Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Adventures with gender

As one of my femme identities is that of drag queen - emphasising that there is nothing natural about most people's performance of femininity - regardless of what is on their birth certificates, I don't mind not passing as a woman - I do most of the times, but in particular environments (particularly about a decade ago in Adelaide, where dyke spaces were a sea of jeans, waistcoats and short hair), with very big eyelashes, heels and hair, I have had people approach me and tell me that I tuck really well, and ask if I'm on hormones yet.

.... I am going somewhere with this.....

Some of the definitions I've heard for the term woman/ womyn/ wombmoon from separatist feminists leave me out - sometimes the definitions end up being more a list of 'acceptable' sex practices, uniforms and political views, more than anything else. I certainly don't fit those definitions - despite an "F" on my birth certificate, XX chromosomes, a menstruating uterus and other traditionally associated body parts.

Being punched once in 'women's space' (it's a long story) and having a femme ex of my abused for having long hair and a skirt at an International Lesbian Day dance, I long ago decided that 'safe women's space' often wasn't all that safe a space for me. Diversity is occasionally paid lip service to - with perfume-free policies for those with chemical sensitivity, alcohol-free space those with substance use issues, and lip service paid to issues of racism and classism - as long as working class women don't want to work on class issues with working class men, or women of colour don't want to organise with men of colour, homophobia is spoken about but gay men are still men ..... Often women's spaces become hijacked with a particular fundamentalist feminism that is so narrow and prescriptive that it lacks relevance to all but a minority of women.

Those of you that know me well will probably know that I am utterly obsessed with labels. While I am a fan of many aspects of pomo discourse, who gets to call themselves what, and how labels and identity allow us to work together, to unify and to create boundaries are issues I find immensely meaningful. This doesn't have to mean an essentialist world view, with membership of a community being etched in stone - shifting labels and identities are powerful, but I have yet to see affective community development, or activism come from a position of fluidity. Maybe when I do witness thins, I'll stop wearing my many, varied and occasionally contradictory labels on my tee shirts, soap boxes and inked into my skin.

Oh, and don't get me started on the woman-born woman issue! I don't know about you, but I was born a baby. Whoever decided on that F on my documents certainly didn't consult me. Any more that the Catholics that baptised me. Both of them got it equally wrong in my case. If I present gender cues that are consistent with what Western society considers is appropriate with my gender-assignment-at-birth, that actually feels somewhat coincidental. As many femmes who have "M"s on their birth certificate will tell you (not always transwomen, some men, not always gay ID as femmes), this works, it makes sense for us, this is how we feel powerful.

When hideous people like Janice Raymond (who wrote that nasty, mean-spirited piece of trash The Transexual Empire) also started dissing sex workers, it just made the coalition between sex workers, transwomen and to a certain extent femmes as the targets (far more so, often that str8 white, able bodied, cisgender men) of mean spirited fundamentalist feminism, and thus natural allies, on at least some issues. When I was in a long term relationship with a transwoman, I decided to no longer identify as a woman. This wasn't coming from some weird desire to guiltily reject cisgender privilege but more to use labels as an opportunity to create meaningful coalitions - and to reject those that didn't work for me. Being in the same room with a group of transwomen has always felt safer and more affirming than being around anyone with the same views as Janice Raymond, Sheila Jeffreys et al. If anything being in the same space as separatist fundamentalist feminists actually feels oppressive and abusive, as that branch of feminism spends more time critiquing my hair and heel length, my clothes, my sexual practices and my allies and friends than it does doing anything to dismantle institutionalised sexism.

This branch of feminism sees all gendered presentation as oppressive - particularly femininity as it is seen as declaring yourself as sexually available to men, unworthy of equality, fluffy and not to be taken seriously or simply making yourself a rape target. Compulsory androgyny is seen as the acceptable way to present yourself. To this I say - to those that say a binary gender system is oppressive and the way of dismantling sexism is one 'choice' not two is as depressing as that crap song that suggests the end of racism by building a 'great big meltin' pot' and producing 'coffee coloured people by the score'. I am really not resigned to the only chance for equality is when we are all exactly the same.... that isn't harmony or equality to me - it's some creepy fascist fantasy! To me the answer always feels like more choices, not less. A different gender identity and presentation for each person on the planet!

So when I have to fill in a box on forms, I put a W for whore, or - if pressed, an F for femme. I find most of the time official forms that ask people to declare a letter, do it for no purpose whatsoever, simply convention. I encourage you, gentle reader, to ask why the collection of this information is relevant, or to start coming up with your own gender identity - might I suggest wonky (just cause I really like the word) asparagus (as you then have a great opportunity to wear loads of green clothes) or 9..... because it's a really nice number.... my point is that humour, complexity, queering bureaucracy and being wilfully obtuse is more fun, and less oppressive than fundamentalism, and might just change one or two small things.


Skanky Jane said...

Your Royal Whoreness,

I've tagged you in a meme that was started by Mayhem as an experiment - to find out if the blogosphere is as viral in 2008 as it used to be. To find out about, and participate in, the meme - you can go HERE.

Skanky Jane xx

Skanky Jane said...

Really enjoyable post BTW!

This made me laugh myself silly:

"(particularly about a decade ago in Adelaide, where dyke spaces where a sea of jeans, waistcoats and short hair)"

Too funny!!

Your comment reminded me of being at 'Women Performing' (in Adelaide...gee...yeah...about a decade ago...), when Willie, of 'Willie & Fleur' asked the audience if there was a local clone factory from which they had all come!

SJ xx

My name is Lina said...

hey. I have just found your blog. Im also a contributor on Femmethology. Power to you! nice to cyber meet you