Gender is a bomb

I’ve written tons on this blog about trangenderism, particularly where it concerns MtT’s, but I’ve been pretty quiet on the matter of FtT’s. A lot of my silence around this has to do with the fact that I’d prefer to use this space to critique the behavior of men, to examine how male behavior, and male constructs like gender, harm women.

Recently, however, I had a really interesting conversation with a friend around the preponderance of late-transitioning lesbians.

It has long been my belief that women transition for reasons quite different than those of men. For young women, in particular, there is pressure to transition – particularly if you are a gender non-conforming lesbian. The dominant culture tells these girls that their preferences, their style, their desires “make them male.” Most of these young women never got a chance to be dykes in the world, because the messages encouraging them to transition were far too incessant, far too strong. Today, parents are increasingly encouraging their daughters to transition, when the daughters don’t “do female” the way society instructs.

But what of women who transition later in life? What of these women who have survived, in their way, as gender non-conforming dykes and then decide to “identify as male”? What exactly is going on here?

Even within the lesbian community, what’s left of it, there remains a problematic imperative, a “way to be” lesbian that is pretty strongly enforced. We have “butches” and we have “femmes” – and we don’t allow for a lot of grey area. This is a type of patriarchal heteronormative role play that probably emerged as a means of lesbian survival; not as a means of transgressing culture. (What we often forget is that adopting the suffocating gender mandates of the opposite sex isn’t, in fact, revolutionary – it’s just another boring story in the same, lousy genre.)

The butch-femme dynamic is as regressive, as patriarchal as transgenderism itself. Both the butch-femme dynamic and transgenderism are tethered to frivolous “identity politics” and slavish adherence to tedious gender norms. Here is a far stronger explanation of specifically what I’m talking about: http://genderfatigue.com/2013/05/31/hate-to-break-it-to-you-but-butch-and-femme-is-also-gender/

I lived out the first decade of the 2000’s in a very lesbian-identified neighborhood. On one hand, it was a paradise – dykes, dykes everywhere. On the other hand, for me, at the time, it was an extremely distressing place to exist. The community, on the whole, was swallowed up in the butch-femme binary. Among butches, there was often this game of “I am butcher than thou,” a sort of one-upping, which felt like masculine posturing, and made me feel super stressed the fuck out. At times, this “Quein Es Mas Butch?” game made me feel downright bad about myself. But this is what gender does – it makes people feel “bad about themselves” if they’re not “doing it” correctly. For me, as it turns out, I’ve just never known how to inhabit any gender norm properly. I certainly am not terribly “feminine” in the stereotypical sense of the word, and I never could manage to out-butch other lesbians who presented similarly.

Trangenderism among lesbians, I believe, was a direct result of how our community embraced the butch/femme dynamic. And transgenderism has really done a number on lesbian communities. Many people I knew in the neighborhood transitioned, and many other lesbians expressed regret at not having the financial resources for testosterone and/or top surgery. As this was happening, heterosexual men with ladybrains increasingly began to encroach on our spaces. (And for anyone who questions my assertion that men and women transition for very different reasons, you need look no further than the absolute dearth of “gay FtTs,” and the fact that the gay male community is largely untouched by the presence of male-identifying women while lesbian spaces are overrun by “lesbian men,” a huge number of whom hold leadership positions in formerly lesbian organizations.)

The erosion of lesbian communities and spaces and enclaves was the result of misogyny and lesbophobia, both of which are fueled by an unwavering belief in the innateness of gender. Period.

Lesbians, by virtue of being born female, have been socialized to “be nice” and willingly opened their spaces to men who “felt like ladies,” and many lesbians, who did not present in the way women are “supposed to” embraced the myth of “man trapped in a woman’s body.”

Those of us who fall somewhere on the “butch spectrum” – which really means “women who don’t lady right” — often face questions (and accusations) about why, with all the medical intervention easily available to us, we haven’t simply taken the next step: why haven’t we transitioned?

When I was dealing with cancer, I was put in touch with a lesbian who told me that her choice to not have reconstruction after her double mastectomy was read by others as a “step toward transitioning.” This would likely not have been the case were she a straight woman refusing breast reconstruction, but the culture seems to WANT to believe that gender non-conforming dykes are merely women who wish to be men. This myth, this notion, makes the dominant (straight, male-centric) culture FEEL better about the existence of lesbians.

Because let’s be honest. Outside of porn, the dominant culture does NOT like dykes, and is mistrustful of us, particularly if we present in a way that is outside of gender norms. We are dismissed as man-haters. If we are not sexually appealing to men, we are rendered invisible. Still very alive and well in our culture is the notion that lesbians can be “fucked” into heterosexuality – indeed, many rapes of lesbians, the world over, occur in order to achieve this end.

Under patriarchy, lesbians will always be seen as a grave threat, perpetual heretics. And when lesbian women transition, it is, in fact, a win for patriarchy and patriarchal norms. Most women who transition were previously lesbian-identified; now, they are straight men.

Males, I think, often transition for the love of the “fantasy of being woman” – and are then profoundly disappointed to realize the “reality of being woman” is that you live in a world which doesn’t center your feelings/opinions/perspectives. Men who identify as women are the ones who shout loudest about how we may or may not discuss female reality. Women fall in lock step with their directives, because men who transition never really lose the privileges afforded to them as males, because women will always recognize a male, even if he changes his pronouns.

On the other hand, women who transition can literally BUY their way into male privilege. Moreover, when women transition, especially later on, they are practically thrown a fucking ticker-tape parade. There is a collective sigh that accompanies all the shoulder patting – the sigh of, “thank god. You finally stopped being a gross lesbian and are AT LAST a heterosexual man. Phew.”

Transgenderism “fixes” us.

Think Leslie Feinberg. Think Chaz Bono. Who the fuck cared about either of these women when they were merely dykes? Feinberg’s death would have hardly earned a mention in the media had it not been for her identification as male. No one gave a fuck about Bono when she was merely the dyke daughter of Cher, but suddenly she was the poster child for courage when she changed her pronouns, bought some hormones and had her breasts cut off.

Women who transition receive an onslaught of accolades that they never received as women, much less as dykes. Moreover, the transition is viewed as “brave” – and yet, from my standpoint, it’s a hell of a lot more brave to exist in the world as a woman. (And by woman, I mean female, I mean biological reality, I mean I am sick of having to clarify this, but I must.)

And, as my friend said while we discussed this matter, “Don’t think for a second that these older women are confused. They’re not.” What she meant was these women KNOW they are purchasing privilege. They KNOW that they will be happily drowned in congratulations. They know that it’s a lot easier to navigate life as a straight man than as a dyke.

In order to prevent too much discourse around this, transgenderism (for both men and women) has been contextualized as naturally occurring – boy brains, girl brains. One mustn’t dare suggest that this is a choice, which it most certainly is. Similarly, in most lesbian circles, one must not suggest that lesbianism is a choice. We must blindly accept the notion that homosexuality, and gender, is carved into our brains from the moment of conception, despite the fact that there is NO SOLID EVIDENCE of this. Money is fucking poured into research in attempts to prove these biological theories of homosexuality and transgenderism. Why are we so hell bent on scientific proof? Frankly, I find it fascinating that trangenderists, in particular, are so devoted to this quest for biological proof when they are the very voices decrying science and the medical community for knowing penis is male.

In any case, time and money is wasted on these futile research endeavors rather than just accepting what, I think, common sense tells us: it’s all a choice. Maybe it’s not a choice as in “Would you like coffee or tea?” but a choice nevertheless. And so fucking what? Why can’t we just be comfortable with all of it being a matter of choice? Because we’ve so convinced ourselves that there are intrinsic “ways to be human” that don’t include boys wearing dresses, that don’t include women loving women. Because there is a vested interest in preventing the kind of paradigm shifts that might occur if we were to embrace the notion that gender is a farce and that females are actual human beings, not merely “feelings,” and that some women are lesbian because they WANT TO BE.

Also, if we frame a thing as being “natural” it silences all possible critique of that “thing.”

It’s like this – if an earthquake destroys your house, you just have to accept that, and move on. If a bomb destroys your house, you can talk about WHY that happened, and ask questions about who is responsible. We can’t get mad at the earthquake because it is naturally occurring, out of our control. We can get mad at the bomb because it was man-made, dropped by a human, a conscious choice. We can talk about the bomb, but we can’t talk about the earthquake. Rather, it would be worthless to talk about the earthquake, other than to say “it happened.”

Gender is a bomb. Not an earthquake. Gender is not naturally occurring, but an invention, a system, a “way of being” that is enforced in order to preserve societal hierarchies forever as they are. That means women are on the bottom, trampled, forever.

And it benefits people in positions of power when women, specifically, view the shackles of gender as naturally occurring, something that grew up from the ground and wound itself around our wrists – naturally. We can’t be mad about it. We can’t fight it, because we are taught to believe it’s natural. (And if we suggest otherwise we’re transphobic bigots.) But it’s not natural. And to believe that it is, is to buy into our own subjugation.

“Well what about you? You say you’re anti-gender, but look, you have a short haircut, you shop in the men’s department at Target, you have, at times, identified as butch” – and yes, all of this is true. And yes, my outward presentation can be gendered. But I don’t lie to myself about how it came to be so, nor do I center my political analysis on all the particulars of my own little existence.

I don’t believe for a moment that my gender presentation is innate, is coded into my DNA. I believe that I grew up as a girl who never quite embraced what society has deemed “girl things” (though I positively did love Barbie dolls and my taffeta skirt). I believe that I simply like short hair – in large part because I’m too lazy to deal with anything BUT short hair. I believe that I look weird in skirts, and prefer the cut of men’s pants. I believe that I found men boring for as long as I can remember, and as soon as I realized I had a choice to pursue romantic relationships with women, I chose thusly. I believe that I saw a lot of gendered bullshit that my grandmothers had to suffer as women, and I recognized my choice to reject these things. I believe that “choice feminism” is bullshit because our choices are so limited and all of them suck, but we do what we can within our very limited, shitty parameters.

And I don’t believe it’s radical or the result of some innate reality when lesbian women decide to transition. I believe it’s the result of the suck-ass choices afforded to women, especially lesbian women. I believe it’s the result of our internalized misogyny, and our weird need, even within our own “community” to act out antiquated gender norms. I believe it’s the result of rampant homophobia, the kind that still has people asking my wife questions like, “So does she see herself as your husband?”

I also think the lesbian community has to own up to our culpability in this. We have perpetuated these stereotypes. We have allowed patriarchal norms, misogynist ways of being, to flourish in our own lives by accepting, without question, the gender dogma served to us by men. We have failed to question, to push back against the very systems of oppression that, historically, kept us closeted, kept us in unhappy marriages to men, and the very systems that now allow male-bodied people to call us bigots for not sucking dick. We have failed to be critical of these systems and have, instead, perpetuated them, and it’s a damn shame.

But perhaps it’s easier to transition. It’s easier to present as a man than to be a dyke – especially to be a dyke who isn’t considered “femme enough” or “butch enough.” Not only is it easier, but everyone will celebrate your decision, your choice, which is, in fact, a choice. And you won’t ever really have to examine why you made that choice because the culture will also sell you a baseless lie about how your new identity as a man is innate, because all your preferences, all your lovers and your desires were too male for your female body. That’s not revolutionary. That’s not courageous. That’s a lie.

And yet, I get it. I am not trying to suggest my sisters who have chosen this path are traitors, because I know. I know how hard it is to live in this world as a woman, as a woman who doesn’t “do woman” the way we’re expected to. I know how hard it is to love other women, and to do so openly. I know what it feels like to be at a gas station in a small town, getting looks because you don’t pass as straight. I know what it feels like to wonder if it’s “okay” to hold your girlfriend’s hand at a restaurant. I get how invisible we, as women, are when we aren’t presenting or behaving “the right way.” It’s fucking hard. It’s exhausting. And there have been plenty of times in my life when I’ve thought – however fleetingly – about what it might be like to make that choice to transition.

But it is a choice. Let’s not delude ourselves any further. It’s a choice. We live in a time when we can “opt out” of womanhood. We live in a time when men can “opt in” to womanhood. But the kind of womanhood/manhood we can purchase from a doctor are inauthentic, synthetic, are visages, facades of woman/man. And the façade doesn’t change the facts. And while women don’t owe it to anyone to be social revolutionaries, transitioning from a dyke to a dude doesn’t make the world a better place for anyone, much less women, so let’s stop pretending that it does. When women transition, they have taken advantage of one shitty choice available to them, and have ostensibly admitted that it’s impossible to be female the way we wish to be female. Of course, the dominant culture doesn’t want you to think of it this way, so they tell you it’s “natural.” They tell you the wreckage from the bomb was actually caused by an earthquake. This way, you don’t ask why, you just salvage what you can from the wreckage and tell yourself the destruction was somehow inevitable.

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38 thoughts on “Gender is a bomb

  1. Good to see the Gemini Retrograde resulting in something positive, such as inspiring you to write this insightful and well-reasoned piece. Excellent work.

    1. Your writings on the Gender Bomb are very thoughtful and poignant. I admire your commitment to feminists and womyn, and explaining the issues of gender with logical premises. I constantly think about your piece and share the concepts with my daughter. Your insights mirror many of my thoughts for many many years. I too believe there many definitions and reasons to become a lesbian, driven by different reasons than gay men. I particularly connected with your analysis for the push for lesbian girls to take on acceptable societal gender constraints to become accepted. It reminds me of Middle Eastern countries that advocate sex reassignment surgery, particularly for men, so they will not longer be an abomination in society. It seems that the Western world is following suit, to make everyone fit in neatly defined gender roles.Our society has spent years defining an alcoholic as a hereditary disease. I believe there are many pathways to alcoholism and its manifestations.

      Now, Bruce Jenner plays the ultimate reality TV and publicity card. I feel disillusioned by the media hyperbole being giving instant recognition as one who is learning to act like a female. THe media and public seem to be obsesses with the portrayal of female “beauty”; I’m not just a transgender woman, BUT I am visually acceptable. Hillary Clinton would definitely loose in a contest for who is more feminine, beautiful, Bruce or Hillary. Who knows a transgender woman might be a more acceptable candidate for president.

      The perpetuation of exaggerated stereotypical concepts of what it means to born a womyn are misguided. It reminds me of the support for the Iraq war by the public and the media, that is now considered all a rouse for private interests , profit and personal agendas. Her we go again with the obsession with ISIS, with the misery of terror and violence right at our southern doorstep. Now that Smith college is going to accept transgender woman, what is the point, of college for womyn. Guess there should be no shame is going co-ed or to male Universities Amherst here we come!.

      The TV show on cable called “Botched” about plastic surgery gone wrong, follows a young gay man, who transitioned to a transgender woman, and then changed his mind, having his breast implants removed.He keeps his male genitals out of sexual function preference, but would like to have implants wear he switch back and forth from female anatomy to male. Good for him!!! Womyn’s historical progress to have safe places, would appear to be all an illusion based the fantastical concept of the culture of privilege and domination by men. Maybe transgender woman can finally stop violence against women, discrimination , and unequal treatment in society, with their benefit of male privileges and origins. I have made some far reaching analogies to the issues of gender politics and reasoning, but, I tend to see how truth and points have many constructs that may not be based in truth, but truth that is desired are all interconnected conceptually.

  2. Reblogged this on RaFeCaMe and commented:
    “It’s like this – if an earthquake destroys your house, you just have to accept that, and move on. If a bomb destroys your house, you can talk about WHY that happened, and ask questions about who is responsible. We can’t get mad at the earthquake because it is naturally occurring, out of our control. We can get mad at the bomb because it was man-made, dropped by a human, a conscious choice. We can talk about the bomb, but we can’t talk about the earthquake. Rather, it would be worthless to talk about the earthquake, other than to say “it happened.”

    Gender is a bomb. Not an earthquake. Gender is not naturally occurring, but an invention, a system, a “way of being” that is enforced in order to preserve societal hierarchies forever as they are. That means women are on the bottom, trampled, forever.”

  3. Are you actually a dyke?
    The reason I ask is that you state “The butch-femme dynamic is as regressive, as patriarchal as transgenderism itself. Both the butch-femme dynamic and transgenderism are tethered to frivolous “identity politics” and slavish adherence to tedious gender norms.”

    You apply the same genderist definition to lesbian culture as autogynephiles do to the definition of lesbian. Butch and femme are specifically lesbian experience descriptors, not identities any more than lesbian is an identity that men can use. But I guess you support that too. I mean, why support a genderist definition of lesbian terminology when it comes to butch dykes but reject it for terms that are applicable to you personally? Oh right, personal bias.

    Butch lesbians that transition late in life aren’t retarded dumb-ass man-lovers as you assert. In large part they are fleeing the very hatred of butch dykes that you express here. How fucking clueless can you get? Makes me sick that you talk about the experience of butch dykes as frivolous, slavish, tedious, and gender normative. Jesus. YOU are the reason butch lesbians inject testosterone, and I seriously doubt that you are actually gay.

    Why don’t you do a post next mocking lifelong dykes, giving us “Gold Stars”? Seems to fit into your whole analysis…which is not a lesbian loving one.

    1. Critique of gender is critique of gender. All gender is harmful. Female is not an identity. Lesbian (females who wish to have romantic partnerships with other females) is not an identity, though it may well be a choice (and so what if it is?). The rest are identities, are manifestations of “gender.” If I’m going to discuss transgenderism within the lesbian community, then I’m going to have to discuss how gender “norms” play themselves out (and are enforced) within the lesbian community. If we’re going to engage in a class analysis around gender, individual presentations/preferences matter not. I think you’ve gravely misinterpreted a great deal of this post. And no, I do not believe other lesbians are responsible for lesbians who transition: I believe an obsession with gender — that insipid, patriarchal conceit that enables men to believe female is “simply a feeling” — is responsible.

      1. “Seems to fit into your whole analysis…which is not a lesbian loving one.”

        Oh, how rich to see this comment from Gallus.

        Ahem.

        Loved the post. I find it interesting to see how stranger’s buttons get pushed by articles on the Internet. How very threatening to that person’s sense of self this must be. Hmmm, where have I seen this before?

        Oh yes, I know.

        Trans activists.

        Pot, meet kettle. You are all soaking in gender. You can’t get clean until you try to wash it off.

  4. Reblogged this on Stop Trans Chauvinism and commented:
    It has long been my belief that women transition for reasons quite different than those of men. For young women, in particular, there is pressure to transition – particularly if you are a gender non-conforming lesbian. The dominant culture tells these girls that their preferences, their style, their desires “make them male.” Most of these young women never got a chance to be dykes in the world, because the messages encouraging them to transition were far too incessant, far too strong. Today, parents are increasingly encouraging their daughters to transition, when the daughters don’t “do female” the way society instructs.

    But what of women who transition later in life? What of these women who have survived, in their way, as gender non-conforming dykes and then decide to “identify as male”? What exactly is going on here?

  5. See, while I’m not particularly a ‘butch’ woman (I have adhered to the patriarchy’s standard of long hair, and I’m one of those people who just randomly fits into the stereotype of female prettiness without make-up/dieting, although I don’t dress up pretty/etc.), I’ve often considered pretendign to be a man for a) travel or b) for jobs, because I’d like that man priveledge. That said, I know it wouldn’t solve the problem for the rest of the world, and frankly, I don’t want to be a man, and I know I’m not one, and more importantly, I know that men shouldn’t be treated as the better sex, and that faking a transition for social priveledge/money wouldn’t help anyone, even me in the long term.

      1. Individual cases don’t prove anything. But also, gender scripting conditioning runs very deep, and his parents knew he was a boy, and he had an identical twin who was clearly a boy. So the idea that his “being” a girl was just a charade wouldn’t be all that difficult to arrive at. All that complicated as well by the whole family having substantial emotional problems.

        How creepy of the doctor to use this child as an experimental animal.

  6. A remarkable essay, well-argued and very painful to read. Gender is certainly the enemy, the paradigm that demands women see themselves as male because only men can be attracted to women. Thank you for you thoughtful, and yes, I have to say it, perspicacious observations.

  7. @August- Butch is not a gender or identity (although genderists now use the term that way, as you also did in your post.). Imposing genderism on butch dykes in the lesbian community makes them transition. That was my point. Your hostility towards dykes who are often read as male through no fault of their own is unwarranted and only compounds the problem.

    Ewww. Super creepy comment from stalker Cathy Brennan. I guess she will stalk me until I die.

    1. I don’t think a frank discussion of gender paradigms within the lesbian community is equal to “hostility toward dykes who are often read as male.” I have often been read as male in public spaces, and I understand the reason that happens has everything to do with gender norms. Short hair + comfortable clothing = male. And it’s bullshit. It’s the same belief system that has convinced the culture-at-large that “female is a feeling,” that woman is something one can “try on” like a pair of pants. And no, I don’t think that acknowledging this is in any way a form of “hostility.” Similarly, I don’t believe misgendering someone is a “form of violence.” Or that replying to a comment on a public blog is “stalking.” It’s all hyperbolic nonsense. And yes, genderism makes dykes transition — that was kind of MY point in the post. And I still maintain that butch is an identity, as femme is an identity. I’m sorry if that offends you.

  8. Also, if we frame a thing as being “natural” it silences all possible critique of that “thing.”

    That’s the key point. This is why violent males spend so much time studying chimps who rape, so they can say ‘see my male violence is natural. I don’t have to accept criticism of masculinity. I was born a rapist. There’s nothing to talk about silly wimminz!’

    1. I’m not having any reading comprehension problems. I disagree with the transgenderist view that Butch Dyke is a gender identity. AugustusCarmichael agrees with the transgenderists. We simply disagree. If you read the above comment exchange your comprehension issues may improve. Good luck.

  9. I’ve observed what appear to be two different discussions on the butch/femme debate. One is that this is a gendered dichotomy that part of the lesbian culture has absorbed from the overlying patriarchal culture. The other is that “butch” constitutes a total rejection of patriarchal values. I don’t know where this latter leaves “femme” though.

    It is clear that “lesbian” encompasses much more than sexual orientation, that is clear.

  10. The REASON that gender is harmful, and the reason why it exists, is because it is a system used to support discrimination on the grounds of sex. It differences women, in terms of (the approved) appearance and behaviour and so on. It is this relation that trans flips on its head, that if someone looks like and behaves like the approved version of female, then it must be because they actually ARE female in the head.

    None of which is the case when you have a butch dyke. That would be mistaking the outward trappings (clothing/hairstyle/career choice/mode of speech/taste in hobbies,music etc blah blah blah) for the thing itself (being male). It’s in the interests of the patriarchy to pretend that gender is natural, and a dichotomy, which is why straight society insists on viewing butch/femme as just another ‘gender identity’ (or just another natural gender identity PAIRing), and hence something that a male can perform, and hence ‘identify’ himself as a butch dyke female, or a sign that the butch, since she does the ‘not feminine’ role so well, should maybe think about transitioning since she is half way there already.

    This matters because what is going on here is an attempt to take the words away that dykes have used to talk specifically about our experiences, experiences specific to women loving women trying to talk about themselves. If butch is JUST gender, then that just subsumes butch experience into the heterosexual norm and the gender norm, and the only argument left then is whether you think gender is good and innate (transland), or bad and a construct. Saying that butch is JUST aping masculinity, that removes the whole threat of what a women refusing to do femininity and refusing to be with men is.

    If lesbians can’t talk about their experiences without it all being read ONLY within the terms of heterosexual genders and sexism, then we’re stuffed (yet again!).

  11. The word gender really confuses the issue. It’s also a word that means different things to different people. I think part of that confusion happens b/c it’s a construct that we are encouraged to embody from a young age to the point where we believe it. But gender also seems to be no more than presentation, an aesthetic with attending mannerisms and body language, approved likes and dislikes, interests, attractions.

    I’ve been told that butch as well femme are genders. Hmmm. Not sure what that means. This essay seems to be saying that butch dykes are male-gendering. Ahem, beg to differ. As someone who routinely gets pegged for butch, I’m often somewhat confused by this. It’s not that I’m not, it’s that I don’t care. Presenting as myself feels neutral, it does not feel like I’m a parody of maleness. I wear comfortable, non-binding clothing that does NOT signal sexual availability to men. I like the practicality of having pants that don’t constrict my breathing and that have real pockets.

    What seems obvious is that men always get the best of everything where clothing is concerned: shirts with buttons you can button with your right hand, comfortable, non-comedic shoes, affordable t-shirt packs, the list goes on and on. Buying women’s underwear is a nightmare if you don’t like ridiculous patterns in pastel colors or frilly fringes. So, there are a lot of reasons why a woman might choose to wear male-styled clothing that have nothing to do with how we view ourselves in terms of sex/gender. Even short haircuts are easier. That’s the how it goes, if it’s easy and practical it becomes male.

    My experience is that you don’t HAVE TO identify as either butch or femme in the lesbian community, others will do it for you, even if you have no attachment to the labels. Fortunately, this doesn’t always mean anything.

    1. The problem is, I think, that we’ve been infected with the ‘identify as’, ‘gender identity’ pomo nonsense. Which (well, true of Judith Butler at least!) is designed to be a slippery, confusing concept hence hard to argue against if the target keeps moving! Also, makes it hard to do a class analysis if everytime you start with X is Y, someone comes back with — well, X isn’t quite Y for me, more a bit zed’y……IF everything gets individualized, you just get lost in a big mess, like in transland where ‘being’ a woman just is anyone who says they are…………

      Let’s try looking underneath. Look underneath heterosexual gender constructs (whether that is clothes, ‘presentation’, behaviour, vocal mannerisms, character traits, the way you walk, choice of career, skills and aptitudes, reproductive choices or what other nonsense someone is using today to sort people into the two boxes, or the ‘sliding-scale’ that supposedly exists in between), and you’ll find a system used to disadvantage the clearly-defined class of female human beings. And I’ll refer to the biologists anyone who claims that determining the biological sex of an individual in a bisexual species is somehow ambiguous or hard……………

      Look underneath ‘lesbian gender’, and what do you find? Two females. THAT’S the important point.

      This whole gender malarkey is just a great cover-up and con of what is actually going on, a way to try and hide. Sexism is the rotting bodywork underneath, gender is some ways is the fancy paint job on the top trying to con us!

  12. Another amazing essay. I don’t know why but Quién Es Más Butch? really made me laugh. I guess because I always loved that bit and often still say “¿Quién Es Más Macho?” for no reason at all.

    Just want to say that this essay came at a funny time. I got into a gender definition debate in a comment section of a libfem blog a few days ago and I left feeling sick, as in upset and shaky. Well, I didn’t debate very much, but the way I worded the couple of things I said must have struck a nerve with the academics because boy did they come out of the woodwork with their Ph.D. pants on. They had these circular definitions that you couldn’t pin down as wrong per se but seemed like so much gobbledygook. Everything Orwell said about postmodern/political writing came back to me. And what Baddyke said about how it’s designed to be slippery is so true.

    Anyway, I couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it. I could tell that they were more educated in gender theory than I will ever be so I tried to keep an open mind but it made me feel crazy. And they imply that you’re simply an ignoramus if you don’t agree. Yeah, it’s not like any cuckoo theories have ever come out of the old ivory tower. No sireee. None of them told me to kill myself though, so there’s that.

    I truly believe that the academic condescension is why so many women, if and when they do look into feminism, turn right around and say, “Fuck it.” Being chided by gender theory scholars is not my idea of women’s liberation.

    There’s a part of me that wishes I could go back to the day that I didn’t know anything about this. I’ve been reading feminist blogs and books for only about three years and there are times when I feel like I’m losing my marbles. I can’t un-see. I can’t rewind.

    Where does a formerly relatively apolitical het woman who sees all the shit that’s happening to women and the way everything is regressing even go to say anything without navigating a shit ton of bullshit? (Well, I guess I’m saying something here. LOL!) It’s like you have to be either an unquestioning libfem OR be smeared as a TERF who should go die in a fire. So many choosy choices.

    One question if anybody cares to answer because I have not been able to find anything that gives me a straight answer: What is this gender brain science/proof they refer to?

    Sorry for the epic comment. I do love reading your essays.

    1. I think it was a study done years ago that’s been discredited for being unrepeatable and involving too small a sample. This is a quote from a trans guy who commented on my blog, make of it what you will. Of course none of this addresses male vs. female socialization, which is a huge problem.

      “The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. It’s a part of the brain that was found to be twice as big in men (and trans men) than women (and trans women). The BNSt is a limbic forebrain structure that receives heavy projections from, among other areas, the basolateral amygdala, and projects in turn to hypothalamic and brainstem target areas that mediate many of the autonomic and behavioral responses to aversive or threatening stimuli. The hypothalamus is the part that controls the 4 f’s, fighting, fleeing, feeding, and mating.

      They also found differences in grey matter, but that was the plasticity you mentioned and it was found to be more feminine in trans women who’ve taken hormones, but when they controlled for hormones it wasn’t as much I think… but the BNSt was the same in that study.”

      1. Thank you, Miep. I’ll try to keep looking, too, but this is a good place to start. I’d read different things in regard to male/female brains—one that came out of a study at a university in PA I believe—but it wasn’t trans specific; it just said that male and female brains make connections differently. I do remember one of the researchers on that study saying that it would be unwise to draw any conclusions about the findings and that there were lots of variations from individual male to individual female.

        I just find it puzzling when trans believers, for lack of a better term, site neurology and endocrinology and a few more areas of study (can’t remember which ones right now) as if it’s all tied up in a bow and settled, but I’ve googled all over the place and never been able to find anything that says anything about there being a gender area in the brain or that trans people have brains that don’t match their biological sex.

        So thank you again.

  13. Before I comment I preface by saying I am a heterosexual woman newly trying to learn about feminism and gender so what I am saying is just impressionist food for thought.

    It seems to me that perhaps humans as a species like to put people in boxes, to catagorize for better definition and to determine superior and inferior – to judge. I mean gay men have all kinds of catagories some that are deemed more desirable than others. Not only is there a gender aspect (hunky, muscular, more masculine better than less hunky more feminine) but also a racial aspect (white is better than asian is better than black). A thin feminine asian gay man is lower on the totem pole of desirability.

    In the lesbian community there is the catagorization based on gender with the femme/butch dichotomy. There is the competition “who can be the most butch” but not “who can be the most femme”? Why is that?
    And why is being a butch lesbian and even just being a lesbian so unpopular with young women? And seemingly so inferior to being trans.

    It seems to me there is also so much catagorization within the trans community with all those millions of made up labels to describe their own slightly different version of self. For instance, my child said she was trans masculine. What does that even mean? And there does seem to be a hierarchy there as well. A trans who goes all the way and has SRS is so brave and wonderful. A trans who does not even take hormones is “less than” – they have not yet “arrived”.

    We attack gender but are we not also attacking this tendency of humans to always want to judge and to be one up on another person or group? And are we not, in wanting to destroy gender roles, really wanting to also destroy this – I am better than you just because of something external? Or I am better than you because you belong in this box and my box is better than yours?

    1. “and to determine superior and inferior – to judge” The problem with gender (which I’ll keep for the particular categorization based on biological sex), is not the judging but the imposing. Females/women don’t have a CHOICE, they are female therefore they are women and hence inferior, with all that entails. Wearing different clothes, doing different jobs, getting paid less and so on, these are the supposed CHOICES that we make because we are female. Except they’re not free choices, and they’re not value-free choices either. It’s not an accident, for example (even though it amazes me every damn day!), that so many women ‘freely’ choose high heels that cripple their feet and make it impossible to walk/run/stand without problems. The gender system involves ‘choices’ in terms of clothing/make-up/occupation/interests/reading/hobbies etc etc etc, BUT that doesn’t mean that any set of particular choices is the SAME AS gender. So, some people are goths, but being a goth isn’t a GENDER (even though I’m sure some goths would consider it an essential and inerradicable part of their identity!). The point of gender is the linkage to oppression based on SEX (or being a member of the sex class women). So in this sense, other things that might superficially look like gender, or that exist in pairs in the supposedly same way, doesn’t mean they ARE gender. Claiming butch/femme IS gender is just obscuring the inextricable link of gender as the SYSTEM that hides sex oppression.

      Whatever butch is (and whether there is the need for yet another dichotomy with the butch/femme pairing) is a different question, because although on the surface it may LOOK like male/female hetero nonsense, doesn’t mean it IS — although of course an advantage to the menz if they can get us to believe that such yin/yang pairings are NATURAL, are NOT to do with sex (look, two women do it TOO), and are not to do with a system to keep women in their place (and tottering about on heels).

  14. Yes, women do have gender expectations imposed upon them by patriarchy. You bring up a very good question. Can my comment exist along side the reality of patriarchal gender imposition? If not gender and if not a tendency for humans to feel more comfortable putting others in categories or boxes for judgement, why do these groups imitate gender categorization imposed by the patriarchy?

    1. “why do these groups imitate gender categorization imposed by the patriarchy?”
      I’m not sure they are, but that is certainly how it gets interpreted by the rest of society, which is just so used to the same ole dichotomy! Every lesbian or gay couple I know has been asked at some time, ‘which of you is the man then?’, because everyone else is so used to thinking in terms of the heterosexual male/female, two different roles norm. So, one of us has to be wearing the trousers!

      I think a big thing here is as soon as a women rejects conventional femininity in even a smallish way, it gets labelled as masculine (males being the default human after all!).
      It’s the heterosexual, patriarchal gaze, I think, that interprets and can only see everything else in its own terms. Or insists that we are all a mirror of itself, even if (in the case of gay and lesbian), a rather twisted one!

  15. I’m straight, old, and have long hair, flat shoes, two kids, a 30 year marriage and a lot of men’s clothes. Am I butch? Am I in denial about my secret manliness? ha hell no–I’m me. I don’t want to join anyone’s parade.

  16. Here are some observations I’m hoping you can clarify regarding butches and what motivates butch-ness. Now, understand I’m not gay, and until recently could not understand why a lesbian would want to look “like a man”. It was only after reading the perspectives of butch lesbians that I came to the understanding that butches KNOW they are women and are secure enough in that knowledge to do what is comfortable, to present themselves without seeking a man’s approval AT ALL. (And I understand this is a very generalized simplified way of describing a diverse group of people) So is it possible that what appears to be “out butching” is really more a contest of who cares less about societal approval? Or who rejects gender stereotyping more fiercely? The recent exodus to trans further complicates this issue, though. I had made my assumptions thinking butches KNOW regardless of appearance, that they are female. If being butch is rejecting the patriarchy, then being trans is embracing it or even becoming it or perhaps just coping with it. At any rate, we’d probably all be better off using those terms to describe appearance, not identity per se, although my opinion is of little consequence. Please know that I intend no disrespect should you think I’m way off base.

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