What is a lesbian? A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion. She is the woman who, often beginning at an extremely early age, acts in accordance with her inner compulsion to be a more complete and freer human being than her society - perhaps then, but certainly later - cares to allow her. These needs and actions, over a period of years, bring her into painful conflict with people, situations, the accepted ways of thinking, feeling and behaving, until she is in a state of continual war with everything around her, and usually with her self. She may not be fully conscious of the political implications of what for her began as personal necessity, but on some level she has not been able to accept the limitations and oppression laid on her by the most basic role of her society--the female role. The turmoil she experiences tends to induce guilt proportional to the degree to which she feels she is not meeting social expectations, and/or eventually drives her to question and analyze what the rest of her society more or less accepts. She is forced to evolve her own life pattern, often living much of her life alone, learning usually much earlier than her "straight" (heterosexual) sisters about the essential aloneness of life (which the myth of marriage obscures) and about the reality of illusions. To the extent that she cannot expel the heavy socialization that goes with being female, she can never truly find peace with herself. For she is caught somewhere between accepting society's view of her - in which case she cannot accept herself - and coming to understand what this sexist society has done to her and why it is functional and necessary for it to do so. Those of us who work that through find ourselves on the other side of a tortuous journey through a night that may have been decades long. The perspective gained from that journey, the liberation of self, the inner peace, the real love of self and of all women, is something to be shared with all women - because we are all women.
It should first be understood that lesbianism, like male homosexuality, is a category of behavior possible only in a sexist society characterized by rigid sex roles and dominated by male supremacy. Those sex roles dehumanize women by defining us as a supportive/serving caste in relation to the master caste of men, and emotionally cripple men by demanding that they be alienated from their own bodies and emotions in order to perform their economic/political/military functions effectively. Homosexuality is a by-product of a particular way of setting up roles ( or approved patterns of behavior) on the basis of sex; as such it is an inauthentic ( not consonant with "reality") category. In a society in which men do not oppress women, and sexual expression is allowed to follow feelings, the categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality would disappear.
But lesbianism is also different from male homosexuality, and serves a different function in the society. "Dyke" is a different kind of put-down from "faggot", although both imply you are not playing your socially assigned sex role. . . are not therefore a "real woman" or a "real man. " The grudging admiration felt for the tomboy, and the queasiness felt around a sissy boy point to the same thing: the contempt in which women-or those who play a female role-are held. And the investment in keeping women in that contemptuous role is very great. Lesbian is a word, the label, the condition that holds women in line. When a woman hears this word tossed her way, she knows she is stepping out of line. She knows that she has crossed the terrible boundary of her sex role. She recoils, she protests, she reshapes her actions to gain approval. Lesbian is a label invented by the Man to throw at any woman who dares to be his equal, who dares to challenge his prerogatives (including that of all women as part of the exchange medium among men), who dares to assert the primacy of her own needs. To have the label applied to people active in women's liberation is just the most recent instance of a long history; older women will recall that not so long ago, any woman who was successful, independent, not orienting her whole life about a man, would hear this word. For in this sexist society, for a woman to be independent means she can't be a woman - she must be a dyke. That in itself should tell us where women are at. It says as clearly as can be said: women and person are contradictory terms. For a lesbian is not considered a "real woman. " And yet, in popular thinking, there is really only one essential difference between a lesbian and other women: that of sexual orientation - which is to say, when you strip off all the packaging, you must finally realize that the essence of being a "woman" is to get lucked by men.
"Lesbian" is one of the sexual categories by which men have divided up humanity. While all women are dehumanized as sex objects, as the objects of men they are given certain compensations: identification with his power, his ego, his status, his protection (from other males), feeling like a "real woman, " finding social acceptance by adhering to her role, etc. Should a woman confront herself by confronting another woman, there are fewer rationalizations, fewer buffers by which to avoid the stark horror of her dehumanized condition. Herein we find the overriding fear of many women toward being used as a sexual object by a woman, which not only will bring her no male-connected compensations, but also will reveal the void which is woman's real situation. This dehumanization is expressed when a straight woman learns that a sister is a lesbian; she begins to relate to her lesbian sister as her potential sex object, laying a surrogate male role on the lesbian. This reveals her heterosexual conditioning to make herself into an object when sex is potentially involved in a relationship, and it denies the lesbian her full humanity. For women, especially those in the movement, to perceive their lesbian sisters through this male grid of role definitions is to accept this male cultural conditioning and to oppress their sisters much as they themselves have been oppressed by men. Are we going to continue the male classification system of defining all females in sexual relation to some other category of people? Affixing the label lesbian not only to a woman who aspires to be a person, but also to any situation of real love, real solidarity, real primacy among women, is a primary form of divisiveness among women: it is the condition which keeps women within the confines of the feminine role, and it is the debunking/scare term that keeps women from forming any primary attachments, groups, or associations among ourselves. Women in the movement
have in most cases gone to great lengths to avoid discussion and confrontation with the issue of lesbianism. It puts people up-tight. They are hostile, evasive, or try to incorporate it into some ''broader issue. " They would rather not talk about it. If they have to, they try to dismiss it as a 'lavender herring. " But it is no side issue. It is absolutely essential to the success and fulfillment of the women's liberation movement that this issue be dealt with. As long as the label "dyke" can be used to frighten women into a less militant stand, keep her separate from her sisters, keep her from giving primacy to anything other than men and family-then to that extent she is controlled by the male culture. Until women see in each other the possibility of a primal commitment which includes sexual love, they will be denying themselves the love and value they readily accord to men, thus affirming their second-class status. As long as male acceptability is primary-both to individual women and to the movement as a whole-the term lesbian will be used effectively against women. Insofar as women want only more privileges within the system, they do not want to antagonize male power. They instead seek acceptability for women's liberation, and the most crucial aspect of the acceptability is to deny lesbianism - i. e., to deny any fundamental challenge to the basis of the female. It should also be said that some younger, more radical women have honestly begun to discuss lesbianism, but so far it has been primarily as a sexual "alternative" to men. This, however, is still giving primacy to men, both because the idea of relating more completely to women occurs as a negative reaction to men, and because the lesbian relationship is being characterized simply by sex, which is divisive and sexist. On one level, which is both personal and political, women may withdraw emotional and sexual energies from men, and work out various alternatives for those energies in their own lives. On a different political/psychological level, it must be understood that what is crucial is that women begin disengaging from maledefined response patterns. In the privacy of our own psyches, we must cut those cords to the core. For irrespective of where our love and sexual energies flow, if we are male-identified in our heads, we cannot realize our autonomy as human beings. But why is it that women have related to and through men? By virtue of having been brought up in a male society, we have internalized the male culture's definition of ourselves. That definition consigns us to sexual and family functions, and excludes us from defining and shaping the terms of our lives. In exchange for our psychic servicing and for performing society's non-profit-making functions, the man confers on us just one thing: the slave status which makes us legitimate in the eyes of the society in which we ive. This is called "femininity" or "being a real woman" in our cultural lingo. We are authentic, legitimate, real to the extent that we are the property of some man whose name we bear. To be a woman who belongs to no man is to be invisible, pathetic, inauthentic, unreal. He confirms his image of us - of what we have to be in order to be acceptable by him - but not our real selves; he confirms our womanhood-as he defines it, in relation to him- but cannot confirm our personhood, our own selves as absolutes. As long as we are dependent on the male culture for this definition. for this approval, we cannot be free.
The consequence of internalizing this role is an enormous reservoir of self-hate. This is not to say the self-hate is recognized or accepted as such; indeed most women would deny it. It may be experienced as discomfort with her role, as feeling empty, as numbness, as restlessness, as a paralyzing anxiety at the center. Alternatively, it may be expressed in shrill defensiveness of the glory and destiny of her role. But it does exist, often beneath the edge of her consciousness, poisoning her existence, keeping her alienated from herself, her own needs, and rendering her a stranger to other women. They try to escape by identifying with the oppressor, living through him, gaining status and identity from his ego, his power, his accomplishments. And by not identifying with other "empty vessels" like themselves. Women resist relating on all levels to other women who will reflect their own oppression, their own secondary status, their own self-hate. For to confront another woman is finally to confront one's self-the self we have gone to such lengths to avoid. And in that mirror we know we cannot really respect and love that which we have been made to be.
As the source of self-hate and the lack of real self are rooted in our male-given identity, we must create a new sense of self. As long as we cling to the idea of "being a woman, '' we will sense some conflict with that incipient self, that sense of I, that sense of a whole person. It is very difficult to realize and accept that being "feminine" and being a whole person are irreconcilable. Only women can give to each other a new sense of self. That identity we have to develop with reference to ourselves, and not in relation to men. This consciousness is the revolutionary force from which all else will follow, for ours is an organic revolution. For this we must be available and supportive to one another, five our commitment and our love, give the emotional support necessary to sustain this movement. Our energies must flow toward our sisters, not backward toward our oppressors. As long as woman's liberation tries to free women without facing the basic heterosexual structure that binds us in one-to-one relationship with our oppressors, tremendous energies will continue to flow into trying to straighten up each particular relationship with a man, into finding how to get better sex, how to turn his head around-into trying to make the "new man" out of him, in the delusion that this will allow us to be the "new woman. " This obviously splits our energies and commitments, leaving us unable to be committed to the construction of the new patterns which will liberate us.
It is the primacy of women relating to women, of women creating a new consciousness of and with each other, which is at the heart of women's liberation, and the basis for the cultural revolution. Together we must find, reinforce, and validate our authentic selves. As we do this, we confirm in each other that struggling, incipient sense of pride and strength, the divisive barriers begin to melt, we feel this growing solidarity with our sisters. We see ourselves as prime, find our centers inside of ourselves. We find receding the sense of alienation, of being cut off, of being behind a locked window, of being unable to get out what we know is inside. We feel a real-ness, feel at last we are coinciding with ourselves. With that real self, with that consciousness, we begin a revolution to end the imposition of all coercive identifications, and to achieve maximum autonomy in human expression.
On Tuesday 8 April 2003, Amnesty International Australia (AIA) sought and was granted leave to appear as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in a refugee appeal heard that day before the full High Court of Australia.
The case concerned a gay couple from Bangladesh who are claiming asylum in Australia based on their sexual orientation.
The men have been refused asylum in Australia despite the Refugee Review Tribunal having found that it is not possible to be openly gay in Bangladesh without a well-founded fear of persecution.
Since 1994 the High Court has accepted that sexual orientation can form the basis of a "particular social group" claim under the Refugee Convention. However, to date, the Refugee Review Tribunal, supported by the Australia Federal Court has considered that a relevant factor is whether the asylum seekers could avoid persecution by hiding their sexuality. For example, in the present case, it was found that if the asylum seekers were able to be “discrete” about their homosexuality, then they would not have a well-founded fear of persecution. AIA believes that people should not have to hide thei rsexuality to be safe and free from persecution. This is why weintervened in the appeal.
Before the Court AIA argued that the requirement that people should suppress their identity or sexuality in order to avoid persecution is a form of persecution in itself. In this regard, AIA relied on international jurisprudence from countries such as Canada, New Zealand and the USA. AIA also argued that it is discriminatory to require those claiming asylum as homosexuals to be “discrete” about their sexuality when the same is not required of those seeking asylum under the categories of religious or political beliefs.
AIA is hopeful that the appeal to the High Court of Australia will see the treatment of homosexuality under the Refugee Convention brought into line with the treatment of religious or political beliefs. During the hearing, Justice Michael McHugh commented that the Federal Government's argument was to "turn the whole object of the convention on its head - it's like saying to German Jews who came to Australia in 1938: 'You're not refugees, go back to hiding your Jewishness from the Germans ... you'll be safe'." Justice Kirby said the so-called discretion requirement would impose on the appellants "the lifelong requirement to pretend to be something other than who they are".
by Amnesty International Australia Queer Network
There are continuing and legitimate reasons articulating an anti-racism within lesbian/gay community institutions, media, literature and organisations. In a 1996 article, Audrey Yue (1996,p.94) discussed the difficulties encountered by lesbians of non-english-speaking-backgrounds within lesbian/gay community: within the hegemonic lesbian community, the NESBian, as a non-English-speaking other, is invisible. If she exists, her (NESB) identity is defined by what the lesbian is not. Similarly, within the local (NESB) ethnicity, the NESBian, as a lesbian, is absent.
If she exists, her (sexual) identity is as a hetero(norma)sexual other.
The argument that non-anglo ethnic lesbians and gay men are invisible is perhaps less the case in 2002, but there remains the argument that there is continued marginalisation of sorts other than invisibility. Identity incoherence, which is a point underlying Yue's statement, is perhaps the more insidious remainder once non-anglo lesbian/gay persons become more apparent: the suggestion within wider cultural claims that it is impossible to belong to more than one minority continues in the `mainstream' imagery of Australian lesbians and gay men as always only white. Jackson and Sullivan's Multicultural queer is another text among the first academic works to apply anti-racist and multicultural sentiments to constructions of lesbian/gay community. Throughout this important work, the multiculturalist paradigm is read in the following ways: a set of rights to be different and have differing attitudes and behaviours relating to a community (of recent immigrants) in which we were born, and through which we experience the world including the lesbian/gay community; a right not to be discriminated against in terms of access to lesbian/gay community institutions, including venues, sex rituals, and other resources; in other words, a right to inclusion;exploitation by white gay Australian males of non-anglo ethnic gay males.
In important ways, Jackson and Sullivan's book brings the meaning of multiculturalism close to the second meaning of culture: claiming that justice is dependent on embracing a multitude of ways of living and experiencing. Articles in the book include a piece by Tony Ayres on the experience of rejection resulting from difference within gay culture as a Chinese-Australian gay male; an article by Damien Ridge and others, dealing again with the construction of `asian-ness' on the gay scene; and various other pieces relating either histories of the experience of difference by non-anglo gay men or more theoretical accounts to explain such difference. These are all important pieces that highlight the detrimental effects of particularly intense - and different- forms of racism occurring in lesbian/gay community organisations, institutions and venues.
The sad finding overall is that lesbian/gay culture is overwhelmingly rooted in a white anglo-celtic conception of lesbian-ness or gay-ness and expresses this in racist stereotyping and exploitation of non-anglo lesbian/gay persons. As Queer Action in Melbourne made clear in 1997, there are strong grounds for protest of racist policies among gay cultural venues and institutions, and this is certainly a problem still today.
Multicultural queerfocuses almost exclusively on the experience of non-anglo ethnicity in western gay cultures. In Jackson and Sullivan's terms, it is about `minorities within minorities and it looks at how minorities treat one another' (Jackson and Sullivan 1999, p.1). The problem with much of the focus of the text is that it presumes an unproblematic lesbian/gay culture that `stands alone' from other minorities with its own internal racism or presumes an unproblematic set of ethnic immigrant cultures that `stand alone' from sexuality and express homophobia within them. In other words, certain sets of `borders' that replicate `national borders' are repeated and affirmed again and again. This is the sort of intellectual space in which we forget that a `lesbian/gay culture' sometimes works as a `lesbian/gay nation' with its own dominant (in this case anglo-american) culture.
Just as the nation is, for Benedict Anderson (1983), a construct or an `imagined community', lesbian/gay cultural community is also imagined, constructed and dependent on many of the same mechanisms which keep the concept of the nation intact: differentiation from an external `other', conceptual borders, the myth of internal equality and fraternity. In light of the false rhetoric of equality and fraternity the answer is not merely to open a space for a `multicultural inclusion' within lesbian/gay culture, but to destabilise the borders of what is lesbian/gay. This is related to the `identity incoherence' position I mentioned above: the difficulty in finding a cultural space in which it is possible to articulate one's identity as both non-heterosexual and non-anglo at the same time. Or, worse, that the double-minority position can only ever be one of spectacle and exoticisation. I'm thinking of certain lesbian/gay `mainstream' spaces such as those created in the consumption of pornography or the lesbian/gay print media and the ways in which non-anglo ethnicities are represented.
Yes, there is a strong argument that non-anglo ethnicities are under-represented and deserve inclusion. No, increased representation per se is not necessarily the solution - inclusion under the contemporary Australian multicultural paradigm is neither genuine nor just. Instead, it is frequently nothing but spectacle of the exotic. I think here of pornography titles which make a claim to `ethnic' as a separate category from `general' and which work to highlight difference through an attempt to represent. And I'm thinking of the glossy magazines like the former OutRage which from time to time would do a photo spread of someone from southeast Asian or Pacific Islander background, or the lesbian/gay pictorial Blue which frequently - in PC style - includes photo displays of non-anglos. What is always striking about these images is that their subjects are presented as exotic or different. Oversized Japanese fans to accompany a naked Japanese woman. Some rugs and skins to accentuate the rugged `black-ness' of a person from African or, indeed, Pacific Islander background.
Tony Ayres (1999, p.94) puts this point well when he points to the problem of magazines like Oriental Guy, which represents young Asian men mainly for a Caucasian audience:
My response to this magazine is mixed. Part of me feels that there is something positive in any representation of an Asian man as desirable. Another part of me wonders if a `specialist' magazine such as OG plays a part in keeping the Asian body marginal. By separating the Asian body out as something `exotic,' is OG reinforcing its `otherness'?
The risk in celebrating inclusion here is that we fail to ask what sort of inclusion.
Rather than seeking to be anti-racist through inclusion that turns out to be just as racist through an exoticisation of non-anglo ethnicities, it might prove more politically productive to highlight and thus oppose the mainstream pseudo-nationalism of lesbian/gay culture as inherently white. That is, to keep asking where the borders on gay identity end, to keep questioning whether it is even possible for lesbian/gay culture to be anything but white, and to query whether an allegedly multicultural lesbian/gay culture is the best terrain on which to present an anti-racist politic.
This booklet is about transgendered people and the discrimination that transgendered people face. It is primarily intended for people who have not had much exposure to the issues of transgendered people, but who wish to understand those issues and want to minimize the incidence and effects transphobia through their own awareness and behaviour.
In order to understand gender-based discrimination, or "transphobia," it is necessary to understand "transgender." And to understand transgender, we must appreciate what "gender" is, and how it works. This booklet will explore the meaning of gender and challenge the idea that gender is the same thing as sex. Gender is a social creation, not a natural function of sex.
The term "transgender" refers to individuals whose gender expression and identity do not conform to society's expectations. Transgendered people identify and present themselves in many different ways. In doing so, transgendered people push the boundaries of both sex and gender.
Transgendered people are often assumed to be members of the homosexual community. However, transgendered people may be any of the broad range of sexualities found in the non-transgendered population.
The transgendered community is very diverse, yet most transgendered people have one experience in common: that of transphobia. Transphobia is the fear, hatred, disgust and discrimination of transgendered people because of their non-conforming gender status. Transgendered people are united as a community in the struggle against transphobia, and for the right to express their gender identity and shape their bodies in whatever way makes sense to them.
This booklet will elaborate on these various themes, and will suggest ways in which transphobia can be challenged in any context, including in the workplace, in school, in health care, in social services and at home.
WHAT IS GENDER?
Depending on the context in which it is used, the idea of gender is often confused with sex and, less often, with sexual orientation. However, gender is a distinct category that describes particular human characteristics. The most important thing about gender is that its meaning is created by society: people are expected to behave and express themselves in certain ways that are consistent with the socially pre-determined gender role associated with their sex. Unfortunately, because of the intimate connection our society has made between gender and sex, the important distinction between the two categories has been blurred.
Gender must not be mistaken with sex. The category sex refers to our biological makeup, and uses certain biological markers (such as our genitals or our chromosomal makeup) to create the distinction between females and males. We are each pronounced at birth, upon the doctor's glance at our genitals, to be a girl or a boy. What is really discovered about each of us at that point is not our gender, per se, but simply our sex.
The operation of gender as a socializing force is obscured by the assumption that gender is a natural function of sex. Gender, however, comprises two "sets" of social characteristics, which combine to create the categories of "woman" (girl) and "man" (boy).
The gender category woman (that is, the so-called "feminine" gender automatically assigned to members of the female sex) carries with it certain expectations about how to act, what to do, who to love and so on: Women are generally expected in mainstream Canadian society to be more passive, submissive and dependent than men. Women are often seen to be subjective, emotional beings, are usually associated with the private sphere of life and tend to be the care-givers. Women are expected to love and marry a man and to become mothers.
Likewise, the gender category man (that is, the so-called "masculine" gender automatically assigned to members of the male sex) carries with it a very different set of expectations about how to act, what to do and who to love: Men are assumed to be more active and dominant than women, and are seen to be rational, objective individuals. Men are more often associated with the public sphere of life, and are expected to be dependable income earners. Men are expected to love and marry a woman and to become fathers.
Of course these descriptions are generalized, and there is some overlap between them. More and more women are recognized as active, participating members of the public sphere, while men are increasingly assuming care-giving roles. However, there remains a rigid division between the two categories. There are only, it is usually assumed, "women" and "men" - and these are understood to be very different from each other. The two gender categories are, in other words, also interdependent: the idea of "feminine" behaviour says as much about how men are not supposed to act as it does about how women are supposed to act.
Each of us is critically assessed with respect to our level of conformity to our genders: gender conformity is mandatory in our society and most people participate in forcing that conformity, in themselves and in others.
Gender is very much about how people perceive us, and our behaviour (personality, identity and self-expression) determines how we will be "perceived." How we behave, though, depends greatly on how we are influenced as we grow up, as well as on our experiences as adults.
We are taught to be "good girls" and "good boys" meaning that we are, over time, taught how we are meant to act as girls and as boys. In this way, gender is intimately connected to social expectations, rather than to sex: we allow the knowledge of the sex of a child to inform us which set of gender characteristics we are supposed to encourage in that child.
We tend to treat gender characteristics as natural - for example, the idea that "boys will be boys" suggests that the particular behaviour referred to is to be expected from male children. What it really means, however, is that that behaviour will be tolerated in a boy, where it would likely not be tolerated in girls. The process of gender socialization is in this way disguised as "natural."
But the essential fact is that our gender roles are taught to each of us, and are rigidly enforced, through families and friends, educational institutions, the workplace, media, advertising and the entertainment industry.
Because it is generally accepted that there are only two sexes, society has created a two-gender model: which role we are taught to assume is arbitrarily tied to that first pronouncement made by a doctor regarding our sex upon our birth. Thereafter, gross deviations from our respective gender roles are not welcome.
Few people actually do conform exactly to their predetermined gender role: A certain lack of conformity is not only expected, it is increasingly seen as welcome. However, there is a certain line which we are not permitted to cross, keeping the two roles distinct.
Deviations which stray too far from the norm are met with discomfort. Some such deviations result in the labels "tomboy" (as distinct from girl), "mama's boy" (as distinct from boy), and "butch woman" and "effeminate man." These grey-area categories themselves demonstrate the rigidity of gender norms: true "women" are not supposed to be "butch," true "men" are not supposed to be "effeminate."
Transgendered people who fail to behave within the acceptable range of behaviours expected of their gender roles are simply not tolerated in our society.
WHAT DOES TRANSGENDER MEAN?
Transgendered people seek the freedom to express themselves and to present themselves in a manner that is consistent with their own identity, rather than with the gender identity imposed on them from birth.
Transgender is a term used by the community of people whose gender expression is considered inappropriate for their sex. It is also increasingly used as an umbrella term to include everyone who challenges the boundaries of sex and of gender. Anyone who crosses the line of what is socially acceptable appearance and self-expression may be included in the definition of transgender.
The following sub-groups are presented roughly according to the line that is crossed, though they are not meant to understood as rigid or mutually exclusive categories:
biological: transsexuals, intersexuals, androgens
social: transgenderists, transvestites, drag kings and queens, cross-dressers, gender-benders, women who pass as men, and men who pass as women
morphological (appearance): "masculine" looking women, "feminine" looking men, bearded women, women bodybuilders (that is, women who have crossed the line of what is considered socially acceptable for a female body)
Most transgendered people, however, cross more than one line. As well, there is a significant psychological component to every transgendered person's experience as a transgendered person. In other words, being transgender is as much about a person's experience internally as it is about social perceptions, and for that reason transgendered people are those who identify as such.
DEFINITIONS OF COMMON SUB-GROUPS IN TRANSGENDERED COMMUNITIES
Transsexuals: Transsexual people internally experience a contradiction between their identity and their anatomic sex, and usually shape themselves physically to create a more healthy and harmonious balance between their bodies and their internal world. Transsexuals may take hormones and may have surgery to change their physical appearance. Hormones change the physical structure of the body, including secondary sex characteristics like facial hair, skin tone and voice pitch. Surgery for a female to male transsexual may include a mastectomy (removal of breasts), a hysterectomy (removal of uterus), and ovariectomy (removal of ovaries). Female to male transsexuals may also have a penis created through phalloplasty. Male to female transsexuals may have a vagina created through vaginoplasty.
Transsexuals who have not had genital surgery are often referred to as pre-operative, while those who have had genital surgery are often referred to as post-operative. In recent years, transsexuals have challenged this division on the basis of surgery - the term "transgender" is used, then, to unite people irrespective of their genital status. There are also those who identify as transsexual, but who have no interest in genital surgery. These people refer to themselves as non-operative transsexuals.
Intersexuals: Intersexual people have historically been referred to as hermaphrodites. These are people whose biological make-up at birth is not exclusively male or female. Because our society maintains that there are only two sexes, intersexed infants are usually, if not always, subject to extreme medical - surgical and hormonal - intervention. This involves the medical "assignment" of the infant as either male or female, on the premise that in doing so they are reconstructing the child to conform to its "real" sex. The trauma, shame, secrecy and isolation which accompanies this event effects intersexual people throughout their lives.
Intersexuals exist on the biological continuum between the poles of male and female. Between those poles there are many gradations, and intersexuals combine different biological characteristics in different ways. Intersexuals struggle against our rigid two-sex system, for the right to physical ambiguity and the acknowledgement that there are more than two sexes. Intersexed babies have a right to grow up and make their own decisions about the body they will live in for the rest of their lives.
Cross-dressers: People who wear the clothing and attire associated with the "opposite" sex may do so full or part time. Cross-dressers choose when and where they will present themselves in their chosen gender. Men who cross-dress as women sometimes refer to themselves as
transvestites, however many do not like the medical connotations of that term, since the medical community has historically regarded transvestism as an illness. Drag kings
and queens are also cross-dressers, but these terms are usually reserved for people who perform shows at lesbian and gay bars, and who themselves often identify as lesbians or gay men.
Transgenderists: Transgenderists are individuals who do not identify with the gender identity assigned to them at birth. Transgenderists may take hormones to bring their appearance closer to their chosen gender expression, but often they make no attempt to change their physical appearance. Transgenderists generally perceive their experience of conflict between their sex and their gender to be the result, not of "being in the wrong body," (as may be the case for transsexuals) but rather of society's expectation that they assume a gender identity that is, for them, inappropriate.
GENDER AND SEXUAL ORIENTATION
Transgender must not be confused with sexual orientation. Transgendered people may be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Sexual orientation refers to our desire: it is a term which describes our emotional, psychological and sexual relationships with others. Sexuality refers to how we experience our bodies sexually, and the different ways we organize our lives based on our desires.
Gender refers to the complex characteristics which define us socially. The issues of transgendered people are primarily those of gender, not of desire. While transgendered people are not the same as lesbians and gay men, there is, of course, a range of sexualities within transgender communities. Some female to male transsexuals, for example, are attracted to women, but do not identify as heterosexual. Others are attracted to men and identify as gay men. Some male to female transsexuals are sexually attracted to other women, and identify themselves as lesbians. Other transsexuals do identify as heterosexual, while still others use no label to describe their sexual orientation. The relationship between gender and sexual orientation gets even more complex in relation to the numerous transgendered people who are not transsexual.
Because of the obvious limitations of our language and terminology around sexual orientation, especially when combined with gender, many people are increasingly embracing the term "queer" to embody the broad range of people who are not 100% heterosexual. However, it is significant that many transsexual people, whether straight or queer, face discrimination within lesbian and gay communities.
In the collective opinion of mainstream society, transgendered people cross too many gender boundaries and as a result experience gender-based discrimination, or transphobia.
Because of the unyielding dominance of our society's rigidly constructed two-gender model, members of the transgendered community have many negative experiences in common: Transgendered people often live in fear for their safety, may or may not experience personal torment resulting from having internalized phobic messages, and are isolated from much of society because of feelings of "lack of place."
Transphobia is at its most basic the fear of a transgendered person and the hatred, discrimination, intolerance, and prejudice that this fear brings. Transphobia is manifested as harassment, threatened safety, disgust, ridicule, restrictions on freedom of movement, restrictions on access to resources (housing, employment, services etc), and violence to name a few.
Our society is not kind to those who are visibly transgendered. Many are rejected by their own families and friends. Most face social isolation, and are discriminated against in employment, health care, social services and housing. Many transgendered persons live high-risk lifestyles, much of it due to the negative social pressure they have experienced throughout their lives. Statistics gathered thus far by the High Risk Project Society suggest that as many as 20% of the (known) transgendered community are involved in high-risk activity in Vancouver, such as the sex trade and substance abuse.
These experiences are visited upon transgendered people because transgendered people threaten the social construction of gender. Society marginalizes transgendered people, whether they push the mainstream boundaries of sex, of social behaviour or of appearance. Negative social, political and economic sanctions readily reinforce the boundaries of gender that mainstream society considers acceptable.
Transphobia takes countless forms. Transphobia may be expressed consciously or sub-consciously. Some examples include:
Actions against transphobia include:
Gender is a complex social phenomenon. Although this booklet has maintained that gender is a social creation taught to us from birth on the basis of our sex, gender is also about self-expression. Gender, in other words, is also the personal creation of each and every one of us. Most people choose their means of gender expression from a predetermined set provided by society. Transgendered people identify in ways that do not correspond to some or all of that bundle of acceptable behaviours encouraged in them since birth. In this way, gender can be seen to be the product of the complex interaction between the individual and society.
Hopefully we will learn to celebrate the diversity of gender and the issues of transgendered people will become less acute. Meanwhile, this pamphlet is intended to address the very real and painful fact of transphobia in our society. It is clear that there is much to be done in order to remove the barriers that transgendered people face everyday, in order that they might express themselves, live and flourish in the absence of fear and gender-based discrimination.
"Intersex" is the word that describes those of us who, without voluntary medical interventions, possess bodies that doctors can't neatly classify as male or female. This includes people who have chromosomal sex other than XX (female) or XY (male), or primary or secondary sex characteristics that defy the medical definitions of male and female. Somehow, doctors get freaked out when a newborn baby is found to be intersexed, and often mutilate her or his genitals to conform them to the doctors' idea of what a normal baby should look like, even though intersex conditions usually do not threaten the health of the infant. Parents are often not given enough information or support to make an informed decision regarding their babies' care.
Intersex Genital Mutilation
Since the mid-20th century, doctors promoted early surgeries on infants with visibly intersexed genitalia on the assumption that they would grow up confused about their identities and possibly end up queer otherwise. They believed that if they could surgically construct a pretty, "normal" genitalia, everything would be fine. However, there is no medical data to support this bizarre and perverted (as in a bad way) theory.
In 1993, with the formation of Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), some intersex people who have experienced intersex genital mutilation (IGM) in infancy and/or childhood came forward with testimonies of their pains - both the physical pain of repeated unsatisfactory surgeries, and the emotional pain of having one's body and sexuality violated, in addition to all the isolation, secrecy and shame they were forced to live with. People who have had IGM performed on them often experience post-traumatic responses similar to those resulting from child sexual abuse (because it is a form of child sexual abuse). ISNA and other intersex activists aim to end "secrecy, shame, and unwanted genital surgery."
"Hermaphrodite": An old medical term describing intersex people. Many intersex activists reject this word due to the stigmatization arising from its mythical roots and the abuse that medical professionals inflicted on them under this label. Some intersex people use this word as a "pride word" like "queer" and "dyke," but non-intersex people should avoid this term.
"Ambiguous genitalia": Many intersex activists contest the use of this phrase to describe their bodies because the ambiguity is with the society's definition of male and female rather than their bodies.
"True hermaphrodite and Male- or Female- Pseudo Hermaphrodite": Medical taxonomy of intersex people, also known as "herm, merm and ferm." Aside from the fact these distinctions are virtually meaningless in the lives of intersex people, these terms imply authenticity and ranking of intersex people and thus dis-empowering.
Intersexuality & Transsexuality
Some transsexual people and their advocates argue that transsexuality is a form of intersexuality that manifests in brain, citing preliminary researches suggesting a possible biological "cause" of transsexuality, or "gender identity disorder."
However, this argument completely misses the point that intersexuality is not about whether or not something is biologically rooted, but about how our bodies are treated by the medical authority as we grow up and live. While some transsexual people are in fact also intersexed, most transsexual people do not experience involuntary medical "treatment" to "correct" their physical sex, for example.
Suggestions for Ally-Building
About and From Different Rainbows, edited by Peter Drucker.
THIS COLLECTION IS the first of its kind on the emergence of "queer" movements in all their diversities in the "third world."
For far too long, writing and theorizing about the experiences of same-sex eroticism and movements has been dominated by the theories and accounts generated in the west, applying largely to white middle class gay men and to a lesser extent lesbians, then imposed on and exported to the rest of the world.
Such a procedure does violence to diverse indigenous sex and gender practices which have a different social and historical character in many of these countries. Those using the western-derived gay/lesbian "model" can view these indigenous sex/gender practices as "backward" and assume they will simply "develop" as they have done in the west.
Contributors to this book challenge this mythology and subvert, de-stabilize and challenge this "model." The diversity of sexual and gender practices in "third world" countries reveals how much can be learned when we move away from the common U.S. image of "gay liberation" as based in coming out, ghettoization, and buying gay.
They also examine what we can learn from the diverse sexual and gender politics taking place in the "third world." Other books that address some of these topics have a rather different character, being far more developed from a western standpoint or more in relation to queer theory (such as in post-colonial, queer, Theoretical Intersections, edited by John C. Hawley [Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001].)
Two problems are encountered immediately: the meaning of "queer" and "third world." Is "queer" an adequate expression for the diverse experiences of sexual and gender practices engaged in by same-sex lovers in these countries and does it submerge gender differences? And is "third world" an adequate expression for the many countries and cultures included in this book?
Certainly the term "queer" as defined and used in western queer theory is critically discussed in this book. I use "queer" here in a more open-ended sense to point towards the diverse erotic and gender practices engaged in within these countries, whether these are indigenous erotic and gender practices that are not lived in any way as gay or lesbian, transgendered practices, or self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual or even "queer" identifications.
The problem of bringing all these countries together despite their many differences as the "third world" is also noted by editor Peter Drucker, but "I have preferred it to euphemisms such as `developing' or `less developed,' or ideologically laden (though more accurate) ones such as `dominated' or `dependent.'" (37n)
Broadening and Challenging Queer Theory
Queer theory, which has specific western social and historical roots, has generally not been much interested in the non-western world. In contrast this book provides much more of a grounded social analysis from the social standpoints of people engaged in queer sex and gender practices in these countries, also raising important theoretical questions not only for queer sexual and gender organizing in the third world but also for queer activists in the imperialist countries.
This is a powerful book where contributors tell us about the relation between the brutally repressed 1968 student movement in Mexico and the emergence of a gay and lesbian liberation movement in that country (Max Mejia, "Mexican pink").
We also find out about the tensions within the African National Congress in South Africa between those "traditionalists," "nationalists" and "fundamentalists" who like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe argue through a contradictory amalgam of African nationalism and Christian fundamentalism that "homosexuality is un-African"—an odd reversal of the language of the colonizers—and those committed to democratic social transformation who support lesbian and gay rights (Mark Gevisser, "Mandela's stepchildren" homosexual identity in post-apartheid South Africa").
In response to these fundamentalist assertions "queer" activists in sub-Saharan Africa and India have rediscovered histories of earlier indigenous same-sex erotic practices.
Gay liberation and socialist activist Peter Drucker's contributions as editor in contextualizing the book and drawing out important themes from the collection are considerable. The individual contributions themselves are very rich in bringing different voices and perspectives, opening up spaces for exploration of which I can only give you a taste here.
The contributions are uneven, as to be expected in a collection of this kind, including contributors like Margaret Randall and Australian Denis Altman who are well known in the west, and others not well known who also provide some of the most informative analysis.
The book starts off with a series of articles on organizing in Latin America. This section includes an important history of the emergence of gay and lesbian organizing in Mexico (Max Mejia) and the organizing of support for gay and lesbian rights within the Brazilian Workers Party (James N. Green).
Norma Mogrovejo's important article on lesbian visibility and organizing in Latin America covers the relation of lesbian organizing to feminism, including major tensions with heterosexual feminists and men who have sex with men, the assertion of difference and the limitations of "gender" in dealing with lesbian experiences.
This essay deals with organizing in Mexico, Chile and Nicaragua, which is where the quote "a revolution within the revolution" comes from. Margaret Randall offers further exploration of the difficulties of women who have sex with women organizing in Nicaragua, problems with the Sandinistas trying to shut down autonomous organizing, and how women's and feminist organizing both opened up—but also limited—a space for lesbians to organize.
We then move to Gevisser's important article on organizing in South Africa, with the amazing but still limited progress that grew out of the anti-apartheid struggle and the involvement of "queer" activists within it.
Despite the protection of lesbian and gay human rights in the South African constitution, the everyday lives of queer people in South Africa remain marked by oppression and exclusion. While legal and constitutional changes are vital, we also have to focus on transforming the fabric of everyday social life and the social relations and practices of marginalization and discrimination.
This points to the need to move beyond a simple "rights" perspective that demands that queers be included within existing social forms, to challenging and transforming these forms and institutional relations.
The article by Dennis Altman on the emergence of gay identities in Southeast Asia holds major insights but also profound difficulties. His research too often tends to take up the standpoints of western gays. While noting the uneven development of sexual identifications he sometimes views these as earlier forms of what has developed in the west.
Later even he notes that "there is virtually nothing written from the point of view of the `local,' and there is a great need to hear these voices." (147) This is central to developing the analysis that we need. While Altman notes some important shifts in the social organization of sexuality, he does not always recognize the continuing power and hold of imperialism and capitalism.
The article on India (Sherry Joseph and Pawan Dhall) is fascinating although it could have gone into more depth on the impact of communalism and fundamentalism in limiting and shaping "queer" organizing.
John Mburu's article on organizing in Kenya details some of the same-sex erotic practices that existed in sub-Saharan Africa prior to colonization demonstrating that these practices were not "un-African." It was the impact of colonial rule and imperialism that stigmatized these social practices.
The interesting article on China (Chou Wah-shan) details some of the practices or strategies of appropriating family and kin through tongzhi (same or homo and goal, spirit or orientation) discourses. In contrast to western constructions of lesbian and gay, these approaches view sex and sexuality as only one part of life; tongzhi practices "manipulate their indigenous cultural resources so as to expand and reclaim their personal and social space." (195)
In a number of countries the emergence of organizations have been tied up with the social responses to AIDS/HIV. Even where lesbians, gays and queers are not at all accepted, groups have been able to occupy a certain social space through their involvement in the social response to AIDS.
Many of the contributions also detail the importance of organized religion as sex and gender regulation, and the problems of religious fundamentalism including dominant strands within Christianity, Islam and Hinduism in holding back the emergence of sex political movements. This points to the importance of the development of secular approaches in these countries.
Uneven and Combined Social Construction
Drucker in his important introduction and conclusion details some of the ways we can account for and theorize the gender, sexual and political diversities made visible in the book. His contribution includes an innovative development of the Trotskyist theory of uneven and combined development, in order to produce a notion of uneven and combined social construction in relation to sex and gender in "third world" countries.
He employs this concept to explore indigenous gender and sex practices and how these have been impacted by and reshaped by global capitalism and imperialism. As he puts it:
The term has the significant advantage that it avoids any implication of a uniform process moving more or less quickly in a single direction, which the idea of "globalization" seems to suggest. The idea of "combined and uneven social construction," by contrast, can help us understand how different indigenous starting points, different relationships to the world economy, and different cultural and political contexts can combine to produce very different results—while still producing identifiable common elements of lesbian/gay identity in one country after another. It can help us understand how some indigenous forms of sexuality can be preserved within a global economy and culture, changing to a certain extent their forms or functions; how new forms can emerge; and how indigenous and new forms can be combined. (15)
This allows Drucker to establish the continuing social basis for both indigenous erotic and gender practices as well as more clearly defined lesbian, gay identifications. Countries in the "third world" are influenced by the classifications of heterosexual/homosexual established in western capitalism, as well as still being able to hold onto some of their indigenous sex and gender practices. The latter are also being transformed in the context of global capitalism and imperialism and the resistance of sex political movements around the world.
In these contexts same-sex lovers can engage in creative and active transformations of their indigenous sex and gender practices, combining them in new ways with aspects of western- generated notions of gay and lesbian. At the same time the relation between imperialism, sexual regulation and sexual politics needs to be much more fully explored.
As Drucker notes, the gay and lesbian identifications that have emerged in the west cannot emerge in the same ways in the "third world" precisely because of imperialism and the relations of underdevelopment—which mean that most people have less access to money, that there is less commodification of services, less public
community formation for gays and lesbians, less ghettoization and less specifically lesbian/gay identity formation than in the "overdeveloped" imperialist countries.
Social Construction Without Eurocentrism
Drucker and the contributors provide an important emphasis on the relation of "queer" organizing to the left but they also detail important and continuing problems with currents on the left and with forms of nationalism. The relation of "queer" struggles to other movements like feminism and Black liberation is also painted in.
It is clear that even though the development of autonomy for "queer" movements is key, this also has to be seen as mediated and organized through other social relations and struggles. While this is also true in the imperialist countries it is even clearer in "third world" countries where queer experiences are mediated through relations of underdevelopment, colonialism, imperialism, poverty, capitalist globalization, gender, class, nation, race, ethnicity and more.
Drucker also raises important critiques of much queer theory. It is not just culture and discourse that are important for queer politics but also poverty, imperialism and underdevelopment. As Drucker at one point puts it, "Full lesbian/gay equality requires Third World Liberation in a broader social sense: liberation from poverty and dependency." (211)
Women also need other social options aside from marriage and economic dependence on men. Queer struggles are then not separate from but are an integral part of a general democratizing movement for social transformation. Seen from the perspectives of the "third world," queer struggles need to be socially and politically integrated with other social struggles based on practices of autonomy and alliance building.
Drucker also questions whether social power is really as "diffuse" as queer theory sometimes contends. For people in the "third world," the power of state agencies,
multinational corporations and the International Monetary Fund are very direct, not diffuse.
Drucker's contributions and the book as a whole deepen a social constructionist perspective about the making of sexualities—a perspective originally based only on the white European-derived experience—thus beginning to develop a social constructionist approach without Eurocentrism.
The Dialectics of Identity
Drucker also broaches important questions about sexual and gender identity. (I am leaving aside for now the many problems with identity-based theorizing.)
Drucker's notion of the dialectics of identity allows him to grasp identity as fluid and variable, and allows him to develop a much broader notion of sex political organizing in the "third world" that moves far past the limitations of gay and lesbian classifications.
He suggests that "Lesbian/gay movements could be defined as embracing everyone who wants to fight for greater sexual freedom, rather than as proclaiming and defending ghettoes." Later he suggests that "The great diversity of identities gives substance to the idea of an alliance of all the sexually oppressed, rather than a movement around a single lesbian/gay identity." (215, 217)
This begins to suggest a perspective for liberation without ghettoization and perhaps without commodification, important insights for queer struggles in the "third world" but also in the west.
This book is an important beginning and in conclusion I raise a few questions and concerns intended to take this exploration further.
As I already suggested we need to go further in tracing out the relations between imperialism, sexual regulation and resist
ance. There is a suggestion by Drucker that capitalism is only "economic" in character and that marxism is only about the "economic." In my view a broader analysis of capitalism, which includes its social and cultural dimensions and views it as a form of cultural revolution, would be very useful.
While I view marxism as a broader critical analysis of capitalist political economy and social relations, it does need to be transformed to fully include the insights of feminism and queer liberation.
The emphasis by Drucker and others on transgendered experiences is important and quite central to third world queer liberation, especially given western queer theorists' attempts to think through sex as separate from gender. It is clear that in the "third world" this cannot be done—and I suggest it cannot really be done in the imperialist countries as well.
At the same time the book's use of "transgendered" often lacks clarity, running together a number of differing situations (e.g. some societies where there are more than two social genders, with being treated as the "other" gender in a two-gender system).
In Drucker's analysis there is also still a concept of a "biological sex" even though transgendered movements and theorists are challenging the assumptions of the biological and the distinctions between sex as "biological" and gender as "social."
This book is a vital beginning. It needs to be followed up by more studies defined by the standpoints of "queers" in the third world. It also provides us with a basis for developing a stronger activist queer left internationalism.
Gary Kinsman is the author of The Regulation of Desire: Homo and Hetero Sexualities, and editor of Whose National Security? Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies.
|1991||University of Sydney|
|1992||University of Technology, Sydney|
|1993||University of Sydney|
|1994||University of Queensland|
|1995||University of Melbourne||Socialism/Feminism|
|1996||University Western Australia||Queer as FUCK|
|1997||Queensland University of Technology|
|1998||University of Tasmania|
|2000||Charles Stuart University, Bathurst||Camping Out West|
|2001||Newcastle University||The Future is Queer to Me Now|
|2002||Australian National University/University of Canberra||Queery Oppression|
National Queer Officer 2003
Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations.