Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Queer Studies: a non-academic discussion on gender radicalism and the politcs of interrogation

image is from here

                                               6 [x] Radical

A blogger recently wrote to me letting me know that my posts are sometimes rambling, without a central focus. I agree. It's how my mind works often enough and I don't have an editor. With on-going apologies, this is my home for my writings, and they' ll often appear here in rough form. I'd rather get my material out there to be honed another time, than not get it out there at all, which is exactly what happened for years. So, with some regret for the rambling posts that are, admittedly, hard to follow, here's the latest:

What happens when society and communities organise in the absence of radical feminist theory (and practice) on gender?

Answer: conservative and liberal agendas and perspectives flourish and any challenge to them is called hateful. 
Evidence follows...

As many radical people will tell you, our lives would have looked very different if we didn't come upon radical analysis and action designed to challenge society's ideological and institutional forces and moral and political imperatives. I had to question race and sex and gender in my life. To not do so would have been to betray every race-, sex-, and gender-oppressed person I know, including myself.

In white male supremacist societies I've been part of, there are two things that must be reinforced for the status quo to stay dominant: male supremacy and white supremacy. Without very intensive interrogation of and organised resistance to both those ideologies and forces, we are vulnerable to re-enacting them, recreating them, and reinforcing them.

The first criticism I get when I write things like that is this one: "Who are YOU to decide what RADICAL means??" Well, I'm not defining it for everyone. I'm defining it here, on my turf. You have to come here to find out my thoughts, and if you don't like 'em, you can easily steer clear of the place. Right? Yeah, you can.

I define "Radical" in many ways, not at all in keeping with how many whites and men do so. I'm not pro-Marxist, for example, and many white men define "radical" as "being a marxist". I'm not pro-Black Nationalism, because as I've understood it from Black feminist women, it's so masculist as to be anti-woman and anti-feminist too. But some Black men define "radical" as being Black Nationalist. To say I don't identify with those terms and political movements isn't to say I see no value in them. It is to say I also see where they are deeply problematic--meaning especially: heterosexist, gynocidal, or genocidal. I accept that the term "radical" isn't Absolute or ahistorical or transcultural in its meaning, but this doesn't mean it has no meaning or can be used to mean anything at all. The terms "gender radical" and "sex radical" are often used to describe actions which, to me, are anything but radical. They are usually liberal to conservative, as whites define and act out those terms.

I see most people using the term "radical" to mean "getting at the root problem". This means, often enough, not willing to settle for social change strategies that only trim branches, are only assimiliationist, and which refuse to dig out the difficult answers to difficult questions--such as "What is gender?" The radicals I know are the deepest thinkers I know, and are among the most smartest people I know--emotionally and intellectually, not "logistically" or "rationally", which some libertarians seem to think is the only kind of intelligence there is. That's masculist CRAP.

I understand "radicalism" in a context--the one I live in--which is white het male supremacist. This means I've got to interrogate what is white, het, and male supremacist in my views--constantly. Including when I try and come up with a definition of radical. I have defined it several times here, and one of those times is in this post *here*. Indigenism and feminism are the two spiritual-political philosophies that inform my work. As noted in that post, "radical" from an Indigenist point of view might look "conservative" to others. If we're seeking to conserve Indigenist ways of being and doing, we move radically outside the ways of the White Man.

What is unquestionably useful to me about radical feminism--which comes to me from women of all colors, not just white women. Too often I see whites claim the term "radical" as if it belongs only to them. That's fucking racist, to me, and I won't support a radicalism that is owned and occupied by whites who refuse to acknowledge their own white power, privilege, and entitlements.

Gender and sex are incredibly complicated social-personal phenomena. They are not set in stone; they are not uniform; they share many things across cultures but that doesn't mean we can just assume that "gender" is one thing only. Too many whites do this, in my experience. And far too many men.

Politically activist whites who won't interrogate whiteness, and politically activist men who won't address the political harm of manhood as it is constructed and enforced socially, don't get called "radical" by me. Nor do homophobes and lesbophobes. Nor do classists.

As someone who is Jewish, white, male, gay, intergender, asexual, class privileged, and disabled, I look at radicalism through all those lenses of experience.

And I don't assume that if I were Muslim, Black, transsexual, not asexual, poor, and not disabled that I'd hold exactly the same views. This means we'd better be in dialogue, attempting to and succeeding in hearing one another. I don't always do that. Lately especially. I'm often closed to hearing critique, if I'm getting a whole lot of it to the point that it all blurrs together, so individual voices of critique are not distinguishable to me. That's a private-internal experience--I don't always know when that's occurring until I'm in the thick of it. And lately I've found myself in conversations that are loaded with critique and I find myself checking out of them. I won't get into what I think is going on. I want to move on to the topic at hand: transsexuality, transgender experience, and this blogger's radical pro-feminist analysis of gender and sex.

Without that perspective, which has deepened and grown over the decades, I'd be VERY vulnerable to much more white het male conservative philosophies and political pressures to conform--which means to reinforce and enact white het male supremacy in my own life, including in my expressed ideas and feelings.

What radical feminism has done to my understandings of gender and sex cannot be underestimated. I am eternally grateful to all the women of all regions and colors who have been fighting in a very real war which men, by and large, deny exists--men's war against women. By and large, men want to pretend that, if anything, there's a war between the sexes, which neatly positions women on the same ground as men, as if men don't dominate women; as if men are not atop a social-economic-political-religious hierarchy.

Here's a theoretical hypothesis:
In the white het male supremacist West, where radical feminism is rejected, male supremacy thrives.  

Radical feminism is the antidote to male supremacy. It is the only political perspective designed to eradicate male supremacy branch and root: the only one. But that doesn't mean it is only one thing. It is an alive, diverse, and complex set of movements and practices. It shifts from culture to culture and time to time. But rooting out male supremacy is what it is designed to do. In a sense, it lives to do this.

To test this theoretcal hypothesis, I'd have to look at various communities and groups in the white West--which is where I'm located; I don't trust myself to examine societies I'm not part of without bringing into the analysis my own white, Western biases.

In this post, I'm going to very preliminarily and briefly look at three groups: white het men's activist beliefs, white gay men's activist beliefs, and white transgender and transexual activist beliefs. We ought also note how white supremacy and racism are embedded in the views and practices being examined.

1. White Het Activist Men's views and values. Most of these men belief they are fighting for justice, but myopically can only determine something to be "just" if it benefits white het men with class-privilege. The self-serving nature of this viewpoint and activism ought to be readily evident. The political programs put forth by MRAs are classist, racist, heterosexist, and misogynist. All you need to do to see this is to read the material put out by them. And visit their websites: they are loaded up with the most vile bigotry and inaccuracies about every group who isn't them; they're also not terribly insightful about their own group. WHM's activism to promote the agendas of white het men is in direct opposition to anti-racism work and pro-feminist work.

2. White gay men's activism has historically served--surprise!--white gay men, and not lesbian women of any color. White women may benefit some from the white supremacy in the political efforts, and men of color may benefit some from the male supremacy in the political efforts, but not on the deepest levels, in my view. So movements to get queers in the military and to get queer marriage in the US will necessarily mean supporting the racism and misogyny in the military and in marriage--deliberately or not. Marriage is a misogynist and racist and heterosexist institution. It is woefully naive to think that if a long-standing oppressive institution just lets in people who have been kept outside if, it will be radically transformed into one that is no longer racist, misogynistic, and heterosexist. This idea--that things change radically by allowing more people in, is liberal to the core. White gay men's political movements are racist and misogynistic. Any movement that marginalises groups of oppressed people isn't going to do much to liberate those people who are cast out or never let into leadership positions.

3. White "trans" realities--whether transsexual or transgender, have thrived at a time when radical feminism in the US was mostly dead. This means it is very likely to have a radical perspective on gender and sex. Unless it generates its own radicalism, which is entirely possible. When I see the most progressive perspectives put forth by trans activists, I don't see much that is other than conservative or liberal however. Even people who promote more progressive views, like Dean Spade, do not appear to me to hold a very radical view on gender as a structural, political reality that one is raised into despite what one feels about oneself.

This means that deep understandings of how gender works socially are not usually appreciated or respected, and the knowledge and analysis of radical feminists is either ignored or assumed to be anti-trans. It means that trans people (and conservative non-trans people) can promote an idea that we can or ought to be able to name ourselves when girls and women who are not trans, ESPECIALLY of color, have no such power or privilege or entitlement to do so. Too many women of color are told they are not women (or are not womanly) because they are not white. Women of color ought to be supported in claiming an identity as a woman. Dean Spade argues for eliminating gender-specific terms. How is that not misogynistic and racist?

Another point:
I've heard trans activists target radical lesbian feminists without similarly targeting white het men. Why would that be? Do radical feminists have more structural or any other kind of power than white het men? The two groups ought not be similarly targeted: one is oppressed and marginalised; the other is dominant and centrally located in society. I've also seen a lot of energy directed at trans people, on what are reportedly "radical" feminist blogs. The blogs are almost all white--to an alarming degree. The blogs do not demonstrate an analysis if whiteness. So I don't see them as radical.

When I think about a radical viewpoint, it isn't totalitarian in tone or absolute in assumption. It is not carved in stone but neither is it written in the sand. It has integrity, substance, and power. The power it has is to transform oppressive society into liberatory society.

If you scout around in the blogosphere, you'll be hard-pressed to find blogs that don't do one of two things: trash trans people or trash radical lesbian feminists. I reject both as hopelessly unconstructive.

I look to bloggers who are engaging with the issues before us, but not by positioning oneself as superior, more intelligent, or less bigoted than another.

One such blogger is dedgurl. She has a blog called The Vagina Conspiracy. You can find that blog linked to *here*. I encourage you to pay close attention to what she's saying there. The host is trans, a woman, a radical, and a feminist.

One argument put forth by some progressive trans activists is that because gender isn't biological, it ought not be assumed that all females are girls or women, and all males are boys or men. There's a lot that is flawed in such a perspective. One thing that's flawed about it is this: it assumes that by changing what we name each other, or what we identify as, that we are able to radically change our political location, or radically alter our structural position in society.

If I call myself trans, and I do, this doesn't stop me from occupying a social-structural space that is historically informed and currently bolstered by male power, privileges, and entitlements. For other people who were identified as male at birth, who were raised to be boys, who are identified in adulthood as men, the complex of power, privileges, and entitlement, along with places of marginalisation, discrimination, and unwelcomed acquisition of stigmas will be different.

But, in my case, while I don't personally choose to call myself a man--and never have been comfortable doing so--I won't call myself a woman. I don't believe we are one or the other only; I believe society makes us into one or the other to a large degree, but not absolutely.

To believe that people change their location completely by becoming an identity that is at another end of a politically enforced social hierarchy is, to me, to not understand how power, privilege, and entitlements work. These things don't disappear; even if they can be taken away or reduced to some degree. Coming out as gay, for example, well before I came out as intergender, did not bolster my male privileges. But it didn't take away the effects of being raised as a male. I still feel entitled to speak, entitled to be right, entitled to believe I know things I don't know jack shit about, entitled to answer questions based on thinking that if words leave my mouth, there's probably something correct about them.

There are tons of male privileges and entitlements I see in myself--coming out as gay didn't modify them appreciably although it did help ensure that I wouldn't have all the male privileges that white het men have.

I grew up being constructed to have the entitlements and privileges socially and psychically, and once located and learned, there they are. It is for me to be aware of them, to keep them in check, and to own and be responsible for when they show up socially; I do this, in part, by not forgetting where I am located structurally in society.

Another privilege, though, is to believe I don't have to be accountable for my actions. So while I see it as a radical profeminist value to be responsible, my male supremacist upbringing has another perspective on the matter. It often enough wants to tell anyone who disagrees with me to fuck off. Here's another set of privileges and entitlements: the practice of visually violating people. I have felt very entitled to do this. To objectify others if it pleased me to do so. To not be in struggle with that as an aggressive act of political-personal violation of other human beings. I have figured out how to not do it, and how to be responsibly non-violating when around other people. But it sure wasn't men (straight, bi, or gay) who encouraged me to take responsibility. Quite the opposite--men seek to protect one another's "right" (wrong) to violate people in any number of ways. To take possession of people, to acquire from them what we want and call it "ours". This shows up in some allegedly pro-trans medical and social practices. See the white middle class entirely unradical film, Red Without Blue for more. I've written about it in this past post, *here*.

If someone is raised poor and becomes rich, they don't become someone who was never poor. And being raised poor does shape a person to various degrees; it's safe to say it doesn't ever have no effect whatsoever on how one views oneself; it has a structural location so it comes with its own resources for some kinds of power and lack of resources for other kinds of power. Poor people are not made to feel superior to rich people, economically or socially, for example. And they are not welcomed in places that only serve rich people--unless they are the people doing the serving.

If someone is rich and becomes poor, they don't become someone who was always poor and never rich. I've heard class-privileged people declare themselves poor because they have no cash at the moment. This, to me, shows a lot of ignorance about what being poor (and rich) means. If they can call their parents to be wired some money to pay rent or get some food, they're not poor even when they are cashless. Why? Because they're not really cashless. Their social-economic network has reserves of cash. That's not the case with poor people. There's usually no rich uncle or mother to call for support.

I've heard whites declare themselves "not white" because they grew up in a neighborhood of color. This, to me, shows a really ignorant understanding of what it means to be white and of color.

I see people who were raised being identified as male, as boys, coming into identity as a woman and believing this means they are "only women". Why doesn't this mean we are "trans"? Why the rush to distance ourselves from who we are? Why isn't that insistence on being "a woman" or "a man" called "being transphobic"? Why is it presumed acceptable for M2F transsexual people to insist that we are exactly the same, structurally, positionally, in location, in privileges, in entitlements, in power--in all its forms, as people who were never identified as male? This appears to me to be a question most trans folks will not take up seriously. Instead, anyone who asks it is written off as transphobic. But it's a bit too important to just write off as coming from the minds of transphobes, isn't it?

One transsexual person once said to me, "Why are trans people the only group in queer culture to have to interrogate the meaning of who we are?!" My response is this: EVERY group in queer culture is required to interrogate who we are!" Lesbians are interrogated; gay males are interrogated; bi people are interrogated. And for you to not know that indicates you haven't been in queer cultures very long.

The same transsexual person who came here, once told me that patriarchy isn't real. They put forth classically liberal and conservative views and didn't understand how the immersion in those perspectives necessarily shapes one's own understanding of oneself.

I've had plenty of people tell me I'm transphobic, even while I argue for us embracing the term "trans" and not pretending we're not trans if we are. What's transphobic about that? The fact that I see gender as something that happens to someone from birth to death--and that it isn't entirely alterable by surgery or medical interventions? Where's the anti-trans bigotry in such a viewpoint?

This isn't to say I'm not transphobic. I'm racist, heterosexist, sexist, and transphobic. But that doesn't mean that everything that spills out of my mouth, or off my fingertips, is dripping with transphobia.

Another point:
I know plenty of non-trans people who use surgery and medical interventions--from cosmetic surgery to hormone replacement--to shore up their gender identities. I don't argue that non-trans people who don't have that done, if born being identified as a girl, are less a woman as an adult than those who have the procedures done.

But I am asked, by legal folks and doctors, as well as the corporate (racist, misogynist, heterosexist, classist) media, to identify M2F transsexual people as "more womanly" after they have surgery than before. If it's something one was since birth, how does someone become "more womanly" after surgery?

If trans people argue that we always were the gender we weren't assigned, what is that saying about "gender"? What does that mean "gender" is? Is asking for respectful, safe dialogue on this question "transphobic"? I welcome the argument that it necessarily is and that it can only ever be transphobic.

To me, if we're saying we were born into a body that has been assigned the wrong gender, that means it is an entirely psychological, internal experience. Gender happens to people. We are assigned a course in life--females are assigned a course that makes them more vulnerable to harassment, violation, discrimination, and degradation than males are. The process of being treated that way, for some radical feminists, is the process of acquiring a gender. One isn't born with one--it happens to us in social, structural, economic, cultural ways.

Some trans people who are not called "transphobic" argue it is also entirely biological, which ought to put them at odds with the trans people who argue gender isn't based on biology. Gender is a complex of things--"social", "structural", "political", and positional" are some of the things it is, from this radical profeminist's point of view. To deny this is to be anti-radical on gender, to me. It is also functionally male supremacist.

I don't hear, in the voices of trans people who have visited me here, any imperative to name and eradicate male supremacy from society. For those who are made to be women, and who know what that means, getting rid of male supremacy is rather important political work. How is someone arguing gender is not socially enforced on females raised as girls not anti-feminist?

Another point:
I've heard a Women's Health Center be critiqued for being transphobic for having the woman symbol (the same symbol as the one for Venus in astrology), used on the signage. Wow. Does anyone get how antifeminist it is to make it "transphobic" (meaning here: anti-trans woman) to identify as politically woman-centered?

image is from here
To me, this would be like telling gay men to stop using "pink" in our signage because it is sexist. Huh? This is like saying that African Americans using the term "Black" is racist. Huh?

Another point:
When did it get determined--and how, and in what political gestalt--that being transphobic is worse than being a misogynist or antifeminist? Across liberal white middle class blogs, I see people scrambling to make sure they can't or won't be seen and labeled as transphobic, and they're being racist, misogynistic, and antifeminist in the process. That should tell you a lot about the reality I hypothesized earlier: when social change movements occur in anti-radical feminist times, they are likely to promote male supremacy--white male supremacy in this society. I see so many liberal non-trans people being quick to own their "cis-gender" privilege without holding any radical analysis of that term at all. Why is that? Aren't they feminist any more? 

On cis-gender privilege:
This term needs some serious unpacking. Because most trans people have what is determined to be "cis-gender privilege" after all--they are not planning to have surgery; they do not significantly change their appearance across adulthood--any more than non-trans people do; they are not identifiable as "trans" according to the stereotypes and transphobic assumptions about what it means to be trans.

And many non-trans people don't have cis-gender privilege. Do you hear me telling you that the Emperor is wearing no clothes? Do you hear me identifying a white elephant in the room? I hope so.

So what does it mean?

I've interrogated this as well. See *here* for more. What it appears to mean requires us to stereotype in transphobic ways what it means to be trans. It often means passing through the social-medical world without having ones gender called into question, without being humiliated and violated by medical professionals asking really ridiculous questions about one's sexual, gendered self. Well, I hate to inform the white middle class trans folks out there promoting this idea of "cis-gender privilege" but many women of color who are not trans and who are not middle class have that experience. However we look at "cis-gender privilege" it doesn't hold together in any meaningful way at all, unless we stereotype trans AND non-trans people, believing they each have a very different (and stunningly unified) experience of genderedness. To come to that conclusion, I'd argue, is woefully transphobic.

I'll close by saying that I don't believe you can radically alter gender personally or socially while leaving male supremacy in place, unchallenged or only liberally challenged. In the opinion of this blogger, promoting and defending social and political programs in male-dominated, male-controlled society that aim to diversity gender without eradicating male supremacy and patriarchy, that refuse to name and attempt to halt all the normal and systemic violence which makes humans gendered into woman and man, is anti-radical and anti-woman, and transphobic in that it doesn't alleviate the violence done to trans people.

I'll leave it here. Comments that are not transphobic, anti-feminist, anti-lesbian, or anti-woman (as I define those terms) are welcome.

For more on a revolutionary, radical queer agenda, see *here*.


Dark Daughta said...

"A blogger recently wrote to me letting me know that my posts are sometimes rambling, without a central focus." Julian, I would politely beg to disagree. Your central focus remains the same, commitment to the support of radical feminists around the world, vociferously questioning and challenging patriarchy. This is me saying that if the blogger is seeking a thesis statement, something more academically concise, less grounded in the bedrock of your convictions and layered analysis, she might want to try avoiding blogs, which are by their very nature, completely self referencing (when done well and with much passion) and going instead for traditional news sites or for academic tomes based on people's pHd research. Please don't become all dry and stiff and attempt to force your multifaceted thoughts into an oppressive theoretical, literary form so that those who process information in that way can feel more comfortable not examining the hows and whys of their cerebral information relay process. Please do be as rambling and drawing in of threads from all over as you'd like. I myself appreciate it. :)
signed -
fellow blog rambler, darkdaughta :)

Julian Real said...

Dear Dark Daughta,

Thank you. Your comment makes me smile from ear to ear. I'm especially glad that we're in sync about writing and self-expression being something that ought to flow out as it does, not fit an academic format.

Cheers to that!

Thanks for being here, on Earth, doing your work. I'm so happy to know you.