homonormativity is a useful concept explained by Lisa Duggan as the conservative respectability politics espoused by (petty) bourgeois queers to solidify their class power, over working and lumpen queers as well as the working class more generally. it’s irritating seeing this radical queer critique of embourgeoisement in our culture being utterly misapplied by straight people for fundamentally homophobic purposes.
Arm yourself with knowledge. Our new Pedagogies of Resistance section features a rotating selection of titles that, as a whole, act as a primer on radical resistance, encompassing history, theory, and tactics of past and present revolutionary movements.
For a while now, I have been trying to wrap my head around why it is exactly that so much of the language and norms associated with the contemporary transgenderist movement bother me. I already know what my feminist concerns are with the very concept of being ‘born in the wrong body,’ but there was something more irritating and upsetting about the ways in which the words ‘woman’ and ‘man, ‘male’ and ‘female’ were being policed within the leftist community, which I’ve only recently been able to articulate.
The words ‘woman’ and ‘man’ (and their derivatives—men, manly, women, womanly, womanhood, etc.) are some of the most necessary, commonly used and understood words in the English language. If you were to learn English, whether as a baby learning their first language or as a student of ESL, these words would be among the first words you would ever learn. And these are ordinary words we all use every day—nouns (and adjectives) we use so frequently that they merit their own matching pronouns (he and she, his and hers, etc.) There is a commonly understood definition to these words which I would say 99% of English speakers all over the world understand, and it is this: man refers to adult male people, that is to say adults of the sex that have penises and testicles and who do not get pregnant, ever; woman is an adult of the sex that has a vagina and develops breasts, and though not every woman is capable of giving birth to children, and though no post-menopausal women can conceive naturally, all children are gestated and birthed by women and it is women who possess the only body parts necessary for pregnancy and childbirth, even if some of those parts in some women may not function fully.
Transactivists would disagree with much of this, but the point I’m making right now is that that factually is how 99% of English speakers understand the words ‘men’ and ‘women’ and their derivatives. The vast majority of English speakers, do not say ‘woman’ and actually mean “a group of people with any combination of genitalia and secondary sex characteristics, all of whom identify with some non-definable, nebulous concept of womanhood.” These words have meanings which have been unchanging for a long time, which carry a lot of emotional and cultural baggage (all of which it is important for feminism to unpack). But transactivists pull the rug out from under you by redefining words already in popular use, implying that even as people use these words with a certain common meaning in their minds, they actually mean a different thing, a thing which the common English speaker may not even understand; and that, in fact, these worlds have always meant what transactivists say they mean. That is to say that transactivists retroactively re-define the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ such that they imply a 16th century person saying ‘man’ meant “adult with any combination of genitalia who personally identifies with the concept of manhood and manliness”; and that though literally no 16th or 17th or 18th or 19th and most 20th century people ever understood the difference between biological sex and gender, nor believed that one could choose which restrictive gender roles to fill based on an internal, private conviction rather than the one assigned to them at birth, those people, all throughout time and across the world, always either knowingly used language in a pro-transgender way, or was merely incorrect in their language use, even though these words were mutually understood to hold certain meanings by every single person who spoke English.
It is a deeply prescriptivist view of language which grants a tiny and elite group of academics situated in a certain point in time total authority over an entire language. I disagree with prescriptivism on a personal level, and that is a topic for another discussion, but even most linguistic prescriptionists would not retroactively and dramatically change the definition of the most commonly used and understood words in a language such that not only does the meaning become unrecognizable to the great unwashed masses who use the word every day, but even to elite academics from merely a few years ago. If transactivists want to have a word that describes a class of people who may hold any combination of genitalia and sex characteristics but whom all personally identify with manhood, or with womanhood, they can make up a new word, but what I firmly object to is the arrogant and condescending re-definition of the most basic words in the English language, words which 99% of people understood to mean a certain thing, and which transactivists now insist means something else, and has always meant something else. This linguistic disorientation quickly shuffles around words and definitions so nebulously and obscurely that transactivists simply refuse to define certain words in concrete terms, or describe them in terms that are a blatant tautology (i.e. a woman is someone who identifies as a woman, and they do so because they identify with womanhood, an experience defined by lived by anyone who identifies as a woman), or describes certain words as being only understandable by certain people (like ‘internal gender identity,’ some kind of immaterial, spiritual sensation that has nothing to do with gender stereotypes but which apparently most people such as myself never experienced), or defines certain words only to revoke the meaning of those words under certain circumstances (e.g. Joan of Arc, who referred to herself as a woman, used the word ‘woman’ to mean ‘biological female’ even though ‘woman’ means ‘person who identifies with womanhood’ but actually Joan of Arc was a transman and this particular case of language use is an exception).
Sometimes I want to ask transactivists and people who believe in gender as an immaterial, spiritual property: to what end is this hijacking of a language as it is commonly understood by the majority of its speakers? Does it bother you at all that the back-and-forth redefining of words, always retroactively changing the meaning of certain words or completely withholding the definitions of other words, is entirely characteristic of an Orwellian means of disempowering people by robbing them of the language used to articulate their own thoughts and experiences? Does it disturb you that language is how people structure much of their own thoughts, and when you muddy the waters of linguistic meaning and censor the use of certain words in their common context (e.g. don’t say women menstruate! don’t say mothers are the ones to give birth!) you gaslight people into wondering if their own thought system is organized enough for them to formulate an opinion of their own? The intentional creation of chaos, obfuscation and misunderstanding in genderist postmodern queer theory was supposed to be liberating, but instead it has provided the perfect weapon to the kinds of subtly abusive people who gaslight others and use constantly shifting linguistic norms to police group behaviour, to isolate and exclude certain people on a whim, and to render the articulated experiences of huge swathes of people meaningless, incorrect or deliberately misinterpreted.
I can’t believe it’s 2016 and people are using the word queer and then turning to lesbians and telling them ‘same sex attraction’ is an oppressive/transphobic term like…… fuck off, you’re a disgusting homophobe
That ultimately pretty much everyone was bisexual underneath; that gender itself was a big nonbinary mess; and everyone would be able to be their true bisexual, often genderqueer self after the revolution. We wouldn’t have or need the gender binary anymore.
This was a much more natural belief at the time, because gay and lesbian and bi and ace had been thought of as essentially different genders. Because “normal” was two binary sexes, with two corresponding binary genders, which were attracted to each other, and would act on that attraction to make more little normal people. This was the function of society, the thing that gave women any value, the whole point of life.
From “Identity and Ideas: Strategies for Bisexuals,” an essay by bi activist Liz Highleyman in Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queeries, and Visions (1995), which I need to quote from more extensively but not rn:
“As the social movements of the early 1970s fell apart or lost their radical edge in the 1980s, the gay liberation movement, now known as the gay and lesbian movement, followed suit.”
This sentence puts it in a nutshell, I think. There was a really concrete shift, from radical “liberation” from the system for everyone, to acceptance from the system for these two groups.
“There was a growing emphasis on an identity politics model that likened gays to oppressed racial and ethnic minorities. Sexual identity was increasingly seen as an immutable characteristic without sweeping social or political ramifications. The movement became more focused on civil rights and assimilation into mainstream society.”
It wasn’t an accident, that shift away from the overlapping bi/trans/intersex politics and bi/trans/intersex paradigm*. It was extremely deliberate.
It must have seemed like an easier sell to the straight world, which I can understand. I’m sure a lot of people thought that this strategy would benefit everyone.
But not only does it leave many of our issues completely ignored or actively erased,it’s also a model that can never work for us.
This just kind of jelled for me for the first time, reading this. It’s much harder to see if you don’t know about both models, at least for me. I tend to believe the “no no, we’re for you too!” without thinking about how and why that hasn’t been working.
The civil rights/assimilation model is very rooted in the whole idea that “the only thing that’s different about us is which gender we love!” It’s the we’re just like you model. It works pretty well for fitting-into-society stuff: marriage, health care, employment rights, military service, media representation. Stuff that straight people have, so they can go, “okay, I see how you’re like me, it seems unfair and terrible that you shouldn’t have these things too!”
It works really fucking badly for stuff where we are not like them.
The problem is actually that it works really fucking badly for stuff where we do not fit into the gender binary.
That’s the specific way the system demands that we Be Like Them. It treats everything else, everything that isn’t being a binary sex/gender and wanting a binary sex/gender, as a freakish and in-valid choice, and punishes us for it.
The only progress we’ve really seen is that sometimes, it’s not seen as a Bad Freakish Choice to want the “wrong” binary gender, and very occasionally, it’s not seen as a Bad Freakish Choice to be the “wrong” binary gender.
A lot of the trans movement’s progress has come from doing the same thing the gay and lesbian movement has done: “look at us, look how gender-normative and binary-gendered we are, look how we just want to be a normal gender and love a normal gender. Nothing threatening going on here!”
It works. I’m not going to knock that. People use this shit because they are fucking desperate and fearing for their lives.
But it also means those of us who can’t say “we’re just like normal people” become ballast.
You know: the stuff you throw overboard so your hot air balloon can take off.
I think this is what’s at the core of “ace discourse,” “sga discourse,” and all those other gatekeeping arguments.
The system only, conditionally, grudgingly, gives certain rights, in some places, to the minority of us who have convincingly argued that we’re Just Like Them. It is exceedingly clear to those people that mixing with non-approved groups puts not only those limited civil rights, but also the entire model used to win them, in danger.
It’s a choice. We all face it. If you identify more with the need for all those normal rights – or with the oppressions around being, or being into, into the wrong binary gender – or you just see that this model is working for some people and you want it to work for you – then you’re likely to cast your lot with the binary-gender-based “gay rights” model, which means you’re likely to take a “gatekeeping” tack.
If you identify more with the need for total freedom from the rules of the binary gender system, for whatever reason – and you’re not put off by the fact that we don’t have a working political model around that – then you’re likely to cast your lot with the “gay liberation” model, which means you’re likely to take the “radical inclusion” tack that’s inherent to that model.
* (I don’t think there was an intersex movement at the time; intersex people are still incredibly silenced by not only the media but actively, intentionally, by the entire medical industry. But it is an explicitly intersex-friendly and very ace/aro-friendly model, in a way that the existing model has definitely not been.)
The idea of getting married at 23 threw my family and friends, as two years before it would have thrown me. The people I’d known were going to get married when they were 18, 19, 20 had already done so and gone right ahead to having babies. In contrast, my university crowd was a ragtag group of kids in their early twenties unsure of how to be adults. They were also mostly queer, and in my home country Australia, my girlfriend and I are still not allowed to get married. Many of my friends don’t believe in monogamy at all, let alone a public declaration of it.
Along with many LGBT activists in Australia, they believe that marriage rights aren’t something the LGBT movement should be fighting so hard for. In Australia, de facto relationships hold most of the same legal rights as marriages, which makes the equal marriage argument a little more complicated. Many radical queers think that we are “weakening” our commitment to queerness by begging to be allowed into an institution created by a church and government that have historically has oppressed us. Some worry that by prioritizing equal marriage so highly, we are letting other — arguably more pressing — issues settle onto a second tier: from the safe schools legislation, to the rampant demonization of trans people, to the significantly higher levels of suicide and mental health issues experienced amongst LGBT Australians.
But it’s also impossible to ignore that the fight for equal marriage has been built on the back of the AIDS crisis; that a lack of partnership rights historically meant that same-sex couples were blocked from looking after each other, in hospitals and pensions and wills; that marriage is not, in fact, just an issue for the gay community, but for the entire LGBT community. While it is by no means the only issue on the table that we should be fighting for, equal marriage has become a cultural and legal necessity, and in Australia, it’s both embarrassing and dehumanizing that we have not followed the lead of the UK or the US.
The creation of woman-loving (is) a task necessary for the very survival of feminism. If women did not love themselves and each other, then they had no basis on which to identify and reject atrocities against women.
My solarpunk is not just about flower-covered fashion and far-off futures.
My solarpunk is about sustainability, about community, about anti-capitalism. It encompasses ecofeminism, afrofuturism, radical queer politics.
My solarpunk is about urban gardening and renewable energy, about food sovereignty, and public transportation. It’s solarpunk to take the bus. It’s solarpunk to buy used clothes.
My solarpunk rejects current notions of “environmentalism” that place rich, privileged people at the top. My solarpunk realizes that it is the rich that create environmental disasters and the poor that suffers. My solarpunk realizes that radical change will not come from the corporations, but from the bottom up, from the inner cities and the reservations and the slums.
My solarpunk stands with indigenous sovereignties, with reproductive justice, with antiracism, with anticonsumption, with unions, with liberation theology.
My solarpunk realizes that the world is deeply, deeply flawed. But my solarpunk believes that there is hope, and that hope will come from the communal, not from the corporate.
“I found this community of proudly gender non-conforming women. Women who don’t conform to society’s restrictive view of “woman”. I immediately felt the freedom to be who I wanted to be, and to not feel that I had to “prove” my womanhood.”
When I was a child/teen I was very gender non-conforming. I didn’t like “girl” things, I hated the color pink, had short hair, small boobs, wore mostly “boy” or gender neutral clothes.
If Utah was more progressive, and the trans cult had a presence here in the last half of the 00’s, I probably would have become a trans boy.
But, I didn’t. I went through my teen years as a tomboy, nothing unusual about that. I hated the clothes I had to wear to church. I felt uncomfortable in the girl’s bathroom because I was worried I looked out of place and that I would get yelled at. People asked me all the time if I was a boy or a girl, and I got mistaken for a boy and called a boy on many occasions. I was asked if I was a lesbian in middle school.
Basic stuff for a tomboy, I think.
When I was about 20, I found feminism. Through Pinterest, of all places. From there, I went to Facebook feminism. I learned the libfem version of “intersectionality” and wanted to be the best feminist I possibly could be. At that time, I didn’t really know much about the “queer” and “mogai” community, because I wasn’t on Tumblr. I had heard a bit about trans people, but I didn’t really know all that much about it.
In the fall of 2015, after being polyamorous with my husband for about 6 months, I met a girl. My husband and I started dating her (that’s a whole different story) and she told us about how she was genderfluid between being a woman and being agender. Her “agender” days basically consisted of body dysphoria and a desire to wear masculine clothing. After about a month or so of dating her, I started up my own Tumblr at her suggestion.
Once on Tumblr I learned all about the millions of identities within the “mogai” world. It was a lot of information, and I was confused and unsure that any of it was real. But I chalked those thoughts up to ignorance, and dove deeper into it all.
Throughout the entire time I was in the libfem world, and the Tumblr world, I grew more and more detached to my previous identity as a “tomboy”. I felt that since trans women have to perform femininity to be taken seriously as women, I had to as well or else I was depending on my cis privilege to be seen as a ‘real woman’.
After only a few weeks on Tumblr, I realized I had never questioned my gender. Because of Tumblr, I knew it was a cis privilege to never question gender, and to never have my gender questioned, unlike the experience that so many trans people have. I asked my girlfriend how she determined she wasn’t just a woman, and she directed me towards some blogs and labels for me to look into. I kept coming back to agender, because I was realizing that I didn’t fully “get” gender, and I wasn’t sure it was even real. Real for me, anyway, of course I knew it was real to others and I should respect that. But for me, gender wasn’t a real thing to worry about. I decided that because I didn’t understand gender, I must simply not have one. And so, I started claiming the identity of agender.
I started using they/them pronouns, I tried out my girlfriend’s binder, I started embracing my masculine side again. I liked the binder, but soon after this I broke up with her and she took it back. I didn’t like it enough to get my own, so I didn’t get one. After some time of people not catching on with the they pronouns, I went back to she/her. Since I was still mostly feminine presenting it didn’t seem to matter to me.
I discovered nounself pronouns, and decided that I really liked the bun pronouns. I tried using them for a bit, but it felt silly and wrong. Plus not a lot of my friends used them for me, so I just decided to go back to she.
After that, I didn’t really care about my agender identity. I still used it, and I still made sure people on the internet knew about it, but deep down I didn’t care. I didn’t want to go back to identifying as a woman, though, because I knew once I did that I wouldn’t be able to speak about trans issues. I wanted to keep that, I didn’t want to be treated as a silly cis woman who has so much privilege she can’t say anything. I also didn’t want to give up the freedom I felt to not conform to gender roles as a woman.
In about November of last year, I decided that my romantic orientation wasn’t what I thought it was, because I was struggling with romance in general. I have never really felt totally romantic, and I decided to look into the aromantic spectrum to see if there was anything there that I liked. I found idemromantic (which basically means not understanding romantic attraction). I briefly used it, and when I was searching the ‘idemromantic’ tag for more people like me, I found an ace exclusionist blog.
I embraced the ace exclusionist perspective, and started critically examining everything I had been told by the ace/aro community. I learned how most of their labels were really about homophobia and the fact that the sex positive movement has given kids an unrealistic view of sex and romance.
At that point, I dropped the agender label, because through interacting with the ace exclusionist blogs I would occasionally see a post by a radfem that made good sense about why non-binary wasn’t so great. I once again felt the feeling of being restricted by my “woman” identity. I also still supported trans people on principal, I just felt a little better about not claiming that as part of my identity.
Then, the women’s march happened. The backlash of trans women feeling like their experience wasn’t centered enough and they were excluded happened. I noticed that even before that actually happened, I expected it. I knew that the pussy hats and the abortion rights signs would be offensive to trans women. I knew exactly how they would react. And that pissed me off.
I began thinking again about how gender has never made sense to me. I have never understood how someone can just “identify” with a gender. Gender roles are restrictive and assigned based on sex, so why would anyone want to “identify” with any “gender”? My year of identifying as “agender” didn’t do anything about my oppression. I was still affected by laws and expectations of women. I couldn’t just identify out of it, so how could trans women identify out of their male privilege? No matter what they wore or acted like, no matter the surgeries they got, they could NEVER be oppressed as women. They remain the oppressor class.
At that point, I decided to tentatively start researching radical feminism. I discovered this whole world of kick ass feminist women who don’t listen to male opinions, who don’t center male people, who live their lives for themselves and demand liberation.
I found this community of proudly gender non-conforming women. Women who don’t conform to society’s restrictive view of “woman”. I immediately felt the freedom to be who I wanted to be, and to not feel that I had to “prove” my womanhood. I felt a sisterhood I had never felt with trans women.
I felt free to re-embrace my natural tendency towards being gender non-conforming. I knew I could wear what I wanted and not be told I was less of a woman because of it. Now, I’m planning to get my hair cut short like it was when I was a teen (though, a bit more stylish). I want to wear “men’s” clothing and not be called either a man or some “non-binary” gender.
I feel like myself again.
I am a female by birth, and I “identify” with womanhood because I know now that womanhood is the simple matter of being an adult human female. I don’t have to do anything or act a certain way to be a woman, I just am one. And I no longer feel the need to identify as something other than a woman in order to be who I am.
There’s something truly strange about living in a historical moment in which the conservative anxiety and despair about queer bringing down civilization and its institutions (marriage, most notably) is met by the anxiety and despair so many queer feel about the failure or incapacity of queerness to bring down civilization and its institutions.