Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A few concerns, for now: on sexual politics and political identities: Lesbian, Trans, Intergender, Woman

image is from here

I have been challenged lately by a white radical Lesbian colleague. I respect her many years of effort in maintaining Lesbian spaces as sites of anti-heteropatriarchal resistance and woman-centered loving.

In the last several months I have explored issues here related to the matter of trans identity and politics, particularly how and when it intersects with struggles for women's liberation from racist heteropatriarchal harm.

I have also begun to name myself as intergender, which really is just a word I'm using to describe my own history of experience in a particular cultural world where gender is narrowly, violently, and rigidly understood to be this or that: woman or man, girl or boy. Those of us who are intersex, for example, have to place our bodies--surgically traumatised or not--into one of those two political camps. Trans political perspectives mostly reinforce the hierarchy that is presented in liberal queer circles as a binary. "This or that" might appear to be a binary choice. But power is part of the process of determining who and what we are--how power is exercised, how it is understood, and what it is used to accomplish socially and sexually.

This white Lesbian colleague has challenged me to not use the term, or, rather, to take responsibility for how it perpetuates an idea of gender as a binary--men and women, but not as a hierarchy--men over and against women. She has a strong point. I am considering her challenge seriously.

I know I could go to many liberal college campuses and get all kinds of support for calling myself, well, whatever I want to. And, as a male, I have the privileges and entitlements to believe I have a right to do so. This too is a political challenge: to be responsible with my entitlements and privileges, and to not use them to perpetuate realities that harm women across sexuality, region, and race.

Several years ago, before I stumbled upon the term "intergender", I used a different term: ungendered. A Black queer radical feminist challenged me back then about the nonsensical nature of the term--how does anyone grow up in this US society and not become gendered--structurally, institutionally, and personally? Good point. I stopped using the term.

Those of us with lots of entitlements and privileges are encouraged to flee into liberal fantasies about who we are, in my experience. Whites get to think we are unraced; hets get to think their sexuality is natural; men get to think their experience ought to be sufficiently synonymous with human experience, thereby forcing women's experience to be other than human. Those of us with lots of privilege and institutionalised power are encouraged to make things up and them make them real through coercive or terroristic force. When radical women, Lesbian or not, object to the use of coercion and force to maintain heteropatriarchy, liberals and conservatives often object, stating that it is a violation of their rights--their rights to name themselves as they see fit. I support this right for racially and otherwise oppressed people who don't use white, het, and male supremacist force against women, including against Lesbians.

Anyone who positions Radical Lesbians as a signifant enemy force is not living in the world I live in. Every Radical Lesbian I know is so marginalised that she's practically living in isolation. I never, ever see her views presented anywhere unless it is the Radical Lesbian herself who is presenting them; she has no institutional support, usually has no economic support, and is so ostracised by men, by hets, by liberals, by conservatives, and by spokespeople claiming to speak for all trans folks, that I really do wonder what facts or experiences are shaping the view that Radical Lesbians are even a significant force to be reckoned with.

I cannot find many trans-friendly spaces online that are even remotely friendly towards or appreciative of Radical Lesbians. This is presented by liberals, in my experience, as a chicken and the egg phenomenon: if it weren't for those radical lesbians, or radical feminists, or feminist lesbians--almost always white women--spewing anti-trans theories and beliefs about us, then we (trans people--almost always white) would have a much easier time of things.

I believe the privileges and entitlements, or lack thereof, of all concerned ought to be considered and regarded as we negotiate this newest conflict effecting both Lesbian people and trans people.

Here's one way I approach understanding the politics of experience and naming among humans: what are the people of one group doing to mitigate or eliminate horror and terror against oppressed people? What I see is a strongly self-concerned politic, or ethic, operating among the white trans people who are most vocally condemning radicals, lesbians, and feminists. And what I know about the white radical lesbian feminists who are opposed to trans political practice, is that their sphere of concern is decidedly broader and deeper than issues of "gender" and "sex". With Radical Lesbians I see self-concern also, but the analysis is one that brings forth calls to action that take on many if not all the systems of power that main and kill people. Not so with trans activism that is in my view.

This leads me to regard them as more seriously engaged in the business of ending oppression through activist means. I have yet to encounter many trans-identified people who are engaged in radical struggles to end oppression. With the exception of Dean Spade, I don't know any trans people doing this work. Unlike some of my white radical feminist and radical lesbian colleagues, I don't assume this is because they aren't doing that work. I assume it's because they don't have time to blog, to post comments on websites, and also because they don't speak English as a first language and so how the hell would I know what they are doing?

I know radical feminists across race, across region, and across class and sexuality are doing powerful resistance work to fight heterosexism, racism, and patriarchal abuses of women and girls.

I welcome hearing from trans activists who are doing work that is about ending male supremacy, het supremacy, and white supremacy. Who are doing pro-Indigenous work. Who are doing work to end men's violence against everyone and everything. You don't have anything to prove to me. That's not why I welcome knowing about your work. I want to know about it so I can mention it in future posts. Because from my experience thus far, being trans appears to carry with it the stigma of being liberal or conservative when it comes to gender politics. And if that's a deeply problematic association or a woefully erroneous assumption, I'd like to know about the actions you take up as trans activists--I mean not in addition to being trans, but actions you are led to do because you are trans.

Identities that require supporting systems of horror and humiliation are not ones I want to promote here. The identities I most support are those that are inextricable fused to radical liberation struggles as I see them (others will necessarily disagree with me about what constitutes a radical struggle and a liberation struggle).

I'll close with a link to a post about being a woman. It makes clear how one's body is a part of one's self, and how one's self is located in social space where political force is always present. I cannot find much good reason for supporting political viewpoints which want to render these connections faulty, when the fault isn't with the people enduring the connections that are aggressively imposed, not at all chosen.

With thanks to madperiodwoman:


On with the revolutionary efforts to end white, capitalist, patriarchal, heterosexist, anti-Indigenist, ecocidal oppression.

This remains a pro-woman, pro-Lesbian, pro-Indigenous, anti-racist blog written by someone with lots of male, class, education, region, and white privileges. And if you think that means I hate trans people, well, there's probably not a whole lot I could say to change your mind.

I was welcomed by a colleague to explain a bit about what 'being intergender' means, and to understand how that term renders male supremacy that much more invisible--meaning, the violence of male supremacy becomes that much harder to identify as such. I take to heart that critique and the challenges that come with it.


änaraþ said...

I was challenged for using 'intergender' too but by an intersex acquaintance, I haven't finished that conversation with hir, it's been a coupla years. I do realise that whatever abuse I have suffered as a child does not compare to the institutional and systematic violence against their bodies and their conception of gender, growing up. Violence against mine is arguably related but it's not the same. Someone intersex could thus be intergender but I can't be, I think this is a valid restriction on me. The Scavenger Online editor suggested trans-sex instead of trans-intersex, a term I was proposing in a discussion. It seems common to use 'genderqueer', 'gender-neutral', 'two-spirit', etc. My issue with the latter is why not 3 or 3rd spirit? Why are we implying there are 2 types of spirits? That is the historical word I suppose, which could be replaced by borrowing from other languages. I'm not American, this reminds me that I should try email a First-Nation too about this, to enquire about the word in original languages.

There are Indonesian words which distinguish male, MtF, female, FtM and intersex, that's about all the variations cultures seem to have permitted, Western culture included.

Julian Real said...

Hi änaraþ,

Thank you for visiting and for your comment. I'd be curious to know more about what your intersex friend was challenging. I personally don't think being intergender is at all similar to being intersex, but neither do I think any form of gender-outsiderness or non-belonging is easy or unviolent. It sure has been difficult for non-femme women I have known and for non-masculine males I've known. (Which is not to say that being a femme woman means one is free from systematic abuse.) For women I've known, in particular, finding employment can be a huge struggle if one doesn't match up with employers' expectations about what a woman is supposed to look or act like. And even more so if one is marginalised by immigration status, language, economics, race, or ethnicity.

I believe that the forces of gender and sexual supremacy can be brutal for people who are intersex and by brutal, I guess I mean physically/spiritually/psychically/emotionally/medically traumatic.

That said, I certainly wouldn't want to minimise your own abuse history. I've known too many people abused in too many ways to think that comparing and ranking forms of abuse is useful. There are so many factors surrounding our abuse that effects how we manage afterwards, how intense the PTSD is, and so on.

If you link me to the discussion on The Scavenger Online, maybe we could talk more about that here. (You can email me the link if you'd like to. My email address is along the upper left column of my blog, under the followers section.)

As for Two-Spirit designation: I've learned not to question or challenge terms that originate outside my own culture if the culture they exist in is being destroyed and/or occupied by my own; I'm far too likely to misunderstand the terms, force them into my own worldview and value system, and so forth. I posted once here about Native American understandings of gender and how they have been and can be more complex than u.s. american-euro-white-anglo-colonial-imperial terms and understandings, which tend to be rigidly dualistic and hierarchical.

I'm much less familiar with how gender is expressed and understood across Indonesia.

I welcome more conversation, änaraþ. Thanks again for stopping by.