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“I’ve often found myself asking this question and recently Troye Sivan tweeted about it so I felt like I should ask you guys: If gender is a social construct, then what does being trans actually mean? If one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism is ending gender as we know it (as an imaginary thing), then how can this coexist with transgenderism?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Liam Lowery Says:

First, a disclosure: I have thought about your question every spare moment I have had for over a month. It is a good question, one that people (particularly people who have been aware/accepting of trans identities for a while) ask me pretty often, so I want to answer it as thoroughly as possible.

If gender is a social construct, then what does being trans actually mean?

Gender is a social construct. This is a phrase that anyone who’s taken a gender studies class (or looked at the Feminist Ryan Gosling meme) in recent years could parrot back to you. At the same time, trans and gender-nonconforming people have recently become visible in ways we were not before, pushing for equal or sometimes trans-specific rights and resources. When considered together, this presents an obvious question: If gender is constructed, then how can trans be a “real” identity?

Well, there’s a catch. This question assumes that social constructs can’t have deep-reaching effects on the ones who, within the construct, are perceived as “less than” or “other.” Social constructs, more than anything else, govern the way that systems cause violence to marginalized groups. Calling something a social construct doesn’t eliminate its power, or meaningfully address the harms people in the out-group experience.

I don’t feel like gender is only a social construct when I am treated differently because of my gender identity, like when a supervisor advises me to talk less about trans issues to benefit my career, or when a colleague asks me to “explain” Caitlyn Jenner (statements made by well-meaning people who are, for all intents and purposes, allies). Gender itself may be a social construct, but the gender binary has very real consequences—for trans individuals and for cis-women, too. In the patriarchal world we live in, male assigned and identified people experience privilege that female-identified people do not. Transgender people, though, typically experience being outside of and unrecognizable to this gender system—even when we are read as cisgender, we are still subject to harms based on our trans status at any point when we come out or are outed.

But being trans also means digging deep inside yourself and discovering riches beyond telling. It means that, while people may have told you that you were crazy, that this would alienate you from your family, or that you would get yourself killed, you knew yourself, and chose to live as yourself. Being trans means moments of clarity, spiritual awakening, joy, and self-discovery, all in the face of deeply ingrained opposition. It means you led your own uprising, and are now the sovereign of your own nation-state. Being trans is the truest kind of victory, the kind that is won with a great deal of expense. It is indescribable, and these words are clumsy in trying to capture it. My point is, it definitely means something—something very deep, personal, and impossible to explain.

If one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism is ending gender as we know it, then how can this coexist with transgenderism?

Transgender identities are complicated and not uniform. They include all kinds of people with all kinds of goals for how gender should evolve and change. So this question I can only answer for myself.

Gender is a multi-faceted word, but I think what you mean here is that one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism [the valuing of cisgender identities through framing gender discussions around cis identities and making trans identities “other”] is working to end the gender binary. In my experience, transgender identities (and learning to respect them) serve to undermine the gender binary!

While the gender binary is a system of oppression that subjugates women and disenfranchises trans people, gender identity is flexible and highly individualized. Ending the gender binary does not mean eradicating gender identities—far from it. It means making space for more of them. Being able to claim your own gender identity is a valuable part of the human experience, and everyone ought to be able to do so without the fear of violence.

There are some who would say we do not need to end the gender binary, but just complicate it more and create space for non-binary identities to be recognized. While personally I believe we can and deserve to go further, complicating the gender binary is certainly the first step towards creating space for all people to live authentic lives—not in spite of their gender identities but because of them.

Until we agree to listen to each other and allow all people to be the experts on their gender identities, the gender binary will persist. So put your gender pronouns in your email signature, teach trans 101 workshops at your school, and most of all, assume less and listen more.

We also need to address access to gender-affirming healthcare and protect against employment discrimination, not to mention protecting trans people’s rights to use the restroom of their choice.

I eagerly prepare for the day when all of us take ownership of our bodies and cast off the yoke of a binary gender system that harms every person—a  day when we are all trans, determining our identities as we see fit, and moving about a spectrum of gender identities rather than clinging to a socially constructed, harmful binary. I should say, though, that while this might be the endgame, being trans has never been about an endgame for me. My trans identity is the exact place where the personal intersects with the political. This is just who I am, and this work is done in the hopes that you, and only you, can get to be just who you are, too.

Your question about fighting cis-sexism through ending the gender binary is an evolving one. Just as the butch community who nursed our community through the AIDS crisis could never have predicted the current prevalence of trans identities at the time, we can’t assume what the future will hold, or how our conceptions of gender and identity will evolve over time. Gender is a product of place, culture, and the economy—consider, for instance, how third-gender people in the Philippines are more and more claiming binary trans identities because of globalization. I’m sure my answer, my identity, and my point of view will seem outdated even a decade from now.

But today at least, to fight the gender binary, we must keep our heads down and work, and allow ourselves to be surprised by what the future holds. I bet the next crop of rainbow children will have brilliant ideas and move our world forward in ways we never could have imagined.

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“How can I ask my school to include LGBTQ health and sex education in classes?”

Question Submitted by Anonymous

Dana Says:

Hey! So I love love love that you want to get LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed in your school because a lot of the time, this doesn’t really cross the minds of our educators—or even us as LGBTQ people! I know that as an 8th grader in an introductory health class, I had absolutely no idea what a “dental dam” was and I probably wouldn’t have known about it in my 10th grade health class either if I hadn’t already searched it up. In any case, LGBTQ individuals deserve inclusive sex ed, so damn it, we’ve gotta try our best to get it.

Before you ask your school to get an LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed curriculum, you need to have all your arguments, evidence, etc in order, so I’ve compiled a badass list (if I do say so myself) to help you do so!

Evaluate the current state of your health curriculum
Odds are that if your school is enforcing abstinence-only education, they’re probably not going to be so keen on considering LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed. You can do this by simply asking health students what they have learned, or referring to your old health notes if you have already taken the class. If your school is able to educate students about the ol’ penis-in-vagina method, then they should be able to teach them about other forms of sex as well.

Check up on your state’s standard health education curriculum
Go online to your state’s department of education website to find out whether your school is actually following the state guidelines. This has the potential to contribute a lot to your argument for LGBTQ-inclusive health classes; if the state says LGBTQ-inclusivity is the standard health curriculum, then why isn’t your school’s health curriculum up to par? If you find that your school is indeed failing to follow the guidelines, you should TOTALLY take that information to your state’s Board of Education.

Gather some queer-er data!
A great way to see what your health curriculum specifically needs is by asking your queer peers what they want to learn. Maybe they want to learn about anal sex, or oral sex, or the different ways you can protect yourself from STI’s when in a same-sex relationship, because oftentimes a lot of us queers have no clue how to go about understanding all of that. So ask away!

Gather your troops
By this, I mean gather a few of your friends who are just as passionate about the cause so you can set up a meeting with your health teachers and/or the administration to talk about it. If you know any supportive parents or faculty who will join you in setting this meeting up, that will definitely add much-needed fuel to the fire!

Start a petition, get attention!
If the administration refuses to meet with you, start a petition among your student body, and perhaps even reach out to the local news outlets. Go nuts!

Ask LGBTQ health-related questions
If you’re asking questions that require answers, your teacher(s) will be forced to come up with an answer (or find that they lack one entirely). More often than not, health teachers don’t have enough knowledge on safe sex to provide students with accurate answers. In the asking, you’ll either be getting more information for all of your peers, or alerting your teacher to the fact that they need to learn more about LGBTQ issues!

Take matters into your own hands
You can’t teach in your school because you probably don’t have any kind of teaching degree, but you can reconvene with your troops and study up on as much you can find about LGBTQ sexual health. If the teachers aren’t going to teach, then you are going to have to spread the word about safe, sane, and consensual queer sex (say that five times fast!) as best as you can. Laci Green on YouTube, Autostraddle, Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon, Scarleteen, and even your state’s LGBTQ research center (if you have one) are all great resources to get you started btw! Rather than proclaiming “the prostate gland is often found in AMAB (assigned male at birth) individuals and can be a major pleasure center if stimulated!” down a crowded hallway, educate on smaller levels, like at a GSA meeting. A lot of the kids who want/need LGBTQ-inclusive health education are probably already in the school GSA.

When playing GSM (Gender/Sexual Minority) Jeopardy with my school GSA, I slip in a lot of random LGBTQ health facts so they learn something in a fun and lighthearted environment. For example, one of the questions was “What is a dental dam (or what I like to call, a dental “damn” ;D), and how is it used?” Because none of them knew, I ended up explaining what it was and its purpose, which definitely opened up their eyes to the world of STIs and sexual safety. Smaller-scale things like this definitely make a big difference if your school is consistently refusing to incorporate LGBTQ-inclusive sex education.

Last but not least, be patient yet still persistent
A lot of school officials aren’t as ready and willing as you are to get an LGBTQ-inclusive health curriculum for a multitude of reasons. The administration may be afraid of angry parents demanding why their teenager came home wanting to know more about safe anilingus, or the administration could be controlled by the state government, making it even more difficult to alter the curriculum, or perhaps they’re just not supportive of anything LGBTQ-related. The bottom line is, stay patient and stay persistent.

If all else fails, civil disobedience in the form of a sit-in at your school could definitely raise some eyebrows (and probably some blood pressures). That’s just my personal endgame, though, haha. Anyway, best of luck!

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