Gender

What is gender? Many tomes have been written on that very question. First and foremost, I see gender as a mechanism of control. It is two and only two boxes and each person is stuffed into one or the other. When each of us are born, the doctor makes a cursory examination of our genitals and declares “It’s a Boy!” or “It’s a Girl!” This is not a benign utterance. It is a life-shattering declaration and prescription. The intent behind it matters not. It has a velocity all its own. When the attending room physician makes this declaration, the baby is off like a race car. We get placed on pink and blue tracks for the remainder of our natural born lives. If we obey, the ride is very smooth. If we disobey, it is one car wreck after another. It is no wonder that the vast majority of people obey. The bigger question is why some of us don’t. Or can’t. One can only withstand so many crashes. Eventually it can even be fatal.

Some may see my language as hyperbolic. It is not hyperbolic to me. As someone assigned male based on a brief glance between my legs, I am angry. I am angry that gender exists and that it affects so much in our society. If your own personal declaration does not match that initial declaration, you are in for it. If your declaration is the “opposite” of the initial declaration, there might be hope for you if you look as much as possible like the “opposite” of your birth assignment. If you don’t try, don’t care or don’t feel like either male or female, you are flushed down to the bottom of the social hierarchy of the society. You are trash.

As someone who has been treated like gender trash my whole life, I have had a front row seat to how gender is A) bullshit B) all about social control and power. It is about the perpetuation of cis-heteropatriarchy. Cis people, heterosexual people and men are seen as superior. Trans people, queers and women are seen as inferior. Gender is the glue that ties the whole system together. To get the glue unstuck you have to smash the gender boxes. This is why I am so committed to gender abolitionism. It is not a popular position, including in the trans community. But then again I don’t see anything good about gender. I am the negative nancy of the gender studies world.

If gender is an apparatus of power, and we need to smash it, what should we do? For starters, we should all be feminists, all be queer advocates and all be trans liberationists. Beyond that, we should opt out of gender whenever possible. Do the opposite. Undo it. Do it differently. Anything that goes against what the scripts of normative gender tell us we should do. Even if it doesn’t smash it, we can still fight it. It will be exhausting and we will be punished for it, but I’m afraid that is the price of the ticket.

 

 

Class [Socioeconomic Status]

It is not surprising that this entry is a day late. I frankly did not want to write about it. It is a triggering topic for me. I don’t want to talk about it. Ironically, this is one of the topics that people must talk about the most. Class is the pink elephant in the living room. Everyone sees that it is there but nobody want to acknowledge that it is there. Why does nobody want to talk about it?

I think it is because it makes us vulnerable if we are on the lower end of the spectrum and it makes people feel guilty/privileged who are on the high end of the spectrum. I am on the low end of the spectrum. I am working-class and have been my whole life. Money has always been an issue for me and my family. Right now I am broke as a joke. This often happens when I am at the end of my pay period. I literally can’t wait to get paid again. Living from paycheck to paycheck is exhausting, depleting and anxiety-producing.

I am beset by credit card, student loan and medical debt. In order to complete a bachelor degree, two master’s degree and a doctorate, I had to go into pretty severe debt. Remember, when you are in school you are not only not bringing in any income, but you are paying out huge sums for tuition and living expenses. I finished my Ph.D. degree in 2009. Due to a low income, I have been able to pay very little of that down. Thus the interest has ballooned and I owe more than ever.

This is a terrible trap and it not the fault of the student loan borrowers. It is the fault of a rigged system that is a virulent form of vulture capitalism. One of the reasons I proudly supported Dr. jill Stein for presenident in 2016 was because she was the only candidate who supported the abolishment of student loan debt. It needs to be cancelled. The economy is struggling as a result. People can’t buy houses, they can’t buy cars, they are saddled by this horrible debt.

Debt feel like an awful weight. I will never be able to pay off this student loan debt, that reaches to close to 200,000. It is anxiety-producing because they can garnish our paychecks, take our tax refunds and even take away our social security payments. They have the power to financally ruin someone. All so that someone can afford to attend school. As a culture, we should be encouraring people to go to school and further their education. Education should be free from K-Ph.D., with people allowed to study for as many degrees as they please. That would take care of student loan debt, or people would take them out only for living expenses rather than tutiton, at the very least.

Credit cards are a whole other horrendous issue. I can’t believe I allowed myself to get “sucked” in by them again. This is the second time it has happened in my life. I am not surprised because I tend towards compulsive spending. My life is filled with stress and depression so I buy things as a way to feel better. They are another totally unfair system that steals money away from people through exorbinant interest and unending fees of various sorts.

Medical debt is another outrage. As Bernie Sanders is prone to point out: ALL medical care should be free. We are the only industrialized country in which that is not the case. Despite having insurance, there is always co-pays and leftover debt that insurance will not cover. It is exhausting and I am tried of dealing with it. In the meantime I will never be able to afford buying my own place, never be able to afford going on vacations to places like Europe, and never be able to have a nest egg to have a simple sense of economic security.

Class affects everything. It is hard not to resent those in the upper brackets who don’t have to constantly worry about feeding themselves, clothing themselves, having comfortable shelter or adequate medical care. Utilities keep going through the roof and add to the monthly expenses. I am not optimistic about the future of my debt and of ever leaving my current class. In fact, I am not optimistic about the future of capitalism as the gap between the rich and poor keeps growing exponentially.

I come froma rual, working-class family. I was a first-generation college student and attended an elite private school on loans, scholarships and work-study. As is the case nationally and has been shown through empirical evidence, it is very hard for a person to escpae their class of origin. Although American loves its mythologies of the American dream, meritocracy, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and rags to riches, these are all lies and false narratives. The VAST majority of people will never move beyond the class status of their parents. This has certainly been true for my siblings and I.

Classism is the discrimination that poor and working-class people face. It is yet another virulent form of discrimination that is toxic and corrosive. I have faced classism and will talk more about that in a future entry. For the time being, I will end with the assertion that capitalism is a system whose very basis is brutality and oppression. I welcome class warfare. We need it and we deserve it.

Race

Race is an illusion. It is fictive. It is a made up category. Scientists and anthropologists tried to prove the existence of discrete racial categorizations for decades but they continuously came up short, finally having to admit that, scientifically speaking, there is no such thing as race. And, simultaneously, the effects of race are hyper-real. They are detrimental, devastating and destructive. How ironic that a phony classificatory scheme could cause so much havoc and violence for centuries.

Race is an idea. It is an invention. Contrary to popular belief, race did not come before slavery. It was the other way around. Slavery is an evil institution, the use of human bodies for break-breaking labor without any pay and with abusive and violent treatment. How could anyone justify the morally unjustifiable? By creating race. Human greed propelled white European colonizers to need a free supply of labor for their agricultural aspirations. They stole African slaves from their continent and forced them into the nefarious institution of slavery. How could they justify treating human beings like chattel? What was an obvious difference between their white selves and their African captives? The color of skin. So, African people were labeled as intellectually, culturally and spiritually inferior. This became the justification for a system that treated people of African descent as disposable people, people called 3/5 of a human being who existed to work ceaselessly until their premature deaths. In addition, race came in to explain away the genocide against Indigenous North Americans and the stealing of their land in Westward expansionism. Native peoples, like Africans, were “uncivilized” and needed European whites to show them how to be cultured, thus taking away their land and killing them in the process was justifiable. Race was used to round up Japanese and Japanese American people during World War II and place them in concentration camps because we were told their race made them untrustworthy. Race was also used to steal land away from Mexicans through its “annexation” in the 1800s. It is used today in racial profiling by police against African American and Latinx people and in “flying while Arab” and many other cases of Middle Eastern profiling in the post-9/11 era.

Race is also socially constructed to the max! It is so important to point out that race is not a trans-cultural, trans-historical coherent essence. It has radically different meanings around the world and across different historical epochs. I believe we often think, especially in the U.S., that the way we think about and conceptualize race is the way that everyone around the world does. Nothing could be further from the truth. And our meanings around race have changed in the past 500+ years in the North American continent. Slavery and Jim Crow segregation are gone. However, that doesn’t mean racism is gone. Segregation persists and many believe the theatre of slavery has simply changed from the plantation to the prison industrial complex.

The project of race is inexorably linked to the project of racism and white supremacy. In a very real way, race is racism. However, I do not believe in the abolition of race in the way that I believe in the abolition of gender. Race has done great harm but it is also a powerful identity and it is linked to people’s cultures and their respective cultural traditions. There is a liberatory side to race that has performed a full-frontal assault on the use of race as a justification for oppression and inequality. Conversely, gender is not a culture; it is a cult. And as with any other cult, the goal is to get out of it, not perpetuate and strengthen it. This is a good case when we simply need to proclaim: race and gender are different entities with very different histories.

As a white person, I benefit from the current system of race. I receive white privilege in a myriad of areas. Thus, in order to oppose the system, I must be disloyal to whiteness. I must not only be an “ally” to people of color but an accomplice. The other side of the oppression I have described above is the people of color and their white allies/accomplices who have fought against white supremacy for centuries. It is by far an incomplete task but the stories of resistance in the face of tremendous odds are formidable. An indomitable spirit prevails in the racial justice struggle, and that continues right through to the present with Black lives Matter and numerous other movements. The war has not been won but countless battles have been. How far we progress in the years to come is wholly dependent on people coming together and fighting for what’s right. The work and opposition is tremendous but so is the will of the people to transform our society for the better.

 

Social Justice

It feels particularly silly to write 500 words about a topic as serious as this. And about a topic that I try to make so central to my life. Perhaps when you are so close to it you have endless things to say about it. Or perhaps you have very little to say about it because you are living it each and every day. Social justice should be in the very air that we breathe. But sadly it is not. In fact, we breathe in the foul-smelling smog of inequality, hate and greed all day long.

Let’s start with what social justice is not. It is not hatred, bigotry or prejudice. It is not oppression. It is not ignorance. It is not living thoughtlessly and carelessly. It is not living an unexamined life. It is not giving in to the status quo. It is not living in a state of social unconscious. It is not being unkind or being cruel. It is not hoarding everything to yourself. It is not being greedy. It is not being selfish. It is not living only for yourself. It is not cowering in fear or being eternally afraid to stick your neck out. It is not letting things go or refusing to act in instances of injustice.

Now let’s talk about what social justice is. It is, first and foremost, love, sensitivity, kindness and gentleness. It is a radical redistribution of money, resources and opportunities. It is equity, fairness and egalitarianism. It is caring, giving and sharing. It is living a meaningful life in which you examine and explore your actions and beliefs. It is integrity, honesty and a passion for truthfulness. It is living in a community, living for both yourself and for others. It is about collectivity and living in a world where every person is cherished, valued and celebrated. It is about engendering a society where dignity and respect are the norm. It is about being bold, about speaking out against injustice and about taking actions even when you are very afraid.

I learned to yearn for social justice on the playground. I was bullied and terrorized for being different. I learned to yearn for social justice when I attended an elite private school as a working-class student. I learned to yearn for social justice as a first-generation college student. I learned to yearn for social justice when I came out as queer and transgender. I learned to yearn for social justice when I began to walk through the world as a person of size. I learned to yearn for social justice when I became disabled and fought mightily against mental illness.

These experiences have shaped who I am. They have made me a feminist, an anti-racist and economic justice advocate, a size acceptance organizer, an LGBTQ+ liberationist and a disability justice activist. All of these together fall under the banner of social justice. I am a social justice practitioner. As time goes by, it becomes a bigger and bigger part of who I am. I can’t not be a social justice person. I can’t see the injustices all around us and not be outraged by them. A reader might think this is a burden. It is a responsibility to be sure, but it is not something I would ever change. There is a truism that I often say in my classes: Social justice is painful and joyful. But the work is worth the pain because you know you are fighting for what’s right. Struggling for social justice creates its own special and irreplaceable reward.

 

Liberation

Liberation is one of my favorite words in the English language. [Though it sounds even cooler in French: libération.] Liberation is defined as “the gaining of equal rights or full social or economic opportunities for a particular group or the gaining of protection from abuse or exploitation.” To me, liberation is freedom. But above and beyond that it is the fight for freedom: freedom from exploitation, freedom from abuse, freedom from discrimination and freedom from oppression. It is a word that can go after so many different fights for freedom: women’s liberation; animal liberation; Black liberation; queer liberation; disabled liberation, etc.

Liberation is radical and revolutionary in scope. It moves beyond traditional democracy or liberalism. It becomes radical in that it wants to get down to the root. It is revolutionary in that it is a forcible overthrow of the government or a general social order in favor of a very different, entirely new system. When I think of liberation, I feel hope. Liberal democracy is not going to cut it. In an era of Trump, an era of absolute political reactionaryism, then liberation is a gleaming, shining prize sitting atop the mountain. It is going to take tremendous effort to achieve, but it is exactly what we need to save material lives and take people out the condition of mental slavery.

I will take liberation and put it in a queer concept since this blog is entitled concepts queered. In recent decades, there has been a continuous push away from queer liberation. Queer liberation was what happened at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 and in the immediate time afterwards. It was dedicated to a complete overhaul. It was not interested in placing gays and lesbians [bi and trans people were not really being talked about] into a discrete minority group. Under queer liberation, there was a desire to liberate the queer in the entire population. There was an understanding that same-sex/gender eroticism and gender nonconformity was something that everyone could enjoy and benefit from, not just self-identified gays and lesbians. Everyone was queer. And the goal of queer liberation was to help the entire populace to realize their inherent queerness.

In addition, queer liberation meant an overhaul of society where no one was discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. This included queer people of color, poor and working-class queer people, disabled queers, gender variant queers, incarcerated queers and everyone else. When we look at the trajectory of the gay/lesbian movement, it has become very conservative. It has become about the ability to adopt children, the ability to serve in the oppressive, imperialistic U.S. military and the ability to enter into the hyper-patriarchal institution of marriage. These things have nothing to do with queer liberation. In fact, under a queer liberationist framework, marriage and military would be abolished, not strengthened through the participation of LGBT people.

Liberation is, as you can see, far reaching. It demands fundamental transformations to the status quo of society. It is not, however, impossible. We must keep our eyes on the prize. We must have a vision of what this looks like or we will never be able to reach it. I breathe in the sweet scent of queer liberation and I am fortified. I am cajoled to push for the kind of society I actually want to live in. Liberation is not dead. In fact, the current evil of Trumpism is incubating it. It will be seen in our lifetime as the people can only labor under this much oppression for so long. It is in reach and we must always remember that.

 

Hair

Recently I was out somewhere and an employee came out to me and said: “It looks like you’re having a bad hair day.” I was shocked at her rudeness. And then after a while I realized I didn’t give a shit what she thought.

It is amazing to me how much emphasis there is on hair in this culture. Hair is everything, or so it would seem. We die it, braid it, comb and brush it, curl it, dread it, straighten it, add extensions and color it every color under the rainbow. But what does somebody’s hair say about them? Absolutely nothing.

On the one hand, I understand that for many people hair is a mode of expression. I respect that. On the other hand, I think hair is way overdetermined. We pour so much meaning into it, not to mention time, money and effort. I really wish hair didn’t matter, and I really wish it had no link to gender whatsoever.

Perhaps my saltiness about hair can be linked to gender. In our culture, women are supposed to have long hair and men are supposed to have short hair. I love people who buck this trend. In fact I have the utmost respect for them.

I think the most subversive thing someone can do now is go against the gender terrorism of hair. But in addition to that, I think what is subversive is to not care about your hair. To not wash it. To not brush it. To not comb it. To not put styling products in. To not blow dry it, straighten it, curl it, etc. I am tired of washing my hair every day so I don’t. This inevitably makes it more greasy and messy but I don’t care.

The pressure to “take care” of your hair is part and parcel of patriarchy. It says that your hair is vitally important and says something about your value as a human being. This is similar to dress, make up, jewelry, etc. Why are people evaluated based upon what they look like? Why has hair [the cut, style, color, etc.] become such an important thing in our culture?

I still feel somewhat scared when I go out without washed or combed hair. There is a basic expectation that you will wash, dry and style your hair and if you don’t you are “dirty” or “unkempt.” This expectation is oppressive and it is part of patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy. I am going to try to keep pushing the envelope as far as not “dealing with” my hair. A number of years back I shaved it all off and I might do that again this summer. It felt very liberating to do that, not to mention cooler.

I don’t believe there are any universal prescriptions for hair. Some people might feel empowerment through hair care and styling. I would never dream of taking that away from them. Certain hair styles can be subversive to be sure. But it can also be subversive to not deal with hair every day in the way we are “supposed” to. Maybe being told you are having a “bad hair day” is one of the best compliments you can recieve.

Disappointments

Life is chock full of disappointments. More for some than for others. I have had so many I have lost count. Disappointments in friends, in jobs, in opportunities, in family members, etc. While I believe that nobody comes out unscathed, I also believe that some of us face more than our fair share of disappointments. I would fall in that category. I think my identities play a large role in the amount of disappointments that I face. I am fat, disabled, chronically ill, trans, queer and economically challenged. I am also a first-generation student, from a working-class family, mentally ill and a person in recovery. Given these realities, it not that surprising that life would not go my way much of the time.

What does a person do with disappointments? That is the big question. Obviously disappointments are going to cause a range of emotions, including rage, anger, sadness, frustration, bitterness and depression. I have faced all of these and more. I think when faced with disappointment, a person has to allow themselves to lean into their emotional response. The dangerous part is when someone tries to avoid an emotional response. The only way through is through. There is no way to avoid or even take a shortcut through your response to a major disappointment.

I wish disappointments never happened. They royally suck. I know they contribute to my depression. An example of disappointment is having my writing rejected for publication. I have nothing but the utmost respect for professional writers who face rejection again and again to get published but they keep on sending their stuff in. I was rejected around 10 times and I just gave up. I took each rejection very personally and was angry at the people who rejected my work. I’m SO glad I do not have to do peer-reviewed articles as part of my job. That is rejection on steroids, or long anonymously-penned comments about how and why your article sucks. Disappointments can really gnaw away at you. They can lead to that dangerous emotion called bitterness, which eats away at the host and does nothing whatsoever to the cause of your disappointment.

I can’t really say anything “positive” about disappointments. What I can say is that they present an opportunity. They present an opportunity for you to take care of yourself. Self-care is always important. But it is vitally important when you are facing disappointments. Disappointments can affect your self-esteem. They can make you feel like a “loser.” I know I have certainly faced that feeling. “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be successful? Why can’t I win?” The internal monologue can go very negative very quickly. This is when you know that some self-care is desperately needed. We are so much more than our list of disappointments. Our very lives are a brilliant success. This is particularly true for people who face multiple forms of oppression. We can take pride in our every survival. Everything else is icing on the cake.

When you face disappointment, do whatever it is you need to do to spread some healing balm on yourself. Customize your self-care and indulge yourself. You are more than the rejections that you face. You are a child of God and you deserve to be proud of every achievement you have ever made. I know how much disappointments hurt and how much they suck. This is all the more reason to treat yourself with the utmost kindness. You deserve to celebrate your existence and all that you have achieved. Love the successes and even the disappointments for they have made you exactly who you are. And you, my friend, are a shining star!