Riki Wilchins talks about the numerous ways systems fail. Most specifically he is concerned with the how the binary ways humans think and define are not sufficient for understanding individuals. He believes changes need to be made “in the largest sense: revising how we think about things like language and meaning, truth and difference, knowledge and power” (34). I certainly agree with all of this. Change and growth are necessary. However, I am struggling a bit with Wilchins’ comment that “all of us have those small private experiences that we can never truly put into words” (46). Blame it on the English Major in me, but I believe in the power of words to both express those private moments and to articulate reasons for change. I understand that in some instances there are no words that can accurately capture what they are meant to, as in finding an appropriate pronoun for the genderqueer without at the same time encouraging abjection. However, Oxford adds new words to the dictionary every year. Genderqueer is in there even if it spell checker has not caught on yet. Gender may be a language that fails, but language itself is the best means to catalyze change, both to itself and to other forms of oppression such as meaning, truth and difference, knowledge and power.
In order for ideas to manifest into new terms, in order for those terms to be legitimated, they must be articulated. It seems to me that the need for controversial new terms, and their widespread legitimation is best conveyed through poignant and revealing moments. How are these moments conveyed if not through words? I feel like what Wilchins and the other writers we are reading this quarter are doing is depicting these private experiences, and they are doing so quite well. I know that I walk away from most of these articles feeling like I have understood a profound piece of the person and how they feel inside of their body. More importantly, I understand the need for change.
For Wilchins, private moments are when we are more ourselves. This self is outside of common reality. I can see the merit in this. What an individual shares with only themselves is their own reality, it forms a self that only they know. That may very well be the case, but this implies a decision to keep things private, it does not mean that these things cannot be put into words. Sure, there is a difference between direct, contextual experience and feelings evoked from a relayed experience. I guess it comes down to a question of empathy. Can we truly understand another’s experience or empathize with them? I can’t help but feel that when someone decides to share parts of themselves, and if they do their job as a writer that the open minded reader can and does empathize.
I am currently studying Old English with the brilliant Dr. Marsha Dutton. Yesterday, I stumbled across the word “wambe”. She suggested, as she often does, that I take a guess. It is English after all. It looks like “wombe”, but we are talking about a male so it this cannot possibly be. It turns out, it was in fact the word for “belly”. Language is not stable. From what I gather from the OED’s website, genderqueer along with forty-some other subentries under the word gender were added in June 2011. How did these words enter the prestigious world of the Oxford English Dictionary if it was not through the articulation of experience? Maybe I am taking it too personally. Maybe I did not completely grasp what Wilchins was saying in this small section of his argument. But, I feel like if it were not for conversations, and more importantly the profound conveyance of personal experiences, gender would be further stuck in the binary position than it is. Language is what helps others understand the things that may seem like they never could. Language can be somewhere in between on the liberation and oppression spectrum, right?