Friday, July 30, 2010

An Objective and Subjective Experience of The Gender Hierarchy, Gender Identity, and Radical Social Transformation, Part 1

image of two children playing jump rope is from here
This is a series of posts about the effects of promoting ideas and analyses of gender that are not explicitly connected to the reality of male supremacy. Part 1 discusses children, gender stereotypes, social stigma and status, the problem of turning complex social realities into binaries, and of pretending those binaries aren't enforced. Also, this post poses questions about how race, gender, and sexual orientation are conjoined. There are also photos of some guys I think are CUTE. 

The conclusion of the series of posts will, I hope, make the case that social justice movements dealing with gender (and race and class and sexual orientation) are strengthened by offering up an intersectional perspective and by not playing down the reality of male supremacy.

Is it important, when speaking about gender, to note that it exists to maintain male supremacy? Is gender always related to race? What about race to gender? Is interest in jumping rope a sign of one's race, gender, class, ethnicity, or sexual orientation? If yes, how? If no, why do some boys get made fun of for doing so in social spaces where girls also jump rope?

To approach this subject and these questions, I begin here: I am intergender, male-assigned and privileged, and white. (See the "About me" section of the blog, on the right side, along there somewhere above the never-ending list of websites of interest and blogs I link to for a link to what "intergender" can mean. It follows the quotes and recommended reading and has been recently revised.)

When I was a child, I didn't quite "get it" about their being only boys and girls and I sure didn't get it that there were *only* two races, although Three Dog Night tried to liberally convince me in songs like "Black and White". I knew there weren't just two classes either, but sometimes media made it sound like if you weren't rich you were poor, and if you weren't poor you were rich. I also didn't accept that there was only one "good" way to have a sexual identity, which was always an off-shoot of a gender identity--kind of like the gender identity was the prerequisite to having a sexual one. You have to want to believe that "sex" is only about gender to even "go there". I refuse to "go there".

I got that there were those two social categories, and I also got that I wasn't really either one of them. It gets tricky when trying to describe to you what I was. One could say I was "in between" being a boy and and a girl, but given how different boys are, amongst themselves, and how different and diverse girls are, amongst themselves, this doesn't really work for me as an adequate way to describe my experience. For example, I didn't live in a social space between a so-called "tom-boy" girl and a butch boy. Nor did I live in the middle of a continuum between polar ends of being a so-called femme girl and a femme boy. Or between being a butch girl and a femme boy. Or between a femme girl and a butch boy--however you understand such terms which are, of course, culturally, ethnically, regionally, and era-specific to be sure.

I liked spiders and snakes and toads and frogs and insects. (See, "spiders" are NOT insects, and I knew that when I was a child.) I like seeing birds and squirrels, not shooting them. My brother liked shooting them. I thought he was the anti-animals version of a sociopath. I liked playing with some dolls--not "baby dolls" but dolls like Barbie, but not Barbie herself, as she was too popular to hang out with people like me. I played with girls whatever girls liked to play, including card games, hand clapping/song games, and just talking about people. But if girls liked doing the things that boys traditionally or stereotypically liked to do, I didn't hang out with them. And the butch het boys--forget it. They were TOTAL losers. ;) I don't really mean that. They weren't total losers. They were the group that most put me down, though, and I learned to avoid them as much as was socially possible, especially since I lived with one who called me his brother. (Little did HE know!) I liked chess and I liked pop music, television games shows but not soap operas. I hate boy-team sports but loved the Olympics, especially girls' Gymnastics in the Summer Games and all of the Figure Skating in the Winter Games. Now I'm infatuated with Apolo Anton Ohno who's been in Short Track Speed Skating in three consecutive Winter Games. My interests have shifted over time. But not my attraction to some men.

image of Apolo Ohno is from here
Currently, the cutest guy on TV, well, until last night when he got tossed off the show, was Jose Ruiz, from So You Think You Can Dance. The sweetness in those eyes and that smile!!! O. M. G. Just melt me down and call me liquid butter. (Below is the only photo I could find that shows him smiling and close up. Jose's someone who is a great example of what might be termed "subjectively" beautiful. He's objectively beautiful too, but it's seeing him in life, not in a photo still, where his beauty really shines.)

image of dancer Jose Ruiz is from here
Here is another photo of him:
Jose Ruiz, publicity shot from TV show, So You Think You Can Dance
Is he sweet or what?!

Even though I can still have these little crushes of celebs, currently I am asexual and aromantic, as much as possible. I didn't use to be either. I an not anti-sex and The Amazing Feminist Texican can verify that this is the case, as she and I have exchanged thoughts and analysis on sex, including on vibrators, and none of my views reveal that I believe sex is bad, just plain negative, wrong, or gets you a one-way pass straight to hell--wherever the hell HELL is. Being anti-sexism isn't being anti-sex, after all. Unless you can only experience sex AS sexism, in which case you're likely to misinterpret critics of sexism as being "anti-sex".

And being critical of gender as a system of political terrorism, force, violation, subordination, and domination is not to be *against* people with standard gender presentations or identities, any more than being anti-corporate patriarchy makes me *against* workers at McDonalds or Wal-mart. It is, however, to note the difference between workers at Wal-mart and the Walton family of Wal-mart. The former has almost no structural or institutional power to effect significant social change. The Walton family DOES have the resources to make a significant difference in the lives of ALL of their employees. ALL of them--all the many hundreds of thousands of them. That's the difference social/structural position makes.

As I see it--and I'm not alone--gender systems exist inside conjoined systems of race, inside of oppressive economic systems, and within systems of of global political dynamics like globalisation and the invasion and violation of the Global South by the Global North. These conjoined social hierarchies include whites believing and maintaining institutions that place them over and against people of color; similarly: men over and against gay men and all women; the middle aged over and against children and the elderly--should people live long enough to become elderly--and long enough to become children, for that matter.

I refuse to see "gender" as if it existed independently of those other realities. This isn't to say that I can't, for theoretical and analytic purposes, discuss "gender" without always talking about everything else. It is to note that should I do that, I'm necessarily abstracting people's real lives.

No one, these days, who lives in a society with media and industrialisation has an experience of gender than isn't raced and classed. That isn't shaped by heterosexist racist patriarchal imperatives and capitalist forces.

A white pro-radical feminist male view might seek to see what is patriarchal about race and class. What is gendered about whiteness and being wealthy. What is stigmatised and statused as "the degraded feminine" and "the glorified masculine".

But *this* profeminist (you know, as opposed to the other three to five--lol) will also keep turning over these phenomena, mixing and matching them, to see what is raced about gender as well, because with an understanding of intersectionality, deeper truths may be highlighted.

I grow weary of race analysis that forgets how gendered race is. Similarly with gender analysis that forgets the gendered people are raced.

The issue for this post is to what extent "subjective" and "objective" understandings of gender, in oppressively raced, sexual, classed and globalising contexts, supports radical coalition work towards the liberation of all people from oppressive systems in which some are dominants and some are subordinates, and many are both, depending on which parts of their lives we are discussing.

Here's one reality: a wealthy white gay man may exercise his power in a variety of ways. He may have stock market investments that support genocide and rape globally. He may choose to purchase an apartment building in a city where neighborhoods are experiencing racist/classist gentrification, thereby supporting the oppressive displacement of poor people, making some of them homeless. He may get beaten or called horrid names any day by any het man who seeks to express his homophobia against the nearest gay man to him. And he may participate in gay or heterosexual cultural events that are deeply misogynistic and racist, as well as heterosexist and classist. He may make fun of women who are heavy or of women who are... women.

The queer-identified people I know in the cities and sections in which I have lived are mostly white. Most of my friends are people who do not live near me. And most of my friends are not white. This means I get many views into queer and non-queer society.

With these multiple views, different truths are highlighted. Just as with the old parable about several blind men feeling a different part of an elephant, not realising they were ALL experiencing one being, so too do those of us who look at reality through one lens miss out on the whole of what we are looking at.

Gender is, first and foremost, political and enforced. It is secondarily social and institutionalised. It is, third, personal or individual, mediated in many ways. Fourth, it is tied to what is often called biological/asocial phenomena, such as the shape of genital tissue, the levels of various hormones in one's system, and chromosomal patterns. What gender isn't at all is "natural" as that term is commonly used in public discourse. A social justice movement which seeks to reverse this order is doing something that is VERY political, and VERY pro-status quo, and VERY oppressive: misogynistic, racist/white-empowering, oppressive to the Global South, genocidal, and ecocidal.

To make "gender" a primarily personal-individual-subjective matter is to deny the enormous force that is in no way purely "subjective" that is exacted against all of us to maintain male supremacy and patriarchal atrocities against the bodies of those deemed girls and women .

Dominant U.S. society wants us to all believe that gender is primarily natural, biological, and chemical--that it is a reality that is best intervened on with chemicals, medications, surgeries, and other "treatments" that seek to normalise and reinforce it as an oppositional binary: one is a man or one is a woman. And, if "transgender" one is a man (or boy) in a female body or a woman (or girl) in a male body. Or, maybe, on is also intersex and intergender and, honestly, dominant society just doesn't want to deal with that, other than to deny intergender reality exists, and to surgically change visually intersex people to "appear" more normal. Normal is always oppressive in a society in which norms exist to reinforce oppressive institutions.

If I am outside, in a social space, a police officer makes determinations about how dangerous I am based on many criteria--some highlighted more than others depending on where in the world I am. If I'm near the border in Arizona, the shade and hue of my skin as well as facial and other physical features are scrutinised, to determine if I might be "Mexican". In a white-majority/white-dominant/only white rural area, my class presentation might be most paid attention to, along with my gender presentation, including the degrees to which I stand out as possibly "gay".

As a white, male, intergender, non-intersex, adult person who is registered and treated socially as a white adult male, as, in many ways, a "man", I get how gender is both subjective and objective, and how that distinction is artificial on many levels.

I played jump-rope with girls rather than basketball with boys during elementary school recess. Many boys and very few girls took issue with me doing that (even though professional male boxers played jump-rope). Why? Because my actions were threatening to the boys, but far less threatening to the girls. The boys--most of them het--were shoring up their gender identities by socially reinforcing their sexist attitudes, their misogynistic practices and jokes, and their girl-excluding behavior. To see someone who appeared to be a boy willfully and joyfully engaging with girls in what the boys saw as "girly" behaviors, meant their own sense of themselves as "appropriate boys" was threatened. Because if I WERE a boy, and was playing jump rope with girls (while not in training to be a professional boxer), how could THEY be boys and need to refuse to do so?

Their solution at the time was to fuse sexuality* and gender into terms like "faggot", "sissy", and "queer". This, in their minds, kept me "other" than what they were--or so they delusionally thought. That I wasn't any of those things didn't matter to them.

(*among the males, we were, most of us, pre-pubescent then and were not being willfully sexual with anyone, while surely a percentage of us, myself included, were being or had been sexually abused)

You might ask, "Julian--you WERE queer, weren't you? I mean I get how you'd not want to claim those degrading terms, but you were, well, 'odd' as someone perceived to be a boy wanting to play with girls in activities that boys steered clear of BECAUSE they were things girls did on the playground?" I'd say "No, there was nothing 'odd' about it. Nothing more 'odd', let's say, than liking The Partridge Family. Because here's the secret the "appropriate boys" didn't want you to know: they ALSO liked watching The Partridge Family, but felt too ashamed to say so, socially. What may well have been odd about me was my willingness to publicly align myself with girls who did so-called 'girly' things.

What we experience that is "subjective" is shaped by objective realities. Objective realities, like misogynistic violence, are bound tightly to idea and ideologies that some people are deeply invested in, financially, and in other ways, such as by fusing one's egoic identity to these ideas and ideologies.

I watch males who present as boys and men engage in practices and behaviors that shore up their identities and senses of self as "masculine"--and that is a highly conditional and relative thing. What it means to be "masculine" varies from culture to culture and era to era, as well as across region and across generations in one family.

What it meant to be a "masculine" male-man for my maternal grandfather was VERY different than what it meant to be "masculine" male-man for my paternal grandfather. My own father's ways of being "masculine" were not in accordance with white non-Jewish forms, in many ways.

End of Part 1. See the images below of people jumping rope--and you tell me how era, region, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, and gender are related to each one--get busy, now: this assignment is due before Part 2 appears on this blog!

image of children, female and male, playing double dutch is from here

image of a very strong man, Mohammed Ali, jumping rope is from here

image of teenage boys playing jump rope is from here

image of a bronze casting depicting two girls jumping rope is from here

image of a girl jumping rope is from here

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