Posts Tagged ‘identity’

Hey folks. So I posted this link on the facebook a while ago after I saw it on Feministing:

I think it provides a great overview about trans and genderqueer identities (it’s not perfect). Our language doesn’t provide much room for gender flexibility, as you might have noticed. It’s a little awkward, if not, impossible for some people to speak of a person without assigning them a binary gender. As I’ve been working on my thesis, which is essentially about that awkward space–created most obviously by intersex people (people whose sexual make-up puts them outside the sexual binary), I’ve been feeling more and more uncomfortable with gendered pronouns. Especially applied to me. But I also cringe when I find myself categorizing other people who haven’t specified their pronouns to me (which almost never happens anyway). I’m trying to make a conscious effort to stop putting people in boxes and asking more questions like, “what pronouns do you use?” When I was living in New Orleans, my friends had a whole bunch of discussion and reading groups they participated in, and when we went around the room everyone would say their name, why they were there, and the pronouns they preferred. Stuff like that makes me so happy. I know some people feel awkward about it, but, in my personal experience, I have been delighted when people ask me my pronouns (I’m a fan of ze, hir, and hirs, by the way). HOWEVER, the point of this post was to point out a simple thing everyone can do that I think would make the world a better place. So here’s my thoughts:

When you are talking about someone whose gender identity or pronouns have changed throughout their life, please don’t say “okay, so they were BORN a woman… and now they’re a man”. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my thesis is that human sexual development occurs, in fact, on a spectrum. When babies are born a doctor decides what sex, of the two options, that baby belongs to. If the baby is one of the estimated 4% who are born intersex, often parents put them through “corrective” surgery or put them on hormones. Sharon Preves wrote,

“It is my argument that medical treatments to create genitally unambiguous children are not performed entirely or even predominantly for the sake of preventing stigmatization and trauma to the child. Rather, these elaborate, expensive, and risky procedures are performed to maintain social order for the institutions and adults that surround the child.”

In this way, the treatment of intersex children relies on the insecurity and fear of the “adults that surround the child” who cannot tolerate a human being outside the gender binary in their lives. (aside: I think that statement could start an entirely new and fascinating discussion about competitive child-rearing in our society and how consumerist childhoods form) However, it is important to recognize that although intersex people are representative of a small section that the binary cannot accept, everyone is part of the gender and sex spectrum. After all, not all people designated to the “male” category at birth without question have the same “penis”, and not all people designated to “female” have the same “clitoris”. There is a wide range of sizes, shapes, and hormonal drives. So. People aren’t born “male” or “female”–doctors assign these labels, and parents uphold the gender law in the household. I, and I think many trans and genderqueer people, feel that a decision was made for me, out of my control. But human beings made the decision.

“If nature really offers us more than two sexes, then it follows that our current notions of masculinity and femininity are cultural conceits”

Saying someone is “born” one way or another implies that nature made the decision. And the fact is that nature says nothing more than that there are as many sexes as there are people.

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feminineCan anyone recommend me an essay/book/text/video/whatever that makes a clear, analytical, impassioned, awesome defense of femininity? I just found this neat book in the LGBTQI center at my school that’s called Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Gender Studies. It has this interesting format where it poses questions, then presents a YES side and NO side to the question with two different authors. One caught my eye: “Is the Quest for Beauty Necessarily Damaging to Women?” I read the NO answer and was severely disappointed by the argument. Probably because it was written by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese who was a leader of the conservative feminist movement. The whole essay was very capitalist, classist, and racist–in a nutshell it basically said, “Women bond over shopping. If you tell women they can’t buy dresses, they will not bond and love each other.” She called feminists who come out against femininity like me elitists (which I’ve been called before…) , but didn’t really articulate her reasoning or use examples, though I REALLY wanted to know why. I just don’t think she knows how to write well… She also wrote a book called Feminism is Not My Life Story… which makes me saaad.

Anyway. I’m really open to hearing a defense of femme identity, femininity, dress-wearing… I just haven’t read a story that I find empowering and excited. Help.

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gender identityI’ve been feeling a lot of tension lately between my feminist identity and my gender identity. They both began developing around the same time. I started realizing that I what I thought was right for me deviated from the mainstream. A lot of people have been offended by my sadness for feminists who shave their legs and armpits, pluck their eyebrows, and maintain a “femme” appearance. Ever since I decided to stop doing these things (I didn’t do that many of them to begin with), and even before then, I have seen these practices as compromises to my feminism because I associated them with a desperate desire I had to pass as straight. I also hated my body hair and thought it was ugly. And I wasted a fair amount of time each day to maintaining this appearance. So whenever I see a female-identified person following these rules, I assume that they have some deep-down homophobia-based fear of looking gay or like a “typical feminist”. I was so torn about stopping shaving. I was scared people would judge me or be grossed out. Then I remembered that (a) I am an awesome person, (b) I would never want to be friends with someone who liked me only for my socially acceptable appearance, and (c) my hairy legs would just be ignorant-person repellant and do I really want to attract ignorant people? Now some feminists might say that ignorant people will only learn the error of their ways by being wooed (platonically or otherwise) by feminists. But I decided that I would rather stop wasting my time waging a war on my body hair for the sake of converting the fools to feminism.

So I worry sometimes that femme-y feminists sacrifice some self body-love in order to remain appealing to misogynist assholes.

But lately I’ve been questioning myself. All my life, I don’t think I ever felt comfortable wearing dresses or putting on makeup or generally being “femme”. I felt judged, I felt ugly and too flabby, and I was physically inable to do many things I would do while wearing… loose cargo pants, for example.  Lately, I have felt differently, oddly enough, after watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and seeing male-identified people putting on a feminine show. When I wear a dress now I comfort myself by remembering that gender is a performance and, right now, I am performing femininity. It is no more closer to my identity than the character I play in theatrical piece. I have finally learned to be comfortable in a femme role by imagining that I am merely in drag. Having a mohawk also helped too, though.

So, essentially, what I’m going on about is this conflict deep in my feminist soul. As far as my gender identity is concerned, I don’t identify as trans, or feel comfortable with male pronouns for myself, but I do not enjoy female pronouns either. I currently identify as genderqueer, and sometimes genderfuck. I favor clothing from the “men’s section” of stores because it usually is better made and better suited for my comfort, loving my body, and being a physically active human being. Shopping in the “men’s section” was another scary leap for me. I initially felt uncomfortable venturing there out of embarrassment. Now, I have no qualms. But I still have trouble dismissing my now hairier body as part of my gender identity. It was a feminist statement when I stopped shaving–that is, I didn’t stop because I wanted to look like more masculine. I stopped because I wanted hairiness to be an acceptable form of femininity. But, more and more, I feel as though I need to put this feminist view aside and say it’s a queer genderqueer thing. I want to get to the point where I don’t worry about anyone who proudly calls themself a feminist. Though I still can’t help but wonder if she’s ever questioned why she’s still shaving, plucking, and squeezing into those skinny jeans. I always find it hard to believe that she ever considered the other options.

I hope y’all will help me pull these thoughts apart.

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Big Trubs, by Allyson Mitchell.

[Woman] can give suffrage or the ballot no new quality, nor can she receive anything from it that will enhance her own quality. Her development, her freedom, her independence must come from and through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right of anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them, by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc., by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities; by freeing herself from the fear of opinion and public condemnation.”
– Emma Goldman, “Woman Suffrage,” from Anarchism and Other Essays (read here). Found in “Raise Some Hell: A Feminist Childrearing Zine for Everyone,” @ zinelibrary.info.

We used to talk a lot about whether cisgendered feminist women can dress and act the ways that mainstream society expects of us—how our gender presentation and sexuality relate to our feminism. Does normalizing second-wave-style feminist response to social expectations—e.g. refusing to shave and wear bras or makeup—violate individual women’s freedom of choice? Do third-wave-style responses, or “choice feminism”—wearing makeup, wearing typically feminine clothes, etc.—devalue women in society? Personally? Both?

Any monolithic standard of behavior fucks with people’s freedom of choice—no matter how integral choice is supposed to be to the standard. Second-wave feminism (and its offshoots) can make you feel like a traitor to the movement, complicit in your own oppression and others’, for having a femme-y gender presentation. Third-wave feminism makes you feel like an irrelevant troublemaker if your “choices” don’t cooperate with some version of the status quo. I believe that superfemme presentation and noncooperation can be equally liberating for different people, and I think we create false extremes that divide us. From now on, I’m going to try and trust and support you if you want to wear lipstick. But you have to trust and support me in my choice not to.

I’ve recently made very classic dirty feminist-looking choices about my body and my appearance—I don’t shave my legs or pits, wear makeup or sexy clothes, or have pretty hair. In a post-third wave world, this constellation is judged variously as: uninformed, outdated, regressive, gross, pointless, and, frequently, oppressive. I feel like we’ve talked here as well about whether it is oppressive. I’d like to submit: on the contrary! The very, very contrary. And I’d also like to say that I think everyone should think seriously about making second-wave-y choices.

When you think about it, pretty much every physical expectation of women in our society requires us to participate in constructing ourselves as sex objects. Shaving, wearing make-up, having long, pretty hair, attractive clothes, etc… First off, what the fuck. And second, for this post, I will refer to these processes as “sexualization,” but I really mean “mundane sexualization”—in other words, those sexualizing processes that have become part of our standard definition of femininity. Purposeful sexualization for the purposes of turning people on is another topic for another post, to me, anyway. (Also, I’m only going to talk about some very obvious banners of femininity here, rather than deal with newer expectations like surgery, tanning, etc.)

So, the question at the heart of our neverending debate is, should women sexualize themselves in society? Can making yourself look hot or normal be a tool for general empowerment? The societally approved third wave wants us to feel like accepting and performing our own sexualization is an aspect of our liberation. And here’s where Emma Goldman comes in—I think you can exchange “suffrage or the ballot” for “razors or make-up” quite neatly. There is nothing they can do for us that we can’t do better ourselves, and we can never change how they essentially function.

The communities I grew up in, like the communities most people grew up in, were dominated and created by men and other people who value, judge, and commodify women based solely on our appearances. For most of my adolescence and young adulthood, I’ve shaved, made myself pretty, showed off my body, etc. because I wanted to be judged positively and seen as valuable by my communities. And that is such bullshit, to drag women into caring about all that crap because it’s the only value they have in some communities. For some time after becoming dimly aware of feminism, I tried to actively choose to do all that stuff, but it just felt like artificial intelligence—like being a dumb robot with the curse of reason, thinking about why it should follow its programming when in fact it has no choice.

Sexualization by choice and sexualization by default are no different. Society wants women to be sex commodities, and because society expects women to sexualize themselves, it will never bother respecting their reasons. That’s just its due. Daily life in the United States is like a giant Miss America pageant. Thinking critically about society’s requirements and continuing to accept them just traps you in the contest. No judge is going to ask or care why you shaved your legs. They just expect it. It doesn’t occur to them that it might be a choice, and I think we need to ask ourselves whether it even is one before we try to go there in society at large. (I do want to leave sexual relationships out in this post. However, let it be said: your partner should want to talk to you about why you do things to your body and respect your decisions, as part of a practice of consent. I think there’s some kind of magic about a healthy, communicative intimate relationship that allows people to critically examine their own expectations much more readily than in society at large. So in other words, I’m not saying it’s a fool’s errand to even make people think about why women are doing things. Your boyfriend should be able to respect your choice to shave your legs as a choice, and if he doesn’t, dump him.)

On the other hand, if you don’t meet the requirements, you’re not even worthy of their attention—and it rules. It seems like most people don’t even want to judge my worth based on how well I’m sexualizing myself, cause I’m so weird and unfeminine, so I don’t have to deal with them expressing their opinions. What’s more, I don’t have to constantly worry about whether they find me acceptable. Hairy armpits disqualify you. You can get off the stage and find some peace and quiet. Free from “the fear of opinion and public condemnation,” you are FINALLY able to actually devote a reasonable amount of attention to the “meaning and substance of life in all its complexities.”

I’m not really going to touch on the other oppressive categories Goldman mentions—the all-powerful State, reproductive expectations, husband/family, but basically, the same holds true—I believe in ignoring what any particular construction (of work, government, age/status in life, family, etc.) demands from you and trying to see things objectively. Most social constructions were created and/or cemented arbitrarily, and whoever did it probably didn’t have you or anyone like you in mind. Following along with them for whatever reason will never do you any good; it only feeds the apparatus that continues to oppress you (whether the agent of the apparatus means to or not). (Following the system can be and is sometimes neutral, and sometimes you need to do it just to get by, though. I also want to add that I’m lucky enough to fly under the radar in many other ways—I’m white, young, cis, pretty, financially subsisting, able-bodied, etc., and I don’t mean to malign the choices anyone makes to survive.)

I just feel so, fucking, FREE. I feel like a person. There is no, “I’m supposed to look…” or “I should worry about…”. I don’t sweat it when I forget deodorant (HA), I don’t shower every day, and I don’t get worried about my mascara smudging, or my hair unstraightening, or my leg hair growing. I never realized how much brainpower those thoughts drain, and it’s a LOT. Sure, there are new expectations of me, but I have more power over them because I’ve purposely bought into these constructions of what a woman can be.

Life is “simpler, but deeper and richer.” There’s so much stuff I don’t have to worry about any more, and so much more time to think and be happy.

I can buy blush, heels, razors, and haircuts, but I sure as shit could not have bought that.

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jasmineThis shit is nothing new. I’ve seen this all over the place, all the time. But since I learned feminism, I’ve avoided clicking on these ridiculous links. But I wanted to revisit the brainwashing of women, so I took a look at this slideshow. There’s nothing much to be said about this, like I said, it’s pervasive, and critiquing this sort of thing would be a pretty dull project. I was surprised by how angry I felt, so I decided to share. So many women read this crap and act on it. It makes me sick.

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The more I think about rape, the more I feel that it exists in a wider spectrum than is currently acknowledged.  I recently got the news that a girl I know was raped by the guy she was seeing at the time.  There were drugs involved.  She wasn’t passed out and she didn’t say no, but afterwards she was really upset because she thought she was too intoxicated to consent.  I think if  she feels raped she deserves the support that would be given to any other rape survivor, but is the guy who did this a rapist?  Do you think it’s possible for a man to rape a woman unintentionally?  I know that right now the law says it technically counts as rape if the person you had sex with was intoxicated, but most of the drunken sex I hear about (or participate in) results in no more trauma than the mutual awkwardness that sets in the morning after.  It seems like between sobriety and blacked out, there’s a lot of grey area that isn’t addressed very often.  Maybe there are situations where rape has occurred, but also where a prison sentence for the man wouldn’t be appropriate.

So far I haven’t given the guy in this story much of a face, because for the purposes of this post I’m really using him as a composite to make a point about other men in similar situations.  But I can’t allow myself to end the entry without bringing up one terrible thing that he absolutely DID do.  I don’t know if he did it because he actually DID intend to rape this girl, or if he did it out of fear, or if it was a knee-jerk reaction or whatever, but it’s completely unacceptable.  This girl worked up the courage to confront him about what happened and instead of saying “I’m sorry, I didn’t think you felt raped, is there anything I can do?” he got defensive and basically said “no I didn’t, you’re a liar.  fuck off.”  I’m not just bringing this up because it makes me want to do all kinds of harm to this guy.  I’m bringing it up because I think it points to a possible (maybe only partial) solution in those rape cases where the line between able to contest and unable to consent was blurry.  So the question is this:  if this guy had been more compassionate, do you think it would have helped the girl cope with what happened?  And put more broadly, when it comes to the kind of situation I’ve just talked about (because i think there are some rape scenarios that simply DO NOT offer this possibility), do you think it’s possible for the “rapist” to act as a base of support for the rape survivor?

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Sarah showed me this: Click on meeeee

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