Binary Schminary

Gender BinaryBy Taylor Knight (‘18)

Softly glowing, my laptop throws a timid presence of light over the room. On the login screen, the name “Taylor” blinks back at me below a small picture of me until tears streak down my cheeks. At first, I can’t find the words to capture the ethereal feeling of pure bliss in my chest. For the first time, I am given the chance to remove the lens of cisnormativity, and I am suddenly aware that this gender-neutral name fits me better than my birth name ever did. Since then, I have openly identified as non-binary and plan on changing my legal name later in the spring.

Gender is simply performative. We pretend that our performative identities are natural instead of fabricated, and we imitate internalized “regulatory fictions” (Butler, Gender Trouble 180) just to repeat a story that society has repeated from generation to generation. In this way, Judith Butler argues that gender liberation requires an abandonment of “gender coherence” (119). It is nearly impossible to be objective under the glaring lens of a cultural narrative for gender; every member of every society is harnessed to systematic constraints and conditioned through disciplinary methods to internalize the narrative of their own culture.

Queer theory’s concept of gender fluidity allows for us to approach gender in more complex ways—as a gray area instead of black and white, which would allow for stratified limitations to be broken. Non-binary identities exist within the transgender community for people who don’t fit into the gender binary, including terms like agender, gender-fluid, demiboy, and more.​

Despite the unfamiliarity of the term, non-binary communities have existed as long as gender structures—they simply lacked a platform to improve awareness or the terms necessary to figure out why the gender binary felt so rigid to them. Thankfully, the rise of social media has made it increasingly possible for non-binary people to find one another. Just like any other community, there are certainly complex discussions within it. One such issue is the notion of “passing” as non-binary, similar to a struggle of transgender people who identify as either male or female, whether or not people could assume, based on appearance, that they are transgender. Androgyny is the typical expected ideal in non-binary appearance, but it tends to be geared towards masculine expression. When the default is considered masculine, femininity is Othered and becomes a symbol of excess indulgence—the anticipation of masculinity marginalizes the femme non-binary community and casts further shame on femininity. Moreover, the pressure of femininity should not be thrown upon non-binary people who were designated female at birth and neither should masculinity for those who were designated male at birth. “Passing” should be a moot point in the non-binary community, as it only divides and alienates us.

I can still taste the salt from the tears of joy in January; what I felt then is still present and far from fleeting. Every time I hear my name, my eyes light up. We have a tendency of shoving everything into the cultural categories that our superegos are socialized to accept but then we refuse to admit that gender structures are relative and performative—but once we do, it suddenly becomes apparent that no oppressive system is fundamentally indispensable or essential to our nature. We must demand fiercer critical analysis of the social constructions from ourselves and embrace the rejection of compulsory cisnormativity.

The Education of Little Trans; or, My Boyhood as a Girl

By Christopher Curcio (Staff)

Wrong BodyGrowing up in the seventies, the boys department at Sears was, to me, about the dullest and most depressing place in God’s creation. So I guess it’s only fitting that amidst that foreboding landscape of black, brown, grey and navy blue I learned one of the hardest lessons of my so-called boyhood—being a boy sucks.

My first memory of that dark, dismal back-alley where color goes to die is from my summer before the second grade.

The year was 1971. Dad was called away to do a second tour of Vietnam and for some reason Mom and the rest of us relocated from western Maryland to the sunny eastern coast of Florida.

Totally ignorant of the enormity of my father’s situation (it never once occurred to me that he might not come back), I was excited and thrilled at the prospect of moving to a place where the sun shone year round and the beach was a mere 10 minutes away!

A few weeks before school started, my mother decided to take us on a back-to-school shopping trip. I had never been clothes shopping before and was thrilled about the idea of wearing shorts all year long! Well, that excitement was short lived when I got a glimpse at the limited choices available to me. “Is this it?” I remember thinking. “Is this all there is?”

Shocked and numbed by the plainness of the selection (2 styles of shirts—pullover or button down; 2 styles of pants—short or long) and that almost complete lack of color, I finished my shopping in about 15 minutes. My only treasure was a pair of red, white and blue sandals with stars on them left over from a Fourth of July display.

Looking back, I really can’t say what I was hoping to find. The colors and styles of the clothes on the racks were pretty much the same as the ones I was wearing. But for some reason, I was expecting more—a lot more.

Now, if the boys department could be compared to the sepia-toned bleakness of the Kansas prairie, entering the girls department with my Mom and sisters for the first time was like dropping 10 tabs of the best acid and being blasted into Oz.

A galaxy unto itself, the girls department boasted every color in every shade and hue known to mankind (and a few Mother Nature never intended). Purples, oranges, yellows, pinks, greens and blues brighter than the sky smiled at me from every corner. Dresses, blouses, skirts, shorts, hats, sunglasses, necklaces, bracelets, shoes (and even socks!) in every style and color imaginable hung from every rack. Over the rainbow? Honey, I was inside the rainbow and had absolutely no desire to go back. Fuck Kansas.

And so it was, in the middle of that glossy, sparkling, glitter-and-sequined universe, that the faintest glimmering of an idea started to take form that would eventually blossom into the most important lesson of my American childhood: somehow, I don’t know how, I had ended up in the wrong body.

Of course, as a pint-sized 6 year-old, I didn’t have the words to articulate this. All I knew was that as I grew, something wasn’t quite right. Sure, when I looked at my body I was definitely a boy, but everything my heart wanted and desired screamed “Girlfriend!” Easy Bake Ovens, LiteBrites, tassels on my handlebars, bell-bottom flares, Sun-In and Bonne Bell Lipsmackers—all denied me simply because I wasn’t born with a vagina. So, with my head down and my mouth securely shut, I allowed society to create my sterile, colorless existence as a “boy”.

A little over a decade later, the moment I realized my ever growing attraction to men was not a passing phase, I started to self-identify as gay. And in the eighties, there weren’t that many labels to choose from: if you were a guy who liked guys, you were gay; if you were a girl who liked girls, you were lesbian. If you liked both you were…well, a slut.

However, knowing what we know now about the amorphous nature of gender, I wonder if it would be more accurate to start identifying myself as transgendered.

I mean, even now, rapidly approaching 50, I can honestly say that there has never been a single moment in my life when I have ever identified with the gender assigned to my sex. For example, as a boy, I avoided other boys like the plague. Their rough and tumble nature frightened me so much that I hung out with the girls, people with whom I actually had something in common.

And except for a brief stint in Little League Baseball—an exercise in humiliation I vowed never to repeat—everything I was expected to love as a boy (sports, camping, and anything remotely involving physical prowess) I found intimidating and impossibly dull. And everything that was considered girly (jumping rope, hopscotch and just about anything involving yarn) attracted me like bees to honey.

As a “man,” I look at the aggressive, macho, one-up behavior of my fellow bunkmates and say “WTF?” I just can’t, and probably never will, relate. Except for sharing the same genitalia and clothes, the similarities are pretty much non-existent.

For decades I’ve joked to my friends and referred to myself as a woman trapped in a man’s body. But maybe it’s not a joke after all. Perhaps, for whatever reason, it’s the God’s honest truth. And while I have no plans to surgically alter my body, I do have plans to reincarnate. And I’m hoping next time Mother Nature will get it right.

Lifting the Military’s Transgender Ban

By Meredith Bower (’18)

DADTOver the past few years, the military has experienced substantial media attention for scandals such as its “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy or the exposed rape epidemic. Now, it’s currently under fire for a ban on transgender people. According to Dan Lamothe, there are about 15,000 transgender personnel currently serving that are forced to keep their true identity hidden. Transgender people can be banned on the basis of both “medical and psychological regulations” (Ross 185), perpetuating an illusion that transgender people are inherently “sick.” The transgender ban poses two very real problems. The first obviously being that the military is denying free people a right to serve their country openly. The second issue at hand is that the military, a generally well-respected institution, is perpetuating the gender-binary structure of society that ostracizes so many.

The regulations behind the transgender ban are incredibly outdated. Psychological and physical evaluations are required before approval of entry into the military, and Allison Ross explains that “the Army’s Standards of Medical Fitness, which is representative of the other branches’ standards, lists numerous ways in which a current or prospective service member may be medically disqualified, including sex-reassignment surgery and identification as a transgender person” (189). Someone with sex-reassignment surgery can be denied the right to serve based on “major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia,” but even a transgender person without surgery can be excluded for “a long list of disorders, including transvestism, transsexualism, psychosexualism, and Gender Identity Disorder” (Ross 190). This exclusion assumes that transgendering is a psychological or physical abnormality. In Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics, Judith Lorber explains postmodern feminism’s stance that gender is merely a performance—that sex is biological, and gender is not. Instead, gender is “shaped and manipulated by individuals and can be used to transgress the social order” (285). In respect to this viewpoint, the military’s ban plays a massive role in “shaping and manipulating” gender roles. Such a large institution has the power to shape societal norms such as how people view transgendered people.

Transgender Military BanFurthermore, most active military personnel reject the military’s official stance. According to Army Maj. Gen. Gale S. Polluck, active troops today “have been around people who are open about their personality and sexuality. It’s normal for them to be accepting of one another, whereas 20, 30 years ago we didn’t share it because it wasn’t considered normal” (Lamothe). When “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was revoked, “some senior officers questioned the decision, fearing it would cost lives” (Lamothe). However, this was not the case, and as officers raise similar concerns in regards to lifting the transgender ban, it is important to keep this in mind.

In “Gender, Sex, and Sexual Performativity,” Judith Butler argues that those outside of the “normal” gender structure are viewed as “abjected beings who do not appear properly gendered” and as a result “it is their very humannesss that comes into question” (286). It should be an implied obligation for an institution as large and powerful as the military to reject this notion that those who display their gender “wrongly” are subhuman. But without lifting the transgender ban, the military will continue to play a role in the exclusion and degradation of transgendered people.

Attention, Straight Allies

Allyby Grace Montesano

No, the “A” in LGBTQIA+ doesn’t stand for “Ally.” It stands for Asexual. No, we shouldn’t have a straight pride month. Every month is straight pride month. No, Macklemore isn’t the only artist in hip-hop who cares about gay people. There are a plethora of hip-hop artists who are actually queer and have lots to say on the matter.

Being a good ally doesn’t mean you will tolerate two men kissing in privacy, it means you actively fight the hetero and cis sexist power structure under which we all live. Don’t expect extra points from queer people just for putting up with us.

The people who are actual allies do amazing work for the queer community every day. That being said, they still belong to a privileged class.  They never have to explain their orientation or gender to anyone. People assume correctly that they are straight. They don’t have to live within a system that discriminates against them based on their sexual identity. It’s not a bad thing that some people are straight. It’s a bad thing that heterosexuality has benefits everyone else doesn’t get. And, just because an individual works to alleviate that problem, doesn’t mean they are no longer privileged.  Hopefully, the future will bring more good allies who can check their privilege and help the world become a better place for everyone.

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Grace Montesano is a student and Public Achievement Coach at Colorado College. She is also a Staff Writer for Fempowerment.