Book Excerpt: Gender Is More Than Performance

From The Advocate:

Trans-bi author and activist Julia Serano decimates the often employed claim that ‘all gender is performance’ in this exclusive excerpt from her new book, Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, now available through Seal Press

BY Julia Serano
October 07 2013

If one more person tells me that “all gender is performance” I think I am going to strangle them. What’s most annoying about that sound-bite is how it is often recited in a somewhat snooty “I-took-a-gender-studies-class-and-you-didn’t” sort of way, which is ironic given the way that phrase dumbs down gender. It is a crass oversimplification that is as ridiculous as saying all gender is genitals, all gender is chromosomes, or all gender is socialization. In reality, gender is all of these things and more. In fact, if there’s one thing that all of us should be able to agree on, it’s that gender is a confusing and complicated mess. It’s like a junior high school mixer, where our bodies and our internal desires awkwardly dance with one another and with the external expectations that other people place on us.

Sure, I can perform gender: I can curtsy, or throw like a girl, or bat my eyelashes. But performance doesn’t explain why certain behaviors and ways of being come to me more naturally than others. It offers no insight into the countless restless nights I spent as a pre-teen wrestling with the inexplicable feeling that I should be female. It doesn’t capture the very real physical and emotional changes that I experienced when I hormonally transitioned from testosterone to estrogen. Performance doesn’t even begin to address the fact that, during my transition, I acted the same — wore the same t-shirts, jeans and sneakers that I always had — yet once other people started reading me as female, they began treating me very differently. When we talk about my gender as though it were a performance, we let the audience — with all of their expectations, prejudices and presumptions — completely off the hook.

Look, I know that many contemporary queer folks and feminists embrace mantras like “all gender is performance,” “all gender is drag,” and “gender is just a construct.” They seem empowered by the way these sayings give the impression that gender is merely a fiction. A facade. A figment of our imaginations. And of course, this is a convenient strategy, provided that you’re not a trans woman who lacks the means to change her legal sex to female, and who thus runs the very real risk of being locked up in an all-male jail cell. Provided that you’re not a trans man who has to navigate the discrepancy between his male identity and female history during job interviews and first dates. Whenever I hear someone who has not had a transsexual experience say that gender is just a construct or merely a performance, it always reminds me of that Stephen Colbert gag where he insists that he doesn’t see race. It’s easy to fictionalize an issue when you are not fully in touch with all of the ways in which you are privileged by it.

Almost every day of my life I deal with people who insist on seeing my femaleness as fake. People who make a point of calling me effeminate rather than feminine. People who slip up my pronouns, but only after they find out that I’m trans, never beforehand. People who insist on third-sexing me with labels like MTF, boy-girl, he-she, she-male, ze, hir, it — anything but simply female. Because I’m transsexual, I am sometimes accused of impersonation or deception when I am simply being myself. So it seems to me that this strategy of fictionalizing gender will only ever serve to marginalize me further.

So I ask you: Can’t we find new ways of speaking? Shouldn’t we be championing new slogans that empower all of us, whether trans or non-trans, queer or straight, female and/or male and/or none of the above?

Instead of saying that all gender is this or all gender is that, let’s recognize that the word gender has scores of meanings built into it. It’s an amalgamation of bodies, identities and life experiences, of subconscious urges, sensations and behaviors, some of which develop organically, and others which are shaped by language and culture. Instead of saying that gender is any one single thing, let’s start describing it as a holistic experience.

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I’m a leftie but I don’t want to destroy the Daily Mail – I want it to prosper

From Left Foot Forward:

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Are We Fabulous Yet?

From In These Times:

The tyranny of queer beauty.

BY Yasmin Nair
October 3, 2013

A recent story in The Sun of London both gives hope and sinks the heart: A transgender couple, Arin, 17, and Katie, 19, are celebrated for being the “cutest sun-baked couple on the lake.”

For a story like this to appear without moralizing in, of all places, a tabloid like The Sun is astonishing. And yet …

Arin and Katie are presented in a way that implies trans people can only be accepted if they promise to be “adorable” and conform to gender expectations.

What kind of reception awaits far less perfect bodies, perhaps those with the scars showing? What happens to those who don’t transition so beautifully?

And what about those who refuse to pass, for whom not looking “right” is part of the point?

As a cis-female (a woman born woman) my bodily concerns pale in comparison to what my trans friends might experience. Still, I’d like to lose an unspecified number of pounds, and I sometimes wonder about what I’ve publicly called my “floopy [sic]” breasts.

To some extent, I’m ensconced in a queer and trans feminist, radical bubble—a social and political network that routinely dissects and rejects normative ideals of what a body should look like.

So, you’ll understand my dismay when a long-time friend demanded that I wear a “proper bra,” and poked fun at me in public for my breasts. Or my unhappiness when she said I lacked fashion sense because I dress like a frumpy male journalist. (I like men’s jackets.) In other words, I was policed on my gender presentation and deemed not “fabulous” enough.

To make it all the more surreal, this indictment came from someone who peppers her conversation with words like “affirming” and “fat-positive.”

I’ve since disengaged from the now erstwhile friend, but I remain concerned about what I see as a disturbing trend among radical queers and trans people. These communities boast about being the most body-affirming, yet, ironically, are heavily invested in their own hierarchies of beauty. It’s not enough to be body-positive, one must be fabulous to the core.

“Fabulous” is hard to define—like porn, one knows it when one sees it. Fabulousness originates from a queer cultural history that includes John Waters’ carefully-crafted mustache, RuPaul’s high heels and singer Beth Ditto’s unabashedly fat body. “Fabulous” is deviance with a high gloss, the most stylish middle finger you could thrust at the oppression of normality.

In the new world of “body positivity,” fatness and gender-non-conformity have been interpellated into an implicit: Be fabulous or else! Dove’s “Real Beauty” ad campaign, for example, insists on affirming that you should find your true beauty—all the while telling you that you really, really need to be beautiful.

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At Any Cost: How Catholic Bishops Pushed for a Shutdown—and Even a Default—Over Birth Control

From RH Reality Check:

by Adele M. Stan, RH Reality Check
October 6, 2013

On the matter of the government shutdown that took effect October 1, it seems the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) would have it both ways: for and against.

The bishops want to be on the record as champions of health care for the masses, food for the hungry, and shelter for the homeless—things the government, when operational, helps to provide. But they’re happy to block access to such services for those in need of them unless Congress agrees to block women of all faiths or none, on the whim of an employer, from receiving prescription birth control as part of the preventive care benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

If that doesn’t work, they wouldn’t mind seeing the global economy brought to its knees for the sake of making the most effective forms of contraception more difficult for women to obtain.

Here might be a fitting place to note that women are barred from leadership in the Roman Catholic Church, an act of discrimination that other Christian denominations long ago abandoned. No cardinal was ever made to interrupt his education for an unplanned pregnancy; no bishop ever endured the pain, blood, and terror of a life-threatening labor. But I digress.

The Bishops and the Tea Party

Late last month, as a legislative impasse incited by Tea Party-allied Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), between the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives brought the government within just days of a shutdown, the bishops weighed in. The House, effectively controlled by the GOP’s Tea Party faction, had already gone one round with the Senate, demanding that a routine continuing resolution (CR)—a means of funding the government in the absence of a budget—include a measure that would revoke funding for implementation of the ACA, a measure the Democratic-controlled Senate predictably rejected.

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America’s police are looking more and more like the military

From The Guardian UK:

A Defense Department program transfers military-grade weapons and vehicles to local law enforcement. It’s the last thing we need

and, Monday 7 October 2013

America’s streets are looking more and more like a war zone. Last week, in a small county in upstate New York with a population of roughly 120,000 people, county legislators approved the receipt of a 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle, donated by the US Defense Department to the county sheriff.

Between the Armored Personnel Carriers locking down main streets in major American cities – mimicking our MRAPs in Afghanistan – or Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) and Special Forces units canvassing our country, if we’re not careful, this militarization of our domestic policing will make-over America, and fast.

Here’s how it all happened. A little-known Pentagon program has been quietly militarizing American police forces for years. A total of $4.2bn worth of equipment has been distributed by the Defense Department to municipal law enforcement agencies, with a record $546m in 2012 alone.

In the fine print of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 1997, the “1033 program” was born. It allows the Defense Department to donate surplus military equipment to local police forces.

Though the program’s existed since the 1990s, it has expanded greatly in recent years, due, in part, to post-9/11 fears and sequestration budget cuts. The expanse, however, seems unnecessary given that the Department of Homeland Security has already handed out $34bn in “terrorism grants” to local polices forces – without oversight mind you – to fund counter-terrorism efforts.

Additional militarization, then, deserves congressional attention as the program is harmful and must be scaled back for a number of reasons.

First, the program is transforming our police into a military. The results of such over-militarized law enforcement are apparent from the dispersion of Occupy protesters in Oakland to the city-wide lockdown in Boston. As retired police chief Norm Stamper stated to the Associated Press:

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Suicide: a side-effect of unemployment?

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Unemployment Plagues Young People Around The World

From Huffington Post:


In the French city of Montpellier, Thomas Pallot frets that his future now seems tainted. He is only 25 years old and recently embarked on a career as computer technician. But for the last two years, he has been unemployed.

Pallot has a diploma from an advanced vocational school, a credential that might have once inoculated him from this fate. Today that degree merely places him amid the teeming ranks of a so-called Lost Generation: He is one of millions of young people worldwide who have emerged from college with diplomas only to fall into joblessness and its attendant hardships — financial trouble, despair and a nebulous sense of having lost their way.

“To grow as a person, you have to have a job,” Pallot tells Le Huffington Post, speaking as if this were self-evident. “Before, I talked about my work with the people close to me, and now I have nothing to talk about.”

In many countries, youth employment is understood as a pressing domestic issue. But the proper lens is global: From Europe to North America to the Middle East, unemployment among young people has swelled into a veritable epidemic, one that threatens economic growth and social stability in dozens of countries for decades to come. Worldwide, some 75 million workers under age 25 were jobless last year, according to the International Labour Office, an increase of more than 4 million compared to 2007.

The crisis is altering family dynamics, as parents find themselves caring for grown children and as unemployed young people defer starting their own families. It is reinforcing austerity, as governments struggle to finance unemployment benefits and large numbers of would-be young consumers find themselves hunkering down in joblessness. Above all, it is assailing the psyches of young people who have been told that education is the pathway to a more prosperous life only to find that their degrees are no antidote to a bleak job market.

“Youth unemployment is dramatic,” according to José María Aznar, the former prime minister of Spain, who spoke at a recent conference in New York. Fifty-six percent of would-be Spanish workers under 25 are jobless. “It’s jeopardizing the opportunities for future prosperity and growth.”

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How Redistribution to the Rich Has Broken the Back of America

From Common Dreams:

by Paul Buchheit

Conservative columnist Thomas Sowell recently declared, “The history of the 20th century is full of examples of countries that set out to redistribute wealth and ended up redistributing poverty.”

Ironically for thinkers like him, the last 35 years have redistributed U.S. poverty by redistributing wealth to the rich. The middle class, once the backbone of a strong American society, has been broken, beaten down, pushed further and further toward poverty levels. Here are five well-documented ways that this has happened.

1. Income Redistribution is Worse than Usually Reported

We are told that the richest 1% doubled its share of income in the past thirty years. But from 1980 to 2006, according to both IRS and CBO figures, they nearly TRIPLED their share of income — and that’s after-tax income.

After 2006, the recession set everyone back temporarily, but in the first two years of the recovery, the richest 1% captured an incomprehensible 121% of the income gains (others saw debt rise faster than income).

2. Wealth Redistribution is Even Worse than Income Redistribution

In 1983 the poorest 47% of America owned about 2.5 percent of the nation’s wealth, an average of $15,000 per family.

In 2009 the poorest 47% of America owned ZERO percent of the nation’s wealth (their debt exceeded their assets).

Hard to believe it could get even worse. But because of the housing crisis and recession, the median family net worth dropped 40% between 2007 and 2010, while the richest Americans were regaining all their losses, and beginning an even steeper climb to the top.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this wealth redistribution is that the richest 10% own almost 90 percent of stocks excluding pensions. Since the recession, as the U.S. economy has “recovered,” almost two-thirds of the gain was due to growth in the stock market.

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Rich People Just Care Less

From The New York Times:

October 5, 2013

Turning a blind eye. Giving someone the cold shoulder. Looking down on people. Seeing right through them.

These metaphors for condescending or dismissive behavior are more than just descriptive. They suggest, to a surprisingly accurate extent, the social distance between those with greater power and those with less — a distance that goes beyond the realm of interpersonal interactions and may exacerbate the soaring inequality in the United States.

A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker.

Bringing the micropolitics of interpersonal attention to the understanding of social power, researchers are suggesting, has implications for public policy.

Of course, in any society, social power is relative; any of us may be higher or lower in a given interaction, and the research shows the effect still prevails. Though the more powerful pay less attention to us than we do to them, in other situations we are relatively higher on the totem pole of status — and we, too, tend to pay less attention to those a rung or two down.

A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain. In 2008, social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California, Berkeley, studied pairs of strangers telling one another about difficulties they had been through, like a divorce or death of a loved one. The researchers found that the differential expressed itself in the playing down of suffering. The more powerful were less compassionate toward the hardships described by the less powerful.

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Class in the Classroom: Why Middle-Income Students Are Being Left in the Dust

From Alternet:

It’s well known that wealthy kids outperform poor kids in school, but now the rich are also pulling away from their middle-class peers. Why is that so?

By Gail Robinson
October 4, 2013

The following content originally appeared on City Limits

While America’s rich are getting richer, evidence seem to indicate they are getting smarter—or at least better in school—as well.

Nationwide, until around 1980, middle- and upper-income students performed at around the same level in schools. The gap that existed then was between them and students from low-income families.

Now, though, rich students have pulled away from the middle-income ones—as far away as middle-income students are from their low-income counterparts.

“Just as the incomes of the affluent have grown much more rapidly than those of the middle class over the last few decades, so, too, have most of the gains of educational success accrued to the children of the rich,” Sean Reardon, a Stanford professor who’s documented this trend, has written.

Reardon lays much of this squarely on the increase in income inequality, which has left rich parents with “far more resources, relative to low-income families, to invest in their child’s development and schooling.”

“We’re expecting some kids to start on a broken stairwell, others on an escalator and some on a bullet-like elevator” and all of them to reach the top, Prudence Carter, also of Stanford and co-editor of a book entitled “Closing the Opportunity Gap,” said last spring.

It’s a familiar story in New York where affluent families spend lavishly on educational services barely heard of a generation ago: tutors earning in the triple digits an hour, pricey test prep programs and private school and college admissions coaches, to say nothing of thousands of dollars for special classes, summer programs and foreign tours.

Many experts say income, more than race, now accounts for the so-called “achievement gap” in the U.S. But the picture in New York City is a bit more complicated. Although former schools chancellor Joel Klein often said students’ success should not be determined not by “the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income,” race, residence and income inequality all overlap to create huge differences in how well—or how poorly—children fare in the classroom

What $40,000 buys

The richest students in New York do not show up on most education indicators. They attend private schools, where tuition hovers around $40,000 a year and many parents give upwards of $25,000 a year more.

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New York demands disclosure of Airbnb users

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World Calls For Release Of Arctic Oil Drilling Protesters Charged With Piracy In Russia

From Think Progress:

By Ryan Koronowski
on October 7, 2013

On Saturday, thousands of people all around the world held vigils for the release of the “Arctic 30,” a group of Greenpeace International activists detained by Russian authorities and charged with piracy. The group comprises protesters from 18 countries, including one American, four Russians, six Britons, as well as two freelance journalists.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said, “Our activists have been charged with a crime that did not happen, they are accused of an imaginary offense.” They face up to 15 years in Russian prison for piracy.

On September 18th, two people were arrested following an attempt to scale the Russian oil rig Prirazlomnaya in the Pechora Sea. They had deployed off a Greenpeace icebreaker on inflatable boats, were rammed by masked Russian security agents wielding guns and knives en route to the rig, and still two protesters managed to climb up the side. They were blown off by a water cannon and detained. This footage taken from the rig shows the Russian security personnel using the water cannon on the activists:

Then the Russian Coast Guard used an AK-47 to fire 11 warning shots across the bow of the Arctic Sunrise, the Greenpeace icebreaker that had brought the group of 30 to the site. The Arctic Sunrise repaired back to three miles away from the oil rig, and, according to Greenpeace, outside of Russia’s territorial waters. Yet on September 19th, Russian authorities dropped 15 troops onto the Arctic Sunrise off a helicopter and seized everyone on board, towing the ship to the port city of Murmansk.

Russian authorities said that it was the protesters who endangered the oil rig’s crew, and threatened to cause an environmental disaster — not the other way around. President Vladimir Putin said it was “obvious they’re not pirates” but the border guards thought they could have been another group trying to seize the ship “under the guise of Greenpeace activists.” Putin’s Investigative Committee said the accused denied guilt and have refused to give “substantive testimony” regarding the piracy charges.

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