Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Excluded excerpt of the day: New Ways of Speaking

So my most recent book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive came out a year ago this month! To celebrate this fact, throughout this month I will post a series of excerpts and essays related to the book.

I figured that it would be best to begin with an excerpt (from Chapter 12) that explains what drove me to write the book:

As countless writers and activists have chronicled, and as my own essays in the previous section of this book attest to, exclusion is a recurring problem in feminist and queer movements, organizations, and spaces. Whether unconscious or overt, exclusion always leads to the same end result: Many individuals who wish to participate are left behind, and the few who remain often bask in the misconception that they are part of a unified, righteous movement. To put it another way, exclusion inevitably leads to far smaller movements with far more narrow and distorted agendas.
Those of us who face exclusion within feminism or queer activism will often focus our efforts on challenging the specific isms that we believe are driving our exclusion. In my case, this has led me to spend much of the last decade critiquing cissexism, trans-misogyny, masculine-centrism, and monosexism within the queer and feminist spaces I have participated in. Others have focused their efforts on challenging heterosexism, racism, classism, ableism, ageism, and sizeism within these movements. All of this is important work, to be sure. But honestly, sometimes I feel like we are all playing one giant game of Whac-A-Mole—as soon as we make gains challenging a particular type of exclusion, another type arises or becomes apparent. So while we may make significant inroads in challenging certain isms, as a whole, the phenomenon of exclusion continues unabated.
For this reason, over the last several years, I have focused my attention on a more fundamental, underlying question: Why do feminist and queer movements, which would so clearly benefit from strength in numbers, always seem to exclude certain people who are committed to our overall goal of challenging sexism? And is there a way to eliminate, or at least mitigate, our tendency toward excluding people simply because they are different from us?

While the first section of the book is comprised of a series of essays describing instances of exclusion that I have personally experienced (as a bisexual femme-tomboy transsexual woman) within feminist and queer spaces, the bulk of the book seeks to illuminate the underlying forces that lead us to constantly create hierarchies within, and to exclude certain individuals from, our movements. Here is what I say about this in the Introduction to the book:
The second section of this book, “New Ways of Speaking,” is a collection of previously unpublished essays that forward a new framework for thinking about gender, sexuality, sexism, and marginalization. Here, I explain why existing feminist and queer movements (much like their straight male–centric counterparts) always seem to create hierarchies, where certain gendered and sexual bodies, identities, and behaviors are deemed more legitimate than others. Of course, past feminist and queer activists have been concerned about these pecking orders, and they have often placed the blame squarely on identity politics, essentialism, classism, assimilationism, and/or reformist politics. However, such claims ignore the fact that sexism-based hierarchies are just as prevalent in radical, anti-capitalist, anti-essentialist, and anti-assimilationist circles as they are within so-called “liberal” feminist and single-issue “A-gay” activist circles.
Rather than blaming the usual suspects, here I show how sexism-based exclusion within feminist and queer movements is typically driven by what Anne Koedt once called the perversion of “the personal is political”that is, the assumption that we should all curtail or alter our genders and sexualities in order to better conform with feminist or queer politics. This perversion of “the personal is political” can be seen in both reformist feminist and queer activist circles that seek to purge “less desirable” identities and behaviors from their movements in the name of political expediency, and among their more radical counterparts who denounce identities and behaviors that they perceive to be too “conservative,” “conforming,” or “heteronormative.” In other words, both extremes share the expectation that their members will be relatively homogeneous and conform to certain norms of gender and sexuality. Such one-size-fits-all approaches ignore the fact that there is naturally occurring variation in sex, gender, and sexuality in human populations. We all differ somewhat in our desires, urges, and attractions, and in what identities, expressions, and interests resonate with us. Furthermore, each of us is uniquely socially situated: We each have different life histories, face different obstacles, and have different experiences with sexism and other forms of marginalization. So the assumption that we should conform to some uniform ideal with regards to gender and sexuality, or that we should all adhere to one single view of sexism and marginalization, is simply unrealistic.
One-size-fits-all approaches to gender and sexuality—whether they occur in the straight male–centric mainstream, or within feminist and queer subcultures—inevitably result in double standards, where bodies and behaviors can only ever be viewed as either right or wrong, natural or unnatural, normal or abnormal, righteous or immoral. And one-size-fits-all models for describing sexism and marginalization—whether in terms of patriarchy, or compulsory heterosexuality, or the gender binary—always account for certain forms of sexism and marginalization while ignoring others. As a result, such models validate some people’s perspectives while leaving many of us behind. I believe that this pervasive insistence that we should all conform to some fixed and homogeneous view of sexism and marginalization, or of gender and sexuality, is the primary cause of sexism-based exclusion within feminist and queer movements.

More excerpts to come! And you can find out more about the book (including reviews, interviews, and more excerpts) at my Excluded webpage.

[note: If you appreciate my work and want to see more of it, please check out my Patreon page]

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