Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Carto takes on gender, #2: It's Not About You, It's About Everyone Else!

It is.

Maybe there's gender inside your head, maybe there's not. I don't know. There's probably some gender inside my head, but it matters precious little in my everyday life. What matters, hugely, is gender other people ascribe to me, you and aunt Tillie. Most people don't seem to care about identities at all - they just slop a gender on you, and if you're lucky, it sorta kinda fits, and if you're unlucky, it's a match made in hell - not only does it not fit, but other people are hell-bent on making you fit the gender.

A big part of gender lives in the perceptions of other people.

I think that's often missed in queer studies: the preferred position seems to be looking in, not out. Prominent questions being gender identities (how do you feel, on the inside?), gender presentation (how do you like to present yourself? - instead of asking myself why do I see you the way I do?), gender transgression (how/why do you transgress? - instead of why do I see the way you are as transgressing?).

The point of view is from an unknown, "neutral" observer to a queer "subject" - but the questions asked, and the answers given to them betray something else entirely: it's the observing subject that gets to ask the questions, and it's not the observing subject that questions hirself, or sees hirself as a subject, even - that bit of subjectivity is, more often than not, entirely hidden from view. It's replaced with a "subjectivity" (within very strict limits - questioning of the questioner is definitely not allowed) for the queer transgressor and a mock objectivity for the "neutral" observer. For samples, go read almost any of the big names: Butler, Foucault, Sedgwick, Halberstam - the list goes on and on. These people tell almost nothing of themselves yet proceed to dissect queer lives from a supposedly neutral standpoint of academia.

Well, I beg to differ. It seems to me gender is made by the observers. It's not entirely independent of the observations, but there's a lot of room for interpretation of observations, and this room is used by the observers to build, model and create gender - and this is the but that interests me greatly. It's also a bit that, AFAIK, hasn't been studied much. I'd call it the hermeneutics of gender (well, being the Gadamer-loving humanist I am, this is hardly a surprise). Why do we see the things the way we do is, in my opinion, the crucial question.

This point of view has also the helpful effect of removing the onus of being observed from us trans/queer/whatever people. It's not us. It's the people questioning us that really need to be questioned.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Carto takes on gender, #1

I guess I'll be writing more than one of these.

Let me start with two common words that describe parenthood. Namely, mother and father. Both are gendered. Sure, they can be queered, but I wonder how many other people get that, without, at the same time, ungendering the subject that utters the word.

I prefer mother. I don't think this is surprising at all to anyone who knows the least bit about me - I really intensely truly dislike anything masculine pushed upon me, and given the choice I tend to opt for the feminine end of the spectrum. Not always, but very very often. I am cisgender - I don't feel uneasiness with being a feminine woman: it suits me.

However, I also intensely dislike pushing things upon others. I don't think it's a good idea to attribute motives, or prescriptive roles to other people. Calling someone a "mother" (or a "woman") can be precisely that kind of attribution. I find there are at least two ways of using words; you can use them to prescribe, to say what ought, in your opinion, to be, or you can use them descriptively, to say what, in your opinion, is. But the wording is mostly similar, and the usages are very often concurrent and inseparable.

Trouble is, I approve of descriptions. I think they're useful. I think descriptions help us people connect with each other. And I do try to avoid prescribing, but end up nevertheless, because if I want words to have intersubjective meanings, they have to be limited in those meanings. A word can't mean just anything whatsoever if it's to retain meaning - if a word can mean anything it will mean nothing.

So. WRT common, gendered words, I try to limit my usage to more or less common usages. I use words like woman, and man, and I try to use them descriptively - if someone looks, acts and gives an impression of being a woman I describe her as a woman. It's a phenomenological approach. I supplement this phenomenological approach with an additional caveat - if a subject declares herself as a woman, I take her word for it as a starting point. This does mean I describe self-identified women as women even if they don't look like women are conventionally thought to look like, and it means the word "woman" is open to reinterpretation - but it also means I make judgments on what the word "woman" can mean, what it can meaningfully point to. I can, of course, be criticised for my judgments, and indeed I welcome such criticism because, obviously, I can be in the wrong. And, mutatis mutandis, I try to follow this approach for all other words, too.

This means I also prescribe some meanings: I accept that responsibility. I don't think that can be avoided, so my choice is to accept it and try to be a mensch and not fuck up too badly.

So much for words pertaining to sex and gender.

(There's three of these: this is part one, here's part 2, and here's part 3)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Anniversaries of things past

Sometimes I wish there was a working selective amnesia pill. I'd use it to forget the past pain. Specifically, the occasions where I had to be complicit in my own oppression - I'd say it happened partly due to my ignorance of the alternatives, but mostly due to the impossibility of me doing anything to better my situation. My case in point being my wedding, some ten-plus years ago.

So I played the groom. It feels horrible to remember it. It was so wrong. I was powerless to stop it - I did want to get married (or whatever) with that woman - in fact, I'm still civvied with her - she's perfectly lovely. But I can't feel joy or gladness about that day. Remembering it fills me with dread and horror. It's kinda the pinnacle of forced masculinisation - a woman is forced to marry as a man if she wants to marry at all. She's also supposed to feel happy about this.

Well I bloody well tried. But I can't keep it up any longer, and I suppose it is a lifelong sequence of days like this that make us trans women want to kill ourselves. I'd really like to remember my wedding day (typing this makes me cry) as a happy day, but I just can't. It was a black day, a day of forced masculinisation.