Saturday, June 6, 2015

On the Not-Getting-It-ness of the "Socialized As" Objection

Thinking about "socialized as" narratives (thanks to @mburnhope on Twitter), and how they're often created by and/or twisted into the cis agenda. Even non-TERFs seem to have this idea that our sense of ourselves and our place in society is based on behavioral conditioning specific to the gender our parents/teachers/friends assumed we were. This can look like a lot of things, but Ember Assington and I had a chat about a specific example of childhood gender socialization: Christian sexual "purity".

No matter how loudly some Christians claim "no sex outside of marriage" applies to boys equally, they aren't fooling anyone here that it's really about controlling girls. Girls need to "save themselves", girls need to dress "modestly", and married women need to suddenly do a 180 and become sexually available (but on *his* terms).

November and I both got a heavy dose of this growing up. We both tried to peform to the best of our abilities, and we both knew which gender role everyone expected us to fulfill. But we didn't internalize those gendered messages they were attempting to target us with, not really.

I never really believed I had sinned when I had sex before marriage. It was fun! I was glad to finally express myself sexually. I knew I had to play "virgin" still, and yes, that in itself is oppression. However, I wasn't dealing with any guilt or shame because I was incapable of feeling like it really applied to me as a non-girl.

November's experience was, sadly, the inverse.  All the "male socialization" in the world won't give a non-boy feelings of entitlement to girl's bodies or a sense of sexual autonomy.  They instead deeply struggled with guilt and shame of "impurity", the natural result of being a girl under Christian patriarchy.

And that's just one aspect of what trans socialization really looks like, one drop in the bucket. We all have so many different experiences which are constantly being retroactively misgendered by cis society (even feminism). I hope for a day when our stories aren't estranged.

What are your stories?

Monday, February 9, 2015

"Coming Out" as an Ally

Much has been written about what the responsibilities of allies are,¹ and how calling oneself an ally doesn't preclude one from participating in the same oppression as openly bigoted persons.²  In fact, many people discourage themselves and others from using "ally" as a self-appointed label at all.³

GLAAD recently came up with a campaign that we can use as a case study.  They have since changed the wording to remove the problematic language we are responding to, but the Google search results still show the original text.

[Screencapture of Google search results. The page title reads "Come out as an LGBT Ally. Take the pledge" and the page preview reads "[A] is for Ally. Broadening acceptance of LGBT Americans requires the help of allies".]

This is a prime example of appropriation⁴ of trans/queer culture.  I am not asexual, so I encourage you to learn more from the ace community themselves on why the A should stand for "asexual".⁵  Even if you find that inclusion debatable (and I most certainly do not), this case still highlights the problems with trying to include "ally" under the alphabet soup of queer/trans identity.

Ember Assington outlined an incomplete list of reasons why, in the GenderQueer Atheists group on Facebook:

1. Queer people don't need to be saved by cis-het people, they need to be liberated from the oppression imposed by cis-het people.

2. Allies are necessarily coming from a position of privilege, so there's nothing for them to be in the closet about. They are not being oppressed, so there's nothing for them to "come out" about.

3. Calling yourself an "ally" is meaningless. There are plenty of people who declare themselves allies, and then go on to say horrible, bigoted things.

4. "Ally" shouldn't be an identity; it should be a collection of actions that support and raise up oppressed people by centering those people and their liberation rather than speaking for them.

5. Talking about "coming out" as not-a-bigot seems to imply that bigotry is a default position, and simply not being a complete shitbag is worthy of praise, rather than just being what we should expect of all people.

One additional reason I'm so opposed to allies appropriating a letter within LGBTQIA⁶ and the narrative of "coming out", is that once they take this and make it theirs, our own use of those things have lost their significance as descriptors of our own unique experiences navigating cis/straight structures of power as trans/queer people.  What is the significance of explicit Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Questioning⁷ Intersex Asexual solidarity, when our community must now be centered around straight/cis (ally) experience as well?  How can "coming out" be an act of resistance against structural cis/straight oppression, when straight/cis (allies) are "coming out" as cis/straight allies?

It really shouldn't need to be said, but this isn't an anti-ally position.  This isn't something that alienates straight/cis persons who make active efforts to enable queer/trans liberation.

4. It should be pointed out, GLAAD themselves are not the ones doing the appropriation of "coming out", but rather enabling cis/straight persons to do so.  Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?
6. As to whether the alphabet soup itself should be perpetuated, that is a whole larger conversation.
7. I identify my sexual orientation as "questioning", so this is not limited to people who are seeking to resolve their questions with an eventual "coming out" as something else.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Attempting to Define Gender, a Case Study

What is the definition of "woman"?  When I first saw the essay "Are Lesbians Women?" by Jacob Hale [trans man], it piqued my interest, partly because one of the first objections to my gender when I came out as genderqueer was that if I cannot adequately define "woman", I cannot adequately define myself to be outside of "woman".  (One wonders why it would not suggest that, given the allegedly questionable validity of womanhood itself, I could be more easily "allowed" to define myself outside of it, but I digress.)

Pop culturally, trans women are not "real women", but a quick google reveals that cis women can have their "real woman" card revoked as well (though albeit on a somewhat different "no true scotsman" level).  "Are Lesbians Women?" attempts to break down the fundamentals of womanhood into a list of what society has generally agreed are the criteria.  Jacob Hale is quick to point out that no one single item on the list is "necessary or sufficient", meaning you can generally leave one off and still be included within the category of "woman" by society, but if you can only count one in your favor you are not included.  For example: while "identifies as a woman" should be necessary and sufficient for womanhood, society rejects that criterion as such.

1. Absence of a penis
2. Presence of breasts
3. Presence of reproductive organs which allow for pregnancy to occur
4. Presence of estrogen and progesterone in balance with androgens within "normal" range
5. Presence of XX, or perhaps absence of Y, chromosomes
6. Having a gender identity as a woman
7. Having an occupation considered to be acceptable for a woman
8. Engaging in leisure pursuits considered to be acceptable for a woman
9. Engaging in some sort of sexual/affectional relationship with a man who is commonly recognized as heterosexual
10. Achieving and maintaining a physical gender self-presentation the elements of which work together to produce the gender assignment "woman"
11. Behaving in ways to produce the gender assignment "woman"
12. Giving textual [documentation] cues that work together to produce the gender assignment "woman"
13. Having an unbroken history consistent with the gender assignment "woman"

Notice that, thanks to the work of feminists, some of these categories have been so expanded as to include most people of any gender, particularly #s 7 and 8, and 10 and 11 to a lesser extent.  Perhaps that's what my well-meaning friends are saying when they insist that I do not fall outside of sufficient criteria, because to a certain extent I cannot fall outside a criteria which encompasses nearly everything.  However, as it stands, I only fully satisfy some of these requirements at this point (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12),  others are satisfied/unsatisfied in different ways at different stages of my life (7, 8, 9, 10, 11), and I definitely do not satisfy a few obvious ones (6, 13).  It becomes even more complex when one realizes that #s 1-5 cannot be verified as fact by others without an intimate understanding of my medical history.

What about "lesbian" - can that be a gender identity in its own right independent of woman?  (Yes, anything can be a gender identity. And no, claiming your gender identity is "squirrel" doesn't make you cute, it makes you a jerk.)  How many criteria of "woman" can one violate and still be "lesbian"?  For example, a genderqueer friend satisfies #s 7, 8, 11; partially satisfies 10; and does not satisfy 1-5 or 9.  They also answer #6 as "identifies as lesbian" (among other gender labels).

There are many questions yet unanswered:  How "woman" is "woman enough"?  How many criteria must one meet before one is "real"; how many criteria must one violate before one is "fake"?  How do we take into account the different ways different people rank the importance of different criteria?  How do we allow for the ways that race, ethnicity, class, religion, sexuality, regional location, etc influence the threshold of each criterion?  To whom do we defer authority to answer these and further questions on authentic womanhood, and how do we process dissent?  Certainly Jacob Hale was in no position to answer all of these, and certainly I am neither, but that's the way I rather prefer it to be.

Friday, June 27, 2014

How I Process Others' Anger on the Internet

One thing I've learned from a wide variety of sources, including those who practice mindfulness meditation and some social justice advocates, is acknowledging and experiencing emotion without judgement. Primarily, this is to be used as an act of self-awareness and can be an integral part of radical self-acceptance. What I do is I pause for a moment, take an inventory of all the emotions and sensations I am experiencing, consciously state to myself "I am feeling anxious, my heart is racing, this is a physical state of being, it is valid for me to feel, it will pass, it will not overcome me, I do not feel okay, it is okay to not feel okay, I will be okay*". I could do this with a variety of emotions and sensations, but I primarily use it to manage the symptoms of my anxiety. (Note: it doesn't make my anxiety go away, it simply eliminates the meta-anxiety, the anxieties I get about my anxieties.)

In learning to treat myself this way, I've gained enough skill to be able to treat others in this way too. Sometimes I don't have the energy, because self-care comes first. When I do have the energy, it allows me to experience the extreme emotions of others as a necessary part of their humanity. Or, to flip it, to avoid dehumanizing others by making their emotions out to be something they owe me.

So, sometimes when I'm reading things that are rather extreme in their anger or bitterness, assuming I do have the spare energy to deal with it at the time, I'll guide myself through my reaction to their feelings similarly. "This person's tone strikes me as bitter, this is an emotion they are experiencing, I am privileged to be able to see into their experiences, their emotions are a valid part of who they are, their actions are not their emotions nor are their emotions their actions, I can learn from their experiences." It helps me absorb the entire message, especially in those more difficult situations where I'm apt to take things personally (such as when people of color call out the BS white people do, and I recognize I'm included in the target demographic).  I definitely could use way more practice at this, but it's a worthwhile skill that has enriched my existence thus far.

*Well... until I die one day. Eventually. :-P

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Grace to Become our Better Selves

I believe in something greater than myself.
A better world.
A world without sin.

So me and mine gotta lay down and die...
so you can live in your better world?

I'm not going to live there.
There's no place for me there...
any more than there is for you. Malcolm...
I'm a monster.
What I do is evil.
I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

Serenity (2005): the Operative calls Mal

The remarkable thing about self-justification is that it allows us to shift from one role to the other and back again in the blink of an eye, without applying what we have learned from one role to the next.  Feeling like a victim of injustice in one situation does not make us less likely to commit an injustice against someone else, nor does it make us more sympathetic to victims.  It's as if there is a brick wall between those two sets of experiences, blocking our ability to see the other side.  Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), page 192¹

"We back people into corners, and don't give them the grace to become their better selves." ~Me²
"Oh, that is just so cute!"  ~James Croft

I have no interest in being one of the Good Ones.  I'm not your model minority.  This terrible bargain I have regretfully struck often leads me to situations where I don't have any beneficial doubts left to give.  So how then did I arrive here in this space, contemplating the ways in which the social justice community has utterly let us down?

I have had to block a grand total of 3 people on Facebook for harassing me in private messages which they initiated.  I consider myself lucky that it's only 3, as I know of people for whom that is their daily minimum.  One was a guy who said he had a crush on me, and when I didn't respond quickly enough³, he gave me a lecture on how I owed him a response.  Another guy I had to block was actually e-stalking me, after I posted a smart-ass comment on his blog where he declared his intent to quit blogging if one more feminist complained about "sexism in atheism" [spoiler: he didn't quit blogging].

But the one that actually made my jaw drop was no entitled jerk-butt dude, she was a social justice activist.  I had shared two things on Facebook which she objected to.  I understand why she objected, and I myself would not share them today.  What happened with her was such a flurry I could barely keep track of what was happening at the time, but I still remember it vividly.  I had been working, and when I got the time to check back into Facebook, there were 75 comments on the offending post, and half of them was this woman calling me (and anyone else who wandered in) a bigot.  There were also several private messages from her that were taking me to task.  I tried having a conversations with her about the matter over the following day or so, but I quite obviously didn't have the time or energy she did to keep up with the vitriol she was throwing at me and everyone else on my page, so I blocked her too.

What really stuck with me though was the way she made it quite clear that she saw her role in all of this as being my punisher.  She wasn't trying to educate me or anyone else there about why Everybody Draw Mohammed Day can be Islamophobic, nor did she ever ask whether I knew RadFem Hub⁴ was transmisogynist (again, things I now know better about).  She put minimal effort into showing concern for the harmful effects our actions would have on actual Muslims or trans* people.  She didn't even want an apology or for me to make a good-faith effort toward fixing the situation or changing my ways for the better.  No, what she demanded most was for us adapt her perspective that we are bad people.

I don't share this story so that you feel sorry for me, or outraged at Those Social Justice Activists™ (after all, I did eventually figure out what she was ranting about, and learned a thing or two).  The reason this sticks with me even today isn't for throwing a perpetual pity party⁵.  It's that I realized through her behavior I was being granted a vision of my own SJ future; there, but for the grace I grant humanity, go I.  And much like Ebeneezer Scrooge, I saw how easily I could become that person myself.

This isn't to say that I can just blow smoke up my own ass and everything will be okay.  Obviously, if all it took for us to be granted our equal rights in society was for us to ask politely, we'd have equality by now.  But I also know that the act of expressing anger is not without negative health effects on my own physical body.  As a humanist, I know that I only get one life.  This is it.  I want to spend it making the world a better place for others, but I am unwilling to destroy myself in the process.  Self-care is not selfish.

This is where the social justice community has failed me, and many others like me.  There are entire guides to calling others out and checking your own privilege and being a good ally.  I do not, however, see a doctrine of transformative grace.

What I need, what so many of us need, are the tools to become our better selves, and the social support to explore what this means for ourselves without being cut down at our first faltering steps.  For example, even though there is no obligation for anyone to forgive their oppressor, some of us may want access to and support using the tools we need to let go of bitterness before it burns us to ashes from within⁶.  But when we speak out about this aspect of our mental/emotional health, we're quickly shot down with reminders of how our needs aren't politically convenient to the social justice narrative.  We're told that we're accepting blame on ourselves as individuals that should be placed on society, that we're reinforcing the status quo - a perversion of "the personal is political".

I keep holding off on publishing this, waiting for inspiration to recall that perfect real-world example from my past that will bring tears to my readers' eyes, or write that perfect closing paragraph to revolutionize the social justice community.  And of course I won't, because I'm just some humanist with uncomfortable ideals and inconvenient life experiences, and this is a blog with 3 followers.  So to all 3 of you, I leave you with this quote, which I rather like, but couldn't quite find a way to insert it into the blog post without an awkward transition, thusly:

Clinical psychologists Andrew Christensen and Neil Jacobson described three possible ways out of the emotional impasse.  ...    If it is only the perpetrator who apologizes and tries to atone, it may not be done honestly or in a way that assuages and gives closure to the victim's suffering.  But if it is only the victim who lets go and forgives, the perpetrator may have no incentive to change, and therefore may continue behaving unfairly or callously.  ...  The third way, they suggest, is the hardest but most hopeful for a long-term resolution to the conflict: Both sides drop their self-justifications and agree on steps they can take together to move forward.  Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), page 210

Let us grant each other the grace to become our better selves.

Edit 1/26/14: I figured if I kept my eyes open, I'd find some other people saying similar things to what I'm saying, and sure enough here are a couple good blog posts:

Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable by Ngọc Loan Trần

On cynicism, calling out, and creating movements that don’t leave our people behind by Verónica Bayetti Flores

1. I highly encourage you to click that link and continue to read, as they describe an experiment wherein people generally rate the pain caused to themselves as more severe than the same degree of pain they themselves cause to others.
2. Regarding the Ron Lindsey mansplains the entire Women In Secularism 2 conference incident of June 2013.
3. I didn't save the convo, but here's one a friend recently had that was rather similar, except hers was even worse than mine.
4. That's a no-follow link, I'm willing to increase their hit counts.  Fortunately, the original RadFem Hub is no longer on the internet, but they managed to save plenty of their horribleness in their new archives.
5. Referencing note #3, I have friends who experience worse on a daily basis. Fuck yeah, Patriarchy!
6. As always, the person who wrote the CNN headline didn't bother to read the article.  But you should read the entire thing through.