KB Speaks: Epic Ideas about Gender & Sexuality

Today Kate Bornstein came to speak to my Transgender Studies class. Wow. I’m still riding off the high of what she said and how she said it. The reasonable thing to do would be to take a breather and write this post later – when my hands weren’t shaking, perhaps. But instead I’m going to mind vomit it out before I forget all of the wonderful bits and pieces I picked up. To somewhat organize the thoughts, I’ll bold some general highlights so you can hop around.

If you don’t believe in the gender binary, why are we talking about transmen and transwomen?

We spent a lot of time going over this general idea of the gender binary and how it represents itself in transgender studies. If you truly believe that gender is a binary, why is it that we talk about trans men and women as men or women? There seems to be some underlying belief that even if you are trans, you are still either a man, or a woman. To break down the binary even further one has to recognize that not everyone is or wants to be a man or a woman. Some identify as both, or neither, or somewhere in-between. Not everyone gets surgery. Not everyone looks a certain way. It’s not so simple.

The Right Wing has pushed the Left Wing to cut itself into pieces. 

In my own studies I do see this a lot – where political movements will distance themselves from certain groups of people in order to make more progress. “We aren’t with them (kinksters/trans people/whoever) we’re just looking for our (whoever that is) rights.” Distancing all of these groups of people fractures the movement. everyone deserves rights. 

What does marriage equality really mean?

On a similar note, the marriage equality movement has focused on a certain type of gay couple. It ignores the fact that marriage is still a very broken institution – one that does not benefit everyone. If you are very poor, for instance, it may not benefit you and your partner to get married. Marriage equality also does not benefit people who are in polyamorous relationships – living in triads and so on. Which brings me to the next point.

What movement is coming next? If trans is the next movement, what comes after trans?

One person said gender fluidity. There was some murmuring that gender fluidity would be too scary for people because it wouldn’t allow for categorization. Kate believed that polyamory would be next up on the list. Rights and recognition for people who are polyamorous. I feel that this will take a while but I have noticed it’s become a part of the dominant conversation. The next question then is: what would polynormativity look like? (Hint: You can already see polynormativity taking places in certain news articles about poly families.)

Try shit that isn’t safe

Have safer sex – and choose partners you trust, but don’t be safe. So much of what you learn in sex and love is a result of jumping. Making mistakes. Learning from them. Making decisions based on what you might get to experience. Though there are things I have done in the past I know I wouldn’t do again in the future I look back on those stories with some (usually bittersweet) fondness because I pushed myself into new and at times uncomfortable places where I became stronger – and more myself.

Break down Queer or Restricted Spaces

This ideas is fairly radical and I really connected with it. There is the idea that queer spaces are being taken over by cis or heterosexual people. In Portland, one example is a popular queer/gay club. I have been there a few times both with lady friends and on lady dates. It is a fun, safe space to go, that feels very inclusive. I had been told that it felt like it was being overrun by people who felt like allies. People who were not necessarily gay identified but liked to use the space. Some felt that this wasn’t fair – that their space was being taken over.

This is how it was presented: we need to open up these spaces. Breaking them down presents a problem because we cannot truly know who does or doesn’t belong in those spaces. How can you tell someone is straight? or bi? or trans? or cis? How can you tell they are poly or monogamous? How can you tell someone doesn’t belong in a space by how they look? As long as they are being respectful – aren’t they a part of the group in one way or another?

Pushing boundaries on LGBTQIABCDEFGHIJK…

The idea is that there are never enough letters to sum up all the identities. Kate noted hundreds and hundreds of unique ways to identify oneself. Should someone who identifies as heteroflexible be allowed into a queer space? Why not? What about someone who identifies as gay for a while and then asexual a few years later? Do they lose their membership, so to speak? If gender isn’t a binary – and sexuality is fluid – don’t we all have a place in the alphabet soup? This isn’t to say that there can’t be some experiences shared simply between people who identify in a very specific way – but then we start to see problems. All woman schools is a very basic example of this. What does woman mean? Who decides who belongs and who doesn’t?

Is anyone really cis? Straight? Are allies discovering themselves?

I love this idea that allies are exploring themselves. That allies are there – supporting the cause – because there is something in themselves that they haven’t quite figured out yet. Whether they simply don’t feel 100% heterosexual or they are somehow related to the cause in another way, the idea of being cis or straight is broken. What does being cis mean? How can someone be cis? How can someone be 100% trans? Where are the rules – and how many of us are breaking them?

No one really passes, and passing isn’t just a trans issue

Passing is a gender issue, not just a trans issue, and no matter how you identify we all fit into this gender binary. If you identify as cis (female born, female identified – for instance) you can still be misrepresented as a male if you dress or behave a certain way. We are all a part of this system of male/female and how we pass or don’t pass is directly linked to how we are treated, no matter our gender identity. (Not to belittle the direct struggles that people who are trans so have, that people who are cis often do not see.) Instead, think of covering. We are all covering up parts of ourselves, or dressing them up. Our age, race, gender, class. How we portray ourselves and how we are read is a deep issue of non-verbal communication. Though trans people are targeted more directly for their appearance, we can all relate to this issue of passing and gender.

Use the language that you are most comfortable with

Do it. Kate uses the word ‘tranny’ and she clearly and beautifully articulates why. The history. Where it came from. Why it makes sense. And why she owns it. You have to use the language you are most comfortable with as long as you do not use that language for someone else.

Acknowledge language that is placed in time 

Some language is placed in time. Words like dyke, queer, tranny, they might have different meaning based on the time period you are using them, and the place you are using them. Different parts of the country still shudder at the word Queer – where in Portland it is a common word used to describe a type of identity or orientation. If you are talking about people in the 80s you may use language that suits that era while acknowledging that you would not use that same language if you were talking about current issues. Language has certain places in time and language changes fast, especially with respect to sexuality and gender.

Black men and Trans Women of Color are connected 

There was a brief discussion of how black mens lives are seen as worth-less. If black men are worth-less, black men who “are being women” are seen as worth even less because they are degrading themselves. This mentality – broken and horrible – was pondered by the class. How do the recent killings of black men and black trans women tie together and how can these people come together to fight together?

Jotted lines:

For further exploration, I am going to write larger posts about these ideas.

  • Suffering is grasping: Not letting go. Holding on to something and not knowing why. 
  • There are ways to untrigger once we have been triggered. How can one learn to take back the power that words have. 
  • How does gender identity tie into BDSM? Thoughts of men as dom and women as sum and how that makes us feel as we perform these roles. 

My. God. Okay. I am sure I did not articulate all of these huge and challenging ideas as well as I could have but I expanded on my scribbled notes as best as possible given my wondered-state. I would love to hear any questions or thoughts that you have. These are not all ideas I have necessarily pondered over (in the last thirty minutes, hello.) nor necessarily all ideas I agree with or would share. But they all pressed into me and influenced me in some way and I felt it necessary to share them with you.

What do you think?

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