26 April 2010

Appropriation of Genderqueer Identities in My Community

Before you read this post, you're required to read this article from Questioning Transphobia.  This post is, in some ways, my own response to that article, which perfectly describes the phenomenon of appropriation of genderqueer identities; I'm going to look specifically at its presence and influence in my community(ies).  Like that article says, "none of this, however, should be an excuse for binary gendered people (especially cis people) to decide who is and isn’t genderqueer enough".  I am not questioning or criticizing the identities or the pronoun preferences of any individual in my community, and neither should you.  Instead, I'm simply discussing a trend I've noticed, and I'm explaining why I find it problematic.
Subversivism: Sexism that is rooted in the presumption that genders and sexualities that are deemed subversive, radical, or transgressive are inherently superior to those that are more conventional. While this form of sexism is not prevalent in mainstream culture, it does proliferate in queer, feminist and radical circles. - Julia Serano

At a recent student group meeting, we went around and introduced ourselves with our name and preferred pronoun.  Nearly everyone said that "they don't care" about pronouns.  This left strongly binary identified people, especially strongly binary identified cis people, feeling inferior.  They came up to me after the meeting, frustrated by how it turned out, and grateful for the few other people in the room that stated a binary pronoun preference.  It also infuriated myself: as someone who is questioning my gender identity and may be non-binary, I felt that my identity was completely invalidated, and I am sure other non-binary individuals (would have) felt the same way.  Nearly everyone at the meeting was cisgender, and I suspect many of them really do have a pronoun preference and would not actually be comfortable going by any pronouns; as a good friend of mine recently put it, their stated pronoun preference is equivalent to saying "I'm not sick, but I just don't want to say that I'm well."  In many ways, I felt that meeting was an example of subversivism in my community.  Some people, perhaps some of the people at the meeting, do not have a pronoun preference.  I am in no position to accuse any individuals of appropriation or dishonesty, and this discussion is about the greater trend, rather than the individuals at the meeting.

When I was in highschool, there was a lot of appropriation of bisexuality by girls.  In the crowd I hung out with, bisexuality was non-conformist, rebellious, sexy, and punk.  That's not to say that every girl who identified at bisexual at that time did so to be radical, and many of my bisexual female friends truly were queer and even ran Spectrum, the GSA at my highschool.  I will never accuse any individual girl of not really being bi, because it's not my place to make that decision; nor will I ever say that bisexuality itself is a trend, as many polysexual people continue to be oppressed by monosexism and biphobia.  However, I have no doubt that, at that place and time, the trend existed, and that a lot of appropriation did occur.  In highschool, although I experienced attraction towards girls and was active in the queer community and the gay-straight alliance, I identified as straight; in many ways, this was because I feared being associated with the bisexual trend and felt that my identity would not be considered valid in such a culture.  It wasn't until I got out of that community that I began embracing my queer identity.  Recently, I'm beginning to notice many similarities between bisexual identity in my former highschool community and genderqueer identity in my college community today, as well as my own relationship with  these identities within the greater social context.

The gender binary hurts us all by instilling gender expectations and promoting sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.  Thus, it's completely acceptable for anyone to be frustrated with the binary and to want to smash it (I know I do!), it's completely acceptable to experience anxiety and discomfort with hegemonic gender expectations and scripts, and it's completely acceptable for people to dislike pronouns and labels.  In fact, I think all of us should actively pursue a post-gender world.  However, appropriating genderqueer identities is not the way to do so. Appropriation is harmful to all people, cis and trans, binary and non-binary.

I've feel like I've covered some sketchy ground, and it's important to once again clarify that no one should ever accuse anyone of not really being genderqueer, bisexual, or any other identity, and a person's pronoun preferences should always be respected.  However, I also think it's important for individuals to consider the things they say and why they say.  As the article I linked at the beginning explained (and if you haven't read it yet, go do it immediately), appropriation of genderqueer identities is harmful to everyone, and should be avoided. In my community, I've seen first-hand how such appropriation hurts many different people.

Edit: I edited the fourth paragraph because, upon rereading it, I found some of the things I wrote problematic and inconsistent with my actual opinion.


  1. Firstly, I agree with you in many aspects and I'm sorry that it hurts when things like the pronoun stuff happens. It bothers me too and next time it comes up I'm going to use the atypical pronouns for those people.

    Secondly, I disagree with the article you linked to in many ways. I feel it's really exaggerating the issue and ignoring that people who take that political stance very, very often fit into the definition that the author gave. Genderqueer is about not being adequately described by other gender terms. Many of the people I know on campus that appropriate various terms (but not "genderqueer" in my opinion) describe to me that they do not feel like a (wo)man, or that they feel limited by gender terms. That fits that definition. For example, a friend that does not identify as a (wo)man, but is "otherwise" cis, and had a discussion with me about dysphoria using that term but not in the sense it is defined as, and not comfortable with the connection to trans dysphoria even though that is where the word came from in the referenced discussion. Anyway, they are totally able to identify as genderqueer.

    So either I'm missing something and there's a ton of genderqueer people out there that don't feel limited, or some people need to start watching the lines they draw and seeing how they really line up with each other. I honestly expected a better article.

  2. I have some intellectual responses, but for now all I have time to say is that Julia Serano spoke as out Key Note during pride week. She goes a long way to deconstruct the idea that what we see on people (clothing) is gender. She also talked a lot about trans-sexism, which is something I've been meaning to post about. Maybe in response to this I will have to.

    Secondly you should look at some of my genderqueer posts, I struggled with the genderqueer identity and the loneliness that came along with it for a long time.

    The trans community doesn't necessarily understand genderqueer identities, so I am not too shocked by the article. Of course I expect better but it takes education in the trans community too. Many trans individuals are still binary based, and they do not take the time to deconstruct that. Donna Rose, the transwoman and former member of the HRC board and I got into many a heated discussion this fall over genderqueer identities in the trans community. It went into e-mailing before I feel she finally understood my points.