n. the pervasive and systemic belief in male/masculine and female/feminine as the only true, natural and correct gender identities and expressions

gender normativity n. the privileged state lived - whether momentarily or perpetually - by those whose genders perceptibly 'fit' with locally-derived and understood expressions of masculinity (for men) and femininity (for women)

gender non-normativity n. the oppressed state lived - whether momentarily or perpetually - by those whose genders do not perceptibly fit, as above

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

glbtT-Siqq? Education for gender/sexuality justice that is also anti-racist

Last night I went to a lecture by Beverly Jacobs, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada who is also involved with the Sisters in Spirit project. The lecture titled "Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women" was phenomenal, humbling and pedagogically supreme. I felt like the inseparability of tradition and critique in Beverly Jacobs' lecture delivered a slap in the face to white racist and neo-colonialist commentators like Margaret Wente who dismiss thousands of years of knowledge and nation-building among the hundreds of nations that were intentionally (and which continue to be) eradicated under the Eurocentric colonial project.

Listening to Beverly Jacobs discuss the ceremonies and traditions of her clan (Mohawk Nation Bear Clan in Six Nations Grand River) particularly with regard to women and their centrality to any conversation on the impacts of continued genocide against indigenous peoples in Canada, at one point I began to ruminate on the imperative for specificity when including issues or concepts from the histories and/or knowledge bases of various indigenous peoples into anti-oppression organizing and education. More specifically, I have long been questioning the wisdom of tacitly white anti-homophobia organizations incorporating the T-S for 'two-spirit' in the alphabet soup acronym that is often represented like this: GLBTT-SIQQ.

I am concerned that organizations which have not worked on their race politics could enjoy a feel-good multicultural sensation when they include "two-spirit" in the list of identities to be itemized in, for example, a workshop. In my experience, definitions of this term enact a slippery pan-Indianism that hooks up with the problematic non-indigenous deployment of other terms such as 'shaman'. If 'two-spirit' is indiscriminately thrown into in an anti-homophobia educational context participants could leave carrying the erroneous notion that e
very 'tribe' has (or 'had' - in the tradition of colonial anachronism) 'a shaman' and, with the addition of two-spirit, that shamans 'have/had elements of both male and female'; such romanticized logic is often used to demonstrate how in some contexts trans people or queer people are/were universally 'revered' or 'given a special place in the tribe'.

In tune with Beverly Jacobs' injunction to last night's attendees to know whose land we are on as well as the traditions of those peoples, I would guess that people in the various educational contexts wherein I have encountered 'two-spirit' as part of the alphabet soup acronym, if they do know whose territory they are on, would likely not know whether 'two-spirit' carries any meaning for the nation whose territory it is.

In situations wherein I have to deal with the acronym and explain its components, my solution as someone who primarily identifies as a white anti-racist person while doing anti-homophobia education is to leave out the 'T-S' and, if asked about it, to offer the above critique of its inclusion in an sexualities/LGB mandate. I am not overly happy about this solution, but I think that it is better than giving participants a 'nugget' of colonial generality that they could henceforth feel entitled to wield as an interesting tidbit to 'liven up' the usual conversation on minority genders and sexualities.

I also do not wish to imply that the T-S is the only area of contention in the alphabet soup debates around what inclusion in the acronym means. Emi Koyama at Intersex Initiative Portland has a great piece about adding the I for intersex wherein she argues that the issues faced by intersex people are not bound up in sexuality-based organizing and fundamentally are not well-served by this inclusion. This is notably the case because inclusion in the acronym leads to the assumption that intersex people are, on the one hand, queer and, on the other, necessarily identify as 'intersex' within an identities-based framework for political organizing. The reality, that many if not most intersex people are heterosexual and male or female-identified, is obscured the association with the GLBT, etc. moniker.

There are also several critiques out there of the inclusion of the T for transgender and/or transsexual (depending on a facilitator's or organization's interpretation). An excellent anti-racist and anti-capitalist critique thereof is offered in Dean Spade's article "The nonprofit industrial complex and trans resistance".

And finally, I haven't even begun to address the particularly racist and colonial strangeness of including T-S in the Canadian context with its generally Eurocentric and orientalist aptitude for fetishizing all things indigenous...

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