Beige Utopia

A while back (and in this post) I confessed to an anxiety that my desire to become, in some measure, a “lady” meant that my gender dysphoria had a morbid and regressive side to it: a desire to enact an outmoded, antifeminist gender model… which immediately drew some fire from the Radical Feminist trenches. Though I used the term “lady” utterly loosely to signify “a woman with manners / standards” (and since I can but hope I have managed to have some standards as a man, that should not theoretically be too difficult for me), that word still comes loaded with less innocent associations: oppressive codes of behaviour, and misogynistic double-standards which any feminist, radical or otherwise, would very rightly spit upon. To quote, in somewhat ironic circumstances, one of Radical Feminism’s more moderate, if scarcely trans-friendly voices – Rachel Ivy of Deep Green Resistance…

“[…] if gender is voluntary then people who are oppressed by gender are choosing to be oppressed. I come back again to the fact that no one chooses to be oppressed. If we accept this definition of gender, we accept that people who are oppressed for being born female are choosing to be in that position and that if they wanted to they could reject that and move away from it by their own personal choices and do something else.”

(Transcripted at Socialessentialism blog, original video here)

Though I certainly have deep issues with many aspects of Ivy’s hypothesis – especially her imputation of “voluntarism” to transgender people, as if they could simply opt-out of their condition (which I find singularly ungenerous, bearing in mind the above quote) – I certainly agree that no-one (of sound mind) chooses oppression, and that includes transpeople, though we can baffle each other on that subject… One transman I know is astounded why I would want to throw away all of the masculine physical advantages I possess (from his perspective), but to me they do not seem advantageous. I am no “jock”, that is for certain, and my idealised image of strength is a completely feminine one.

To expand on that: three months or so ago I was in the process of writing a fantasy novel. Its central character was a elven queen, also a scientist and engineer. Genius, polymath, martial artist, political schemer, and freedom fighter. Disfigured in some conflict, she hides behind a steel mask lest her mutilation be taken as a sign of weakness by her enemies. Thus she is cagey, unapproachable, plagued with bouts of shame and self-loathing… I was well into the novel before I realised I had basically written both myself as I was and myself I would wish to be (I always wanted to be a scientist when I was a child, until a particularly nasty secondary school science teacher pushed me towards the humanities…).

Thinking of my heroine-avatar, I find I agree with key elements of the Radfem manifesto, though I suspect they will not find it too hard to pick holes in my agreements… For one thing, I do think it undeniable that the core positive attributes or “virtues” of any human personality – male or female – are universal. Compassion, courage, empathy, generosity, honour, humility, etc. None of these may be said to be “more becoming” to one sex or the other. In that case, if gender is not based in distinct personality traits, does it merely boil down to an arbitrary set of external expressions? Possibly, and thus is not entirely subjective which of those are “more becoming” to one sex or the other? Very probably, and I have seen a fair few Radfem advocates arguing that transwomen ought to just live as “effeminate men” (i.e. without seeking gender reassignment) and find fulfilment that way while challenging the stereotypes (Cf. the comments thread at http://www.varsity.co.uk/news/8105, but TRIGGER WARNING if you do…).

Sadly, that proposal falls flat with me, as I tried living as a frilled-up, gender-fluid goth for so many years and I just ended up feeling like a complete tit… whereas having a feminine name and a feminine appearance to match my feminine airs and inclinations makes me feel free, dignified, and happy. Even more so with the prospect of one day attaining some, albeit imperfect degree of physical womanhood. But maybe I am just a  freak of nature best left for the medical professionals to assess, and can for now be safely ignored in political manifestos that find my existence problematic… but moving on.

A society in which anyone can dress as they wish, wear whatever make-up they like (or none at all), wear their hair however they like, adopt whatever mannerisms and speech patterns they like, and in which children can play with whatever toys they like, without coercion, bullying, judgement, ridicule, or any reference at all to one’s birth organs and chromosomes… I would vote for that future in a flash. If that is the goal of the Radfem movement, I am all for it. What concerns me is the possibility that it is not merely the gender tags they wish to abolish from these modes of expression, but the modes themselves. I have already blogged on how little utopias of negation appeal to my imagination, and the idea of some perfectly beige future in which everyone is dressed in identical shapeless robes, everyone sports identical haircuts, makeup is banned per se, and foreplay consists of tentatively working out what sex one’s partner actually is* does not exactly fire my enthusiasm… but my apologies if I have grotesquely misrepresented the future envisioned by Radical Feminism as a whole. I am happy to hear any more detailed information on that score. Abolishing the very concept of gender itself seems a herculean task, though I shall not say impossible (Improbable, I suspect). I would be much more interested to learn about the constructive phase, however. Any good revolution ought to have that planned in detail.

However, whatever the plan, I’m afraid I cannot wait on such likely very distant prospects. I know I will never be my fictional heroine even if I fully transition (and retake GCSE science), but with the support of my employer, my friends, my family, and my doctors, some progress towards that ideal seems eminently (and tantalisingly) attainable…

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*Joke plagiarised from the late Terry Pratchett. Such an inspiration, and sorely missed…

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8 thoughts on “Beige Utopia

  1. I will do, and I’m really glad you’re enjoying it. 🙂 I just hope it gets an equally positive response from any Radical Feminists who do happen to stumble upon it…

    Hope you are doing well yourself, and thank you for all your support. 🙂 xxx

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    • I do mean to, but it was a very quiet week for news, and I got weary of debating politics to no end just to keep up the entries. There is only so much one can take of arguing with people who have a fixed view that one ought not to exist in a “good” world. 😦 Still, I managed to squeeze out a haiku today, which with any luck will only upset my mother (an established poet, whereas I write the stuff about once every blue moon…). xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      • Why would anyone argue with you? You write soo well and you write from your heart. i really find reading your work is such a treat.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well I moderate each comment, so anyone who disagrees with me here gets ruthlessly censored, muahaha… 😉 though in all honesty, things have been very mellow on this actual blog. In other places where I have commented, though (blogs, forums, even Youtube) I have been reviled by the radical left as a misogynist, a deviant, and a shill of the patriarchal system…

    I know I am very blessed to be in a tolerant place, though, and in a country where the national health system is set up to help transgender people, and they benefit from employment protection. My partner and I have a friend in South Carolina who is not so lucky… No public healthcare for her needs, and since no-one will give her a job, she has precious little chance of ever being able to pay for her own care. Not to mention widespread discrimination from the religious right, and how horrible it is to see radicals, feminists, and even environmentalists singing from the same cruel hymnsheet. 😦

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  3. You’ve completely misrepresented what gender abolishment is, from a radical feminism perspective. Radfems don’t see gender as a simple identity, their definition of gender is that it’s a hierarchy, it puts men at the top and women at the bottom, it’s the socially constructed roles that are dictated to each sex because of their sex and anyone who deviates is, well, a deviant.

    To be more clear, when radfems talk about gender abolishment, they (we) mean getting rid of the predefined sex roles, the sex stereotypes and just let people be people. It has very, very little to do with clothing and hairstyles.

    This is a good article that might clear it up better than I am: http://ommadusk.tumblr.com/post/96878081717/judith-lorber-imagining-a-world-without-gender

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    • I have heard the hierarchy argument, and have been accused of being a dirty fifth columnist on its behalf… That gender, like race and religion, has been utilised for such nefarious social engineering purposes is beyond question. I am, nevertheless, still sceptical of the notion that such a pervasive concept as gender can be totally abolished (at least via a quick process of revolution) without in some measure repressing the cultural expressions associated with it.

      To take a still-contemporary example of socio-cultural editing, a more typical target for radical politics is religion, the institution of which certainly has been at the sharp end of many human rights abuses. While radical socialist / Marxist parties may nominally tolerate religious expression within their nations, in practice things have often been very uncomfortable for those people who prefer to keep their faiths and live in the past, so to speak, which, ironically, has led to human rights abuses being committed against the followers of the now-discredited institution. On the religous front, allowing people to be people might be what such hard-line parties claim to do, but in effect they have rarely celebrated the existence of people who do not play by their ideal rules, which the revolutionaries of course passionately believe would make everyone happier if they were not so stubborn and set in their ways.

      Even in a relatively liberal society, such repressions can have insidious effects. Take for example the ban on Islamic headscarves in municipal spaces in France, intended to protect women’s rights and state secularism, but with the nasty side effect that many devoutly Muslim women are effectively barred from holding public office. One could interpret the various “bathroom” controversies around transpeople as a similar backdoor approach to social engineering (making their lives sufficiently uncomfortable that they voluntarily re-evaluate them), especially since the problem admits of a solution that requires no imagination whatsoever (more gender neutral bathrooms), but pardon the digression.

      Back to the ideal of a genderless society: since humanity as a whole has never lived in a such a society in recorded history, it might well be deemed a worthwhile enough goal that people of the present generation ought to be prepared to make personal sacrifices so that our children’s children might one day enjoy it. To that I have no real moral counter-argument. I must admit to having my own self-centred interest in following the current gender transtition protocols though, to be fair, so does my partner, and many friends of mine, some of whom are not as lucky as we are to live in a place with full legal and medical protections. On that note, however, I would say there is a grave risk that people with gender dysphoria would face if anyone, radicals or conservatives, succeeded in getting GD declassified as a valid medical disorder: it would then be returned to the status of a mental illness, altering the treatment protocols in no very pleasant or productive ways. I can’t vouch for the state of mental healthcare in the US, but UK doctors already dole out enough prozac as it is.

      I have just read the article you shared. On the subject of religion, it actually addresses how problematic such cultural sea changes might prove in practice, and suggests a compromise:

      “In the major and minor religions, new liturgies and rituals are in use, but old ones are turned to for their historical cultural value, as are old novels, plays, songs, and operas.”

      I do think it inevitable that most if not all religions would adapt and modernise to some extent to remain relevant within a reformed or revolutionised society, though probably not to the extent of entirely relegating their scriptures to the status of Jane Austen and La Traviata… The question may be, would the post-revolution society allow them and their followers to adapt at their own pace, or would it feel morally compelled to give them some very sharp nudges in the desired direction? Which touches on the crux of my reservations: is it possible to effect change through revolution without stomping on a fair few basically harmless bystanders?

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