Nature is an ecoterrorist!

Archive for April, 2011

I Ain’t Dumb III: Intelligence Can’t be a Quantitative Measure!

At some point I found myself having to seriously consider the idea of “intelligent” or “smart.” I don’t know if it was because of my veganism, my primitivism, or my utter repulsion to the very idea of mandatory schooling, but it inevitably had a lot to do with the school I went to.

It was an alternative public school that’d been around for about thirty years running an individualistic curriculum—basically, you could just go to classes and write your evaluations and be done with it, but there was one extra piece to it: the Passages. There were six Passages in all—Career Exploration, Logical Inquiry, Creative somethingorother, Global Awareness, Practical Skills and Adventure. Social debate and peer review was built right into the grid: you had to have meetings with your “triad,” which could consist of at least three people, and your advisor (a teacher/counselor) before you could either “propose” (start) or “wrap up” a Passage.

The interesting thing about this, and the difference between this and most traditional schooling, was that there were no templates for the Passages. You couldn’t just pull it out of thin air: you had to work. If you wanted to learn, you had to reach for it.

The past few years I’ve come to realize that much of the school’s benefit to students was that it was a sort of anti-school. It was a detoxification center for students who had been taught to hate learning in traditional schools. And the emphasis was always on learning—as an active, not a passive, ability. You don’t go there to “get educated”; it wasn’t a choice someone else could make for you. You weren’t encouraged, as you are in 99% of other classrooms—including ones that “have good teachers!!!1″—to just lie back and think of England, so to speak. Learning was something you did for you, indigenous to your soul, and as such no one could give it to you or force you to endure it. You had the right to learn; therefore, it was your responsibility whatever you chose to learn. Choice. Freedom. Not compulsory. Not mandatory. No excuses, no shortcuts.

And honestly, I just kind of sat around for three years and then got incredibly fucking bored and decided to do something about. From what I hear, that’s not unusual, though it doesn’t make up the majority of the students. That was basically the point where I realized that learning is inevitable because, hell, it’s fun, isn’t it?

In my fourth year I met a German temporary student, Fabienne, with whom I’d be staying in Germany (for the most part; I had family there, too). She had… this attitude. My peers were used to people from other schools looking down on ours because it was so “easy,” I mean, they didn’t force you or threaten you into going to classes and learning. We were irritated about it, but it’s sort of like most fruitarians I know: Bob Torres will bitch at them and they’ll just roll their eyes and be like, “whatever dude, like you’d know anything,” and then they leave it.

While I was in Germany, Fabienne told me that our school was “easy.” (I’d retort and point out that no, actually, most traditional school systems are just fucking prisons—but eh.) She thought that the students there were stupid because they weren’t being challenged—that is, forced into “learning” things they didn’t want to learn and had no use for.

“Fabienne,” I said, “do you like learning?”

“No. Who likes learning?” she replied.

I’m aware she disagrees, but honestly, I won that debate right then and there.

What my “alma mater”—typically reserved for universities, but I think “soul mother” fits this situation perfectly—taught me was something slow and growing, like a seed gestating in warm, damp soil, as veganism and primitivism were for me. Learning had much more to do with joy—with the will to learn—than it did with how much you learned. And as such, learning couldn’t be measured by how many things you knew; it had to be measured by how gleefully you went after them.

And that’s where I broke from the idea of intelligence as quantitative.

Quantitative intelligence is a factor that underlies almost every fucking prejudice in the world. Using adult humans as property has been justified with, “they’re not as intelligent as us.” Same for non-human animals, and children; they’re stupid and unintelligent because adults are too self-obsessed to realize that the knowledge they have isn’t basic or even valuable for the real world. The natural one. No; they’re stupid, obviously. And you could tell that, see, because they didn’t know as many things as us! At least, they didn’t know as many things that “we” considered “important.”

A line between meaningful and non-meaningful knowledge was drawn and, in general, the more abstract the knowledge, the more valuable it was. It was harder to get—like eggs and dairy used to be—and therefore prestigious. And, as with eggs and dairy, this society is still built from the top down off of no longer pertinent concepts of prestige. Baked goods “need” eggs, despite the fact that they were included only because it was a “rich” thing to do. If you want to be smart, you “need” to read Judith Butler and Plato and some other godawful-dry, self-absorbed authors.

I am just so fucking tired of the idea that intelligence and smartness is quantitative. Let’s talk about what intelligence really is.

Intelligence is basic, and expressed in behaviors that allow an animal to navigate the world. The presence of greater intelligence in someone does not make them more valuable; having less intelligence than that person does not make you less valuable. Okay? Good. Now we’ve gotten the excuses for carnism out of the way.

I think the behaviors of intelligence are intensity, curiosity, critical deduction and observation. These all have different parts that make a whole.

Intensity refers to passion, emotional/mental; having emotion enables someone to process and remember information gathered. I disagree that emotion automatically makes you less reliable and trustworthy—after all, the most “objective” people have also historically had the privilege to agree with the present power structure; they had the least to lose from its perpetuation and as such generally didn’t much care to exert the energy to change it.

From my observation and critical deduction, I have come to the conclusion that animals have the capacity for emotion because it is an excellent way to store information about the world in which they live, although significantly less so in cases of trauma. You’re not supposed to be God, here. Your best guess is all that’s required.

Also in my observation, I’ve noticed that the smartest people I know are also extremely emotionally intense. That’s not data and I don’t intend to present it as fact, but simply because you cannot base an entire argument off anecdote doesn’t mean that anecdote is worthless and contemptuous. Something that is not A is not necessarily B if C is present.

Curiosity is the drive to learn things—that’s pretty obvious. It doesn’t necessarily apply to books, either. A hunger for information will drive you to learn, and you will learn much more than those who aren’t very curious.

Lierre Keith, for example, isn’t very curious. She spent twenty years trapped in an eating disorder and even though she had misgivings from the first few months, never seriously questioned them. She was never curious about veganism, or she would have went looking and found out that eating only brown rice and soy wasn’t healthy, and she would have found out that eating eggs and dairy about once a week doesn’t count as “twenty years of veganism.” She was never curious about women’s rights and feminism, or she would have stumbled into the discussion of eating-disorder-as-patriarchal-ideology and realized that the symptoms she was attributing to “veganism” were the symptoms that describe the lives of anorectics.

By the same coin, parrots are hella smart. As is my cat.

Critical deduction allows you to question what you’ve observed and found, and to trace together the lines connecting supposedly disparate topics and phenomena. When a cat does a trick someone meant to teach to the dog, that cat is employing critical deduction. Similarly, when you realize that transphobia is yet another form of patriarchal sexism via gender-policing, you’re employing critical deduction.

At the same time, critical deduction is necessarily critical. Reading a condemnation and carnism or intellectualism and thinking, “But animals aren’t humans—they’re obviously inferior to us,” or “But there’s only one kind of intelligence and reasonable deduction,” is employing the very antithesis of critical deduction. Genuinely thinking about it and saying, “Might be right. Have to seriously think about that, and if I decide they’re right then I’ll have to change,” is critical deduction.

Observation allows you to actually receive information from your experience of life. It can be, and often is, distorted through a lens of ideology—for example, thinking of children as stupid or less intelligent because they express themselves in a limited way.

Observation can only be free when not fettered by the paradigms we are taught to believe. Fundamentally, these ideologies—racism, sexism, ageism, carnism, capitalism, intellectualism, etc.—are invalid because they are taught: you are predisposed to them from a very early age, the shrapnel lurking in the back of your mind. I am always unimpressed by microbiologists that start believing in “a” creator, because even Hinduism is fundamentally monotheistic in its creation story. Come back with something that isn’t floating around in preality and we’ll talk.

Intelligence can only be measured by behaviors, and you might rightly argue that they then can’t be measured at all. But hell, that’s just honest—psychology, at least, recognizes that you can only know what’s going on inside someone’s head via the conduit of their body language, behavior and/or speech.

Ought to come down from your high horse, ffs. Y’can’t smell nothin’ but horseshit from up there.

Pathology Doesn’t Heal

Usually, when people talk about pathologizing, what they’re referring to is the emotional-abuse tactic of, “that’s crazy, you’re crazy,” to basically everything a person says. But the other day I had a discussion with Aslan about pathologizing as a defense tactic in social movements, however counterproductive. It began as a discussion about transsexuality in general while we were walking to the store, as Aslan is one of those lifelong genderfuckers you meet so rarely, and ended up on pathologizing as a pity-evoking attempt towards gaining rights.

That’s what I mean here: pathologizing not as something done to someone you want to dismiss, but as someone you want to support.

I got fed up with the gay rights tagline of no one would choose to be gay! when I was just a wee, barely pubescent little radical. My initial response was that it wasn’t true: I vaguely remember having a NM conversation on Neopets, back in the heyday where it wasn’t “family-friendly” and run by a bunch of people with a very poor opinion of anyone under 18, where I asserted that it was better to be gay because “you could understand each other more.” Mind, I was eight. However, I’d grown up all my life hearing about how men and women were so different that they basically came from different planets, and the only way for them to really get along was for one of them (generally the women) to start thinking and acting like the other. In other words, men and women, for all the talk about the glorious human species etc., were incompatible at their core.

I’m willing to wager that it wasn’t the message those assorted authors had intended me to take away.

The same influence also has some effect on the fat rights scene—sure, mostly by concern trolls, and not so much with the “fat rights scene” (it’s largely rejected by, well, everyone). The script goes pretty much the same way: “It’s so horrible to live a life that’s so fat and disgusting because of that fat and disgusting body. Haven’t they suffered enough? I mean, being fat is worse than anything!”

In a slightly different way, pathologizing children is used to “fight for their interests,” too. Look at how inferior they are! Look at how ignorant and illogical they must be to not know everything about civilization! Clearly, their brains just don’t work right, and that’s why they’re pure and innocent. And let’s not forget that many cultures assume that being a teenager is essentially an unfortunate temporary mental illness.

And to another point, it’s something that pisses me off a lot in the “pro-choice” community. Nobody ever wants an abortion; it is a horrible, bad, wrong thing that we’d absolutely do away with if we could figure out a way to stop women from whining about their rights. Because, really, come the fuck on—it goes beyond adoption, beyond financial and emotional means, beyond every ridiculous fucking excuse out there: sometimes, you just don’t want your genes to go on. Sure, 99.999% of everyone with a uterus would prefer “not getting pregnant in the first place” to having an abortion. But pathologizing abortion—and the choice to have one—is just more support for the concept that abortion is a horrible, shameful thing, no matter who you are.

The pity game isn’t something that pleases me. It’s obviously counterproductive—arguing that you should be treated equally because you aren’t really equal people, but it would hurt your feelings not to be isn’t the most brilliant tactic to take—but even further than that, it’s wrong.

Carolyn Gage points out the same thing I’ve been saying for a while: that, basically, so what if it is a choice? I’ve always admired radical feminist-lesbians for saying, straight out, that they do choose to be lesbians. It’s fucking awesome. Fuck you, I like liking girls. Gayness not as a horrible, dreadful affliction, but as a part of your life that brings you joy, companionship, and love. (Also orgasms. Can’t forget that.)

If something is inherently painful and distressing, it stands to reason that it should be fixed—erased out of existence, merely because it inevitably causes pain to the people bearing it. Not as a judgment, but as a mercy. Pathologizing works on the part of your enemies—as a means to seem “compassionate” for wanting you to be eaten by a pack of wild Sheens—and not ever for you.

Being Trans Still Means You Got Gender Socialization

When I speak of MTFs with suspicion and wariness, it comes from the experiences I’ve had in real life with these same people. Apparently it’s rare for someone to have bad experiences with MTFs in real life—I should mention that every single MTF I’ve had bad experiences with spent an inordinate amount of time online. A lot of gamer guys get Inappropriate Asshole Syndrome—they rarely get that what they’re saying might be so inappropriate that it’s not funny or humorous anymore, even for shock humor.

Almost all the MTFs I’ve met suffer from these problems:

– They don’t identify as women; they identify as MTFs, and their transsexual identity is the most important part for them.

– They act like men, including:
a) throwing a tantrum when you disagree with them,
b) monopolizing the conversation,
c) ignoring discomfort signals and a noted lack of participation in a particularly male-privileged fashion,
d) acting entitled to your time, space, and praise. Tolerance? Yeah. Praise?… I only praise my cats, my friends, my garden and Pele.

– They become aggressive and threatening if you point out some way they aren’t acting like women—because they were acting hyperfeminine.

That last one—acting hyperfeminine, the way very few assigned at birth women act because they have to juggle their own personhood and identity and selfhood with that portrayal—is one that pisses me off the most. To my eyes, having grown up around women and loved them and as a practicing gynosexual, many MTFs act out the caricature of women that’s fed to men—because, having grown up as men, they have no ability to tell just how much horse dooky it’s made from. Correcting them isn’t policing: if you want to live and be recognized as a woman, the least you can do is challenge the patriarchally-filtered ideas of them you’ve been brought up in. The least you can do is not blatantly insult, objectify, and dehumanize them by acting out those outrageous fucking caricatures.

I’ve met women who happened to be born into a male body—but they were women: they grew up as girls, passing full-time from very early ages, often with help from their parents. One went to Thailand at 15 for SRS and had been passing from the age of nine—her parents helped her legally change her name to Christina. (She was thirty at the time.) They were women not because of their identified genitalia, but because of their socialization. They also didn’t just tell everyone in sight that they were an MTF—you had to get to know them, first.

Most MTFs, however, have male privilege embedded in their behaviors—you’re not allowed to criticize them unless they think they’re doing something wrong; you’re not allowed to feel unsafe because of their behavior, because you’re being “transphobic.”

Transphobic. Such a fucking joke. Apparently you’re transphobic if you ever do or think anything that one individual transindividual doesn’t like.

… A few years ago, in the Pacific Northwest U.S., I was almost raped by an MTF. Zie came up to me outside of the library and we started talking; zie seemed a little off—anxious, though I was sympathetic to that—but I ignored the misgivings and discomfort I was having (zie had basically trapped me into fifteen minutes of talking about zeir writing) because, honestly, I didn’t want to come off as a douche. I tried being tolerant and anyway, I like making new friends.

Zie invited me over to zeir place and I accepted—though, thankfully, I brought along Aslan. On the walk there, zie was incredibly inappropriate in a way that I have only known online-gamer boys to be. Several intensely lesbophobic jokes were made, including a reference to sex being penetration, with fingers if not necessarily dildos and lesbian porn. We got to zeir house and went in through the back; they had a dog, whose name I remember but won’t reveal, who was badly neglected and neurotic. The inside was—it’s not directly relevant, but the filth of the place creeped me out; I’ve only ever seen as mess that bad once, when I and some schoolmates volunteered to clean out an item-hoarder’s house so she could live in it again—and zie went upstairs.

It’s still unclear. I felt like I was in a haze: zie wasn’t being aggressive enough to trigger any of my defenses or fighting instinct. I do remember, very clearly, zie trying to get my friend out of the room—I tried to go with, but zie pulled me back and just kept… fucking touching me.

I remember there was a crucifix on the wall, and that zie kept talking about zeir computer and pulling me onto the bed. And wanting out.

How did I get out? Aslan pulled me out. I only know because xie told me. Once we left, the MTF started stalking us and Aslan had to actually physically stand between us and threaten zem; I was on the verge of a panic attack, and once we left, I ended up having it. Zie called me transphobic.

I laughed it off, and I only realized recently how fucking angry I am about that entire… farce. Transphobic? I was transphobic for not just sitting down and letting zem sexually assault me, just like I’m misandrist for not letting men fuck me.

This might be fucked up, but outside of everything else, I can’t stop thinking about that dog, and if they’re okay.

Just because you believe you’re a woman doesn’t mean you act like it. Just because you’re on estrogen doesn’t mean you’re not a fucking rapist. The behavior and socialization—the lack of privilege—does not go along with the genitals: transsexuality is not something that determines what kind of person you are… it only focuses on your body and the way you are perceived.

The fundamental experience of women is global, in every civilization: as property. That is the fucking universal experience of women. I don’t understand much of this “cis privilege” idea because it seems to be the case that women are constantly suffering the same physical, sexual and emotional violence that MTFs are, all while being “cissexual.” I can allow that it might exist in some way that hasn’t been properly fleshed out yet, but as someone who’s genderqueer and always has been, I can tell you this: transfolk are not necessarily more right about oppression, transsexuality and transgenderism than anyone else is. Just because we know what we feel doesn’t mean we know, without a doubt, the truth of the naturalness and the nature of being trans.

I feel fucking alienated as hell when people openly mock transfolk, talking about how FTMs just want to fuck gay men with their vaginas (??? I have never known an FTM, other than that porn actor, to do that) and how those born male can never be women, no matter how early in life they pass and transition… and to a point I understand the impulse.

But I feel more alienated by a trans narrative that tells me that to be valid, for my identity to be genuine, it has to be natural—something inborn and inherent within me, a neo-essentialism. I feel safer in a room full of radical feminists, knowing that I have a better chance of having my concerns and arguments taken seriously, sharing an understanding that gender-as-sex and sex-as-gender is socially constructed, knowing that all of us are working towards gender abolition because that is the only way all of us will be seen as people… and that they won’t try to rape me.

The problem I have with MTFs is the problem I have with all men: they act like men. They are not safe. Reacting with hostility and calling me transphobic only compounds the problem by attempting to silence me.

Just because I disagree doesn’t mean I’m transphobic. I know next to nothing about the inherency and reality of trans within the world and the human population as a whole: only the experience. And if anyone tries to tell you they do know—they’re lying through their teeth.

Privilege at its Extreme is Individualism, Again

Oddly, while my own experience of reading blogs is that it’s liable to make me more depressed and despairing on my own (probably because of the silencing factor), combining it with writing relieves me and makes me angry and passionate instead of resentfully cynical. Maybe this is just because I am “the vegan,” so my passion for basic rights puts me at odds with most “rights activists.” It’s really rare that I read something I feel resonates within me so much:

It was the eighties. The atmosphere was ripe with immanent denunciations. Politics in the still-breathing lesbian community had begun to hollow out into a ritual called “name the racist (classist, homophobe etc).” Who would be next in line to confess her privilege? Once she confessed, she too could be admitted to the ranks of the righteous, entitled now to “call out” any others on their particular “isms” … She now had an Id-entity. Indeed the self became implicitly re-imaged a container-entity either filled or emptied of privilege-chips.

I’ve noticed this going around a lot, and I am deeply uncomfortable with this process in feminism. It’s not that I don’t realize I’m privileged in many ways; I’m also systematically oppressed in many ways, but those privileges and oppressions and their intersections are not nearly as clear-cut as people make them out to be. The way these things interact and play off each other would take fucking years to describe—and by then they’d have changed anyway—and I don’t feel comfortable, in any way, having the face value of my privileges and oppression determine how much I should be listened to.

Because that’s what the effect comes down to: your credibility is directly determined by your relative oppression and privileges. It’s a bizarre mathematical equation that I’m sure gives both the oppressed and the privileged on any given issue some self-satisfaction, but it doesn’t work.

I was born into an upper-class, not wholly white, partially foreign family. But that wealth was not shared with me: money and its privileges were seen as the exclusive benefit of our mother and any money given to children—even for social necessities like clothing, soap and food—was only done grudgingly. I’ve been shocked, again and again, at what kids from only middle-class families feel entitled to, because the privilege people assume I had I never actually received.

Most of my warped worldview comes from the suburbs, where the houses are large and spaced far enough apart so that the neighbors can’t hear the children being beaten—and even then, it’s not much of a feeling of entitlement: my upbringing solidified a sense of distrust in my own perceptions and experiences, so that I assume I am acting on an incomplete worldview. Whether that’s the product of the suburbs or the abuse I can’t say—though I’d consider the suburbs themselves a type of abuse.

But even aside from that—I’m not rich, and I haven’t been for years. I and another person (my best friend, my platonic life partner) survive off of roughly $1,000/mo for all expenses. I’ve been homeless. I’ve had to lift all my food. Right now, at this point in my life, I am so poor that I sneer at the arguments of how poor people can’t not buy junk food, because if I bought junk food I’d starve.

So which am I? Do I get to know what I’m saying or don’t I? Are my anti-capitalist beliefs less valid than a pro-capitalist homeless man, because I have shelter right now?

I’ve been told that it’s because of my privilege that I’m vegan—big fucking NOPE here alongside an explanation of animal agriculture-as-Western-colonialism and genocide/ecocide—and that I’m racist by saying that people of color shouldn’t be treated like animals because it’s wrong to treat animals like that in the first place. Because I’m white enough to pass on the street—though still not white enough to get a job thanks to Mexiphobia—even though I’ve been caged, dismissed, and compared to animals too.

When someone gets told they have privilege, it’s shorthand for: all of what you just said is invalid.

And instead of engaging ideas critically and actually picking them apart, everyone follows that idea—that if you agree with someone who’s oppressed on a subject tangential to their oppression, you’re more credible, too. It’s gone from: the fact is that, as someone who hasn’t experienced the life of a POC or etc., you have a skewed perspective and your flippant suggestions for how to solve XYZ aren’t accurate or useful. To: the fact is that, as someone who hasn’t experienced the life of a POC or etc., you know less than they do.

That’s where it ends. Just, “you’re privileged,” the end.

The trend that Kathy Miriam points out has been my observation, too.

One of the obstacles to critiquing individualism is that the latter, like all ideology, functions by obscuring itself and self-presents as “just the way things are.” It is the air we breathe, the element in which we swim, thus invisible. Because individualism is so naturalized as a belief system, it can disguise itself as knowledge—or invisibly form the preconditions of what is claimed as self-evident knowledge.

Because there’s never any discussion of, “Well, how do I change my privilege?” (at least, that isn’t short-circuited by I shouldn’t have to educate you!), privilege has become this self-evident, unchangeable reality. And so we shift our attention away from demanding rights and equality from the people in our community towards legislation, which has a limited chance of success and an even more limited effect on the people who still have to deal with it on the ground.

We’ve become so caught up in this idea of changing either the individual or the government that we forget that the media, capitalism, religion etc. all spew this poison into our lives. We take the media and capitalism and marriage and religion and everything else so much for granted that we forget that we can—and should—build communities for ourselves if the ones we live in will not accommodate our very real needs for safety, survival and belonging.

Instead we focus on one person at a time, and not even within our communities—we fight over the fucking internet, devolving into a big fucking fight where everyone’s screaming NO UR PRIVLEJD and, in light of all that, activism—real activism—withers and dies.

Privilege analysis is a damn good lens for social justice movements to use. But it can’t be the be-all end-all of analysis and the only tool in the cabinet, and just because you’re privileged doesn’t mean you’re not onto something.

In short, privilege makes you unworthy of listening to when you speak up in favor of a system that you benefit from or that does not directly oppress you. But having been oppressed does not mean you are smarter or a moral-o-meter that can tell the relative ethical worth of ideas, either. And while it’s nice to believe that you, personally, can tell whether or not someone’s been oppressed or privileged—e.g. that women are privileged by gender conformity norms instead of oppressed by them—no one has that super-power, sorry.

And in shorter, you can’t let discussion of privilege limit the ways you move in the world. Now, I’m going to go create some animal adoption posters. Go read Dialectical Spin now. Bye!

I Can’t and Won’t Be You

Gender is an outrageously complicated thing. I’ve been trying to figure it out since I was barely pubescent, and I barely have down the basics. And even those basics are really, really weird. In order to have any kind of grasp on it, I have to believe that gender is (at least) three things simultaneously.

1. Gender is a spectrum, a kind of mental flavor, that intellectualists would scoff at and that on the streets is a vital people-reading skill, much like fluency in body language and intuition. Gender is not a continuum; it’s a complete three-dimensional realm all on its own that most people don’t notice because they’re too busy living it. Because of the huge amounts of variation, gender very rarely correlates to any kind of physical attribute (including sex), but because sex/gender correlation is assumed too often to actually be explained, most people assume that their gender just matches their sex.

2. In greater society, gender is a mental sensation that correlates exactly to your physical sex, unless you’re a freak. Even among many of those “freaks,” though, gender correlates to sex; it just may be the opposite socially-defined sex. Gender is binary (masculine/feminine) except in very rare cases.

3. Gender is a binary-segregated pattern of behaviors that you are indoctrinated into from the day you’re born based on the sex you’re assigned, most of which are unconscious or automatic. You can have gendered behaviors that do not match your gender/sex identity. Gender behavior goes way beyond “male” and “female” and instead defines “maleness” and “femaleness,” which are (again) behavior sets that are then conflated with both social gender laws (masculine/feminine) in addition to sex (male/female) so it all seems very “natural.”

All of these things can be true, because you have to take into account more than just personal or social realities. And often they’re still quite contradictory. You can be a woman who happened to be born with male genitals, because gender is a personal and behavioral reality as well; you can also be a male-bodied person who identifies as female, but acts with male-socialized behaviors. You can be an FTM who identifies as both transsexual and genderqueer (or insert gender-variant-label here) and vice versa. Sex, sexual, and gender identity, like most identities, are convoluted at best for most people.

You can feel like a woman and still act like a man. You can feel like a man and still act like a woman. You can feel like a complete freak and revolve around any one of those. That’s just reality. It’s messy, sometimes unsanitary, more often just strange, and occasionally unpleasant.

So, no. For the record, I don’t think that your gender must match the body you were born into. For the record, I don’t believe that “women” can never be “men” and vice versa, because it’s inaccurate; women and men are not biological realities—they’re social ones. For the record, I’m not saying that your genitals are or should be inescapable. A lot of people seem to think I have, which confuses me, because I’m not sure whether to feel sad or contemptuous. Nuance—detail, variation, innumerable shades of color and texture and flavor—is the way of the world. I can’t accept “men are men and women are women, period” any more than I can accept the idea that one person’s inner reality should override the perception of everyone else—that, for example, a transsexual person that the right to demand everyone accept their identity as a particular social caste when they’re acting like the opposite social caste all over the place, especially when those social castes are defined by behavior—and they’re still participating in the same illusion as everyone else.

I can accept your personal reality as valid while still pointing out that your behavioral reality is at odds with what you believe to be true. I can respect you and still not adopt your worldview wholesale. I can believe you are transsexual and respect that identity while still pointing out that you’re acting with male-socialized behaviors and that those behaviors, regardless of who’s using them, are harmful and wrong. If you can’t understand that, it’s pretty much a problem on your end, not mine.

But more to the point: I learned pretty early on in my internet life* that, even when someone claims to merely want me to accept them as a woman (/man, but rarely), they’re lying out their ass. I can say, “Okay, you’re a woman,” and it won’t be enough. I can say, “I understand it’s hard for you. I understand that you face social pressures and threats that no one should have to face. I understand you have to fight for your identity to be respected,” and it is not enough. I carried on being extremely confused for a while until I realized that it’s not so much about having your identity respected as it is that disagreement on the subject of identity itself—not your identity, ’cause yes, okay, You Are A Woman/Man, since I have never really given two fucks about ovaries and testes—is seen as a threat.

That’s the only conclusion I was able to derive. That, because their politics are integral to their identity, you must agree with their politics in order to respect their identity. And I can’t.

Because in my experience, that means I have to stop thinking about and questioning and developing new layers of nuance and new, better ways to understand the way the human social world works. I have to stop talking about women who were forced to be women, who did not choose it and the attendant oppression that goes along with it, and for whom it was a prison just as much as any forced identity is. It means that I have to adopt the use of “transmisogyny,” even though I’ve never been able to get anyone to explain to me how it’s supposed to differ from either transphobia or misogyny, and similar for “cissexism”—that I have to accept concepts that I believe are unrealistic or simplistic or diversionary.

It means that I have to accept a version of reality that I had to build myself up from in the first place: in order to not be “cissexist,” I have to become ignorant again. I have to regress. I have to give up the personal growth I’ve fought so desperately for, because otherwise a bunch of people will come and be very aggressive and hostile towards me and think badly of me (maybe even talk behind my back!).

What I have been shown it means by these people is that I’m not allowed to have my own identity, and my own way of looking at the world, ultimately so they don’t have to change their way of thinking of the world. Fucking carnists; they’re always insisting vegans are rude to them, or proselytizing, but I never met a carnist that didn’t try to convert me instead of leaving me alone—even when I was over in the corner, calmly eating my smoothie.

I respect your identity, and the suffering that’s been heaped on you from that supposed “deviance.” I also disagree with you. These things are not mutually exclusive; I don’t have to move in lockstep with you so as to not be perpetuating oppression, even and especially if I don’t believe what you do about that oppression. You’re not the only one experiencing it, after all.

It is the most dangerous thing to think you are absolutely right. Because if you do, there’s a high probability you’re wrong.

By the way, negative comments are still welcome, provided you don’t engage in anti-feminist tropes (goodbye, Iambic!), actually explain why it is how you say it is, and otherwise not be a total jerk. (Being a little bit of one is fine.) Some of them are actually pretty good brain-fodder, and one or two have actually been changing my beliefs.

Because I care more about actually being right than just “being right.”

*Because, weirdly enough, it’s only the transfolk active on internet trans communities that act this way. I’ve never known any transdude (yes, it’s a gender-neutral pronoun and I’ll continue using it on literally everyone, deal with it) IRL who’s acted in any way close to this. Is it a problem with the internet transcommunity? Or is it a problem with the internet? I’ve no idea.

“I Paid for You.” Capitalism’s Inherent Property Ethic

Even amongst the less capitalist circles, there’s not a whole lot of talk about the totalizing objectification created by a system run by exchange. Pretty much everyone understands the basics of classism: that you’re perceived as being inherently worth more and a better person if you’re richer, and given more opportunities based on that, whereas the reverse is true if you’re poorer. In other words, socioeconomic class is perceived as a reflection on one’s personality in capitalism in a similar way to beauty in medieval Italy. The richer or more beautiful you are/were, the better a person you are/were.

Yeah, that’s basic. And pretty obvious. But classism is inextricable from capitalism in another way—and ageism, racism, and sexism insofar as these groups are capitalistically disadvantaged, too—because, to put it gently, our entire system is based on the value of currency given to anything in general… and it invades everything.

There’s a particular transactional model of oppression that states thus: the more money that others have to give you in order to support your survival, the less you are worth and the more you are owned by them.

You see this everywhere. Look at the anti-welfare crap going around; look at the anti-socialized medicine crap going on in the U.S., the fire being rained down on unions in Wisconsin and Indiana, the sabotaging of jobless benefits. Resentment is bred because the people who feel they are “paying” for these things without benefiting feel as though they’re getting ripped off—because they’re having to buy something without getting to benefit from it.

When you look at it from an item perspective, it makes sense: if a store charged you for items you didn’t buy (and therefore didn’t get to use), you’d be pretty pissed too. It makes sense, except for the fact where we are talking about peoples’ lives instead of an actual object.

… But thanks to capitalism, the monetary value assigned to someone’s life and/or quality of life is the signal that they are property—an item or a product that you are having to pay for without being able to use.

You know those old “jokes” about how wives are merely bad prostitutes—they take men’s money and then don’t even put out in return? This is why. They are being “paid for” as products, but the men, their “purchasers,” don’t get to use them at all. This follows other forms of oppression, too—ageism, for example. Literally, by paying for their children, parents feel an entitlement to force/abuse them into doing something just so because they are effectively buying them.

A person becomes a product when a monetary value is assigned to them for whatever reason—their survival, their quality of life, maybe just a momentary indulgence. It even applies to employers: Aslan, at a previous job, would be stocking about $20,000 of product every night—usually mostly on zeir own, too—but zeir manager wouldn’t even let zem get fucking overtime. That’s another problem with the product-purchaser capitalist worldview: it brings into play the “natural” desire of a purchaser to get the most for their money.

This is endemic, too, unless and until we cut the line tying someone’s survival and basic quality of life to a monetary value. Food, shelter and water must be upheld as basic human rights, inalienable, such that they cannot be sold unless they are luxury products—as with exotic fruits like passionfruits (in some places), animal products, several kinds of sweeteners, sodas, prepackaged “junk” foods, etc. Outside of luxuries, whole foods are your right. So is shelter. Until capitalism falls or compromises, you will be objectified just by surviving.

What Does Life Say About Those Who Die? Submission and Ventriloquism

I found an article on Gary Francione’s blog, The Abolitionist Approach, a post entitled And What About the Four Other Dogs? In it, he talks about how five dogs were scheduled to be euthanized at a shelter; four died, but one—a puppy—was found to be still alive after being given two lethal doses of euthanasia medicine. The dog’s survival was posted by a veterinary technician on a pet adoption website, and hundreds of people over North America began clamoring to adopt the dog.

He asks, as with the title, what about the other four dogs? The ones who didn’t make some kind of miraculous escape?

This story is similar to the stories about farm animals who escape from slaughterhouses and are then given homes to live out their lives. They, too, are “special.” They escaped from the institutionalized exploitation that we have established. They have cheated death.

Many people think that when an animal escapes death in this fashion, it is some sort of divine sign. These sorts of events ironically reinforce our view that because there is no divine intervention for all the other animals that are killed at “shelters” or in slaughterhouses, then this is the way things ought to be for those other animals. They are killed as part of the “natural” order.

This is true. I have heard exactly this kind of “argument” used against veganism, although I last encountered it several years ago, perhaps because the most obvious inaccuracies are hard to ignore: “If animals cared about not being killed, why don’t they try to escape? [Kidnapped African] slaves did, after all.”

That’s paraphrased, but I did not actually add in the part about the kidnapped Africans. She put that in on her own. There’s the obvious problem with the argument, which is that many animals have escaped and that slaughterhouses are built to prevent that from happening—a la Temple Grandin—but then there’s something else wrong that she didn’t realize. The fact that most kidnapped Africans did not try to escape, or successfully escape, was used as evidence for the idea that slavery was perfectly fine.

I. After all, if the kidnapped Africans really objected, they would be escaping, successfully, in droves. II. After all, if she really felt it was rape, she would have fought him off. III. After all, if she really didn’t want to be beaten by her husband, she would leave him. IV. After all, if he really didn’t want to be bullied, he’d fight back or go to a teacher. V. After all, if zie really felt zie was getting cheated by zeir boss, zie would have sued. VI. After all, if zie doesn’t want to be poor and starving, zie would have gotten a job. Et cetera.

This is a variation of the No True Scotsman No True Rape Victim fallacy—the idea that if someone being oppressed really thought it was unjust, they would fight back against it. And they would win. But the idea of the Iron-Willed Escape invalidates not just those who can’t imagine fighting off their abuser—it invalidates the people who do successfully manage to fight off their abuser, too. Rape victims are discredited because, given that he didn’t really manage to rape zem, he’s still Shrödinger’s Rapist and therefore, not really a rapist. The question is always, “But how do you know zie was really intending to hurt you?” because any resistance against power is always seen as fundamentally unjustified.

Thus, if zie was able to fight him off, zie couldn’t really know he was actually going to rape zem—he didn’t, so therefore he’s not a rapist! But if he does succeed in raping zem, then it wasn’t really rape because zie failed to fight him off so zie wasn’t really serious about not wanting it… so therefore he’s not a rapist!

That’s what rape culture is. That’s what victim-blaming is: placing the onus of rejecting violation on the victim instead of the violator. It is Lierre Keith‘s perfect philosophy because, no matter what, the oppressor is never to blame for oppressing. An abuser can’t be held responsible for their actions: you just let it happen. You just let him sell away your children. You just let her beat you. How were they supposed to know it wasn’t okay if you didn’t force them to stop?

“If you don’t like me hurting you, then you shouldn’t let me hurt you.”

The oppressor becomes invisible and the oppressed becomes solely responsible for their own oppression. If they don’t like it, then they should have tried harder to keep it from happening. Somehow, the abuser is never held responsible for their decision to abuse and never expected to actually treat anyone like people. The victim is portrayed in a black room, empty save for zem, shuddering as an unseen hand batters zem—something that is assumed, because of the absence of any visible perpetrator, exists entirely in zeir own mind, that zie is submitting to. A personal pathology. An individual flaw. No atrocity to see here, folks; move along.

You should perhaps question why it is easier to hold the victim responsible than the one who victimized zem.

I draw together all these examples not to show similarities between different forms of oppression, but to show how all oppression is fundamentally the same. Oppression and its justifications are all the same—they’re utterly unoriginal, just a repeating pattern of the same thoughts, the same arguments. Every carb-starved fuckneck thinks that “but plants are alive too” is a unique and compelling argument against veganism, and so does every porn-addled fuckneck think “women’s choice” is a unique and compelling argument against anti-exploitation, consideration of abuse, capitalism, coercion, reality. Then they wonder why they keep hearing the same rebuttals in response, over and over again, and conclude that those desperately trying to scrape their way out of a fucked-up, oppressive world and into a new one, those people simply have nothing else to offer.

It’s the other way around. Being aware of oneself requires an accounting of one’s bigotries, one’s life, one’s actions. It requires a vicious, snarling demand for self-inflicted honesty and ultimately, honesty requires change.

In a society that wants to view oppression as normal, as neutral, as right, it becomes much easier to blurt some self-indulgent nonsense and let yourself fall into the ensuing applause.

Tag Cloud