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Isn’t it interesting that this sort of experiential sharing can only go one way.  This sort of paradoxical thinking is rife within transactivist ideology.  Consider the claim of being ‘non-binary’.  The only way this term works is by creating, you guessed it, another binary between “cis” people (those who mostly follow gendered expectations) and “trans” (those who mostly go against gendered expectations).  Or…  the other possibility within the gender spectrum idea is that, in fact, we’re all non-binary as we all possess a distinct combination of masculine and feminine gendered traits and behaviours.

As with most debates when it comes to gender, there is always a good deal of heat and friction, but not much desire to go outside of established positions.  As food for though, consider what Rebecca Reilly-Cooper has to say on the subject of gender:

“Once we recognise that the number of gender identities is potentially infinite, we are forced to concede that nobody is deep down cisgender, because nobody is assigned the correct gender identity at birth. In fact, none of us was assigned a gender identity at birth at all. We were placed into one of two sex classes on the basis of our potential reproductive function, determined by our external genitals. We were then raised in accordance with the socially prescribed gender norms for people of that sex. We are all educated and inculcated into one of two roles, long before we are able to express our beliefs about our innate gender identity, or to determine for ourselves the precise point at which we fall on the gender continuum. So defining transgender people as those who at birth were not assigned the correct place on the gender spectrum has the implication that every single one of us is transgender; there are no cisgender people.

The logical conclusion of all this is: if gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then everyone is trans. Or alternatively, there are no trans people. Either way, this a profoundly unsatisfactory conclusion, and one that serves both to obscure the reality of female oppression, as well as to erase and invalidate the experiences of transsexual people.

The way to avoid this conclusion is to realise that gender is not a spectrum. It’s not a spectrum, because it’s not an innate, internal essence or property. Gender is not a fact about persons that we must take as fixed and essential, and then build our social institutions around that fact. Gender is socially constructed all the way through, an externally imposed hierarchy, with two classes, occupying two value positions: male over female, man over woman, masculinity over femininity.

The truth of the spectrum analogy lies in the fact that conformity to one’s place in the hierarchy, and to the roles it assigns to people, will vary from person to person. Some people will find it relatively easier and more painless to conform to the gender norms associated with their sex, while others find the gender roles associated with their sex so oppressive and limiting that they cannot tolerably live under them, and choose to transition to live in accordance with the opposite gender role.

Gender as a hierarchy perpetuates the subordination of female people to male people, and constrains the development of both sexes

Fortunately, what is a spectrum is human personality, in all its variety and complexity. (Actually that’s not a single spectrum either, because it is not simply one continuum between two extremes. It’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, humany-wumany stuff.) Gender is the value system that says there are two types of personality, determined by the reproductive organs you were born with. One of the first steps to liberating people from the cage that is gender is to challenge established gender norms, and to play with and explore your gender expression and presentation. Nobody, and certainly no radical feminist, wants to stop anyone from defining themselves in ways that make sense to them, or from expressing their personality in ways they find enjoyable and liberating.

So if you want to call yourself a genderqueer femme presenting demigirl, you go for it. Express that identity however you like. Have fun with it. A problem emerges only when you start making political claims on the basis of that label – when you start demanding that others call themselves cisgender, because you require there to be a bunch of conventional binary cis people for you to define yourself against; and when you insist that these cis people have structural advantage and political privilege over you, because they are socially read as the conformist binary people, while nobody really understands just how complex and luminous and multifaceted and unique your gender identity is. To call yourself non-binary or genderfluid while demanding that others call themselves cisgender is to insist that the vast majority of humans must stay in their boxes, because you identify as boxless.

The solution is not to reify gender by insisting on ever more gender categories that define the complexity of human personality in rigid and essentialist ways. The solution is to abolish gender altogether. We do not need gender. We would be better off without it. Gender as a hierarchy with two positions operates to naturalise and perpetuate the subordination of female people to male people, and constrains the development of individuals of both sexes. Reconceiving of gender as an identity spectrum represents no improvement.”

Essentially, creating new ‘gender-identities’ is akin to making new prison cells with the penitentiary system we call gender and then insisting that your prison cell is more oppressed that some other persons prison cell.  Why not buck the system instead and drop the gendered stereotypes that the penitentiary is based on and that are currently hurting everyone.  Dispensing with the gender hierarchy is the goal we should be striving for, not gilding our particular cells at the expense of others.

 

 

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