Gender as a Spectrum… or a Koosh Ball?

There is an article going around talking about how people are increasingly understanding gender as a spectrum. Of course, that’s an improvement from thinking of gender as two and only two mutually exclusive options.

Still, it’s like popular thought moving from one-dimensional thinking to two-dimensional thinking when there are other people busy exploring the time-space continuum and quantum physics (at least four-dimensions!). In other words as a culture, we are finally buying into “Newtonian” gender when “Quantum” gender is already in our midst.

Gender is not just one spectrum. It is not an orchestrated migration from one end of congruent “more masculine” traits towards “androgyny” and on to “more feminine” traits. Such a framework is still going to lead to mis-gendering and pathlogizing people. A proper framework for gender would eliminate “gender non-conforming” as a category altogether–by affirming that none of us are expected to comply with the way someone else constructs gender in their mind.

I prefer to think of gender as a Koosh Ball because there are so many aspects to gender.

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Gender Diversity: Nadleehi and Dilbaa

The traditional culture of the Diné (commonly called the Navajo) has four genders. Although nadleehi and dilbaa are commonly used as examples in articles explaining two spirit expressions, they are specific to Diné culture.

I have been suspicious of how Diné gender identities are often described online and I had the opportunity to sort it out with Nick Manchester as we were preparing his article for OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance:

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In chapter 11 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, I use “transgendered” as an example of the way the meanings of words can change over time.

When I started exploring my gender identity in 1998, we were saying “transgendered” (among other things), but somewhere around 2006 “best practices” evolved and that particular word went out of style.

I reference some reflections by Julia Serano on related topics. She gives meaningful treatments on a number of fronts, which I recommend:

In particular, I reference that first article and the dynamics around “word-sabotage” and “word-elimination” campaigns that Serano brings up.

I agree with Serano that dismissing another person’s word choice out of hand is problematic, even as I respect efforts to develop coherent “best practices.”

My treatment in OtherWise Christian is necessarily abbreviated because these nuances are only relevant insofar as I am wrestling with the nature of language used for gender diversity over time (e.g. eunuchs). Serano’s book Outspoken includes much of this materal and may be worth your time if these topics around modern language intrigue you.

The bottom line is that word meanings change over time. A word that is perfectly acceptable at one point may be anathema at another. This is true even before we get to dynamics like colonization that may demonize certain aspects of a culture as a way of discrediting the opposition.

Understanding these historical shifts are important when we look at contributions from the “transgender spring” and books like Omnigender or Trans-Gendered, which use language that was appropriate at the time, but which might be dismissed out of hand today.

As I was pulling together yesterday’s post and this (unedited) interview footage with Kate Bornstein and Leslie Feinberg from an In the Life episode (1996), which touches on the development of language and the role of the internet in transgender organizing.

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on September 25, 2019.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have corrections or are able to contribute further context or reflections.

White Bullshit

This concept is relegated to Appendix C in OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, but on a day like this it feels important to highlight “white bullshit.”

As I write this blog post, we are still processing assassinations in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. The assassins were, no doubt, white. The assassins were men. The assassins were well-armed. The El Paso assassin had a written manifesto and details out of Dayton are still forthcoming.

The connections between these assaults on innocent civilians and white nationalism/toxic masculinity in our highest government offices is self-evident. Yet, the conversations about mental illness, and childhood influences have already begun.

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I was at a conference this week, so I met some people who had never seen “Mx” before. There are probably more of you out there, so here’s a little more background.

The options used to be “Mr,” “Miss,” and “Mrs,” unless you had a gender-neutral title or honorific such as “Bishop” or “Dr.” Somewhere along the way, women wanted an option that didn’t put their marital status on display. They started using “Ms” as a feminine-gender option which, like “Mr,” could be used regardless of marital status.

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Ballroom Community

In chapter 25 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, I wrote about ballroom culture, but with some fear and trembling. My knowledge of ballroom is mainly derivative, through friends/colleagues and through media. In an earlier time, the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference held Friday night ball events. In short, I know enough to know how little I know–and I know enough to know that it’s important to get it right.

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Abomination (to’evah)

In chapter 9 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, I grappled with this word “abomination.” This is a favorite anti-gay clobber word and it has been weaponized time and again. In chapter 9, I wrote:

“Law and order” kinds of Christians may pick and choose (in other words, cherry-pick or proof-text) particular verses to be used as a weapon to condemn or judge. Deuteronomy (and Leviticus) are great sources for such one-liners, including the anti-gay favorite “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination [to’evah]” (Leviticus 18:22 KJV). In my experience, this English word, “abomination,” has become almost synonymous with Christians spitting hatred at same-gender-loving people.

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