Cisnormativity Constructed as Respectability Politics

2012/10/17

This is the big post that I’ve been taking forever to work on. It’s been consuming most of the executive function that I would be spending on writing more frequent updates. Now that it’s done let’s see if I can get into that habit.

Cisnormativity and heteronormativity were made into separate structures by cis GLB people as a strategic decision. The cis norm, as its own structure, is very much a product of the Gay Rights Movement. Prior to this separation, non-cis and non-het people (together, Gender and Sexuality Minorities, or GSM) were essentially viewed as the same bunch of sexual and gender deviants by the EuroAmerican white hegemonic culture.

The motive for this separation is fairly simple. Cis gay men, lesbians, and bisexual people created the division in order to narrow the group of people they were advocating for, and to present a more “acceptable” face to heteropatriarchy. This “acceptable” face could only be taken by the most “presentable” GSM people. Because presentability means being gender-conforming, class privileged, and white, and the split was created at a time (soon after the Stonewall Riot) when poor and working-class trans women of color such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson were extremely prominent, separating off trans people was an obvious path to take at the time the tactic was employed.

Further, being able to position themselves as enforcers of cisnormativity gave cis sexual minority people further upward mobility. This position as enforcers is taken when a gay Congressman removes trans protections from a rights bill, on the grounds that trans women must not have a legally acknowledged right to use the appropriate restroom. This position is taken when a lesbian “radical feminist” demands that trans women not exist, or that trans men not transition. This position gives cis sexual minority people advantages because it allows them to shift “unacceptability” off onto trans people. It allows them, specifically, to point to transitioning/ed CAMAB people (especially People of Color) and say “we’re not like them“, playing off society’s pre-existing transmisogyny and racism.

It is important, in any examination of these structures, to point out that cisnormativity and heteronormativity are not and never were freestanding social institutions, not only entwined together (which, to some extent they still are), but also that they are aspects of patriarchy. The oppression of GSM people sits on a foundation of gender-coercion and misogyny. Any analysis of this oppression, and of tactics to fight it, that neglects to consider patriarchy fails. Because of this, the anti-trans prejudices that are being played on here are often specifically against trans women. Further, this creation of a category of “fake” women is part of misogyny, as it creates a way to deny the womanhood of “unacceptable” women, an attack which is made primarily against Black women (one example is here) Read the rest of this entry »

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