More on ‘gender activism begins with gender rage’

February 19, 2009

tg_black-on_pink_100x107Okay, so I’m going to leave this post a bit open-ended for now – I’ll try and come back to it as I think things through, but I want to start with one particular thing that Kate Bornstein said in comments on my earlier post (Gender activism begins with gender rage):

The process of handling my “gender rage” keeps unravelling as I discover elements of each of the other nine systems of oppression that hold the gender system in place by their insistence that each of *those* systems has the right take on gender.

Kate lists those nine systems of oppression as:

  • class
  • age
  • race
  • gender
  • citizenship
  • looks
  • sexuality
  • religion
  • ability

My initial thoughts were how mind-boggling it is to consider the possible combinations of intersectionality in there – but I’m rubbish at maths so I won’t even try to put a finite number on it. Plus, of course there’s the less frivolous point that I’m more affected by some of those oppressions than others – some do oppress me, of course – but through some, I oppress other people.

If I consider the oppressions which affect me most obviously, then a (probably over-simplified) example might look something like this:

I experience oppression because I’m transsexual. And I experience oppression because I’m a woman. And then I experience a compounding of those two because I’m a transsexual woman. So those two oppressions, although they exist side-by-side, also interact dynamically to create a third.

Yay intersectionality!

However, let me not forget that I also benefit – from privileges around race, class and ability, at the same time that, f’rinstance, ageism and looksism work against me. So it’s quite easy to see how these things interact; but the outcome of that interaction seems to become exponentially more complex the more I think about it.

But this is not to say “Halp! Halp! I’m being oppressed!” like some special little snowflake, because it also occurs that probably almost every one of us is oppressed in some way, just as many benefit from privilege in some way.

And another thing: I find I’m a little wary of this subject because I think there’s a big ol’ hidden trap in there; namely the very real danger of unwittingly building hierarchies of oppression as a venue to host an Oppression Olympics all of my very own. Slippery slope alert…

But most of this is probably just a broadcast from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious – and none of which really feels like it’s bringing me any closer to getting a handle on this – well, I’ll steal Kate’s term for now – gender rage, although I may need to rename it ‘trans rage’, or some such (where I’m presently defining ‘trans’ as something like this) – because

And I really don’t want to get into Yet Another Trans 101 – but I do feel I should add that in the binary of sex/gender, I don’t think it’s my gender that’s at the root of this: my gender’s always been female, is pretty much how I see it, rightly or wrongly. Not to say that gender isn’t a construct, mind you. But just because something’s a construct doesn’t make it any less real. Plus, who’s to say that it’s not a mix of construct and neurological elements (and maybe other stuff too)? Hmph. Cue one of my current favourite quotes on the subject:

…I do not care whether I was ‘born this way’ or ‘became this way’. The question of the ‘gay gene’ or the ‘tranny brain’ is a potentially frightening route to another eugenics programme to destroy the brilliance of difference in the world, and the sooner we reject these projects the better. Whatever made me, I am, and I can no longer say who the `I’ is, except through a descriptive process…

(From Where did we go wrong? Feminism and trans theory – two teams on the same side? by Stephen Whittle)

I suppose, mostly, I need to percolate more on how the intersectionality of oppressions might be creating gender rage – sorry, trans rage.

For what it’s worth, I was re-reading Susan Stryker’s 1995 essay, My Words To Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix — Performing Transgender Rage (link here) on the Tube this morning (I’m such a a brainiak), and she has some interesting ideas on the subject of ‘transgender rage’; stuff that I definitely need to come back to.

But right now, I have to go and finish my yummy instant soup and get-back-to-work-dammit :)

*cue the sound of small wheels grinding mechanically in Helen’s mind to accompany the symphonic slurping of soup*

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