Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The reason for grouping sexuality and gender identity together wrt civil rights

I wrote this a few days ago at Slacktivist in response to someone who didn't understand why T was grouped with LGB in LGBT since the LGB is about sexual orientation and the T is about gender identity.  Person said it had always seemed arbitrary.


It's not actually arbitrary. It's about traditional gender roles. (Those will likely never stop fucking up the world.)
The traditional model is this:
Sex determines gender, gender determines attraction.
Intersex people are considered broken because they lack a clear biological sex at birth (hence traditionally surgically assigning them one at birth.)
Trans* people are considered broken because they don't let biological sex determine gender. Unlike intersex people this is usually (though not always) seen as a choice and thus fundamentally immoral.
Non-straight people are considered broken because they don't let their gender determine their sexuality. Unlike intersex people this is usually (though not always) seen as a choice and thus fundamentally immoral.
Sex → Gender → Sexuality is the model that says these groups are all wrong. Sometimes that wrongness is seen as a problem to be cured, sometimes it's seen as an immorality to be opposed, but something is wrong and must be fixed.
Try to dismantle that model and everybody under the umbrella benefits, try to enforce it and everybody under the umbrella suffers.
That's why they're grouped together: the same thing is keeping them down.
It's similar to "people of color" in that what they have in common isn't that they're the same, far from it, but that racism is keeping them down.
Of course there are a lot of people who want to dismantle only part of the model. The trans* people that Shiftercat mentions [who thought being non-straight was a mental illness] were fine with the idea that gender ought to determine sexuality. If you want additional depressing examples read the opposite viewpoint too.
It's not hard to find a plethora of articles from lesbians who think that transwomen are men that are trying to exploit a loophole in order to fuck lesbians. (Because ... you know what, I can't even come up with a sarcastic way that that makes sense.) Those particular lesbians are very opposed to the idea that gender determines sexuality, but very in favor of the idea that sex determines gender.
Or note that both groups I just mentioned write on the implicit assumption that intersex people either don't exist or are unworthy of a place in a cohesive worldview.
Or read the writings of intersex people who think that anyone who isn't intersex that doesn't identify as a straight member of the gender associated with their birth sex is stealing intersex people's identity (only they get to claim a say in the matter because only they have biological ambiguity at birth.)
All sides have definitely been against each other, and members of them continue to be, but sex, gender, and sexuality are all linked by a worldview that seeks to keep down anyone who violates the idea that your gender ought to be your sex at birth (and you ought to have a clear sex at birth) and your sexuality ought to be determined by your gender (you ought to be attracted to be the people of the opposite gender.)


  1. That makes perfect sense. Thank you for reposting it here!

  2. Excellent explanation. I do think that breaking down the model benefits everyone (not just those beneath the glorious rainbow umbrella.) Maybe not destroying it completely, but definitely relaxing it a lot. Because otherwise we can end up with tons of labels, but never enough to describe everyone, and identity is flexible anyway.

  3. Also I would like a (few?) million dollars. And a huge-budget spectacle 4D movie extravaganza starring Janet Mock as some sort of glorious badass mermaid queen. Because I just would.

  4. I think there's an argument to be made for people who want a "women-only space" not to be forced to share it with people who have had experience of living as men. But it's not at all an easy argument and I don't think there's an obvious solution.

    1. I feel like there is probably a good argument for restricting a "women-only space" to people who have had experience living as women, but that's about all I can see.

  5. I...that's...I don't at all like what you're saying. I do maybe like what I think you mean. It's totally legit to have groups of women get together to discuss stuff they have all experienced, and those could be physical things related to bodies, so that could be relevant... But that has nothing to do with making anything "women only" because there's very little (maybe nothing?) that all women, all men, all genderqueer folks, all femme people, all lesbians, etc. have in common, and a lot of the things that most have in common aren't relevant to solidarity or community...

    Is there really a point to having meetings or spaces for people with XX chromosomes, or a certain ratio of hormones in their blood or something? I don't see why there would be, and anyway not everyone knows everything about their body and its chemistry at that level. It seems much more pointful to have spaces or events or whatever for women, or for immigrant women or Black women or women who have given birth or mothers or widows or Native women or whatever. Stuffed based on experience. And that would include trans* women or queer women. I don't think it would include heterosexual women or cis women, because mainstream society IS their space. Although there's nothing wrong with sharing those experiences, as long as there's plenty of space for marginalized and oppressed groups.

  6. I have known women who are genuinely hurt and scared when a transwoman wants to come into what they have previously defined as a women-only space. And because there's no formal definition of what a "women-only space" should be, it tends to turn into very nasty arguments.

    I believe that some strands of feminism have defined male bad behaviour as essentially biological and unalterable, so to them anyone with XY chromosomes is unacceptable no matter what's happened to them since.

    As someone who is more or less by definition not going to be included in any space from which mainstream people can be excluded (cis, het, white, male) I have no side here; I just think it's a problem worthy of being thought about. My own feeling is that oppression is bad no matter to whom it happens, and that it's largely a matter of power imbalances; the details of attacks can vary, but the basic approach of "I am in the powerful group, you are not, therefore I can do bad stuff to you and get away with it" is always the same. But then I would say that, wouldn't I? I'm not being bullied right now, so I can take the long view. It's much easier (as in, it's actually happened) to do something about racism or sexism than to build a perfect society all in one step.

  7. I would add that these categories are not distinct, too, especially historically; the Stonewall Riots get described as being fronted by drag queens and fronted by trans women, depending on who you ask.

  8. Another addendum: this is also why terms like "gay", "queer", "pussy", and "dyke" are used to denigrate people who don't conform to gender stereotypes - because any deviation from traditional gender roles is the same as any other.