If one more person tells me that “all gender is performance,” I think I am going to strangle them. And I mean it. I’ll cut a bitch too, DIE IN A FIRE.
What’s most annoying about that soundbite is how it is often recited in a somewhat snooty “I-took-a-gender- studies-class-and-you-didn’t” sort of way, which is ironic given the way that phrase dumbs down gender. Tee hee. It is a crass oversimplification that is as ridiculous as saying all gender is genitals (which it’s not), all gender is chromosomes (which it’s not), or all gender is socialization (WHICH IT IS). In reality, gender is all of these things and more (he’s lying). In fact, if there’s one thing that all of us should be able to agree on, it’s that gender is a confusing and complicated mess (no, sorry it’s not – I am acting like the Wizard of Oz right now and imploring you to not look behind the curtain).
It’s like a junior high school mixer, where our bodies and our internal desires awkwardly dance with one another and with the external expectations that other people place on us. EL-OH-EL how awesome it was to be raised male not have shared girlhood. Sure, I can perform gender: I can curtsy, or throw like a girl, or bat my eyelashes. But performance doesn’t explain why certain behaviors and ways of being come to me more naturally than others. You see how I naturalized a system of oppression that renders Women subordinate? And y’all say Trans is progressive. Dummies.
Anyhoo, it offers no insight into the countless restless nights I spent as a pre-teen wrestling with the inexplicable feeling that I should be female. And by wrestling, I mean jerking myself off while wearing girls’ underpants. It doesn’t capture the very real physical and emotional changes that I experienced when I hormonally transitioned from testosterone to estrogen. Hey, but you know what does explain that? Being injected with ‘mones!
Performance doesn’t even begin to address the fact that, during my transition, I acted the same—wore the same Tshirts, jeans, and sneakers that I always had—yet once other people started reading me as female, they began treating me very differently. And that’s called Transphobia. It has nothing to do with the fact that Women as a class are rendered second class because of the system of oppression called GENDER.
When we talk about my gender as though it were a performance, we let the audience—with all of their expectations, prejudices, and presumptions— completely off the hook. What’s that you say? It’s actually not about me? Fuck you, bigot, everything is about Julia Serano!!!
Look, I know that many contemporary queer folks and feminists embrace mantras like “all gender is performance,” “all gender is drag,” and “gender is just a construct.” They also might believe such crazy statements as “The Sky is Blue,” The Earth is Not Flat,” and “Penis is Male.” They seem empowered by the way these sayings give the impression that gender is merely a fiction. A facade. A figment of our imaginations. And of course they miss the fact that gender is s system, intentional, oppressive, to Actual Women. And of course, this is a convenient strategy, provided that you’re not a trans woman who lacks the means to change her legal sex to female, and who thus runs the very real risk of being locked up in an all-male jail cell. And that is the worst thing about Gender, not that it leads to the rape of millions of girls and women across the globe. What really matters is that good ol’ cock and balls Serano might be (properly) classified as male (I AM A BIOLOGIST DAMMIT).
Provided that you’re not a trans man who has to navigate the discrepancy between his male identity and female history during job interviews and first dates. See how I threw the transwomen a bone right there?
Whenever I hear someone who has not had a transsexual experience say that gender is just a construct or merely a performance, it always reminds me of that Stephen Colbert gag where he insists that he doesn’t see race. What’s that? EVERY WOMAN ON THE PLANET has an experience of Gender and what it is? Fuck you, ‘phobe. Those Women have cis privilege.
It’s easy to fictionalize an issue when you are not fully in touch with all of the ways in which you are privileged by it. Here, let me link you to some Tumblr blogs so you can get collected fore your blatant transphobia. Almost every day of my life I deal with people who insist on seeing my femaleness as fake. Because it is. Because I am male.
People who make a point of calling me effeminate rather than feminine. People who slip up my pronouns, but only after they find out that I’m trans, never beforehand (Actual LOLs). People who insist on third-sexing (!!) me with labels like MTF, boy-girl, he-she, she-male, ze, hir, 4 it—anything but simply female. What’s that? You thought gender neutral pronouns were ok? Fucy you, nonbinarist bigot!! Because I’m transsexual, I am sometimes accused of impersonation or deception when I am simply being myself. Like, really, every day people come up to me on the street and do this. I am the most oppressed man on the planet.
So it seems to me that this strategy of fictionalizing gender will only ever serve to marginalize me further. So no one, expecially those Nasty Radical Feminists, can ever talk about Gender. Because that’s the same thing as genocide. Actually, it’s even worse. Did you know that Janice Raymond is personally responsible for murdering 58 million transwomen/men????
So I ask you: Can’t we find new ways of speaking? Shouldn’t we be championing new slogans that empower all of us (except for actual women), whether trans or non-trans, queer or straight, female and/or male and/or none of the above? Instead of saying that all gender is this or all gender is that, let’s recognize that the word gender has scores of meanings built into it. This recognition means that gender is what I say it is – fuck you Sheila Jeffreys!!
It’s an amalgamation of bodies, identities, and life experiences, of subconscious urges, sensations, and behaviors, some of which develop organically, and others which are shaped by language and culture. Instead of saying that gender is any one single thing, let’s start describing it as a holistic experience. Oh my God, how good am I? I just got the new agey people with that line. Instead of saying that all gender is performance, let’s admit that sometimes gender is an act, and other times it isn’t. Forget about the reality that Gender oppression happens to Women – now it happens to ALL OF US. And since we can’t get inside of one another’s minds, we have no way of knowing whether any given person’s gender is sincere or contrived. So stop being to judgy, bitches. Let’s fess up to the fact that when we make judgments about other people’s genders, we’re typically basing it on our own assumptions (and we all know what happens when you assume, right? We assume I am a man).
Let’s stop claiming that certain genders and sexualities “reinforce the gender binary.” What’s that? Radical feminists say gender is not a binary, but a hierarchy, with women on the bottom? Well, fuck those bitches, gender is a binary, and I am sexy. In the past, that tactic has been used to dismiss butches and femmes, bisexuals, trans folks and our partners, and feminine people of every persuasion. And by dismiss, I mean those radical feminists are mean and judgmental. Gender isn’t simply some faucet that we can turn on and off in order to appease other people, whether they be heterosexist bigots or queerer-than-thou hipsters (like me). How about this: Let’s stop pretending that we have all the answers because when it comes to gender, none of us is fucking omniscient. And for real, Women have nothing to offer on this topic, and they should never ever recognize that Gender happens to ALL WOMEN.
Instead of trying to fictionalize gender, let’s talk about all of the moments in life when gender feels all too real. FEELINGS! Because gender doesn’t feel like drag when you’re a young trans child begging your parents not to cut your hair or not to force you to wear that dress. What’s thyat? Girls don’t have to be trans to not want to wear a dress? Fuck you. All Butch Dykes and Tomboys are men. And gender doesn’t feel like a performance when, for the first time in your life, you feel safe and empowered enough to express yourself in ways that resonate with you, rather than remaining closeted for the benefit of others. And by “ways that resonate with me,” I mean “I love when I get a boner when I dress “like a girl” and am seen my actual women.” And gender doesn’t feel like a construct when you finally find that special person whose body, personality, identity, and energy feels like a perfect fit with yours. SEXY TIME SERANO! Let’s stop trying to deconstruct gender into nonexistence and instead start celebrating it as inexplicable, varied, profound, and intricate. So don’t dare dismiss my gender as a construct, drag, or a performance, because my gender is a work of non-fiction.
ME ME ME ME ME ME ME.