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.

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Bullshit Dump

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Lately, a few friends of mine and I have been dealing with a certain person whose very existence in our social group is a burden. This person, we’ll call him Asshat for the purpose of anonymity has been given chance after chance to grow up and take some responsibility for himself and has failed every time. Let’s go back to last summer for a bit:

Now, Asshat and I, along with several other of our friends, are/were members of the (now dwindling) Gainesville IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) union branch. Our branch needed to raise money for a campaign we were starting and a trip we were planning (a few of our number were going to Work People’s College) and Asshat had the brilliant idea of putting on a play as a means of making money. This might have worked, except our branch was small and the union already works on a shoe-string budget – there was no way we could get the resources to put on this play. Even if we could get those resources (mostly through urban foraging, to be sure) without much cost to the union, there was still the issue of a venue and a cast. See, Gainesville is a college town in which nearly 3/4 of the population are UF students and none of them are in town during the summer months so nobody was even there to respond to the casting call when Asshat put it out. It should be noted that all this while, the folks in the union are telling Asshat that this play won’t happen because we simply did not have the resources to book a venue, nor the bodies to put together sets, make costumes or actually act in the play. Also, Asshat had decided to couch-hop between our friends’ various houses and had promised to get a summer job so he could help with utilities, food and anything else, an idea to which nobody was immediately opposed on the grounds that he would stay only a few days to perhaps a week at each place so as not to impose but nobody was actually aware that he would be staying the entire summer in Gainesville. Long story short, Asshat never got a job and stayed a month or more at most places, despite the very obvious fact that his presence was a burden and the roommates felt that he was taking advantage of his hospitality. More than once, he was asked to leave from a place and more than once he brushed off the request and made excuses for why he couldn’t leave just yet. Needless to say, Asshat has few, if any, friends left in Gainesville.

Now, it’s important to understand that Asshat is more than just a mooch. He claims to be an anarchist, as so many do these days, without putting into practice the beliefs which supposedly come with the label – it is the reason I, personally, try to avoid applying that, or any other label really, to myself – he claims to be genderqueer but fails to acknowledge the difference of experience which comes with such an identity. It is not for me or anyone else to police another person’s gender, but Asshat has been heavily male socialized and, while he does enjoy wearing skirts, he has done nothing in terms of re-socialization and fails to acknowledge the difference of experience which comes with such an identity which makes me and other Queer friends in our group mistrust his claims and suspect appropriation. Asshat is into trends – it’s trendy to be radical, so he’s radical; it’s trendy to be Queer, so he’s Queer (to be fair, his sexuality is at least fluid if his gender remains stagnant but that’s irrelevant). Since coming back from that summer in Gainesville, Asshat has thought to repeat this same exact stunt with the local social group in St. Augustine.

In the past year, we have, as a group, begun a couple of minor projects, including a zine and a community potluck. Lucky and I were behind the initial organization of both of these projects with help from a few others who contributed to the zine and were totally psyched for the potluck but despite all of our efforts, both projects flopped. The first issue of the zine was beautiful, Lucky designed it and I helped her print and our friend John donated some prints from the college library, but we had no help with distribution at all, and all of John’s prints weren’t enough because that shit is expensive so ultimately we only managed a few copies which we distributed amongst ourselves and tried to just move on to the next one, hoping it would work out better. It didn’t, and we gave up. Same thing happened with the potluck, the first one was great, people came out, we ate, it was a success. We had a briefing afterward, scheduled the next one and nobody showed. After that, Lucky and I were frustrated and ready to just quit so we left St. Augustine and did our short stint of traveling only to come back and find that the projects we had started had been revived, which was great! Except they were no longer cooperative – see, Asshat had taken over the zine project and decided to play editor, which meant that he decided what goes in and what doesn’t, he did all of the design work, he could change anything he didn’t like, issues came out according to his schedule, and he would take no outside suggestions whatsoever. He had also revived the potluck, but it served no purpose and turned out to basically just be this stupid thing he could do for cred.

It should be noted that during all this time, Asshat has been living rent-free with our friends, the Frosts, who are wonderful and forgiving people who love everyone but only tolerate Asshat. See, before moving in with the Frosts, Asshat had been kicked out of his mother’s house for smoking weed in the house while she was on probation (she wouldn’t have actually cared if it weren’t something that could get her arrested) and had, for two months, lived with our friend, Eddie, who had told him he could only stay for a week at the most. On top of this, Asshat has so much shit that when he got kicked out, he had to store his possessions between three houses, one of them being Lucky’s and my apartment, another our friend Terry’s house and finally Eddie’s place. When Eddie kicked Asshat the fuck out, the Frosts took him in and, slowly but surely, everyone he was using as a storage unit threatened to sell or burn his shit if he didn’t come get it (keep in mind, he left it with us for over a month and none of us had the space for it). Even then, it took him a few weeks to get everything out. One particular item which irritated Lucky and me more than I can quite express was a giant box overflowing with DVDs which Asshat just left in the middle of the walkway in our kitchen one day. We have five or six very deep closets in our otherwise very small apartment, but the box just sat in the middle of the goddamn kitchen. Lucky was so pissed, they wouldn’t even move it, insisting that Asshat should do it because he was the one who was so inconsiderate to put it there. I was the one who ended up moving it because if I had to trip over it again, I would throw it off the balcony, but I digress. Point is, Asshat took advantage of our hospitality and our willingness to help a friend, all the time citing “mutual aid,” but for the life of me, I could not figure out just what about this aid was mutual. During this time, Asshat also constantly solicited rides from those of us with cars, often using manipulative tactics such as guilt trips and emotional blackmail to get us to take them places after we had told them “no” for whatever reason.

For the past six months (at least), Asshat has been living with the Frosts and has yet to pay rent or help them with utilities. He has lost the job he did have and hasn’t been really looking for a new one while his partner, M.J., has been working day and night and had to spend every dollar of her first check from DQ on both of their rents because he’s broke and loathe to sell his assloads of unnecessary shit.

All of the above highlights the character of this person and the way that they treat friends and allies, but it is nothing compared to what he has done most recently, which is really why I’m posting this rant. M.J. has been living with Lucky and me for the past few weeks because Asshat has turned out to be a terrible roommate and a worse partner (go figure). A few weeks ago, Asshat left town to go to a funeral in Louisiana, where his family is from, and he was gone for a couple of days, which was super exciting for Lucky and me because it meant we’d have an opportunity to hang out with M.J. without Asshat around (this is usually impossible). We had been hearing some seriously not-okay things about the way Asshat was treating her from Eddie, who works at DQ with her, and wanted an opportunity to speak with her ourselves because M.J. is made of awesome and the last thing we wanted was for Asshat to drive her away from the group and our work – if anything, we’d prefer it the other way around. Well, M.J. comes over with Eddie after work and tells us this horror story about how Asshat harassed her over the phone and made her cry and bullshitted and guilt tripped her all night because she went out to Denny’s after closing with her co-workers and didn’t invite him or go to pick him up first. Essentially, he was acting like a petulant child. Then she relayed her side of the story concerning the rent issue and how difficult he was to live with and how much she just wanted to get out, so we offered her a place to stay at our apartment until the dorms open.

Since taking in M.J., we have banned Asshat from our apartment – please note, he was already unofficially banned from the apartment, but when we saw how quickly M.J. accepted our offer (she was moved in within two days), we started to understand the gravity of the situation and decided that this needed to be an official safe space. Since M.J. has been living with us, she has had to deal with daily bullshit from Asshat, more guilt trips and emotional blackmail, more clinginess, insults, accusations, pleas – he’s left her voice messages saying he just wants to be in a monogamous relationship with her (probably forgot to mention, they were open and that was not a problem until he got some other girl pregnant) and he sent her a text earlier today threatening suicide as well as an excruciating 11 min long YouTube video where he’s holding her cat and rambling about all the memories they’ve had together when just the other day, he harassed her until she came to his house and then kept her there for three hours trying to coerce her into having sex with him and then exploded on her when she bolted out the door. He even tried to force himself into the driver’s seat with her when she got into her car. The Frosts will be kicking him out of their house soon and then he’ll have no place else to go in this town, but until then, his very presence troubles me.

Asshat claims to be an anarchist, genderqueer, a feminist; he claims to understand and hate the patriarchy, to be working towards abolishing hierarchy. He claims to understand oppression and to fight against it, yet I have never known him to be anything but oppressive, self-serving, immature, cruel, inconsiderate and toxic. He has done more than just what I have put down in this post, so much I can’t remember enough to write it out all at once. This is not the first partner he has abused emotionally and pushed away, nor the first group of people he has leeched off of; he has even run away during actions, leaving his friends behind to get detained by pigs and possibly arrested. I have never known such a coward or such a hypocrite in my life and while I prefer to avoid hateful emotions, I honestly don’t know what I will do next time I see him; I can only hope I’ll never see him again.

All in all, I think our social group is doing a pretty good job of handling our problem with Asshat, though I do wish that we could all have seen this person’s toxicity a little sooner, but I think we were all holding out hope that maybe if we called him on his bullshit and made him take responsibility for the fucked up things he has been doing, he might take the hint and change his behavior. Unfortunately, Asshat doesn’t listen. He makes excuses for himself and brushes off any and all criticism, taking nothing seriously and denying his own part in the failure of projects, the tension in the house he lives in, breakdowns in communication and the unnecessarily unpleasant deaths of his relationships. I don’t even know what to do with a person like this and I feel as though even if we do shun him from our group (which is inevitable) and send him packing back to his mother’s house in Palm Coast, he will still blame us and, instead of doing any real self-reflection, will go on to do the same things in other places to other people. I hope I’m wrong, but I very seriously doubt that I am and this bothers me. Ultimately, I think Asshat is a spoiled brat with a Peter Pan complex and some serious other issues; I don’t think he’ll ever grow up, but I would like to hear about any experiences other folks have had with people like this and, perhaps get some advice on what we can do to rid ourselves of this pestilence sooner rather than later.