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 »


A Lie the Patriarchy Told

2012/05/24

Patriarchy lies.

Patriarchy lies about the means by which it operates.

This seems obvious enough. No system of oppression is ever fully truthful about its means. Patriarchy in particular lies to claim that it values women, it lies when it claims that things coded as “women’s work” are not degraded, it lies as it feeds women myths about rape. Among many other things.

One particular patriarchal lie is hyper-relevant to trans people. This is the lie that “woman” and “man”, “female” and “male”, the oppressed and oppressor classes for sexism, are defined by . . . well, whatever is convenient for those in power to claim they are defined by at the moment, but in a way that consistently denies that trans people are who and what we say we are. Having a penis or having a vagina is a popular one. So are assumed chromosomes based on a person’s birth designation. I say “assumed” because most invocations of this to insist that someone is or is not a man or woman do not involve anyone calling for a karyotype. I’ve never been karyotyped but people are happy to insist I am XY.

This is a lie, though. Patriarchy is fully happy dishing up anything it means to serve to women to me, and to other trans women, regardless of our genital status. When I spend half of my train ride home from a protest worried if the man who has struck up an unwanted conversation is going to touch me (especially in a way that reveals that I am trans), I am oppressed by sexism. When men think they can speak over me on topics I am an expert on (like, ironically, my relation to Feminist theory as a trans woman), I face sexism. Patriarchy sees me as a woman because Patriarchy sees me through the eyes of everyone around me who carries it. Others can tell their own stories of facing sexism, which we all have.

As a woman, my inability to bear children does not define me; to phrase this differently, my inability to bear children has not spared me the ravages of patriarchy. Cis men treat me as a woman, with all the negativity that implies. My lack of a uterus does not insulate me from that. The meaning of “woman” in our society is not synonymous with the meaning of “womb.”

– Quinnae Moongazer

Bolding added

So the cissexist straight cis guys in my life who “still see me as a guy” (based on their own words to others or me)…

  • Interrupt me constantly
  • Degrade me with misogynist jokes
  • Ignore my opinions
  • Shame every sexual thing I do
  • Treat me as though I’m less capable of anything
  • Steal my ideas
  • Act condescending as shit
  • Victim blame me
  • Objectify me
  • Sometimes even sexually assault me

They just don’t want to have consensual sex with or date me while they’re willing to with cis girls, nor do they wanna use my name or use the correct pronouns.

– Kinsey Hope

This goes even further. While we are (sometimes and sometimes not) shielded from many aspects of sexism by disguising ourselves as men or boys, or by convincing ourselves that we are, even then we are only shielded from some aspects. As women and girls who are disguising ourselves, every little bit of an ambient atmosphere of misogyny is as much an attack against us as it is against every other woman. Even before I recognized myself, I still felt (although I didn’t know why) misogyny as an attack on me. And, again, I am not alone or even unusual in this.

Returning to the original point, trans women are viewed as women by the Patriarchy, and oppressed by sexism as women, even as it lies and claims we are men. That claim is, indeed, part of oppression of trans people. As part of the complex of ideas that makes up the ideology of Patriarchy is the belief that our genders can be defined for us, that they can be reduced to our “biological sex” (remind me to rewrite the post I wrote on the construction of that last year because that post is fucking awful), itself a part of this oppression.

That claim, that genitals or the chromosomes one is assumed to have had based on their designation at birth determine one’s status as a man or a woman (and that those are the only two options), or the kind of fertility someone has (or would be speculated to have based on their birth designation), is oppressive to trans people. It is made to deny our reality. It is made to push us back into a box where we do not exist. It is made to deny that we suffer the oppression we do.

It is a lie that justifies violence done to us (the brunt of which is borne by Black and Latina trans women). It is a lie that calls us deceptive, and so it is a lie that projects itself onto us, a lie that tears us down for our honesty. It is a lie that needs to be destroyed. It is a lie that has been bought hook, line, and sinker by certain schools of feminism.

It is a lie that Patriarchy told, and so it is a lie that to believe it is to subscribe to Patriarchy.


On Kyriarchy

2011/02/18

(Minor edits made on May 27, 2012)

Instead of working myself into an incoherent rage over the latest wave of assaults on the human dignity of uterus-having people (In the US: South Dakota considered a bill to make it legal to murder the one abortion provider who visits the state, Ohio wants to ban abortion after a “heartbeat” is detected and Iowa wants to ban it entirely; federally, there’s a push to ban grants to provide health care from going to Planned Parenthood), I thought I’d step back a bit to explain something to people who are ostensibly on the same side as we are and yet don’t get it.

Progressives, liberals, socialists, syndicalists, Marxists, radicals, Keynesians, reformers, and other assorted leftists: The class war is not the only front the enemy cares about. It’s not about money to them, it’s about power. They want to have power over us, as much power over as many people as possible. They want to control us. They want to be able to starve us, to throw us out on the street, to control our bodies.

Their goal is not to hoard capital, or to gather the world’s resources under their control, except as a means to an end. Their goal is to protect and reinforce their own privilege. Their goal is to defend the kyriarchy.

Now, is the huge push by various legislatures in this country to outlaw abortion a distraction from their inaction on economics, or were their promised economic plans a trojan horse to get them into office so that they could allow domestic abusers to prevent their victims from getting abortions through ways up to and including murder? Yes, on both counts. They came in promising to fix the economy through Hoovernomics. Hoovernomics is literally the easiest policy in the world to implement; all you need to do is stand by and do absolutely nothing in the face of an emergent economic crisis. The difficulty comes in when you have to justify why you’re doing absolutely nothing in the face of an emergent economic crisis. So of course they’re going after abortion rights.

But, equally, they got into office fully planning to do this. Abortion rights isn’t a third-tier issue (warning: linked page uses “women” to mean “people who can get pregnant” freely) to them. Denying access to safe and legal abortion is a primary priority for them, because their thing is about maintaining the kyriarchy. Patriarchy is as integral a part of the kyriarchy as plutocracy is. They aren’t cynically attacking reproductive rights (let’s be clear: this affects the right to reproduce. If I could get pregnant, I would not risk a pregnancy developing under the kind of legal regime they are pushing, and I want kids) to distract while they enact plutocracy, they are attacking reproductive rights because they want to attack reproductive rights.

This could have been any of us. The climate was good for a panic over reproductive rights, so they ran with that. They could have just as easily stirred up a panic over immigration. If political hay could be made by chipping away at LGB rights, then they might do that. Likewise for gender transitioner rights, or womens’ anti-discrimination laws, or a religious minority (Muslims are frequently targeted here), or whatnot. But this isn’t because there are some cynical leaders who don’t really believe this shit and peddle it to an uneducated base that’s easy to get riled up. The leaders of this movement are cis, rich, het, white, Christian men. They benefit more than anyone else from the kyriarchy, and not just the class part. Why would they not believe that it is a good thing? More importantly, what do you gain by arguing that they aren’t personally bigoted? In fact, that entire argument is more than a little classist, since it implies a division among the right: the enlightened but cynical rich leaders, and the bigoted ignorant poor masses.

The people responsible for this really believe it just as much as their base does. You don’t have to be working-class or uneducated to be bigoted; in fact, that assumption is really terribly classist. Being rich and educated just means you can dress it up nicer. Conserving the kyriarchy on every front is the core conservative issue, and the focus on class that many (middle-class, cis, white, male) liberals like to take is a distraction.

If you actually want to be part of the movement to overturn this thing, stand against everything. It’s not a distraction from the real issues just because it can’t affect you. Stand with all of us or get out of the way.