Tag Archives: queer oppression

You can do it!

check out my interview with Art about acquiring surgery not testosterone on DUDE 2 EXTENDED:

You can do it!

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Pronouns can be awkward

I like to think I don’t care which pronouns people use. But…I do. I guess I just like to be open about which pronouns people use because I don’t like stability, or being boxed in to something rigid. But the thing that disconcerts me is the reasons people use she/her/hers pronouns for me. Because if it’s just that they decide I am “female-bodied” – that’s not really cool. It’s true that I use and prefer he/him/his pronouns. And that my friends use them to describe me. But I do want to be cool with people using feminine pronouns. But I want to know what their reasons are for doing so. Leslie Feinberg is pretty awesome at being cool with people using different pronouns, so long as they’re in context:

Leslie Feinberg: For me, pronouns are always placed within context. I am female-bodied, I am a butch lesbian, a transgender lesbian – referring to me as “she/her” is appropriate, particularly in a non-trans setting in which referring to me as “he” would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible. I like the gender neutral pronoun “ze/hir” because it makes it impossible to hold on to gender/sex/sexuality assumptions about a person you’re about to meet or you’ve just met. And in an all trans setting, referring to me as “he/him” honors my gender expression in the same way that referring to my sister drag queens as “she/her” does.

I think for me right now, this is not the case: “referring to me as “he” would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible.” In fact, the opposite is true. But it does depend where I am. I grew up in a small town where strangers have pretty much always, and continue to, gender me as male and use masculine pronouns for me. I think this is because they don’t realise queer people, or specifically butch dykes, exist. That is, they’re not recognised. But in Melbourne, especially the kinds of places I hang out, I often don’t look male. So for me, Feinberg’s point would work when people use masculine pronouns for me – which I’m into.

I guess I feel my genderqueerness is unintelligible and that’s really tiring.

Judith Butler: To find that you are fundamentally unintelligible (indeed, that the laws of culture and of language find you to be an impossibility) is to find that you have not yet achieved access to the human, to find yourself speaking only and always as if you were human, but with the sense that you are not, to find that your language is hollow, that no recognition is forthcoming because the norms by which recognition takes place are not in your favor.

I lack the recognition (often but not always) to be intelligibly male.

Also  I’m often in places where it’s clear I’m not a teenager (universities, clubs), so I don’t get gendered as a teenage boy, which is the way I am most often read by non-trans strangers outside of these contexts. And as I’ve said before, I think one of the reasons people are so quick to gender me female and use feminine pronouns for me is because of the snaps from male-looking dykes offended at being called ‘he’ (which is fair enough, but also results in this kind of confusion.) So, seriously: ask what pronouns someone prefers. And just as seriously, don’t be offended by someone asking.

I went home for the holidays, and my parents, as well as many of my old friends, use feminine pronouns for me. I don’t want to ‘correct’ them. That seems wrong, because I don’t feel like I have some essential male being or something; that they’re wrong. But I do want them to know I prefer masculine pronouns, because I think they’d feel embarassed to know that was the case and I just didn’t tell them.

I guess I’d want to ask why people used feminine pronouns for me. And if their reasoning is: “You’re a girl”, “You look like a girl” or “Well I always have,” I don’t think that’s good enough. But I also recognise it’s up to me to tell them otherwise. But like, I’m tired.

Dean Spade: there is no innocence nor insignificance to the mistake of ‘she’ for ‘he’ when referring to a person who has chosen to take on a ‘wrong’ pronoun. even if it is done thoughtlessly, that thoughtlessness comes from and supports the two cardinal rules of gender: that all people must look like the gender (one out of a possible two) they are called by, and that gender is fixed and cannot be changed. each time this burden shifting occurs, the non-trans person affirms these gender rules, playing by them and letting me know that they will not do the work to see the world outside of these rules.

This is probably where I want to be:

Dean Spade: if comfort was my goal, i could probably have found a smoother path than the one i’m on, right? i haven’t chosen this word ‘he’ because it means something true to me, or it feels all homey and delicious. no pronoun feels personal to me. i’ve chosen it because the act of saying it, of looking at the body i’m in and the way that my gender has been identified since birth and then calling me ‘he,’ disrupts oppressive processes that fix everyone’s gender as ‘real,’ immutable, and determinative of your station in life. i’m not hoping that people will see that i’m different, paste a fake smile on their faces and force themselves to say some word about me with no thought process. i’m hoping that they will feel implicated, that it will make them think about the realness of everyone’s gender, that it will make them feel more like they can do whatever they want with their gender, or at least cause a pause where one normally would not exist. quite likely, this will be uncomfortable for all of us, but i believe that becoming uncomfortable with the oppressive system of rigid gender assignment is a great step toward undoing it.

also, check out Dean Spade’s Pronoun etiquette I’ve re-posted here.

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Pronoun Etiquette

By Dean Spade
People often wonder how to be polite when it comes to problems of misidentifying another person’s pronoun. Here are some general tips:

  1. If you make a mistake, correct yourself. Going on as if it did not happen is actually less respectful than making the correction. This also saves the person who was misidentified from having to correct an incorrect pronoun assumption that has now been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.
  2. If someone else makes a mistake, correct them. It is polite to provide a correction, whether or not the person whose pronoun is misused is present, in order to avoid future mistakes and in order to correct the mistaken assumption that might now have been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.
  3. If you aren’t sure of a person’s pronoun, ask. One way to do this is by sharing your own. “I use masculine pronouns. I want to make sure to address you correctly, how do you like to be addressed?” This may seem like a strange thing to do but a person who often experiences being addressed incorrectly may see it as a sign of respect that you are interested in getting it right.
  4. When facilitating a group discussion, ask people to identify their pronouns when they go around and do introductions. This will allow everyone in the room the chance to self-identify and to get each others’ pronouns right the first time. It will also reduce the burden on anyone whose pronoun is often misidentified and may help them access the discussion more easily because they do not have to fear an embarrassing mistake.

From his guide to Making_Classrooms_Welcoming_for_Trans.pdf

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The Power of Politeness

Being gender ambiguous means that I don’t get the opportunity to interact with people the way most people do. Nothing is a given. In every (however minimal) social interaction – from ordering in a restaurant to asking for directions – I’m clocked as abnormal. Androgynous, queer, trans, a gender pirate: people decide whether that’s ok or not, and treat me accordingly: well or ill. It’s a subtle kind of mistreatment, but a constant one. With each polite or kind interaction (of which there are many), I’m relieved. But the relief never lasts.
Feminist sexual politics demands a certain nonchalance in regards to “female masculinity“. Hence, I can’t mind if people think I’m a boy or a girl so much (though I clearly have a preference). Mostly I’m seen as genderqueer “first.” And it is this gender ambiguity that precipitates the unkindness of strangers. This is a form of social sanctioning that acts to preserve the boundaries of gender; individuals are punished or rewarded according to our adhesion to social expectations (especially of gender). We’re taught early and persistently that transgressing these stipulations is punishable by humiliation, violence (including sexual violence) and death.
I don’t think it’s ok that women and people with female bodies are forced to look a certain way in order to get by; that it’s not ok to look queer. I also don’t think it’s ok that maleness and (for the most part) masculinity are reserved for people with certain body types and/or assigned “male” at birth. Men should be able to be as femme as me; I should be able to be read as male. But feminist movement has shifted gendered expectations (rightly) so that women, too, should be able to look like me (and they do). So, really, what’s a boi (like me) to do?
All those dirty looks, short replies and general rudeness hints at the possibility of more severe mistreatment, suggesting that such mistreatment is justified; that the violation of gender deserves punishment. In order to resist these stringent concepts of binary gender (and a gender hierarchy), all you need to do is stop playing a part in policing it; be a little kind, considerate, polite.

Historically, manners evolved as a way to make social interactions less awkward. Everyone knew what to do: shake a man’s hand, kiss a lady on the cheek. Things are certainly different now, and there have been important critiques of the cultural and gendered privileges and problems that come with this type of  “appropriate-behaviour” manners. But politeness in a more general sense remains a valuable, and too often overlooked, way of communicating.

Politeness can also act to disseminate power. Rather than one party taking control of a situation (with rudeness) to put down someone else, politeness given and politeness returned can level a playing field of power. This doesn’t mean people should get away with behaving badly, not at all. There can (and must) remain space to call people out. But being critical doesn’t need to be rude, and being rude is a pretty poor way to be critical.

Kindness and politeness can pad over more than just social awkwardness and anxiety. As I’ve been arguing, greeting gender ambiguous people with politeness (and respect) actively resists the social regulation of gender (stability and “coherence”); allowing a space for gender (and social) transformation.


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On Being Defended

A Femme Alliance

Probably the most obvious, and unfortunate, commonality between women and trans people is that we know what it’s like to be abused, and for the threat of abuse and [sexual] violence to be constant. But I do think the shared experience of brutality can be used to shape us into a wilful force of resistance; to defend each other and let ourselves be defended.

I used to be quick-witted when harassed on the streets or in bars. Two to seven words were usually enough; shouted out before an open car window could be wound back up. The men would just snigger in reply but there was something satisfying in fighting back. It took the edge off the humiliation of objectification. But somehow, somewhere, my ability (or desire) to defend myself was worn out.

I just want a break.

When you stand by and watch someone being abused – verbally, physically or (in a longer term sense) emotionally – I do think you’re complicit in it. I think we all have a responsibility to defend each other. And it’s not without risk. I’ve watched so many men and women get high and mighty about their feminist cred; thinking they have all the knowledge (and/or ontological right) to put other people in their place without interrogating the ways they themselves are fucking people over. There are political implications to acting as though someone can’t protect or defend themselves, or that you can do it better. [If you plan on doing it, ask first if that’s what someone wants].

For a long time I thought independence meant self-sufficiency. But the stockpiling of abuse I have taken taught me that having people around to stand up for me was not only a valid survival technique (and what a privilege it was to have ever thought I could persist alone), but a complete pleasure.

Watching my femme friends or lovers verbally rip apart the guys that hassle me is a freakin dream. It’s so unexpected. She’s sharp and witty and seethingly mad and he’s so taken aback and confused he’s stunned into a retreatful silence. Violence always escalates. When I push some guy off a friend, it’s not so unlikely he’ll turn around and punch me in the face. On the contrary, the political – gendered and subversive – (and practical) power of a femme offensive like that shows up the deficiencies of any other kind of recourse. But I do what I can. And this is something we can ask each other for.

It’s not that we can’t defend ourselves, but what a relief to (even occasionally) not have to.

  • On Being Defended is a part of the series against self-sufficiency – an investigation of what is left out when feminist theory/art/movement avoids or ignores the specificities of ftm trans lives, and the ways in which we can work/resist/persist together.

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Relational Violence & Glorifying the Vampire

On Daddying Part 2

see Polyamory & Power Part 1

The current cultural trend of glorifying the vampire reflects – and works to construct – the normalisation and justification of a certain type of relational violence.

Power in relationships is not permanent but constantly shifting. In different contexts, different parties have different powers and access to power. Same sex couples often overlook the ways in which there are inequalities in their relationships because they see the sameness of their sex-gender as a level playing field. But there remain other histories, experiences and social inequalities that lead some people into positions of power and others into subordination.

The physical prowess of the vampire can be seen as a metaphor for varying power dynamics in relationships: that one party (always) has power over the other. The abusive potential of this relation is especially evident in the Twilight series, as Bella’s physical inferiority to Edward is not complicated (unlike in other vampire stories in which the female has some kind of super human powers to rival that of the vampire, as in Buffy or, to a lesser extent, True Blood). Here, his violent tendencies – his ability and potential to abuse that power – are justified as a part of ‘who he is;’ because he’s a vampire.

Polyamorous discourse too often fails to account for these factors when rules (often named ‘ethics’) are uncritically asserted, such as [the archetypal example]: ‘everyone is responsible for articulating their needs.’ Things would be significantly less high maintenance if everyone just did what they wanted. But not everyone feels as though they are entitled to what they want, or knows how to ask for it. And when someone has power over you – how do you (re)gain any kind of power except in denying yourself to someone: withdrawing or withholding your affection, your time?

I want to agree with Gauche Sinister that “it’s damaging and wasteful to withhold something you want, in order to punish someone else.” But it’s damaging and painful to be giving something to someone who wants it, when they are constantly denying you what you want. Not least because it takes a toll on one’s self-esteem. It’s not necessarily that someone likes someone else more, but that someone is always more likely to forfeit what they want for the desires of someone else (for a variety of reasons).

The potential for power to be abused is a part of all relationships, but too often (white, middleclass) queers refuse even to recognise that possibility. And that’s really dangerous. In our glorification of the vampire we accept relational inequalities as inherent, unchangeable and justified. Being aware of the ways in which people are likely to be accommodating to others, and taking care with that, is the only responsible way to relate to anyone.

see Polyamory & Power Part 3

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Get to it

F: A festival. A conference. A future.

April 10-11. Sydney, Australia.

This is a response to Kate O’Halloran’s review of F – The future of feminism

I think feminism, especially ‘these days’, is (and should be) less about ‘women’ and more about what I will reluctantly term ‘human rights’ – the right to be treated fairly; to not be abused, mistreated, disrespected. You can’t divorce gendered oppression from racism, nor can you separate women’s oppression from the gendered oppression of trans people.

The ways in which feminism created, took up, and continues to (way too often but not always) rely on a politics of identity is disappointing at best. Identity necessitates exclusion – the exclusion of trans people from political spaces (women’s, but also, ‘feminist’) is, I think, the most obvious and perhaps simplest (most easily overcome) example of this.

What I like so much about (the prospect of) F is that the organisers have really taken this on. It’s not just that “feminism comes in many forms” but so do feminists. Ways in which our differing experiences ([and] of oppression) affect our ways of organising and prioritising feminist movement and change (the possibilities of the future) are really important. Too often this has been (and continues to be) overlooked by a failure of participants to interrogate their own privileges.

Building alliances through our differing feminist struggles and coalescing about the possibilities of feminist futures is really freakin exciting. Get to it.

Register (and read the conference blog) here.

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