of course the inevitable had to happen. someone who read my most recent post, letter to my future progeny, felt compelled to leave a comment stating that the third way in which my future child could disappoint me was transphobic. the paragraph in question basically instructed my future child on how to appropriate a genderqueer identity fueled by immense smugness & an overweening sense of entitlement. this person made no mention of the other ways i joked my child could disappoint me–by being a role-playing nerd or deciding to hop trains, for example. the post also made no mention of the potentially problematic nature of writing a blog post alerting my future child to the myriad ways that he/she/meow could end up disappointing me to the point that i’d tell my friends that he/she/meow was dead. i mean, my future child is going to be able to read someday, & if he/she/meow googles my name, he/she/meow is going to find this blog, & that post could certainly be the trigger that forces me to start putting away money for my child’s therapy bills. i’m still hoping that my future child will inherit a healthy sense of humor (both jared & i are pretty funny people, so i think there’s a good chance) & will be able to tell a humor post from my real feelings based on how well i do in the role of nurturing & loving mama, but hey. who knows how bad i’m gonna fuck up this mom thing?
what i really want to address is the anonymous commenter’s comment. on a quick housekeeping note: as a general rule, i don’t approve anonymous comments, whether they are critical or complimentary. also in general, i do not approve non-anonymous critical comments that are abusive. i would characterize this anonymous commenter’s comment as critical but not abusive, so it’s a shame that the person did not sign their name. but i guess they’re getting a response anyway, so it worked out pretty well for them.
i did not write what i wrote in an effort to oppress the genderqueer people of the world. a more thorough reading of the paragraph in question i think makes clear that i was referring to specific behaviors, which are by no means exclusive to genderqueer people, that are fucking obnoxious. if there are two things i can’t stand in political social justice rhetoric, they are smugness & entitlement, & the behaviors i suggested for my future child were dripping with both.
so why did i feel the need to specifically use the word “genderqueer,” rather than just writing about a person of any gender identity being smug & entitled? it’s a good question. & it is a complicated answer. i was poking around online earlier today & found a very interesting essay on a website about transphobia. it was about the prevalence of the genderqueer identity being misappropriated for political ends in ways that i, as a proponent of social justice, including respect & safety for people across the gender spectrum, definitely find problematic. the author pointed out that many genderqueer individuals state that their gender identity serves an explicitly political function–to subvert the gender dichotomy. this a lot more common among genderqueer folks than among cissexual or trans people. many people perceive of the genderqueer identity as an explicitly political identity, & while all gender is political to one degree or another, it’s pretty unusual to hear a cis or a trans person say, “yeah, i identify this way for political reasons.”
i have always felt a little weird about the concept of genderqueer as a political identity–or more specifically, i have felt weird about marrying the concept of genderqueer as a political identity to the concept of genderqueer as an oppressed & marginalized identity. if you acknowledge that you have chosen a genderqueer identity for the purposes of political subversion, where does that leave you in the soup of privilege & positionality? i feel the same way about this as i do about, say, women who choose lesbianism for political reasons. i think their sexualities should be respected & they certainly should not be victimized by violence or discrimination because of their genders or sexualities…but choosing a marginalized identity for political reasons is kind of insulting & oppressive to people who don’t have a choice about their marginalized identities.
this is especially complicated by a social justice milieu in which oppression is constantly used as currency. i wrote a post a few weeks ago called what’s the matter with the feminist blogosphere?, that touched on this topic. how often in social justice communities have i complicated a facile narrative with some basic critical thinking skills, only to met with the rejoinder, “you’re dismissing my real lived experience.” if that real lived experience has been experienced as a member of a marginalized group, it is doubly taboo to disagree. while i understand the impulse & think that it’s important to consider one’s privilege position & how it may (mis)inform an opinion or outlook, i have found on numerous occasions that this reluctance to ask questions & think critically does everyone a disservice.
many radical people of color, women, disabled people, poor people, trans people, & others have written about tokenization–being included in progressive communities of people with positional privilege, maybe because the marginalized person has some good ideas, maybe so the privileged people can pat themselves on the back for having “made space” for a marginalized person, maybe so the privileged people can feel that they have gotten the marginalized seal of approval…most likely a combination of all of these things, & more. but marginalized people are not always right. i’m a woman, but that doesn’t mean i am always right about every opinion i have about women. i’m poor, but that doesn’t mean i am always right about everything relating to classism. i am disabled, but that doesn’t mean i am always right about disability issues. if i used any of these identities in order to manipulate people privileged around these topics into always giving me my way & never questioning me or challenging me, i would hope that someone would come along & say something to me about it.
my friend robin & i were talking about bell hooks’s book where we stand: class matters recently. both robin & i grew up with working class backgrounds. we were both hopeful that hooks’s book could help to illuminate something about our own experiences of classism & class-based marginalization. & both of us were disappointed & horrified by the book, which was mainly a memoir, but as such, positioned hooks as The Expert on the topic of everything related to growing up poor. obviously hooks’s experience of growing up poor was different from ours for all kinds of reasons. hooks grew up in the south. i didn’t (robin did). hooks is a black woman, while both robin & i are white. hooks grew up several decades before robin & i. but we weren’t hoping for a mirror image of our own experiences. we were just hoping for a book we could give to more privileged friends in the hopes that it would help them understand what a poor childhood is like a little bit better. we were not expecting to have hooks’s “expert analysis” function to completely marginalize our own “lived truths,” as it were. but it did.
there are many areas where i have privilege, & i work to constantly keep those privileges in check & examine the ways they are informing my political viewpoints–to the best of my abilities. (we all fuck up sometimes.) but i have long been of the opinion that privilege-based guilt helps no one, & that the neverending quest to assuage that guilt is in fact a distraction from most kinds of effective social justice activism. therefore, guilt around privilege is not going to motivate me to turn a critical eye away from some of the more problematic, offensive, wackadoodle crap that even marginalized people get up to every now & again. & that includes the occasional smug, entitled genderqueer person who adopts a marginalized identity for political purposes & in order to leverage their own oppression as currency in a social justice arena suffused with radical guilt. i definitely never intended to hurt the feelings of any genderqueer or trans readers (of which i know i have quite a few) who do not do these things. i’m sorry if that happened. but at the end of the day, this blog is not a safe space for people who use oppression, even their own, as currency, & i won’t apologize for that.