I hate gender and everything that goes with it. If it were up to me, every conceptualization of it would be eliminated. But we live in a society where gender is acknowledged and “necessary” so I must navigate in spaces where I have to withhold my reservations and just go with the flow. However, upon attending the “Gender, Sexuality, and Hip Hop” conference at Tulane University a few days ago, my sentiments were shared and even valued.
A group of students part of the Black Youth Project conducted a panel discussion on a topic surrounding “gender bending” in Hip Hop and how people that occupy those “bent identities” fit in the grand scheme. A wonderful woman brought up an absorbing and valid point that reinforced my idea of not acknowledging gender or more precisely, the gender binary. She raised the argument that we only see gender in a linear fashion and when we think of gender bending, that only means that we bend it back the other way. She proceeded to ask, “how can one “jump off of the track” and be genderless?”
No one understood her and sort of brushed her off, which I totally understand. We are socialized only to be able to conceptualize man, woman, and more recently, androgynous identities and her argument would completely invalidate the idea of gender bending as being unique and inclusive of every “non-traditional” identity. But I understood her completely, and the way she conceptualized gender as forever linear hit home for me. As a female, one can only move away from ascribed womanhood by being more masculine or “man-like” in society’s view. There is no way for a man or a woman not to be their perspective ascribed gender roles unless they assume roles of such on the opposite side of the gender binary. I even argue that “androgyny” is not as progressive as we’d like to think because yes, it may destroy the binary in the literal sense, but it’s still the fusion of the binary and complete navigation of the two-dimensional, linear understanding of gender. There is no way for one to blow up this linear conformation and have gender live in spherical form.
I bring this up because I hear every day of my fellow trans brothers and sisters taken from this land before their time “misgendered” in the media. I used to be so outraged by misgendering, but now I come to wonder, how dare we expect this person to fit into our linear, dichotomous understanding of gender. The scope of
use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.
just doesn’t sit well with me, especially that last sentence. Who are we to assume one wishes to be “she” just because the person’s outward expression is what we socially deem feminine and thus of woman identity? This person could very well be feminine of center but not identify as a woman and thus not long to be referred to with the use of woman identified pronouns. We are so outraged by media outlets misgendering trans people, but we are perpetrators of the same act. We have this mindset that all people of trans experience are of woman or man identity and we forget that transness is inclusive of a variety of identities and not just the dichotomous “man” and “woman.” The assumption that I was born male but present myself in a feminine manner so I must be a woman identified individual of trans experience is false. I admit that myself and many others in the trans community have this translinear binary privilege that we do not own up to or even understand.
I don’t know a solution to this at all, but we must realize that even in a trans* environment, the idea of the gender binary and the forcing of roles based on characteristics is pervasive and stigmatizing. I find myself guilty as well by trying to be inclusive but only stating “trans brothers and sisters” and not acknowledging that gender is not solely dichotomous. I want there to be a way for people to operate outside of the “line of gender” – whether you’re cis, trans, non-conforming, etc. I want there to be a level of understanding in our society where cisgender does not just mean “man identified male” or “woman-identified female” but could mean so much more. I wait for as time where we understand trans women as not automatically placed on an individual born male but of trans experience operating as what we perceive as feminine of center and thus inherently woman identifying. If we must operate through a gendered lens, gender needs to be seen in spherical form. However, this new structural understanding and the ideas of androgyny and gender bending are still limiting since they still operate in this constructed field. How can we be people that are neither men nor women? How can one be less of one gender without picking up traits of the other gender in the binary? Food for thought.