Monday, January 24, 2011

"A Political Hierarchy in Gender Binary Drag", or When is a binary not a binary? When we're talking about a gendered, raced, sexed, classed HIERARCHY

this graphic is from here at
NOTE: revised and added to on 25 Jan. 2011 ECD. (See the third and fourth paragraph from the end of the post going up, not from the beginning of the post. I write there about gender dysphoria a bit.)

For me, this is THE critical question that is responsible for two distinct realities in the white het male dominated West:

--radical feminism as presented by some cisgender women--including the work of radical white women and radical women of color, and

--cis queer politics including the description of trans identities as presented by some transsexual people, but not by many trans- and inter-gender people.

I have yet to hear what's radical about the contemporary liberal queer/transsexual understanding of gender. Can someone please tell me who benefits from rendering "gender" apolitical? Since when is political oppression only "social options"?

For me, first of all, we have the same phenomenon, albeit from a white class-privileged location socially. I never felt "like a boy" as boys around me most often behaved; I rejected a lot of what 'being a man' had to offer me, while of course soaking up a lot of privileges--they come with the location, I realised, not the identity. Men like John Stoltenberg and Robert Jensen seem to make a case for rejecting manhood on the interpersonal/behavioral level, which I think denies the harshest truth--womanhood and manhood are not embedded primarily in our identities; they are embedded in systems, institutions, structures, locations, positions. None of which go anywhere if we shift our individual identities.

This is my view: racist patriarchy can do very well, thank you, with queer folks in it, with trans folks in it, because it's not the binary it most needs to hold onto; it's male supremacy. And male supremacy thrives in queer/trans community. As does misogyny.

The trick--and I do feel it's a nasty trick--of uber-WHM supremacist academy's post-modernist and post-structural perspectives (we can note the view that there's some sense of getting beyond structural reality in the very term), is that the "problem" is "the gender binary" always worded exactly that way. The irony of post-structuralism being used to maintain oppressive structures seems lost on many in the Academy. PoMo is Mo in PoMo clothing.

"The gender binary". The gender binary? Gender has been many things across cultures, but it being a "binary" isn't really the issue. In patriarchal societies, especially white ones and white-colonised ones, gender is a socially enforced hierarchy--regardless of how many there are. That is the issue. So if we don't deflect from the "hierarchy" by calling it a "binary", we end up having to directly face a very misogynistic system that can find places for male women and female men; for any permutation and combination of femininity and masculinity, as long as feminine always means "less than" masculine, and masculine always means "power over" the feminine.

"Cowboys and Indians" isn't a binary. Nor is Nazi/Jew. Nor is Black/white. Nor, in my view, is man/woman. Those are hierarchies--in the first case a game white children played around me as if it were a binary--that's the trick: to make it appear to be "us vs. them" as if there's some sort of level playing field. As if the Indians could win one day; the cowboys the next. Meanwhile, the actual genocide of American Indians and the existence of cowboy culture across the mid and southwest is what? Not relevant? Not real? Interferes with the fun of the game? This is my issue with queer drag: to turn a condition requiring great violence into a fun time without noting that it is, to the core, violence--directed against women and girls--is to be terribly disrespectful to those who pay the highest price for 'behaving like women'.

When I bring this concern, this critique to pro-feminist queer folks, they say, "we just wanna have fun". That's privilege--to be able to have fun with the reprehensible terroristic destruction of a class of people. Shall we have a game of Nazi-Jew also? How about White Master-Black slave? Oh, wait: we do that too. Those are called "genres" in pornography, which people consume as pleasure.  They are also the role-play games some people act out for fun. To better understand what's oppressive about that, I recommend reading Audre Lorde's contribution to Against Sadomasochism. To reduce a sadist or a slaver to being "just a role I play" is to be utterly insensitive to those who are experiencing denigration, humiliation, and possession by very unfun sadists and slavers.

To turn a hierarchy into a binary is a pretty fiendish thing to do, if one's people are being destroyed by the hierarchy in binary's clothing.

Social hierarchies are political systems of grossly cruel power exercised in every way through every method, to keep women and girls down relative to men and boys; to keep Black and Brown people down; to keep American Indians on the "endangered species list". It'd be like saying "hunter and lion" is a binary. Huh??

The white/het/cis/male supremacist hierarchy will keep trans folks out if they're seen as "a bunch of queers" (whether or not they are) because "queers" are seen as doing one of two things, neither of which is "difference" except in the most liberal sense. Society isn't threatened by difference, exactly, in this view. It is threatened by specific challenges to white supremacy and to het male supremacy--to the institutionalised ideologies and practices of each form of dominance and subordination. South Africa, for example, doesn't have a race binary, exactly. They have more than two categories of raced being. But guess which one is on top? Whiteness.

So it will be with any additional categories in a male supremacist system. It won't matter whether or not there are transmen, as long as cismen--cis HET men--are dominant. This is why, to me, "queer politics" is constructed to be liberal not radical, and largely anti-woman and anti-lesbian. From a dominant cultural standpoint, "lesbianism" rejects male supremacy by rejecting one of its key mandates: that all girls and women be sexually or otherwise physically and intimately involved with boys and men. To not do this is always seen by men-in-power as a big ol' fuck you to men. As if woman-loving couldn't possibly be anything else. It's all about the boyz. All the time. But, nonetheless, "d*kes" are beaten up for not being willing and welcoming of men's sexuality, which is to say men's invasions and violations of women and girls.

Gay males are rejected, ostracised, beaten, and occasionally killed by het men predominantly because, in the words of John Stoltenberg, they are seen to participate in the degraded status of the female. Bottom line: gay males are seen as men who suck dick and are fucked by dick. So whether lesbian or gay, these "orientations" are seen to threaten het male supremacy's codes of conduct: all dicks must be weapons used against women not men; and all women must be available for men's dick-tutorial target practice.

How, then, did we collectively arrive at a theory of "difference" (or of a conception and articulation of gender as a binary) when there's such glaring "dominance" and a well-protected (and generally invisibilised or naturalised) hierarchy? C. A. MacKinnon writes about this in detail--the very serious dangers to women of turning "dominance" into "difference" but specifically in terms of how the law recognises--or doesn't--that women aren't the same as men and also aren't just "different" from men. There are very real, dire consequences for women globally, and for anyone and everything else white het men dominate (including animals and the Earth) if male supremacy isn't even named when we discuss and challenge "gender".

My question, really for all of us who are trans- and inter-gender, is this: "what does it mean, materially, spiritually, socially, to say "we don't feel like [a specific sex]": who told us what "being female" or "being male" is supposed to feel like, be experienced as, or be socially made into? And, to the extent we don't identify with or feel at home in our bodies, can we at least respectfully discuss the many reasons why that occurs without politically privileging those that appear to re-biologise "sex"? How does "I don't feel like a female" compare to "I don't feel like a woman and didn't feel like a girl"? And how does a social program of genderqueer people demanding to be considered "men" and "women" by society and the State interrupt or challenge a "gender binary", anyway? How does sexual trauma in childhood effect our own "at-homeness" in our bodies. I'm not making the case that "everyone who wants to surgically change their bodies from one sex to another" is a survivor of sexual assault.

I'm suggesting that there are many reasons why we don't feel comfortable in our own skin, why we are repulsed by our bodies, why we feel alien inside them, etc. And these many reasons should be discussed online so that someone else who comes along and feels alien inside their skin can have many ways to understand this, and not just have a few people referring them to a doctor who has their own interests to sell a way of understanding "gender dysphoria". Gender dysphoria needs to be unpacked, as well as regarded as real.

Why are so many white class-privileged queer-defined people unwilling to engage on these rather critical subjects while being willing to write about "the gender binary"? More queer lives are impacted by male dominance than by "a binary called sex". Most queer people's and most women's lives are greatly impacted by many forms of male supremacist values and practices than by "the binary problem". Most of our lives, worldwide are shaped horrifically by poverty, rape, trafficking, famine, HIV, corporate/class warfare and globalisation, racism and genocide, nuclear and other toxic/lethal waste, and the social degradation of female human beings globally. These are not "ideas" that must be engaged: they are hard-core realities that must be challenged and ended.

Discussing "the gender binary" is a politically mistaken and socially irresponsible way to refer to "what's wrong with gender", which is that men are killing, maiming, and otherwise harming women and girls. All over the planet. To invisibilise a political hierarchy called "gender" is part of the work of pro-patriarchs, who pretend cisgender women are the most powerful people on Earth. Why are queer folks doing that work for heteropatriarchal cis men? They really do know how to do it by themselves (well, with women raising them, feeding them, tending to them, and otherwise nurturing them throughout their lifetimes). If we're to end male dominance and male violence, wouldn't it make sense for all of us who are not cis het men, and a few who are, to join together in the struggle to challenge and dismantle patriarchal oppression?

Dear Sebastian. A letter of loss and love.

image is from here
Dear Sebastian,

I know this should never see the light of day. It, like much of what should be barely whispered between us, is meant only for the night. This letter, like anything uttered close to the ear, is also only for eyes that see beyond life as it is cast wretchedly into the harsh glare of whiteness.

You are a seeker of night vision. This is what drew me to you, in part. Also your beauty, if I may be so shallow as to say so. But beauty is always more than skin deep. Your skin, pale as melting snow--and nearly as cold, nonetheless pulsed warm blood as red as any other.

Your aesthetics and your values are what set you apart. Also your intellect which cloaked a heart as tender as it was reclusive. Your artistic soul--I'd say 'brilliant' if it weren't so overused to describe white men--combined with your physical beauty made you irresistible to me. Or, rather, made wanting you irresistible. The wanting was the thing I seemed to have fallen in love with, as you left me before I could really know whether or not I was in love with you. You were off in a hurry, a mad flurry of panic, flying into the arms of a woman to whom you will likely tell nothing at all that is barely spoken, broken by volume and torn apart only by the softest touch.

We could not be truly honest face to face--at least not about our deepest feelings for one another. And so we did not touch. For, in touch, all would have been known in a rush of trembling apprehension, a torrent of feeling fused to knowledge neither one of us was willing to bear or birth.

So our love was and remains still born, from womb to tomb with no passage through life. And it lay between us like a lost letter, yellowed envelope, never delivered, but sent with every intention of being received.

Reception requires a lot, I realise now. To attempt, in good faith, to take in the wholeness of a person is to admit another can never be possessed. And so the act of loving is, perpetually, perennially, the act of letting go. You and I spoke to each other all those days most vulnerably in the silences between our words. I read your face like one of your poems, with about as little comprehension. But I knew at least one poem was to me. That gave me reason enough to keep trying to discern meaning. But I tend to want too much from meaning. I want certainty like a rich man wants gold or a stage actor seeks applause: enough is never enough and inevitably the greedy and the desperate are left broke and alone.

To receive you was always to open my hand and welcome your flight. And you've flown. Away. Yet despite knowing you are no personal homing pigeon nor dove of peace you came back, but not to me.

Sebastian, I want you here--my lips murmuring in your ear, our bodies within reach--for a moment or a lifetime I cannot say. I want to touch you to know if our love is real and to see if, against all men's laws of nature, it can be brought presently to life.

Free Workshops on Global Feminist Activism by UK Feminista! Feb. 1 in Bristol, Feb. 2 in Birmingham, Feb. 5 in Leeds. To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day!!!

this photograph was part of the workshop news release below

  UK Feminista
Workshops on Global Feminist Activism Announced
UK Feminista has teamed up with Women for Women International to host a series of free regional workshops on global feminist activism. The workshops will take place in Bristol, Birmingham and Leeds:

Bristol: Tuesday 1 February, 6.30-8.30pm. More details
Birmingham: Wednesday 2 February, 5.30-7.30pm. More details
Leeds: Saturday 5 February, 3-5pm. More details

About the workshops: 8th March 2011 is International Women's Day (IWD) - and 
this year marks the 100th anniversary of IWD. These workshops will explore how women’s rights are progressing globally and how UK activism can further women’s rights around the world. You'll be able to meet activists from your area and discuss  how to make IWD 2011 a truly memorable day. 

You'll also find out at the workshops how to organise a 'Join Women on the Bridge'  
event for IWD. To find out more about Women for Women International's Bridge project visit their website or download a toolkit
To book your place at a workshop email Sarah Haynes:  

The workshops are free to attend but advance booking strongly recommended. 

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