Sunday, March 30, 2008

Choosing Labels for Marginalized Peoples

Today I was reading something online and, in it, a particular woman of color mentioned the fact that her girlfriend often refers to butch women using male pronouns without intending to suggest that they are males. This made me think about the current transphobic wave sweeping the internets.

This is yet another example of how gender is a malleable concept. People If people feel it's perfectly acceptable to use labels that do not match the labels one is assigned at birth, then why do so many have a problem with it when someone requests to be identified contrary to their originally assigned labels?

We can use male pronouns to refer to a cisgendered woman and it's okay but if a transgendered woman requests that same treatment, suddenly they are responsible for the existence of gender binaries, misogyny, butchphobia, failed relationships, and global warming. I'm kidding with the last example but, all over this board, transgendered people have been charged with being responsible for these other societal problems.

The cisgendered/consonance/non-trans/WBW population can't even come to an agreement on how we should see ourselves or what we should call ourselves, so I don't understand why anyone would get upset by the fact that a transgendered person picks one term over the other. All of these labels are problematic and lacking in some way.

We go through the same thing in disability culture. Some want to be called "disabled people". Others prefer "handicapped". Others like "people with disabilities". Some wear terms like "gimp" or "crip" as a sort of badge of honor, a way of reclaiming words used to marginalize us.

Personally, I prefer terms like "gimp" or "crip" to be used by those who are a part of or show an understanding of disability culture. I usually call myself a "person with disabilities" when I'm communicating with those in the non-disabled world. Amongst my own (i.e. other people inside disability culture), I really like "gimp" because of its multiple meanings. Still, I don't have any problem with those outside of disability culture using one of the terms commonly accepted by other people with disabilities.

If someone wants me to use "crip", "person with disabilities", "handicapped", "male", "female", "woman", "man", "cisgendered", "transgendered","queer", "gay", "het", "straight", "lesbian", or "bi", then I think I owe it to them to do so, since I want to be referred to using those terms that I have decided describe me best.

2 comments:

whatsername said...

"The cisgendered/consonance/non-trans/WBW population can't even come to an agreement on how we should see ourselves or what we should call ourselves, then I don't understand why anyone would get upset by the fact that a transgendered person picks one term over the other."

Well because that cis privilege right there. We take for granted that we can choose labels for ourselves, but how dare others expect us to respect their own self-labeling.

RainSong said...

“People If people feel it's perfectly acceptable to use labels that do not match the labels one is assigned at birth, then why do so many have a problem with it when someone requests to be identified contrary to their originally assigned labels?”

Hi Bint,

I’ve been wanting to have this respectful conversation with you for quite a while.

In terms of my own understanding, there is a twist in the way you’ve asked this question and the way I approach it.

How a person requests to be identified doesn’t make any difference to me and there are a lot of reasons for that. I find that I really do not enjoy being around men for many reasons and truth be told, I find that’s the one way gender serves me. It keeps men away and that is about the only dimension that I can think of the gender does serve me, but I am pretty adamant about that one.

Radical feminist literature doesn’t pay much attention to potato-born-potatoes or tomato-born-tomatoes. In other words in radical feminism, it doesn’t make any difference how someone was born. What does make a difference is how that are socially constituted. Abandoning Skinner’s pecking pigeons and Pablovs’s salivating dogs for a moment let me make no assumptions about someone’s social construction. Suppose I say, let them tell me – through their choices and the way they weigh their priorities as to who they are. It is among my deepest interests, not a treat someone who has chosen to live as a man as a woman. If I am honest, I am never, ever going to see them as a woman, because they chose to live as a man. Calling them as they request would require that I see them as a woman which I truly do not. I value and cherish “woman” too much to tarnish it in applying it middle aged husbands and fathers or people who choose to have penises. I know that by queer, pomo and lbgt standards we’re supposed to do that and truth be told I have sustained incredible abuse at my refusal to call husbands and fathers women.

Radical feminism doesn’t talk about biology. In defining what a woman is, it specifies two things, the first being social constitution which is a private internalized thing – we can’t see it, or can we? I think we do see it, if we look back at our fathers and husbands and notice that they are men on men football teams and are grooms taking women to be their wives, I believe that’s prima facie-evidence of two things: social constitution and identity. I believe given such a milleau, they have been socially constructed as men and indeed have chosen to participate in that ongoing construction. Pretending that I see these people as women, would require that I relax boundaries that I need for emotional survival because I will not spend recreational time with men. It would be a lie and I would be lying to my deepest detriment.

Earlier, I said there were two dimensions in the radical feminist definition. The second is a CRITICAL embrace of womanhood as an identity. I do not believe that a husband calling himself a woman is a critical embrace at all. Afterall, to become a husband he called himself a man. Human identity does not change. Identity is formed in between 18 and 36 months of age and it really doesn’t change. Someone with an identity of female would experience so much dissonance in being married as a man that it would be intolerable – hence I conclude they do not have such an identity. I’ve seen several fathers and husbands now living as women who say they do not have an identity of woman. So I don’t see any reason to call them a woman at all. I believe they have fully revealed what their identity is.

This is what I see as the clear fantasy component of the trans-movement. It has gained enough power to absolutely squash people who are honest enough to say, “I don’t see you in that light and I am not willing to pretend that I do.”

They interesting thing is that they see absolutely no decrement in why someone should not call them a woman for the very choices they have made. It’s has become an extremely coercive movement and one without substance. In lieu of substance the standard defense is to employ the words “bigot”, transphobe and “prejudiced”. I understand those claims to statements of, “We understand our claims have no substance but we have to say something to legitimize ourselves.”
To be honest, I don’t believe anyone has an obligation to have their experience trumped by a political movement of husbands and fathers who chose to be husbands and fathers.

This is a very movement that mirrors the percepts of men who seem to have no internal life. A woman is seen as something with a vagina and breasts. This is the only possible rationale for calling a forty-five year old husband and/or father a woman. In many ways, this movement couldn’t possibly be more misogynistic.