Queering Women Invisible
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.
((AMC)) ♥ thank you so muchly, for contributing an A-Mazing Wickedary entry,
Thank you, AMC for your clear description of what is happening. Many people need to hear this. The body modification trend is beyond horrible. Patriarchy is becoming more and more vicious, and it is clear that they will stop at nothing.
I meant to add: Strong lesbian and feminist communities. Women only, YES!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks for this. Can you say more what you mean about the desire to self-present as more “queer”? What does presenting as “queer” mean in that context? is there a distinction between presenting as “queer” and as butch or as masculine? just *looking* like one is transitioning–because i know that transitioning can be very visible as a look… ? the enquiring mind wants to know 🙂
sorry I see you answered that so I really want to know what is this “trans” style that is not necessarily masculine but is cool and queer? can you describe more? thanks.
@ Kathy – It is important to note that I am talking specifically about queer-trans image here, which I see as being idealised in queer culture, but obviously not all trans identifying people are queer, and there are actually still tensions between traditional transsexual activists (wrong bodies can be changed with surgery etc) and queer trans* (if you see a * next to the trans, it is usually referring to the more queer interpretation of trans), which presents a more ‘gender fluid’ ideal. I would describe the ultimate queer-trans style as being a blend of overt masculinity and femininity (different to androgyny in that trans-queer requires more overt perceptions of gender, i.e. obvious masculinity and femininity presence). The ideal is to look edgy and subversive, so it is very hard for people to tell whether you are male or female and what they get from your image is a blast of intertwined expression of masculine and feminine image. I think ultimately the ideal is to have a male-ish looking face and body, hence why the T is so popular, but then some overtly feminine features of appearance in order to be more ‘fluid’ and ‘subversive’. Have you ever been to a Gender Fuck party or action? I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you do, you will see more clearly the look I am talking about. Anyway, this is just my perception, others who have been involved in queer activism might have a different perspective on this.
AMC, this is a BRILLIANT post! I have been waiting and waiting for more writing about the “queer” phenomenon.
Kathy, LOL, I don’t think “queer” can be defined. When I made my first genderqueer friend, I asked her what she meant, and she said, to her, genderqueer meant being “everything and nothing.” Can’t get more postmodern than that! 😛
I realize this says nothing about the look. It sort of has to do with a lot of facial piercings, wearing used clothes, buying mostly from the men’s section if a woman. Not shaving if a woman, but continuing to use the woman’s bathroom. Thus, women who are genderqueer will still be read as women. ANd IME, there are waaay more womyn who want to stop using female pronouns than there are men who want to stop using male pronouns. Gee, I wonder why that could be?
I don’t think “queer” can be defined.
I agree that is part of the point, the confusion of refusing definition. The blurring of gender (or conflating sex with gender), by reducing/eliminating physical sex – but guess which sex is the one to get Erased in the process? Its not so much about becoming more masculine, but becoming less female.
I think queering is basically a method of controlling women who have fallen through the cracks of mainstream gender brain washing, for whom feminisation hasn’t quite worked on or who have seen through the mainstream. Women who are at risk of becoming lesbians and feminists, woman centred and maybe even separatists who are the ultimate nightmare for male supremacy. Queer culture is another social hurdle, trap or whatever, another attempt at gender conditioning through, what looks on the surface like, a more alternative culture. It needs to be confusing to dupe women who have seen through feminisation and who are critical of gender. As Rain pointed out, it is about ensuring women are less female. If they can’t be erased through feminisation, maybe they can still be queered.
Thanks for all the positive comments by the way, I would love to find the space to write more.
I agree that this is brilliant and clear. I’m much older, but have been seeing these young women. The ones I’m seeing do not look happy and look unsure of themselves. I’m comparing this with some older lesbians (still much younger than I) who do look happy/contented and sure of themselves. They came up in the spaces provided through the work of earlier lesbian and feminist movement (esp women-only spaces that were some kind of a given). Happy and healthy, or with average problems I loved seeing these women, proud and relaxed in their relationships! I’m not saying it was always easy for any generation, but way, way better. But, of course, the patriarchy can’t have that.
I just assumed that this unhappy confusion (queer) was because these younger women were still trying to find their way. Based on your post, I have different perspective. For one thing, the idea that by adopting a queer identity, are never going to find their way because they are in some confusing maze that is hurting and killing them the more they try to figure it out.
I hope that you will write more.
AMC excellent post !
I think queering is basically a method of controlling women who have fallen through the cracks of mainstream gender brain washing,
Yes, anything but women as human.
And even if some male sub-cultures (eg religious fundies) take offence at the “alternative” youth, it does not make it a revolution. It is simply a male culture clash, another male pissing contest: “our super-fancy boy-gang is better than your boring old one and our chattel are more fun than your chattel so yah boo” .
It still does not tackle the basic problem of male supremacy. It never will as long as female human beings are not acknowledged.
Great Post…..Po-mo another way to make womon invisible by inventing a rationale like queering, that apparently means nothing…other than be-warlocking womon into believing they don’t really exist at all……and under Po-Mo magically all is well ( for the menz that is).
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“our super-fancy boy-gang is better than your boring old one and our chattel are more fun than your chattel so yah boo” .
Thank You for this posting.
I’m new to this webpage , I have been out of the ‘radfem & sep’ community for several years
for a wide variety of reason, so am heartened when I see folks talking about their experiences in the
I also think it is great that you are talking of your experiences in the queer community and the fact that
you were considering taking testesterone and becoming trans and changed your mind and how you
were then treated by your queer friends.
I think this needs to get out there more as anyone who questions transexualism or queer thought police
are totally silenced as we know.
I think radfems need to understand the immense pressure there is now on young lesbians
to NOT be lesbian but to be ‘queer/trans’.
Young lesbians going to LGBT groups etc are pressured to become trans or queer
and are told to shut up about being lesbian – to NOT be lesbian.
It’s all well us sitting around saying how damaging transexualism is to people – we know that.
But where is the support for folks who are resisting ? Who have changed their minds after
they have had surgery or been altered by drugs & hormones ??
I think in 10-20 years there are going to be alot of folks who have changed their minds and are very screwed up.
I hope that there will be a backlash by the younger generation against `queer’.
I hope that the L & G community wakes up and admits the community has been totally hijacked
by ‘queers’ – most who are NOT even Lesbian or Gay!
Queer has taken over everything and the sad thing is that the lesbian & gay community allowed this to happen.
It’s to the point where you are not allowed to call yourself lesbian or gay incase you upset a tranny or bisexual etc etc etc.
I could get into a discussion about Butch/Femme and role playing here and my personal experiences of
being treated like shit in the radfem, sep and lesbian communities for resisting role playing.
Or being told I could not be a real rad fem or sep due to having tattoos or having been het.
Or being treated like shit in the general het world for refusing masculinity & femininity…………..
I also wanted to question the use of the word “POMO” in a reply above.
The Pomo people are Native Americans from Northern California, around Mendocino County.
I hope this all makes sense.
I am taking tentative steps to get back involved with the radical feminist community after leaving it,
and having been very active in both the radfem & sep community for many years.
I’m very happy to see you here. It’s been many a long decade, eh?
Thank you for bringing that up. In the future I will spell out postmodern instead of saying pomo. The words matter.
I just went to a feminist event, and women of all ages packed a huge auditorium. The energy was amazing, and it was so great to see strong butch dykes of all ages there. Lesbian was front and center. It was not a queer gathering, it was a woman’s gathering. The queering is all about woman erasure, it is all about the CEOism that “funds” the “queer community” at the expense of lesbians, naturally.
We now are stuck doing work for AIDS, which lesbians don’t get for the most part, we get stuck with trans coming into lesbian groups, and it is only in over 50 lesbian groups that we are really free of this stuff. So I believe feminism is rising again, it’s being presented in documentary films lately, it is bringing all women together, not a trans in sight at this latest event. I’m not saying what, because I don’t want a trans invasion of these powerful events.
Another excellent article, seriously; and what a GREAT website!! 🙂
An analogy occured to me, one that might sense as a legitimate criticism to the queerists themselves. Imagine a society where racism exists (well we don’t have to imagine but work with me here). And some people believe that the best way to eliminate racism is for everybody to pretend that no differences exist between people of various ethnicities. As a white person, this may sound perfectly fine. But to a person who is a member of a marginalized group, the problem is immediate and obvious.
As soon as white people ignore the fact that some people are marginalized more than others, and in ways that white people are not always cognizant, and forget that there are distinct handicaps to being a member of a marginalized group as opposed to the privileges accruing to members of the dominant group — well, they’ve just normalized and invisibilized the very dynamics which perpetuate racism in the first place, Would we really try to eliminate racism by pretending that various ethnicities possess the exact same privileges that a white person has? Or that white people could eliminate racism by pretending to be Latino or Black?
How does my wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt eliminate racism? Paraphrasing FABlibber, “playing with the accessories of gender stereotyping does not challenge the devaulation of those steroypes”. It makes no sense unless queer men assume that their own white male privilge is going to rub off on the t-shirt. In which case, queer women wearing male sterotypical accessories would only imbue those items with their own icky woman slime. I think they all would be a lot more honest if they just said they like to play with fashion without trying to make it sound as if playing with fashion had any socio-political effect.
Great article. I would love to hear more about what got through to you–how did you start to question trans and queer?
This is just brilliant, thank you. Is anyone else furious about the silly media attention that has been generated about “gender-bending” model, Andrej Pejic? Does anyone else feel angry that the designers that have sent him tottering down the runway in heels and a wedding dress are gleefully exclaiming that men are better at being women than women are? It’s not enough for them to design and make the clothes, now they need to wear them for us as well. There is absollutely nothing subversive about this young man being paid millions of dollars by an industry that hates women, demands body modification and reinforces a binary understanding of gender. It’s infuriating!
I am a female-raised non-practicing-het radicalising feminist, whatever the hell that means. I say radicalising because I’m still learning to disentangle myself from all the trappings of patriarchy – I’m becoming more and more radical by the day, especially reading all the brilliant posts and comments on this blog! I say non-practicing-het because I used to have sex with men but I don’t anymore, but I also have never wanted to have sex with women. I just don’t want to have sex at all! Why do I get treated with such disdain? It makes me so sad to be rejected from every community I have felt like killing myself.
I thought that ‘queer’ might be a good way for me to identify, thinking it was gender-neutral. But what I found when I sought company in the ‘queer community’ was that gay men wanted me to be ultra-femme; even strangers would come and bury their heads in my breasts, assuming that because they were not sexually attracted to my body they could access it without my permission. I tried joining ‘Pink Sofa’ to find other women with whom to discuss radical feminism. Keyword searches with ‘feminist’ or ‘femisim’ turend up 0 results! The dropdown menus asked me to choose butch or lipstick and I was shocked at how much ‘hetero role-playing’ there was in the discussion threads: strap-on PIV being the most brutal manifestation.
Andrea, I chuckled when I read your comment “I think they all would be a lot more honest if they just said they like to play with fashion without trying to make it sound as if playing with fashion had any socio-political effect.” Clothing isn’t arbitrary but neither is dressing in clothing that strongly signifies a gender mismatched with one’s sex at all subversive. I have no idea what to wear now! But at least I know that trading a ballgown for a tweed suit exactly going to liberate me.
Thank you AM for a brilliant, exquisitely-intelligent article and everyone for your insightful posts.
Non-practicing-het? Not interested in sex with males or females? Do not despair. We do have a word for it. **grin** It’s called celibate. Some folks label themselves asexual too. You’re, of course, not under any obligation to have sex with anyone, nor do you need to identify as het, bi or lesbian. As you may know, things just aren’t all that clear-cut. There are almost 7 billion people on this planet. But we’d like to stuff them all into a handful of categories? LOL, good luck with that. Hmmm… now that I’m thinking about it, just what do we call people who prefer relationships with sheep, hamsters or knots in trees? 😛
This is a great post. and a great discussion, too. i’ve noticed that mostly women become “trans”, or ‘transmen’, they don’t seem to try to ‘pass’ as men. I didn’t think of it as being deliberately queer, though. hmmmm. it’s most troubling. tomorrow in my city there is a dyke march. But it’s not a dyke march, really, is it? because it is “inclusive of all genders”. also some species as well, as it is dog friendly.
what about the dolphins, I ask you? or cats or hamsters or knots in trees, for that matter. species-ist, that’s what that is.
it would be funny, but it’s mostly tragic.
Absolutely brilliant! You’ve articulate a complex and co-opted mess in a clear and accessible language. I thank you for this. Currently, I’m writing a dissertation all about this; you’ve helped clarify my thinking and brought new understandings to light. Again, absolutely brilliant Amazon Mancrusher!
Wow! Indeed you are a Sister Amazon…I am at ground central for all this: the SF Bay Area. I have been out for 31 years, as a DykeAmazon, a Butch, and never have I seen the whole nonsense explained so absolutely clearly, cuz arguing with the transapologists and transapologist lesbians makes me absolutely insane. And incredibly sad when I see yet another Butch I’ve known succumb to the hormones and/or the knife…and especially the thinking. I don’t buy ‘gender binary’, “I am the wrong sex” or the whole hormones and surgery thing, nor that MTFS are female. With the way they have treated the Lesbian community, it has shown just how male they are…and I feel incredibly sad how many young Butches have succumbed or must resist succumbing to the pressure which is so incredible these days, and the ‘queerification’ of sexuality, and how we’re old fogies(including the gay men) if we state very clear boundaries and limits on who we will and will NOT have sex with..especially if we’re ONLY interested in sex with those who share our same biological status(bio females) who retain their femaleness. Even gay guys are complaining about FTMS crashing their spaces too….and still gay men DO have the lion’s share of say so in the “LGBT/Queer communities” and both certain gay men, and for sure bi men and MTF’s want access to Lesbian(or formerly Lesbian) bodies…meaning ‘queer young women/genderqueers/FtM’s” or whatever they are calling themselves….while Female Identified Butch Dykes, and ALL exclusive Lesbians are erased(meaning no thanks, we don’t do past, present or future males of ANY type or stripe!)
-In DykeAMazon Sisterhood,
Excellent post. ӏ ɑm experiencing ѕome of these issues as
Still very relevant 6 years later