Monday, August 11, 2014

Bringing an end to the “end of gender”

So next month will be the one-year anniversary of my book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive being released, and I will be celebrating by posting small excerpts of some of my favorite paragraphs and passages from the book on my blog over the course of September.

One of the passages I was planning to quote is very germane to the latest round of TERF debates, so I am posting it today instead.

Radical feminists who are opposed to trans people repeatedly offer this justification: They are trying to bring on the “end of gender” whereas trans people “reinforce gender.” Throughout Excluded, I eviscerate the “reinforcing trope” and how it is arbitrarily used as a tool within activism to exclude minorities/marginalized subpopulations within movements (including lesbians in the early days of radical feminism).

And in the following passage from the book, I point out how ridiculously vague and arbitrary such “end of gender” claims really are.

I cannot tell you how many times I have read and heard claims that feminists are trying to “move beyond gender,” or to bring on the “end of gender,” invoked in attempts to portray transsexuality and transgenderism as antithetical to feminism. Here is what I want to know: what exactly is the “end of gender”? What does it look like? Are there words to describe male and female bodies at the end of gender? Or do we purge all words that refer to male- or female-specific body parts and reproductive functions for fear that they will reinforce gender distinctions? Do we do away with activities such as sports, sewing, shaving, cooking, fixing cars, taking care of children, and of course, man-on-top-woman-on-bottom penetration sex, because these have been too closely associated with traditional masculine and feminine roles in the past? What clothes do we wear at the end of gender? Do we all wear pants? Or do we all wear skirts? Or do we have to come up with a completely different type of clothing altogether? Or perhaps we must go naked because, after all, clothing has a long and troubled history of conspiring with the gender system? Who gets to make these decisions? Who gets to decide what is gender and what is not? By what criteria does one determine whether any given behavior is a wholesome natural human trait or an abominable social artifact?
It seems clear to me that everybody has a somewhat different view of what is “in” gender (and therefore bad) and what is “outside” of gender (and therefore good). I have been in spaces that are predominantly genderqueer where I have heard people claim that anyone who uses male and female pronouns necessarily reinforces the gender system. I have on more than one occasion heard people who identify as bisexual or pansexual suggest that people who are exclusively attracted to one sex or the other reinforce the gender binary. Apparently, reinforcing the gender system, like beauty, is truly in the eye of the beholder.

Toward the end of that same chapter, I make the case that, as feminists, we should be fighting to bring on the *end of sexism*, rather than the “end of gender”:

I would have to be pretty full of myself to believe that I could undo the gender system simply by behaving in one way or another. Such notions may be self-reassuring, but they ignore the fact that acts of sexism occur, not by how we dress, or identify, or have sex, but through the way we see and treat other people. Sexism occurs when we assume that some people are less valid or natural than others because of their sex, gender or sexuality; it occurs when we project our own expectations and assumptions about sex, gender and sexuality onto other people, and police their behaviors accordingly; it occurs when we reduce another person to their sex, gender or sexuality rather than seeing them as a whole, legitimate person. That is sexism. And a person is a legitimate feminist when they have made a commitment to challenging sexist double standards wherever and whenever they arise. An individual’s personal style, mannerisms, identity, consensual sexual partners, and life choices simply shouldn’t matter into it.

More excerpts and reviews from the book can be found on my Excluded webpage.

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


  1. Julia, this one has no doubt that this will elicit unpopularity, but the conflict between you and TERFs brings out a number of more interesting, and powerful, issues than self-identity. TERFs are trying to destroy gender as part of an antilife movement (here called "transhumanism") that wants to create singularities within Earth's systems through a removal of variance. Making that argument on Earth 2014 sounds silly, because they lie that it's about "diversity," but their actions--the attempt to remove a person's ability to define that person's group membership, be it of a sexual or racial nature, by destroying the very acknowledgement of those differences--demonstrate their commitment to long-term singularity.

    These singularities, when strong enough, operate on Earth (say, "Gaia") like blood clots, and create cascading system failures, wounding or killing Gaia and achieving their larger goal.

    Right now, using "freedom" and "diversity" as their instruments, they're trying to eliminate our connection to our bodies. They want to turn reproduction into a scientific act involving tubes and vials and injections and incubators, and then, designer DNA that isn't dependent on the parent. Every identity will be stolen--man, woman, parent, child--and replaced by a cog.

    What makes most transsexuals so beautiful is that their pursuit of a human identity demonstrates the value of that human identity. It's like someone refusing to eat at McDonald's, and instead nurturing their own garden--and while everyone else is gulping and cheering about their genetically mangled, plasticky "burgers," you remain happy to eat an organic tomato off your vine. They absolutely can't stand that, because they intensely want control over variables in order to limit their potential for independent growth.

    All that said (and here's the part where you're going to get angry at this one), the idea of "trans"-sexuality plays into their hand. If the right combination of surgery, clothing, and/or behavior is what defines "woman," then people truly are intrinsically worthless, interchangeable cogs. Numbers. Worker ants. Your inner identity is worthless if someone different can "be" what you are by deciding to be that.

    It ultimately supports the TERF argument of eliminating gender to use "trans" terms. Far better--astronomically safer, as it were--is for MTFs to call themselves "sissies," or make up some other word, to indicate that they're XY chromosomed but otherwise hot? If they really are "trans" gender, and we all accept that, then gender is worthless, meaning that the womanhood of both XXs and transitioning XYs has been irrevocably stolen.

    When you take your XY and claim to be a woman, what you have just told XXs is that, "Femininity is not a priceless gift given along with your life, but rather, something I can have, too, by learning your traditional modes of behavior and appearance." That argument opens you to dismissal, too, because your behavior can be cruelly aped.

  2. If you want your identity to be respected, make it an identity that you define, and that defines you, rather than putting yourself imperfectly into someone else's identity. It is perfectly valid to say, "Group A is boys who dig outward penetration and shun inward and who like rough physical competition, Group B is girls who dig inward penetration and shun outward and who rarely like rough physical competition, Group C is boys who..." et cetera.

    It is a good, healthy, wonderful thing for XX people to cherish their XX, and the things that make their XX different than everyone else who does not have XX--even XYs who feel like they should have XXs. Take joy in those who still see a meaning in the fundamentals of their own bodies, and they will eventually take joy in the meaning you find in yours. If you, instead, argue that their deeper meaning is irrelevant, you will only find your deeper meaning stolen, as well.

    1. First, this post is not about identity. It is about feminism, and my argument that it should be a movement to end all forms of sexism, rather than trying to eliminate certain ways of being gendered.

      Furthermore, I 100% disagree with your argument about identity and trans politics, in too many ways to sum up here. Especially the part about chromosomes! Like most people, I honestly don't know my chromosome make up (I assume I'm XY, but that's an assumption), nor do I want or feel like I should have XX. I honestly could not care less about my chromosomes!

      And I am not in anyway trying to "put myself imperfectly onto someone else's identity." If you want to know my *actual* views about identity, gender, and trans-related issues (rather than your assumptions about what I believe), then I encourage you to check my book Whipping Girl out of the nearest library. Otherwise, please stop barraging my personal blog with multiple comments debunking arguments that I have never made.

    2. I'm sorry; I'd hoped you might want to engage people who didn't already agree with you. Fare thee well!

    3. Omg Julia, what a creep. I can't believe these jokers think they have the right to dictate to others how to define themselves.

  3. Makes me think back to Genderenders...

    1. ooops, entered the comment in the wrong place (I always do that) - see reply below...

  4. yes, wow, that is now kind of a long time ago! For those who don't know, it was a trans/intersex/genderqueer-focused performance series that I organized many years ago:

    I came up with the name when I was still genderqueer-identified. On the mission statement, this is what I said:

    "Why the name GenderEnders?
    Well, it's a play on the common phrase “gender bender”, which implies a sort of playful and temporary toying with gender presentation. But these days, many of us gender/sex variant folks are defining ourselves outside of the binary gender/sex system altogether. GenderEnders can also refer to the fact that gender/sex variant queers usually make up the last few letters of the GLBTIQ alphabet soup..."

    I have a lot of great memories from GenderEnders. But safe to say, I doubt those shows quite achieved the radical feminist imagined utopia of "the end of gender." :)

    1. Your shows were definitely a lot closer to a utopian ideal than their concepts, IMHO.

    2. Thank you, I have used your sexism definition in the past, it seems to hit home for most folks I share it with.
      Your words are awesomesauce! ♡☆

  5. From what I understand of the idea, "gender enders" perceive this state of being as one in which an individual's self-expression and expected societal role is no longer determined by, or related in any relevant manner, to one's sex. Since no one knows what life without gender would entail, since there is not a single example of a human society that does not exercise some delineation of expected societal role and/or behavior based upon one's sex, only presumptions can be made concerning this new human reality. However, I view this state of being as one in which people will have the ability to express themselves with a creative, colorful potential that has never before been seen by humanity. I view this as a diverse, enjoyable state of being.

    I am rather confused how this idea can be said to suppress expression? It seems the entire purpose of it.

    Although maybe this is due to a radically different definition/understanding of gender being used within this context, which would make sense. If one views gender as allowing self-expression, then a genderless world looks bleak indeed. If, however, one views gender as a concept which limits human expression, then it is understandable how a genderless world could seem like a utopia.

    1. Yes, I think a problem they make is not recognizing that gendered traits are really human traits that are unfairly barraged by sexist assumptions and expectations in our culture - I talk about this in a different way here:

      There is also a hypocrisy in that they seem to want to get rid of aspects of gender they dislike, but are uncritical about their own expressions and assumptions about gender. Cristan Williams points that out in this post:

    2. Ok, I have a question...when you say "gendered traits are really human traits," do you mean that traits we consider to be of one gender or another are actually natural human traits (which seems self-evident, if people can do something then at least one person is probably wanting to do it naturally), or are you saying that human traits in general have become gendered? The latter seems to make more sense to me. I don't see activities such as body-building and child-rearing, or personality traits such as aggressiveness or submissiveness, to be intrinsic to any sex. If gender is described as "sex roles", which is how I was taught to understand it, then isn't gender really saying that certain traits are associated with a certain sex, at least more "naturally" than they would be in the other sex?

      Maybe I am confused. To my mind, this means that "feminine" and "masculine" would no longer be associated with "man" or "woman," and would just become all part of the same trait-bucket, yes? But you say in the Ms. Blog piece that a "trait is deemed 'feminine' if it is often associated with women." I don't like that traits are associated with men or women. This seems pretty erroneous to me, especially after seeing that video in child psychology class where the researcher shows how the *same child* is treated completely differently by strangers depending on whether they think it is a boy or a girl. The boy was encouraged to manipulate/play with objects, while the girl was held close and not permitted the same freedom. That makes it seem like this whole feminine associated with woman and masculine associated with man business is made up. So if gender is described as sex roles - as an expected manner of behavior, dress, etc for a particular sex, wouldn't this just mean that without gender, all these traits are available for anyone to choose without societal repercussions?

      The Transadvocate piece didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I understand what they were saying about the clothes - I remember that scene from SLC Punk. In the scene, Brandy was pointing out to Stevo that his priorities were wack: he put a whole lot of emphasis on clothing but not a whole lot on the meaning behind them. Ironically, the TA article seemed to be talking a whole lot about clothing and less about actual ideology? Also, what were they talking about with that New Delhi thing and sockpuppets? I didn't get that.

      As kind of a random note, the focus on the clothing also confused me a lot. The three women were wearing very different "uniforms." I want Sheila's jacket, with the polka-dots on the inside? That was totally cute. And completely different from what the other two people were wearing? And none of the shoes were boots - I saw some slip-ons, what looks like Pumas in the middle, and some sort of leather dress shoes on the right. So the article, in all, didn't really seem to make much of clear point to me aside from whoever wrote it not having much fashion sense. But that's just my opinion.

      I felt like the article would have been better served making an argument against other people's arguments. Seemed like an ad hominem to me. Anyways. Thanks for getting back to me on this.

    3. 1) the traits I mentioned are human traits (i.e., they may be expressed by anyone).

      2) people in our culture associate feminine traits with women & masculine traits with men. There are multiple possible reasons for this: a) perhaps these traits occur disproportionately in one gender or the other, perhaps due to socialization, or biological influence, or some combination thereof, b) we are all taught that women should be feminine & men masculine, and this likely influences what we notice when we view people (see e.g., confirmation bias).

      3) I agree with you that it's bad that people in our culture associate these human traits with either women or men. My argument is that we should see them as human traits & challenge the sexist assumptions behind them.

      The TransAdvocate piece is perhaps inside baseball. I can see you viewing the article as being ad hominem without background. The three women shown are all trans-exclusive radical feminists who all insist that they are trying to "end gender" and that trans people are trying to "reinforce gender." These three individuals regularly demean and smear trans people's genders. The author was trying to point out that these individuals have genders too, and that their criticism of trans people's genders (while being uncritical about their own genders) is hypocritical. It is not the piece that I would write, but it does make the same basic point regarding the fallacy of "the end of gender" that my piece does.

    4. "My argument is that we should see them as human traits & challenge the sexist assumptions behind them."
      I agree. There is no reason to associate certain traits with male humans or female humans. Those traits can associate themselves organically, and without any negative impact on human society (except maybe for the negative aspects of human society). It seems as if you are also advocating for an end to gender? I mean, if gender is the division of these traits into masculine and feminine, and if there is then considered no logical basis for these categories themselves (ie feminine has nothing to do with women or men, same for masculinity), then don't these categories become meaningless?

      Maybe if I tell a little about myself it will make sense why I having difficulty understanding where our ideas overlap. As a trans person, I have always had serious issues with gender. However, as I met other trans people I realized many did not feel the same way about gender as I did. Personally, I don't identify as having a gender. It's not that I'm androgynous - I would be considered far into the feminine spectrum by other people - I just don't identify with femininity or feel it internally. This is just the way I like to conduct myself, and I always feel dirty when people try to *put* gender on me. Here's the thing: no matter *what* I do, or what I act like, or what I wear, people will always interpret this as some kind of gender. So really, gender seems more like its coming from *other* people rather than inside me! And gender seems like a redundant concept anyway - I mean, I"m going to wear the clothes I like, do what I want...if there was no gender, people wouldn't be giving me crap for any of it. The way I see it, gender has done me *no* good in my life.

      So I am really confused why I see people defending it. Why can't we just do what we want and be who we are without it being associated with one sex or another???

      And I don't see how TA can justify assigning a gender to people. It seems just like the bullies who keep telling me I'm feminine but I'm just ME!!! I may not agree with these people's politics, if they really do hate trans people like you say, but I also don't like the idea that an advocate for people like me is making fun of other people's clothing! I mean, really? This is one reason among many I just stay isolated from other trans people in general and am basically a hermit.

  6. So again :

    I agree that sexism is a problem but I guess that feminist do agree too.

    They want to kill gender because they think that gender is the result of sexism : we created 2 genders because we think people are not the same and that we have 2 categories.

  7. Sexism : hate of feminity in women
    Homophobia : hate of feminity in men

    The hate is on the behavior, not on the body I guess. Hence if we stop telling that doing this is feminine and doing that is masculine, and so kill gender NORMS, we would kill sexism.

    1. This definition of sexism doesn't make sense to me. I think it's more simply hate of women, right? Because if it's hate of femininity why would butch lesbians who don't conform to standards of femininity be subjected to corrective rape/violence? Seems to me this is because they are women not going along with femininity. Also, the aborting of female fetuses doesn't seem like it has to do anything with femininity, this is entirely based upon the biological sex of the fetus (in such countries where this type of thing still occurs). At least with the examples I've given, it seems like sexism is there whether or not femininity is there. Which is kind of ironic, given your definition, since a lot of women are punished specifically for *not* going along with what is called femininity.

      Your definition of homophobia seems fairly accurate. I would point out, however, that a man can experience homophobia without displaying femininity at *all.* Choice of another man for a sex partner is the only thing that could be considered "feminine" in this context, but that also doesn't really describe the situation well (considering this gay man could very well be the "masculine" partner in the act). The gay man may experience homophobia simply because they are stepping outside their assigned gender role - as in, they are being punished for not conforming to the gender expectations they were assigned at birth.

      So I guess the hate is upon the connection between the body and the behavior? As in, certain bodies, certain behaviors, and if it doesn't match like people say it should, then societal punishment is incurred?

  8. And it is true that most trans try hard to stick to norms of the new gender.

    Hence being like caricatures of social norms.

    But they do this because they are like teenager, they try to be accepted and don't know how, all the lore since they see they are rejected if not passing.

    Sooner of later, many see they will never be like other women and so accept they are trans.

    Conclusion : we should have gender if we want to have a gender and the norms or the gender should be rather loose. Trans should be accepted in a third gender that would be equal. We also could have x genders.

  9. Why does the gender norms exist ?

    That's the question !

  10. Julia, you tell you felt queer before, how do you feel now and what made you change your feelings ?

  11. End of gender means the end of constraints placed on people because of sex. It does not mean the end of any of the clothing, activities, or other things described instead it means the end of the blue and pink coding of life, the assigning of appearances, clothing, behaviours and interests to people based on sex or even sex identity. This is what radical feminists want, men can do all women can do and women can do all men can do without any constraints, without the need for labels of masculine and feminine. The only differences which remain will be the ones that arise from biology, not ones culturally imposed. There will be no box type concept of what a male or female should be like, is like or wants to be like. There will be no more calling men effeminate for certain behaviours or women masculine for certain behaviours.

    There will be no more heteronormativity, sexuality just a direction with less need to label oneself around it. Calling someone a label like A lesbian, a gay man or anything other just based around this one dimension of self will be meaningless. People attracted to females or people attracted to males or other versions of sexuality will just be that and nothing more. Male and female will be just seen as two directions in biology, not opposites and it will be accepted other directions in biology occur. Male and female are the direction most peoples biology takes, these are the two which more likely produce an adult capable of reproduction but not always, sometimes biology takes another direction. At the end of gender people are human first and their sex second, most humans are either male or female and some are other. Just as some humans are black, others are white, others are asian.

    The end of gender is not a transhumanist place, human biology is not altered, infact human biology becomes less altered because those whos biology takes another direction no longer have their biology reshaped to fit a close resemblance of male or female. The gender system and its two polarized roles are more transhumanist then the end of gender will be, because humans invented those boxes and reshaped people physically and mentally to fit them. The end of gender will be restoring the natural state.

    At the end of gender biological sex differences will remain, and there may be people who think their biology has taken the wrong direction and wish to put their biology on the course close to which they think it should have taken. These people will transition, but they won't have to give up anything non biological (i.e social) because at the end of gender biology no longer determines how society is structures. There are no male colours and female colours, no masculine and feminine , not even stretched out on a spectrum. All the things once coded as masculine and feminine still exist, but they exist for what they are not based around gender. Some things may appear no longer useful and get abandoned.

    Will females call themselves women and be addressed as she? I dont know, it may be that people no longer refer to people based on their sex and sex only matters for the functions that are sexed. It may be that people no longer build whole identities around their sex.

    One thing to remember coding things by sex is what we mean when we say gender, and what we mean when we say we want to end gender is we want to end the social coding of things around sex and the over inflated difference that says not just the sexes are different but that they should strive to be different in ways that extend the basic biological differences.

    Gender does not say men are less emotional than women, it says they should be and punishes them when they are not.

    Gender does not say women are not as strong as men, it says women should not strive for physical strength unless they are trying to be like men.

    1. I generally agree with you that what you describe would be a wonderful end goal. I think that this is where some transgender activists and radical feminists could potentially find common cause - for years many trans activists have talked about overthrowing the gender binary, and binary-based norms and meanings, which seems (at least to me) to coincide with what you are proposing.

      However, some radical feminists, or gender critical feminists have taken a different stance, one that suggests that people shouldn't do anything that they deem as being associated with gender. They have accused feminine women, and women who engage in certain sexual practices, or transgender people's expressions of dress or mannerisms, as "reinforcing gender." In fact, the passage I quote above is specifically from a chapter where I show how some feminists (many of them rad fem-identified) asymmetrically accuse trans people of "reinforcing gender" in instances when we are merely doing things that non-trans people do all the time (e.g., wear certain clothing, behave a certain way).

      If you read my books (not that you have to), you will see (hopefully) that I am all for eliminating all assumptions, expectations, meanings, and other double standards regarding bodies and behaviors that we associate with "gender" today. But I draw the line when people say that we should stop expressing ourselves in different ways because such behaviors are deemed to be "gender." You do not seem to be doing this. But other people (some, but not all, rad fem-identified) do make these claims. That is what I was intending to debunk in this post.