Gendered Antagonisms

April 4, 2016


All expressions of gender non-conformity are antagonistic, especially trans femininity.

Gender antagonisms aren’t always brash. It’s defiant to take up physical space as a woman or a femme; it’s confrontational to wear nail polish as a man or a masc.

Daily antagonisms are both empowering and tend to increase vulnerability. There is a cost-benefit analysis about expressing your gender without apology and feeling safe on the streets, which almost always results in a compromise. Your safety is conditional.

Being trans in London is to exist as both invisible and hyper-visible. If your genderqueerness is evident, passersby will stop, point, and loudly exclaim, “Is that a boy or a girl?!” They are always groups of men. Other people will stare, trying to figure out if they should be more uncomfortable with your androgyny or your potentially homo-affection in holding someone’s hand. None of them know you’re trans, none of them know your name or pronouns, none of them witness your gender identity; you are invisible and yet exposed.

Masculinity is perceived as “neutral” or “androgynous” while femininity is objectified and severely scrutinised.

Smash the expectation that marginalised people are responsible for ending their oppressions, that they are required to educate their oppressors, or that they must loudly politicise their marginalised identity. There is value in assimilation for survival – without survival there is no liberation. Worse still is the idea that we are deserving of their oppression for daring to be visible, that we are obligated to assimilate.

I am staunchly against “against apolitical” marginalised identities. Gender non-conformity is inherently political – stop putting it on marginalised people to be explicitly political (that’s the work of allies who are less vulnerable to violences and less exhausted through constantly combating transphobia). Trans people might perform normative gender expressions because it helps them pass, and passing can be extremely empowering (never mind safer). Trans people don’t need to be explicitly political in their gender expression because simply existing as trans is revolutionary. Being trans in a society so invested in a static gender binary is inherently antagonistic and radical.

Fuck respectability politics. Trans people don’t need to conform to cisnormative standards of beauty to be worthy, to be sexy, to be human. This only serves to create a hierarchy of “acceptable” gender expressions and modes of transness – ones which fit the gender binary.

Make-up is both patriarchal shackles and liberation. Embrace the complexity, and get used to it. Trans can contain contradiction.

Two people walk down the street wearing the same dress: both are non-binary demi-boys. One is a dfab (designated female at birth) sex worker, pressured to be femme his whole life; he resents the street harassment when people perceive him as a woman; he is thrilled when he gets stares as they clock him as “a man in a dress” because that’s closer than street harassers have ever gotten to being right about him, and it’s perversely validating. The other boy is dmab (designated male at birth) and was never allowed to express femininity; the empowerment he felt at home when he got dressed dissipates as lads shout at him. They witness his gender nonconformity and undermine his feminine expression. The experience of wearing the same dress, having the same gender identity, and being perceived as the same gender is extremely different for these two people.

Last week I went to a feminist punk show wearing black jeans, a polo t-shirt, and black lipstick; I looked like a boy, sort of. A cute girl started a conversation with me: “It’s great to see so many girls at a punk gig!” “I think so too! But, I’m not a girl. Er, I’m trans.” “That’s so brave, I’ve never met a trans person before. Are you going from female to male?” “Um… sort of. No. I’m like a boy, but not just a boy.” This is the most forward I’ve ever been about my non-binary identity with a stranger.

Gender is dynamic. Sometimes “queer” is the only word which makes sense because it allows for ambiguity and flux.

“Transition”. Transition is constant, like coming out. Gender is not binary for most of us. We don’t wake up suddenly eschewing yesterday’s gender and confidently claim its “opposite”. Gender is a non-linear process; there is no clear “before” and “after”.

Privilege is not only produced, it is reproduced.

The fragility of masculinity is incredible. Men feel so entitled to physical and conversational space, and media representation, that as soon as anyone else speaks they feel silenced. Men are apparently terrified at being excluded from dialogue; it would be laughable if not demonstrated by violently invading femme and non-binary spaces. There is a common fallacy that men need to “get in touch with their feelings” – men need to become sensitive to the feelings of everyone else and stop throwing tantrums whenever their collective masculinity is called out for being oppressive (“Not all men!” Bro, enough men). It would be so cool to have a conversation about gender which doesn’t constantly reference men and masculinity as the focal point.

You develop a hyper-awareness of how other people perceive your gender. As someone who gets gendered differently on different occasions, it’s impossible not to note the differences: when I’m gendered as a man, I’m allowed more physical and figurative space, people take me more seriously, and I’m allowed anonymity; when I’m gendered as a woman, passersby consume my outfit/body, and men mansplain basic shit. The worst is when I’m trying to convey a certain gender expression—a normative one, even—and people misgender me. Sometimes it’s obvious (street harassment as I’m mistaken for a woman), but a lot of the time it’s subtle and it takes all of my focus to concentrate on the interaction instead of wondering how I’m being gendered.

Assimilation is not liberation. Trans queers don’t want marriage (monogamous state-sanctioned intimacy and consolidated wealth) nor to serve openly in the military (“your feminism will be anti-imperialist or it will be bullshit”). We want systemic power imbalances levelled. We want housing and healthcare and jobs (at least until capitalism crumbles). We want our identities to stop being pathologised, and we want to change our names and gender markers without a diagnosis. We want an end to the implicit idea that cis and heteronormative white masculinity is default.

Trans politics isn’t about conforming to respectability or professionalism or “you wouldn’t dress that way if you didn’t want attention” victim-blaming crap, and it’s not about ending gender or erasing femininity so we can all be “neutral” (read: masculine). It’s about erasing gender policing, it’s about dismantling the binary so everyone can rid themselves of patriarchal prescribed gender roles, it’s about allowing fluidity of identity and expression. There is no trans liberation without black and brown liberation from white supremacy and colonialism, queer liberation from heteronormativity, women’s liberation from patriarchy, crip and mad liberation from ableism, and worker’s liberation from capitalism.

By Morgan Potts | @mrgnptts |


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