Is there such a thing as legible identity privilege?
This thought was tumbling around a lot in my mind for a while, particularly in discussions of what it means to be femme and presumed as female, but also when cis folks would ask me about assuming pronouns when you’re “pretty sure you know” someone’s gender versus when it’s unclear.
As a starter, I’ll say that if there is a legible identity privilege, it’s certainly not anything like as strong as other privileges such as being white. As a white non-binary person, I am less vulnerable to violence and harassment than any black or brown person, full stop. I explicitly reject any arguments that white non-binary people make around “binarism” putting them in a riskier place than a black trans woman, for example. See b. binaohan for why that’s fucked up.
But considering this as its own possible thing, I have a few thoughts. One is that, like “passing privilege,” this has a lot to do with specific cultural context and how other people perceive you. The two are also related. A trans man who is presumed to be a cis man might experience “passing privilege” alongside legible identity privilege, because he “passes” for a cis man and also “man” is a legible identity. Conversely, a trans woman who doesn’t conform to particular beauty standards and expectations might not “pass” for a cis woman, but could have a legible identity in cultural context–it is clear to most people around her that she intends to be read as a woman, and she is a woman.
In the last post, I talked about queer as a term that is inherently intersectional. Today I’ll cover one of the reasons that queer specifically makes more sense to me than any other sexuality term out there. This one is pretty simple–it’s because other terms, in my view, all have at least some reference to the speaker’s own gender, and those terms only awkwardly account for non-binary people like me.
Although I do occasionally joke with one partner that we’re in a heterosexual relationship because she’s a woman and I’m not, that’s not usually how terms like straight and gay work. What does gay mean for a non-binary person? What does straight? Certainly there are non-binary people who claim those terms, and they have every right to do so, but they don’t work for me. Similarly, while I’ve heard bisexual used to mean “both my gender and different genders,” it doesn’t have resonance for me, and I don’t know that any of these terms would be legible for cis folks–in fact, they might lead some cis folks to incorrectly assume my gender.
I like that “queer” doesn’t actually tell you much of anything about my preferences. Instead, it invites you to ask.
This is another post that is so five years ago, but it’s about a bit of media coverage that’s still annoying me in 2017. Specifically, it’s about the mainstream media coverage of model Andreja Pejic back before she came out as a woman and was being intentionally vague about her gender in interviews. Throughout that year or two of heavy coverage, the media was completely obsessed with its own invented idea of Andreja as terribly androgynous and the fun of a tired old “surprise, it’s a man!” storyline, while completely ignoring what was revolutionary about Pejic: the fact that she openly talked about a non-binary identity in interviews and asked mainstream readers to question their understanding of gender.
- Some discussions a couple of months ago on Tumblr and Twitter challenging the emphasis on birth assignment in discussion of trans experience
- Philly Trans Health being super bro-y, and my own experience of feeling really terrible about myself at a trans conference that’s supposed to be about affirmation
- I’ve personally been getting “Sir”-ed a lot lately, and have been experiencing more intense dysphoria than usual.
In recent years, I’ve pretty much stopped referencing my birth assignment, except in private with close friends. What medical transition steps I have or have not taken are basically none of your g-damned business. Sometimes I’m not 100% sure about this, because there are some spheres where birth assignment could potentially matter (what I feel dysphoric about is sometimes related, and also the fact that trans women are far more likely than men to experience violence and other negative outcomes of being trans probably also applies in some cases to AMAB genderqueer folks—the recent discussions by Merritt Kopas, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and others around how “gender weirdness” is policed when AMAB are particularly chilling). But generally speaking, it’s often possible to talk about trans experience while focusing on actual gender, rather than birth assignment, and often better to do so.
What I find interesting is that as a non-binary femme trans person, I default to taking “Sir” as a compliment. I then feel kind of unsettled about it, but gendering me male, as a person who presents femme, is pretty much the only mainstream way to acknowledge my queerness in public—and being acknowledged as queer in public is very important to me. While “Sir” and masculine language doesn’t fit me at all, when I’m presenting femme, I have a sense that it acknowledges at least some difference, however backwards that is.
I finally got my iPhone to successfully play Invisibilia, a much-lauded new podcast from the producers of This American Life. Overall, I really like the show, but I was disappointed and even a bit disturbed by the story in “The Power of Categories” focusing on Paige, a bi-gender person. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why I feel this way. The hosts cover Paige’s story sympathetically, and seem to have done their research. It’s for the most part a scientific take on the topic. But maybe that’s why, as a genderfluid, genderqueer, non-binary person who can’t quite even pick one word to describe my gender, it rankled me.
In my last post, I asked the theoretical question, do gender differences exist? I concluded that there are observable trends that group people more-or-less by gender, but that identifying with a particular gender doesn’t mean that one identifies with every trait society assigns to that gender, and that gender categorization can be damaging both to those who do and do not identify as male or female.
Next, I’d like to consider the policy implications of the question.
The challenge here is to question whether gender differences have any utility from a policy perspective, while still respecting the lived experiences and claimed identities of those who identify as male or female. I can say that gender differences are illusory, that the “box” created by a lump of traits is in many ways artificial, and that the weight put on certain traits such as secondary sex characteristics and hormones obscures the actual diversity that exists in our society. But while saying this, I have to recognize that the categories “male” and “female” do mean something for many people, perhaps most, and that these categories can be useful when setting policy, organizing, or doing activist work.
These days, it seems like I can’t get away from headlines about men vs. women, discussing everything from biology to health to relationship preferences to shopping habits. It’s easy to feel erased when everything you read groups behavior of men vs. behavior of women, and you don’t fit into either of those categories. But is there a reason to organize the world in this way? Do gender differences exist?
In this post, I’ll address the the theoretical question of whether gender differences exist, and then, in a second post, I’ll ask the policy question of whether there’s any utility to using gender differences on a practical level.
So, are there gender differences? Well, yes, simply put. They aren’t black and white, and of course we can’t say that all men do x and all women do y about anything whatsoever. But there are observable trends, which is unsurprising given our tendency as a society to group absolutely everything by gender.
Have you been keeping up with the WAM! (Women, Action, and the Media) It Yourself unconference this week? Today is the last day of the Blogathon and we’re talking about various aspects of gender and the media. My post for this event focuses on the idea of the “battle of the sexes” and why it presents such a barrier to feminism and gender activism in media.
I got this idea from watching the first few episodes of Celebrity Apprentice Season Four, an endeavor I do not necessarily recommend to my readers. I started watching because my favorite actress, Marlee Matlin, is on the show, and of course it’s not too surprising that a show like this would piss me off with all its ableism and misogyny. I do think it provides an interesting example, though, of one place where reality TV consistently goes wrong–and it’s not just reality TV.
A battle of the sexes is supposed to be fun, funny, and rile up the audience. Everyone can root for “their” team, and it’s a clear dividing line that we’re all used to in this society. You can even make an argument that in this modern, “post-feminist” world, the battle of the sexes is updated and consistent with feminist goals. Many of the shows that use a battle of the sexes have a strong female team, the women tend to be intelligent and kick ass, and the female viewership supposedly gets excited about this and ratings go up.
But something is seriously wrong with this picture.