Home > Uncategorized > There’s no such thing as Gender Utopia

There’s no such thing as Gender Utopia

So, I’d like to address this whole “transcending gender” thing that crops up from time to time in discussions on gender and transgendered people. It’s very weird to me and I need to puzzle it out a bit. I’ve heard two roughly similar versions of this idea, one from feminists and queer theorists and one from within the trans community.

The first is based on the idea that gender is socially constructed (well, both of them are, but this one stresses the construction vs. being a “performance” or whatever else characterization), specifically a construction that serves to oppress women and/or queer people. Gender is equated with the trappings of social roles, and the recognition that the social roles favor heterosexual men. So in this view the only way to throw of the shackles is to remove gender (i.e. the social roles). This one is a bit tricky to parse because, on the one hand, eradication of prescriptive social roles based on sex/gender/genitals/whatever IS at least part of what will remove oppression of women and sexual minorities, but on the other hand it completely ignores people’s self perception. There’s no evidence that I’ve seen that getting rid of social roles will get rid of gender. Look at groups of people who obviously don’t give a shit about socially acceptable gender roles–cross dressers, drag performers, genderfucks, anyone with a gender expression drastically different from the standard social stereotype–how many of them identify as men and women? More specifically, how many of them identify identically with how they are identified at birth (i.e. are cisgendered)? Most. Why should that be? If they’ve cast off the societal roles, why should they still have genders? Probably because there is more to gender than just the way one behaves. That’s not to say that gender=biology, that would be an oversimplification in and of itself, but it is my personal experience that gender has some intrinsic properties that cannot be escaped and I would assume that at least some other people have similar experiences. Plus, why should getting rid of something be the only way to fix problems? It is, in my mind, entirely possible to end gender/sex-based discrimination without getting rid of gender. The argument here seems to be that the only way to liberate women is to abolish them (and men as well, but still). It seems counter-intuitive to me. It really makes me wonder if the people espousing this idea have taken a close look at their own genders (maybe they have, but I honestly doubt they’d be so cavalier about getting rid of other people’s gender if they felt particularly invested in their own self-conception).

The second version, which is more insidious in my mind, is the one tossed around the genderqueer branch of the trans community. This again states that gender is oppressive, and that removing it will end all gender oppression. But more than that, it specifically declares that non-binary genders are the way of the future, that they are evolving out or that eventually everyone will have a non-binary gender and because of that we’ll live in a genderless genderfucking society. This is the idea that gave this post its name, because more extreme versions of it paint a picture of a magical world where every other person is a drag performer and everyone else is too busy being androgynous to bother with gender-specific clothing. It specifically states (as does the one above to a lesser extent) that non-binary genders are more radical and progressive, and thus better, than non-binary genders. This is one of the sources behind the ridiculous “transgender vs. transsexual” infighting that occurs in the community (the other source being “binary-only” ideas amongst some trans people, they kind of feed off each other). It bothers me immensely that a community that ostensibly takes “be yourself” as a primary maxim privileges certain self-expressions in this way: do whatever you want so long as it serves to “tear down the binary”, if who you are doesn’t look like it’s meeting that goal that you are at best trapped in the system and at worst actively keeping everyone else down. But what really frustrates me about this is that I don’t feel particularly like transcending anything, I like having a gender. Maybe this one doesn’t seek to eradicate my gender, given that I am non-binary identified, but I feel very strongly about my gender identity so even if it isn’t I shudder at asking anyone else to give up theirs either.

I think that instead of abolishing gender we should be working towards removing the value judgments placed on people’s genders, sexes, and gendered behavior*. Instead of trying to impose a gender-neutral androgynous society or “smash the binary” we should be seeking to expand the conceptions people have about gender.

And honestly, we will never have true gender liberation. With women perhaps, because there are roughly the same number of them as men we could get to a point where they are socially equal, but unless we give everyone born without a uterus a transplant then we still will have a source of extra burden placed on some people** (not that I think childbearing automatically disprivleges women, but pregnancy is something half the population will never have to think about and that isn’t insignificant). But with transgendered people and those with non-binary gender identities? Tiny minority, and all the baggage that comes with that. Even a population that is entirely accepting of non-binary genders and makes no assumption about other peoples’ identity will have issues when there is a strong majority (personally knowing people who are similar to you is one thing that I consider to be part of cis-privilege and isn’t something that’s going away unless we magically make there be more of us, for example).

I don’t believe that people espousing a “transcend gender” philosophy will meet their goals, and I don’t think that’s altogether a bad thing.

*I define this term to mean activities traditionally associated with gender, for example traits categorized as “masculine” or “feminine”, though not exclusive to those categories.
**I originally wrote women and then remembered that they aren’t the only ones who can be born with uteri, just that they make up the bulk of those people

  1. April 20, 2011 at 09:49

    Heh, my uterus is up for sale.

    But yes, this is one of the problems I’ve had with folks identifying as genderqueer, because if their goal is to eradicate gender, the 0.2% of the population working toward it is going through a lot of effort for nothing. It would be nice for people who feel they are non-binary identified to just dress and be who they feel they are rather than try to hold up some ideal level of gender fuckery.

  1. April 3, 2011 at 10:34
  2. April 3, 2011 at 10:34

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