Activist Tsipi Erann responds to MsElouise’s X Utopia

Dear MsElouise

Here is my response to your X Utopia post at long last.

Responder “Stealthy” did a very good job of explaining the difference between gender identity, gender presentation, and gender roles. In your response you said that it explains a lot from an academic perspective, but it doesn’t completely jibe with your real-life experiences, and I’d like to add my 2 cents on both aspects.

In your post, it seems to me that you are actually creating a different binary: Either you “embrace the gender binary”, (There are boys and there are girls, boys are this, and girls are that…); Or – You reject the gender binary entirely, and claim there is no such thing as gender at ALL.

I find *this* binary just as “boxing” and limiting and dangerous as the concept of the gender binary. First of all, without getting into definitions of boys and girls (yet), with every type of identity and/or orientation there is the possibility of a spectrum, or actually several spectrums: one being physical, another cultural, another – let’s call it sexual (orientation, preference), and let’s leave room for some others we have no names for (and maybe we don’t really need them, labels are useful for mutually understanding what we’re talking about, but then they limit us too). The idea that we can only be a one or a zero is, to me extremely limiting.

That is regarding the academic concepts. When it comes to our real-life situations, I think we can never forget that no one lives outside their culture, even if we dream to achieve one that is different. It can be a personal culture, family culture, or broader culture… Pretty much any queer person knows at least on some level(s) what it’s like to not “fit” into cultural norms and expectations… But imagine it is your very being, how you present, how you think of yourself, that is being challenged AT EVERY TURN. Every time you fill out a form. Every time anyone speaks to you… So when a trans person insists on changing their sex designation on their ID or being spoken to using a certain pronoun… This is part of their *personal* battle in a world that is so far from letting go of the gender binary, that their only other option is total erasure.

So yes, maybe in your X Utopia we will not call ourselves men or women, or have any preconceived notion of dress or behavior or familial roles, or careers, or (the list goes on and on…) And then – of course! – no one will have a need to “transition” from one identity to another, because “anything goes”…  But it is an incredibly PRIVILEGED approach to assume that trans people should limit themselves TODAY, in THIS world, using the only language we have, and the only technical definitions we have at our disposal.

And it is also privileged to expect trans people, who likely come from various economic, educational, health, ethnic, racial, geographical, and religious backgrounds to have a particular level of awareness, of consciousness, of freedom, that would in turn enable them to approach the issues of their identity and expression in a strictly theoretical way, and to wait – assuming they eventually agree with your vision – until the vision can become a reality, instead of living with the tools they have NOW.

As a woman, I fight the feminist fight every day of my life. I face the silencing and marginalization of the kyriarchy at every turn. It’s exhausting, often, and disheartening. Now just imagine if my even being a woman was in doubt, that I could never just “be”, and instead I was dismissed as “a guy who likes to wear dresses” or had my right to define how to express my identity mocked, denied, challenged at every turn.  How belittling that is. In my world, people are REQUIRED to classify themselves – on college applications, driver’s licenses, passports, job forms, surveys, and more and more… And that every time I have to check that box next to F or M I feel WRONG. Erased. Humiliated.

So I find some small, insular groups, of friends, allies, like-minded, like-gendered, similarly oriented folk, where I can live on any part of the various spectrum(s) (butch, femme, straight, queer, lesbian, gay, genderqueer, trans, bisexual, man, woman, intersex, asexual… All kinds of intersections of physicality, orientation, and culture). But then I get arrested, say, and they put me in a men’s prison (because we have men and we have women), which gives no room for any spectrum, or I get drafted, but then must plead some sort of insanity, because these frameworks do not allow me in any way to be ME.

So we end up with an upsetting conundrum:  I can get behind the idea that as radical feminists we say “gender is a construct!” because what that statement comes to fight is actually biological determinism – the idea that biology somehow is at the heart of what we recognize as gender (mostly gender roles and gender expression), which is leveraged as an excuse to maintain sex/gender hierarchies (you’re a woman, you can’t be a CEO, the company will collapse every time you get your period!). And that serves a very righteous feminist agenda.

But when trans people get caught in that web, the result is that they are erased, dismissed, demeaned. Some radfem groups accuse trans women of being “rapey men” insidiously trying to get into women’s spaces. That is hateful and ugly. In a world that still makes you choose, here are people making the choice *closest* to what they perceive themselves to be, because there is no room for what they are (because, of course the choices are limited in advance, this is not to say who is a “real” man or woman or who is “close to” being a real man or woman). And then they are punished for it.

So we don’t like the cultural construct of gender. And, as feminists, we really hate the “male brain/female brain” scientific theories… Mostly because they are used against us, and we well know that it isn’t that simple. There are plenty of brilliant women scientists in the world, as well as men who cannot read a map. But making scientific determinations based on ideology? That is an evil trap. There is so much that we don’t know about our brains, our hormones, our enzymes, our environments, bacteria living in our systems, and a bunch of other stuff, never mind how they all work together, that in my opinion any absolutist statements *against* biological factors are just as bad as using accepted “scientific” ideas to support sexism, or racism, or…. Any ism or phobia.

And what does it even mean, to be a man or a woman? I don’t know a single person who can really answer this question. Even the concept of what is a male vs. what is a female is now being seriously questioned in medical/scientific communities, and not only because of intersex people. The assumption that if you have a penis or a vagina you can be categorized in this way, or even a particular chromosomal combination – is increasingly being challenged.

So in my utopia, it really wouldn’t matter what sex we are, what gender identity we have, or what outward expression we are comfortable with… I’m kind of assuming we agree here. However, I cannot conceive of getting to that utopia by policing what various people do, how they identify, or how they express themselves given the particular set of societal rules we now have, or by in any way – directly or indirectly – putting the burden of carrying the change on the segment that is hierarchically the weakest in today’s culture. When we manage to achieve something more akin to universal gender equality, I am sure that trans people will be very happy to not have to fight for recognition, because the barrier to their identity will no longer exist. But that day is not today.

Try to compare it to a Jewish Israeli expecting a Palestinian to go to a pride parade, or a white American expecting an immigrant who is a person of color to stand up to the police… or any other situation in which one of the persons has the safety of privilege and the other one has to first fight for survival.

And to close, one more piece of recommended reading:

http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/

Tsipi Erann

Tsipi Erann lives in Tel Aviv, where she is a an activist for feminist, queer, and human rights issues, as well as anything else that gets her going. Her blog, Femina Invicta (http://feminainvicta.com), competes for top-spot in her heart and mind with two feral rescue cats who help keep her on her toes. Continually.

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About IsBambi

IsBambi is an administrator for feminaust. She is also a young woman excited about all things to do with feminism, skiing, British TV, dogs called Trevor and cycling. In addition to trying to do too much at once, she enjoys empowering young people and dragging men into the feminist debate.

2 thoughts on “Activist Tsipi Erann responds to MsElouise’s X Utopia

  1. Pingback: Welcome to Tuesday! ~ 8th October 2013 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

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