Gender binary normativity


A friend pointed me towards the following blog: ‘so you want a gender revolution, the binary bites back‘ by ‘Radicalbitch’,  presumably knowing that it might either offend me or invite me to react. The latter is the case and here is the reaction. What’s the story?

In that blog transgenders and transsexuals are denied access to ‘women space’. It seems that the writer opposes transgenders and transsexuals being able to identify themselves as women and particpating in women space in society. Well first of all it’s directed solely at MtF transgenders, but ok let’s forgive that glitch. Being complete would probably make things more complicated. Second, women space is defined as the feminine side of a binary gender world. And that’s the catch. The writer doesn’t at all dig into the even remote possibility of a gender spectrum consisting of a continuum between masculinity and femininety. It seems the writer is what most people would regard as transsexual but according to her text is probably intersexual with a female gender identity. Thereby labelling herself as a ‘cissexual’, a women embracing the female side of the gender binary divide. She does that with fierce absolutism and attacks others who think different. Gender binary normativity on display.

The lack of mentioning the gender continuum as a feasable approach to gender but only writing about ‘the third gender’ being transgender shows the limitations and fear of people when confronted with non binary placeble individuals. The reaction to that fear is somehow agressive or at least tense. And it’s a waste as far as I’m concerned. Because trying to do the intellectual exercise of reasoning from another perspective than her own didn’t occur in the text on her blog. Being extremely normative in her approach she actually denies transgenders or transsexuals access to women space. As if she really could do that. Exclusion is the typical reaction of people who are insecure about a topic, in this case about gender. Exclusion in itself disables discussion because the excluded are pushed into the defense. So adressing the issue in a blog and subsequently excluding the people who think different is not showing an open mind and in essence it’s a token of shortsightedness.

My answer on her blog is as follows:

Well, well, well. To be honest I think your reasoning is limited and wrong, not to say abusive in itself. The last sentence in your blog is as far as I’m conserned total crap.

What you are showing is what I state as ‘gender binary normativity’. The only truth you seem to represent is that of the gender binary. Thereby giving no room to transgenders that cannot identify in that binary as they represent people living in a gender continuum. I do not support neither approve of Butler’s thinking on this by the way. Even Butler thinks binary.

I am, as many transgenders a human being with a predominantly female identity AND less dominant masculinity. I live somewhere in the gender continuum, being neither woman nor man. Physically not born as a woman but reconstructed for as far as possible by a gender reassignment operation. But still not completely a woman. Mentally I certainly am not a man but much more of a woman. The result is in essence that I am an ‘inbetweeny’. I cherish that as my real identity. I live and love as a woman but I do have a partly male core identity that is undeniably there.

I don’t see why I as a gender binary opponent would not be allowed to enter women space. entering that space is not so much agreeing with the gender binary female. It’s the space that I feel most comfortable in in a mental sense. Ok, I’m lesbian too so I do have an interest in womanhood from that angle as well.

Actually what you are dmonstrating in your blog is cissexism: rating transsexual / transgender gender identity as inferior to your own – also acquired – cissexual identity. That is a lame approach to gender identity. People come out worse being exclusive in stead of inclusive when it concerns gender identity.

So, no! I will certainly not accept gender binary as the real world of gender. It’s a continuum in my view. And no! I will not accept being denied participation in women’s space anywhere as I am predominantly female. Why would I not have the right to be who I am? Who are you to deny me / us our gender expression as women and at the same time embracing the gender continuum? We are just not completely female. But are you? Don’t think so my dear.

So pleace rethink and check out Julia Serano for a change. It might help clearing your mind.

It’s a pitty that gender challenged people identify themselves to the other gender binary pole, leaving a live of forced masculinity or femininety for the opposite in such a way that they exclude the opinions and feelings of those sisters and brothers who feel slightly different. For as far as gender is concerned offcourse. Maybe, just maybe human thinking might evolve in accepting the concept of a gender continuum and learn that there actually is no human who is 100% female or 100% male. That we all have both genders in us, wether we like it or not. After all, isn’t it biologically the case that all humans are in there conception feminine and by hormonal influences might end up being what we state as being a male? Rendering every man alive as at least having been a female for a couple of weeks. The diagram in this blog shows the ambiguity of gender (sorry for the Portuguese text but you’ll be able to understand after looking at it for a while). It also hints at a continuum by showing that some people somehow don’t fit in the binary divide.

Alice © 2009

19 thoughts on “Gender binary normativity

  1. @ Alice: I guess we agree to a great extent. The binary thing isn’t much more than keeping to the right (or left in the UK and down under) on the road. As long as you are free to take to the side you feel most comfortable on, without taking too much heed of biology or 100%-edness, one should be able to lead any life possible to think of.

    Theory is for academics, not for regulating or justifying practice.

  2. @ariablue Thank you for your contribution. I agree with most of what you write. Sound argumentation and something that would be good for the author of the original blog to understand. The only thing that withholds me (and to some extend Janiek’s arguments as well) is that I do not go for any categories because I’m getting more and more convinced by the gender continuum theory as more mature then the old binary theory. The world as a whole and nature certainly is not binary.

    The binary thing is invented by men to give clarity in daily life. It’s just a model for social behavior as far as I’m concerned. That’s also the reason that I feel a lot for an umbrella term concerning gender variaties. Transgender is the most accepted at this stage of thinking. But even that term is multi interpretable and in some aspects dead wrong.

  3. @ ariablue: You are right about the peace thing. That is what I meant by “the binary being not so bad after all”. Once you let go of all the bickering, you end up pretty relaxed as a woman (or man, if you like) with any degree of femininity or masculinity. No need for more categories once you have experienced the possibility to live with the ambivalence in your personality.

  4. I think there are a couple different disagreements that are overlapping, if I can take up too much space on your blog for a minute, hehe. There is a difference between how we all internally identify, and the names we accept in the world at large. “transgendered woman” to self does not have to be “transgendered woman to the public, and the law”, at least in the US. People who try to create a 3rd or 4th category here are engaging in a different argument with the legal system, I think.

    In the process of “trans”, many of us begin by looking at ourselves in terms of male and female traits. We create categories, carve our personalities and physicality into discrete features to be packaged into neat little gender nuggets, and so on. We decide where we are relation to other people by placement as “me”, and “other”. Other can be very troubling.

    Internal gender identity is a very different thing from socially recognized gender. Many of us struggle with feelings of inauthenticity, not being real. Our “failures” as women take on epic proportions in our minds that non-trans women may never experience. They strike at the core of our being, and cause us to look for compromises. This struggle leads us to accept, to ourselves, labels that we might not otherwise wish. We simply tell ourselves that this is “reality”.

    One thing I would advice those in transition is to withhold final judgment as to what is “real”. Once you have that set in your mind, it is going to be very difficult to see what is beyond. And what is waiting for you, if you allow it, is a resolution to those feelings.

    “Real” doesn’t punish anymore. Time in your new life can change your perspective: You realize that all those things that you labeled male and female traits don’t exist as the concrete mental structures you once assumed. The true spectrum emerges, and arbitrary nature of what held us back before is exposed. There is peace at the end of the struggle with identity.

    Social gender is an entirely different thing. We need not carry our personal fight into this other area. One can be a woman, without qualifiers, having come from any number of starting points. Woman is social performance, a social category. The need to attach a qualifier to this state of being fades with time, and in the end you realize that you never had to do it in the first place. There is peace to be found here as well.

    The problem here, as I see it, is that some people who have not resolved things within themselves tend to try to do it in the public arena. They cannot come to peace within themselves and demand that others do it for them. Through laws, through forced accommodation. Not accommodation of gender-variant people alone, but also an accompanying admission that everything society believed about the sexes is false. People do not want to be told their own identity is false, of course, and will react violently when it is challenged.

    It is not so much and issue of inclusion of women with varied backgrounds. That has been allowed in this country for many years. We have laws in 47 states that allow us to change our birth records. Other forms of ID can be changed without surgery in most places. We have a long(ish) history of accommodation for those who are transing gender. But the misguided efforts of a certain political movement are causing many local governments to withdraw what was granted before, breaking tradition of half a century in some cases.

    In the end, I just think gender politics are counterproductive and will end up costing “transsexual” men and women a great deal. Perhaps everything. I never forget that this condition first and foremost requires medical treatment and legal tolerance. “Transgender conditions” don’t. Who will pay the price?

  5. @Leigh Ann
    So what’s your point? I merely reacted on a blog that was aimed at transgenders. So why are you so upset if you don’t want my kind of people to involve you as you are involving yourself in a discussion about us?
    Did I involve you in anything? I don’t even know you, so I think not.

  6. Why do people just not see that there’s a difference between those who are correcting a medicalcondition and people who are looking for kicks? The transgenders can do what they want, but they don’t have to involve me in it.

  7. I should have mentioned: “difficult” was not at all directed to you personally. What I meant to say, nowhere in the world have I encountered such narrowmindedness and bigotry as among trans-identified people on the net.

    In the outside world I am and have always been accepted, sometimes even valued and admired as a somewhat unusual man c.q. woman. Only rarely have I been openly discriminated against.

    Whereas on several internet fora and blogs bickering about all kinds of different trans identities is not an exception, but a rule. Hate to say so, but it is.

  8. 🙂 I guess I know you to be a nice person, which does not and should not refrain you from being difficult ;-).

    You are perfectly right in loving or liking yourself just the way you are, genderwise. For myself I am comfortable enough in a gender binary world that seems to acknowledge my right/wish to be seen and treated as a woman, allthough I myself feel the ambivalence of being transgendered every day. Luckily it seems to become less of a dissonance. (Touch wood.)

  9. @Janiek
    I don’t feel comfortable in a gender binary world. Probably because I see myself as too much of a mix. Outside feminine, inside still partly masculine. And I do like that part as well. Maybe a whatever or inbetweeny fits me properly. I don’t really know and I don’t really care. And yes, I am difficult especially on the Net. But hey, I’m professionally difficult so I guess I grant myself the right to be just that.
    In real life I might actually be a nice person for most of the time but on the Net and elsewhere I like to use the pen / keyboard to stir things up a little bit. All for the sake of people starting to re-think again and again and again…

  10. Forgot to mention: I am very familiar with identity politics on internet fora for transwhatevers. (TG, TV true and fetish, CD, TS in at least three brands, AG, GLBTTTTTTIQQA, and so on). It sucks.

    Compared to all that bullshit the gender binary isn’t so bad after all, once you are more or less on the side you want to be on ;-). It even allows you to be on both sides alternately or at the same time and to feel or be seen as ‘not so gendered’ or ‘hard to gender’.

    Us transwhatevers are difficult people, especially on internet fora….

  11. @ catkisser & @ Alice:

    “I rate much more cisgendered than you”
    “So I guess I’m probably more cisgendered than you think.”

    This is so totally new to me! All transgendered people are cisgendered, but some are more cisgendered than others? Or what ;-)?

  12. @Janiek. Forgot to mention the fact that discussions on some fora for MtF trannies are very much inline with the forementioned discussion at Cat’s blog. Same mechanism, different angle but same exclusion mentality. There’s the relevance of it.

  13. @Janiek oh that was already clear to me. Thing is offcourse that it’s up to me what I want to ‘import’ or not. Same goes for the things I write about or want to work on. No one is forced to particpate or react on what goes on here. Everyone is allowed and invited to do so.

    I surely find this discussion relevant and recognizable in our society. I certainly don’t think of it as crap. Some viewpoints on the oter hand I do regard crappy which is why I write about it.

    But then again, I am a free thinker and willing to challenge anything I feel obliged to challenge. I surely do understand people who are not interested in this, but then again: so what?

    Love and respect,

  14. As I made clear in a comment on your next post: I am not at all gratefull for such an “import”. This has been a fruitless and disintegrating discussion Statewise for decades. We don’t need that sort of crap here as far as I’m concerned. I have my own ways to deal with the neglectable amount of hostility I meet in daily life.

  15. @catkisser As far as conclusion jumping is concerned. That’s not a tranny thing my dear. You take it from my checklist (which is not mine as the caption tells you, I merely republished it because it’s so recognizable for most transgenders) that I have a bunch of ‘remaining issues’. Now that actually is jumping to conclusions. Thing is, I don’t. I just observe gender binary normativity and the blog I reacted upon is an extreme example of that. Most of the issues in the list have been issues for me but are no issue anymore. So I guess I’m probably more cisgendered than you think. But, just for the sake of quality of thinking, wouldn’t it be far more intelligent to embrace the gender continuum as so much in society proves the existence of that continuum? What came to mind when I read the blog was that the cisgendered author herself is thinking profoundly binary and I rate that as undevelopped gender thinking.
    Oh, and eh, I did read most of the blog entries on that blog and I love them. This one just confronted me with a way of thinking that is too limited for not to react upon.

    By the way, the discussion is valuable in The Netherlands because the whole topic of gender thinking is far less advanced than in (parts of) US. So I am trying to ‘import’ the discussions in this way.


  16. Zou het schelen als we die hele binary wat minder zwaar opvatten? Gewoon rechts houden op de trap, of je nou meer of minder dicht tegen de leuning aan loopt.

  17. Wow……..conclusion jumping should be a tranny Olympic event!

    I do in fact recognize a gender continuum among transgenders ranging from pure fetishistic crossdresser to AG or “skin transvestite”. Classic transsexuality, by definition isn’t on that continuum. From your checklist on the last entry, I take it you have a bunch of remaining “issues” unresolved by surgery. Also from that checklist, I rate much more cisgendered than you since the bulk of those items are simply not issues in my life. Perhaps my comfort level within “woman” divides us?

    You might try reading more of my blog before you analysis me.

  18. I think in its simplest terms what catwhisperer performs – and Lisa Harney in a different way – is reductionism. Severe reductionism. Binarism indeed. Thou shalt be one thing not another. If thou art something else, then nothing but that.
    Life isn’t like that. You can be far more flexible and also somehow in a way, feel remotely connected to one of the binary recognized genders.
    These girls make a binary of three choices 😉

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