I had no idea the extent of the exclusion place on non-conforming individuals until just before I decided to talk about non-binary gender’s invisibility for my trans* history project. In my Critical Approaches to Literature class, we were discussing Foucault, Bordo, and Butler. As a mind immersed in Gender Studies ways of thinking it was frustrating to see people totally missing the point. I could walk away and cool off after class… until we read a six-page segment of Butler’s Gender Trouble. The discussion of the reading disavowed so much of my identity with so little effort that I could not think straight by the end of the day. When I declared my trans* history project concept I was fighting tears, it got me so riled up.
Since then, I have noticed it everywhere. I am currently watching a friend struggle with trying to enforce ‘they’ pronouns with very little success. A trans man got accommodations to live on an all-male floor, but is too scared to venture into the bathroom and is greeted by a bulletin board titled ‘Manliness March’ stating all the ways to get the girl of your dreams. When a comment was written on the board about all of the assumptions it is making about sexuality, the comment was ripped down. The same trans man is being shunned by his suitemate (another trans man) because his suitemate is passable and wants to assimilate into the normative world of gender. I’m not hating on that desire, it’s incredibly understandable. However, it sucks that the less passable trans* individuals are left out in the cold while the passably normative cis and trans individuals fit into their comfortable, gendered blue and pink boxes and don’t think twice about how their gender assumptions might hurt someone.
Then two gender inclusive floors are proposed in Collins and progress is being made. But the floor that is supposed to be completely supportive is cancelled and the only option left has gender-segregated bathrooms. This would, once again, be fine for the gender conforming and passable individuals, but for the genderqueer or non-passing trans* individual it takes the bathroom dilemma that is fought against every day and brings it into the more intimate dorm setting where it is absolutely unavoidable. Speaking of bathrooms, how incredibly embarrassing to be caught between the two when people at large can so obviously tell where they belong. Then the same people who can so easily decide where they go push you out of the bathroom with curses about how you belong in the other one when you honestly thought you were complying to the norm by entering .
Then I read Gayle Salamon’s work and I see it littered everywhere throughout her examples with trans individuals and their experiences being explained with “he or she” as if those were the only two options a person could strive for (75, 83). And on page 84, it is suggested by Hausman that transgender individuals who have not, or choose not to, transition are merely pre-transsexuals who haven’t quite gotten there yet for personal or financial reasons.
It just goes to show how deep society’s construction of gender is ingrained more than it is taught through everyday actions and assumptions. Without fail people will misgender my friends and me without batting an eyelash because to them, gender is not an issue in social interactions.
Well, gender isn’t an issue until it’s your issue. Then you can’t get away from it.
Here’s a piece of poetry by Andrea Gibson about the pressures faced in trying to conform to a binary that doesn’t always fit. Enjoy.