One of the last questions that came up in class today had to do with the idea of freedom in Riki Wilchin’s essays on gender. It seems that, even within the transgender community, there is disagreement over how trans people should present themselves and how they should want to be seen by others. While some just want to transition and live within the cultural constructs of masculinity or femininity, others specifically seek to be political and to be viewed as queer, existing on the margins. While I want to approach issues of identity and gendered experience with an open mind and avoid judgment, there is still something about the purposefully marginal, political approach that does not sit comfortably for me. When I initially read this essay, I brushed this off, thinking it was likely just the intended response (after all, someone who seeks to live on the margins and, in some ways, “in your face” is trying to push buttons, ruffle feathers), but after our discussion in class today, I am still somewhat troubled by this approach and would like to propose a more critical view on this mindset.
Another practice that could also be brought into this conversation is the proposal to use neutral pronouns, maybe not only for trans or gender queer individuals, but for everyone as a way to level out relations of power in language. We talked about some of the practical complications of this type of change (such as the fact that many languages are so deeply founded in the gender binary that it is literally impossible to speak without drawing on masculine or feminine words), but someone also mentioned the critique that this would also function to erase gender for those who clearly identify as female or male and would be troubled by this type of erasure of their identity.
With both of these issues, what troubles me is that these approaches to gender identity do not open up possibilities for acceptance within society, but limit and narrow the possibilities for action for individuals both within and outside the normative expectations of the gender binary. While I respect the right of individuals to voice their experiences and make their own decisions about how they want to be perceived and related to, I think what is most beneficial for everyone is if we are somehow able to create more “boxes” for people to check or develop a greater comfort and acceptance for gray areas.
When I think about how this can be accomplished, I’m still somewhat stumped, but I’m pretty sure that it won’t be achieved through any type of action that maintains male and female as the power-laden binary or narrows the possibilities for how we can relate to our bodies and society. This, in the end, is why I have a problem with these two examples. Seeking to live on the margins still reinforces the central categories, and instating gender neutral language to the exclusion of current practices limits the ways in which we can talk about and understand gender. I’d like to see more suggestions for ways that we can expand possibilities, not limit them.