“You are doing pattern mixing at a very advanced level right now.”—
Jaclyn Friedman, feminist icon extraordinaire, at her book release/40th birthday party last night, giving me the second best compliment anyone I seriously admire could possibly give me. The first best compliment happened when she said that in 10 years she expects to be at my book release. Which means she expects me to get published and also that she plans to still be in touch and supporting me.
You should all seriously check out her new book What You Really Really Want. It’s an incredible guide to navigating the messages we receive about sexuality in order to find something that feels genuine and pleasurable. Also, I’m in it.
Success is when you dress up as a woman and can't get a picture in which you feel you look like one?
It’s my school’s annual genderfuck dance, and I decided that the genderfuckingest thing I could do right now would be to present as I might have presented if I’d been a woman this whole time. It’s probably not a true depiction, but it’s been fun to do.
That having been said, I can’t get a respectable picture that shows off all of the elements of this presentation. Hopefully some will get taken at the party and I’ll get to show all of y’all my brilliant use of naturalistic makeup.
Hi, I'm sorry to bother you but I've been struggling with my Gender for a few months now 'cause sometimes I feel super girly and sometimes I feel really masculine but I'm not sure if that's 'normal' or not. I'm a girl, by the way, and my friends keep dismissing it when I try to talk about it by saying it's "just a phase" and i'd "know straight away what gender I am." But I'm just wondering, what kind of gender do you think that would be catagorised as? xoxoxoxo
It’s not a bother at all. I can’t really tell you what your gender is because gender identity is really personal and should be more about how you interpret various things about yourself than how I or anyone else interprets them. What I can tell you, though, is that your friends are not being supportive, and that they’re wrong.
First off, there’s no reason you need to know right away what your gender is. Lots of people take time to explore and think about their genders. I did! Just like with any other identity, you’re allowed to try things out and figure out what resonates with you. You don’t have to have a fully-formed gender right now.
Secondly, who cares if it’s a phase? It’s your truth right now, right? And as such, it should be respected and validated. People always deserve respect in their identities, no matter how short-term that identity may be for them. It doesn’t hurt anybody to give you what you need, but it hurts you to not get what you need.
Another thing I can tell you is that it’s completely normal to not feel totally masculine or totally feminine all the time. For one thing, these qualities are not mutually exclusive. For another, they’re involved in gender, but they’re not always the same as gender. While it may be that sometimes you’re a man and sometimes you’re a woman (totally normal), it may also be that you have one gender that sometimes expresses masculinely and sometimes expresses femininely (totally normal). That happens to both cis people and trans people. No one can be expected to maintain a totally static expression; we’re constantly reacting to the people and circumstances around us, and different stimuli are going to push us in different directions. That’s totally ok.
Every time I try to blog about something, I end up talking about it with someone and then feeling less as though I need to write it out and submit it for approval from the internet. Maybe this is a good thing?
How did I get to a point in my life where I tried to convince someone that there was no difference between feminine people and women?
Ok, obviously the title of this post is without context. The context is that I was in my linguistic anthropology class and we were discussing a piece we read on how saying “no” in a sexual situation constitutes someone as a woman because men are socially required to always say “yes” to sex and women are required to always say “no.” Really cool piece, if a little graphically violent. Anyway, a guy in my class was saying he wasn’t so sure about that. He said that if a man said “no,” maybe it made him feminine, but not a woman. That’s when I tried to tell him they were the same thing. He didn’t get it.
I told him that to reject a woman’s sexual advance, a man was either gay (i.e. a woman, especially if he were the kind of gay man who allowed himself to be pursued by men rather than pursuing men) or not man enough (i.e. a woman). He refused to believe me.
I told him not to think about what he knew or how he lived or what was right or even true, but to think about what is real in the wider world. He blinked, and said they were the same.
I told him that was privilege.
It’s been a theme in my life recently that people have tried to tell me that the truth is real. Obviously I know that not all feminine people are women (or vice versa), but I’m also not fooled that everyone knows that truth, and I’m definitely not fooled by which group of believers dictates what counts as real.
So here’s the deal: I’d love to discuss the truth that you’ve found by observing the lived experiences of individuals or looking deep into your own heart, I’m happy to hear your theory on how the world should be, but please, please, don’t try to tell me that what you know is real. If you tell me you don’t get why things are the way they are, we can work together to fix it; but if you tell me that you don’t see that things are the way they are, I’m going to have to walk away.
I’ve got my own notions about truth. I work as hard as I can to live out my truth, but I’m also trying just as hard to exist in this world that we have going right now, and that sometimes means that I have to act out reality. It’s a difficult balance to find, so if you’ve got suggestions, I’m open to them. But please don’t ask me to sacrifice my few shreds of reality for your ideals.
Hello, I have a few questions to ask.. Recently my partner of nearly three years has come out to me as genderqueer.. I am a very supportive partner, and this would normally have done nothing but encourage me to help them and make them as comfortable as possible. But befre, he/she had considered themselves ftm for months before that. I feel confused and upset. What do I do? I have spent months dating and loving them as a man, and now they are suddenly both. I still love them, but I'm confused.
I wish that tumblr would stop hating us and allow you to put more into an ask, because I’d love to help you, but I’m confused about what the trouble is.
I get that this is a time of transition for both of you. I’m sure that your partner spent a lot of time with doubt and questioning, especially given the pressure we’re all under to “just pick a gender and stick with it.” It may help the both of you to talk about what that time was like for them, why they felt they couldn’t talk to you about their questioning as it was happening, and any changes they expect in your treatment of them (maybe none at all, maybe just pronouns, maybe a whole list of things). It’s important to ask these questions in ways that remind your partner that they can be approached on their own terms; you don’t want to act as though you had some sort of right to this information before they were ready to give it to you, or that now that you’ve shown that you’re supportive they must necessarily keep you in the loop about every little shift they’re feeling. People process things differently and going from a binary gender identification to a non-binary one is scary, particularly when your binary gender was already expressed in a trans way. It may be that they needed to get it all together in their head before they could talk about it. I think that this happens especially frequently with non-binary genders because most of the world doesn’t know they exist, and there aren’t a lot of really nice, comfortable, descriptive ways to talk about non-binary identities. Also, I know a lot of trans people who feel bad about “inconveniencing” people with the shifts in their identities, so they’d rather feel certain before they come out. Yes, this even happens with people they trust and people who have explicitly said to them that whatever they need gender-wise is totally doable and important.
Which brings me to something that I think it’s really major that you do. You say you’re feeling hurt and confused; I think that you should explore what exactly about this situation is hurting you. This is a place where your feelings will be valid, but they may not be feelings that I would recommend you express to your partner. I’m in the habit of dealing with some of my more hurtful-towards-others’ emotions on my own, and, depending on what your pain stems from, you may want to consider doing the same. For instance, if you feel betrayed or lied to, it might help to remind yourself that gender is wildly personal and that no matter what type of bond exists between two people it can be very difficult to talk about for a number of reasons. I’m sure that your partner told you about it the moment they were ready to talk, and that they were not trying to lie to you. This has not been dishonesty on the part of your partner.
On the other hand, if something else is hurting you (I can’t really imagine anything right now, but it’s possible that there’s valid pain that could stem from another person’s coming out), you should talk to your partner about that. As much as gender is personal, efforts towards affirming gender expression, particularly ones that involve transition (I don’t know what your partner’s plans are), can take their toll on a wide circle of people. Make sure that your partner is not using their transition to wield power over you or centralize themself in areas of your relationship that don’t pertain to this issue.
It’s a delicate balance for some people to find. If this just happened, I’m sure that there’s an adjustment period, but it sounds like you’ve done that once before. I hope you and your partner use this as an opportunity to get to know each other better. Besides I’m sure that after a while you’ll find that aside from a few things here and there, there’s not so much difference among genders anyway. Presumably your partner is the same person they always were, but hopefully a little more comfortable with who they are now.
I hope this was helpful to anything that’s going on in your situation. Please feel free to get in touch with me about more specific questions or circumstance.
I think another fun and scary question to ask yourself is, “Why is that gender?” You know, whatever feels like it contributes to your gender, why is that gender? And I think it goes back to this constructionist understanding that if society didn’t invest it with meaning (and if we didn’t invest it with our individual meanings in reaction to society’s prescribed meanings, because honestly, even when you’re saying it means the opposite of what society says, that’s directly influenced by society’s perceptions. There’s no escape) it wouldn’t really have meaning. But it does.
I deal with this question a lot, particularly from people who don’t really know me, around the makeup-wearing and passion for facial hair and women’s shoes aspects of my gender identity. After all, those are just things, how can they be part of gender? Isn’t that a little shallow?
It’s not. Those are tools that give me a lot of power to subvert people’s assumptions about me. They are, in fact, some of the most important parts of my gender identity because they are the parts over which I have the most control. While I do not have the energy or space to use my preferred presentation all the time, I always think of myself in terms of these presentational tools, and I always wish that I could be using them. And that’s a big deal to me. Without them, I am compromising on people’s understanding of my gender and on my own ability to see myself as whole. I don’t care if that feels shallow to people; it feels safe to me.
I think I spend a lot of time thinking that gender isn’t a real thing and is totally unimportant and doesn’t exist and is entirely meaningless and then I remember that it’s actually the love of my life and that it’s really important to me and a lot of people.
Is it wrong to say gender identity is a social construct? Like... the actual feeling inside of you that is your gender is innate, BUT how you perceive yourself is socially constructed? Thus, how you identify your gender is socially constructed? I ask this because in my over-simplified Intro to Sociology class... my prof and my textbook says gender is a social construct, and I'm just like: No, it's not. Blah, I hate that class
Ok, this ended up being really long, but I hope you’ll bear with me, and that what I’ve written is actually helpful to you:
No, it’s not wrong, it’s just complicated. For me, social constructionism is a good way of getting people over the sex=gender hump; it helps them to understand that whatever traits, mannerisms or identities are associated with specific types of bodies come from essentially arbitrary designations built up by society, and that the idea of there being categories of people whose bodies, lives, and characteristics are diametrically opposed doesn’t actually make a lot of sense. In this way social constructionism is useful because once people have internalized it, they stop saying that the shape of my genitals or the configuration of my chromosomes (that I guess they know even though I don’t?) or whatever else they wanna pull with me means that I have to be a woman or act a certain way. So I think there is a lot of validity to the idea that gender identity is a social construct. In fact, all identities are socially constructed. If the values of our society were different, we’d all have very different identities because we’d think about the things that are true of us very differently; if we lived in a society that didn’t entrench differences, we wouldn’t need to work so hard to claim places for ourselves that made sense to us.
I don’t even know if I would say gender is innate. Sure, some of the things we do come naturally to us, but I would never tell anyone that their gender wasn’t real if they had intentionally cultivated a particular part of it for whatever reason. Sometimes parts of your gender will feel really great and comfortable for you because of what they signal to other people, and that’s ok. It’s cool to ask yourself what you would stop doing if it didn’t mean anything to anyone; so much of what feels important to me about my gender now would probably be significantly less interesting to me if gender ceased to be a thing people cared about and categorized. I’ve come to terms with that. Gender isn’t just one thing, and it’s important to keep that in mind.
The truth of social constructionism can be seen here: try to think about your gender as something completely separate from your interactions with others. This includes strangers’ reactions to you, lovers’ treatment of your body, how good looking you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror, all of that. Try sitting around alone in your room doing nothing and wearing as neutral clothing as you can without triggering dysphoria (and by neutral I mean, like, sweat pants, not high-andro gear), and see if you feel your gender as acutely as you do when you’re doing absolutely anything else. It’s pretty difficult, I find.
Where constructionism is dangerous is when it is oversimplified or taken to extremes. I have heard people use social constructionism as a way to dismiss the gender identities of individuals and groups. Their argument is that if gender is socially constructed, it doesn’t matter. People who make these arguments come from two (usually linked) categories: gender-privileged people and gender idealists.
Gender-privileged people are able to dismiss gender because in their day-to-day lives they do not experience how onerous the social construction of their gender is. They’re receiving as many oppressive messages about gender as the rest of us, but those messages praise and reinforce what they’re already doing, whereas the rest of us experience those messages as shaming and invalidating or even erasing. For gender privileged people, there’s much less need to think, talk, or organize around gender because the status quo doesn’t bother them. Usually they haven’t actually managed to internalize social constructionism, so they’re still experiencing their genders as natural and perceiving any gender that isn’t expressed in a cis way as perpetuating a false idea that gender is “important” or “something real.” People who are not cis usually have to put in more effort towards being read properly, and gender-privileged people read this effort as problematic when they can’t acknowledge that for them the work was already done.
The second group of people is gender idealists. I personally find these folks a lot more difficult to explain the importance of gender to because at least gender-privileged non-idealists usually have a pretty concrete sense of having a specific gender, even if they couldn’t tell you what that means. Most of the gender idealists I know don’t experience gender as important in their own lives, so they figure I should find it equally unimportant. After all, it’s just a social construct, so, like, it’s no big deal how people perceive you, right? The problem with this approach is that as much as identifying as a human being might work for some people (cis and trans alike, frankly, though I see it a lot more in people whose presentations aren’t so androgynous as to attract negative attention and usually get them read one way or another that doesn’t bother them. When I try to point out the privilege in this, they are usually quick to tell me a story about a time when this was not the case. And that’s fine, I need to be checking my assumptions, but I’ve been there; I know how quickly one can get comfortable again once gender becomes easy.), and as much as that might lead them to understand that it’s possible to live unconcerned with gender, I have to live in a world that is not populated entirely by idealists, and I have specific ways that I like to be read, and I’ve had to spend a lot of time thinking about why that is, what oppressions are involved, and how I can make it most likely that I get the validation I need. So while it’s pretty awesome that there are people who can use social constructionism to avoid thinking about their own genders, I used it as a jumping-off point to really get at the heart of what was important to me, and then I had to abandon it in favor of a practical approach to the real world in which my emotional health was more important to adhering to a theory.
Idealism is where the usefulness of social constructionism is stopped in its tracks. It perverts an idea that these distinctions are not natural into one that says that these distinctions should not be important. In fact, the opposite is true: things that are socially constructed are things that society decides are so important they need to be forced into the lives of every single person. When that happens, they become real. Not natural, but very, very real. Gender is an entrenched, hierarchical system of oppression, and idealists forget that simply telling everyone that it’s not natural (or worse, acting like everyone already knows it’s not natural) is not going to uproot it or make it less important. We grow up with these ideas planted firmly in our consciousnesses and sometimes it takes more than theorizing to get them out.
When you’re faced with a system of oppression that you’d like to dismantle, in my opinion, the first thing you can do for yourself and others is to get free. The way I see it, you can’t help anyone if you haven’t helped yourself first, so you get as free as you can within the confines of the system, and then you support other people in that process so that when it comes time to be fighting the systematic roots of it, you’re not all sucked back into the spiral. For some people getting free means reading theory and teaching themselves that it doesn’t matter, for others (me) that means switching pronouns and presentations until you find one that makes you feel seen, for others that means accessing medical interventions to bring their bodies more in line with their sense of themselves, and there are millions of other ways that individuals can get free. What’s important is to remember that your way is not the only way or the best way. Don’t let idealists or anyone else tell you how to get free.
Ahhh I thought you did really well in Mr Transman. Your hair looks rad. I'm painfully shy so I didn't say hello, but I was standing behind your parents the whole time. *waves* Also I know some people who go to your school! Toni-Anne Stewart and Bryce Livingston? Went to high school with Toni; she is HILARIOUS.
Thanks, Mollie! I’m glad you enjoyed it. You should totally have said hi. I’m sure I would have been awkward too, but it would have been so cool.
I know both of those people, and they both rock a lot.
hahahaha, no. I mean, whenever we’re out together, people think that, but that’s because we are deep in friend love. She’s my best friend, and my inspiration in so many things. She’s pretty much the reason I know all the things that I know. She’s in a long term, monogamous relationship with newshoesoldhat. Besides, I don’t really ever use the term girlfriend or boyfriend or boifriend and am non-monogamous.
Am I not the luckiest makeup-wearing, hyper-feminine, female-assigned, male-centered, genderfucked androgyne with a passion for facial hair and women’s shoes in the whole damn world that I get to actually spend time with and be loved by this super hottie?
That awkward moment when you're pretty sure you're getting packing bruises
I’m packing today for the first time actually ever. I’ve packed for an hour here and there, with socks or other tube-shaped things, but finally I made myself a hair gel packer and then it’s taken me months to get into the headspace of using it and feeling like I knew how, so today’s the first day I’ve really gone for it with something that might be said to actually resemble a flaccid penis. I’m determined to wear it all day. I made a joke with a friend that now that my hair is brown I can really probably pull off straight boy realness, so that’s what today’s about.
Honestly, though, I don’t have a harness on this bad boy and it’s hard for me to keep it in its place. It keeps riding up and sitting directly in front of my pelvis, which is kind of awkward and embarrassing for me. So I keep having to sneak off to put my hands down my pants really aggressively.
Also, even my straight boy pants are pretty tight, so that’s how bruising might be happening.
It isn’t easy, but for me personally it’s the hope that I’ll help other people understand where I’m coming from that makes it worth wild. :-)
I feel this, but I do that with so much of the rest of my life and I am often trapped in this place of constantly teaching and very few people feel prepared to teach me anything about gender. Obviously that’s partially my fault because that’s the impression that I give them, but also I just talk and think about gender a lot more frequently than most people I know and so while people can teach me about their own genders, it’s not very often that someone will present me with thinking I haven’t encountered already.
And I love teaching, but I also want to learn and I definitely don’t want to be taking a class in which I am mostly teaching. Because if that’s gonna happen, they might as well refund me some of my incredibly high tuition.
For those of you who study your oppressions in school, I don't know how you do it.
Or really anyone’s oppression. Looking into classes this year, I was really excited to see that one of my favorite rock-star-with-whom-I-have-never-taken-a-class-but-keep-trying-to professors was teaching a class called Studying Men and Masculinity. I’m really lucky to go to a school that requires you interview any professor you want to take a class with, so obviously I went to talk to him about whether I should take his class.
During the interview he talked about how it was an intermediate class, so he expected everyone to come in with at least a sense of what social constructionism meant, but that he also anticipated spending quite a bit of a class going into depth about how to internalize ideas of social constructionism (the good ones about how nothing is natural, not the bad ones about how nothing matters) to open up your thinking.
That and a few other things that he said made me realize that I simply do no have the patience to sit in a class of people who are learning about the way I think all the time. While I’m sure I would have learned things from that class, I couldn’t possibly take it; I couldn’t sit around listening to people discuss my life with purely academic interest. And let’s be real, talking about gender is talking about my life even when people aren’t talking about trans people. They’re talking about their lives too, but given that they’re still internalizing ideas about social constructionism, their thinking about the application of these ideas to their lives and to my life are very different.
A friend of mine who’s taking the class was working on a journal for it and asking some pretty cissexist questions; I worked with her on figuring out ways to make the questions more open and less offensive, and she totally got it, but not before she got very defensive and asked how she was supposed to learn if she couldn’t ask these things, and why did I think only I should get to challenge notions about gender? I am happy to talk these ideas through with my friend because I trust her to understand where I’m coming from and I trust that in the end we will know more about each other in a way that will help our friendship, but there’s no way I would be able to deal with that happening all the time in a classroom setting, regardless of any agreement we made as a class to “acknowledge that we all start in different places, but no one has any ill intent towards anyone else.”
I’m lucky, then, that at my school I get to do independent study in nearly every class. This means that I can take classes that are not directly about oppressions I experience or oppressions that I’m hoping to study in depth and have not-nearly-as-upsetting “academic” discussions with other people, and then go off on my own and study what really interests me (for example, last year I took an economic power theory class that mostly just covered canonical sociological writings from the late 19th and early 20th century; it was almost wholly theoretical, with a lot of us struggling to find practical applications that could make sense of what we were learning. I did my independent study work on how trans individuals were dealing with shifts in their access to male privilege as they transitioned).
I want to learn more about the systems we live in, and I’d love to do that in the company of other people, but I know that for my sanity I need to shelter myself from people who are still in the beginning stages of learning and thinking about these issues. So for now, I do it with books and individual professors, maybe sometimes adding in some close friends and some interview subjects.
There is no end to my level of admiration for folks who could sit in a class like that, How do you do it?
It’s sunday, which means no sleep for this makeup-wearing, hyper-feminine, female-assigned, male-centered, genderfucked androgyne with a passion for facial hair and women’s shoes.
Instead, I’ve been thinking about exhaustion again, and I’ve got a metaphor for you to ponder.
My gender is like a really fucking sweet pair of orthopedic sneakers. And here’s why: I got these sneakers really tricked out. I went online and I found this site that makes custom orthopedic sneakers that not a lot of people knew existed and I got these babies bedazzled, I got them in rich, bright colors, I got them satin-lined, and I got my name embroidered on them. They’re gorgeous and they go with everything I wear and I go places and people compliment me all the time, “wow, those are some really incredible orthopedic shoes; I didn’t know those even existed and now you’ve blown open my world and I’m thinking of getting a pair.” “Can you give me some advice on how I can make my own pair of orthopedic shoes?” People generally receive them well. Sometimes though, I get shit like, “ew, are those orthopedic?” or “are those regular sneakers or orthopedic? I can’t tell, let me whisper about it with my friends.” The fact of them being orthopedic shoes makes people feel they can ask me highly personal questions about them like what sort of medical condition I must have in order to have to wear such undesirable shoes, no matter how much I’ve been able to dress them up. Sometimes I’m told I’m brave for wearing my socially-unacceptable shoes out of the house and not letting anyone give me shit for them.
And then sometimes I get fake compliments like, “oh wow, those shoes are great. Don’t worry, I’d never have been able to tell they were orthopedic, if only you hadn’t told me, I would have just thought they were regular shoes.” To which I have to reply, “please, you wish you had known they were orthopedic. Not only are they fly as fuck, they’ve got great arch support, and I’m never going to be ashamed of recognizing that I don’t need beauty if it can’t also take care of me.” These shoes are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can walk for miles without any back pain; I no longer have to hang my head. They make me feel safe and comfortable at all times.
Society, on the other hand, is a ride on the M train from Middle Village to Forest Hills, and the whole time I don’t get a seat. For those of you who are not from New York, that is the first and last stop on the M train. They are a 7-minute drive from one another, but if you take the M, it’ll probably take you about 2 hours to get there. And that’s what I’m doing, I’m standing for a huge stretch of time on a train, taking the longest, least effective route to get very little distance. And by the end of my ride, my feet are tired, and maybe I’m a little whiny and people say to me, “oh, but why are you complaining? I thought those shoes were supposed to be really comfortable,” when really I’m talking about how the whole time I couldn’t find a single place to just give my feet a little bit of rest.
B ” which then would be a typographic representation of a venn diagram! and expresses a situation in which the outcome is true if either or both A or B are true, so one could say “Women∨Trans*” and have either or both identities still included. I thought someone also suggested something like “FAAB∨Trans*” which might connote something somewhat different and speak less to a claimed identity but I’m curious of your thoughts?
But thats where I was saying that It seemed really important for there to be a way to describe this kind of unifying situation that includes without enforcing any ideas about there certain default for any of the terms, and given a wider recognition the ‘vel’ might be a nice symbol since even visually it seems to express a kind of branching unity ‹3
this might spur me into a downwards spiral of trying to figure out the Logical Connectives of identity politics….
Thanks! This is so awesome! It’s exactly what I was talking about with using math-logic “or.” We could also use set notation; maybe more people know that?
I know that if I were using this type of notation to indicate who was welcome in a space, I would be more likely to say “women V trans* people” because I know that there are women who were assigned male at birth and who do not necessarily feel connected to a trans* identity and who should be welcomed into such a space, whereas I would kind of wonder what someone who was assigned female at birth and did not identify as a woman or somewhere under the trans umbrella would want with such a space; I mean, I’d bet there’re a couple folks out there by that description who do want in, but I imagine that they, like the rest of us whose identities are consistently relegated to the “etc.” part of any description, are used to understanding themselves to be intended welcome or intended unwelcome depending on the circumstances rather than the shorthand.
I know that as a non-woman-identified person who feels most at home in women’s spaces, I find it important to check in with every new women’s space that I approach that it’s ok that I be there. I make sure to find out which genders they intend to welcome into the space and what they’re doing that would make gendered exclusions valuable, and I let them know why I feel I deserve access to the space. I am not a woman, and I understand that this means that I should have to initially (though not continually) make a case for why I belong in women’s space. I am certainly not opposed to the idea that someone of any body or body history who does not identify as a woman and/or as trans* and wants access to a space dedicated to women V trans* people might feel as though they should approach said space similarly.
a friend of mine posted the following on my facebook wall the other day, probably in response to this post of mine
I saw on your tumblr that there are some problematic issues surrounding white cis queer folk using the term “fierce”. I tried to look up why that would be but didn’t really find anything. I was wondering if you had the time/inclination, could you maybe explain why that is to me? I’m totally not doubting you or trying to imply that a lengthy explanation is needed before I stop using a term that’s problematic, I just am kind of curious and would like to know more.
i wrote the text quoted below in reply, and i think it gets at most of what i think about the term - though there’s a lot more to be said about the specifics of what’s happening with the way that a lot of white queers variously fetishize and hate on non-white femininities, especially black femininities (at least in the south)
i feel like in a lot of white-centric queer spaces, particularly gay male spaces, there can be this weird mix of on the one hand outright declaring non-white (and often working-class) femininities to be nothing more than tacky failures to be appropriated for campy humor, and on the other hand i think there’s more complicated white guiltish stuff going on, especially when white gay men appropriate styles and cultural codes they associate with non-white femininities because they feel an emotional or cultural connection with racially marginalized femmenesses due to the marginalization of their own queer femininity
plus there’re all these narratives/stereotypes that are like ‘black women are so sassy and in-charge and sexual’ or ‘latinas are so tough and loud-mouthed and brassy’ etc converging with gay male identifications with a certain construction of strong sexy women
thank you for asking! i’ll try my best to think this through:
many uses of the word ‘fierce’ are in my experience strongly associated with gay/queer/trans communities of color, and are particularly linked in a lot of people’s minds with more femme-gendered black gay men and black trans folks, especially not-wealthy ones
and i often see white queers - mostly but not only gay men, some of them middle-class or wealthy and some of them not so much, many of them them openly racist or at least not really interested in thinking about how racism benefits them in and outside of queer spaces - who i feel are deploying the term in a particular way to kind of, hmmm, either to derisively or “affectionately” mock what they see as the campy ghetto-fabulous tackiness of such folks (which is clearly racist and classist and often straight-up misogynistic and anti-femme)
or to do this more complicated appropriation thing where white queers use the word in an attempt to signal a knowledge of or connection to PoC/black queer cultures because they want to kinda go culture-slumming and feel like they’re part of something cool or trendy or exotic etc - without actually giving much of a shit about racism or capitalism or gay/queer/trans people of color
and also there’s this thing a lot of white culture does where white folks can deploy what they accurately or inaccurately imagine to be black vernacular in order to construct themselves as being down with black people, and thus reassure themselves and others that they’re cool good white people and couldn’t *really* be racist (even when they, well, emphatically are)
i don’t think all uses of the word ‘fierce’ by white gay/queer/trans people constitute an attempt to mock or appropriate - but i do think creepy racist sexist classist uses of the word aren’t that uncommon
This is a really good examination of the use of the word “fierce” by lots of white queers and gay folks. As a white person who grew up in a queer community in which the majority population was feminine men of color, I’ve seen a lot of this happening, and not just around the word “fierce.” I’m sure I’ve gotten caught up in some of it too, but I’m pretty awkward with slang, so I tend to stay away from anything that I’m going to sound ridiculous saying. And not just because I don’t want to sound ridiculous, but also because I’ve found that that feeling is a pretty good indicator of when something is not yours to use.
I want to point out, too, that an interesting thing happened when white people started using this term, especially in spaces that fetishized white-gay-maleness like Project Runway: the folks of color, particularly in the ballroom scene, reversed the meaning. These days I rarely, if ever, encounter someone from the ballroom scene who uses fierce as a positive. To say a person looks fierce is to spit the word out of your mouth with derision because the person you’re saying it about looks awful, or worse, has failed at whatever they are trying to do (I’ve heard it a lot in connection with people’s assessments of other individuals’ gender presentations, unfortunately). It’s been a few years since folks switched, so I don’t know how much it gets discussed now, but at the time, people were explicit about why the meaning had changed.
I have cool friends who talk identity politics and semantics with me at 2am
jaygreenbunny:re: yr latest tumblr post
what do you think of
"trans/women only spaces"?
versus "women and trans* only spaces"?
i can put it to my followers if you like
my qualm is that it sounds like women and transfolk with woman-centric identies
but that could just be me
I was thinking that that would solve what people read as a problematic exclusive of transwomen
because "women and trans*" reads to me the same way as "women and people of color" does
but max pointed out the same thing
about the exclusive of transmen
me:yeah, and i see the problem with women and people of color too, but i think that hopefully most people get the that there's a semantic gap in our ability to articulate that we recognize that categories are overlapping but not in every case
and that such spaces are not meant to deny that it is possible to be both a woman and a person of color?
jaygreenbunny:I think the problem with that is because woc and transwomen are both categories of people who are traditionally doubly oppressed
and often erased
that it feels careless?
me:maybe we could use a venn diagram?
jaygreenbunny:yeah I was just thinking that
too bad we can't typographically represent venn diagrams
also that's problematic with transmen/transwomen/ciswomen/non-gc people/etc
like, how do we even visually represent that?
me:wait, why is it problematic for all those folks?
one circle is women and the other is trans people
they intersect at trans women
and everyone in any part of the diagram is welcome
or in your other example, it's poc and women
the intersection is woc
it's too bad that math logic doesn't actually apply in colloquial speech
me:because then we could say people who are women or trans*
me:and that would acknowledge that either or both can be true
jaygreenbunny:I was making my diagram more complicated than it needed to be
me:lol, what was yours?
jaygreenbunny:women and/or trans* spaces?
jaygreenbunny:Uhhh I was making permutations of each pair of those 4
and trying to put those together
...it was very messy
go to jaygreenbunny.tumblr.com to follow this awesome woman.
This is a response I wrote to this question on ciscentrismsucks. I submitted it as an ask and have no idea when/if it will be published. I hate that you can’t reblog asks, so am just reposting it here for posterity.
To the person who is going to teach a class about “women/trans* pleasuring themselves”, I’m just going to say right now that I seriously do not think you should proceed, because you will be offensive. You already have been just by submitting the question.
First off, “trans” is not a noun. Please do not ever use the word that way again. Trans people, trans men, trans women, these are all acceptable usages. “Trans pleasuring themselves” is not.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, who exactly do you see being in this group of “women/trans”? By women, do you mean all women? Or do you just mean cis women? By trans do you mean all trans people, or only those female-assigned at birth? As you can see, even before getting into how problematic it is to lump women and trans people together, the phrasing is so vague as to be useless.
But in addition to being useless, it really is problematic. “Women and trans” is most often used to lump cis women and trans men together and to shut trans women out. Not only does this usage imply that trans women are not women, but it also assumes a connection between trans men and cis women by virtue of being female-assigned at birth and positions trans men as “men lite”, not really men. All of this also excludes non-binary-identifed folks.
So before you go anywhere with this, think about what your class would be about and what you want to achieve with it, and then think about why you are making the connections you are. I’m going to assume the best, that you didn’t want to leave anyone out by just saying “women”, and that’s good, but intent doesn’t matter, and the results are fucked up.
The only part of this that I agree with is that trans is not a noun.
While it does feel as though this particular person is talking about folks who have internal genitalia, this is more a mistake on the part of the person who thinks that that is what “women and trans” folk describes rather than on the part of what I feel is a really legitimate and lovely terminology. It is not vague or useless to use the phrasing women and trans people, and it actually does the opposite of lumping women and trans folk together to list both of those groups (overlapping as they are); used accurately, it says that a space recognizes that not all women are trans and that not all trans people are women, and that they want all people of any or all of those descriptions to feel welcome in their space. Yes, it is often used incorrectly to the exclusion of trans women, but I would never think that that was the only way it could be used. I do not think that it denies the womanhood of trans women given that they are twice welcomed—both as women and as trans people—and that women are not the only trans people welcome to the space. Would you prefer a listing that said “women and all trans folk who are not women”? One that said “everybody but cis men”? What would be more accurately descriptive to you?
Next, how could listing that trans people are welcome exclude non-binary identified people? In my experience, we seem to be the ones who are most excited at having trans people specifically listed because our identities are the least likely to feel slighted by having the trans aspect of them highlighted.
Additionally, I resent the idea that including trans people who are not women in women and trans spaces denies the true manhood of trans men. Resent it. There are lots of trans men who are interested in remaining part of woman-centric spaces for lots and lots of reasons. I am a strong believer in community-only space, but I think it’s important for such spaces to take a good look into what they are hoping to gain from closing themselves off to people who are not part of the community. Often I find that the goal is healing and support, and I think that trans people of all genders who feel connected to their experiences of either being a woman or being read as a woman have a lot to gain and give in the areas of healing and support.
The way I see it, if a man feels that being part of a woman and trans space undermines his maleness, he doesn’t have to come. If a man does not feel that he has girlhood experiences or womanhood experiences that connect him to women, he should feel free to never take part in women’s community. But not all men feel that way, and many are relieved to find that the spaces they were part of before their transition make an effort to continue to include them. Still more men are hurt to find that their communities suddenly reject them because they no longer fit the description of who the space serves even though they feel that they still have things to offer to and gain from the space. These men clearly do not feel that their manhood is compromised by their participation in such spaces, so you have no right to decide for them that it it.
I meant to say that I’d ask everyone this if they didn’t make it clear which they wanted. I dislike labelling them too as a non woman who wears dresses, but it’s difficult be neutral, make yourself understood and also not come across as patronising.
Yeah, I totally get you. I do think it’s a good way to handle it. I still struggle with finding succinct ways to talk about the ways that clothing is inscribed with gender, especially because while on the one hand I think it’s pretty ridiculous, on the other I recognize that I use those gendered meanings in my genderfuck and other presentations, and I’m honestly not sure it would be as fun and fulfilling for me if there were no meanings for me to play with and fuck up.
And you’re right, when people aren’t as invested as you are in not gendering clothing, they might think you’re an asshole if you say, “would you like clothes marketed to womenfolk or clothes marketed to menfolk?” or something like that.
I think that as long as there’s no judgment in your voice about a person’s choice to head to any section, you’re probably safe.
I used to just ask “Do you want menswear or womenswear?” as often people would come in and buy clothes not for themselves, but this is also an elegant solution.
This works too. I shy away from gendering the clothes even when stores do, though. Probably not all of the people you’ll encounter whose genders you don’t feel equipped to guess will appreciate the neutrality, but I know that I personally love when I can share a moment of subtle solidarity with the folks around me.