Gender: It’s Fucking Complicated

Yet another post composed entirely of my barely intelligible midnight ramblings…

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I picture my gender as this huge snarled up ball of yarn. Knotted up beyond all hope. And here I am locked inside my head with a ball of yarn approximately the size of an SUV trying to untangle the damn thing. I’ve been wrestling with it for  over a year now. I’ve moved from sealing it off from the rest of my mind and refusing to engage with it to actively confronting it everyday and struggling to sort it out. For all I’ve done and said and felt and thought and tried I’m not sure I’m any further along than when I started. I still don’t know what the fuck I am or how to express myself.

I started this blog about two months ago with the goal of providing relatable personal narratives about my experience with gender for other non-binary gendered people, who like me might be using the internet as their primary tool for learning about their gender. I also felt that this would more than likely help me untangle some of what is in my head by writing things out in a linear way. I think its helped some, but what I need now more than anything is discourse. I need active engagement with other people with non normative genders, I need to work together with others to find ways to creatively express myself through multiple mediums (aka I need art projects). Speaking my experiences into the void of the internet is a good start, but its not enough. I need art projects, because if I can’t accurately express my gender within the narrow parameters of binary gender expression, then I’d like to approach this (self expression and gender) from another angle.

The internet is no substitute for real community and it shouldn’t have to be, but here I am spending hours a day scouring the internet for resources and information related to non-binary genders. I do it almost compulsively, even though, at this point, I know I’ve seen and read pretty much everything there is on the topic. Even when I feel gross and drained from being on the internet for too long I keep at it, obsessively trying to find experiences that I can relate to and that will help me answer my questions, even though I know the answers aren’t out here. plus this is just too passive a means of interaction. I need real conversations with real people. If I want to make room for more than just the two binary genders, I’m going to need to do it here, in my community with other people who have genders like mine and that’s going to have to start with conversations.

I struggle with my gender. I’m actively engaged in a wrestling match with it and on top of that I feel trapped and boxed in by the gender binary, as if the room I’m locked in with the ball of yarn is too small for me to untangle it because there’s barely enough space for me and the ball of yarn as it is. I need to talk to other people who feel this way.

The Pursuit of Androgyny

I was considering writing something on this topic myself (and I probably still will) when I stumbled across this excellent post.

For a lot of genderqueer identified people like myself, androgyny is the ideal. A lot of us strive to exist in a world where we’re not gendered or where gender presentation doesn’t matter or doesn’t affect the way people treat you. For a lot of us, androgyny is the holy grail of existence and, as I’ve tried to push myself more and more toward androgyny, that I find it to be very problematic not only in how it’s conceptualised but also in how it’s executed.

First, a practical exercise in understanding what “androgynous” means in Western culture. Go to Google. Type in “androgynous” and pull up Google’s nifty image search. Take a good, long look at the images represented. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that those images reflect the standard by which we understand androgyny, by which we as a culture accept someone as androgynous, rather than gendered. Who do you see? What do you see?

Examples of Androgyny

Well, among these individuals I see some people I admire, people I love. Artists like David Bowie who I find inspiring. Actresses like Tilda Swinton. The new and great outspoken model Andrej Pejic. Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing these people as representations of androgyny and I’m glad they are popular amongst others because it means that the concept of androgyny is somewhat accepted.

But largely, what I see reflected back onto me are thin people. White people. And a standard of androgyny that entirely depends upon a binary concept of gender. Let me explain what I mean.

First, within our culture, existing as an androgynous person means different things for different people. If you tack on “David Bowie” to that search of androgyny you pull up a variety of images. David Bowie is almost synonymously thought of as androgynous, usually with the addition of makeup. Now change that “David Bowie” to “Tilda Swinton” and in almost none of the photographs is she wearing anything overtly feminine, or makeup. When we step back and look at it, it makes a lot of logical sense. Add femininity to masculinity and you get androgyny. Add masculinity to femininity and you get androgyny. The problem with this is that femininity within androgyny is (and I am a geek) like the Waters of Mars. Anything more than a bit and… well, you’re not androgynous any more.

Notice in both of those searches, David Bowie and Tilda Swinton show up before you have to type their names out. Yet try to type out “Androgynous Boy” and you don’t see “Androgynous Boy George” or try typing “Androgynous Eddie” and you don’t see “Androgynous Eddie Izzard”. If you step too far, if you get too feminine, you’re no longer androgynous. And the same rule often applies to women. In most of the “androgynous Tilda Swinton” photos, she’s not wearing makeup. Yet, David Bowie’s androgynous pictures feature him wearing makeup sometimes, sometimes not, and even include him playing Gareth, the Goblin King, despite the fact that “David Bowie’s Crotch” in that role has over 6,000 likes on Facebook for reasons that appear obvious when you watch the film. What this says to me is that if society perceives you as male, your crotch could be showing and you can still be androgynous. But if society perceives you as female, being androgynous means a stitch of makeup or a bit of breast may cancel out a suit and a tie.

The issue is that if society classes you as female, you have to abandon all femininity to be andro enough. In a society where “male” is the default, there is a lot more room for masculinity displayed by androgynous people classed as “male” than for androgynous people classed as “female” and this has been my struggle. I enjoy wearing makeup, but can’t really get away with it if I wish to aspire to androgyny. As someone who is genderqueer, I have about as much desire to be overtly masculine as I do to be overtly feminine, but my simple jeans and t-shirts aren’t enough if I want to be truly androgynous. In order to be that which is genderless, I have to be more masculine. Doesn’t that sound a bit hypocritical?

And as I mentioned above, most of the examples of androgyny accepted by our cultural standards are thin and white. Now, considering most examples of Western media are also white and thin, this is not surprising. However, I feel as though thinness is particularly a requirement to fit into the standard of androgynous, especially those perceived as “female”. When I’ve pursued a more androgynous image, I’ve encountered the roadblock of curvy hips and breasts which point out and call for gendering. In a standard where I have to be even more masculine to get toward being genderless, even the slightest bit of fat poking out here and there might give me away, and it certainly makes wearing masculine clothes (which I must wear at all times to be andro – I certainly couldn’t be andro in a skirt!) a lot more difficult. Thinness is already a standard placed and encouraged especially on individuals classed as “female”, but the pressure to be thin to be genderless is particularly strong. Which is not to say that I haven’t seen fat androgynous people, I have. But they certainly aren’t part of the standard of androgyny, a standard so many of us wish to achieve in order to be genderless in this society.

And of course, there’s a distinct lack of people of colour represented in Western media of all types, but also within androgynous images. As a white person, I can’t speak to the specific struggles that androgynous people of colour may face and the ways in which radicalised stereotypes interact and interrupt gendered perceptions. It would not surprise me for a moment to find that whiteness, being a default of culture, makes being perceived as genderless easier or that racist stereotypes such as “the angry black woman” have an impact on what behaviours one must adapt in order to avoid being gendered in certain ways.

I’ve found myself in an ironic gender catch-22 where I have to adhere to gendered looks and standards in the pursuit of attempting to be genderless, where I shun and demean fatness for what it adds to my already perceived “femaleness”, where I have an overwhelming amount of white individuals to look up to as ideals of androgyny and would only reinforce that should I even attain a state by which I am accepted as genderless in this culture.

And it’s for this reason that I’ve given up on the pursuit of androgyny.

I feel comfortable and happy in makeup now and then. I wear jeans and t-shirts. I bind my chest, but I have a feminine face. I may never fit in with the classic androgynous image. But, to me, identifying as genderqueer means that I do not wish to choose between “male” and “female”. I do not choose, nor do I see validity, in being more masculine in order to be perceived as genderless. While it would be great for me to have an image that stopped assumptions and made people think, I think it’s ridiculous to sacrifice my own comfort and wants for the sake of doing exactly what felt oppressive to me before I found the concept of genderqueer: adhering to gendered stereotypes for everyone else’s comfort. I hope that in the future we expand our concept of androgyny. That images of Tilda Swinton in a dress come up when we think of androgynous. That people of colour will feature more often and people of size will show up. I hope that people don’t feel pressured to adhere to a misogynist “male” gender default and be more masculine in order to fit that mould. Until then, when someone asks me why I don’t present more androgynously, I’ll answer honestly. Because I am genderqueer.

Via BoldlyGo

Stop Pretending Consent Was Possible During Slavery

This is fucking spot on and doesn’t really need to be prefaced at all, so without further ado, here you go:

I need white people to stop pretending consent was possible during slavery.

Stop lying to yourselves that those black cousins are the result of illicit love affairs & grasp that slaves could not say no.

When consent is not an option, when you’re only seen as 3/5ths of a human being & you have no legal standing? You can’t say yes.

I need white America to sit down for a sec. Look into the faces of black Americans with the same last names & figure it the fuck out.

Our ancestors were raped by your ancestors. Regularly. Some of the kids were treated kindly. Most were not. They were sold.

White mistresses punished the slaves for “tempting” master & congratulated themselves on that bloody work. Read the narratives.

Not the cleaned up ones either. Read Incidents in The Life of A Slave Girl & understand that Mammy was a victim, not the one who loved you.

She couldn’t care for her kids, couldn’t choose her husband or their father most of the time. She was a slave.

Millions of people died on the Middle Passage. Millions more died here at the hands of your ancestors. Own that.

Now you want to sing Kumbaya & keep oppressing our communities & erasing our contributions. Spare me the tired bullshit.

Male slaves fared no better. There’s a long history of them being raped, tortured & killed too. That was slavery. Stop romanticizing it.

Our children were fed to alligators as bait (feel free to look that up) died of starvation or exposure & that was slavery too. Yep, we were livestock & you use sickly livestock as bait.

Stop watching Gone With The Wind & fantasizing about beautiful plantations if you can’t accept what happened on those plantations.

House slaves had it better in the sense of access to food & possibly better treatment, but they were still slaves.

14 year old slave girls weren’t falling in love with the men who could beat them & everyone they loved to death.

Read the tales of enslaved women who killed their children to spare them. Read about people beaten to death as an example.

Sally Hemings could have left Jefferson in Paris. Of course her entire family was still in his power. And his “love”? Didn’t free her. Ever.

Go look at the pictures of former slaves backs. Whipped until they bled & left to scar so they were maimed for life & couldn’t run.

Also before you talk about the cleaned up narratives, remember that the people relating their stories knew lynching was always possible.

Records of slavery were deliberately destroyed so that former owners wouldn’t have to pay anyone.

That “peculiar institution” was generations of blood, pain, & terror. That’s what built America. Never forget that.

Now stop talking about anyone’s white ancestors like they deserve the fucking credit for the success of people descended from slaves.

American slavery began in 1619. June 19, 1865 was the last official day of slavery. Do the math on how long it takes to heal that wound.

After slavery was officially over? Black codes & Jim Crow laws followed. America’s history of oppression is longer than that of freedom.

Also before any dumb motherfuckers land in my mentions. I have a degree in history. I will read you to filth & bury you in sources.

Trust & believe there is no country here for people who want to romanticize a system that is still grinding away at my community.

All this fluffy fucking talk about American history to coddle white kids feelings & engender patriotism? You won’t get it here.

My ancestors built this country, I served this country & I will tell the damned truth about this country. Don’t like it? Fuck you.

Now let me get in my feelings about slavery before Africans were brought here. Because we weren’t the first people enslaved.

We were deliberately sought out for our skill sets & resistance to disease. Know why we were resistant? We’d had contact for years.

All of that “My ancestors never owned slaves so it has nothing to do with me?” Go look at those NDN ancestors again. See how many were free.

While you’re in there checking that out? Look up those old country ancestors & see how many benefited from slavery indirectly.

Also while we’re talking about NDN relatives? Yo, learn a name besides Cherokee. Better yet, learn about the genocidal tactics they faced.

Look up immigrant groups becoming white in America. Find out who had to bleed so they could gain access to white privilege.

Let’s really talk about the Red Summer of 1919 & how it wasn’t an unusual occurrence. Tulsa, Rosewood? They were just famous.

Let’s talk about welfare & who could access it. Hell let’s talk about who is collecting more of it right now.

Let’s talk about the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action (spoiler! White women!) & what it means to attack black people instead.

Shit, let’s get into the Great Depression & the Great Recession & who is hurting the most financially through both.

Let’s talk about conditions on reservations, in the inner city, & the violence faced by POC who try to leave those areas.

Hell, let’s talk about why we don’t see shows that reflect the American population set in the past, present, or future.

Go read Columbus’ diaries & see what “civilization” really meant to the people he encountered.

For that matter go read up on King Leopold & the Congo. I’ll wait while you cry.

That’s the thing about whiteness as a social construct in America. It’s not about white people, it’s about white power over others.

When we’re talking about white privilege? We’re talking about what it takes to shape this society based on oppression.

America is a young country with a lot of power because of genocide, slavery, & continuing oppression. Individuals build institutions.

All of these conversations aren’t about bringing out white guilt, they’re about ending this institution developed over the generations.

Also let’s be clear that America is sick with this ish across the political spectrum. It may manifest differently but it exists everywhere.

Before I go, let me also suggest that people who are curious about anything I tweeted about take a tour through Google with terms.

It’s not that I won’t answer questions, but there are books out there that I think everyone should read on slavery, whiteness, & America.

via Esoterica

Gender is Like Underwear…

…if it fits, you don’t notice. If it doesn’t fit, you can’t help but notice.

So, obviously my assigned gender doesn’t fit, that’s why I’m here talking to you, my nonexistent internet audience. For me however, the things that I “notice”, the things that make me dysphoric, aren’t always consistent. I don’t know if this is true for anyone else since I don’t really make a point of asking people about their dysphoria for obvious reasons.

For example there have been periods of time when being called “she”,”her”, “miss”, “lady”, “woman”, etc. made me really uncomfortable, but my dysphoria relating to being verbally misgendered waxes and wanes, sometimes it bothers me a lot, sometimes not so much. I don’t identify with those terms at all, but currently it doesn’t make me feel terrible and uncomfortable the way other things do. It just feels vaguely weird to hear female pronouns paired with my name, when people do it I always feel like they’re talking about someone else. Conversely, I’ve gotten more dysphoric about wearing clothing that is designated as “women’s”. It used to be that only skirts and dresses made me feel that way, but now anything more feminine than a t-shirt doesn’t come out of my closet, which makes me a little bit sad, because I have clothes that I really like but no longer feel comfortable wearing. I suppose this will be another source of dysphoria that comes and goes. Skirts and dresses are never okay for me, but other things may or may not be depending on the day.

Some things on the other hand, always make me feel dysphoric. Menstruation would be one of those things, even talking about it is not something I’m particularly comfortable doing. In general, I’m very comfortable with my body, and have a very positive body image. Except when I’m bleeding. Then I hate my body, I want to crawl out of my own skin and go live somewhere else until its over. Its hard to describe, but menstruation is by far the most extreme source of dysphoria for me. The only thing that’s helped, and its helps significantly, is having a menstrual cup because it allows me to pretend I’m not bleeding for up to 12 hours.

Another consistent source of dysphoria for me has been romantic/sexual interactions with cis males. As a personal policy I don’t get involved with cis men anymore because of the dynamic that springs up. Its really unpleasant because not only do they have a penchant for treating me in a way that misgenders me as female but also as a lesser, unequal partner because of that perceived femaleness. For me, that power dynamic in a relationship manifests itself as a nagging and pervasive wrongness that just makes me feel gross.

All I Really Want Is A House Full Of Trans* Kids

Almost a year ago now I moved into an anarchist collective here in my town and lived there for four months. I really enjoyed it and I find that living collectively with other activists can be really useful, and motivating and because spaces like these have so much potential.

Anyway, I’m moving again soon and I really want to live in a house with all trans*/genderqueer/gender non-conforming people. More specifically I want to start a collective living space for gender non-conforming activists to organize in and run projects out of. I just keep imagining all the possibilities for projects that could happen or be restarted (a lot of the projects from the collective I used to live in have become defunct since the place is slowly dissolving due to one person’s abusive behavior). I’m also hoping that ideally it could be a space where young people who have been ostracized from their families because of their gender and/or sexuality could come and stay for a period of time while they figure things out.

My town is a pretty queer town, but you wouldn’t know that unless you’re already part of the radical community or working with some of the older mainstream organizers and NGOs/non-profits here. There’s just not a whole lot of trans*/queer visibility or projects that cater specifically to that demographic for the number of trans* and queer people in this town. The ones that exist have a mainstream, white, middle class, gay and lesbian focus and kind of leave the rest of us out in the cold. I want a space for militant anti-assimilationist queer and trans* organizing that recognizes intersectionality and promotes visibility. I also want roommates. and a house.

We’re Here! We’re Queer!

…and have no idea what we want…

So the other day I went to an organizing meeting at the LGBTQIA community center in my town. Since the place is closing down for a variety of reasons and doesn’t yet have plans (and may not make any) for a new space to move into, they were looking for the community’s input on what to do next, (it was a “Where Do We Go From Here?” sort of thing). The general demographic of the community center and its board members is middle class, white, middle aged and liberal, they host things like bingo nights and want the right to get gay married. Most of the people I organize with are militant anarchists and anti-assimilationist queers. We don’t show up at the community center often.

Earlier this year, a group of us that had stopped trying to engage with the local branch of Occupy because of rampant unchecked privilege, refusal to acknowledge diversity of tactics and repeated marginalization of women’s, queer’s, and POC’s voices formed what we’d been casually referring to as “the queer group”. Essentially we were meeting to discuss the state of queer/trans* centric activism in the city and what we would want to see/do/organize around (also a “Where Do We Go From Here?” sort of thing). We ran out of momentum because we had trouble finding free places to have meetings (an obsurdly difficult thing to do in this town if you can’t cram 20 people into your apartment) and because, while we were all there and ready to work together, we didn’t really know what we wanted. we never managed to clearly define goals we would organize to work towards. The same thing happened at this meeting at the community center. The queer/trans* community of this town came together to organize and discuss across the generational divide (something that rarely happens due to widely divergent goals and tactics between people of different age groups) ready to work together and yet I couldn’t help but feel like it was all going to just fizzle out.

We talked about everything under the sun, but we couldn’t come up with concrete goals for what we want to see in this city. This was frustrating for me because I came to the meeting to listen, to see what it was the community felt like it needed. I came to listen to other people voice concerns to try to establish a running list of goals in my head, because for a couple months now I’ve been kicking around the idea of trying to start a space for visible queer/trans* organizing, but as someone who’s only been an active part of organizing in this city for a year and a half I don’t really know what I want to see or what this city needs in terms of this. I just know it needs something, because it hasn’t got a whole lot.

The other thing that boggled my mind as well as the minds of several other people who attended the meeting with me was the fact that the community center makes well over $50,000 dollars in revenue a year and can’t pay to keep the building they’re in. Where the hell is that money going?? Whatever they’re doing they’re doing it wrong, the people I work with we pull our projects off and keep our spaces running on shoestring budgets. The things we do almost never generate revenue and are almost always funded out of our own pockets. With that kind of money the kids I organize with could run several spaces and dozens of projects and they’d all be free for the public to use/access, unlike the community center.

The one thing that was definitely positive about the meeting was that the older liberal folks were really glad to have us there and actually listened and valued our opinions, which due to personal experience, I totally was not expecting. When we spoke up about the marginalization of POC, poor people, trans*/gender variant people, and others in the mainstream gay rights movement they listened. We even heard some of the older folks express anti-assimilationist sentiments or at least awareness of the existence of those sentiments amongst younger queer folk.

Overall, I feel like there was positive dialogue across the generational gap and that if we make an effort to engage with the older folks in our community they will be more than happy to organize with us, which is really awesome, though I’m still pretty bummed that we don’t know what we trying to organize for in our community.