I have a confession: I don’t like the standard LGBT acronym. More than a little. The whole paradigm we use to talk about sexuality, gender, physical sex, attraction, etc. frustrates me endlessly and is in dire need of revision; I’ll come back to that later. That culture-wide paradigm shift ain’t gonna happen over-night, so we gotta interact with most people within this framework. And in this framework, “one of these things is not like the others…”
Another confession: I can’t wait for LGBT identity politics to die. Mainly, I have the highest hope that we, as a culture, will change enough so that we just don’t need it anymore. In a secondary role is weariness for the bullshit that crops up when LGBT identity politics loses sight of actual people. I am aware some do not like using queer to describe people who fit somewhere in LGBTQAI- (which is a better acronym than LGBT at least). In general, I support groups reclaiming the slurs used against them, but I also can understand the notion that some words should just be ushered out of common use. In any case, my personal feelings don’t (and shouldn’t) count on this subject much of the time, but in the case of queer, I believe it relays a meaning that The Acronym doesn’t. To me, being queer is a commitment. It’s making the choice to have concern for and to participate in developing and improving our communities, working for our rights, speaking out when others can’t, engaging the culture-at-large to push back against hate, surviving and thriving in spite of our society’s efforts to eliminate us. It’s standing up for all of us, even those of us you will never know or relate to, or don’t like something about. It’s doing whatever is within your means to make it clear we are not going away, whether that’s doing what you need to do to make sure you wake up tomorrow or donating a fuck-ton of money to a trans legal aid fund. Basically, not every LGBTQAI- person is queer by default.
I think queerness is like gender – they’re things you do, not things you intrinsically are.
One of the main aspects of our current LGBT sex-and-gender paradigm that pisses me off is the Born This Way myth. I was not somehow destined to be the exact person I am at this moment, and neither were you. We’re the products of incalculable interactions between our genetic potential, our bodies, our minds, our environments, and our choices. This myth sets us up to have fights about who’s “trans enough” to “be allowed” to access hormones, surgeries, and therapies. Or who’s “trans enough” to deserve protection. I’ve heard and seen variations and implications of “If you don’t make every effort to conform to the dominant expectations of one of these two genders, whatever bad shit happens to you is really your own fault” over and over again, from cis people but even more forcefully from other trans people. It leaves people who are genderqueer, ungendered, other gendered, or fluid in their gender presentation out to fucking dry. It turns “detransitioning” into a betrayal. It completely ignores the many factors that affect why a person may want hormones, but not surgery, or why they might stop taking hormones for a time, or why people who want to medically and/or socially transition delay doing so, and so forth.
Maybe most of all, I despise how this myth takes away agency. Nobody held a goddamn gun to my head and made me start testosterone injections, not even myself. Would I have committed suicide had I not? I’d bet it would have raised the likelihood of it, though I’ve nearly committed suicide twice since starting. Suicide is a choice. I’ve chosen to not kill myself on several occasions. It’s worse than terrible, and I can never fault people who got to that fork in the road and chose the other path. At the time I started taking testosterone, I would have told you it wasn’t a real choice. I was in a lot of pain and I believed that would make the pain less (it did). But just because one of the options is bad does not mean a choice is not being made. Sometimes all of the options are shit and you still have to choose. I chose to start testosterone and I chose to start presenting as a man socially.
In our culture, the word “choice” has connotations of unimportance, flippancy, and selfish desire. Alright then, how about “decision” then? I decided to do those things. Does using the word “decision” make what I did more legitimate and acceptable? Probably; words shape our realities. In this case, you know and I know both words refer to the same action.
Which brings us to why this myth exists. Legitimacy. Acceptability. Natalie Reed puts it better than I could:
Gender identity has always been deeply connected to the “Born This Way” concepts of gender and sexual orientation. The qualifiers of “deep-seated”, “intrinstic” and, often, “immutable” added onto “sense of self” typically seem far more connected to saying “We can’t help it! This is fundamentally who we are! It’s totally completely inherent! Seriously! We were born this way!” *as a response* to social pressures suggesting that being trans or being queer is only permissible or understandable if it can’t be helped, or that cissexism and heterosexism only count as bigotry and unethical if they’re targeting an inherent, immutable, non-fluid aspect of someone’s being that was present from birth and they have no control over. Which is, to be frank, not only a totally ridiculous attitude to have about bigotry and why it’s not okay, but also a mentality that lends strength to the idea that trans and queer identities, bodies and behaviours are less preferable than cis and straight ones (and helps validate the underlying misogyny that fuels a great deal of cissexism). “GOD NO, of course no one would CHOOSE to be queer, or transsexual, or a woman. That would be repulsive and insane! But we simply can’t help having this tragic, deplorable condition.”
Hey, real quick, you know what’s definitely a choice, yet our culture flips its collective shit over when people have the gall to express dislike or fear of? Being a Christian. #makesuthink
She goes on to say:
What if I did choose to be a trans woman? What if I refused to play along with social demands that I justify this, and the only explanations I offered was that this makes me feel happier, more secure and confident, more comfortable with how I dress and present myself and more comfortable in my body, and that it makes sex more pleasurable and fun for me? Is that not reason enough? And who the fuck are cis people to say it isn’t, and that I need to provide a better explanation?
I joke that someday somebody’s going to find me dead in an apartment with thirty cats and GENDER IS A SOCIO-CULTURAL CONSTRUCT scrawled all over every wall. Gender essentialism is pervasive in our LGBT subculture and our culture at large. I feel like there’s no escape from it sometimes. “It’s just how men/women are,” but there is not one goddamn thing that’s written into our DNA about it. And every time there’s some news story covering some study that “proves” this shit…
(image description: a gif of various TV and movie characters with their hand over their face in exasperation)
Studying gender is not pure Ivory Tower bullshit, and I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to convince people that.
A “socio-cultural construct” is basically something people came up with that serves a function that keeps their society running smoothly and influences most (if not all) social interactions from the personal one-on-one conversations to large addresses being delivered to thousands. Stripped down to its core, gender was created as a way to differentiate people based on their primary sexual organs to facilitate reproduction. Arbitrary choices and practical considerations of clothing, appearance, and behavior were likely some of the first methods of differentiation. But as sexuality became more complicated, so did gender. Much like how societies sort out gendered appearances and behaviors in the two static categories of “woman” and “man,” generally chosen for a person at birth based on their genitals, Western European and American societies’s modern delineation of “homosexual” and “heterosexual” changed sexual preferences/behaviors into static personal identities. Our (dominant, straight) culture is obsessed with the idea of “gaydar” – we really want to believe there are ways to tell if someone is gay just by looking at them or talking to them for a bit. Otherwise, how would we know?? They could just go around like everyone else! Straight people desperately fear being “deceived” by gay people, much like cis people fear being “deceived” by trans people.
Another confession: We really do complicate this whole thing. Without trans people, it’s all nice and neat – a woman’s vagina and a man’s penis, two men’s penises, two women’s vaginas. Homosexual people like having sex with people with of the same gender, i.e. people with the same primary sexual organs. It’s the same, but different! Our culture has become more accepting of this version of homosexuality, which includes the Born This Way myth. It’s no surprise so many LGB people act like trans people (particularly trans people who are gender non-conforming or variant) are going to ruin their party and make all the straight folks mad.
Another confession: I will never, ever go back to any university’s Women’s and Gender Studies program. Aside from problems with the ways universities are structured and funded that affect every department, Women’s and Gender Studies programs privilege a very short list of perspectives. I hope this anecdote gets my point across: A few years ago, I took a course that was essentially LGBT literature. There were about 15 students in the class, and I was the only trans (or gender variant) person. I had a woman (probably 19-20, straight to college after high school, middle class, white, identified as a lesbian) try to argue with me that my relationship with my partner (a cis man) was not gay or homosexual. I was working real hard to keep it civil, because classroom discourse. Thankfully, the professor was great. He identified as a gay man, and jumped in noting that he had dated a FTM trans person. He agreed with my point, which was that we constantly conflate gender and sex when discussing sexual identity. Two people who are gendered as men by others in public being physically affectionate with one another will be seen as being in a homosexual or gay relationship, regardless of which primary sexual organs they have or which sex acts they perform with each other. I wish I could say that was the only argument I had like that, but it wasn’t.
Which brings me back to our cultural paradigm on sexuality, gender, physical sex, attraction, etc. I hope I’ve shown how the dominant LGBT identity politics perspective fits right into it, and does so by leaving the T out a great deal. At best, this paradigm is frequently useless for communicating a lot of the relevant information to others about our needs and wants, about what we like and how we see ourselves and how we want others to treat us. At worst, it maintains and perpetuates a fuck-ton of oppression (heteronormative, sexist, cissexist, transmisogynistic, misogynistic), and on a personal level, makes it practically impossible for many people to negotiate their sexuality in basic ways so that it’s fulfilling for them.
Natalie Reed – Born This Way (Reprise): The New Essentialism