Friday, February 17, 2012

Genderqueer, Or Internalized Misogyny?

[ETA: It's been brought to my attention that this post is founded on certain cissexist assumptions. It's true that I haven't engaged with my ingrained cissexism as much as I should, and I hope to work on that. Apologies for fucking up.]

The other night I dreamed I was at a church that had three bathrooms marked Men, Women, and Genderqueer. Entering the last, I found a glorious wonderland that was everything I could possibly want from a bathroom: talking Japanese supertoilet, hot tub, surround-sound entertainment system, etc.

It wouldn't be quite accurate to say that I trust my dreams. Dreams are your brain sorting through its junk drawer: most of it is pure junk, and occasionally something important turns up. I trust my reactions to my dreams. I've had sexual dreams about male friends which didn't disturb me at all, because I instinctively classified them as junk (hell, if everyone keeps calling him your boyfriend, your subconscious is eventually going to try it on for size, even if the notion is quite revolting). And it was a thoroughly PG-13 teenage dream about a female friend which unleashed the initial torrent of panicked self-reflection that is the first tender step on toward the closet door.

I wish I had access to the diary entry of the time so you could see it in its full, verbatim hilarity. “I'm not gay,” I wrote desperately (or something to that effect), “though it would make sense of a lot of things I like (hot girl-on-girl makeouts on Sugar Rush; scantily clad women in horror movies)...”

(I know! Bless, right?)

It took me a couple more years of self-torture – writing things like, “I'm not gay. I'm just homosexual”, which presumably made sense to me at the time – before I gave up trying to resist The Gay. (“Suck it, haters,” I at last wrote triumphantly: “I am a lesbian.”) My reluctance to accept The Genderqueer reminds me a lot of my reluctance to accept The Gay. I'm probably scrabbling for any available reason to deny something I pretty much know is true.

And yet, and yet...

I can't stop obsessively second-guessing myself. Just as I used to fear that my homosexuality was nothing more than intense fear and disgust at the penis, I now worry that my inclination toward genderfuckery is nothing more than internalized misogyny.

Like, when I reject the societal performance of femininity (shaving, makeup, skirts, long hair), is it because I consider the feminine-coded to be lesser?

If I accept the proposition that no true generalization can be made about women without resorting to tautology – if I accept that you don't have to be, have, or do anything to “qualify” as a woman, apart from identifying as a woman – why then am I not comfortably identifying as a woman?

When I'm enraged by someone in a store calling me “Missy” (THIS LITERALLY HAPPENED LAST WEEK, IN BERKELEY, IN 2012), am I enraged because it's fucking patronizing as shit, or because it genders me as female?

Does my general feeling that being gendered female is wrong mean that it's wrong for me, or that deep down I buy into the patriarchal equation female = wrong?

I feel increasingly disconnected from the pronoun she/her. When somebody refers to me as she/her, it feels as though they're talking about someone else. I like it when I get read as male or referred to with gender-neutral pronouns. I would love to ask people to use ey/em, but they probably wouldn't: even in out oh-so-progressive, wonderfully accepting and queer-friendly community, most people are terrible at respecting the pronouns of our openly genderqueer friends. And even if I could convince my friends to make the switch, how can I stop strangers from gendering me female?

We're so indoctrinated to categorize everyone into this M/F binary that people immersed in a supposedly queer-embracing environment won't even refer to someone as “they” after being explicitly asked to. And yet I pull on one thread and the whole gender thing comes apart in my hands. The existence of trans men and women is proof that it's possible to scrutinize and deconstruct your gender identity and reach a conclusion other than “Gender is bullshit”; but more and more that seems like the inevitable endpoint of my own inquiry.


  1. "Missy" is patronizing. Feel free to fight about that. Of course looking at this post reminded me again of the general miysogiony in society and I wonder if I'm part of the problem because I just don't fight enough. Last week, Bob and I went to a car dealership to pop in to talk to a guy he'd talked to previously about getting me a used car (in a model I've driven before and loved). And, well, sitting there talking to the used car salesman, I *noticed* how much attention he was giving Bob rather than giving me, eye-contact with him, not with me, etc. when I am to be the owner of the car. I had the thought "It's probably because I'm a woman - he's a car salesman, they tend to pay more attention to men." Instead of speaking up, I just kind of sat back, wanting it all to be over so we could take a test drive. I figured "Battle I'm not going to win."

    And I'm kind of like that with lots of things - when my mental illness becomes an issue, I sit back and "let" sometimes just becuase I know no one's going to really listen to me. I think I let myself get screwed over and ignored in my poverty, too, becuase people don't listen to people without money.

    Then I write.

    I guess I would say your identity isn't a problem if you aren't making it a problem for others. What I mean is, if "girl" feels wrong "for you" but you aren't projecting that wrongness onto others for whom "girly things" are something they enjoy, then you should be okay. I identify as female, completely, though I rarely wear dresses and skirts (usually only in cosplay anymore, actually). To me, they are uncomfortable and impractical (not an identity thing with me, just a practicality thing), yet, if someone wants to wear dresses and skirts all the time, that's fine with me. I'll tell them it's a bad idea if they want to come fishing with me, though...

    I had an online friend turned ex-friend who was kind of a nutter all around. One of her things that drove everyone who was friends with her that I knew online crazy was her going through a rather hard gender identity crisis. Now, back when I knew her (and I'm still using "her" because most of the time I knew her she identified as female), I was still church-homophobic so I didn't treat her as well as I should have (I'm not that person anymore). However, even her most liberal friends in our circle just had done with her because she basically started idenitfying everything "female" as bad, women were evil to her, women "weren't able" to hold certain jobs in her eyes, "women" were supposed to stay at home and make babies in her eyes, that's why she wasn't one.... She did claim to have a deeply Fundamentalist family and her online friends were trying to tell her not to internalize their bullshit, but she apparently was doing just that.

    I seem to remember her trying to tell me that I was probably "really male" because of how intelligent and tomboyish I am and I told her "Nope, happily female, a bit 'manly' in it, but I still think I'm a girl, sorry. Please stop condemming me for it, or for the 'girly' things I like, please?"

    I guess what I'm saying is that as long as you don't interalize society's "female = weakness" too much and don't condemn those who identify as female for doing so, you're fine.

  2. I get what you're saying. The issue is that there is kind of a Golden Rule aspect of it. I know you well enough to know that you don't treat other people with the sort of false consciousness concept that underlies your anxiety. So if you wouldn't do it to other people, then why should you do it to yourself?

    I would really like to talk to you more about this, but as far as I can say on the internet it would go something like:

    The idea that genderqueer (or trans masculine people in general) people are just suffering from misogyny is the basis of lots of radical essentialist feminists upon genderqueer people and trans men. Perhaps you could even make the argument that essentialist culture (particularly essentialist feminism) has given you an internalized worry that your gender performance is based in misogyny. And it's turtles all the way down, unfortunately.

    I have started to become less and less enthralled with the concept of total and complete social construction, since in any sort of real way it involves either an unreal social determinism or a bootstraps sort of individuality.

    But I think gender is something so complex, that you would have to be a much less complex person than you really are to boil it down to "genderqueer=misogyny". I think it's impossible to reduce anyone's behavior to such an equation, including yours.

    1. Oh good lord, I'd never dream of questioning / doubting / second-guessing / generally being ruthless to other people the way I do to myself. I haven't even begun to untangle the relationship between my gender identity issues and my self-loathing issues.

    2. Oh I know! I don't know if the argument ever works, but sometimes appeals to justice can work the opposite direction of how they are usually used. To invert the Golden Rule: Love yourself as you love others.

  3. Ranicorn --

    When I read your post the other day, I tried three times to compose a comment but my broswer erased it each time, and I took that as a sign that I should calm down and put a more general request on Shakesville at the link. And I appreciate your response on there.

    So from a little more distance now (and hoping my browser won't eat this comment; hopefully it's satiated at this point), I wanted to chip in a little more: I think most trans people who have their roots in cis-authored feminist theory -- as a lot of us seem to -- struggle to reconcile their identity with some of the gender assumptions made by feminists. I believe I may have written or felt some points similar to yours a few years ago.

    But in my opinion, writings by trans people oriented to a trans audience are an extremely powerful tool for self-discovery -- that's what I credit for my own identity development*. Cis feminists, in other words, don't have primary claim to gender oppression theories. Insofar as they're cis, they're privileged (and in few feminist writings will you come across the concept of [cis] women as [cis] women being privileged and oppressive towards others along gender lines; that's a trans-authored and as far as I'm concerned an accurate concept).

    *I'm using the "identity development" in the sense of "gaining maturity to cope with the oppressions one experiences in one's identity". I don't consider my self any more constructed, performed, learning, theorized or invented than any cis person's self. I am who I am, in other words, with all the stability and permanence a person can lay claim to, but I needed help building the vocabulary to defend myself.

    Anyway -- I think it would help to de-center the cis feminist lens you're bringing to the question of "who you are". And even if you gain self knowledge to the effect that you're not GQ, I think it would help you in your project of trans allyship (which I assume you're already undertaking, because you seem far from overtly ciscentric/transphobic).

    Some suggestions:

    Questioning Transphobia
    The Lair
    South Carolina Boy
    Taking Steps

    SO: hope this adds something to your internal discussion, and I hope I didn't contribute to any feelings of being "set-upon", because I do fundamentally sympathize with where you're at. Good luck!

    1. Thank you for your comments. I really am grateful - if people didn't point out to us the problematic assumptions we're making and the problematic frameworks we're using, how would we ever learn?

      And thanks for the links - QT is the only one I'm familiar with, and you've made me realize that I really ought to be reading more trans-authored stuff.

  4. Kinda late to the party here, but I just found this post through Google and I can relate to it a lot. For at least 6 years, I've been wondering whether I'm genderqueer or rather a ciswoman who hates gender roles a lot. I'm not very masculine in any traditional sense, but I feel mentally androgynous, and I don't want femininity to be imposed on me from outside. It upsets me to think that I'll always be viewed as a woman. But again, is that because I'm NOT a woman, or because I'm tired of being ignored or minimized as a woman? When I think about not identifying as genderqueer though, I feel like something is missing. When I read about other people's genderqueer or androgyne experiences, I'm often going "yeah, me too". I don't feel physically dysphoric, but then again I don't see my body as being "a woman's body". So basically, I don't know, and even though it's really annoying to not know your gender, I'm glad to not be the only one.

  5. Rainicorn, thanks for the post. Also, thanks for the blog; I'm kind of bummed out I'm only finding it now.

    Before reading others' comments, your original post hit on an interesting point, illuminating something I hadn't put together on my own in my own story.

    For me, the question of self-guessing isn't as to whether or not I'm internally misogynistic (I'm a 22 YO genderqueer - that's still uncomfortable to say, actually - male), but whether or not I simply dislike the masculine assumptions/roles/whatevs put on me by myself and others.

    I've always been androgynous - my parents used to calm my two brothers (one older, one younger, I'm the perfect poster-child for any idea of a "middle child syndrome") when I'd rush off to my room crying with "your brother's sensitive" when they didn't have a better explanation for why an 8-year-old boy would so readily and easily go into a sobbing fit. There are other ways in which I'm andro, but that just seemed the most pertinent to this thought.

    Do I simply dislike that I am male, and therefore should be all the things that a man should be? That's the question that haunts me, because honestly, I'm not some of those things. I don't feel wrong about not being those things, but it pisses me off, saddens, and hurts when some of those missing things are thought of as a weakness.

    This is your first post that I've read, but I wonder if you have any new thoughts or answers on this question. Also, if it's fine with you, I'd like to re-post this over on my website.


    1. Thanks for commenting. It's always nice to know when something I've written has resonated with others, and to be reassured that I'm not alone.

      (Btw, I'm also a middle child with a brother either side... heh.)

      The most recent thing I've written on this topic is actually my most recent post here - So It Begins. I'm still having a pretty hard time with all this, but I'm coming to realize that weeding out all the societal and cultural constructions in order to locate the ~Essential Me~ simply can't be done.

      And yes, linkage/cross-posting love is always welcome!

  6. "Internalized misogyny" is definitely a fear (one of many insecurities might I add) that I have experienced with my nonbinary identity (bigender, gender-fluid). I relate to that constant questioning and second guessing that it is internalized misogyny. And even now I don't think that way, I fear that others will judge it that way. I had to accept that the facts didn't add up; what about others experiencing way misogyny who hold cisgender female identities? If "converting" to nonbinary gender is a subconscious response to misogyny, it certainly is not a very popular one. What about the transfeminines out there? And then there is the realm of my personal experience, where I've wished to truly occupy that embodied female self, I've wished to be a woman. Because I've been so insecure with my identity, for me presenting as female has always been such a mark of confidence and competence. I sure as heck don't feel more confident occupying my masculine side. Sure,cis females don't have the privldges cis men do in this society, but nonbinary individuals and trans individuals have way less visibility and suffer way more discrimination, have way less representation and roles models than cis women. THese thoughts are not uncommon among us, much like the old pattern of thinking that somoene was turned gay by abuse parent. But the facts never add up. Have faith that you'll find a way to