Social Deconstruction

by blair morton

It seems like the hot topic people are talking about is gender. Turn on the news and political figures are arguing about what bathrooms people should use, we go to the store and are bombarded with varieties of pink and blue products – and when a company attempts to deviate from that, (like Target did last summer ) they cause waves. The couple that chooses to opt out of gendering the child makes headlines and has a guest spot on the Today Show. And now, my 55-year-old aunt knows what a transgender person is.

Gender is an important construct in which people revolve their lives, logic and research around. This blog was meant to explain how gender is bullshit, but really — is it? If we separate the concept of gender from the binary, what do we get? A non-binary world does not have to be a gender-singular world — a non-binary world is not a world where everyone is the same; rather, it is a world where everyone is different. We are taught that gender is a social construct; that gender is learned, role and expectations are cultural, and that gender is a fluid spectrum. Scientists and academics have devoted lives of study to tracking down where sex ends and gender begins, only to find that there is no finite point.

Scientists want to attribute gender to evolutionary psychology and neurology. What many claim and others ignore, is that there is a “male brain” or “female brain”. Countless studies of the brain set out to prove such neurological differences, yet when results conclude that there are no differences, they are seen to either be failed tests or the results are never publicized. This is called a “file drawer” phenomenon. Due to this reaction, it is difficult to know how many tests have shown there are no differences between male and female brains. Tests aiming to prove gender difference on a neurological level sometimes cut corners to prove their hypothesis. Sample sizes are small, test subjects and administrators are biased, and full reporting is not always practiced. These tests are also flawed in the fact that they place brains in a difference binary, where anyone who falls outside of their spectrum is abnormal. In a way, this diagnoses gender-nonconforming folks has having a brain defect.

Gender is not a brain defect. Gender is a social defect.

These brain differences also aim to explain why men are better at math or science, and how women are better at communicating. (This is the part of the post where you and I need to roll our eyes.) If we can attribute certain qualities of the human brain to what makes a “good” man or woman, science can attempt to set a standard for a “perfect” man or woman. However, social standards are not medical standards.  A more logical explanation of our brains is that we are merely mosaics of masculine and female traits. There are no differences in the functioning of male or female brains, even if some brains look differently than others.

These forms of neurosexism are attempts to deconstruct the idea that gender is a social construct, yet they still aim to reinforce social norms. So, which is worse — social construction or medical construction? And how can we maneuver away from the binary system? Seeing others as people before a gender category is the first step, caring about others identities and pronouns is another. Divesting from gendered expectations leaves room for folks to do what they please without the pressure of being who they are expected.

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/12/male-and-female-brains-really-are-built-differently/281962

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/when-no-gender-fits-a-quest-to-be-seen-as-just-a-person/2014/09/20/1ab21e6e-2c7b-11e4-994d-202962a9150c_story.html?tid=a_inl

Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010)

Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World (New York: Routledge, 2012), 43-69

 

 

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Deconstructing the Punk Patriarchy

by blair morton

Across the nation, if you look hard enough, you may find a network of underground venues that showcase cooperative musical and art projects. These patrons of Do-It-Yourself communities are united together through four decades of non-conformity and counter-culture history. They are a coalition of culture makers — facilitating spaces of art, music, and performance. But if some say that gender is performative, why do genderqueer patrons feel out of place at these spaces?

DIY (which stands for do-it-yourself) is a movement in music communities that started in the 1980s in Washington D.C., although there were similar mobilizing efforts that were simultaneously beginning in the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, Gulf Coast, and New York City. DIY was an effort made by members of the punk scene to divest from large corporations and music labels that acted as the gatekeepers of music and culture. DIY musicians would record and perform their music in their living rooms or basements. They’d promote their bands through word-of-mouth, and some would even go one “media blackouts” if they reached some degree of fame — protesting any form of media that would promote their band. Coupled with the evolving DIY attitude was the rise of straight edge identities, where members of the community would vow to lead a PC lifestyle and abstain from drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous sex.  While the founders of DIY are credited to be men, those who have kept these communities alive have been anything but. In some ways, DIY has paralleled the waves of feminism. Throughout the 1990s, underground music communities saw an insurgence of women-fronted and women-centric music acts. These women, known as the “riot grrrls” demanded rights of inclusion, respect, and recognition. Today, while many women in DIY hold the same mentalities of the riot grrrls, the scene has evolved to be less female-centric and more queer inclusive. Out with the old and in with the new — asking what someone’s pronouns are is the new “grrrls to the front” mantra. Giving space and recognizing those who identify outside of the gendered binary is a way of advocating and facilitating a space that is safer for all gender identities, as well as a way to educate those who are a part of the music community but do not have access to information about queerness and marginalization.

I had the chance to sit down with Meredith Graves, singer of Perfect Pussy, after her show in Columbus in December. Graves is famously known for mixing her own blood in the first 300 vinyl pressings of her band’s first studio album, Say Yes to Love. Graves is leading voice in the music industry and its role in the promoting (and faulting) the presence of gender equity. “Women are called upon every day to prove our right to participate in music on the basis of our authenticity — or perceived lack thereof.” Graves wrote in a Talkhouse essay in 2014. Her views and writings on the intersection of identity politics and feminism in the music industry have yielded a new rise in awareness and inclusion in DIY spaces — and different methods of how band fronts and show runners should command their crowds.

http://wilderstreet.tumblr.com/about
credit: wilder street

“I feel uncomfortable making the call for all grrls to the front, because I do not want to out anyone — people at my shows could be battling with their identity, or may not have come out to their friends. I do not want to make anyone feel isolated or pressured.” Graves confessed in the dingy VIP lounge of Double Happiness. At a show that appeared to be overrun by what appeared to be cismen, an artist like Graves can feel disheartened by the aggression that plays out in the pit. The band debuted a song called “Women” where Graves sang about the difficulties of being a woman in a music community, while groups of large men moshed around, creating a somewhat hostile environment for anyone, mostly women and non-men patrons, who stood in their way. Ironic, Graves laughed. Graves states that physical and emotional safety should always be at the forefront of shows.

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trying to keep my cool. (failing at it)

 

http://thetalkhouse.com/music/talks/meredith-graves-perfect-pussy-talks-2/
http://the-toast.net/2016/04/18/everyone-but-cis-men-creating-better-safe-spaces-for-lgbt-people/

Intersections of Queerness and Punk

by blair morton

I sat down via the web with B, who goes under the stage name of Mildrid. B fronted an Athens alumni band called Window Box before they relocated to Akron to attend school. When B was 19, he started a DIY music label turned media outlet called Flower Jar Media (once known as Lil Pup).When B isn’t touring or collaborating with other queer-centric music acts and artists like The Magic Fountain, they are using the web to combat forms of sexism, rape culture, and the punk patriarchy — or as B like to call it, trying to make American gay again.

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Can you start off by stating your pronouns and how you’d like to be identified                      

B: Hey, Blair!! My pronouns are they/he, and I identify as a genderqueer/trans person!

How does your identity as a queer person intersect with your music?

B: My identity as a queer person intersects with my music in a lot of ways, actually. I feel that, since I have this platform,  it’s incredibly important (personally, at least), to use this for something more than my own personal gain. I am incredibly privileged for many reasons; one being that I DO have this platform, something that most don’t and I am incredibly thankful for that. A lot of my songs have stuff about gender/etc. in them. The reaction is either, “hell yeah, that was sick”, or something along the lines of uncomfortable silence. Which, honestly, good. If they’re uncomfortable, they’re part of the problem.

Some have made the argument that by incorporating queer musicians onto bills or playlists, they are tokenizing the musician in an attempt to diversify their music. Some musicians have stated that they battle with being viewed as a musician over queer — and that genre names like “queer rock” only reinforce that. Do you battle with tokenization?

B: I personally have not experienced tokenization, at least that I know of. I think that listening to/booking queer musicians is important, if you’re doing it because you genuinely want these people to have representation. Doing it because you want to further your ,“look, I care!-Look at all the good I’m doing!-Look at all the queer people I’m helping!-Scene-Cred”, is bullshit. We see you and we hear you.

Do you find solidarity within the right grrrl movement or do you find to be an instance of separatism?
B: I don’t have extensive knowledge about the Riot Grrrl movement, but I do know that it wasn’t as intersectional as it should have been. There’s something so much more empowering about women/non-cis-male-identifying people lifting up/helping out/inspiring each other, than creating a “club”, that only pertains to a specific demographic.

Do you think DIY spaces are accepting of those who are racially marginalized? Marginalized by their gender/sexuality? Has there been progress? 
B: I think that most DIY spaces are at least intolerant of racism/homophobia/transphobia/etc. I think there has been progress, but we shouldn’t stop where we are. We should keep furthering these conversations, keep creating and providing inclusive spaces. We’ve gotta keep looking out for each other, because no one else is lookin’ out for us.

 

Do you think those who facilitate DIY and other outlets of the music industry have an obligation to promote inclusion and education of queer identities? What are difficulties they face? How can showrunners combat instances of harmful behavior at shows?
B: I don’t think they’re necessarily “obligated”, but if they aren’t inclusive, fuck them. If they aren’t willing to promote inclusion/education of queer identities from the start, I think forcing it won’t do much for anyone. I don’t think anyone has the time or energy to deal with non-inclusive spaces/people, so weeding them out just makes everyone’s lives/experience easier. With that being said, I think they might face difficulties with knowing how to go about being more inclusive, which might lead tokenization, etc.

I think show runners can combat instances of harmful behavior by enforcing the safe-space ideals as much as possible. If someone is being problematic at a show, kick them the fuck out and tell them not to come back. If a known abuser/rapist/etc. shows up, kick them the fuck out and tell them not to come back. They’ll either talk shit on the internet, or maybe, contemplate their actions (and by some grace of whatever god you subscribe to, apologize and change their ways).

 

Are shown spaces/DIY spaces a place to facilitate gender equity and identity politics or are they solely a place to display music and art?
B: I think show/DIY spaces are 100%, a place to facilitate gender equality/identity politics. We’ve created these spaces, this counter-culture, because we want to separate ourselves from the toxicity of mainstream societal norms. I think excluding gender equality/identity politics, is regressive.


How do you define safe/safer space?
B: I define safe/safer spaces, as places that are inclusive of people of color, people in the LGBTQIA+ community, and devoid, or at least intolerant, of racism/sexism/bigotry/homophobia/transphobia/rape culture/etc, etc, etc. I’ve been hearing more places changing from “safe” spaces to “safer” spaces, because no one can guarantee that these spaces will always be 100% safe (ex: some problematic person shows up and says/does some problematic crap before getting kicked out). With that being said; being in spaces that identify with these ideals are some of the places I have felt safest and most at home. They’re incredibly important, so shouts out to all of y’all who are actively providing/trying to provide spaces that lil baby queers (such as myself) and other people who are marginalized, can feel comfortable in.

F*ck Your Dichotomy

In this Refinery29 video, gender nonconforming performer and activist Alok Vaid-Menon speaks (rather cynically) about the origins of the gendered binary and the issues that accompany it. While the video is fun, there are harsh truths embedded within it.

“We tend to associate things that are similar to us as good and things that are different from us as bad.”

These harmful habits of thought are egocentric and exclusive. Rather than praise what we personally are, we should embrace difference that surrounds us.

they/them/their

by Blair Morton

A wave of social announcements have hit Facebook and social scenes across the globe: the preferred pronoun. While these four letter identifiers may seem like a small step towards gender equality and rights of recognition, they are causing a storm of confusion. To many non-binary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer folks, pronouns like they/them/their, sie/hir, xe, ze/hir, are a gateway to language that better represents them in a cisnormative world. The use of gender neutral language is an inclusive way to divest from a gendered binary that leaves many feeling unwelcome, but in a world where we are socialized to put gender in the forefront of descriptions and conversations, is it possible — or even right — to remove gender from our social script?

While they/them pronouns have given gender nonconforming folks a home, it leaves some feeling othered. For those in the trans community, gender neutrality can be seen as isolating. When all they want is to fit into a box of woman or man, being represented in the “they” collum can be insulting to who they truly are and identify as such. There is privilege in the desire to deconstruct the gendered binary; when you don’t fit, you can either make room or find a way in. Some are born into a body they do not want and are socialized in a gender they do not feel comfortable in. We can’t close up the woman box if others are trying so desperately to break in.

“My gender is a work of nonfiction” exclaims Julia Serano in her book Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive. In chapter 11 of her work, she deconstructs the idea that gender is a construct. If someone is born into a body and socialized in a way in which they feel uncomfortable, how can their gender be constructed by their dissent? Gender is not simply drag or a performance, Serano explains. Gender is a loaded idea that means something different to everyone; it who we are — not who we are trying to be.

I try to use they/them for everyone, but is it offensive to un-gender someone who wants to be gendered?

I am a cisgender woman who prefers to be referred to as they/them, but I recognize my pronouns are she/her. I am empowered by being a woman. I am connected to the gender and I have never felt like I was something other than girl. (Except when I was 10 years old and wore the same camo cargo shorts and an oversized Air Force t-shirt — I would share pictures if I hadn’t destroyed them all years ago.) That being said, however, I recognize that gender is a construct and my idea of being a woman is totally subjective. When those around me who identify as something outside of cis get misgendered through the use of language, I see the disappointment in their faces. I use gender neutral language for them. My preference of gender neutral language is an attempt to reinforce the unnecessary gender descriptors. If using gender neutral language is a propelled attempt to normalize queerness,  I want nothing but. The use of gender neutral language is difficult, especially due to the way many of us were socialized to communicate. We are so quick to assign gender to people we do not know and to say “she” or “him” that saying “they/them” is something we must condition ourselves to do.

It’s not a preference, it’s a pronoun

Many people are becoming more aware of nonconforming pronouns, but calling them a “preferred pronouns” is problematic. If someone is genderqueer, their pronoun is as much xe or em as a cisgendered man would be he/him. It is not assumed that a cis person prefer cis pronouns, rather those pronouns are considered to belong to him.

In the realm of customer service, gender neutral language may seem like a social roadblock. Service workers are expected to address customers in a polite fashion, and to hegemonic social standards, what is polite is complementary to cisnormativity. Saying something like “hey you!” May not be considered polite in a supervisor’s eyes, but addressing someone as “sir” when they do not identity as male can be triggering. Below are infographics that help maneuver away from gendered language.

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Gender-Inclusivity-Sheet_PNG-socialmediaDO-NOT-SHARE-ON-QWALL-YET

 

While some of these may seem awkward, remember that language is fluid. We have evolved from speaking in ye olde English, so calling someone “partner” can’t be too hard, can it? Maybe this is just the southerner in me wanting to popularize “y’all”.

Julia Serano: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive. p. 105-108