Thursday, March 3, 2016

Earning Love

"it’s important to separate the nice things you do for your friend from the hope that they’ll love you back if you just give enough" ~Ginny Brown

This is, I think, the basis for many unhealthy relationships - that is, the belief that if I just do the right kinds of things and become the right kind of person, I will be rewarded with the kind of love I am seeking. For starters, abusers frequently reinforce and exploit this belief by tying their love to certain of their victim's behaviors as a reward. The recipient is flooded with warm fuzzy reinforcement to continue their unhealthy relationship with the abuser.

Keep in mind, I'm not saying victims are too stupid to see through this and walk away. On the contrary, emotional needs are as important to our health as physical needs like shelter and food, and an abuser who can provide for some of those emotional needs can be as difficult to survive without as an abuser who provides for physical needs, when the victim has few other options.

But even outside of an abusive dynamic, it's still an unhealthy belief to hold. Can I really be happy in a relationship where I feel like their love for me is contingent upon constant performance? Christianity nurtured that dynamic in my life, and by the end of my journey, I was left feeling worthless and empty and deserving of hell.

Without this belief that I can earn love through good deeds, what then am I left with? I've had to rebuild a worldview that elevates the inherent worth and dignity of every person, because of our "flaws", not in spite of them. Service to and connectedness with others is the closest thing to a spiritual experience I have. When I am affirming their value as individuals in my life and affirming their uniqueness and worth as human beings, I'm affirming that same worth within myself that we both share.

I'm still growing and developing as a person for whom this doesn't come easy, but what I strive toward is behavior toward others that is emotionally rewarding for their own sake, not for some promise of future return. Service, friendship, caring, nurturing to others are not banking on future return of love; I'm thriving within a shared self-love. I may still occasionally wonder whether there is potential for romance or affection between us, but I am enriched by the growth of friendship and community in the present.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sexual Abuse as the Cis Norm for Sex Education

TW dysphoria and rape

Let's talk about how cis people have sexually abused me my entire life. FUN!
Being raped multiple times wasn't traumatic... so I felt for a while, only I'm now realizing this is an inversion of reality.
Being raped wasn't more traumatic than sex in general, not enough for me to notice a significant difference.
To understand why sex has historically been traumatic for me, we need to first look at what healthy sex looks like:
It requires informed consent and co-determination. I need to be aware of what is happening and have the ability to exercise bodily agency.
I, like many queer and trans folk, was raised to view penis-in-vagina as The Sex, and with zero acknowledgement that dysphoria is possible.
Every single person who had the opportunity to educate me, grossly neglected to de-center PIV or present other options for sex as equal.
The only context my vagina was mentioned was as either a source of magical Jesus powers, or as a source of profound sexual liberation.
It is especially important to note that every cis male partner I've had was actively pushing this repression/liberation sex binary for years.
I was actively taught to view my intense discomfort with vaginal stimulation (even in a loving caring context) as something that's fixable.
I was expected to change. Always me. Never the other person. Never the way society pushed their cis agenda.
Individual partners claimed to respect my desires to avoid certain contact, but would guilt me on how their "needs" were equally valid.
All of the sex-positivity cultural rhetoric was on their side as I was shamed for not being "good, giving, & game".
No one ever suggested even once that my feelings were normal or natural, and that their sexual pressure was the dysfunction.
Fact: informed consent is not possible when cis people have actively obstructed education on trans bodies and queer sex.
Fact: bodily agency and sexual co-determination is not possible in the midst of ongoing gaslighting.
Fact: cis-centered sex education is abusive, and cis people who aren't actively working to dismantle that are complicit in ongoing abuse.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

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

Thinking about "socialized as" narratives, 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).

Ember 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.

Ember'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.



Footnotes:
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.