Archives for posts with tag: difference

After reading Janice Irvine’s “Disorders of Desire,” I realized just how “the system” works. Not that I was clueless beforehand, but Irvine’s discussion (as well as ours in class) about the specific way in which someone seeking a transition to “the other” gender must go about the process is particularly telling.

Just as a recap, the process generally has to follow this outline:

1)      A person decides they want to hormonally/surgically alter their body

2)      They must feel awkward and terrible about this desire for some time before finally seeking out professional help.

3)      Then, they must say something to the effect of, “I feel like a man in a woman’s body” (or vice versa.

4)      Finally, the little lightbulb above the psychiatrist’s head goes off, all the paperwork is signed, and the individual is free to begin a highly regulated and medicalized process of transition

So what’s the issue here? The person obviously got what they wanted and everyone is happy, right? Maybe… But, by forcing this person to parrot a magic sentence in order to unlock the hormones/surgery they desire, “the system” is implicitly ensuring that the voices of trans-identified people are effectively silenced. What if Sue, for instance, really doesn’t “feel like a man in a woman’s body”? If Sue understands his/herself differently, nobody (outside of similarly identified people, friends, family, etc) will ever get to understand because Sue’s viewpoint isn’t “allowed” to be expressed. Moreover, what if a young person has these feelings? They’ll probably end up at a psychologist who will “explain” their feelings for them…

We can see where this is going...Hopefully Mark actually wanted to change his name and adopt the feminine persona...

As an aside, this reminds me of Foucault’s “monster.” Society has decided that transitioning is “ok” as long as it is done one specific way on very rigid terms. So basically, “we’ll allow you to break the cosmic law, just don’t shatter it.”

This process can be found in several other places in society. If you’re trying to get financial assistance from the government, you better be willing to jump through about 10 different hoops, and lay out your whole personal life for some random person’s scrutiny, or you’re not going to get anywhere. If you don’t tell them exactly what they want to hear, and devise a paper trail to mimic that, don’t get excited about possibly breaking through the poverty line!

This is not to say that requiring people to legitimate their desire for body alteration or need for financial assistance is inherently wrong, but the current system encourages (and sometimes mandates) people to strategically create versions of the truth that probably don’t fall in line with their actual situations. If we’re ever going to be able end discrimination against gender nonconforming people, or fix our terrible welfare system, we’re going to have to come up with a radically different way of delving into people’s personal lives.

-Mika Baugh

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After reflecting on the “safe places” exercise (referencing Rubin) we did in class, it seems to me that we have the largest potential to experience the most comfort when we’re by ourselves. Perhaps this position sounds cynical, but look at it this way…

1: Society spends a good deal of time discouraging attitudes and behaviors that make sense and encouraging flawed and narrow logic. (See Butler)

2: Society discourages internal reflection and getting to oneself on an intimate level. (This happens in several ways, including objectifying women, tabooing masturbation, medicalizing EVERYTHING so we’re ignorant of our bodies, etc)

3. Social conventions and expectations permeate every facet of society, even if a group is deliberately rejecting those conventions.

4. So basically, if society tells us NOT to spend time alone and learning about ourselves, we should probably stop whatever we’re doing and do just that.

This, of course, is not to say that basic human interaction isn’t necessary and fulfilling, but regardless of with whom we’re spending out time, we are constantly shifting and shaping our identities, even if we’re unaware of doing so.

To illustrate this point, it is beneficial to examine some of the most obvious “safe places.” A few of these include: spending time in a group of like-minded/identified people, using anonymous avenues to express ourselves (i.e. Post Secret), and sharing things with family and close friends. While each of these provides innumerable benefits, each has its shortcomings as well.

It should be said that feminism’s internal critique is one of its greatest strengths in the “big picture,” but that very critical eye cane sometimes be turned on the individual. Thus, even if certain parts of one’s identity are in a “safe space,” other parts (or the ways in which one expresses them) are clearly not.

One of the best examples of this discomfort around the people with whom we’re closest is illustrated in this card sent to “Post Secret.” The postcard read, “She sent me this 3 weeks after she told me I couldn’t come to her wedding because I’m a lesbian and my family doesn’t want ‘to see me use their wedding as a giant “coming out” affair. Thanks sis, YOU save us the date.” The other side reads…

We’re supposed to be close and comfortable with our families,but obviously that’s not how it works for this woman.

I guess the point is that at the end of the day, the only person you have is you. So, ya better start defying those social conventions and deciding that you (whoever you are) are just fine.

-Mika Baugh

As a gender studies major, I have read a good share of scholarly articles/excerpts in which the writer suggests that all minority groups join together for one main cause: to overthrow the dominant society and to create true equality between all people, no matter what their race, sex, sexuality, class, or any other marginalizing characteristics.  My question has always been, well if this is the answer, why is it so hard to group all these people together and also when they are grouped why can’t there be any main focus that can be agreed upon?  The answer that I am starting to come up with after the few weeks of class along with Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, is maybe instead of trying to come together as one for one main goal, we should try to recognize differences amongst ourselves, as these differences create varying life experiences.  Instead of doing this, when trying to group up a minority, say feminist groups, there is further grouping of a minority and majority within this big group of minorities.

In the example from above, there could be a separation in what should be strived for between black and white feminists, or even between lesbian and straight feminists. . I believe this is because of the way that society has been constructed to keep the minority populations exactly where they are through language, culture, and politics. This is when Butler mentions the heterosexual matrix, in which the combination of heterosexuality, whiteness, male masculinity, and wealth equals dominance and superiority. This and only this combination receives high status, and this system of human worth is created through things in history such as stereotypes, science, cultural customs of what is appropriate for what type of person, and many other things that we now have been born into and assume that is just the natural order of things.

Butler argues that since this is such an ancient form of social construction that it would be impossible to make any difference from outside of this system. For instance, the word woman has multiple meanings other than just biological reasons. Woman also denotes a certain inferiority or submissiveness because of the dichotomy of male and female and their supposed opposite traits. And because of this, there is a transcendence of this system into other parts of the human experience, such as through politics or even the workplace. For the longest time, and sometimes even in the present, because of their given inferiority women were unable to actively participate in politics or excel in the workplace. 

I honestly feel that because these systems of social control have been ingrained in the fibers of our society that it is impossible to reverse the effects that they have had. However, this does not mean change is impossible, as history has shown us. While the overthrow of the dominant population is in dire need I believe that the effects they have had on who we are as a people will only be erased with time. We have seen this with women’s suffrage, African American civil rights, and in our generation LGBTQ rights. While we slowly move away from our Catholic conservative roots, the more accepting we are of other groups of people. Once we are able to get past stigmas placed on others based on traits we cannot change, we are able to see that even with many differences we are all still relatable. Through relation to others comes empathy and through empathy comes a certain unity  between all of us who can relate to being the other.

-Jay Luther

Difference is an all encompassing word. In Audre Lorde’s piece Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference; we read about the complex aspect of difference within western european history and the affects that it has had on social construction and human interaction. Difference can be see simply through binaries like “dominant/subordinate, good/bad, up/down and superior/inferior” (114). Though these binaries give a basic understanding of what difference can circumscribe, the conflict that difference creates is much deeper.

Lorde says, “Too often, we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring difference into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all” (115). Lorde makes a very valid point stating that the differences of intersectionality are not to be overlooked. Growing up as a white, upper-class, privileged woman, difference was not something that I experienced every day. Because of that, my understanding of racial segregation as well as general hostility between people was minimal. Not until I came out, was difference something that became apart of my every day life. There is a dynamic to difference that perpetuates social interaction as well as the education of society. If we do not continue general education of the differences that we all share, diversity will get lost in the shuffle. It’s not about homogeneity, it’s about having an identity that can be brought to the collective.

When Lorde talks about the ignorance of white women who only focus on their oppression as women and their disregard of race, sexual preference, class, and age , I agree that they are important issues to a point. Lack of intersectional exposure can limit an individuals ability to see oppression outside of their social surroundings. It is hard to understand difference when diversity is lacking in your environment or the generational gap between individuals is seen as a span of time not worth breaching. We can learn so much about race, class, age and sex from the people around us each day. Continuing a relationship with your elders or working to enlightening younger children can help break the disconnect that is shared between generations, classes, sexes, and races which makes difference less consequential. This also allows for intersectional growth so that “we don’t have to invent the wheel every time we have to go to the store for bread” (117).

To recognition difference like diversity would create an opportunity towards a more balanced society. The hostility that is shared across these intersectional barriers is worth being heard. Homophobia, racism, etc is not going to disappear overnight. Like the repeal of DADT, you may be able to openly serve in the military as a homosexual but does that mean you will receive the same respect as others? Can we change decades of behavior and opinions that are so strongly against gays just because a piece of legislation makes it so. As Lorde states, difference is not a subject to be ignored. We need to talk about the differences that we all share or the world is going to keep perpetuating bad habits and hatred towards people that are not apart of the norm. The subjugation of those in the minority reflects complete disregard for the diversity that our nation shares. We would not be the melting pot of the world if we didn’t have the diversity that we do.

-Sarah Klapperich