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Video Post: Assumptions

None of the Above

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been having difficulty with labels recently (well, always but specifically over the past month). I have had a lot of trouble with labels over the years, and thought that I had finally found something that worked for me, but now I am no longer sure…

I’m good with pronouns, I love the pronouns I have chosen for myself and they really work when people bother to actually use them. There is a blip when it comes to the general usage of them, as a generic “any person” pronoun rather than “specific person who is non-binary”, but I’ve written about this before so I’ll let it lie for now.

No, the issue is the overall gender label. There are many ways to announce non-binary-ness: androgyne, neutrois, gender fluid, bigender, and the one I’ve taken to using, genderqueer (among many, many others). It works best for me out of the available vocabulary for a number of reasons, but I don’t think any gender-word neologism will be truly adequate to express my identity.

The whole thing with gendered labels is, I’m not really sure what they’re for. We call someone a man or a woman and that’s supposed to be representative of their identity somehow but I don’t really know what that label is supposed to be actually communicating. But the point is that it is communicating something, people are getting information from this and presumably those who identify as male or female find this communication adequate. I suppose it denotes a general group that an individual feels they belong to, like any label, and defines spaces that they can move through (bathrooms, etc.).

So, with that, what does a word like “genderqueer” communicate? I don’t mean within the trans-whatever community and in lgbTQ spaces, I mean to people that I interact with on a regular basis that might not have encountered the word before. What do I do if I have to define it? I say, “it means I don’t identify as male or female”. Great, that’s accurate, but how useful is it to me or the other person? First of all, if someone is unfamiliar with the concept, this doesn’t mark me as part of any community or define my spaces, it marks me immediately as an outsider with no community or spaces at all. I’ve even encountered extreme absurdities like “well then how do you pee” (because gender = your junk and if you’re not a man or a woman you have nowhere to put your urethra apparently).

What does it say about my ability to operate within society if the only way I can talk about myself is “I’m not that, or the other thing, but something else that I can’t specify”? The answer can’t be “make a social space for people of your gender” because I can’t communicate what my gender IS, I can only say what it is not. And it’s like that for all the non-binary terminology I’ve encountered. I’m very dissatisfied with the whole thing. “Man” and “woman” might be vague approximations but at least they’re accurate, the terms I use don’t even point people in the right direction. I’m not even sure where the right direction is, because I can’t talk about this with MYSELF, I only have vague pre-verbal sensations that I can’t articulate.

What I’m saying is I need a new word, something that joins me to a community but doesn’t just mean “that grab-bag of other things”. I don’t think one exists yet.

This confusing mish-mash brought to you by the confusion pudding in my brainpan.

My thougts on gender

September 14, 2011 2 comments

The more I operate within the trans/queer/activist/stuff region of the interblags, the less I like the word “gender”. It really seems to mean everything and nothing at the same time. What definition you use is based on your political/theoretical leanings, and not so much on communicating a particular idea. I’ve seen, and participated in, conversations in which everyone had different (and occasionally mutually exclusive) definitions of gender and assuming everyone else was using the same definition as them. This is when yelling begins, generally.

The problem for me is that I have certain experiences that cannot be described unless I identify them as “gendered” experiences. I have a part of my mind, nestled somewhere behind where my identity is kept*, that reacts to certain stimuli, almost like a basic instinct. The stimuli it deals with specifically are things like pronouns, socially gender-specific words, etc. and it really doesn’t seem to have many or any other functions. It is the part that gets happy when someone uses my preferred pronoun and the part that gets angry when someone calls me “he” or “sir”. It’s only job, apparently, is to help me parse these simple and omnipresent social cues, specific to me. I have no name for this impulse, even though it seems pretty important and is difficult to ignore, so I have been calling it my “gender”. This meshes a little with what I’ve heard other people say about their genders, though this is usually vague stuff like “an internal feeling about one’s identity as male or female (or neither/both/kitty)”.

*I’m sorry if my internal mind references get/are confusing, I’m neither a psychologist nor a neurologist so I have no vocabulary for this stuff. It will all be extra subjective and metaphorical.

The main important factor of the “gender” feeling is that things that are socially coded male or female are rejected: male :( >, female :( >, ??? :D > But this doesn’t hold true for all things our society assigns to masculinity and femininity, just the formalized interactions based around that dichotomy. I wonder what this means.

Unfortunately, to make things extra-special complicated, I have another experience that matches up with other people’s definitions of “gender”. I sometimes describe myself as “gender fluid”, but the internal impulse that I described above is most definitely not fluid. What I’m talking about is more a sensation that is halfway between internal identity and external gender expression. It sometimes has the standard binary markers of “male” or “female”, but there are other less obviously “gender” modes such as “punk”, “goth”, and “drag queen” that alternate in this region of my mind-face*. This sensation seems less based on internal sources of identity and more on temporary or situational identification with some external gender exemplar or prototype. Sometimes the source of these prototypes is pretty clear (read: “punk” and “goth”) and others do not seem to align with societal definitions of the terms I feel like using at all (I am at my most “female” when lounging shirtless in torn up jeans). This is less a “parse the world around me” thing and more a “how I want to present myself to the world” thing.

*I’m sorry again. This term totally makes sense in my head but I’m not sure I explain it. It’s like, where the “gender” feeling from up top is, but way forward, in my face.

The fun part? I’m not totally sure these two things are wholly separate, even though they operate completely differently. For example, when I am feeling “female” (the domain of the expressive feeling) I am more open than normal to female-coded social interactions (the domain of the internal impulse), though still not as comfortable as I am with non-gendered codes. Maybe they interact, maybe they’re two sides of one particularly confusing coin, I don’t know. I wonder how much my upbringing and general experiences influences the content/form of these two feelings, and even if it influences their apparent separation.

I feel like these things need different names, other than just “gender”, but there’s not any really satisfying vocabulary out there that I’ve seen. The first impulse might be “brain sex” or something, but that makes a neurological statement that I as a layperson am not comfortable making, and the second might be “gender expression” but that really doesn’t fit particularly well. Either or both could be “gender identity”, but that phrase is so vague and has so many active definitions as to be essentially meaningless. I’m just pretty stuck between two seemingly contradictory sensations of being N-gendered (N standing for some gender that isn’t coded by society, but is coded by my mind for me personally) and of being fluid gendered where I bounce between obvious social constructions.

So, one or both of these definitions/sensations will clash with other definitions of gender out there. I’m honestly OK with that, because I have no evidence whatsoever that my experiences are remotely common, and my “gendered” feelings might just be mine and other people have different processes. Hopefully some of my hypothetical readers understood some of this free-associating stuff. If you did, leave me a comment because I’m totally confused.

Woe is them, they cry little black tears.

August 28, 2011 Leave a comment

“[They] can only win if they can get us to accept and internalize the second-class status they propose for us. To accept our own marginalization, to be quiet, to stand down and keep our heads down. To live in fear, instead of acting, with courage, out of hope. They do not know us.”

While this looks like the statement of some oppressed group speaking out about their treatment in society, it is actually National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown complaining about having to live in the same country as us queers. Because other people being allowed to disagree with you is discrimination doncha know? What really burns my ass here (help, I’m flaming!) is the complete co-opting of anti-oppression rhetoric basically word-for-word. Ten bucks says he saw this on a gay rights website and copy/pasted it into his statements.

Ugh, I’ve seen this bullshit before and I am sick of it. Dear Fundamentalist Christians: it is not the first century anymore. You are not being fed to lions. This is 21st century America, Christians basically run the damn country. Get over yourselves.

And, as I’ve said before, if you can’t handle interacting with people disagreeing with you, move to a remote island and leave the rest of us alone.

New People and Invisibility

August 13, 2011 3 comments

When was the last time I posted here? Well…I’m back from my unintentional hiatus and I have things to say (hopefully interesting things).

So, I’ve basically been a hermit lately, but the other day I attempted to socialize and had an experience that reminded me why I find meeting new people so uncomfortable. There was this social gathering thing at my mother’s apartment building that I went to (free food was involved) and I got to talking to some of the other tenants. None of these were people I expected to see again frequently or soon, since I’m going back to school in a couple weeks, so the whole thing was pretty low pressure.

The problem event was brief, so much so that by the time I realized I was uncomfortable the speaker was already several sentences ahead and it was too late to say anything. The people in the group I was with were discussing some movie* specifically the actors involved*. Several women in the group mentioned the attractiveness of one of the male characters; then one of them motioned to me and one other member of the group who was apparently male and stated that we might have found the female lead more interesting.

*Cowboys and Aliens, not important which is why I’ve clarified down here. Also, I’m crap with names so I don’t remember who was discussed.

This is a pretty small thing, but it was kind of alienating at the same time. This is the sort of action that is insignificant to most people, but stands out wildly to me. I feel like there’s very little I can do in these sorts of situations. I think I’ve mentioned it before, it’s very hard to correct someone without interrupting or derailing the thread of the conversation (and it never got back around to a subject where I could correct her assumption easily). This is not helped by the fact that I am pretty socially awkward, and that these situations always throw me for a loop even though they’re not really surprising. These were nice, mostly liberally minded people, they were not cracking gay jokes or being homo- or transphobic, but they still managed to make me feel like I was excluded from the conversation, albeit in a small way.

Theoretically I’m “out”, at least about my sexuality. But this really drives home how much of an active process that is. What was a casual conversation suddenly, and for a brief moment, became very high stakes for me. Even if I had been prepared to say something, I had an infinitesimal amount of time to decide how these people, whom I had just met, would react to my being queer and how to present that information. And there’s really no cure for this as far as I can see, all of the steps involved in heterosexual assumption are involuntary and people don’t like to analyze these sorts of processes. I don’t even really feel justified making a big deal about it, all of the arguments people make about assumptions being “normal” start bouncing around my head.

But the truth is it is a big deal, even tiny moments like this one. One instant of assumption moved me from cheerfully (if awkwardly) interacting with a group of people to being uncomfortable with the whole group. Do people get used to this? Because I can’t, it feels too much like being back in the closet.

I am not diseased

There are many comparisons that get made in explaining trans people and transition to the questioning masses. The concept of having it be a disorder almost makes sense, if one is going for the “not under our control” thing, and with the justification for medical intervention. That particular one gets a lot more use by people who hate trans people, but hey. Either way, I’m not to pleased with it.

The use of trans as mental disorder is one that gets used as anti-trans rhetoric all the time, probably due to both the listing of transsexualism in the DSM and the lovely ableism that allows us to dismiss anything we don’t like as “crazy”. I’ve seen transgendered identities compared to everything from body dysmorphia to schizophrenia to anorexia (no, seriously).

When trans people (and pro-trans arguments) make the “disorder” argument it’s usually physical, because that’s what people are trying to change about themselves. There’s a movement for reclassifying transsexualism as, essentially, a birth defect, where the outward sex and brain sex are mismatched. There’s some science behind this, I’d like a nice longitudinal study myself but this direction of inquiry is relatively new. A lot of it also looks at explaining transgenderism itself, rather than looking at the development of gender identity in humans in general, which reeks of pathologization. But you can’t just straight up compare it to diseases like cancer and heart disease. Whatever the cause, transgenderism and transsexualism are usually if not always self-diagnosed conditions. We have to convince other people that our self-conceptions are legitimate, even the doctors, it’s not a diagnosis where some medical professional doles it out and you get recommended or assigned treatment. (The article I link even suggests that trans people aren’t in control of their own transition, that it’s all the doctors, and it’s written by a trans woman. I have no idea.)

As I see it, etiology is a question for the scientists, for activism and social interaction it does not matter. My body is healthy, my gender is not disordered. There’s a mismatch to be sure, but how I manage that mismatch is entirely in my control. I am not diseased, and I don’t need ham-handed justifications for my existence.

Webcomickery

June 17, 2011 1 comment

So, in a continuing theme of “it’s summer and I’m still unemployed and have nothing to do”, I’ve been reading a lot of webcomics lately. I’m not enjoying it as much as you’d think.

Trying to find legitimately trans-related comics on the web is a chore. We’re talking about a genre that thinks that the “trans” in transgender stands for “transformation.” Even in print comics it’s all body swapping and “huh I seem to have woken up with tits let me grope myself”. Sludging through all that to get to the ones that actually feature transgendered characters doesn’t produce many gems. This is kind of a personal preference thing, but it really seems to me that every single LGBT related comic follows the same pattern, and it’s not one that’s very good. Slice-of-life genre stuff about queer kids in high school (or more rarely, college/university) who do and talk about queer things all the time. I guess this is OK if you like that genre, and it can be done well, but as far as I can tell it is literally everything. Actually, LGB protagonists are featured in a number of science fiction, fantasy, and horror comics where the tropes of those particular genres drive the plot, but inevitably any comic in those genres claiming to be trans-related is just another transformation comic. Usually, and especially with transgendered characters, if a protagonist is queer, queerness eats the plot. What I would really like to see are comics with trans protagonists that are about something other than transition, ones that flesh out the characters and show that trans people care about more than just hormones. I could totally take the utter proliferation of slice-of-life high school transitions if I could actually find something else once in a while.

Speaking of hormones and transitions: pretty much every trans character in any LGBT comic is a transsexual who is transitioning or trying to transition. No non-ops, few post-ops, and few nonbinary identified people. When nonbinaries do show up, they aren’t recurring characters and are there to be mocked (or at the very least this was a poorly thought-out joke). Even comics that acknowledge that nonbinary-identified people exist fail to have anything that remotely resembles my experiences. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the transness of it all didn’t eat the plot of every one of these comics. When you’re only talking about trans people, it helps to develop them as actual people.

I know what the obvious response to this is; I would totally be making my own webcomics if I thought I could draw worth a damn (my writing isn’t much better then mediocre either). Check back in a few years to see if I’ve learned to draw faces, and then we’ll talk.