Bruce Parker

Response to "Gender: The Final Frontier"

Filed By Bruce Parker | March 17, 2008 2:45 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: drag queens, gender, josh kilmer-purcell, out, out magazine, out magazine transgender issue, post-gender, transgender

My response to "Gender: The Final Frontier" by Josh Kilmber-Purcell is a part of my weeklong obsessive dissection of Out magazine's transgender issue. When, from time to time, I do pick up Out, I always enjoy Kilmer-Purcell's column. He is engaging, witty and often I agree with his analysis. This month really isn't all that different.

I, of course, was a little skeptical when he opened by declaring himself "post-gender" and still think it was a regrettable way to start out his otherwise astute column. After declaring himself post-gender he says,

From this day forward I'm not going to use the words masculine, feminine, or any of their derivations. They're meaningless, useless, and far too often meant as weapons rather than compliments.

To hear more about Kilmer-Purcell being post-gender and some of the really cool things he says in his column, follow me after the jump. Please?

Kilmer-Purcell explains that he spent his twenties as a drag queen and his thirties looking butch with a beard (his description - not mine), and thus has experienced gender from a middle point in the binary. This is an interesting claim for him to make, and I question it for some obvious reasons. What we don't want to do, however, is discourage gay men from looking at the ways that gender structures and influences their lives, so he can have a pass from me on this one.

He observes that,

Straight or gay, most humans define their gender by their genitalia and what they prefer to do with it. Many are obsessed with it. Hands down, the most oft-asked question of drag queens is "where do you put your dick?"

This is pretty dead on and begins to acknowledge the weird genital focus that society seems unwilling to let go. This seems to be particularly true of gay men. When I talk to people about dating transmen, they always want to talk to me about genitals, and I think how when I date non-trans men I don't talk to you about their genitals. Why would it be any different with a transman?

After telling us about how he was a whore (good for him - I am certainly not one to judge), he goes on to capture in a very simple statement a lot about why I feel blessed to be a part of the transgender community. He says,

I've found that pretty much the only people who don't define themselves and others by their genitalia are trans people. Probably because they've spend more than a passing minute contemplating the existence of their hoo-has and ha-hoos.

This observation was pretty dead on and really resonated with my own experiences. I am curious if other folks agree with it.

I also feel like while he is trying to align himself with the transgender community, they are possibly the most likely to be offended by his "post-gender" declaration.

What do folks think?

Are trans people better at thinking of gender as more than genitals?

What does it mean for someone to claim to be post-gender?


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i am a trans woman, and i don't define myself by my vagina. and i didn't define myself by my "outy", either. which, i suppose, is what most cisgender people do. like many in the trans community, i guess i defined myself by how i related to others. how others related to me. most of all, i suppose how i related to myself.

post gender just might mean past that focus on the genital thing? or believing that it doesn't really matter or define who you are. it really doesn't. i know a lot of non-op trans women who are more like women born women than i am. i am just myself. and i am happy to be me. happy saint paddys!

A lot of trans folk are forced to face and redefine what it means to be gendered. And often that means decentralizing the role of genitals. But of course, many are able to make it through transition without such a critical perspective on gender. That's how diversity works, there are lots and lots of perspectives.

As for being "post-gender", well, all I'll say is that it appears suspiciously similar to being "color blind."

I agree with the writer that most people probably define themselves and others by their genitals because it's easy and doesn't require much thought. I can forgive most people for never having given it much thought unless it effects my civil rights or someone tries to deny my identity.

The people I have a really hard time forgiving for this type of backward thinking are other trans people who should know better. I think we've seen plenty of evidence in some of the comments over the past few months that there are more than a few trans people (trans women mostly) who still use this simplistic definition.

Of course, maybe he meant transgender and not transsexual, in the HBS sense. *runs for cover* :)

As for the whole "post-gender" thing...whatever. I don't find it offensive at all if that's how he wants to identify. I'll have to think about the idea of masculine or feminine always being bad. At face value, it comes across as "all gender is socially constructed", which I don't agree with entirely. But those particular words? Hmmm...

Personally I think that some trans-people are better at thinking of gender as more than genitalia, but then there are other trans-people who can't seem to get past them. I know for myself if you tell me you are a man or woman I take you at your word until you choose to tell me otherwise, that's the way it should be in my not so humble opinion.

As far as people claiming to be post-gender, I think that it's more of an ideal right now because of the way our society is put together at the moment we think of a lot of things in terms of gender. To prove this point when you think of a car or a boat what gender do you usually think of it as? If you're like most people out there it's feminine. When you think of a generic dog, you likely think masculine and a cat is feminine. Mind you that isn't everyone; those people are likely closer to being post-gender or actually are than most of our society.

Vomit.

Tobi got it in one. "Post-gender" is to trans stuff what "colour-blind" is to race: just because you have the privilege to not have to see it doesn't make it not exist.

I think it sounds like the rest of the piece is equally irritating: "From this day forward I'm not going to use the words masculine, feminine, or any of their derivations. They're meaningless, useless, and far too often meant as weapons rather than compliments." When will cissexual people stop randomly conflating gender expression and gender identity and then applying that to our lives?

If you are defining yourself as post gender - do you no longer define yourself as gay?

I often wonder whether cissexual people using the post-gender description realize how it can be used undermine our authenticity. To try and describe our experience in terms developed by and for others, rather than choosing to decribe us in transcentric ways. Perhaps I'll worry less about that when people start calling themselves post-gay and post-straight.

It does remind me of Colbert saying he doesn't see men or women, black or white. However, he has a wife & people tell him he's white. So he assumes they're right when they tell him he's white & a man - he just can't tell because he's beyond all that. But somehow he knows he's straight.

crescentdave crescentdave | March 17, 2008 5:46 PM

Well, dear me, let's be politically incorrect for a moment, shall we? You write: "What does it mean for someone to claim to be post-gender?" Answer: It means they intellectualize way too much.

Gender is a messy subject ... bumper sticker catch-phrases fail to capture the richness of the subject. As an example, some folks might want to talk about "eggs & ovaries & child-bearing" and insist upon this reality not being rendered gender insignificant. Others might opine gender is an identification which expresses itself in an interaction between self and culture- thus culture exerts an insistence upon some sort of extant dialog re: gender.

From my limited perspective, I think queers might be more on track than anyone when it comes to looking at gender being more than genitals. Of course, I'm biased :).

Bruce Parker Bruce Parker | March 17, 2008 6:09 PM

I guess I don' think that he is being dismissive as much as not in tune with how gender can be a life or death matter for some folks. It seems like he is making a good point and specifically addressing some of the ways that gender plays out with gay men. I also get the sense that his sense of his own gender identity might have been or continues to be fluid in some ways.

Bruce, I haven't read the whole article, so I don't want to jump to assumptions. But I'm assuming that the author is a white, gay male? As such, it's probably easy for him to have the luxury of being "post-gender," because his race and gender are normalized in our hegemonic culture. It's easy to give up an identity category when yours is already valued.

As a womyn, I will never be "post-gender," just as I'll never be "post-feminist." (At least, not until it's post-patriarchy . . .) In a patriarchal culture, I will always be viewed as a "womyn," whether I want to be or not, and that identity category carries a lot of baggage with it.

I'm about to get myself into some hot water here, but I'm going to say it anyway . . . I have an issue with Kate Bornstein because I heard her speak one time and she made a pretty flippant joke about how her vagina cost more than her car. I thought to myself, "that just smacks of male privilege," even though I view Kate as a womyn. What about the myriad of transfolk who don't have SRS because they can't afford it? It must be nice to have the kind of class privilege to make that kind of joke. Kate spent 30-some years of her life enjoying white, upper-class, male privilege, whether she asked for it or not. That's a lot of privilege to unlearn.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that she's inherently a male, regardless of the gender she presents now. What I am saying is that however we internally define our gender, society judges us from the outside. Kate may have grown up feeling like she was a woman, but society read her as male and afforded her the benefits of male privilege. Some of that had to unconciously sink in.

I may not identify with Whiteness, but I get all the privileges of being White because I am light-skinned. It would be ludicrous for me to say, "you know . . . I don't want to be White anymore. I think I'll be post-race." What the hell does that mean? In the Real World, I'm still going to be judged as White, no matter what I call myself.

So Bruce, please tell me if I'm making incorrect assumptions about the author. But the whole "post-identity categories" thing just really burns my biscuits, because it's easy to give up something if you've never had to fight for it to be valued.

Bruce Parker Bruce Parker | March 17, 2008 7:12 PM

Serena,

He is a white gay man. I totally agree with your observation that he can make these pronouncements because he is speaking from a place of privilege but admire the fact that he not only is disclosing that he was a drag queen and has a complicated relatoinship to his own gender but doing so in a magazine that may go back to being a highly unsafe environment for that. He is showing courage and at least grappling with the issues.

While we are being honest, why do you spell women with a y. I have a lot of women's studies courses and read feminist books constantly and remember when that was being used in radical women's communities but you don't seem to be taking a radical seperatist bent to a lot of the things you discuss. I am curious and wonder if you would explain? I notice that it seems like most folks who use the alternative spelling are white feminists - I wonder if the privilege of white identity allows for subverting the identity in some of the same ways we are critiquing the article I originally posted about? I am curious about your thoughts.

I don't think that Kate was showing male privilege as much as class privilege. I don't know if it is reasonable to be angry at folks who use their money to transition. It seems like if you are critiquing her for that you have to offer the same critique to any transperson who transitions. I also think that your analysis of her experiences prior to transition are a little too black and white for my tastes. Privilege isn't a simple thing we both have tons of it as we post on this blog with the audience that comes with it. I feel like we can't deny Kate had male privilege but we have to ask what that means in the context of people who have such a distaste for who they are that the presence of that privilege in many cases equals death.

I kinda identify as post-gay in a queer sense. I try really hard to look past the binary and since my attractions don't fit so neatly into it - it is easy. I wonder what people think of folks who claim bigendered or gender queer identities.

Bruce

Bruce, I totally agree with your response to my question-slash-rant. I don't know what it's like to want to change my body to match my brain's sense of my gender, so I don't know what Kate or any other transperson has gone through.

As for womyn with a y, it depends on the day and what my mood is. I spell Freewomyn with a y, because I don't belong to any man. This is the name I have chosen for myself. I used to use womyn with a y in all of my academic writing, but I got tired of having to explain it to non-Women's Studies professors, so it stopped being habitual. However, when I was producing The G-Spot, I always spelled it with a y because the zine was aimed at a more radical audience. Is it a white thing? I'd never really thought about it before, but probably.

Gender-queer, bi-gender . . . whatever you want to call yourself is fine by me. I'll just call you Bruce. How's that?

Bruce Parker Bruce Parker | March 17, 2008 7:23 PM


I am for sure not bi-gender. I am pretty gay male gendered in many ways.

Serena,

I'm glad to see that you're approaching this from an acknowledgment of your lack of personal experience, but I would urge you to be careful about throwing around the "trans woman with male privilege" stereotype.

I don't mean to put you in that hot water, but it seems like every time a trans woman displays privilege of any kind, it's assumed to be male privilege. It seems to me the only purpose that serves is to attack the weakest and most vulnerable spot in order to put that woman in her place.

If a cisgender (non-trans) woman were to say something similarly inappropriate, I'm doubting you would chalk it up to male privilege. The reality is that there are trans women (just like cis women) with all kinds of privilege -- and taking a nuanced approach to privilege, that includes occassional access to male privilege.

But the whole "trans woman with male privilege" thing is not very often about acknowledging the privilege that we all bring to the table (folks offering that critique rarely acknowledge their own cisgender privilege). In most cases, it's about keeping trans women out of women only spaces, it's about denying trans women support and community in lesbian/dyke spaces, and it's about punishing trans women until they shut up. And yes, I have seen it used that way. I've watched a trans woman talk about racism in a specific environment and get shut down with an accusation of taking up too much space (i.e. "male privilege") the same way assertive women get shut down by being called a "bitch".

Hi Tobi. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. I would never say that transwomen shouldn't be allowed in women-only spaces. If you remember from Waymon's shower post in January, I definitely think anyone who identifies as a woman (with, or without a y) should be allowed into womyn-only spaces. And I definitely don't think that all transwomen carry the baggage of male privilege. I guess I really just have a beef with Kate Bornstein. I wonder what that's about . . .

I had no doubt that you were approaching the subject with the best intentions, as I do recall your previous comments on that subject.

I suppose I bristle a bit at the suggestion of a trans woman having male privilege, even if it's just one being talked about, because so often it's simply the easier snipe to make as opposed to real criticism. As for Kate, as much as I appreciate her work I do understand there are some reasons to take issue with her now and then.

This has been a pretty wonderful and exciting comment thread about some seriously complex trans issues.

But the whole "trans woman with male privilege" thing is not very often about acknowledging the privilege that we all bring to the table (folks offering that critique rarely acknowledge their own cisgender privilege).

Yes yes yes!

Hmm, well, on the subject of male privledge; I suppose at times I had a modicum of it, but I made such a lousy guy that I was not able to use it for much of anything.

For some transwomyn, we were so marginalised in the whole gender catagory that our 'privledge' amounted to very little, maybe just the point where guys didn't try to crowd us out of the way as forcefully as they do other womyn.

Male privledge is not an all or none thing, there are degrees and nuances to it, a hiearchal sort of layering. Sure, I still had some, but it was not something that I noticed missing without thinking about it when I transitioned.

As for gender and genitalia, I feel better about myself, and my body image is a whole lot better since I had GRS. The body matches my internal self-image, there is a congruence now that was not there before surgery. Having a vagina has brought a certain amount of peace to me. I can't say that it doesn't matter, and I can't say that it helps me in my self-definition or not. I know I identified as more feminine than masculine before I had surgery, the same as I do now. I have never seen myself as 100% one or the other, just more of one than the other. That is something that I have found true of others.

Perhaps being post-gender should not be a complete abscence of gender, but a recognition of the fluidity of gender. Gender as a concept of being more than just one or the other, but a sharing of each.

I am just much too complex to be stuck in a single box.

This is an awesome comment thread, but I just wanted to talk about something else from the post that no one's mentioned:

This pretty dead on and begins to acknowledge the weird genital focus that society seems unwilling to let go.

I'll cop to that. Often when I'm talking with a guy out in public I'll wonder about what his genitalia look like if I haven't seen yet, and if I have I'll want to look again. I have a lot of love for the genitalia during sex. And usually when someone I'm seeing sleeps with someone else, I ask about everything, including genitalia. Especially genitalia.

It's interesting because a lot of graffiti out here, which I'm assuming is mostly done by cis, straight males, is of penises. And I visited Pompeii once and there were so many penis talismen and jewelry and art in the museum there. And the Louvre is filled with penises (although you'd be hard-pressed to find a vagina, and I even looked pretty hard last time I was there but the female nudes were genitalia-less, which I think is again an extension of being genitalia obsessed. We're talking Renaissance here, but the ideas are still around).

Basically, I've found a people people who are more (openly) obsessed with genitalia than even I'm used to, it's strange.

But I'm wondering about calling it out as a weird focus that we just need to let go of, if that's just sex-negativity rearing its head. It's easy in a culture that hates desire and pleasure to say that we shouldn't be thinking about genitalia so much, considering that they're the most present symbols of desire and pleasure.

I mean, are we asking to be post-pleasure? I know Bruce isn't, duh, but when we just so easily accept that genitalia aren't meant to be seen or heard, I have to wonder why.

And I'm absolutely not advocating an unfair focus on genitalia for trans people or just being rude to others. Just sayin'... what I said!

i think we all focus on genitalia, or gender markers, as capital for sexual arousal. being a "size queen" is not uncommon for sexual purposes. i like my guys bigger than average. that contributes to the arousal factor. straight men focus on breasts and butts - the proverbial"tits and ass". if a woman wants to project her own sexual image, she might want to flatter or enhance these attributes to gain sexual attention. you can be proud of your sexual markers. but no one wants to define themselves, or be defined, as a person solely by their genitals. that would just be too dehumanizing.