So, I’m in this feminist studies class in uni. And all the lectures herein have made me… think rather heavily about certain ways I interact with the world, especially as a feminist who’s interested in the spread of knowledge/activism.
So the piece we’re reading for tomorrow was written by Judith Butler, and she’s talking about the idea of performance and performativity. Part of what she’s saying is that (normative?) gender is a bit like a meme — its aim is to self-perpetuate; and above all gender is a process that you do and that is done to you.
So the reason I’m writing this post is that in the middle of this article, she comes up with the metaphor of sediment, as with how dirt builds up at the bottom of a riverbed, after eons of erosion. If I may quote her:
My suggestion is that the body becomes its gender through a series of acts which are renewed, revised, and consolidated through time. From a feminist point of view, one might try to reconceive the gendered body as the legacy of sedimented acts, rather than a predetermined or foreclosed [essence or fact]
And this concept isn’t really new to me. I mean, it’s not as if I or anyone sprung out of the womb as a man, woman, or queer. But it’s the new metaphor that really got to me, because it gives me a way to think of how my gender has evolved that isn’t one of the twin normativities that plague trans* people:
- You must have known that you’re trans* and/or otherwise queer ever since you were a wee tot
- You must conform to all the stereotypes and norms of your gender
And honestly, any new metaphors that take me away from that toxic vicegrip are appreciated. Also, it seems nicely nuanced for me, because not all of the events that shaped how I view my gender are normally coded as appreciably gendered.
So looking back, I recognize these events as making up the bedrock of my gender up to now, and being small components of my genderqueer-ness:
- When I was about six or seven years old, I remember that my school was having a dressup day for Halloween. The person dressing me up tried to wrap me up in bandages and make me into a mummy; I found it too frightening to be wrapped up, and I went without a costume.
- Sixth grade, the Valentine’s day dance. I went, dressed up kind of formally. I spent most of the dance with my friend/crush. We slow-danced at the end of the dance. When we were about to go home, we stood and looked at each other, and… I didn’t kiss her and she didn’t kiss me. We both left, and nothing romantic happened.
- I remember playing Pokemon Crystal about eight, ten years ago and wanting dearly to play as Kris (the blue-haired, female character), but not doing so because I was scared that someone might look at my save and yell at me.
- When I was a senior in high school, one of my teachers showed her class a copy of a maths essay I’d done. Only my teacher and I knew that I was trans* then. She told the class that one of the senior girls had written it, and so the students started throwing out the names of every other girl the senior class as possible authors.
- I was told repeatedly, while growing up, that I should just go and marry me a white woman, and move up
- Once, a girlfriend asked me to write shounen-ai (wikipedia, nsfw?) for her, as punishment for teasing her. And when I was writing it, I remember being aroused by it and so confused and ohmygodwhatbodywhydothis
- When I first joined IRC, I still thought of myself as a het cis boy. My username was
Emi, and I remember ranting against someone for assuming that my name was necessarily coded as female.
- Then about two years later, I’m trans*! And I talked to this same person, in that same IRC channel, about my pronouns and my gender, and "I’m sorry for getting angry a few years back"
- I got the urge to put up a picture of myself on a private forum. About two days later, one of the people who saw that picture was my boyfriend.
- We’d talked about half a year before that, about our schoolwork, and he’d gendered me as female, even though I wasn’t one.
- An ex-girlfriend of mine once told me, "pay more attention to me (stop being so affectionate with everyone else) or I’ll start flirting with other girls again". This wasn’t threatening to me, but it did make all my (straight) female friends uncomfortable.
- My first real entry into any sort of feminist thought was in a forum called Mad Stalker, in a video game site.
- When I was about 15, I remember feeling as if something was wrong with me because I wasn’t sexually attracted to my girlfriend, because I didn’t have any sexual thoughts about her at all.
- When I saw what the female character in Pokemon X/Y is going to look like, my first thought was Oh my, I’ll have to play as the male character in order to avoid a lot of dysphoria.
And this isn’t anywhere close to the full depth of things that have accumulated into "my" gender. Now, I don’t think that I was born into some weird "blank slate" state, but I also know that what/who I am just didn’t spontaneously happen.
And this matters because normativity exists. I’m reminded of a time that I was walking with a crush in Oakland, and a passer-by called us "fucking dykes". Depending on where I am, I’ll get punished for being my gender out in public. Hetero/cis-normative society has said that it’s okay to assume that genitals should be what determine how you present; that gender is something you’re born with, rather than something that you do and that is done to you over time. And most importantly, it says that punishing people for transgressing these "rules" is okay and moral.
So here is part of my progression, my journey through the wibbly-wobbly ball that is gender. These are just a few of the many foundational parts of what’s made me into who I am. And I am not alone. So together we can start up a new narrative of how gender interacts with us, and fuck up normativity.