Is My Gender Too Academic?

I presented a conference, last weekend. I was very nervous: I was talking about a lot of my complex feelings and tensions about the english language to describe and articulate genders that are not men/women or expressions that are not or are complexly masculine/feminine.

The presentation went well. Although I am sure I ultimately did not prevail, I wanted to make my language accessible to those there. I wasn’t think of making my academic language accesible and understandable though, but of making my queer vocabulary* understandable to the student and community audience present at this academic conference. To that end, I had a slide up with long explanations of some of my key terms: genderqueer, non-binary, cisgender, colonialism (the last one was there to highlight the fact that colonialism is super relevant to all discussions of gender and trans* experiences of gender).

Afterwards, discussing how it went with my best friend, they commented that  it was excellent and also the most academic of the panel I was on (the other two presenters: BDSM and gender, masculinity and feminism).

I know my presentation was academic, but I am wondering if it seemed even more so because I was trying to talk about gender identity that isn’t tied to this specific oppressive two gender system?

I am thinking it might be kind of fucked to suggest that identities outside the Western binary are inherently academic/more complex/less natural, especially in regards to folks of color’s identities.

However that was my defensive response, my more more analytical response asks how genderqueer is and has been tied to (or co-opted) by the academy within this niche.

I don’t think that even genderqueer as a label/way to describe an identity is academic, or birthed from. The academy though is fascinated with it, and researchers/theorists are often interested in unlinking it from identity into play or a eradication of the binary. The academy can also be a place to find community for which to be genderqueer in.

The academy can eat us in this way, a false place of promise and home.

Yet in a piece where I was rejecting available language in english both verbal and visual to articulate myself, I was also cast as academic, despite not using academic self-descriptors.

Trying to talk outside this western two options of identity and expression binary is not academic**, the fact that it might be considered to be such is another way the systems are working to cast these identities as inauthentic, less than real, or an identity on top of a real body.

* The words and ways we have to describe our experiences and the way we often use words to include those who don’t want to be under that word are often incredibly colonial and racist, rein scribing the ways power functions to remove original understandings of gender, sexuality and ways of self-determination. I was also working in english, as it is my only tongue

**Yet my own understandings and my own self understandings are undeniably shaped by the theory I’ve read and the setting I’ve come to know myself in. Being accountable for the ways I am bring academic understandings to spaces or perhaps the ways I would like to reclaim some knowledges is something I am working on.

readings:

On queer studies

http://www.prettyqueer.com/2012/05/19/accounting-for-queer-studies/

Great critique of queer studies, though I really should engage in a direct response with this in terms of it also being a more nuanced space.

http://biyuti.com/blog/2012/12/29/decolonizing-transgender-101/

http://biyuti.com/blog/2012/04/03/binarism-and-colonialism/

Biyuti has some magnificent, though sometimes hard to hear for me, breakdowns and responses to dominant white and western trans* understandings of gender. I’ve included a few above.

http://biyuti.com/blog/2013/04/08/why-trans-feminine/

I have a  different understanding of the linkage between feminine/woman, which is why I think this post is an important read when thinking about my own language.

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3 comments

  1. binaohan

    (note: this is biyuti)

    re: the post on ‘trans feminine’

    I realized after a few discussions with some people on tumblr that I sort of presented the post with the wrong framing, since it was really intended to stand as an explanation for why *I* use ‘trans feminine’, rather than being a proscriptive post about how I think language should be used.

    I do, though, understand the difficulty in trying to articulate ideas about genders that exist in spaces largely rendered incoherent by the dominant gender system.

    thanks for the linking!

  2. Ted

    As a student who also identifies as a non-binary person, I find that academia is one of the few spaces where I can not only make a statement for my gender identity that will be heard, but one that I can also find solidarity in.

    The strange thing is, I’m usually only validated in my schoolwork and readings, and not by the other people in academia themselves. The solidarity I find myself benefitting from is, for the most part, theoretical, and when I end up talking to teachers and classmates outside of the classroom I am constantly misgendered. And this is after years of making statements relating to my identity!

    I do believe that there are better spaces to be explore non-binary identities. Are these spaces as “professional” as academia? Not necessarily, and I’ll have to agree with you: that’s fucked.

    • handsomefemme

      I especially think the academy is professionally interested in co-opting identities are particularly fascinating or worthy of study (see: genderqueer’s definition often being totally different in academic spaces) without people having to look at what studying means or implies.

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