Guest Post by AMAZON MANCRUSHER
This post is for all of my sisters, but in particular my sisters who are involved in queer activism. Like most of my recent radical feminist writing, it won’t be popular with queer identifying people, but I believe it important for me to write about my perceptions of queer culture, because I do not believe queer will liberate women, anymore than any other patriarchal culture. For me, queer culture almost eliminated me as a woman.
Queer culture in Australia is thriving and when I moved here six years ago, in my mid twenties, I actively got involved in queer culture, believing at the time that queer activism could lead to liberation. Some of the queer women that I used to be friends with (most have banished me since my coming out as radical feminist) are now identifying as trans and taking T (testosterone). For a while, I took on a trans-queer identity and seriously considered taking T. So I guess I am a FTTTF (female to trans to female). My reasons for wanting to take T ranged from feeling massively uneasy with my body due to trauma to hoping that T might enhance my queer image. The latter may sound like a shallow reason, but I believe this is becoming an increasingly popular reason for taking T in queer culture. Queer culture sets a high standard of aesthetics for women.
Historically queers, that is people who subscribe to queer theory and/or participate in queer activism were critical of traditional transsexual notions of ‘people being born into wrong gendered bodies’. Queer theorists such as Judith Butler, argued that gender is a social or performative construction. In contrast, trans activists argued that gender is innate and that trans people have been born into the wrong gendered body and that this can be fixed through changing hormones and/or undergoing surgery.
More recently though, trans and queer activism seems to have blended together, with a mutual amalgamating of queer and trans, into a unified identity and set of beliefs. Trans has become an umbrella term and includes transgender, transsexual, gender queer, gender diverse and a range of other trans identities.
My interest with regards to this post is on queer identity, why taking T has become popular and mainstream within queer culture, how the gender queer ideal has perpetuated the mainstreaming of T consumption and why this is problematic on a number of levels, including making women and lesbians invisible and the impact of body modification substances and surgery. Aside from the physical harm caused by body modification substances and surgery, the transitioning of women causes serious harm to our identities as women and as lesbians, invisibilises and erases our experiences and undermines our ability to organise collectively against male supremacy.
As women, we are socially conditioned to be perpetually concerned with our bodies and our image and constantly bombarded with messages about how we can change our image and our bodies to fit male constructed ideals. There are a range of body modifying substances and surgeries presented to women to apparently make us look hotter, cooler, thinner and younger.
Most of these body modification measures in the mainstream heterosexual world have been sold to women to enhance patriarchal femininity, that is men have defined what women should look like to suit their needs and keep women subordinate. For examples many women surgically enhance their breasts because men have defined large breasts as more feminine and attractive (to them). Other examples of such practices around the world include shaving and waxing, female genital mutilation, foot binding and neck lengthening and liposuction.
The aim in all of these practices is to colonise and ultimately eliminate women and dominate by male determination over
women’s image and behavior.
Queer and trans culture is just as patriarchal as mainstream heterosexual culture and it is queer men who have ultimately defined the standards of beauty, language and culture and standards have been fashioned to meet the needs of queer men. Like with the mainstream heterosexual men, the aim of queer men is to eliminate women; to make them disappear to a version of men or a male constructed rendition of woman. Queer culture achieves this perfectly, openly and brutally.
Firstly, the lesbian identity is not cool in queer land. Any woman who enters queer world with a lesbian identity will soon discover that queer has no space for lesbians. Women are encouraged to ignore the history of women’s oppression and to join or blend fluidly with men and to “perform” the gender binary away. Queer culture argues that queer is better for women because of its inclusivity of men and trans people and in any case, in a queer utopia there are no women. There is a guise that there are also no men, that sex and gender would be so fluid that men also cease to exist. I believe it is this aspect that appeals to many lesbians because it provides hope that men might disappear. This is what appealed to me. The harsh reality that I later learned was that in queer utopia, men don’t and won’t disappear and ultimately ONLY men are left.
In queer culture, gender is analysed only as a problematic binary, not as a hierarchy. Queer culture rightly considers it oppressive that women are socially constructed into a rigid feminine role and men into a masculine one, but what is missing is an analysis of who constructed both masculinity and femininity gender roles, whose purpose and benefit they serve and the hierarchical way that gender operates, with masculinity as dominant and femininity as subordinate. The fact that these
essential ingredients are missing from base level analysis means that the strategies that queer theorists argue should be deployed to fix the problematic construction of gender are not only flawed, but colonise, and harm women, and perpetuate male supremacy.
Queer strategies are presented as though they “undermine” rigid gender roles. They theorise that by ‘performing gender’ differently, subverting gender and undermining its rigidity, that gender oppression will fall. One popular tactic used is called gender fucking. Gender fucking practices seek to confuse and subvert gender by advocating dressing in a way that makes it difficult to identify using external cues if someone is male, female, masculine or feminine. Queer activists commonly take this a step further and live their lives with a gender queer identify, subverting gender appearance on a day to day basis and using gender neutral pro nouns, which do not allow for the acknowledgement of women’s history of oppression under gender apartheid. This tactic puts the cart before the horse in assuming that women should be ready to
forget ongoing and past injustice and subordination and forget to hold men accountable. Eliminating women also means censoring women’s dissent and healing. We cannot organise as women, dissent as women and heal as women if
women are rendered invisible in a queer bubble, where the standard will always be male centred and conform to male standards.
In addition, queer theory blatantly conforms to an acceptance of gender. Performing masculinity and femininity or a queer
combination of both is encouraged, even if the idea might be to refuse to conform to one or the other binary.
Another identity which is increasing in popularity in queer culture, particularly for raised female people, is trans. Trans* which is an umbrella term for people who do not conform (or perform) to the sex or gender that they were assigned at birth. In my opinion, queer and trans* have both become oppressive gender conforming identities in their own right. Not necessarily traditionally masculine or feminine but definitely male, and definitely without any woman centredness in sight.
In queer culture, it is essential to conform to being trans, because anything other than trans is labeled cis, which any queer would find an insult. Not good for queer street cred to be cis. There is no room in queer culture to reject gender altogether
or to dissent as a woman who is not trans. There is only trans and there is cis. Queer gender now falls under the trans* umbrella. It is perhaps of note that most radical feminists I know would, using queer or trans activist analysis, fall into the trans category, however because radical feminists refuse to identify as trans and have a woman centred analysis on sex and gender, they are labeled as cis and told they are cis privileged and trans misogynist. I believe that this a clear tactic used by queer and trans activists to shut down dissenting voices, and help in patriarchy’s work to invisibilise women.
It is important to acknowledge that it is not only women who seek to be more masculine that take T, it is also women who
seek to be more queer. I know several women taking T who do not identify with being masculine or male, but who are seeking to enhance queer appearance, become more subversive and more queer. Queer has become a standard of beauty, image and chic. Taking T is considered ‘radical’ and women who take it are heavily rewarded within queer culture. It is cool, it is hot, it is brave, it is radical. The queer image, the trans look, the really edgy, cool, slightly anarcho, queer-trans image involves taking T to make women less female. Not necessarily more masculine, but more trans or more queer.
A blend of male constructed masculinity and/or femininity is fine, but not woman-centredness.
The default of the queer and trans image is always in the male constructed image.
Surgery to enhance the image is also highly regarded. The end result is the same as in all patriarchal cultures, women and our right to self determination as the subordinate class is eliminated and undermined.
Queer and trans* have all of the same oppressive attributes as masculinity and femininity for example men have defined and constructed them and achieving the epitome of both queer and trans*often involves taking body modifying substances or surgery to achieve the desired image, particularly for those who were assigned female at birth and raised as girls. It is a different side of the same coin as performing femininity, it requires body modification, it is made impossible to fully achieve, it plays on women’s insecurities and vulnerabilities with regards to appearance, men regulate the image, they regulate the surgery and the substances. Men also regulate queer sexuality, which is designed to provide male access to lesbian bodies and / or to mimic heterosexuality, which is the institution that queer claims to undermine.
Because in queer world, there are apparently no men or women it really doesn’t matter who you sleep with as everyone is just queer. This, of course, provides queer male raised people sexual access to queer female raised people that they wouldn’t be able to access from most lesbians, who have refused or avoided queer culture.
In addition, the trans man / femme replication of heterosexuality is popular in queer culture. Many femme identified women cannot quite seem to move on from their male constructed heterosexuality and talk extensively about how hot and sexy trans men are. Trans men are fetishised in queer culture and considered by some to be the ultimate standard of attractiveness. This means that queer women end up stuck in the same plight as heterosexual women in the mainstream, facing pressure to be hotter, pressure to modify our bodies and rewards from other men, women, queers and trans people for doing so.
Although I have pointed out that women have a role in the perpetuation of body modification, it is important not to blame
women or hold women ultimately accountable. Encouragement and pressure for women to modify our bodies is often deployed through other women in both the heterosexual and queer worlds. Women do not hold the power behind the social
structures that lead women to make decisions to change our bodies with substances and surgery, but we can refuse to collaborate with men in perpetuating and encouraging body modification of our sisters.
I have criticised male-construction and invisiblisation of women, including within queer culture, which raises a question around what being a woman would be like in a non male supremacist culture. In order for women to be enabled to truly explore this, I believe that women need safe women only spaces, strong women’s communities and access to woman-centred services and community groups. At the peak of second wave feminism in the 70’s and 80’s, women began to self determine our diverse sexualities, identities, appearances, wants and needs through collective action and meaningful political sisterhood, without men around to hijack and undermine our women’s movement.
The position of women as a class, as well as individual women’s lives, advanced profoundly during the peak of the second
wave. Unfortunately, more recently things have started to regress. Young women are growing up in a grim climate, where their male peers are obsessed with body punishing porn, which the het young men re-enact on their girlfriends. Other young women are, not surprisingly, making a return to the conservative, thinking that being a house wife will be more liberating, or at least more ‘safe’. Queer culture has not advanced things for women as a class, or for non het women.
We need to learn by our history, that the way to advance women’s liberation is through sisterhood and a strong women’s
and lesbian feminist community.
Amazon Mancrusher, is a grass-roots lesbian feminist activist living in Australia. She is active in lobbying around anti-prostitution laws, lesbian/women’s rights and in organising feminist groups and events, including Reclaim the Night (RTN – aka TBTN in north-america) and is co-hosting the S.C.U.M. Conference.