“We think it’s getting better but nobody’s really sure.”

“We think it’s getting better but nobody’s really sure.”

Enforced sexual dimorphism in an age when we’ve all but mastered our reproductive capacity is a matter of taste and not necessity. We are no longer purely at the mercy of biology. We can plan when, how, and whether we will bear offspring via the many forms of birth control, abortion, in vitro fertilization, etc., which continue to advance and improve every day. Many of these methods are relatively cheap and readily accessible, at least in nations and regions of relative wealth. Shulamith Firestone predicted that gendered class distinctions would erode as women gained complete access to the means of reproduction, and envisioned a future in which women were completely freed from hosting new life at all. In only a few decades since her Dialectic of Sex was published, we’re closer to that reality than she probably could have dreamed.

If we were still a threatened population on the verge of extinction, needing to know whether your potential mate was the “right” kind to either receive your seed or inseminate you in as certain terms as possible might make sense, but it’s intellectually dishonest to pretend that’s where we are as a species. We’re among the most prolific mammals who’ve ever lived, and you can find us in nearly climate and region of the world. We also know that unlike many of our non-human brethren, we engage in sex for pleasure without the intention of getting pregnant every time. Many of us never have sex in a way that could ever get us pregnant, whether through acts that don’t involve the genitals meeting, (oral, manual) or with non-bodily implements (sex toys, whips, rope). Many of us don’t care much about sex, if at all, and should perhaps be the least among us to be pressured to present in a way “telling” of our biological gender.

Is it really valuable to advertise our genitals via external presentation – see “cultural genitals” – particularly in this cultural moment? I’m struck by this as I also muse on what, exactly, the qualitative difference is between the so-called “female”(vagina/vulva/clitoris, etc.) and “male” (penis/testicles, etc.) reproductive organs… From my estimation, we’re talking about the difference between .5″-6″ (on average) of erectile tissue, and perhaps the presence/absence of a “vaginal” opening. An erogenous zone is an erogenous zone, and while we might have certain preferences with regard to what we like to have done to ours or whose we do what with, when it comes down to it there’s really not a whole lot of variance. When I do talks on pegging, I discuss not only the reality that almost everyone has an anus, but I take the opportunity to show a slide of the Quigley scale which shows that, like cultural gender, our supposedly fixed biological/material gender includes many non-binary modes of being.

 

Quigley scale for (P)AIS

photo credit: http://intersexroadshow.blogspot.com/

An anthropologist from another time and place might find the importance we place on this minutiae puzzling.

As I read about the case of Jennifer Laude’s murderer, Joseph Scott Pemberton, (and think of the many, many trans people – mostly women – who have died in similar attacks) I’m struck by how plausible arguments like his have been regarded throughout the course of Western civilization. One who does not conform to a popular conception of “womanhood” or “femininity” is punished by the most severe means imaginable, and men of the establishment have nodded along in agreement. The presence of a penis, in their minds, negates all possibility of identification as woman. What is at stake, then, is the attacker’s sexuality. Despite the claim that Pemberton felt duped or raped, the real repulsion men like him feel is a self-repudiation: it is a betrayal of themselves evidenced by their own arousal. Like every other woman who is raped or beaten by men, these women become not only the victim but the supposed perpetrator of their own victimization. To spell it out plainly, Jennifer Laude and her many fallen siblings did not die because they were “found out” – they died because they turned their attacker on. It is internalized homophobia manifested in pure rage. Killing her is killing the part of himself that is suspect, the part that “fails” to be heterosexual. In a culture that demands 100% obedience to the gender binary, this is only realized for men in 100% heterosexuality. Doing sexuality wrong here is not an option.

I won’t claim to exist in a vacuum where I don’t realize that culture plays a huge role in how we are socialized, and who we become. Yet I value the chances when I get to be surrounded by those who openly reject the pressure to choose a gender and settle down; those who realize that our genitals are just that, and that the rest of who we are is up to us. In my day to day life, I’m often inundated with experiences where I am gendered as either male or female, and sometimes it simply makes my day easier to go with it. At work, my gender is seldom the central focus. When I am misgendered, it’s often not in a context where it makes sense for me to correct (in dealing with a crisis situation, for instance). Sometimes, I just don’t have the energy or mental wherewithal to do it. Still, I find myself resentful. I want to be seen as a whole human being, and part of that is my non-binary gender. I want to be more than seen, but accepted and appreciated. A few of my clients share with me that they do not know whether I am AFAB or AMAB, and many of them admire this about me. I like to think that for some of them, I can serve as a kind of role model, or at least evidence that it is possible to do this non-binary gender thing as an adult.

Like Firestone, I look forward to a day when gendered class divisions are completely exploded and allow for the possibilities of complete freedom from prescribed gender roles. I hope daily for gender equality, and I extend that beyond simply women and men. I think the only way we can do this is to get away from the claims of TERFs and “gender critical” feminists, whose conservative views of biological determinism only serve to set us back as human beings. We need to be open to the possibility that many of us will betray what our genetics supposedly dictate. We need to admit that we do not know why some people are trans, or non-binary, or neutrois, or Muxes, or two-spirit, or third gender, or any of the array of genders that refute the Eurocentric woman/man dyad, but that there is nothing wrong with those who do not “appropriately” advertise their genitals. We need to allow all people to determine what parts of gendered experience make the most sense to them, and for each of us to express a gender most fitting to our own personal preferences – AND to be respected while doing it.

In short, I look forward to a day when women like Jennifer Laude are allowed to live and thrive.


Photo credit: autostraddle

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“Some folks are born made to wave the flag / Ooh, they’re red, white, and blue…”

“Some folks are born made to wave the flag / Ooh, they’re red, white, and blue…”

I have a complicated relationship with Veteran’s Day. I’ve never served and have never wanted to. Years ago when I applied for college and put down “possibly female” on my application (still the strangest gender designation I’ve ever seen on a form) and received information on enlisting, I quickly changed my answer to “female.” If there ever came a time when I might possibly be drafted, I would do everything I could to evade it. I don’t believe in war and I would never kill anyone. Reading Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf in high school cemented my anti-war leanings and put into words sentiment that had resided in my heart unspoken for many years. When Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, part of me mourned because I knew it would be one less out for folks to have who wished to escape the horrors of war.

In my lifetime, I’ve known a great many people who have served and been marred irrevocably by combat, whether physically or psychologically – in many cases, both. A good friend became a conscientious objector after seeing the horrors of actions he had helped plan brought to life, and now (at least last I knew) spends his days privately dosing himself with hallucinogens in order to avoid reliving those memories. A few of the people I’ve dated are veterans, and I’ve seen them struggle to claim their benefits, including basic medical necessities and the college education they were promised in exchange for their service. Through school I’ve come into contact with students who served and did manage to make their way to college, yet struggle with reintegration into civilian life after dealing with PTSD and deinstitutionalization. Before DADT was repealed, I knew queer couples who were closeted for decades because they were afraid of being discharged and losing the career and life they’d so painstakingly built for themselves. I saw them sit out Pride and other LGBT functions because they were afraid of being spotted and reported. I know of trans people who were discharged in spite of DADT and have lost all access to whatever benefits they might have been able to claim. Even still, the Veteran’s Administration has repeatedly received criticism for failing to adequately care for those who put their lives on the line for what they believed in. Meanwhile, conservatives who are all too happy to send troops off to die in unnecessary wars are the first to suggest funding cuts to services those folks so desperately need.

Let me be clear; I am not a U.S. military apologist, nor a supporter of any military effort. Our grossly inflated military budget could be better spent on any host of concerns facing this country – like getting single payer health care off the ground, improving our country’s infrastructure, creating better support for the homeless, decreasing student debt or hell, offering free education like other countries of comparable wealth. We have a military problem, and it is seeping into the way we do civilian policing. It’s terrifying times to be a citizen of the United States, and our fetish for militarization is at its core. I would love nothing more than to see the U.S. military be scaled back and, one day, completely dismantled. That would be the only way to ensure that no one would be pushed through the meat grinder that is the modern war machine – no U.S. citizens and none of those we are so eager to call our “enemies.”

However, we are not there yet. Compared to China, a nation with a population of 1 billion people to our 320 million, and 749 million in “available manpower” to our 145 million, the United States grossly and disproportionately outpaces them in aircraft of all kinds (13,892 to 2,860), and despite falling behind in tanks and artillery, the U.S. still boasts a national budget of $577 billion to China’s $145 billion. And our debt? Nearly $16 trillion to China’s $863 billion. Some figures suggest our budget is much higher – $610 billion, $9 billion greater than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the U.K., India, and Germany combined. In short, our military expenditure and reliance on aircraft warfare makes it unlikely that any country could successfully defend themselves from our attack or mount an attack against us. There is no sign that this will slow down in the coming decades. We have to face the reality that, despite all of our best efforts, right now, here, today, people are going to lose their lives. People are going to be abused. People are going to be mistreated. It will all be in the name of the U.S. military. We have to do what we can to take care of those people. I would go so far to say that it is a feminist issue.

I’m not thrilled that women are likely going to be able to serve on the front lines. This will do nothing to right the imbalances of power that cause so many women to be raped in the military every single day. I’m not ecstatic that trans people will much likely have an easier time serving in the military, and like Dean Spade, I’m skeptical that this is the movement trans people should be rallying around. Unlike Spade, however, I see a very real need to take care of the very real trans people who are already serving, and are terrified to come out for fear of being sexually harassed, assaulted, or killed. This becomes particularly true when we take into account the fact that transgender women enlist in disproportionately high numbers prior to transition in order “to prove they [are] ‘real men.'” We need to listen to the stories of those who are serving, for whatever reason, and take care of them as we would anyone else. I see them being able to openly serve to be one such way to do this.

There is an attitude among my fellow liberal, academic kin that we oughtn’t be serving in the first place – as Spade says, “It’s true that trans people need jobs. But is military service a job we want?” He goes on to cite examples of the failures of the military to support soldiers, including suicide rates and instances of sexual assault. Yes, the prospects are ugly, and yes, I would personally actively discourage anyone I knew considering serving from doing so. I’ve seen how horrific it can be, and I know the statistics. At the same time, I know many good, decent people who have been duped into serving because they believed they were doing the right thing by a country and people they love tremendously. I do not share their sentiment in many ways, but I know where they are coming from. I know many good, decent people who live in areas so economically deprived that the military may seem like the only viable option. A 2008 study from Syracuse University found that, “Class differences in military enlistment likely reflect differences in the non-military occupational opportunity, structured along class lines. This research shows that the all-volunteer force continues to see overrepresentation of the working and middle classes, with fewer incentives for upper class participation.” Many of those poor people are women, and many of those poor women are black. It feels lofty and callous to simply suggest to poor people that they not serve. It feels a lot like arguments middle and upper class people make to homeless people; that they just “get a job” or “stop using drugs,” as if it were that easy.

I’m not saying there are easy solutions. I’m not saying it’s unimportant or even ill-advised to be critical of the military. But I think it is important for us to push for supports for those individuals who are enmeshed in a disgusting system while we simultaneously work to bring it down. We can do this for our folks in prison, and I say we should do it for those who enlist as well.

On this veterans day, I’m thinking about my ex lovers, my friends, and the many LGBT, POC, and straight, cisgender women veterans whose stories often go untold. In working for military abolition, we cannot turn a cold shoulder to those who simply couldn’t opt out, or who made a choice to do what they believed in their hearts to be right.


Photo credit: PlaidZebra.com