Genderless Uproar

            I’ve been consistently wondering why many normative people who respect pronoun choices of gender normative trans individuals don’t respect gender neutral pronouns and continue to misgender a person based on what they believe that person’s birth sex is.  Many use the excuse that the pronouns are hard or unintuitive sounding, but let’s get real: the pronoun “they” has been used in the English language for centuries, and it’s ridiculously easy to start using “they” with people who claim it.

            Maybe I’m biased, but I consistently get “she” when I tell trans*-friendly allies that I prefer “they,” and yet these same people correct themselves when they misgender my other friends.  I’m starting to seriously doubt the “difficulty” of mastering gender neutral pronouns since my well-intentioned friends take little action to even correct themselves when they don’t get it right.  Yes, I’m ranting, but my identity continues to be masked behind this justification of using the wrong pronoun from my birth sex, and it I think comes from mainstream’s detestation of polygender and agender identities.

            Take a look at this video, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJPYSWaWskw)  A Canadian family is attempting to rear their child genderless.  Whether or not this can be achieved as a result of intense socialization of gender norms outside of personal identification does not matter here.  It is the “firestorm of controversy” this decision has brought about from the voices of normative citizens that makes me believe “genderlessness” is hated.

            I’m going to start with what slightly bothered me about the video.  First, responders attempted to claim that these parents were putting their child through a “social experiment” to spite mainstream society, as if that were their real goal instead of trying to raise their child in the way that makes the child feel the most comfortable. 

           Next, the biased news cast kept subtly trying to gender the child, emphasizing “he or she” and “his or her” whenever possible.  While one could argue “he or she” is a valid mainstream language choice, the news cast did a few other problematic things like using biological sex and gender identity as interchangeable words, implying the illegitimacy of genderlessness as a result of the assumed impossibility of sexlessness since the parents “won’t be able to [hide the sex] for very long,” and suggesting that it is the parents’ job to reveal their children’s gender identities to them (via the implied justification of gender identity through biological sex) rather than the other way around.

            The parents themselves presented some contestable claims.  They’re trying to advance the claim that individual choice in the face of intense socialization is both possible and something to strive for.  This “tribute to freedom and choice in a place of limitation” (despite their limiting expectation of their child to “finally choose” their gender identity someday) is ridiculous since individuals rarely have an actual say in their own presentations of their identities resulting from intense pressures from family, friends, and mainstream media.  In addition, championing individual freedom cannot be possible in a world where disciplinary power works to degrade individuals who don’t conform, and biopower works to enforce the norms and expectations of disciplinary power on the level of populations.  We cannot actually choose our own gender, genders, or lack of gender if we are presented with only two options, ridiculed if we do not choose the option that mainstream culture claims matches our “true sex,” and targeted for violence on the basis of lack of conformity.

            And now for the part that really ticks me off.  Some privileged psychologist “expert” (see http://www.docmikebradley.com/about_me.html to get an idea of his white, cis, het, male, economic privilege) claims that this child nonconsensually suffers or will suffer from their parents’ decision to rear them without gender: “the parents are imposing this role on the child.”  Let’s back up here.  Is “forcing” a child to be reared genderless really nonconsensual when mainstream parents continually force their children to conform to gender roles that are justified by their biological sex?  I continually heard “boys do ____, and girls do ____” from parents, friends, and mainstream media throughout my entire childhood.  I was, and continue to be, nonconsensually shoved into a gender box “girl” because I have “girl parts,” and this psychologist somehow seems to think that that’s ok and that giving the child some sort of choice over the matter (whether it is really individual choice or not) is not consensual?  What?

            To continue with this nonsense, the “expert” also suggests that those who pursue genderless identity are objects: “this child is not asking to be this thing” (my emphasis added).  He then goes on to use military language to describe what the child’s parents hoped was a phenomenon of choice: “this kid’s being drafted into a war that may hurt him or her terribly.”  This enormous disrespect for humans without gender, no matter how ridiculous the metaphor sounds, parallels mainstream implications that agender or polygender identities do not or should not exist.

            No wonder my pronouns are never respected.  This implicit assumption that genderlessness is akin to the level of objects rather than beings appears every time someone I know continues to “she” me after I explicitly told them that “anything but ‘he’ or ‘she’ is fine.”  I’d like to think that it’s the inconvenience of gender neutral pronouns rather than implicit disgust that motivates most of my friends’ desires to continue to (mis)gender me, but I’m starting to think that if they really cared about getting someone’s pronouns right, they’d respect mine, no matter how inconvenient it is for them. 

           As I start to move toward a more agender and polygender identification, I fear the expectation to either gender myself or let myself be normatively gendered according to the heterosexual matrix.  I cannot stress how frustrating it is to still be expected to fit a female/feminine/het role or a male/masculine/het role within ally spaces or even queer spaces.  For instance, many continue to shove me into a “she” pronoun and therefore a “woman” role justified by the “female” parts I have, while at the same time they respect someone else’s male pronoun and desire for a “man” role despite his “female” parts.  Both my more normative trans* friend and myself, in this case, deserve the pronouns we want, regardless of what identities, normative or otherwise, we take on with those pronouns.  When a person justifies a pronoun I don’t want from my sex, and when that pronoun justifies a normative “woman” role I cannot take on, while at the same time that person respects a pronoun my friend wants that somehow justifies a normative “man” role he may nor may not want, that person works to reinforce the matrix of normative identities relying on the conformity to strict roles of masculine aggression by “men” and feminine submission by “women.”  

          When people ask for different pronouns, they don’t always automatically ask to be seen under different roles or identities.  Justifying a specific gender role with a certain pronoun is as bad as justifying a pronoun from sex, and both of these things work together to degrade the lives of those who seek gender neutral pronouns but are continually gendered “he” or “she” on the basis of their “true sex.”  Only respecting a person’s pronouns if they conform to the strict matrix conception of masculine aggression and feminine submission roles of the het matrix is unacceptable.  Defining me because I’ve left myself undefined is unacceptable. 

-Ash Kulak

Cisgender Privilege

Cisgender Privilege

One of the things that really stood out to me while reading Dean Spade’s chapter “Administrating Gender” is how just the classification on so many necessary documents contain a gender category and how many hoops a transgender person needs to jump through in order to even get that classification changed.  Spade says, “some require evidence that the person has undergone a specific surgery; others ask for evidence that the person has had some surgery but do not specify which; and some require a doctor’s letter confirming that the person is trans and attesting to the medical authorization for or permanence of their membership in a particular gender category” (144).  I feel that this all stems from a fear of gender.  With all the progress that has been made, I believe that a lot of this country is still run with the white male in mind and he is afraid of everyone who is not like him.  Gender is as fluid as any other part of someone’s identity.  Biology is not a part of gender so a doctor’s note should not be required to change it just as a doctor’s note is not required for me to dye my hair and change my hair color on my license.  However, the category of hair color does not affect how I am able to claim the benefits of health care or any other government-run program. 

I had never realized how much privilege I had as a cisgendered person until I read an article last semester called “Cis Privilege Checklist.”  After reading Spade, I went back and read again the list of privileges that trans people are not able to receive simply because they do not fit into the two box category of gender, and because there are so many hoops to jump through in order to get a different box checked on any official document.  So many of the privileges in that article could be given to everyone if the system of gender classification could be changed.  However, I do not think that adding more boxes is the answer; I think that the only way to effectively take away the disadvantages trans people face is to discard the category from all government documents.  There are so many other identifying features that could be used that would not disadvantage an entire population of people that could be used other than gender.  I would argue that, just as Spade says, there is no law reform that would be able to fix all of the problems of discrimination.  An entire system reconfiguration that is based on true equality, not the equality of the United States, is what would be needed in order to get anywhere.

Nicole Amodeo

Neoliberalism.

 

Maybe I’ve heard the word before, but if so, it didn’t make much of an impression the first time around.  Happily for me, Dean Spade’s first chapter in Normal Life changed this for good: now I will forever after have a reaction- and a strong one!- to this word and the phenomenon it describes.  Not that I haven’t previously been made acquainted with the phenomenon; I’m sure each and every one of us in this generation has encountered the hallmarks of neoliberalism in some capacity what with the persistent myth of American meritocracy and post-9/11 governmental xenophobia in our lifetimes.  I must say that I am thankful to a have a word with which to articulate the incredibly complex and slippery socio-political climate I observe around me.  Conceiving of this climate as “a range of interlocking trends in domestic and international politics” (49) makes this slippery complexity significantly more intelligible, making neoliberalism an important analytic lense. 

            I am thankful for Spade’s explication of “neoliberalism” because, while reading, I found myself stumbling across very logical and intelligent explanations for the persistence of oppressions post-Civil Rights Era, for the apparent impotence of social reforms and programs, and for the public’s unproblematic acceptance of political victim-blaming.  As a self-proclaimed feminist and a gender studies major (who unfortunately bartends at a country club), I often find that I am expected to come up with some theory about why feminism is still necessary or how racism could possibly exist after Blacks won the right to vote.  Resisting the impulse to take the persons who pose these questions by both shoulders and shake the silliness (read: privilege) out of them, I usually try to keep my cool and reasonably explain the ways that women or Blacks or people of low-socioeconomic class get disenfranchised by our society.  This is nearly ALWAYS a highly frustrating activity.  I cite the persistent sexual wage gap or the disproportionately low population of Black students in higher education; they blame women’s avoidance of math and the lack of academic ambitions among African Americans.  While these arguments hopefully seem laughable to you and I, unfortunately laughter is not a legitimate response to the available statistics on career choices made by young women primarily outside of mathematical fields (http://www.aacu.org/ocww/volume39_1/feature.cfm?section=1) or the severe underrepresentation of African Americans in higher education (only 18.4% of the total African American population in 2013 had a bachelor’s degree or higher http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/cb13-ff02.html).  Of course, I have previously sought recourse to arguments of gendered or racial socialization to account for social influences on “free” will, but unless I peddle back far enough to take my audience through the boys-in-blue/girls-in-pink narrative, I usually end up getting treated like a victim of paranoid delusions.  I’m not sure I will ever completely ensure my protection against this kind of treatment, but at least neoliberalism has given me a context for understanding why it’s so gorshdarn hard to explain the workings of oppression in our current climate! 

As Spade writes, “Systemic inequality has become increasingly unspeakable and the long-term myth of meritocracy in the United States, coupled with the renewed rhetoric of ‘personal responsibility,’ suggests that those benefiting from the upward distribution are doing so because of their moral fitness, and, respectively, that those on the losing end are blameworthy, lazy, and, of course, s dangerous.” (58). I conclude, neoliberalism creates a space in which institutionalized inequalities are denied and then argued out of existence by programs which claim to have already remedied them, despite the persistence of these inequalities in the lives of individuals.  Then, individuals who are privileged enough to know nothing first-hand about the lived experiences of disenfranchised peoples deny the reality or the severity of “so-called oppressions,” in society and instead blame the choices of individuals for the condition of marginalized communities.  Neoliberal politics are of the sneakiest variety, but once their structural patterns have been identified, as they have been by Spade, it is more possible to recognize and thwart their reiteration of oppressions.

 

By Rosalind Rini