Way to Think Outside, but Right Up Against the Box


I motherfucking hate social movements.  I hate labels, I hate arbitrary rules, and I hate binaries.  Realistically, I can’t bitch about everything to which this title applies in one post, but I can sure as hell try.

Initially, I intended just to talk about feminism, but then I started thinking about binary trans people (not all, I’ve met some great folks, but so many have fallen in The Trap – we’ll get to that), and so much other shit.  I can hardly keep track of how many things I feel this way about, but we’ll just keep it down to these two.

First off, feminism.  Fuck feminism, really.  Now, I’m not saying “I hate women” or anything else, but the label and the people who use the label are so limited.  Of course, many awesome Queer folks have stepped up and begun working to claim their place in the feminist movement with the trans feminist, intersectional feminist and Queer feminist labels (among a few others, I’m sure), but really, I think the word Queer should assume feminist sentiments (since, like it or not rad fems, it was your movement that brought us out and made us loud).

To really explicate on the limits of feminism, we’ll have to go back to the Second Wave since that mentality is still entirely too huge.  It was here that feminism was forcibly opened up to Queer identity (specifically lesbian identity), but it was also here that feminists closed themselves off to ALL of Queer identity.  From the homophobic first wave came a transphobic second wave.  Funny thing about that, second wave feminism is where the whole concept of gender questioning on a socio-political scale got started – feminists were publishing book after book about what “woman” really means and how that meaning can be changed, how one can become “not a woman” and so on and so forth.  With so much rhetoric around gender, it was inevitable for them to accidentally advocate for trans* identities, but they did not go far enough.  Once the box is opened, it cannot be closed again, but damned if they didn’t try!  The feminist movement shunned the transgender movement at the time, asserting that “eunuchs” were trying to invade and take control of women’s space and that “transsexuals” raped women’s bodies and all manner of other stupid bullshit, but they could not see that their own gender rhetoric invited trans people into the conversation whether they liked it or not.  The first bits of feminist ponderings into what gender means and how it could be interpreted had to then be set aside and refuted by new ideas which would better support the transphobia within the movement so that nobody would have to go too far from their comfort zone in attempts to discern just how fucking huge patriarchy really is.

Now for binary trans folks.  I don’t have anything against trans women or trans men in general, my problem lies more with the binary and the stark dedication to the binary that many of these folks show.  I have a few friends who are completely binary and that’s fine, but I’ve found I can only deal with them in small doses.  This doesn’t apply to everyone, there are a several lovely trans women in my life who constantly renew my hope in humanity.  One of them, though she was only my life for a brief moment but made a lasting impression, really inspired me in some ways to write this.  She’s just a beautiful trans woman who is super butch and cool as hell.  We met at the bar and started talking, I don’t really remember how we got into transition and Queer issues, but she told me a bit of her story and it has stuck with me – her transition involved a lot of “well, I think you’re pretty masculine” because she simply wasn’t femme and her argument is that you do not have to be femme to be a woman.  I don’t think I’ve heard a truer statement.

Unfortunately, I find that binary trans people tend to be the absolute worst about gender essentialism and misogyny and for the life of me, I can’t understand it.  I mean, how?  Once a person realizes they can reject the gender they have been assigned, they have two choices, they either choose the other binary choice and perpetuate the binary (that second part isn’t necessary, but entirely too common part of the initial choice) or they could absolutely refuse the binary and accept gender as something fluid which runs on a spectrum.  The Trap that I have found many binary trans folks to run into is attempting to fill every stereotype for their chosen gender, positive or negative, which ends in lots of trans men becoming dudebros and many trans women doing everything in their power to be objectified, and thus validated, by cishet men.  As I’ve said before, this does not apply across the board, it’s simply a pattern I’ve seen and really, there is nothing wrong with super-femme trans women or macho trans men, the problem is the perpetuation of gender stereotypes that so many binary trans folks see as the only way to pass.  Perpetuating gender stereotypes in order to be accepted is participating in patriarchy, the very systemic mindset that has forced so many of us in the closet and kept us there for so long.  It’s not cute and it’s not okay, it’s harmful.  It fucking hurts, and when one of my binary friends misgenders me or tells me that genderqueer isn’t a real thing, I feel that I have been stabbed in the back.  I want to call her traitor, turncloak, coward, but I can’t because her struggle is real too and I know that she is scared, but I cannot abide her befriending the enemy at my expense.  For every trans woman or man that shrugs off or invalidates the third gender as a thing, either through rhetoric or through their actions, the Queer community loses that much ground and another of us is shrugged away off to the side.  Questioning your assigned gender is thinking outside of the box, but denying the possibility of any options outside of the binary is just a step right back in.

The fact of the matter is, when somebody asserts gender/binary essentialism, they are perpetuating the patriarchal mindset, be they a purported feminist or a Queer person.  If I’m honest, I’m always more offended when trans people do it though because it is the very thing that Queer folks (especially trans women) as a movement fought against in the ’60’s and ’70’s when the radical feminist movement rejected them.  Now, it’s all I can do to ask trans folk who support the binary what makes them any better than a rad fem.


4 thoughts on “Way to Think Outside, but Right Up Against the Box

  1. I often feel this with the “brain sex” idea.

    Radfems – gender and sex are the same thing, sex is genitally located
    Dominent trans ideology – gender and sex are the same thing, sex is neurologically based.

    I think the thing is that we dont have enough words to convey the complexity. We keep inventing new words (hetero-sexual, bi-sexual, homo-sexual, pan-sexual, a-sexual etc) for different points on an axis, the problem is that there are more axes.

    The argument over sex being biological vs neural seems to be to be a false one and very heated arguments are held at cross purposes.

    There are genders that are normative (man, woman) but we each have our own unique one as a sexual being in the world – problem is that you will always be slotted into one or other. You ID as “genderqueer” which is fine, but regardless people (in the street, at the supermarket, at the corner shop) will gender you according to one of the two. And also genderqueer isnt a gender its just a “normative gender doesnt work for me” stance.

    It seems to me better to accept that people have unique genders, but most of them are closer to one or other of the normative ones, and thats the one you use. If your (sex, biological sex, sex assigned at birth) is closer aligned to the other gender than that which you would usually be expected to express, then you’re a freak, but in order to be “not a freak” you need to conform to the boundaries of the other.

    Some people can handle being freaks, most people just want to blend in and hide – at the supermarket, in the street, at the cornershop and that means being normative, even if your normativity is transgressive, so trans wo/men conform sometimes more fully and in a more studied manner than cis women, who face the same pressures but have always lived with the same type of pressures, so its gone to background hum.

    I suspect (although I dont know) that the adherence to the binary relaxes over time, as trans wo/men “settle in” and their unique gender – which just like almost all cis people – isnt actually “man” or “woman”, emerges more fully.

    • I can understand this, but the issue is that sex, sexuality and gender are all different things. They are often interrelated, but don’t necessarily have to be and that is a difficult concept for people to grasp.

      I understand that people will always misgender me because we have no concept of a third gender in our understanding. Even our third-person singular pronouns are gendered according to the binary (except in maybe one or two western languages) which is ridiculous to me because sex is not even completely binary – there are literally dozens of intersex conditions and they are far more common than we are led to believe in the same way that third gender identities are far more common than people know. I say “genderqueer” not just as a stance against normative gender, but as an identity which applies to a gender which has been effectively erased by patriarchy. That said, I do often present as a cis woman because I can’t quite pass as male and androgyny is almost just as difficult to achieve (perhaps even more so). I think my problem is that I know I will be misgendered by the vast majority of people, but it really hurts when folks who identify as trans*, who have questioned their gender identities enough to actually defy their normative assignments, tell me that my identity isn’t real or that I’m not “trans enough.”

      Identity is important to me, as I think it is for quite a lot of people, and I think that it is important to show that gender is, in fact, an identity, not an assignment according to one’s sex. My goal in transitioning is not to pass as “male,” but rather to achieve androgyny in such a way that it makes people question what they are seeing, if only for an instant. And not everybody will – it is far too easy to put people in boxes – but for those that do, they might come upon a realization of what gender is, how it is related to identity and how we can mold it to whatever we want. My only trouble with cisgender people is that it is not common knowledge to most of them that cisgender is as much an identity as transgender – trans* people have to understand that in order to be trans*, which is why it is harder to forgive when they tell me I’m wrong.

    • Also, the suggestion in this comment is that we all assimilate to a culturally mandated gender essentialism which erases an entire spectrum of identity, and I just don’t know that I can roll with that. It reads to me a lot like defeat.

  2. I’ve also caught myself holding trans* folks to a higher standard, especially in regards to transmen and misogyny. It pisses me off when binary trans guys made sexist comments, because they know what it’s like to be on the other side. Even if they didn’t feel female, they were treated as one at some point, so they should know better. I know it’s tempting to give in to stereotypes and macho behavior because they don’t want attention drawn to anything that might make them “pass” less, but then they are just reinforcing bad male behavior. For the record, I ID primarily as a genderqueer trans guy, so it’s extra frustrating that it’s my own community engaging in this practice.

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