Friday, November 7, 2014

Hey Guys: A Transfeminist Critique of Exclusionarbea* Language

Last night I was telling a close friend about a recent crush I've had on someone.

“Is he gay?” he asked me.

I was ready for this; I've been asked it before.

“I hope not,” I replied, matter-of-factly.

“Oh. Sorry,” he said, catching his mistake.

But by then it was too late; he had already denied the transfemininity with which I have for over a year now been fighting to be seen with the implication that I was, rather, a gay man.  Despite the almost five years in which I called myself that, I have long since put that identity long behind me, and I always resent the “Is he gay?” question for the erasure that it assigns me. I guess I shouldn't be too hard on them, though.

They're the only words we have.

* * *

Lately I've started addressing groups of people as “y'all.”  Not out of any particular affinity for the linguistic South, but instead with the egalitarian hope to undo patriarchical rhetoric.  After all, if we don't address a group of variously gendered people as “y'all,” what do we say?  Guys.

Now before I get too theoretical, let's think practically.  In our culture, you can address a group of men as “guys,” which makes logical sense, but you can also do so for a group of men and women, and even for a group of only women.  “Hey guys,” we say, without thinking.  But do all (or any) of those people actually identify in that way?

Let's reduce the plurality of the situation to a single individual. Imagine you are talking to a friend.  “I just met this guy,” you tell her. “He's really cute.”

But what if the cute person in question used, alternatively, feminine pronouns?

“I just met this guy,” you tell her. “She's really cute.”  

Sound strange?  Probably because nobody says that.  “I just met this girl,” you would say. “She's really cute.”

Now we encounter the sexism inherent in the way that we speak. Why does masculinity trump femininity in the language we use to speak to any group of people?  And if you object to me going so far as deeming it sexist, ask yourself: would you ever address a group of men and women or of only men with, “Hey girls!” Probably not, at least without a specifically humorous or queer intent.

Men can be guys, women can be guys, non-binary folk can be guys, but unlike women (we haven't figured out what to do with non-binary folk yet), men can't be anything else.  They can't relinquish their linguistic masculinity, even when everyone else relinquishes their linguistic gender all the time.

(Side note: “dude” works similarly to “guy” in this case; anyone can be dude, but not all dudes can be anything else.)

* * *

With these patriarchal tendencies in mind, why did my friend feel the need to question if a man in whom I am interested would be gay?  Why didn't he use a more accurate word instead, one that would have respected my gender identity, acknowledged it even, one that would not have condemned my gender identity once more to nonexistence?

Now I know I've written about this before, but it's important enough to merit reiteration.

The Western conception of sexuality is called object choice.  That is, we define our sexuality by the physical body of the person(s) to whom we are sexuality attracted.  Simple enough, right?

Well, the assumption of the object choice model of sexuality is that all objects (that is, all sexually appealing bodies) are easily intelligible as bodies in the first place.  Women have XX chromosomes and were born with vaginas and they like women or men or both, men have XY chromosomes and were born with penises and like men or women or both, and we have names for all of these sexual expressions.

But what about the rest of us?  What about those of us with extra or missing chromosomes, what about those of us with indeterminate genitalia, or genitalia that contradicts our secondary sex characteristics, or that contradicts the way that we present ourselves in public, or in private, or those of us who don't even care for anyone's genitalia to begin with?  When will be allowed to be sexually appealing, to be sexual?  When will someone be allowed to want us, and not only in secret?  What would we even call that?

* * *

Earlier, I've written about not knowing who to romantically market myself to anymore.  Now, I've stopped caring.  I flirt with straight guys and with gay guys and with people who wouldn't like to be called guys at all.  There aren't people out there who proclaim that they want people who look like me because we don't exist yet, so I go for whomever interests me, and I don't bother myself with how they identify.  If they're not interested, I move on; if they are, all the better.  But as someone somewhere between biology and identity, between man and woman, between masculine and feminine (even if I lean more one way), I have to claim to my own sexual space.   The world isn't doing it for me, not yet at least, and I certainly won't wait for it catch up before I go looking for happiness.

In closing, I'd like to ask all of you lovely readers to think before speaking.  Ask yourselves, what are the implications of the words that I use and who do I forget when I speak them?  How can I make them exist?  I myself am trying to stop using “gay” and “straight” altogether, but it takes time to unlearn these things.

Let's start though, shall we?  

I'd like a chance at love before too long.

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