Part 2 of a probably over-for-now-to-be-resumed-next-time-I’m-worked-up series
Gender identity is a classic example of the personal as the political. We each come at gender with our own set of expectations, usually of fun melange of our upbringing, our sexual identity, our relationship to our body, our place of residence, and the expectations of our friends, families and peers. (Some of us add to this recipe how much of a statement one wants to make.) What is cis to me, might be queer or trans to you.
I identify as a cisgendered woman. Now, before I even get a chance to explain what that means to me, many of you will be making your own decisions about what that means. You might be looking at the picture at the top of this site and evaluating whether or not you believe me or how well I gel with your idea of a cisgendered woman.
I’ve had friends insist that I’m not cis because my gender is so non-normative. I sleep with women, I like to pack and dress in drag sometimes, and I hate skirts. Therefore, according to their logic, I’m genderqueer. I can’t possibly be a cis woman, because I don’t behave like women are supposed to.
The way I see it, I experience the same amount of body dysphoria as the average person: I wish some things about my body were different, and I do small things to change the way my body appears to the public. Yet I don’t intend to go to great lengths to alter my body to match the image of myself that I have in my head.
Ideas of gender are constantly changing, thanks in large part to queer and trans visibility and the hard work of lots of individuals. Even mainstream gender ideas are ever-shifting- ideas like, say, women scientists or pegging.
Because gender’s whole existence depends on societal structure, gender expectations are deeply contextual. What makes a woman a woman in Miami is different than in Alaska.
My cis-priviledge depends on whether or not I’m cis-enough in that micro culture. For instance, in SF, I’m cis, and get hit on by guys who just like quasi-punk looking girls. In the Carolinas, I’m rather butch.
The problem with my friends’ logic is that to identifying me as genderqueer, they are giving credence to the gender binary. You have to believe that I’m not really a chick because I don’t like pink lace. You’re telling me what female is by insisting that I’m not it. To be an “Other” you have to define the norm. So, in this case, the norm is the binary. By insisting you are gender non-normative, you assert that there IS a normative. Which is, what? Girls in skirts and boys playing solider? Really?
Here’s the deal: WE ARE ALL GENDER VARIANT. The binary is an illusion. No one fits into those cute, clean little categories. (Even the fake-titted, fake-blonde, fake-lipped mainstream porn stars people think of as the extreme of femininity are actually closer to Haraway’s Cyborg than ideal womanhood). No one is the patriarchal ideal. Not George Clooney, not Pamela Anderson. This is because the binary represents the far reaches of the patriarchy’s imagination. Way out there is docile femininity that is as frail as a doily and likes cooking. And over there is the stone-faced masculinity that likes killing things for sport and scoffs at emotions. Not one damn person I’ve ever met belongs at either of those extremes.
Caring father? Gender variant. He should whoop them kids if he knew what was good for his gender.
Working woman? Gender variant. She might break a nail!
Bear? Gender variant. A dude playing a dude while diddling dudes!
Butch? Gender variant. Butch is a gorgeous amalgamation of conscious masculinity and felt womanhood.
Dyke? A chick that sleeps with chicks?! UnHEARD of! Gender variant, duh.
Sissy? Gender variant, obv.
Asexual? Gender variant. If you’re a dude, you’re supposed to want to fuck chicks all the time right? If you’re a girl, you’re just waiting for some dude to fuck you, right?
Femme? GENDER-MUTHAFUCKIN-VARIANT. The patriarchy likes its women docile, empty-headed, and pliant. Does that sound like any femme you know?
How about a new radical notion? How about we expand what genders are rather than choosing away from one in order to claim another, just as limiting one? Why don’t we look to our Bear brothers who declare that they can like taking it in the ass AND chopping down trees? Why don’t we talk to our Butch sisters who love to feel strong and protective while maintaining their female identity? Why don’t we kick it with our trans brothers who love showing off their pussies in porn? Why don’t we listen to our trans sisters who are proud to have the balls to walk out the door looking gorgeous even when the world tells them they can’t?
While we’re rabidly defending our sectarian politics of Who’s the Real Gender Queer, the rest of the world is still laughing at the notion of Thomas Beadys even being possible. While we’re deciding who’s the real feminist in the room, the rest of the world is getting fired or bashed for their gender expression.
By declaring gender to be our own, to reject or accept the roles thrown at us by society, we ALL become gender warriors. We fight complacency by taking a certain job, or wearing a certain article of clothing, or using a certain pronoun, or dating a certain person, every damn day. It’s important to remember that there are people who fight this on more societally-threatening levels daily, and they are more at risk for harm because of it. They are at the vanguard of the movement, and their visibility is the driving force behind gender liberation.
Yet, like any social movement, it benefits everyone, even those who appear to be benefiting from normative privilege. The mere thought that women could have jobs or men could be stay-at-home dads was laughable not even two generations ago. Because, just like feminism, gender liberation is about choice. The choice to leave the house in a certain outfit without fear of retribution, the choice to marry or breed despite what your family might look like, the choice to take a job, or join the military, or have sex in a certain way or live in a certain place.
It’s important to help people, particularly the ruling class, realize that gender variance isn’t just drag or surgery. It’s also about the choice to live as you feel most comfortable and in the way you are most proud to be you. For some, it means going to great lengths to change your body to match your mind. For others, it may just mean choosing to be a stay at home parent.
I believe we will arrive at success when pronouns are truly innocuous, and they don’t undermine one’s sense of self (incidentally, did anyone see Community last week where Jeff tells a traumatic childhood story of misinterpreted gender? It was. . .troubling.), and that gender can be see as a source of play. Those who care to can play with their gender identity on a day to day or even moment to moment basis. People can move back and forth through various identities without the stigma of “oh, s/he was on T and now s/he’s not!” hysterics, as if bodies weren’t as transmutable as our natures. When pregnant men and ex-green beret women are nothing to wonder about, when people can have as varied relationships with themselves as they are permitted to with others (“Then I lived for a woman for 10 years and it was great, but then I wanted something a little different.”) is when we will all really find freedom around our gender identities.
The key to getting there, as I see it, is expressing gratitude for our elders and acknowledgment of our progress, while looking at how gender unites us all in a struggle for our ultimate expression of personhood.