The Poverty of Identity Politics

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jef costello
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Jun 21 2018 20:29

If a colleague appeared white and described themselves as such, would you insist on referring to them as black if you found out that they had a black parent?

If you found a colleague was gay would you refer to him using feminine pronouns?

If you found out a colleague was born with a different gender would you use those pronouns?

If a colleague prefers that people use their middle name rather than their first name would you use it anyway?

At its best referring to someone by a different pronoun is being gratuitously unpleasant. If you feel you are striking a blow for some kind of truth then perhaps you need to think about what it is you think that you are defending and against whom. And if you are thinking "well what's to stop someone deciding that they are a smurf/attack helicopter etc?" then maybe you need to think about how much respect you are giving to a trans person if that is your first thought about what is not an easy decision

I remember at school a friend and I met our new form tutor, he introduced himself using his full name, I used the shortened verion of my name. So the teacher used my full name and shortened my friend's name. We didn't feel oppressed but we did immediately think that he was a dick. It was completely unnecessary and I can't imagine having to put up with that on a regular basis and it isn't half as difficult as it is for a trans person.

Now I am concerned about surgery and I do wonder if it is always a good idea due to issues like body dysmorphia and further things that quite frankly I don't know enough about to really question but make me feel uncomfortable, but I think that that is a very separate issue. Ultimately if someone wants a different, name, pronoun or identity then I don't feel there is a good reason to try to upset them about that choice by refusing to accept it.

ticking_fool
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Jun 22 2018 06:02

Ok, dysphoria and dysmorphia are actually very different things and the conflation of the two, particularly in relation to eating disorders, is such a common anti trans trope that it sometimes passes for common sense in people who don't know the issues.

Trans people don't have a distorted sense of our bodies, we're very, very aware of what they look like and what is incongruent with our sense of self. We're dysphoric about our gender (experiencing distress because of the incongruity) not dysmorphic about our bodies in the way many people with ed (eating disorders) might be. This why the treatment is different - people with ed need to learn to perceive their body as it is. They will often respond well to psychiatric drugs and therapy in getting to this point. Neither of these will help a dysphoric trans person. Only addressing the incongruity does that because we don't have a problem with our perception, we have a gender identity that does not match our assigned gender. That is irreducible to something else.

birdtiem
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Jun 22 2018 08:20

I wasn’t going to bring this up, particularly since the response to my first post in this discussion was already hostile, but since this thread is going in a million different directions and mostly just seems like people talking past each other, I’m not sure chipping in at this point is going to make things worse. And if there is some way to come to a different understanding of this and resolve some of my confusion, that would be awesome.

First, let me just restate the following: I agree that deliberately mis-gendering someone when you know they are trans is a form of bullying, trans people should be recognized as the gender they identify with and have access to the corresponding services/facilities, etc. I think my issue here is more in the ‘theoretical’ realm.

I’m really struggling with accepting the concept of gender identity as I have seen it presented. All my efforts to understand what is actually meant by this concept have just ended up solidifying my discomfort with it, or – I guess more specifically – the way that it is universalized, i.e., “cis-people have a gender identity that is congruent with their sex”.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I don’t feel any…idk, “organic” (?) identification with some kind of feminine gender. I mean, my adult personality has been irreversibly shaped (I kind of want to say “warped”) by a process of gendered socialization that began as soon as I was born, and where sexualized bullying and really devastating kinds of shaming were employed in response to behavior that was seen as being outside the bounds of prescribed “femininity”, so that fitting in with gendered expectations was literally a question of survival. Unfortunately, those experiences were formative in my psychological development – with the consequence that many aspects of my adult personality can be traced directly back to those experiences (e.g., putting the needs of others ahead of my own, constantly feeling like I need to apologize for myself, the sense that my value as a person is inextricably linked to how other people perceive my physical appearance, the inability to be assertive without feeling guilty… I could actually write a novel, but I will spare you).

So again, I’m not denying that trans people have a distinct gender identity that is separate from gendered socialization and biological sex (obviously they do). But I’m questioning the notion that having this kind of 'gender identity' is universal, or near-universal, among people in general (with the implicit difference just being that, for most people, it is 'congruent' w/ whatever). Like, I don't understand why this seems to be accepted so uncritically, because - to my mind - that conception has a lot of really questionable implications.

And I feel like the response to this is just going to be something like “wah wah, cis-privilege”, but being female in a sexist society is not my idea of a privilege.... At any rate, I’m genuinely interested in peoples’ thoughts, hopefully without vitriol or assumptions that I’m operating out of some nefarious motive; I'm not.

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Auld-bod
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Jun 22 2018 09:40

birdtiem #454

It would be surprising to me if any two people agreed exactly on any theoretical concept (despite the appearance that they often do). We usually agree when there are enough points of similarity, or we feel trust in someone else’s judgement.

I find it hard enough to understand my friends’ points of view never mind people of different sex or sexual inclinations. Working class feminism I’ve supported though think ‘helpful’ men can be undermining. Some years ago I refused to represent my year group, who were overwhelmingly women. It made no difference, as the only other male in the year became the rep. He was a Leninist (no surprise there). Sometimes I just accept the things people say on trust.

Our social conditioning runs very deep. We generally wish to co-operate, be part of a group, and when in doubt will often follow the crowd. Witness libcom’s occasional mobbing of unpopular posts.

Sorry this is not very helpful though knowing there are shared experiences/perceptions is better than a carefully constructed little ideological bubble to slip into and feel safe - until ‘reality’ uses us like a football.

Mike Harman
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Jun 22 2018 10:04
birdtiem wrote:
I think my issue here is more in the ‘theoretical’ realm.

I’m really struggling with accepting the concept of gender identity as I have seen it presented. All my efforts to understand what is actually meant by this concept have just ended up solidifying my discomfort with it, or – I guess more specifically – the way that it is universalized, i.e., “cis-people have a gender identity that is congruent with their sex”.

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I don’t feel any…idk, “organic” (?) identification with some kind of feminine gender. I mean, my adult personality has been irreversibly shaped (I kind of want to say “warped”) by a process of gendered socialization that began as soon as I was born, and where sexualized bullying and really devastating kinds of shaming were employed in response to behavior that was seen as being outside the bounds of prescribed “femininity”, so that fitting in with gendered expectations was literally a question of survival. ..

So again, I’m not denying that trans people have a distinct gender identity that is separate from gendered socialization and biological sex (obviously they do). But I’m questioning the notion that having this kind of 'gender identity' is universal, or near-universal, among people in general (with the implicit difference just being that, for most people, it is 'congruent' w/ whatever). Like, I don't understand why this seems to be accepted so uncritically, because - to my mind - that conception has a lot of really questionable implications.

Trying to answer this not because I'm confident on this point, but because I struggle on this stuff as well and it helps to clarify.

First of all what you've described here is very similar to how I've seen some people describe non-binary gender identity:

From this post:

Suzannah Weiss wrote:
That definition’s pretty broad because being non-binary means different things to different people. To me, it means that I reject the whole concept of gender. Growing up, I never felt people were wrong when they called me a woman, but it felt like a label imposed on me rather than one that fit.
...
I personally identify as a non-binary woman because, to me, this identity acknowledges both that I don’t have an innate identification with any gender and that I’ve been socialized as a woman.

The other way I've seen this discussed is through pre-colonial ideas of gender - since various societies had concepts for third or fourth genders, and strict binary gender was often an imposition of colonialism (alongside laws banning homosexuality):

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/hide-and-seek/201707/gender-variation-and-same-sex-relations-in-precolonial-times

So strict 'binary' gender is not universal nor innate, but it does shape experiences and some people feel more or less comfortable with the assignation, and not all of the people who don't feel comfortable with it are trans.

Unfortunately a lot of discussion of non-binary gender identity is reduced by people like Angela Nagle to "tumblr liberalism's ever exploding lists of hundreds of genders" or comparisons to otherkin, whereas it has a pretty firm historical basis.

Then, 'gender critical' feminists will say similar to that first post about rejecting the concept of gender, but reject the idea of both trans and non-binary identities, because they say that gendered oppression is actually based on sex and that claiming a gender which doesn't reflect natal sex assignment is in fact reinforcing the idea of gender itself.

On the surface I can be like "yeah let's abolish gender" but then society does have gender expectations and does not treat people well who don't conform to them, and then we get back to the practical implications of this (toilets, prisons etc.). So for me non-binary and trans gender identities really are in practice attacking the gender binary, while various survival mechanisms like 'passing' might appear to reinforce it, but... survival mechanisms are really not what causes all the other shit.

For a bad analogy, we want to abolish wage labour, but we don't attack people who individually work for wages. We want to abolish gender, but we don't attack individual gender expression. Some of the activities we undertake alienated as wage labour now we'd continue to do more or less as 'productive human activity' in a communist society - but they wouldn't be work. Similarly ways that gender is expressed now (various feminine or masculine behaviours) would continue to exist, but without the gender binary to restrict who they're available to.

Which comes to this:

RABL wrote:
Feminist transphobes attempt to deny the reality of how patriarchy operates by dismissing misogyny experienced by trans women and transfeminine people as not actually misogyny, as they only define this oppression as misogyny when it’s experienced by cis women. Seemingly irrespective of how similar the roles are that we inhabit, it is only a feminist issue when it’s experienced by these feminists narrow definition of a “real” woman. Similarly, when some advocates of a certain trans politics put misogyny experienced by afab trans people under the heading of “misgendering” without noting the additional misogyny, this dismisses the patriarchy’s inherent cissexism, and ignores the structures that build our identities in reality.

https://wearetherabl.wordpress.com/2016/07/22/falling-star-countering-gender-essentialism-with-sex-essentialism/

Sisters Uncut's approach to their gender inclusion policy, which essentially includes anyone who might experience misogynistic violence regardless of their actual gender identity (i.e. including cis women, trans women, trans men, non-binary people, but not cis men) takes a similar approach on the practical implications of how misogyny operates.

birdtiem wrote:
And I feel like the response to this is just going to be something like “wah wah, cis-privilege”, but being female in a sexist society is not my idea of a privilege.....

The article about intersex people vs. TERFs was helpful for me understand what this means and what it doesn't. I think privilege is terrible word for this, it usually means in these contexts 'having a reasonable expectation that a certain set of things won't happen to you', not that you are literally privileged. Took me a while to figure out, but as discussed way back in the thread there is a theoretical basis to 'privilege' discourse which is not just oppression olympics stuff, so you have to read past 'privilege' to what people are actually saying - and when it's sensible, it's usually talking about the reality of how systems of race and gender are enforced.

Trans Advocate wrote:
For example, one article mentioned by an intersex friend critiqued the term “cis privilege” by caricaturing it as meaning “having a female body is a privilege.” Clearly this is false: because of patriarchy, female bodies are sexualized, framed as weak, and subjected to surveillance. Lots of nonintersex cis women dislike getting periods or feeling constantly at risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Having a female body is not a privilege–but it is also not how trans advocates define cis privilege at all. Trans people actually define cis privilege as “the benefits one derives from being seen as a ‘real’ and ‘natural’ member of one’s identified sex” (lack of public scrutiny of one’s primary and secondary sex characteristics, being able to use a public bathroom with relative ease, having ID that matches one’s identity, etc.). Nor do trans people deny, as the linked article claims, that cis people also suffer from gender policing. Someone who identifies as a woman yet who is very butch in her gender expression can suffer from bathroom panic, and a male-identified person who is quite feminine may well face a great deal of street harassment.

http://transadvocate.com/an-intersex-perspective-on-the-trans-intersex-and-terf-communities_n_14539.htm

Spikymike
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Jun 22 2018 14:09

Looking back over this thread (and some others) and it's subsequent fixation with gender, thought I'd say that the problem with (mainstream?) 'identity politics' is that in so far as they involve the interrelated range of identities beyond that of gender to include at least 'nationality', 'ethnicity', 'religion' and of course 'class' that there are both 'left' and 'right' wing (rather than 'good' or 'bad') political versions that from a communist perspective maintain some underlying similarities and overlaps such that they can be perceived to reflect other antagonisms between the Left and Right of capitalism rather than a distinctive opposition to the fundamental basis of capitalism as a system of value production, class exploitation and competition. Still leaves open many of the other detailed points in dispute but does reflect the very different starting points of some contributors. OK carry on 457 and counting down!

sawa
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Jun 22 2018 17:43

I dunno if its good or bad but got gendered correctly a lot more on strike today than I do at work. =P

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Ivysyn
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Jul 2 2018 20:00

The general problem with discourse about "identity politics" is that it's usually used to mean "things I (the speaker) think are wrong", or simply addressing non-class oppressions such as racism, patriarchy, and queerphobia in general. If you set up "identity politics" to mean "things which are bad and don't work" then obviously you come out with the result of "identity politics is bad". The op sets up "identity politics" as "ignoring the class dimension of social struggles". In the definition of what they are criticizing the op implants an error, meaning that the op has defined "identity politics" from the outset as being an wrong. This isn't an analysis, it's just mongering a bias definition. For example, as a radical I oppose liberalism. I could give this definition of liberalism; a political philosophy that supports the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class. I could then point out that the exploitation of the working class is bad and since liberalism by definition is for such exploitation it is bad. I haven't actually analyzed, or refuted anything by doing this. I have just constructed a definition that makes my argument for me.

ZJW
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Jul 18 2018 07:42

In the current issue of Brooklyn Rail (Field Notes): 'The Aggressiveness of Vulnerability' by Pavlos Roufos: https://brooklynrail.org/2018/07/field-notes/The-Aggressiveness-of-Vulnerability .
(Libcom controversy mentioned.)

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R Totale
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Jul 18 2018 10:28

Will probably try and give this a more through reading-through and responding to later, but on first glance it feels very appropriate that this piece a) does a bit of a shoddy job with citations (just give me a link directly to the article you're discussing, don't just say it's on libcom somewhere ffs), and b) more seriously, uses an invented quote to distort the argument it's meant to be representing - I expect stuff in quote marks to be a direct quotation, use multiple quotes or ellipses if necessary, but I'm not convinced that you can put "leftist laundering of sexual assault" as a quote when the article actually wrote "rather than critique this fabricated moral panic, KAN’s dubiously sourced analysis gives it a leftist laundering" - so, accusing her of giving the laundering to the rightwing moral panic over free speech, which is not the same thing at all.

Spikymike
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Jul 18 2018 15:57

The 'brooklynrail' article linked in post #460 by ZJW is certainly worth a read. Haven't read Angela Nagle's book or taken much notice of the libcom criticism of it so cannot comment on that, but it reminded me in part of some earlier criticism by the former 'Nihilist Communists' in arguments regarding the role of academics and professionals in radical social movements and seemed to reflect some of the discussion in this earlier piece here: https://libcom.org/blog/the-politics-affirmation-or-politics-negation-18112008, whilst acknowledging the failure of mainstream Social Democratic 'class reductionism' and the 'vanguardist' politics of their left supporters. Probably reflects experience in the USA more than here but still relevant to the discussion on libcom.