December 7, 2009

Personal Statement Update (The Short Version)

Posted in Gender issues, Public discourse, Women's issues tagged , at 9:58 am by Maggie Clark

I think I’ve perfectly come to an understanding with myself about gender now.

I know I absolutely refuse any “inner gender” label. I know some (not all! not even close to all!) trans persons would insist that I am female (unless I instead defined myself as gender male), because their own perception of inner gender is something that they have felt “from birth,” despite the social and sex-based cues that told them they belonged to a different gender-sex.

I have not felt female “from birth.” In fact, I don’t “feel” female now. I don’t “feel” present in myself at all in a gendered way. The sex-based cues, which cause such immense problems for my ability to identify whether a personal feeling is “legitimate” or based on where I am in my cycle (seriously — I ALWAYS cry two days before my period, and it’s invariably about something that seemed slight beforehand), are a constant threat to my sense of self-identity. Similarly, the social cues, which have led counsellors to call me “broken” or “damaged” when I say my number one desire is not procreation but adoption, and my father to call me a “failure of the genetic code” for being queer and also for desiring to adopt, are another immensely sore point for me.

I know some trans persons feel that my self-identity — as genderless, as human-first — is an implicit attack on their own self-identities. It is not. I wholeheartedly respect and would NEVER challenge the noumenological identity of another human being. You are what you identify yourself as, and you will NEVER see me refute the gender label you give yourself.

I furthermore acknowledge that gender-normativity is an incredible BENEFIT in the gender-binary system we all presently occupy. And I know that in many occasions, I DO pass as gender-normative. So do many other queer persons. So do many transgendered persons. So do many straight, non-trans persons. But the problem with our gender-binary system — the problem shared by trans persons, queer persons, and women (and some men) alike — is that the MOMENT one of us doesn’t “pass” as gender-normative (as in, not fitting the gender archetype prescribed to our perceived sex), we are all at greater risk of violence and discrimination.

This is especially relevant when we look at cases like Jorge Steven López Mercado, a self-identified gay (NOT trans) man dismembered and decapitated and partially charred and abandoned on the side of the road.

I absolutely do not reference his name to politicize his death for my uses. I am very saddened, though not surprised, that his name, and his brutal death, have been applied in this manner already. I instead reference him to point out that whatever he identified as has NOTHING to do with why he died. Because it truly doesn’t matter what nuanced term a victim uses for him or herself. It matters A WHOLE LOT, however, what term the perpetrator ascribes to the victim. Because in any sensible universe, there would be only one term, for everyone: HUMAN. In reality, however, there are more. And therein lies the problem.

In this way, I am firmly of the belief that the violent bigoted see no difference between trans and gay — that they think of trans women as gay men who are trying to “trick” them into being gay as well, by making them fall for “men” dressed like women. The thought experiment I like to use here is of the father who beats his child for playing with dresses and make-up: This action has NO relation to the outcome of the child. The child might end up identifying as gay. The child might end up identifying as transgender. The child might end up as a cross-dressing straight man (a VERY strong portion of the cross-dressing population!). The child might end up as none of these at all! You just don’t know. The ONLY thing this scenario says for certain is that the FATHER has no tolerance for non-gender-normativity. And in his limited experience with non-gender-normativity, he’s more likely than anything to perceive this action as “gay” (in the effeminate sense), and respond with that notion in mind.

What does this have to do with real world outcomes? Everything. It means EVERYONE who might ever have reason not to pass as gender-normative — either by being a born-woman who doesn’t conform to physical or social expectations for her gendered sex, or by being a born-man who doesn’t conform to physical or social expectations for his gendered sex, or by being a trans woman or trans man confronting similar, oppositional expectations due to his her/his gendered sex — is at risk in our system. It means that the targeted or otherwise violent deaths of queer men and women need to be taken very seriously by society. It means that the targeted or otherwise violent deaths of women, period, need to be taken very seriously by society. It means that the targeted or otherwise violent deaths of trans persons need to be taken very seriously by society. And it means that the exploitation and silencing of lived experience from all three groups needs to be taken very, very seriously as well.

But all of this needs to be done for one very crucial, rarely disseminated, wholly universalizing reason: Because the noumenological truth of our self-identities is OURS ALONE. Just as I have absolutely no right to tell a trans person what gender they identify as, no one can tell me I identify as “female” just because society sets out specific gender-female expectations for the sex I was born into, and I don’t identify instead as “male”.

Which means I have every fucking right to say I don’t have an inner gender identity. I furthermore have every fucking right to say I don’t feel “present” within myself at all in that regard.

And it means I can say this about myself without that determination EVER threatening another person’s equal right to whatever inner identity they recognize for themselves.

This is NOT transphobic. This is NOT cissexist. This is the nature of a system where all individuals should be equal, with equal rights and privileges, and equal assurances to the right of self-determination. It is, moreover, the nature of a system where all individuals are, in reality, only equal when they present as gender-normative; and where a slew of variations on our rights and privileges emerges when we, as individuals, cease to perform to that gender-normative standard.

This is what I’ve learned about myself, and the gender-binary we operate in, over the past few weeks. I welcome all comment, from everyone, about their own thoughts about such matters.

All the best, you wonderful human people you!