Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Carto goes gender (and grows iden-titties), #3

This is partially a response to a discussion on active and passive identities, but this is where I was headed anyway: why I prefer, and rather strongly at that, no identity actively whatsoever.

Firstly, on a philosophical level, I don't think identities are very real, or anything you should attach yourself to. I consider my identity to be rather ephemeral and passing, and I can't pin it down anywhere. To me, the question "what do you identify as?" is a bit meaningless: what would it change even if I did identify, say, as a woman? It might be a means to an end for me, sure, if I felt like I wasn't a woman already - a means to map out possible ways of being. But I can do that in other ways, too. If I feel like putting on culturally coded stuff, be that behaviour, looks, anything, I already can, resources permitting. If I want to behave in a genderqueer way, there's nothing stopping me. The question of what am I, what do I identify as is, as far as I can tell, irrelevant to me, and if forced, I'll just say I identify as myself.

This approach has its caveats. Firstly, there's the question of resources, and safety. I can very well say I can do whatever I want, but the fact is that if I haven't the resources needed - say, social networks for going out and partying the night away - I, in fact, can't. So the freedom isn't quite as expansive as it could be, if given infinite resources. Secondly, there's the question of me doing stuff that provokes reactions from other people: I, for example, cannot fuck around with gender in just any way if I want to live unharassed. The two are not mutually compatible in practice.

Secondly, what people in linked posts call passive identities tend to trump any active identity any time you're dealing with potentially stressful situations with people not entirely respectful of you. What you're being passed as tends to overrun whatever identity you claim whenever it'd be really important for you to be recognised as, passed as what you are (or identify as, in identity-speak). Whenever there's a disagreement, the majority vote seems to hold the sway. Now I don't think this is right, or an agreeable situation, but I think this is the way it is, here and now. For examples, have a look at stories on trans women in your local newspapers. Are they misgendered? Sensationalised? In my corner of the world, those two things are almost a rule. When the local newspaper (Helsingin Sanomat, 24th of Jan, page C1 in case you're interested) did a whole page piece on Jin Xing (she's coming to dance in Finland), what did they write about? That's right - it was her transition that got the attention - dancing was mentioned in passing ("the best dancer in the world"), and the writer didn't connect the two in any meaningful way I could decipher. Why bring her trans status up at all, then?*

Thirdly, I'm not that hopeful on humanity. I really don't think we can stop other people clinging to their silly ideas about how everything in the world is easy to chop into discrete sets of stuff: men, women, girls, boys, sick, healthy. It might be possible to change it if there was the good will plus willingness to understand and the humility to accept we're colossally wrong every now and then, but I don't think that exists. We're not always good, we're certainly not humble every one of us and the willingness to understand people different from you is seriously lacking. So I don't think the respect for other people's self-declared identities is going to be the be-all, end-all solution to the problems of segregation, violence, oppression and discrimination.

I guess I'm less interested in frameworks, and more interested in solving practical problems, mine included. Like getting journalists (Wikipedia's another repeat offender) to stop shitting on trans women because we've transitioned every time one of us manages to do something wonderful and amazing and noteworthy - anything at all. Not everything we do can be derived from our transitions.

Writing the last sentence felt like talking down to someone particularly thick - I really think cissexuals should be able to get that bit on their own.

*yes, a trick question. Of course it's important to put the uppity trans woman in her place as a circus freak. God forbid they'd just write about her dancing when there's this unspeakable act of daring to raise against the gender forcibly assigned to her at birth. It's the modern-day equivalent of blasphemy.

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