Based on a series of tweets of mine beginning here.

Many people seem unaware of how the concept "gender is a social construct" - which many feminists believe to be axiomatic or unassailable dogma - has been used against trans people. Apart from the fact that it's a rather arrogantly totalising assertion1 - it's not, for example, typically paired with the phrase ".... which might have biological roots" - it has been, and still is, used to argue that trans people are at best psychologically confused, and at worst are furthering oppressive social relations based on gender.

For example: radfems use the bare concept "gender is a social construct" to argue that trans women only think we're women because of societal expectations around gender; basically, we're men who merely want to wear dresses, but the social construction of gender means that we feel we can only do that if we're women. We therefore claim we must be women2. Thus, radfems argue, those of us who think we're trans women need to accept we're really just men who don't fit social constructions of gender. i've witnessed this argument coming not only from radfems, but from people from other strands of feminism as well.

Another thing i've encountered from feminists is the argument that, since gender is a social construct, which has a hierarchy attached to it in which men are 'greater' than women, then, as it's socially constructed, it can, and indeed, should, be 'abolished' - a notion i've addressed here3.

i feel that, analogously to how radfem ideologies about sex work are quite prevalent in mainstream feminism, radfem ideas about 'transness', which are rooted in unsophisticated versions of the "gender is a social construct" meme, have "leaked out" of the radfem sphere into mainstream feminism, where they negatively affect how trans people, and trans women in particular, are treated.

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1. Which i find particularly interesting given that i have only rarely witnessed the same assertion being made about sexual orientation, i.e. i rarely see people who claim that "gender is a social construct" also claiming that "sexual orientation is a social construct". To me, there's at least as much reason to declare sexual orientation a social construct as there is gender.

2.. To be fair, there are a number of trans women who, whether under pressure from gatekeepers or otherwise, do indeed make such arguments (e.g. "I like sewing, that proves I'm really a woman!"). i'm not one of them.

3. And again, despite sexual orientation most definitely having a hierarchy attached to it, in which heterosexuals are 'greater' than non-heterosexuals, and homosexuals in particular, i've not often witnessed calls for sexual orientation to be 'abolished'.

Based on several tweets of mine, beginning here.

So, i've thought some more about why i don't really like the term 'TERF'.

It feels to me that the term 'TERF' implies that being 'Trans-Erasing' is the only problem with radfem politics, behaviours and attitudes. As though, if radfem politics were to stop being trans-erasing, that they would then basically no longer be problematic.

But there's so much more that's problematic (to say the least) about radfem politics, attitudes and behaviours.

There's radfem hostility to sex work and/or sex workers, treating the latter as fifth-columnists for patriarchy. There's radfem hostility to kink, and to kinky women, who are claimed to have "eroticised our own oppression". There's radfem hostility to porn, which they basically seem to define as any sexually explicit material, but which also involves hostility to any women who participate in creating it (cf. their attitudes to sex workers), and women who enjoy watching it. Then there's radfem hostility to polyamory, which i admit i'm not quite clear on the reasons for (but which i can speculate on). Then there's radfem willingness to tell women that their intimate relationships are "politically incorrect", e.g. that a given woman shouldn't be in a relationship with a certain person, because it's politically 'wrong'. (Here in Melbourne, radfem Sheila Jeffreys has been known to tell people point-blank that their intimate relationship is not PC.) There are probably more issues besides, but those are just some that immediately come to mind without effort.

i'm finding it disturbing that there seem to be increasing numbers of women, cis and trans, who seem comfortable with all this, as long as being 'Trans-Erasing' isn't added to the list. This is simply not acceptable to me.

Non-sexworker trans women, knowing what it's like to be attacked by radfems, should be showing solidarity with sexworkers attacked by radfems. Non-kinky trans women, knowing what it's like to be attacked by radfems, should be showing solidarity with kinky women attacked by radfems. Trans women, knowing what it's like to be attacked by radfems, should be showing solidarity with women attacked for having 'non-PC' relationships. And so on.

Radfem politics claims to be attacking the system of patriarchy, but in practice it seems predominantly interested in doing so by attacking individual women deemed to be traitors / fifth-columnists - sex workers, kinky women, trans women, women who shave, women who have sex with men, etc. - and expelling them from feminism and/or womanhood. We trans women are not the only women negatively impacted by radfem politics; let's not use terminology suggesting that hostility to trans women is radfem politics' primary (or perhaps even sole) problem.

ETA, 2014-06-23: i've just realised another issue i have with the term: it lets off the hook feminists who are trans-hostile / trans-unfriendly but who don't self-identify as 'radical feminists'. And i know, from decades of experience with feminism, that there are many such feminists. Just as there's no shortage of feminists who aren't radfems (whether in terms of self-identification or ideology) but who have adopted radical feminism's typical MOs1, there's no shortage of feminists who aren't radfems but who also aren't supportive of trans women, sex workers, kinky women, poly women, women who shave, women who have sex with men, etc.

1. For example, various ideological purity criteria / shibboleths ("No True Feminist would shave her legs / defend the sex industry!"); promoting various versions of the dubious concept that "the [claimed] greater good trumps individual autonomy" ("I don't care if your 'submission' to your male partner is supposedly consensual, such behaviour by you as a woman hurts all women!"); dichotomising issues into simplistic categories ("If you don't actively support me re. issue X, you're actively supporting patriarchy!"; and so on.

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Satire, based on several tweets of mine, beginning here.

BREAKING: Cisgendered woman, Judith Butler, might not have said everything there ever is to say about gender!

"Until we force them into Butlerian theory, we should assume trans people don't exist, and not listen to phantoms," said one academic.

The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Butlersition has said academics who "listen to so-called 'trans' people" would be severely punished.

"The common people rely on academics to explain gender to them," said a spokeswoman. "Deviations from Butler will only sow confusion."

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2013-10-08 14:12
[ i posted the following in response to someone on FetLife seeking an 'ultrafeminine' trans woman to play with, as a sort of 'halfway house' to same-sex play. If you're on FetLife, the thread can be found here. ]
So, i'm a trans woman. That is, i was designated male at birth (DMAB), but have since transitioned to living as a woman. But i'm also genderqueer; i'm two-gendered, and live my life as - simultaneously - a woman and a man. The 'sex' listed on my passport is neither 'F' nor 'M' but 'X'. Since such an option is not available for most other 'official' documentation, i'm listed as 'F' on most things, with my birth certificate being the main exception: current Victorian law requires one to have had surgery as a prerequisite to having the 'sex' on one's birth cert changed.

i haven't had surgery to remove my cock because i don't want to[1]. (However, i *do* have body dysmorphia revolving around the fact that i lack a cunt *in addition to* my cock; an old blog post of mine on this issue can be found here.) Having been on 'female' hormones for several years means that, in addition to my cock, i do have a (small) pair of breasts (as my userpic shows). i *don't*, however, present as "ultrafeminine" - most people will tend to read me as a cisgendered[2] guy, albeit as a "crossdressing guy". i'm a woman *regardless* of how i look or how i dress; just as cisgendered woman shouldn't have to present in an 'ultrafeminine' way to 'prove' she's 'really' a woman, when she *knows* she is, i don't feel i should have to do so either. i'm a woman regardless of how i present.

Clearly, then, i don't meet all your criteria. But even if you didn't have "ultrafeminine" as a criterion, i probably still wouldn't be interested in playing with you. The issue for me is not getting terminology wrong - we're all new to it at some stage, and transgender/genderqueer language issues can be complex, as i describe in this blog post - but in the potential that:

(a) i'll not be treated as a 'real' woman. Which i know i am, after years of soul-searching and struggle.

(b) i'll be treated not as a human, but as a mere object for someone else's sexual exploration. i don't get off on this sort of objectification. When it comes to my 'transness' and 'genderqueerness', i expect to be treated as a human being, with my own needs and desires and preferences and feelings.

(c) i might have to deal with a play partner freaking out about their implied sexual orientation as a result of playing with me. As my profile says: "Since i'm two-gendered, anyone who plays with me might be implicitly queer / non-monosexual; thus, i'm not interested in playing with anyone for whom this would be an issue." i have three life partners, and occasionally lovers as well; my life is very full, and i don't want to unnecessarily add complications via possible sexual-orientation-related freakouts from sexual partners with whom i'm not in an emotional/romantic relationship.

i certainly don't represent all, or even most, trans and/or genderqueer people. Still, i know a number of other trans/genderqueer people share at least some of my perspectives on this issue. So in your search for potential play partners, it might be useful to keep what i've written here in mind.


[1] And there's no way i could afford it even if i did - prohibitive costs of surgery are an issue for many trans people.

[2] Someone is 'cisgendered' when their internal sense of their gender *exactly* matches the gender they were designated at birth.

[added as a separate comment]

(i should add, the list of potential issues for me is based not on theory, but on actual lived experiences. So my concerns aren't merely theoretical; they've been proven to be very real.)

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So you've just referred to 'gender', perhaps in the phrase "gender is a social construct". Do you mean:

  1. 'sense of gender', i.e. the "gut feeling" one has about one's gender, or lack thereof?

  2. 'gender identity', i.e. the label(s) used to describe to others one's sense of gender / lack of gender?

  3. 'sociocultural gender roles', i.e. the roles that society tends to assign to people who publicly present as 'female', 'male', or other (non-)genders?

  4. ETA 2013.07.09: 'gender expression', i.e. the way that one 'does' gender behaviourally, visually etc. [Thanks to jessie-c for noting this.]

To me, as two-gendered transgenderqueer woman, it is critical that discussions about gender make at least these distinctions. Because in my experience, when these distinctions aren't made, discourse can quite quickly end up in places that have negative real-world impacts on trans and genderqueer people.

(Related: my blog post "So you've just said 'gender is fluid'".)

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i frequently observe people express concern that they're worried about getting language related to trans and genderqueer identities right. They don't want to offend or upset the person they're talking to, but they're not confident that they won't.

i certainly agree that language usage in this area can be particularly tricky. One significant reason for this is that trans and genderqueer people ourselves are usually having to work out appropriate language usages on the fly, because Western cultures, and certainly English languages in particular, haven't provided us with words and phrases to accurately describe our experiences. On the contrary: both Western culture and the English language have actively worked against us, imposing language on us that doesn't come from within our own communities, and which pathologises us.

Additionally, we can't, of course, completely control how people understand the language we create, and/or how it gets used in general. Terminology that had initially seemed good can turn out in practice to be problematic. Thus, for example, terminology like 'MtF' tends to be discouraged nowadays, and use of terminology like 'trans woman' is encouraged instead; this is because it became apparent that 'MtF' was (a) encouraging the idea that trans women are "really" men, and (b) keeping trans women in a state of "permanent transition", such that they would never be regarded as simply 'women'. Another example is the phrase 'trans woman' itself; many people don't like it being written as 'transwoman' (i.e. with no space between 'trans' and 'woman') because doing so encourages 'third-gendering', in which a trans woman isn't seen as an actual woman, but as a third gender that is 'really' neither woman nor man - a 'transwoman'1. So for a number of trans people, phrases like 'transperson' can feel like an invalidation of their sense of gender.

Finally, as much as it pains to say it, it's been my experience that many trans and genderqueer people totalise/universalise their experiences, together with the language related to it. This gets reflected in things like:

  • "You're 'cis[gendered]' if your genitals match the gender you were designated at birth", which incorrectly endorses the idea that gender is about one's genitals2, i.e. that having a cunt is what makes one a woman, and/or that having a cock is what makes one a man. The reality is, for many trans and/or genderqueer people, this is not the case. For example: i am happy having a cock, and don't see it as part of a putative "male/masculine side", but instead experience it as simply another part of being a woman3 (women's bodies are diverse, after all).

  • the phrase "gender reassignment surgery", which has the underlying implication that e.g. having a penectomy or orchiectomy inherently causes a change in one's gender. That might well be the case for some people; but for many others, it's simply modifying their body to better fit the gender they already know themselves to be. Consequently, a number of trans people use the phrase "gender confirmation surgery", to indicate that surgery is confirming their gender to themselves; but unfortunately, many non-trans people assume that it's about the trans person confirming their gender to society in general, i.e. 'proving' to society in general that they're 'serious' about their gender4.

It's also reflected in the idea that one isn't really trans unless one's life and experiences fits what i and others call "the standard trans narrative", or some variant thereof.

Fundamentally, however, trans and/or genderqueer people are people - and that, of course, means we're a diverse bunch. Although we might share a number of similarities, we also differ not only in our life experiences, but in our responses to those life experiences, and in how we think our life experiences as trans/genderqueer people might/can be improved. To me, this has several implications:

  • Those of us who are trans and/or genderqueer can only expect people who aren't trans/genderqueer to always get language right if there is a single, universal, eternally 'correct' language for all our lives and experiences and circumstances. i hope the preceding has demonstrated that this isn't the case, and indeed, can't be without erasing various trans/genderqueer people's lives, experiences and circumstances.

  • Given that it's not possible to "just know" whether or not a particular person is or isn't trans/genderqueer based solely on appearance, we generally need to move away from assuming/guessing the appropriate gender-related language for anyone, just as we need to be moving away from assuming/guessing whether or not someone is heterosexual / homosexual / bisexual / pansexual etc.

  • Those who aren't trans/genderqueer need to accept that trans/genderqueer people are typically in a difficult situation with respect to language; that it's something we're typically forced to wrestle with continually and that we don't have the luxury of avoiding; and that our diversity means that we are "trying on" a diversity of approaches to deal with this. Consequently, those who aren't trans/genderqueer need to accept that different trans/genderqueer people will have different thoughts and feelings about the applicability of various language usages to their own situations. Just because genderqueer person A is okay with, or advocates, language usage B, doesn't mean that trans person C will necessarily be okay with it also. (And i wish i didn't have to say this, but apparently i do: non-trans/non-genderqueer person D shouldn't demand that C accept language usage B on the basis that A does - at least if D wants to show respect to trans/genderqueer people in general, rather than a select few of D's own choosing.) This means, of course, keeping different language usages in mind when conversing with different people. Doing so might seem to some like a burden; but keep in mind the burdens faced by trans/genderqueer people in cisnormative/cissexist society, which regularly inflicts physical violence on trans/genderqueer people for not meeting cisnormative/cissexist expectations. Anyway, it's not like humans don't already typically keep individual-specific information in mind during conversations: not only information such as other people's names, but also things such as their social/biological connections with others, life experiences which have made them particularly sensitive about certain topics (e.g. death), and their personal beliefs (spiritual, ideological etc.). Using / avoiding specific language when talking to particular trans/genderqueer people is simply a new context for such behaviours.

So: trans/genderqueer people are individuals, and each of us has distinct personal experiences and preferences regarding language. Thus, one should minimise assumptions about appropriate language to use in discussions with a given trans/genderqueer person or group of people. But occasional mistakes (as distinct from ongoing disrespect) are probably inevitable; trans/genderqueer people need to remember that there's no 'obviously' universally eternally correct language that can be used. Non-trans/non-genderqueer people should try to accept corrections gracefully, rather than getting defensive and prioritising their own feelings/concerns/worries ("But I'm not a bad person!") over the feelings of trans and/or genderqueer people, who have to live, every day, with the associations and consequences of language used to describe us.

ETA, 2013.04.15: If you'd like a general introduction to trans-related language, I suggest Erin's Trans Glossary. But, further to what I've written above, this glossary should only be considered a starting point; I encourage non-trans/non-genderqueer people to explore the plethora of online writings by trans and genderqueer people about language issues, and not expect individual trans/genderqueer people to essentially function as private tutors on this (large) topic. Simply trying to survive in cisnormative / cissexist society can be draining enough without being forced to take on such a role!

ETA, 2013.05.17: A discussion with @redlightvoices on Twitter made me wish to note another relevant issue: people who are native speakers of English - whether trans/genderqueer or not - need to make allowances for NESB/ESL people. A good example is the Spanish word 'travesti'; a literal translation to English would be 'transvestite', but it has developed a more complex set of connotations in a number of Spanish-speaking regions. A Spanish speaker for whom English is a second language might thus try using the English word 'transvestite' in contexts where they want to convey the concepts they associate with 'travesti', not knowing that 'transvestite' does not necessarily convey those same concepts. Assuming the Spanish speaker is intending to be disrespectful would thus be both inappropriate and Anglocentric.

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1. Of course, some trans people do identify as a 'third [or fourth, or fifth etc.] gender'. And there are people such as myself, who identify not as a third gender, but as both woman and man simultaneously, all the time. But the point is, that's not the case for all trans people.

2. A better definition, in my opinion, would be "You're 'cis[gendered]' if your sense of your gender completely matches the gender you were designated at birth." Note i use "your sense of your gender" and not "gender identity". One might change the gender identity label(s) one uses for oneself without one's underlying sense of gender having changed; this blog post discusses this issue. Also note my use of the word "completely", which acknowledges that one might partially relate to the gender one was designated at birth (as is the case for me).

3. Nonetheless, i do experience body dysmorphia around not having a cunt.

4. The notion that one must 'prove' one's 'seriousness' about one's gender via bodily modification is problematic for several reasons. One of those reasons is that it's classist: the surgical procedures involved are often expensive, and in Australia at least, a shortage of suitable surgeons means that some Australian trans people have to fly to e.g. Thailand or the United States for surgery, which further adds to the cost. And all this is on top of trans people having much higher unemployment rates than average due to anti-trans discrimination.

So you've just said "gender is fluid". Do you mean:

  1. Every person's sense of gender is fluid?

  2. Every person's gender identity is fluid?

  3. Every person's gender expression is fluid?

  4. Some people's sense of gender is fluid?

  5. Some people's gender identity is fluid?

  6. Some people's gender expression is fluid?

  7. Sociocultural ideas re. sense of gender are fluid?

  8. Sociocultural ideas re. gender identity are fluid?

  9. Sociocultural ideas re. gender expression are fluid?

To me, discussing the (possibly relative) truth / falsity of the statement "gender is fluid" requires that one specify which of the above statements one is intending to convey.

(i've previously written more generally about the concept of 'fluidity' in the context of gender and sexuality.)

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@cuntext asked me if i'd be willing to participate in a Blog-Hop, involving one self-interviewing and then passing the "Blog-Hop baton" to another blogger. i was flattered to have been asked, and agreed!

@cuntext's Blog-Hop post is here; my own tongue-in-cheek self-interview is below. :-)


When did you decide to start calling yourself a 'woman'?

You know you have those days where you wake up and think to yourself something like: "You know, I should learn to skateboard!" or "Hey, maybe I should put some colour in my hair!" It was like that. Exactly like that. i woke up one morning and thought "Hey, being a chick seems like a lark; why not try it on?" And there it was.

So the original motivation wasn't to be a fifth columnist for patriarchy?

Not at all! The original motivation was just a spur-of-the moment thing. But having said that, it's true that i soon realised being a fifth columnist for patriarchy was going to be a major positive side-effect. For years, i'd been thinking to myself: "Oh how i wish i could destroy feminism! How i wish we could live in a Gorean world where women knew their place, naked at the feet of all men! But, damn those radical feminists! They continue to maintain a staunch defense of feminism against all Male Energies! Man, if only there were some way to break through those lines of radical feminists, and erode the foundations of feminism from within!" Pretending to be a woman, and demanding that i be treated as one despite not really being one, was going to be the perfect opportunity to set my pro-Gor plan in motion.

But hasn't retaining your penis, rather than undergoing genital reconstruction surgery, made your efforts in that regard more difficult?

Oh sure. It's certainly required me to come up with some, er, "creative misinformation" about gender and sex and biology! Like: "One's gender isn't simply about whether or not one has a 'Y' chromosome." [laughs] But, you know, i'm a man, so i'm better at creating things than any female. And anyway, like i'm going to give up the symbol of my natural superiority over all women! [laughs] Sure, i'm happy to make some sacrifices for the patriarchal Thermidor, but, yeah, there are limits.

The big challenge has been being able to flaunt my penis in front of real women in changing rooms. That's a critical bottleneck on the path to Gor: forcing all females to accept the sight of a penis, to psychologically traumatise them with it, so they'll be too damaged to do anything but submit to the superiority of men. And radical feminists know that, so they put in an extra effort to fight against it.

You mentioned "sacrifices" - do you mean, things like getting your gender changed on various pieces of bureaucratic documentation, like for government agencies, private businesses, and so on?

Yeah. There's been a fair bit of effort involved in doing all that. One example: i've had to work with my collaborators in the medical parts of the transsexual empire to get documentation 'proving' [does air quotes] that i should be treated as a woman. You know what bureaucracies are like: things have to be "just so", and even when they are, sometimes common sense gets in the way, and bureaucrats think things like, "Surely it's not possible for a man to suddenly be a woman? Maybe I need to be wary here." And they block you, and you end up having to call in senior officers in the patriarchy, and getting them to order those bureaucrats to do what needs to be done. i mean, those officers understand the bigger picture, that this apparent increase in the number of 'women' [does air quotes] in the world is a temporary, tactical, manoeveur on the path to final victory. But the front-line staff don't.

So it's a been a hassle. But i've got there in the end!

Do you have any advice for any men themselves wanting to become fifth-columnists for patriarchy?

Do it! It can be hard work, but it can be really rewarding. Like, distracting radical feminists from talking about under-representation of women in STEM fields, or in the pool of 'experts' the mainstream media draws on when discussing various issues .... that feels really good! And though you might be asked to commit suicide for the cause, that's not a certainty; what is a certainty is that you'll have helped your fellow men to roll back all the encroachments women have made on men's dominion over the last few decades. That's something to be proud of.


It's amazing how cathartic i can find sarcasm .... :-)

@polyvanilla has a blog about being a kinky polyamorous woman happily married to a monogamous vanilla man. One recent post of hers i particular enjoyed was this one on breast orgasms.

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Thanks to Dee for her review of, and feedback on, this post!

i often see 'gender' defined by various people as being about sociocultural expectations regarding presentation and roles/behaviours. Which is to say: rather than being about whether or not one is, for example, a 'woman', it's about presenting as 'a woman', behaving as 'a woman', and so on. Furthermore, this definition is then contrasted with 'sex', which the same people then define as being purely about biology.

i've previously written a critique of the notion of sex-as-purely-biological; here, i'd like to critique the conflating of 'gender' itself with "socioculturally expected gender roles/behaviours and presentation". Unsurprisingly, given the definition of 'gender' outlined above, many people go on to argue that we need to work towards a "gender-free society". With 'gender' defined as necessarily involving (relatively) rigid notions about presentation and roles, that desire seems to me to be a reasonable conclusion. The problem is, this definition is fundamentally hostile to trans people1.

One of the accusations often levelled by radfems2 against trans women such as myself is that we are reinforcing gender stereotypes, via:

  • "changing genders" (an oft-used phrase which i feel is usually inappropriate – we are not changing genders per se, we are changing which gender we publicly assert ourselves to be); and

  • adopting certain socioculturally expected physical presentations (regardless of the reasons for doing so).

As part of the process of transitioning, many trans women adopt an 'ultrafeminine' look, where what's considered 'feminine' is based on sociocultural ideas – in Western society, for example, predominantly wearing dresses and not pants, removing body hair, wearing jewellery, using facial makeup etc. There are at least two pressures for trans women to adopt this presentation, however:

  • 'Gatekeepers' - people such as psychiatrists and doctors – often require 'demonstrations' from trans women, to 'prove' we are serious about our sense of gender, before giving us the go-ahead to use hormones, have surgery, etc. That said, many gatekeepers often have *cough* 'traditional' ideas about what such demonstrations will look like. They don't find it sufficient for trans women to merely be suicidal about not being able to live as the gender we know ourselves to be; they require us to demonstrate to them that we're willing to conform to their stereotypes about the presentation and behaviours involved with being a 'woman'.

  • More generally, cisnormative society is constantly seeking any 'flaws' in how trans women live as women, to thus 'prove' that we're 'really' not women. A cis woman who prefers to wear pants, or who enjoys watching the footy, is nowadays only criticised by the more conservative conservatives, and doesn't seriously3 have her womanhood fundamentally questioned. This is not the case for an equivalent trans woman. So there is immense pressure on us to adopt 'ultrafeminine' presentations and behaviours.

In this context, defining 'gender' as inherently being about presentation and behaviours further reinforces the notion that trans people must present and behave like stereotypes in order to be accepted as the gender we know ourselves to be. Further, when one then uses this definition to argue for a "gender-free society", it's further reinforcing to trans people that we have no right to experience gender outside of that 'permitted' to us by society.

The argument might then be made: "Oh, but what we need to do is expand the definition of 'gender' so that it's not so limited in terms of presentation and behaviours!" There are at least two issues with this:

  • Assuming that one can expand the definition of 'gender' in such a way seems to me to imply that the essence of gender is in fact not about presentations and behaviours. So why include presentations and behaviours in the definition of gender in the first place? Why not distinguish 'gender' from "sociocultural expectations regarding presentation and behaviours for a given gender"?

  • In any case, who gets to decide which presentations and behaviours will be included in the expanded definition? If no-one or anyone does, surely that means that any presentations and behaviours can be included, which then renders presentation and behaviour irrelevant to the notion of 'gender' itself?

Here's something to consider. The word 'gay' - in the sense of 'homosexual' - has particular associations for many people: they often think of a guy who is flamboyant / camp. And though there are many people who realise that this is a stereotype – that although there are indeed some gay men like that, not all gay men are – it's still a common, pervasive stereotype in Western society. So should we then say we need to start working towards a "sexual-orientation-free society", simply because many people insist on linking sexual orientation with certain presentations and behaviours? Should we in fact define 'sexual orientation' as inherently involving particular sets of presentations and behaviours? Should we then state that a person is "not really 'gay'" unless they exhibit flamboyant, camp behaviours? If your answers to these questions are "no", why do your answers change to "yes" when discussing gender rather than sexual orientation?

i have to fight for my gender to be recognised every day. Every day i am involved with situations where people will regard me as "really just a guy" for one or more of many reasons: because i have a cock (and want to keep it)4, because i enjoy studying maths, because i top, because i have a goatee, because i watch porn .... the list goes on. And in the face of all that, i declare: "i am a woman. Whether or not you feel my presentation and behaviours fit your idea of the gender 'woman' is irrelevant. i am a woman. And don't try to tell me that i have to abandon this gender identity i have had to fight for just so that we can work towards your idea of a 'gender-free' utopia."

What i want is a society free of nonconsensual gendering. i refuse to demand that people not feel a sense of gender, or to claim that people wouldn't feel a sense of gender in some theoretical utopia. i want a society which doesn't assume people's gender based on presentation and/or behaviours – just as i want a society which doesn't assume someone's sexual orientation/preferences simply by looking at them – and which respects a person's sense of gender, or lack thereof. i will not support any theories or notions of gender which fly in the face of my experiences and struggles as a trans woman.

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1. And, i believe, genderqueer people too. (i myself identify as 'transgenderqueer' - i am both a trans woman and genderqueer.) But for the purpose of this essay, i'm going to focus on the impact on trans people.

2. A contraction of the phrase 'radical feminists'. A brief summary of my perspective on "radical feminism" can be found in this old blog post.

3. As distinct from jokes about "being one of the boys" etc.

4. i explore the particular form my body dysmorphia takes in more detail in this post.
Earlier today i had a Twitter conversation about the looks of trans people in porn; and i felt it raised some issues i feel are better discussed in a blog post than within the confines of the Twitter 140-character limit. :-)

My initial tweets were:

i must say i often feel intimidated by the looks of the people in 'shemale' #porn .... #trans #lgbt

.... but then, i'm intimidated by the looks of most people in #queer #porn, too. #trans #lgbt

i guess every type of #porn has a 'blessed' look associated with it ....

.... where by "'blessed'", i mean looks which are repeatedly publicly endorsed by various members of relevant communities as being "suitably attractive"; not using that exact phrase, but by comments like "Woah, how hot is this person!", "This person is just so fuckable!", "Seeing this person makes me so horny!", and so on.

In response, @amiewee asked "How intimidated?" To which i replied:

Well, i guess i feel i'm rather 'unattractive' in comparison.

i mean, i know professional porn has to cater to what its target
demographic deems 'attractive', [+]

so in that sense i see it as an issue with wider societal notions of 'attractiveness' rather than something specific to porn.

A basic premise of 'queer porn' is that it's about diversity - showing a wide range of people, regardless of their size / gender / ethnicity / shape / sexuality / ability / looks etc. But in my experience, even though the queer porn i've seen does show a range of body sizes and shapes, and a range of queer sexualities, i've felt it often has a certain aesthetic about it which i find difficult to describe, but which i tried to describe to @amiewee as being rooted in looks i think of as 'trendy'/'alternative': piercings / tattoos / brightly coloured hair done in certain styles. And i further feel that there often doesn't seem to be that many trans / genderqueer women i can identify with.

i know of a number of trans women who feel we as a group are underrepresented in queer porn; there's been discussions about the issue in groups on FetLife, for example. i admit, i initially thought that the issue might be with attitudes/biases from queer porn producers/creators. But two things have changed my mind in this regard:

  • i tried creating a Tumblr, 'AmateurTransSex', seeking submissions from a variety of trans people - but certainly from trans women - showing them having sex, to show the diversity of trans people's bodies, and how one can't automatically assume the gender and/or sexuality of people in pictures of sex acts. i announced the project in relevant groups on FetLife, and prominent people within the queer porn community helped to promote it on Twitter.

    The response? Near-silence. Even after further attempts to promote the project.

  • A similar Tumblr project is the TransQueersXXX Tumblr. When it became apparent that TransQueersXXX was having more success than my own Tumblr along these lines, i 'officially' ended my AmateurTransSex Tumblr project and directed any interested people to TransQueersXXX. But although TransQueersXXX is getting a fair number of submissions in general, they often seem to be struggling with a lack of submissions from trans women, despite, to their credit, regularly putting out calls for such submissions.

So the overall impression i've been getting is one of enthusiasm from queer porn creators for supporting getting more trans women into porn, and other people making active efforts to try to display more representations of trans women being sexual - but an apparent lack of willingness on the part of trans women to put themselves forward. Which in turn has made me ask: Why might this be the case?

Some thoughts that i've had in this regard are:

  • i would wager that when the average-person-in-the-street thinks of trans women in porn, they think of the 'shemale' genre. i know quite a few trans women, and hardly any of them look like 'shemale' actors; they often don't completely 'pass' as cis women1, which i feel many 'shemale' actors do2. And i suspect many, if not most, trans women are very aware of the extent to which they don't 'pass', and thus feel they are therefore 'unsuitable' for appearing in such porn.

  • More broadly, representations of trans women in the mainstream media in general - are very limited at best; and when we are represented, we're often presented as "eww, it's an ugly man in a dress, gross!" So we don't often receive societal messages suggesting that we're an attractive group of people overall, or even that we can be attractive; only when we 'pass' sufficiently well does the possibility of us being 'attractive' begin to be assessed. In this context, it's hardly surprising that many trans women might not feel particularly comfortable putting themselves on display, to be mocked and labelled ugly by people on the Internet - particularly when we often get that going about our daily lives in any case.

  • More specifically, however, the experience of myself and, from what i've read, a number of other trans women is that queer communities often seem to have an aesthetics which lauds AFAB3 people in a way that AMAB people aren't - which often seems to not be apparent to people who aren't trans women, just as straight people often don't notice the lack of non-heterosexual people/relationships in the mainstream media. Enthusiasm for 'androgyny' often seems to accompany pictures of trans guys / AFAB genderqueers4; in my experience, it rarely accompanies pictures of trans women or AMAB genderqueers. So again, the overall metamessage that this can send to trans women is: "You're unlikely to be someone who is attractive".

  • Despite the constant message that it's self-confidence that makes people attractive, we live in a world where pictures of dark-skinned people get modified so that their skin appears lighter, regardless of how self-confident those people might be - because 'whiteness' is an aesthetic that is highly valued, not only in Western countries, but in countries such as India. In this context, the metamessage that gets sent is: "Even if you do think you look okay, others won't necessarily think so unless we change how you appear in pictures."

Thus, even when queer porn creators actively seek trans women, there are factors working against trans women responding to their call. And this creates a catch-22, because this reduces the representations of trans women in queer porn, which then reinforces trans women's notions that we're not attractive enough for it.

To me this is yet another example of how we need to start critiquing standards of 'attractiveness'; there's an interesting post on the Radical TransFeminist blog on this issue called "Significant Othering: Attraction Down the Privilege Gradient". [NB. The author of that post has expressed concerns about my use of the post in this context.] Still, that's a long-term task; what can we do in the meantime?

Clearly more of us trans women need to either be putting our hands up to appear in queer porn, or start making more of it ourselves. It seems to me both things are happening: i'm a fan of Tobi Hill-Meyer (@Tobitastic) and Maya Mayhem (@Maya_Mayhem), and there are other trans women whose work i've not yet seen, such as Drew Deveaux (@DrewDeveaux). i would suggest that trans women can work to increase their profile and visibility, and if finances permit, pay for porn featuring them. (i myself had a subscription to QueerPorn.TV which i unfortunately recently had to cancel due to financial constraints.) Further, whilst acknowledging that we regularly receive many messages that we're inherently unattractive, we can, as an act of political resistance, try to put such messages into their broader sociopolitical context, and work on reevaluating societal notions of who is and isn't considered 'attractive'. And i say this as someone who certainly does not think she's attractive enough for any porn, including queer porn; i don't feel i have 'trendy'/'alternative' looks (despite my body piercings :-P).

If we can work on rejecting notions of the extent to which we're 'attractive', it increases the possibility that we would feel comfortable making our own porn. Of course this is not an option for many trans women, for various reasons, including:

  • overall body dysphoria;

  • not wanting to provide 'evidence' (e.g. still having a cock) that one is "not a real woman";

  • not wanting to 'out' oneself as having been AMAB / that one is trans;

  • having other life / community / activist / personal commitments which take up the bulk of one's time/resources;

  • more generally, social sanctions - which include such things as losing employment, when unemployment is already very high amongst trans women - for appearing in porn in general.

But even if there are at least some of us who do have the option to consider appearing in professional or amateur queer porn, and even if only some who do consider it end up actually choosing to do so, i would feel that's progress which might well help many other trans women feel better about themselves and their bodies.

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1. i note here that i feel there are significant issues involved in the 'passing' concept; but i feel those issues are relatively tangental to the issues i want to discuss here.

2. Hence the term 'trap' often used by cis men to describe trans women; "It looks like this person is a woman; but the pants come off, and Woah! there's a cock. So this person isn't really a woman - the whole thing was a trap!" i find it terribly offensive, particularly when it's used by "tranny chasers" who think it's a term of endearment. :-P

3. ETA, 2013.04.13: Nowadays i would write 'D[F|M]AB', "Designated [Female|Male] At Birth", out of respect for concerns expressed by intersex activists about inappropriate usages of the word 'Assigned' in the context of sex/gender. However, i don't believe in rewriting my old blog posts to pretend that i didn't write things i now find problematic (or indeed, simply wrong).

4. Cf. this old post of mine on 'androgyny', which explains why i tend not to identify as 'androgynous', even though, as a two-gendered transgenderqueer, it should technically apply to me. To my satisfaction, in more recent times i've seen increasing numbers of people making similar critiques.

Those around me for any substantial period of time eventually get to hear me complain about the "feminine energy / masculine energy" concepts beloved of so many religious / magickal / spiritual systems. As a feminist dual-gendered transgenderqueer, i feel my lived experiences make this notion problematic at best, particularly given the more general issues around defining 'sex' and 'gender'.

It recently occurred to me, however, that maybe the problem here is one of people confusing a map with the terrain. i can easily imagine individuals who have had spiritual revelations / insights trying to convey a feeling of connection with the Divine, and reaching for a metaphor that is likely to resonate with the majority of people: sexual union between a cis woman and a cis man. But then people infer this to mean that 'female' and 'male' are the underlying, fundamental concepts involved.

In Kabbalah's Etz Chaim, "Tree of Life", the first sephirah above Malkuth, "Kingdom" - typically associated with the material universe and/or the "Schechinah", the immanent Divine - is Yesod, "Foundation". Yesod is often considered the "Sphere of Illusion", in that neophytes at the beginning of their magickal / spiritual journey can erroneously believe that the images they're discovering and working with are 'things-in-themselves', as it were, rather than simply a 'best representation' created by the human mind as it tries to interpret what it's perceiving.

So while the "feminine energy / masculine energy" metaphor might well work for most people, it's not a map that works for me. On the contrary, its attempted symbolism creates sign(post)s that don't make sense to me given the personal understandings i've developed on my life journey. But that doesn't mean the terrain isn't nevertheless there for me to explore; it just means i need to create my own guidebook as i go.
'Fluidity' is in. "I'm gender-fluid." "Sexuality is fluid".

It's great that people who feel fluidity in their identities are increasingly recognising and proclaiming that fact. Problems arise, however, once we move beyond an individual describing their own gender identities and/or sexual identities, and start talking about 'gender-fluidity' and/or 'sexual-fluidity' more generally.

One disturbing trend i've noticed is for some people to use 'gender-fluid' as an attempted shorthand for "anyone who doesn't fit the gender dichotomy". Er, no. Don't do that. i'm dual-gendered - i'm both a woman and a man - and thus i don't fit within the gender dichotomy - i'm not just "female" or "male". But my gender is nevertheless a stable one. i don't "move between" being "more female" or "more male"; i'm both female and male, all the time, simultaneously. Further, not only is my gender stable, it's been stable since the early 2000s, when i first realised i was trans. "Ah, but!" someone might say, "before you realised you were trans, your gender was different!" No. My gender identity was different, but my underlying gender was as it is now; transition for me involved a recognition of what my gender actually is and was, rather than what others were expecting it to be.

i feel a significant part of the problem here is the conflation of 'gender' with 'gender identity' and 'sexuality' with 'sexual identity'. Identities can change without the underlying referents changing. For example: for many years i identified as bisexual; in more recent years i identified as polysexual; and i now identify as pansexual. Yet the types of people i'm attracted to has basically not changed during that time. What has changed is which word i think best describes my attraction preferences, based on not only my own understanding of what a given word means, but other people's apparent understandings and usages of that word. One reason i resisted identifying as 'pansexual' for a long time was because, in my experience, it tended to be used as an identity by kinksters - including heterosexual kinksters. More recently, however, i've observed it used much more frequently by people who can be attracted to a person regardless of that person's gender; and since i now identify as a kinkster myself, any associations it has with kink are no longer problematic for me. Thus, even though i've never let a person's gender be an obstacle to me being attracted to them, pansexual is my current preferred way of describing that.

So a person's gender identity or sexual identity might be fluid even when their underlying gender or sexuality is not; and part of the reason for this is that individual and social ideas about particular gender identities and/or sexual identities can be fluid. This leads me to another issue i frequently encounter in discussions involving the concept of 'fluidity': the conflation of the idea that a given person's gender/sexuality and/or gender/sexual identity might be fluid with the idea that sociocultural concepts of gender/sexuality might be fluid.

i would hope that no serious contemporary scholar of gender and/or sexuality not driven by fundamentalist religious beliefs seriously thinks that sociocultural concepts of gender and/or sexuality aren't fluid; and assuming that to be the case, i find statements like "[the sociocultural concept of] gender is fluid" to be relatively trivial. But the phrase in square brackets is, in my experience, rarely stated explicitly; and so the simple statement "Gender is fluid" can be taken to mean:

  • "The sociocultural concept of gender is fluid."

  • "Individual and/or sociocultural ideas about a particular gender identity are fluid."

  • "Any given person's sense of gender identity is fluid."

  • "Any given person's sense of gender is fluid."

Consequently, i would like to suggest that people be conscious of these multiple possible layers of meaning, and rather than throwing around currently-sexy simplistic phrases such as "sexuality is fluid", instead make more of an effort to be clear about which layer(s) they are making claims about, such that such claims can then be addressed accordingly.

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Whilst chatting with Dee recently about her latest Gay Express column, the issue of definitions for 'sex' and 'gender' arose.

i often see what seem to be well-meaning attempts to define 'sex' as "biological" and 'gender' as "socially constructed". i find this to be highly problematic.

Firstly, it would be more accurate to say that 'sex' is a social construct based on biology. There are several biological factors that can influence the development of what are often referred to as "sexual characteristics": not only genetics (including chromosomes), but also epigenetics, exposure to internally-produced and externally-produced hormones, and environmental substances more generally. Out of all this, it's common to select the 'X' and 'Y' chromosomes as indicators of 'sex'. Even then, however, there can be issues, because not everyone is either 'XX' or 'XY'. For example, some people are 'XXY'1. In some countries, having two XX chromosomes makes one 'female'; in other countries, having a Y chromosome makes one 'male'. So the same person could be classed as either 'female' or 'male' depending on what country they're in.

Thus, the privileging not only two particular chromosomes, but specific configurations of those chromosomes, over other biological factors is why i refer to 'sex' as "a social construct based on biology".

Secondly, as a dual-gendered trans woman, i can assure you that 'gender' is even trickier to define. Part of the problem is that people frequently conflate the concept of 'gender' with the concept of '[expected] gender roles'. So some (C)AFAB people say "Well, i'm not a 'girly girl', into frilly pink dresses and playing with dolls, so i must be transgendered!" No, it means they don't fit the expected gender roles for their assigned gender (i.e. 'female'). Similarly, many people assume that when i say i'm dual-gendered, i mean i've 'embraced'2 my "feminine, doll-loving side" together with my "masculine, truck-loving side". Again, no: i'm a woman and a man simultaneously, all the time, regardless of what i'm doing; and enjoying "chick-flicks" is part of me being a 'man', and enjoying programming is part of me being a 'woman'.

Why, then, do i call myself a 'woman', if it's not on the basis of identifying that category as being the one that gets to stick pictures of unicorns and rainbows on exercise books? It's because on some level, my mind fundamentally identifies with people labelled as being of 'female' gender as being "like me". It also fundamentally identifies with people labelled as being of 'male' gender as being "like me" (though to a noticeably lesser extent than 'female' people are). So the question then becomes: Well, how did this sense of identification come about?

In short: i don't know. i strongly suspect it's a mixture of biology, and physical environment, and social environment, and cultural environment, and political environment, and the influence of these four environments on the development of my biology, in which my mind is (i believe) based.

And 'gender'? i would call it something like "a psychosocial construct based on some combination of biology, physical environment, society, culture and politics". Still problematic, i'm sure, but at least more accurately reflective of what Western society has only recently started to learn: that sex and gender are a lot more complicated than we typically like to imagine.

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1. This particular combination is known as Klinefelter's syndrome. People are also born XYY, XX-male, XY-female, amongst other things. For more information, visit the Wikipedia entry on 'Intersex'.

2. For some reason some form of the word 'embrace' seems to be obligatory in this context.

Further to the coverage of the supposed "same-sex couple" in Malawi, one blog commenter wrote "So it’s not an issue of gay rights if one of them ’self-identifies’ as a woman?", to which i've responded:
It’s an issue of the state enforcing heteronormativity on people’s lives – which is not only a gay rights issue, but more generally an issue for anyone in Malawi who doesn’t fit heteronormative notions of gender and sexuality, such as this couple. And when the Western media – including sections of the Western lesbian and gay media – erase the existence of transgendered / intersex people by squeezing a story into simplistic dichotomous notions of gender and sexuality, they are supporting the same categorical structures as the Malawian state, and simply differing on the issue of whether people placed within one part of those structures should be persecuted.
Note: Constructive discussion on this post is welcome, but any flamey comments will be piped to /dev/null.

Further to my last post, i have concerns regarding the way some people in the trans communities handle the issue of male privilege.

As i've written about previously, there is tremendous pressure on trans people to 'prove' that we're 'really' the gender(s) we say we are. Thus, it's no surprise that many trans people will state that they've identified as having that gender for as long as they can remember. But there are a number of trans women who will then claim that (a) since they've always identified as female, that they've basically never received male privilege; that, as a corollary, (b) trans men must have just as much male privilege as any cis guy; and that (c) trans men are in no position to discuss issues of male privilege.

i have major problems with all points.

To me, privilege is something that is given regardless of whether or not one actively works for it and whether one consciously accepts it. So, for example, when one is Anglo and looking to rent a home, and is competing for that property with an indigenous person, and one is chosen ahead of the indigenous people because the property owner believes that the indigenous person will trash the place, one has not asked to benefit from discrimination, but has anyway. That is white privilege. Similarly, i didn't ask, prior to transitioning, to be the one addressed by male mechanics when a former cis female partner of mine was getting her car repaired, but i was anyway. (i said something like, "Er, don't speak to me, it's her car." i don't know much about cars; having a gearstick between my legs on which i enjoy putting my hand doesn't somehow magically give me an interest and / or knowledge of cars.)

Thus, trans women are more likely than not to have been received male privilege and benefitted from it on many occasions prior to transitioning. It's also more likely than not that one's attitudes and behaviours will have been shaped by this - to greater or lesser degrees, depending on, amongst other things, the length of time one was read as male prior to transitioning.

This also means trans men are more likely than not to have not benefitted from male privilege, and indeed, to have suffered due to the male privilege system, prior to transitioning. And it means that whatever male privilege they may receive now, trans men are actually in an excellent position to point out and discuss issues involving male privilege.

Hence, i feel that all my partners have the right to raise concerns regarding attitudes and behaviours of mine that might be related to me having been read as male for many years and thus having been granted male privilege: not only my two cis female partners, but my trans male partner as well.

The problem, of course, is that some people use all this to deny that trans women can ever be speaking from a place other than that of male privilege, to cry "male privilege!" in an attempt to shut us down whenever we say something that doesn't fit dogmas, and to dismiss the complexity of our lives and experiences. However, i don't think it's fair or reasonable to address this problem by taking a position that itself dismisses the lives and experiences of trans guys. Nor do i think its fair or reasonable to both trans guys and cis women to claim that we trans women have never benefitted from male privilege, to their detriment, because we were somehow magically treated as women even whilst being read as male.

That's not to say that we trans women received all the privileges received by cis males: that would require us to have gladly taken on the attitudes and behaviours of cis males, which many of us were unable to do, sometimes / often at great cost (like how i was harrassed and roughed up for being a 'sissy'). And those trans women who worked hard and passed as cis males for a time probably had to do a lot of psychological damage to themselves in the process. But i refuse to place the difficulties i've faced in my life into a framework which denies the difficulties of others.

Privilege is not fixed temporally; it's continually created and modified through social and political processes, through individuals' interactions with each other and with other social and political processes. Yet, it can also persist in relative stable forms within both individuals and interactions for extended periods of time. i feel both of these things need to be recognised if we are to develop better understandings of the experiences, dynamics and politics of gender.


2010-02-02 23:55
This is not necessarily going to be a particularly coherent post. My apologies.

i am upset.

i am upset at certain feminists who refuse to let their (at least to them) beautiful theories be ruined by ugly little facts. In particular, i am upset at their continued claim that trans people transition because we're trying to avoid being homosexual. This might well be true some of the time, for all i know; but in my experience, so many trans people don't identify as straight that this claim is not only wrong, but presumptuous and indeed, bordering on deceitful.

i am upset at the notion that, having been read as a cis male for three decades, i am so steeped in male privilege that i cannot possibly speak as a woman, and that any opinion that differs from What Real Feminists Believe is an indicator of the fact that i am simply another guy blinded by his privilege. The complexity of my life be damned! And cis privilege? A myth propagated by The Transsexual Empire. The Transsexual Empire. A world in which trans people get hormones or surgery without trouble, where gatekeepers are eager to help us transition and trans people are eager to fulfil gender stereotypes, rather than being forced to do so, to perform ritual dances for gatekeepers until they are satisfied that we have genuflected sufficiently before their Altar of Gender Conformity.

i am upset that people who are outraged by the idea of "reparative therapy" for non-heterosexuals don't see why trans people should have any issues with queer communities supporting a supposed 'dialogue' around the idea of "reparative therapy" for trans people. A 'dialogue' in which our experiences aren't valid, because they've been filtered through our distorted and broken minds. Unless those experiences support the idea of reparative therapy, of course; then they demonstrate that the threat of gender variance can be neutralised, and perhaps, in time, eradicated. The world will be safe at last.

But, whatever. i'm just a tool of the patriarchy. Move along, nothing to see here.
LiveJournal really doesn't want to have to deal with gender variance: not being simply 'female' or 'male' is apparently something too "personal" to want to share publicly. Gah. This just further supports my decision to move my journal to DreamWidth.

This follows on from an incident yesterday when someone claimed that they didn't know which pronouns to use for me, even though they have not only heard people using the correct pronouns, but have in fact been specifically told, just recently, the correct pronouns to use. i get the impression that this person doesn't want to use them on the basis that using female pronouns to refer to someone with a goatee is 'obviously' wrong. :-P If that's the case, it provides a good example of nonconsensual gendering.

People's desire to engage in nonconsensual gendering can be quite startling. The only other identity i've had which has provoked such a response was being vegan: people would ask me why i was vegan, i'd tell them, and would then get attacked in a way that suggested i'd just set fire to their home. So what motivates people to nonconsensually gender others? Please feel free to indulge in some wild speculation in the comments. :-)


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