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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Changing Cissexist Language About Bodies

2012/08/31

This is something of a polishing-up of a response to an ask post on my tumblr from months ago. Nonetheless, it merited being brought here.

The question was about how to talk about biological/anatomical differences that are sex/gender-correlated without being cissexist in talking about them. The answer to that delves back into the idea of Saying What You Mean. With that, I’ll just present my old writing here, with commentary:

Let’s start at the beginning. We don’t have categories of “male” and “female” that we’re trying to make less cissexist; instead we’re going to look at where these categories come from. For background, read these two Less Wrong articles:Disguised Queries and Neural Categories. Maybe take the next one in the series, too. I’ll wait here while you do.

Ok. Done? So, let’s wipe away the categories of male and female. Instead we have people with a wide range of traits. Many of these traits are on a one-dimensional spectrum (for that trait alone), and have a bimodal distribution where the ends are favored greatly over the middle. This is actually just like the example in Disguised Queries, except that we aren’t trying to sort people, people can be hurt, and oppressive structures exist for people, but not presumably for the things in Disguised Queries.

Again, I want to emphasize that although the distribution is bimodal, there are still people who are part of neither peak in the distribution. Sometimes lots of people, and sometimes in several distinct groups (there is not always a single “the middle”). Sex and gender are not a line, or even a plane. They’re an n-space, and “male” and “female” aren’t the only important points to it.

Moving forward an article to Neural Categories: Cissexism sets up a network of the second type (with many input/output nodes all connected to a central node); sex or gender is put in the center, while other traits (facial hair, face shape, body shape, voice pitch, height, and less obviously visible traits like genital configuration, gamete type, chromosomes etc.) are placed around the edges.

Often people put a connection between genital configuration (or even original genital configuration if they’re really cissexist) and sex strong enough to drown out all the others.

Being anti-cissexist would mean using a network of the first type (nodes being connected, with no central hub). Sex and gender are open to self-definitions, and those self-definitions are input nodes, which, like everything else, have correlations and connections. But, also, remember that these correlations aren’t 100% even for cis people, and that trans people may have body parts that don’t match the textbook model even before beginning to physically transition.

It needs to be emphasized that the person’s actual sex and gender identities are the most important ones, socially. They are the ones that tell you what pronouns and what gender words to use for the person. They are not minor facets; they color every aspect of the person’s existence. A mostly-closeted trans woman, and a cis man, for instance, are going to have dramatically different experiences and relations to even the same aspects of society, even the same treatment. Likewise for nonbinary people (and nonbinariness is not a monolith. Two nonbinary people of different genders may relate to the gendered aspects of the same situation in as different ways as a cis person and a closeted trans person of the same assignment)

Also, it’s important to note that psychological traits and behaviors are a part of this too. Gender identity is itself psychological. Behaviors, like feminine/masculine mannerisms, a preference for “women’s”/”men’s” clothes, hairstyle, and so on, culturally contingent as they are (they might be better taken as tendencies to recognize oneself in and learn behavior from men or women), are also a part of this. Excluding mental/psychological things from your definition of sex is Cartesian bullshit (not to say that anything about actual mental ability that people claim is correlated with sex, whether to empathize or to do math, isn’t fraught with sexism and evopsych).

Again: Statements about mental ability, statements about ability to empathize, or ability to do math, or whatever, that hinge on gender are more connected to sexist stereotypes and socialization than accurate neurological and psychological correlations.

So, the best way to talk about it is to figure out what specifically you mean, and say that. “A/n sperm/ovum-producing reproductive system” might be a better term for that part of the appropriate genitalia (or better yet, a small/large gamete-producing reproductive system), instead of referring to a male (or female) reproductive system. “A body with typical response to high testosterone levels” is better than “a male body” when talking about, say, body hair.


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.


Temporarily Removed

2011/02/20

[Post taken down temporarily. I need to get to rewriting it, and a lot of it was more my personal views and understanding than consensus. As such, I believe that it was doing more harm than good in the interim. Sorry to those who found it helpful.]


Sex is a Social Construct

2011/02/12

Editing Note, May 1, 2012: This post is highly problematic, especially in regards to transnormative prescriptiveness, and not questioning the racism in the term “gender abolitionist”). I’ve made a few edits to it to, um, slightly alleviate this. Excising the problematicness from it will probably mean rewriting it completely. I don’t recommend anyone use it as anything except evidence of how I believed terrible things last year.

Oct 17, 2012: Clarifying, since I’m still getting hits on this: I still believe the point I’m making. I just can make it without being such a fuckup.

“Sex is biological, gender is a social construct”

This is a classic truism of feminist theory. It’s also completely wrong. The existence of trans and intersex people demonstrates this on both halves of the statement. I’m not going to address what gender is in this post, and am instead going to focus on sex here, leaving gender to a future post. There’s a fair bit of existing trans theory on this subject that this essay is built on. Many ideas here will be cribbed from those articles.

Asher Bauer describes it like this: “The entire concept of “sex” is simply a way of attaching something social– gender– to bodies”. This is completely true, and merits exploration in more detail. He also lays out the right way to gender a body: a male body belongs to a male person, a female body belongs to a female person, a neutrois body to a neutrois person, a genderqueer body to a genderqueer person, an agender body to an agender person, a multigendered body to a multigendered person, a genderfluid body to a genderfluid person, and so on (although these rules get more complicated when the person in question is a member of a multiple system); literally every other method of labelling a body “male” or “female” that will be given later in this article is wrong.

There’s a lot of resistance to this idea. Because of the culture we’re soaking in, it seems like common sense that there genuinely are two immutable, binarily-opposed sexes that have a certain collection of traits, even though that’s not true.

Read the rest of this entry »