Lavender Took (lavendertook) wrote,
Lavender Took

The Traffic Circle where Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, among other roads, Meet*

Right before I became aware of the conflict on using the term cisgender that is occurring on Pam's House Blend and journals of LJ and DW, I had listened to an NPR segment for Gay Pride month that interviewed a gay man who was rhapsodizing on the image of the map for states with marriage equality in the US resembling the Big Dipper and what a great gay symbol this could be. He was being cute, and I was smiling along with him until he went on to proclaim its phallic shape and how that made it such a perfect gay symbol, and hello! just like "men" sometimes means people and sometimes means just males and how such a dual use promotes the exclusion of women from the concept of what it is to be human, so the use of gay I was being included under was suddenly yanked off of my table and I was banished to the corner, as this guy considered me nonexistent in his movement and never included under his use of the term gay to begin with.

And yeah, I'm used to seeing this myopic shit from many gay men forgetting and resenting that other queers exist. And they wonder why gay isn't a good enough term for all of us all of the time and why we keep adding letters to the LGBTIQ mix. When I go to the DC Pride celebration in a town where the majority population is POC, the majority of the participants are white and male, and my quasi-gay white hobbit dolls fit in there better than I do.

So, I was inclined to just write off the white gay men's objections to the use of cisgender as privileged discomfort, since it's a term coined to reveal the privilege of the unmarked category of feeling that your gender identity lines up unquestioningly with how you and other people perceive you. Autumn's forbidding of the term cisgender was not helpful, and Pam calling [info - personal]kynn's use of the term "weaponizing," is overkill, as well as Bush-quasi-military-industrial-complex speak, which really can't be a good thing, and I do think they really dumped badly on [info - personal]kynn.

I do have big reservations about the term cisgender from a different angle, about the kind of work describing a binary does and what this particular binary elides, but I didn't think I was seeing that angle being brought up in the posters' objections to the term and I do get the strategic importance of marking the unmarked category. So it looked like privileged objections to being marked to me.

I finally read [info - personal]dglenn's post that [info]browngirl linked to, and it got me thinking, as good posts do--it really gets across the strategic importance of marking the unmarked as the term cisgender does. I'm now, however, reconsidering how I wrote off the objections coming from gay men and how the term cisgender/cissexual applies here and wondering if Pam shares this consideration of the intersections of lived experience that are clashing here.

Some background I'm thinking about: Euro-American/western culture is still in a state of transition in how it regards sexual orientation in relation to gender identity. It is progressing toward separating out these categories, but it is not there yet. It is still mainstream in this culture to question the masculinity of a gay man and the femininity of a lesbian--to assume a gay man will exhibit what is considered feminine characteristics and a lesbian masculine ones. When someone asks who is top and who is bottom (my fellow slashers--I is looking at u, too) it is part of this conflation of sexual orientation with gender identity and the way we regard sex acts as a determinant in how we regard someone's gender. I have reservations about whether or not separating categories of sexual orientation from gender identity is a liberatory development (progressive and liberatory are not synonymous), but this process is inescapably in progress.

Much of Latina/o cultures historically have not made this separation--if you identified as male and you took a dominant role in sex with another man your masculinity was not in question. Gay, transgendered, and feminine identities, and sexual practice are all intertwined here. There are similar models in some Asian and African cultures and some Native American groups, and most of these cultures, Euro-American included on this one, are not as concerned where people considered female fit into the equation because women, you know, aren't as important--it's who gets included in male identity that counts, so marking sexual orientation as third gender becomes important. The transition in separating out sexual orientation and gender identity is very culturally specific to only certain cultures, Euro-American being among those (with Hispanic cultures liminal inclusion in Euro). And some Native American groups where women are important, have a whole different way of looking at gender and sexual orientation as well. My knowledge here is really superficial, and there are other Asian and African cultures I know nothing of. And keep in mind there is a variety of intersections between Native American, African, and Latina/o cultures with multiple sensibilities in regards to gender and sexual orientation, with Euro-American culture influencing all of them.

With all this in mind, there are some problems with calling a gay man, regardless of color, cisgendered, because there is a strong thread in mainstream Western culture that denies him this identity. Now, the violin I pull out here to play for white gay men may be quite small, since my first thought is "Welcome to the unsafe world the rest of us live in!" but the fact is, he is being denied the privilege of being considered unquestioningly male and the top of the pyramid that other people regarded as male and white feel entitled too, and may be subject to the same violence that a transgendered person who does not pass is subject to, and that is oppression--very real lived oppression.

Also the fact that cis- has an uncomfortable aural resemblance to the term sissy does make it a really, really, really unfortunate term to apply to gay men who are policed by such terms.

With these issues in mind, a gay and bi man's objections to the term cisgender, is not the same as a straight man's objections, and does deserve consideration. And one has to keep in mind that straight men are also policed by the term sissy, so this is an issue for them as well. In the process, all people who identify as women are reminded that we are the lesser category of being that male identified people are fearing to be associated with--yay!

Although the association with sissy does not affect lesbians and bi women as a policing term, our cisgender status is also under questionno matter how we identify by gender, especially a lesbian who is regarded as butch, whether or not she considers herself/hirself transgendered or cisgendered. Straight women regarded as butch get all kinds of fun thrown their way too, as do straight men perceived as feminine regardless of their gender identity. And race figures significantly into how feminine or masculine a person is regarded by mainstream white culture. Not all people who would be considered cisgender actually have across the board cisgender privilege if they don't pass other people's conceptions of gender.

How much the term cisgender really does apply to anyone's self-identification is also a question for me. Lyrics like "You make me feel like a natural woman" would make absolutely no fucking sense at all and not have such mainstream appeal if the average person really did take their gender status completely for granted--I don't think they do. They may not have noticed since they were knee high that gender categories and what gets ascribed to gender is a total crock like I did, and felt that de Beauvoir's formulation that no one is born a woman is a given, or they may not have regarded these categories as totally real and feel their bodies do not fit the gender identities they were assigned, but I'm skeptical on how seamless anyone's gender identity may be.

[info - personal]dglenn's call for more consideration of terms here is a really good one because this shit is really, really complicated. Some of the liberatory potential I see in transgender as an identity category is in expanding or breaking with the gender binary of Euro-American culture, more so than in reinforcing a binary that marks "the" unmarked gender category of the moment. So I'm more inclined to go for the overlapping of the categories of transgender/genderqueer/cisgender/intersex, rather than one simple binary myself. I regard the whole gendering system as largely incoherent, anyway. And I'll get into the bogusness of separating sex from gender while using socially constructed language--the only kind we've got--to describe the biological another time.

But in the current moment, cisgender does not neatly map onto any other queer identity, including that of gay white men (even the ones who think their trauma over having to add more letters to the movement they think they started is paramount over the need of others to feel included), and I think that needs to be noted. Matthew Shepard wasn't murdered only because he was gay, but because he troubled his murderers' sense of their own masculinity and status as male. This stuff isn't simple. It's not simple at all. So I think it's a good idea to tread a little more lightly on each other's oppressions here while at an intersection.


*Yeah, I'm from New Jersey, yo--you guys wanna make something of it?**

**The US state of New Jersey, where I grew up, is famous for its insidious preponderance of traffic circles, but I'm not certain how worldwide that fame may be, hence this footnote.

My standpoint here in regards to gender identity and sexual orientation--I identify as genderqueer, and hence transgender fits me better than cisgender if a binary must be applied. I'm queer by sexual orientation: lesbian-identified pansexual to be precise, if you care for some reason. I use the term bisexual strategically and have been involved in bi activism and organizing, but I do have problems with the binary the term inscribes and how it does not describe my sexual orientation well. I identified as lesbian for a few years in my 20's (when I found out it was possible!!--was sheltered and repressed before then) and got involved in some lesbian and gay activism, then I came out again as bisexual, but now I prefer pansexual as a descriptor and still feel more affinity to primarily lesbian than primarily bi spaces (depending on the particular community). I do generally go by the term woman (I don't use the spelling variants), or grrl, specifically queer grrl (hey, I came out in the 80's). I go back and forth on the term femme and whether or not or how to use it as an identifier. I've always been very fond of the term person as well, and used it more insistently when I was a child and teen to try to ward off the arbitrariness of applying gender as I saw it. I don't use the term man or men or mankind to refer to generic people--and still prefer the term people to humans, though I use both. But when someone says "doctor," I still often see a male person in my head even after decades of feminist revisioning--OMG, I HATE that guy! Lalalalala.
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