The Politics of being Gender

If you have been in left-leaning trans and queer online circles then you most probably have heard someone or something being described as “gender”. The term gender, in this context, means having gender expression worth of envy. If you see a person and you feel like emulating their gender expression, then you'll call that person “gender”.

More often than not, 'gender' is reserved for androgyny and perceived gender nonconformity. People of all genders are capable of being 'gender', but gender conforming folks are often reserved to be 'transition goals' for binary trans people. 'Transition goals' imply that the person expressing that feeling is willing to achieve their aesthetic targets with both long-term transitional healthcare (HRT, surgeries, exercise) and short-term gender affirming care (makeup, hair styling, clothing) while gender is reserved for the later goal. Again, with vague, still-developing queer vernacular; both of these terms have an overlap in use and target.

'Gender' ascribes an ideal in queer thought, no matter how subjective. So, I asked my friends who they thought of as 'gender'. Before I continue, I should mention that my data is anecdotal in nature, but it is still able to provide necessary insight into our biases, and the inferences are noteworthy. All of the people who answered are active internet users and part of different online queer spaces, and are within the ages 18-30.

Across the board, the answers featured men and masculine presenting people. They also happened to be white or had light skin, and can be described as thin. Even when people mentioned women or non-men as their examples of “gender”, they had lighter skin and were not fat. In the scope of my query, I struggled to find anyone who did not fit conventional beauty standards who were defined as “gender”.

As trans and queer individuals we mostly exist outside societal norms of gender, sexuality, and love. But that doesn't imply that people in the community won't inherit other forms of bigotry, let alone queerphobia and transphobia. By viewing people who present in a masculine way as “gender” more frequently, we inadvertently extend patriarchal views; where being a man is seen as a neutral being but being a woman or a nonbinary individual is seen as inherently gendered and othered. The oppressive systems at play view a thin, white, able-bodied cis man as the neutral, natural being; and anyone else as a deviation, an anomaly, something to be marked as different. And it sucks that even 'radical' queer activists subconsciously buy into these systems.

This inherent bias is seen when you ask someone to give you a piece of clothing that is not gendered. They are more likely to hand you a suit than a sari, even though they claim to believe that clothes have no inherent gender. Similarly, a shirt is a neutral piece of clothing, but a thobe, a yukata, or a kurta are “cultural” clothes; despite all being clothes are commonly worn by various groups of people.

Complex questions that inquire about societal and cultural norms, and questions the veracity of different biases that exist within us seldom come with simple answers. But that doesn't mean all efforts will be futile. We can start by questioning why we think of a certain gender as the natural being and others as a marked deviation, not “normal”. The steps after this questioning are even more complex, involving attempting to deconstruct the way gender is viewed in society. There is one step that is simple, and that is ensuring transphobic cis queers never get a platform.