flexibeast.space - gemlog - 2023-04-13

Misgendering is bad — and so is theory that erases lived experiences

Audio version:

Audio: “Misgendering is bad — and so is theory that erases lived experiences” [mp3]

[Originally posted as a series of posts in a private space, 2021-07-29; edited and expanded.]

Why is it bad to misgender someone, but okay to erase the lived experiences of various tgd people by supporting or promoting particular theoretical constructs?

Well, personally, i feel it's not okay. Even when it's tgd people doing it.

i've spent many years - literally decades, in fact - engaged in discussions/debates around gender stuff, with people ranging from reactionaries to conservatives to small-l liberal feminists to intersectional feminists to radfems. What i've found is that the latter three groups, and feminists more generally, seem to be far more invested in the phrase “gender is a social construct” than in hearing and learning about the diversity of the lives of all tgd people.

If a tgd person says, “Oh wow, this particular model of gender and related concepts explains my own experiences really well”, i think “Oh interesting”, accept that as their lived experience, and make sure my own model of gender doesn't conflict with that, changing it if necessary. What i don't do is respond with: “Well actually, although i can understand why you think/feel that, here's what's really going on.” Yet i've had a tgd person do that to me.

Why would a fellow tgd person disrespect me like that? It turned out it was due to postmodern/poststructural feminism's frequent assertion that “gender is a social construct”, with that assertion alone being sufficient to explain that person's experiences of gender: gender is a social construct, end of story, there are no devils in the details. But as i've spent many years pointing out, there's a lot of complexity involved in what's casually referred to as ‘gender’; cf. e.g. my discussion of “The words ‘gender’ and ‘sex’” in my post:

Language supporting gender diversity

Postmodern/poststructuralist feminisms' treatment of the phrase “gender is a social construct” as fundamental dogma[a] with complete explanatory power feels rather ironic to me, given postmodernism/poststructuralism's general opposition to ‘totalising narratives’ (like economist Marxism). But it's also been increasingly frustrating and upsetting to me that discussions around this topic aren't becoming more nuanced to accommodate the diversity of tgd people's lives - for example, there's an ongoing failure to distinguish between things like ‘gender’ as “one's internal sense of one's gender”, and ‘gender’ as “socially expected presentations and behaviours”. On the contrary: discussions around ‘gender’ consistently involve oversimplifications and totalising claims, such as “All gender is internalised misogyny”[b].

Misgendering tgd people is disrespectful. And so is erasing various tgd people's experiences with blinkered, if not arrogant, analyses and theorising.

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[a] Not to mention an apparent attitude of “All theory around gender is a footnote to [Judith] Butler”.

[b] Which i discuss in:

The steep slippery slope of ‘internalised X’