Liberation from gender

There are numerous problems with [the idea that gender is a spectrum], problems that render it internally incoherent and politically unattractive. Another radical feminist article on Trans.

Political philosopher Rebecca Reilly-Cooper does not like the word “cis”. It create[s] a false binary between those who conform to the gender norms associated with their sex, and those who do not. In reality, everybody is non-binary. We all actively participate in some gender norms, passively acquiesce with others, and positively rail against others still. Indeed, everyone does, and some, as radical feminists, make a particular political point about it. It would be irritating to be called “cis” if you loaded onto the term all you hated most about conformity to patriarchal gendered culture, but it does not mean that. It means “not trans”.

The radical feminists are fighting gender in their way, pointing out privilege and oppression, showing gender concepts don’t really fit people, and we fight it in ours, with breast-binding, T injections and gender-neutral pronouns. As she says on her blog, Another generation of bright, committed, impassioned women is being worn down. Being killed by the power of sisterhood. While that privilege and oppression exist, it makes no sense for those of us subverting it to squabble like this. Some of us subvert through patient philosophical exploration and explanation, and some through playing games. We all do it through being: insisting on the pronoun “they” rather than “she” is an overt way of escaping femininity and gendered expectation. Kudos to all who escape it, subtly or unsubtly.

She does not like that game-playing, gender as a label to adopt so that you now have a way to describe just how large and multitudinous and interesting you are. That word “interesting”, with such heavy irony. [T]hey are far too interesting and revolutionary and transgressive for something as ordinary and conventional as cis. I am frivolous. It is my way of surviving. I niggle and provoke, with a little giggle as a defensive measure. I don’t deny her interestingness, why should she disparage mine? I am not a philosopher. I am not like Humour in Babi Yar, but he is my example:

Tsars, kings, emperors,
Rulers of the world,
Commanded parades
But humor – humor they could not…
He is used to stern glances,
But it does not hurt him.
And humor looks upon himself
At times with humor.

He is everlasting.
He is smart.
And nimble.

He will walk through everything and everybody.

And so, glory to humor!
He is a courageous fellow.

I am so peeved to read of the concept of [name]gender, as I came up with it spontaneously in November, and wanted to be original. My gender is “Clare”. There is no other accurate label. How better could I dance, as if the bars of the cage did not exist?

The logical conclusion of all this is: if gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then everyone is trans. Or alternatively, there are no trans people. Either way, this a profoundly unsatisfactory conclusion, and one that serves both to obscure the reality of female oppression, as well as to erase and invalidate the experiences of transsexual people. Please don’t insist that I be logical! Thank God I am inconsistent, because consistent people are either inerrant (this is unlikely) or their consistency forces them beyond what the observed facts justify. We are paradoxical, in an unknowable world, seeing through a glass darkly. I don’t know why I wanted to transition, but I wanted it so I did. She calls me a jailer, and I feel so unfree!

I love her Doctor Who reference, because I am a fan, and I want to make connection here- human personality [is]… more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, humany-wumany stuff. A slight concession to dancing humourists…

She summarises the trans position: An oft-repeated mantra … is that ‘gender is not a binary; it’s a spectrum’. What follows from this view is not that we need to tear down the pink and the blue boxes; rather, we simply need to recognise that there are many more boxes than just these two. No, we are in a state of change, but the liberation struggle takes time. We need to chip away at the pink and blue boxes. If they might collapse like a wet paper bag it would have happened by now.

This is part of growing and maturing as a human being. All our lives we are in tension between conformity and individuality.

If we were all to deny that we have an innate, essential gender identity, then the label ‘agender’ would become redundant, as lacking in gender would be a universal trait. Indeed. I don’t know what the world will be like without gendered expectation, but given that not everyone is radical feminist- there are people who are not actively opposing gender- why should you turn your ire on me?

Gender as a hierarchy perpetuates the subordination of female people to male people, and constrains the development of both sexes. Yes. That is the problem. Please let me work on my own solution to it.

The idea that gender is a spectrum is a new gender prison- article.
Rebecca Reilly-Cooper’s blog.

Artemisia Gentileschi / (1593-1653) - Maria Magdalena as Melanconia

10 thoughts on “Liberation from gender

  1. I can’t make sense of the arguments at the moment. My impression is that everything being said is framed as a stick to criticise something she has a problem with (trans people?) rather than approaching how we define and relate to ‘gender’ openly. Is the whole discussion not just a challenge to the assumption that we can guess preferences and behaviours of people based on their genitalia? References to spectrums and binaries are just attempts to explain individual experiences, and I think as words they do the job well.

    But I agree with you that the bigger challenge to gender issues is people insisting on a gender binary, parents who punish or humiliate kids who don’t conform to their expectations. The negative obsession with how a relatively tiny group of trans people choose to express themselves as autonomous individuals is quite frankly kind of sick.

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    • I saw a young woman on the bus, I would say about twenty but as one ages estimation of age of one much younger becomes more difficult. She had a boi hairstyle, close cropped back and sides and longer, combed sideways on top, and a flannel shirt. This is a standard butch look. It gives freedom from a certain set of expectations of “feminine” behaviour, and it gives strangers a new set of stereotypes which are closer to how she feels comfortable. She might be lesbian, or trans, or not; she might have found her look or be experimenting- though the hair would take a long time to grow out. Now I have typed this, I am wondering about the word “woman” and the pronouns, but those were the ones I chose.

      I feel the article is playing with language. It would convince radical feminists, perhaps. But if gender is a spectrum like height- no-one extreme masculine or feminine- there can still be trans folk at the extremes. And that we have not got our language completely consistent does not mean it is entirely without merit.

      You did not answer me on fast and slow thinking meat-eating Christians. After that Horizon repeat, I am seeing most or all of my interactions through that paradigm.

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      • And- on problems with trans people- some radical feminists are fine with me- post op, full time- but queasy about gender recognition in less clear cases, people dabbling, or part time women. I think this is her position. But it is the dabblers who really destroy gender stereotypes.

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      • Cool, I see that’s on BBC iPlayer at the moment, so I’ll try and remember to watch it. I’m already preparing my biases to relate it to policemen making quick decisions based on prejudice.

        I’ll read the article again later and see what I make of it.

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  2. Pingback: musings on the radical-feminist-fringe hatred of all things trans | violetwisp

    • I don’t think that’s quite it. She accepts that we vary from gender stereotypes, and perhaps even accepts that someone might transition physically, but does not feel the spectrum is a useful metaphor, or that trans, genderqueer, neutrois etc are useful labels. Whereas they are, because they liberate people from our own expectations and desires.

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  3. some people get so flustered when they see someone be themselves and buck the system. The fact is that most of us are sheep and we comply and dress and behave the way we are told so we wont be rejected. If all of us felt truly free we would see much more variety of expression out there in the world. Things are better than when I was growing up of course but we seem to just trade one set of conventions for a new set every generation. Gender identity and expression is far more fluid in real life but many of us are afraid to show it and those of us who are on the periphery cannot hide any longer because we become frustrated beyond words and can no longer afford to live in a prison of compliance.

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      • I think that is definitely part of the solution Clare – to go your own way and define yourself the way you want and society be damned. Trans people who fight against their own nature often over-compensate so that no one discover their secret and so that they can attempt to “cure” themselves of what they see as an affliction. I tried to do this as well for many years but just got tired.

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