hot take, 'identity' as the principle way of thinking about trans & non-binary people is a liberal trap, a desperate recapitulation of the trans & nonbinary threat to the 'innate' categoric mandate of gender.
ANY intellectually-honest account of gender must acknowledge that it is constantly being forced to grab gender by a different hand-hold, that gender shakes off its analyst like a bull shakes off its rider. if you start by talking about reproductive capacity, gestation & insemination, you are forced by infertility and intersexing and castration and celibacy and non-reproductive sexuality to begin talking instead about clothes, or division of labor, or burial rites. every 'defining' aspect of gender explodes upon too-careful observation.
I refuse to demonstrate that my womanhood is 'no threat' to the integrity of womanhood as a category by appealing to a secret truth. I am a woman Because the category of womanhood lacks integrity. you cannot threaten what never lived & cannot die.
if you wish to get anywhere with a gender theory, you gotta get comfortable with the thing you're studying you throwing you just, a whole lot. you have these messy, fuzzy categories with histories attached: man, woman, eunuch, butch, [homophobic slur starting with an F]...
at different times, in different places, some of those categories are more visible and talked-about; others are submerged, discussed only in codes and ciphers, never acknowledged as being on the same level (at least potentially) as the Big Categories. and in some times and places, you have wholly different sets of categories in play; part of the legacy of colonial violence is that many indigenous systems of gender more complex than the colonial gender binary were suppressed, marginalized, or wiped out.
so flex with it. use a framework when it works; when it stops working, acknowledge that you're moving to a different model. try to think about When a model fails; see if you can be principled in your inconsistency.
it is useful to point out that one crucial way that gender transition "works" is that it makes people treat trans women like shit, in the way that they treat women-in-general badly! correspondingly, studies of trans men transitioning at work show that people take these men more seriously with their true face on, sometimes directly and cluelessly comparing their work favorably to their pre-transition facade's, even as they treat them badly as part of transphobia.
(transition also "works" in that some of us can pass for cis— but holding *both* passing & oppression as lenses for gender in mind lets us note that passing is a form of safety, not proof-of-right)
but it's *not* simply-true that to be a man is to be safe from gendered violence. 'male socialization' for effeminate children can mean vulnerability to childhood sexual abuse and homophobic violence from peers, authorities, & family. & white supremacy gives white women violent, gendered power over Black men as well as Black women.
one place where people tend to double-down on identity-as-first-principle is around nonbinary people. I think some of this, also, has to do with the reductive approach to gender that comes out of white, heterosexual feminism: men are always empowered, women always oppressed by them, and we don't know how to break from that analysis even when we stray out of the heterosexual bourgeois white household where these theories were developed. we fall back on analysis-from-identity because we're at a loss, trying to find any other place for nonbinary people in an analysis of gendered power.
so let me stop here: there's nothing more 'real' about men & women than about nonbinary people, and the concept of identity is as drastically-simplifying of nonbinary experience as it is of men & women's.
identity is one lens we should hold in mind when we think about nonbinary people. it is noteworthy that people identify out of male & female; it only makes sense, in the light of other ways we fall out.
I mentioned effeminacy, above, and I think it's an important thing to keep in mind when we look for nonbinary people in gendered society's brutal logic.
Take the lens of socialist feminism. Socialist feminism finds gender in production and re-production of society, in the division of labor. Our modern concepts of gender stem from a long history on the one hand; on the other hand from the very-modern needs of the capitalist model. You need a worker who shows up every day for long, grueling work. When he leaves, he needs to have clothes, food, a sanitary home; this work, the re-productive labor of the 'private sphere', was designated for women.
But before even the invention of agriculture, division of labor has been a crucial part of gender for a *long* time.
Fashion design. Fashion retail. Cosmetics retail. Floristry. Wedding planning. Nursing. Interior design. What gender is associated with this cluster of jobs, this division of labor? Not masculine, not feminine: effeminate.
Here, under a label like 'nelly' or 'fairy' or [much-worse homophobic word starting with F], we find a gender category which goes largely unacknowledged or only joked-about out in the open of gendered society, yet which gendered society pushes into specific forms of labor— that is, which gendered society makes *use* of even as it abuses them and reasons them out of existence.
This is unsurprising, by the way, from a cross-cultural perspective. One of the most common 'third-gender' categories is a gender of effeminate wedding planners. Colonialism chose as one of its burning brands the concept of a "scientific, civilized" gender binary with which to wipe out "barbaric, confused" extrabinary indigenous systems of gender; but if that meant not having [F-slurs] around at home to do the historically-appropriate forms of dirty work of ~Western civilization~... well, we don't have to go *that* far. So this non-binary gender goes unacknowledged, but still exploited and abjected.
This is something which identity-as-first-principle bars us, full-stop, from understanding.
Some effeminate people, marked for their gender variance from childhood and pushed into specialized forms of labor, living with the particular oppressions and wounds of that gendered embodiment, identify as men. Others will identify as non-binary or some more specific term; some of us, like me, are even women in addition to being [F-slurs].
Some, like me, will label ourselves with words like 'nelly' or the F-slur; for others, those words are extremely uncomfortable! This is not a category which is defined around a shared, overt label for an identity; instead, it is a category that, as analysts of gender, we single out because there are oppressions which affect us, specifically, and because we are treated together as a group by gendered society.
A non-binary category like [F-slur] cuts across identities, not to disrespect them but to analyze something which identities are not well-suited for.
The problem here is not that we have these ways of "identifying ourselves" to other people, not that we explain ourselves with labels or use labels to make sense of our big messy nonverbal feelings. The problem is promoting this one model of identity as the Ur-stuff of gender, making it a big glowing boss-battle weak-spot in our theories and activism, limiting our theories and activism to only what can be discussed in terms of identity.
And when we move out of the identity model to explain something it doesn't handle well, we find things we can use to better explain conversations we have in terms of identity.
For instance: isn't an [F-slur] just a man who loves men? Okay, maybe an *unusual* kind of man, who's very feminine or flamboyant, who has these markedly-unmasculine sexual and social roles, and who is oppressed for his gendered difference...
and then, far enough down this road, you're sorta wondering what the point is of trying to explain effeminacy in terms of men, anyway?
It's not that I'm saying you need to tell a man who loves men and is effeminate that he isn't a man. That's extremely rude and does nothing of value. What I mean to point out, instead, is that connecting effeminacy to masculinity doesn't necessarily help us understand either of those things; it might even hurt us. A man can very well be effeminate, but what 'effeminacy' connotes isn't 'manhood', but this specific separate thing with its own complicated relationships within the system of men, women, and otherwise.
So what can we bring back to the identity conversation? Well:
What, indeed, is the point of explaining things which fall outside of "male" and "female" as those things are typically understood, using "male" and "female" with qualifiers? What useful thing have you done if you explain a non-binary person as some weird, unusual sort of man or woman? Have you changed anything about them? Or have you just papered over their difference, and your discomfort, with words?
In fact, a lot of this "explaining"-with-male-and-female is this way: it doesn't explain anything at all! it's just a weird choice you made to cludgily fit some of the data into your limited, shitty model.
Labeling babies with ambiguous genitalia as either male or female at birth? Explains nothing! Saying that XXY (Klinefelter) individuals are "male, but have these differences from typical males"? Explains nothing! Surgically "correcting" babies with confusing enough junk? Explains nothing, and is terrible to do! Saying that someone "is a masculine woman and identifies as nonbinary"? Explains nothing, and is terrible to do!
When someone commits themselves to the idea that "biologically, there are only male and female," they doom themselves to an overwhelming effort to achieve nothing at all. Things will continue to be more messy and complicated than that,
and their choice to finally fall on "you are 'really' a man" or "you are 'really' a woman" doesn't even explain how they see you.
I will say that trans and nb people and our movements have at times done useful things with identity-as-first-principle; if we hadn't, it wouldn't be the subject of so much reactionary ire. it is an extremely-clear statement that 1) it matters if someone tells you that she is a woman* and 2) the number of ways there are to be trans is not two, but illimitible.
* It also matters if you say you are something else, including 'a man,' but even in a strong identity framework, transphobes will still disregard your self-conception no matter what. What I mean is, as I remember it, the shining achievement of identity-as-first-principle is that, in progressive spaces from about 2011-2013, it briefly became taboo to directly suggest that a trans woman had male privilege (or the like) or to overtly shun a newly-out or gender-nonconforming trans woman. A limited, qualified kind of victory.
Honestly, though? I think identity-as-first-principle's application in gay+ politics has roundly sucked.
I can't even be super articulate about how much sexual orientation labels suck as the-main-thing-to-talk-about in re: gay+ politics. They suck.
Arguments about what 'bi' and 'pan' mean suck and don't matter. It is totally a matter of comfort and preference which one(s) of those words you use to explain yourself to others, or using another word entirely. It does not determine, and is not determined by, the kinds of oppression you face.
Arguments about who is and isn't 'queer' or 'LGBT' suck, and I wanna be REALLY CLEAR: the *fact* of having those arguments sucks, not the specific opinion you dislike that somebody else said in one of those arguments. It straight up doesn't matter where somebody thinks the boundary line is around 'queer' or 'LGBT'. I think it's completely possible and near-totally unacknowledged that gay+ people might have different answers to that question in London, England vs., say, Houston, Texas... so why are we so het up about the definition of this label, again?
@byttyrs mads, I love this and you
@byttyrs I think I've told you before but a lot of what you write about gender/sexuality/identity has been absolutely integral to my developing the ways I have to think of myself
@byttyrs "gender" is just a word that means category anyway. And categories of living things will always be fuzzy. Chopping up humans and forcing them into boxes is fascism.
circa 1300, "kind, sort, class, a class or kind of persons or things sharing certain traits," from Old French gendre, genre "kind, species; character; gender" (12c., Modern French genre), from stem of Latin genus (genitive generis) "race, stock, family; kind, rank, order; species,"
@byttyrs thinking of your identity as a genre is much more healthy I think. Are you more pop-punk, or more electro-funk? Hmmmm
@byttyrs This is a really insightful thread
@andi thank you 💛💛💛 I'm glad you find it so!!
@byttyrs It also explains a lot about why I'm eager to explain my weird little specifics to friends with the genders but almost nothing beyond "Don't call me sir" to most cis people.
And why I'm outright terrified of, say, switching doctors and having to explain to a stranger with power why my scrips don't follow any conventional transition guidelines, to say nothing of the anatomy I'm going for should a physical come up.
Or getting mired in bathroom or airport security bullshit with that and having to deal with people who mostly literally don't even know such a thing exists, and really isn't their business anyway.
When really, at the end of the day I'm just... me.
@byttyrs ok im with you on most of this but i don't understand how "defining gender in terms of how it relates to maleness/femaleness" being bad is an indictment of identity categories? bc like you said ppl still have useful labels that they use to identify themselves
@velexiraptor it's not an indictment of identity categories or identity-orientef theories, but of society making everything some kinda male or some kinda female. explaining your own stuff in relation to male and female is fine; overriding someone else's explanation, or a more neutral scientific model, to male it more binary-gendering sucks
@byttyrs ohh gotcha!
@velexiraptor like it's strictly unnecessary to group all sex-chromosomal variants into 'male' and 'female,' y'know? and it's not helpful to try to rigidly class effeminacy as a variant of maleness, when so many societies have been quite clear about seeing it as other-than-male, other-than-female.
@byttyrs fuck em up mads!
@byttyrs "het up" :p
@byttyrs mads i love you so much thank you for this writeup, it's totally laying out a whole bunch of junk I'm grappling with rn!!
@selontheweb 💛😍😭😍😭💛 sel I wuv you so much too, I'm so glad these frenzied jottings are of value to you!!!
@byttyrs they mega are, treasure you love 💞
this is a really interesting & thought provoking thread! i hadn't thought about stuff like that before, even though i've come across concepts like fa'afafine before (samoan like, effeminate third gender)
also tbh the only real way to define who's queer or lgbt or whatever is to ask if they want to be
gender stuff, 1/2
@byttyrs Ok so I've read this thread just a few too many times lmao still love it.
I have a question and I'm not quite sure how to phrase it, so please bear with, but in terms of the categories of masc/femme/effeminate, I'm trying to figure out how someone like me might fit into that? (badly, I think, but it'd give me a fuller understanding of the categories, I think, though I understand categories tend to be vague)
gender stuff, 2/3
@byttyrs So I'm sitting here as an afab enby. I sometimes refer to myself as transmasc, 'cause it's the best term I got to describe myself as someone who is trying really hard to start T, but by any definition of the term (identity & more external western categorisation) I'm not masc. At all. Most of my hobbies, my behaviours, etc, are more in line with western feminine. Effeminate seems to be more like men/not-women who do feminine things and I'm almost like... ??? idk
gender stuff, 3/3
@byttyrs Anyway I'm not expecting like... a Clear And Perfect Answer to this or anything 'cause I realise everything is vague and meaningless, but I would be interested in your perspectives on this, to help me understand how else this could be viewed/interpreted.
Or if anyone else reading this has opinions or anything, feel free to share. Am interested!
@byttyrs I'll interject here because this is actually in my gender bailywick.
There's a particular kind of Man that's a Treasure for Women: They do all the Man things, but everything else is tailored down for feminine comfort.
It's a weird third gender place because the Alt-right likes to call them Betas or Cucks.
I see things differently because I'm intersex. A Samurai is still a Samurai when he's wearing the Kimono and arranging flowers.
@byttyrs very interested in this critique from a Jewish perspective, where identity is also failing us. Having a Jewish identity has become the dominant mode of Jewishness in the United States, and as such, has rendered Judaism and Jewishness nearly contentless. (My autocorrect makes the salient change to “contextless” which is a related problem)
@byttyrs ""there's nothing more 'real' about men & women than about nonbinary people, and the concept of identity is as drastically-simplifying of nonbinary experience as it is of men & women's.""
Holy fuck thank you for putting this into words and sharing them
People try to classify non-binary people into afab/amab transmasc/transfemme because they're disturbed by something that has no clear position in relation to power.
When are you privileged? When do you experience oppression? If the answer is fluid, contextual and paradoxical, then people respond to that with hostility.
This may be enforced as ruthlessly by those who resist the norms as by those who made them. It's the fear+rage against combatants without a uniform, rank and number.
@queeranarchism I don't like this take. I think there are transphobic reasons to try to relate nonbinary people to their assigned sex at birth, and that that's even why some trans people do it. however, some trans people— nonbinary or otherwise— are empowered by transmisogyny, and others are oppressed by transmisogyny, and the first group does pretty routinely wield that power against the second. so there are other times people bring up assigned sex at birth, however clumsily, exactly because there is a clear disproportionate access to power between nonbinary people that has to be problematized.
"some trans people— nonbinary or otherwise— are empowered by transmisogyny, and others are oppressed by transmisogyny"
YES. absolutely. 100% true.
However, non-binary experiences of that oppression are often complex and paradoxical and changing over time.
It is that complexity, that 'not knowing whether someone experiences oppression or empowerment' that is met with hostility. Because it defies a stable and constant oppressed/empowered binary that's easier to deal with.
tangent about gender and disability
@byttyrs this is maybe only tangential to the main thrust of the thread but the topic of intersectional understandings of gender reminds me of it- i've seen a lot of disabled people complain that they are sort of coercively de-gendered in some ways, as if their disability status makes people see them, regardless of their actual identity or birth assignment, as being unable to fully access masculinity or femininity 1/2
tangent about gender and disability
@byttyrs which is something i can relate to to a lesser extent as someone growing up with undiagnosed autism 2/2
@byttyrs "(transition also "works" in that some of us can pass for cis— but holding *both* passing & oppression as lenses for gender in mind lets us note that passing is a form of safety, not proof-of-right)"
Ughhh this is *such a good line.*
@byttyrs This is, as always, a piercing argument, and the overarching claim you make here is compelling and valuable. I am in awe of your eloquence and erudition. And, perhaps this merely exemplifies my personal biases. But I think that the way you present identities such as "nelly" or "butch" as somewhat trans-historical phenomena might perhaps undermine your wider claim. I don't think it's particularly useful to think of these as "more or less visible" at different times...
@byttyrs ... i think that suggests a trans-historicality (if not an "essential" quality) to these labels that, in terms of empirical evidence, they don't appear to have.
@byttyrs To take an extreme, albeit fairly widespread example, I don't think that equating the ancient Greek "kinaidos" with the modern-to-contemporary "nelly" or "f-word" gets us anywhere either in terms of decoding ancient and contemporary texts, or of furthering our political discourse. It's an attempt at making sense which is doomed to fail.
@byttyrs Even the apparently more prosaic (because more physical) labels of "top" and "bottom" which students of ancient Greek often use to make sense of Greek sexual identities collapse under the pressure of the specific factors at play in the Greek sexual economy (age, class, even perhaps their version of "race") that are essential to an accurate understanding of "kinaidos". Even a trans-historical notion of "effeminacy" simply will not do.
@garfiald that's a fair reading! I am definitely inclined to err on the side of identification of past phenomena with present phenomena, and that definitely does produce errors.
I didn't intend to suggest that 'nelly', 'butch', even 'male' or 'female' are transhistoric categories— merely that they do persist for some time, they do incorporate historical lineages (whether those lineages really do reflect historically-related or similar concepts or not), and sometimes over their lifespans they are more subject to explicit analysis than others— as, for instance, categories of 'transness' have become more visible.
and I do intend the reading that these paradigms of gender are sometimes distinctly different in a particular historical time and place.
I'd argue that placing 'eunuch' in that list is perhaps even dodgier/vulnerable to ahistoricity (??? what a WORD); but my main intent there was to arrive at a sort of heterogenous bundle of labels that have been relevant somewhere, somewhen
@garfiald I think you're right that that's a weak point of my argument, and maybe more broadly my perspective; I appreciate the critique! and I'm certainly interested to further hash this out, I'm not much of a thinker all on my lonesome 🙂
@byttyrs hmm yeah I definitely find myself constantly torn between wanting to emphasise difference and discontinuity and wanting to establish connections across time. I feel like discussing continuities can sometimes elide the fact that if, say, butches fashioned themselves after 18th c pirates, they would do so within their specific cultural and political context, and their articulations of identity would be inescapably different. However, this goes back to your main point:
@byttyrs What are we trying to achieve? What use does discussing this have within our overall project? Emphasising discontinuities can be empowering because it suggests that liberation from our current cultural economy is possible, but it can also be disorientating and paralyzing. After all, if we can show that gay/trans/etc people have "always existed", why wouldn't we? My prof once suggested the phrase "strategic presentism" when it comes to this problem
@garfiald !!! in the words of our moment, "okay this is epic." I'm into this.
I think in some ways the place where my perspective suggests its most key future work is "think about When a model fails; see if you can be principled in your inconsistency." when I choose an impressionistic identification of diachronic throughlines-to-the-present over careful understanding of what each synchronic phenomenon meant in its own time and place, why do I do that, what do I risk, and what do I gain? what ARE the seams between piecewise frameworks? what IS the metalogic I employ between contexts? at the moment, all I know is 🤷
@byttyrs damn that's real
gender identity ≅ filename
@byttyrs usually the filename matches what's inside
when it doesn't, either the owner of the file fixes it or doesn't
when they don't fix it, it's either because they don't know it's named wrong or that they're scared someone will hurt them in some way if it's named accurately
that's why some people store their genders in a file called "tax forms"
@byttyrs I thought about this a lot, and I sort of take "identity" from a postmodern view as the assertion of a personal truth. Sure, our categories of gender are socially constructed performances, but you can have individual relationships with those categories that are self-evidently true by nature of subjectivity.
A cool and chill place for cool and chill people.