Gender + journey = gerney [pronounced: journey]
As a non-binary trans person, I am constantly thinking about gender and what gender means. In the film Ma Vie En Rose, the film got me thinking about what gender means since in the film a lot of the adults are clearly conflating gender and sexuality. In the film, Ludo is a girl and people do not believe her, and wrongfully think that she’s a boy and misgender her all the time. The conflation of gender and sexuality is something that I am very aware of and have been thinking about pretty frequently since I have been studying gender nihilism. Gender nihilism can be vaguely summarized as the commitment to dismantling gender as a construct in order to dismantle systems of gender oppression, by denying/negating gender, and thus gender essentialism, as existing at the core of all humans.
Gender is an incredibly complex subject and as a genderqueer person, I am constantly confused by it as a construct. The ways people are socialized to internalize gender norms at a very young age is so bizarre and normalized to me. In the film, they demonstrate the ways in which traditional gender norms are affirmed both by Ludo’s peers and the adults surrounding her– including her therapist. The process of her parents seeking to support her results in being coercive and harmful because they want her to be a boy.
Adults who bear children in the US become infatuated with the prescribed gender of their child at birth and then fall in love with the idea of the ways this child should behave because of their prescribed gender. Gender to me is a circular process that consistently affirms itself. People who can perform their gender effectively in a way that is believable and thought to be pure are revered in our society for doing so. Those who struggle to do so, or exhibit any gender variance are pressured to conform sometimes violently. An example of this is the times Ludo has been yelled at by her parents and when they cut her hair short against her wishes.
I believe that power directly informs gender and works to affirm the patriarchy. The aforementioned can be seen in the film. Ludo seems to be really clear about her gender identity and it seems that the only people who are confused about her gender are the adults. The adults that surround her life, except for her grandmother, are imposing their understanding of gender on their daughter by refusing to listen to her and by viewing her not as who she is but as who people want her to be. I think that’s messed up.
It has been said that children are the most oppressed in our society and in some ways that’s true; they simply do not have the same rights that adults do (it could be argued that this is for the better but the fact remains). Thus they are in particular danger since they do not have full bodily autonomy. If we lived in a society that was not so ageist and treated children respectfully like they are full human beings we would learn a great deal about living an honest life. I think Ludo’s family should have taken Ludo’s lead on her gender journey and supported her in that instead of trying to manipulate her into being a boy.
The process in which gender is enforced is violent and its function affirms systemic violence (strict gender norms affirm the patriarchy). Even though I don’t fully believe in or understand gender fully; I think the ways we do it needs to change because in our society most people have a toxic relationship with gender. This definitely can be seen in this film.
Growing up I had a lot of conflict with the ways my peers perceived disability because I have family members that have varying disabilities. For a while whenever I told people about my family members and their respective health issues, their pity was always palatable. I learned to internalize that pity and sense of despair because upon first glance it spoke to some level of truth. There was a great deal of misfortune that my family suffered whenever a family member grew ill or had a flare-up, there were times some of them had to quit their job or a sudden trip to the hospital meant they had to miss work for too many consecutive days and got fired. So in some ways it made sense that people reacted so adversely, but this misfortune was not solely a result of the illnesses at hand, it was the product of a system that perpetuated these negative outcomes as a response to illness.
The US culture of hyper-individualism contributes to the idea that if one is not completely healthy and cannot be as productive as capitalist institutions want us to be then that person is of no value. Health is constructed as a series of standards that ought to be met and if not, then it is the responsibility of the individual to strive to meet those standards. There are many people who cannot meet this normative standard of what it means to be healthy, and there are many people who are compromising their bodies in order to perform. The perspectives people have around health contribute to an unhealthy society. Since the practice is not preemptive it merely treats the symptoms of an unhealthy society.
Characterizing health in this way is dehumanizing. It stigmatizes people who have chronic illnesses and alienates them from society. Seeing disability as not something that is inherent to an individual, and thus the fault of the individual, but instead viewing it as a systemic problem is a much healthier humanistic way of understanding disability and it works to destigmatize it. Since people are taught to internalize a sense of fear against disabilities subconsciously there is a fear of people with disabilities. Especially when our society chooses to put people in institutions hospitals, nursing homes, mental institutions etc, which isolates them and removes people from their communities. Just because these are the systems that are currently in place in order to support people who are differently abled or with disabilities, this does not mean that this way of doing things is most conducive to healing. Another world is possible where people are given time to heal when they are tired or ill, where people do not have to be isolated from their families in order to heal from serious illnesses.
Building towards a world that is accessible to all people and seeks to take care of people in all stages of life not just when they are ill is possible but it will take work to get there. It is important to seek to make the world as accessible to all people as possible. In line with the reading, I believe that achieving this world will only be possible only if we seek to change our cultural perceptions of disability and health.
In the US many Doctors are taught medicine as if the West invented it, which is definitely not the case. In reality, people have been surviving and employing healing practices across the world. In The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down the doctors seem to be in constant conflict with Leah Lee’s parents, which was clearly reflecting a cultural clash on many levels. Under capitalism, a lot of people have their work centered on having a competitive edge over adversaries, and there is a consistent struggle for resources. The US doctors resented the Hmong patients because they often did not have enough money to pay their medical bills so they were costly to the hospital because the hospital was competing for resources with other local hospitals. “Naturally,” since the Hmong community was not profitable the hospital did not allot funds to employ a Hmong translator, which lead to many miscommunications that ultimately hurt Leah Lee.
In addition, the US doctors were convinced that their way of doing things was the best way to go and had trouble recognizing their faults when they made mistakes with Leah’s care. This reflects a systemic problem. Not all of the Hmong practices work, just like how in Western medicine not all of the remedies are foolproof and will work for everybody. There are some practices however that are practiced in non-Western nations that serve people better than Western medicine does. For example, I would say that the ways in which people treat epilepsy in Hmong culture are a great deal more constructive than the ways in which people deal with epilepsy in the US where physical ailments, disease, and disabilities are viewed as something to get rid of or fix. It is incredible dehumanizing to see people in this way–that people are only whole when they are healthy and able-bodied. The Hmong see epilepsy as a sign of a human being that is more spiritually adept than others, to the Hmong it is an asset and gift as well as a disability. Seeing it as a gift and a disability is not seen as contradictory. People are incredibly complex and I feel that in this society people are not allowed to be as complex as they are because in the US the culture seeks to summarize and generalize people into categories. So since Leah has epilepsy she has a disability and because she has a disability for the doctors it is seen as their task to rid Leah of her ailment.
I think our society loses out on the joys that can be found in our difference, even when something might impede our capacity to be as productive as capitalism would like us to be there might be something to gain. Our society becomes so wrapped up in “fixing” the difference that people lose sight of the fact that not all people can be cured of what ails them. I believe that if socially people grow more accepting of people with disabilities we are ultimately accepting our own capacity for difference and fallibility. People should be primarily honored and cared for regardless of their varying capabilities and as a society, we should provide each other with all we need to thrive in this world.
Gender is a form of propaganda made widespread by colonialism and powerful institutions here in the United States. The binary system of gender that says there are only two types of genitalia and genders, informs doctors in their work. Not only does this propaganda inform doctors in their day-to-day lives, but it also informs them when they are conducting their practice. Since doctors view genital surgery as medically necessary when intersex babies are born, parents are then forced to make decisions based on misinformation provided by the doctors. In many ways this makes it so parents are being stripped of the power they have over their children. Since doctors present findings surrounding the baby being intersex like the only right choice is to “correct” intersex babies, parents are coerced into agreeing with the physician. This biased assumption that intersex babies have something wrong with them, affirms a system that promotes violence against people who are sex and/or gender variant. This completely negates the autonomy of the child in question. The gender of the babies lies in the hands of doctors, which speaks to the sheer power physicians holdover patients.
Reinforcing gender-norms can often be a violent process for many people that don’t fit concretely into either end of the gender/sex binary. It is a system that pathologizes perfectly healthy bodies because an individual’s genitalia or gender presentation does not meet the standards that are expected of them depending on who people perceive them to be. Doctors, for the most part, are not taught about how to ethically engage with intersex people, or the parents of intersex people and this has implications for all people.
If we are to live in a society that strives for gender and sex inequality we ought to think about the way intersex people are treated in our society. The way intersex people are engaged with and seen as having a defect truly resembles the ways in which gay people were seen as having a mental illness/defect that needed to be mended medically in retrograde.
This reading really made me think about the ways people are seen as machines in the western doctors mind and how the qualifiers for a healthy machine is informed by internalized prejudices. The way computers work is through a binary system, labeling them as male/female, man/woman, this/that, yes/no. In the current system, certain people are not allowed to exist in their difference safely because the norm fears, despite difference being the very essence of life.
In Black Women: Enduring Attacks From All Sides, I explored the ways in which seemingly anti-oppressive movements can actually reinforce or reproduce certain oppressive norms. This is particularly apparent in the context of Black women’s relationship with feminist and racial justice movements. In a Business Major’s Ramblings on Racial Capitalism, I wrote on the ways in which capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with an equitable provision of basic human needs like healthcare. It is indisputably clear to me that our society is structurally broken, and we need to change it. At the same time, it’s clear that most efforts to make such changes have much to internally improve on in order to be truly anti-oppressive.
Envisioning how to do better, though, can be tricky when most have been taught (by school, media, and friends & family) to view society within certain parameters for most of our lives: whether that be through identity-based hierarchies, capitalocentrism, American exceptionalism, a two-party political system, or some combination of each of those paradigms. We’re taught to adapt to society’s norms rather than to imagine what it might be possible for an improved society to look like. Making things harder is the fact that there is no inhabited country/state in the world that hasn’t been devastated by the ravages of capitalism and colonialism, and some systems of oppression of course predate colonialism. As such, there’s no country in the world that we in the U.S. can really point to as an ideal model.
However, if we examine certain local communities and organizations, some really cool practices unveil themselves. Black and Pink, for example is an amazing organization with local chapters in nine different cities. B&P defines itself as an “open family of LGBTQ prisoners and ‘free world’ allies who support each other. Our work toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex is rooted in the experience of currently and formerly incarcerated people.” B&P is actively attacking not only the prison industrial complex, but its racist, queer- and trans-antagonistic roots. Moreover, B&P makes sure to center (and employ) people belonging to the populations it works in solidarity with, which is something many organizations fail to do.
I’m of the mindset that the structural change that our society needs won’t be achieved in a sweeping, instantaneous victory. I think organizers must find ways to cultivate a micro-society that is rooted in justice, and then, because it’s historically unprecedented (at least in the U.S., but I would argue everywhere), imagine creative ways to scale and grow that micro-society until it can one day become the norm. In this line of thinking, the ideas of scientific fiction like Chapter Three of Ghosts of Darwin. We don’t know for sure what a just society looks like, but if we root our struggle in the examples of organizers like B&P and a little imagination, I believe we can get there.
In both of the pieces by Audre Lorde, it was very hard for me to understand the behavior of the medical professionals who were treating Audre. Perhaps it was the way they were taught to interact with patients or the people and society they were surrounded with that contributed to their complete and utter lack of empathy and respect for Audre as she went through very emotional and scary period of her life. For whatever reason, the reactions and statements that Audre quoted in her two pieces took me by surprise and left me with less hope for the medical system.
In a Burst of Light, Audre talks about the patronizing and demeaning attitude that the doctor who diagnosed her liver tumor had. His attitude was that he knows everything and patients know nothing. For Audre to be a black woman with one breast, the doctor assumes without a doubt that, of course, Audre knows nothing about her own body and is completely incapable of making her own smart decisions about it. In general, this attitude is extremely demeaning, not too mention racist and sexist. In medicine, especially, this kind of attitude should not be at all present or taught by any medical institution. By practicing this attitude, the doctor shows that he did not give any thought to Audre’s feelings, especially as she just discovered that she has a tumor and only cared about her as a medical subject that is his job to fix.
Similarly, a complete lack of empathy was presented by the caregivers in Breast Cancer: Power vs Prosthesis. A mastectomy much like many other procedures takes a very emotional toll on the person going through it. However, Audre’s very real feelings and questions about this very life-changing procedure are completely disregarded and erased by the professionals that surround her with their concerns about her fitting in well with society. This is first shown by the woman from Reach for Recovery, who instead of caring how Audre will feel after the operation and her very real cancer, informs Audre about her future male pursuits and what her kids may think of her. Then, instead of supporting Audre in her decision to not wear her prosthetic breast, the nurse reminds her that “it’s better than nothing”. By this, instead of reassuring Audre that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having one breast and that she is a survivor of incredible struggles, the nurse pushes society’s definition of a woman onto Audre, which by her definition is someone who has two breasts. The nurse also proceeds to urge Audre to wear a prosthetic breast as it will be better for the morale of the office. This, to me, was completely outrageous as the whole point of a medical office is to boost moral for its patients and to take care of them. However, this nurse puts the pressure on Audre to uphold the image of the office and reminds her that she is corrupting this image by only having one breast! Not only is this completely apathetic to Audre’s experiences and emotions but completely reaffirms the idea that a woman needs to have two breasts (or look like she has to breasts) because that will just be better for everyone that she meets and sees, no matter how she feels about it.
Overall, the attitudes by the medical professions that Audre experienced should be highly criticized and condemned. This starts in college and in medical schools. The importance of anatomy is unfathomable in treating patients but so is empathy. Doctors have to realize that they are treating humans who have feelings that cannot be disregarded and that a big part of treating a patient is not only treating their physical conditions but ensuring that they survive mentally through their physical treatment. Only then can we truly have a truly trustworthy and respectable medical system.
So this is a place where I can’t really make this about transness or role playing games (or at least I shouldn’t, I don’t think). This is a topic where I have a lot of privilege and come from a place where I didn’t really have to deal with environmental racism at all. I am complicit in this and live in a community that is able to protect our water and environment due to our privilege.
The birth of the ‘environmentalist movement’ is sometimes cited as being this thing that happened in the Hudson Valley in the 70s, near where I live. A reservoir was planned to be built in a valley between some mountains (I think Black Rock?). That area is a state park now. The reason it’s not a reservoir? Rich people complained that it would mess up their pretty Hudson Valley view. So. There’s that.
I think sometimes people, especially white people, think of environmentalism as being this awesome noble thing totally separated from racism, and that’s just not true. We talked about that in class a bit, about how veganism is so often held over people of color’s heads, but it goes beyond that. There’s a big environmentalist community in my area relating to the Hudson River and kind of built around Pete Seeger, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s mostly elderly white people involved, even though it is headquartered right next to a city that is predominantly black and hispanic. A lot of it is connected to the sailing community to, which is pretty inaccessible for all sorts of reasons, price being one of them.
But yea. I grew up (through 5th grade) in a primarily poc, poorer school district. I think the school is pretty great there, actually, but when my family had the money to move out we did. In the new school district I heard a lot of messed up stuff about the old one, and my formative years as a thinking person definitely took place in a very white, very upper-middle-class type of environment. Anyhow, this is becoming a privileged person rambling about things they aren’t an knowledgeable on so I’m gonna stop it here.