.

I was shown, completely (and perhaps embarrassingly) how little perspective I had on what society does to women. And that is why I understand how insidious privilege is. It is silent, it is crafty, it sneaks up on you, latches on and makes it impossible to even question it without seeming nuts. And there's the problem. We aren't nuts.

This shit is real.