The Politics of Confrontation

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Lately, I have had some things on my mind.  Often, when I talk to people either in person, over the phone or (most often) on the internet, I find myself accused of being “too negative,” “so aggressive,” or “oversensitive” whenever a subject is broached which is too controversial for polite conversation.  Folks like to tell me not to be “so angry,” and that, instead of focusing on the problems, I should focus on solutions – this gets into that same “It Gets Better,” and “Build don’t Burn” rhetoric that I find, personally, has a bad habit of missing the point.

What is troublesome about this logic is its failure to acknowledge that one cannot focus on solutions to problems if one does not first recognize the problem.  When I am accused to being too negative, it is rarely because I am a hopeless misanthrope who sees no end to human suffering, but most typically because my accuser doesn’t like the harsh realities which they are being made to confront within the context of the conversation. The fact is, folks don’t really like confronting systematic oppression – especially people of privilege (I know, dirty word) – because to confront would mean to acknowledge its existence and the ways in which we may or may not benefit from these systems. I say this as a white person who has worked (and is still working) to unpack my privilege and preconceived notions about race. Also, as a thin, able-bodied AFAB genderqueer person who, despite not really “passing,” gets to move through life with relative ease due to my perceived masculinity. I know how it feels to come to the realization that my being treated like a human being with rights and dignity comes at the expense of others who maybe don’t look like or get around as well as I do. It sucks and of course nobody would want to accept that, but the fact of the matter is your unwillingness to accept reality doesn’t actually change reality.

The reality is that cops can shoot unarmed black boys and girls on public streets in the daylight with impunity. Women can’t walk down the street without being harassed, or worse, and then blamed for it. “Trans panic” is an actual defense that people can actually use in court to get away with murdering trans women. Intersex folks are all but invisible at best and at worst, mutilated and often sterilized by doctors at birth as a means of “correcting” their genitals to make them appear “normal.” I could go on. For days. But let some of these things sink in – this is reality. And if I seem angry about it, it’s because I am. Because I should be. Everyone should be.

The mentality that “we should be focusing on solutions, not problems”; that we need to be “more positive”; is counter-productive and backwards. You can’t focus on the solution to a problem you won’t acknowledge. Solutions come from confronting the issue, head on, accepting that it is an issue and then finding where that issue comes from. We need to find the root – where it begins and how far it reaches. Then we need to attack that root. Like a weed, if we do not get it at the root, it only grows back. This is what I mean when I refer to the White Supremacist Cisheteropatriarchy – the most entrenched systems of oppression, the ones that have infected our minds like disease – this is the root. It runs deep, in our society, in our everyday interactions, in our selves and it’s so big and so far-reaching that when we do acknowledge its existence and power over us, it seems overwhelming – impossible to defeat. I think this is why it is so difficult to confront. I think this is why I get accused of being “too negative,” because when I make the claim that we are all infected with this insidious, seemingly-unstoppable social disease, I am declaring war on something intangible that exists within the individual as well as outside and it seems hopeless.

I think of humanity as one big organism, each individual person is a cell. The social disease causes some cells to attack others, and the organism is essentially killing itself from the inside out. We need medicine. Something to strengthen the cells being attacked so they can defend themselves and survive the onslaught and to weaken those attacking until they give up and eventually stop and something else to immunize new cells as they are created against the disease so that this can be prevented in the future. This cannot happen overnight – it will take a while.

Mind, this is not a perfect metaphor. This is essentially the best I can come up with while drowsy and a little dizzy from antibiotics. Essentially, what I am saying is that we need to confront the power dynamics which create the systems of oppression that have society so jacked up that folks can’t even see the problem when it’s right in front of their eyes. Or worse, they refuse to see the problems because they’re too big and scary to take on alone. The fact is, it’s okay to be overwhelmed and even to feel hopeless when first confronting horrible realities – really, it is. It’s okay because it’s perfectly reasonable; this shit is too big to take on alone, which is why we can’t. One person cannot take down centuries-old systems of oppression, but what about hundreds? Thousands? Millions? There are seven billion human beings on the planet, how many of them benefit from these systems versus those who are oppressed by them?

I am not “negative.” I believe in collective power and grassroots, horizontal self-organization. I have more faith in humanity than humanity has been proven to deserve, given my own personal experiences and what I have learned about the world in my short time here. I truly hate the state of things and I say so, often and loudly, because I can and I must. Don’t tell me “it gets better” unless you’re willing to put your boots on the ground and make it get better. Don’t tell me to “focus on solutions” if you’re not willing to be a part of the solution yourself. Don’t tell me to be “more positive,” you’re naive if you think my hopes for the world are anything but.

Way to Think Outside, but Right Up Against the Box

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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.