questions from the search terms

Questions from the search terms: “genderfuckery meaning”

For some reason, I’ve been feeling more of an urge to respond to these lately. I think I am just not coming up with ideas elsewhere, and I still want to write *something*?
Anyway, from my search terms: genderfuckery meaning

So, what is genderfuckery?

Wiktionary‘s actually a good definition of what it means to genderfuck:

“To subvert traditional notions of gender identity and gender roles”

‘Genderfuckery’ can be used to describe any act of genderfucking, or in other words, fucking with (or messing with) gender.

Genderfucking is similar in concept to gender bending, though it is more likely to be used in more extreme contexts. People who genderfuck are probably less interested in bending the limits and meanings of gender, and more interested in straight up breaking them, and putting the pieces back together in different ways.

In practice, genderfuckery might look like:

– Someone doing things or wearing things that seem at odds with their gender (or with the gender they are perceived to have)
– Someone presenting in a way that makes it difficult or impossible for strangers to identify their gender

Or sometimes it can be more personal. For me, learning to re-embrace feminine clothing styles sometimes has been an important personal journey; though it actually often has the impact of making my gender seem less complicated to some observers (it seems to match more with what their perception of my body implies my gender should be, or something), for me it a personal act of resistance against the pressure I feel to constantly perform my genderqueerness in a safe and (relatively) understandable way. People are more willing to accept androgynous presentations from non-binary people, and more likely to consider my gender to be fake or something I am making up if the things I do don’t fit into this androgynous idea of what it means to be non-binary.

But, in fact, that is exactly what makes my refusal to adhere to the nascent norms of non-binary gender a form of genderfuckery. I refuse to be boxed in by what other people want my gender to mean, or to look like.

So, um, yeah. That’s what genderfuckery means to me :P

Questions from the search terms: “everyone has a marginalized identity”

This was an interesting search string that brought someone to my little corner of the internet: everyone has a marginalized identity

I don’t know if it was meant as a question or a statement, but it wormed its way into my brain nevertheless. Because the thing is, when you get right down to it, the *vast* majority of people do experience some sort of systemic marginalization in their lives (though I would argue that there are many cases in which the axes of marginalization in question are not particularly axes of the people’s active identities).

To look at it another way, let me ask: what people in this world have faced no forms of systemic marginalization? For simplicity’s sake, I’ll actually limit myself to people in the US and Canada.

That would be white, anglophone, cisgender, heterosexual, allosexual, monotheist (really, Christian specifically), thin, conventionally attractive, non-disabled, neurotypical men from at middle-class backgrounds or higher. I am sure I’m even forgetting some things here. But the point is, its far and away a small sliver of the population.

This is, of course, part of why intersectionality is an important aspect of social justice discourse. Because once you’ve missed one of the privilege boxes, every additional hit doesn’t just add on to that, it multiplies and interacts with it. So, for instance, if you’re a rich white straight dude, you can usually get away with being publicly atheist without facing too much scrutiny (depending of course on specifically where you are, but nevertheless), whereas if you’re a rich white gay dude, it’s probably safer to at least pretend to be into the kinder parts of the bible (y’know, one of the ‘good’ gays or whatever). You don’t want to question the hegemony too much, after all.

Not to mention that when you have intersecting marginalized identities, you’re more likely to find yourself not just excluded from mainstream stuff, but also from groups dedicated to individual aspects of your marginalization – LGBT people might not want atheists visible in their groups, and atheists sadly aren’t free from heterosexism).

And I actually think this is one of the places where relatively privileged people often get stuck in social justice discourse. Because most of us actually have experienced some sort of marginalization, but those who only experience this marginalization on one or two fronts, or on the ones that are less relevant to day-to-day living, often make the mistake of thinking they know what it’s like to be marginalized. Because they kind of do. And I think most of us (myself included) are sometimes guilty of forgetting that the impacts of different marginalized identities aren’t directly comparable, that the effects of marginal identities aren’t simply additive, and that the intersections between privileged and marginalized identities within any given individual have complex and hard-to-parse consequences.

None of us can seperate out the parts of our lives that result from our privilege and the parts that result from our marginalization, because everything flows out of all of these things.

I want to be able to say that remembering we have all suffered should help us all be a little more compassionate, but unfortunately in practice it is those who have suffered the most, or those who are currently trying to end their own most immediate suffering, who are put upon to be kind and quiet and gracious and compassionate toward those who are contributing to their suffering. We are always playing a game of “no, you be civil first!” and this is a game that the most marginalized people will always lose, because the most marginalized people will inevitably have fewer emotional resources available to do the work we are constantly demanding of them.

So yes, I guess almost everyone does have some sort of marginalized identity. But we all need to learn to see past our own marginalization and recognize the experiences of those different from us, their suffering, and the ways in which we may have been complicit in, or complacent about, their marginalization. And none of us is absolved of doing so.

Questions from the search terms: “I changed my name but people still call me by my old name”

From my search terms this month: “I changed my name but people still call me by my old name”

Dear searcher,

I am so sorry that is happening to you. I want to be very clear, in case you don’t know, that this is a problem with other people and not with you. But, since they aren’t doing the work to fix it, you’re going to have to take up some of the slack. There are some simple things you can do to (hopefully) help these folks start calling you by the right name.

First, get in touch with the people who are calling you by your old name, and directly remind them of the change. Keep it as simple and direct as possible:

“Hey, you may have forgotten, but I changed my name [x days/weeks/months] ago. As a reminder, my new name is [your new name]. It is important to me that you do not call me by my old name any more.”

Optionally, you might want to add a statement like “I’ll try to remind you right away if you forget again.” This will do a couple of important things: it warns them of your intent not to just let it slide from now on (I don’t know if you’ve already been correcting people every time or not, but even if you have it may be helpful to reiterate that you are going to keep doing so); it sets up your reminders as something you are doing as favour to them, to help them out with this transition; and hopefully it will make them less defensive when you do correct them, because you’ve established that you mean it in a friendly(ish) way.

Step two is to do your best to actively correct people, immediately, when they mess up. If you’re already doing this, great! It’s actually something I am terrible at, so you are doing better than me on this front. If you haven’t been actively correcting people, then they may push back when you start (though this is why I recommend sending a direct message first, since it clarifies your position and sets the stage for the idea that you expect them to be taking your name change seriously, and makes it harder for them fall back on an excuse about how they didn’t realize it was important).

You may get some people (parents are especially prone to this, since they will likely have the strongest attachment to your old name, having chosen it themselves) who will ask for special dispensation not to have to change to your new name. For them, just reiterate that it is important to you that people call you by your new name – if there are specific reasons for this that you are comfortable sharing with them, do so. If it’s relevant, you may also want to point out that it would be confusing for other people to hear them still calling you by your old name, and might send the message that it’s ok for them to do so too. You can even tell them that because they are important in your life, it’s especially important that they call you by the correct name.

If people really are being stubborn about it, you may want to pull out somewhat more overt or aggressive methods. Start wearing a name tag around them. Flat-out ignore them when they call you by the wrong name (this tactic may also go over better if you state your intention explicitly: “Because it is important that you call me [new name], I will no longer be answering to [old name].”)

You can continue to escalate your insistence on people using the correct name as far as you need to, up to and including deciding to start cutting people out of your life if they refuse to respect you by using your new name.

This is really a boundary-setting exercise, and I encourage you to seek out general advice on setting boundaries to get other ideas about how to make this boundary stick. The “boundaries” category on Captain Awkward is a good place to start.

I wish you the best of luck!

Questions from the search terms: “what does it mean when someone uses they when they are referring to one person?”

Someone recently asked a search engine the following: what does it mean when someone uses they when they are referring to one person?

That’s a good question! When someone refers to as single person as “they”, it could be for one of five different reasons:

  1. That person’s pronoun might be the singular ‘they’.
    Lots of non-binary people (that’s people who aren’t men or women) prefer to be referred to as ‘they’ because it is a gender neutral pronoun, and options like ‘he’ or ‘she’ misgender them, by suggesting that they are a gender they aren’t.

    Some non-binary people also use other gender neutral singular pronouns, like ‘zie’ or ‘fae’, but you should always use whichever one they have chosen.

  2. The person speaking may not know the gender of the person they’re talking about.
    Sometimes people will say ‘they’ to avoid misgendering someone when they don’t know the person’s gender. This happens in conversations like this:

    Person 1: I went to see my doctor today
    Person 2: Oh yeah? What did they say?

    In this case, Person 2 may just not know the gender of Person 1’s doctor, and doesn’t want to assume the doctor is a he or a she, so they used ‘they’ as a placeholder. Because ‘they’ doesn’t indicate a gender at all, it is not misgendering to use it in this way.

  3. People often also use the singular ‘they’ when talking about hypothetical people.
    I did this a whole bunch of times in the point above. I referred to Person 1 and Person 2 as ‘they’, because they could be men or women or non-binary people. In fact, you did this in your own question (“someone” became “they”), so you are at least implicitly already aware of this usage. This comes up in sentences like:

    “If a student needs to go to the bathroom, they should ask for a hall pass.”

    Unless you area at an all boys school, it would be weird to say “If a student needs to go to the bathroom, he should ask for a hall pass”, because the hypothetical student isn’t necessarily a ‘he’. ‘They’ is also a better option than ‘he or she’ here, because ‘he or she’ still assumes that the hypothetical student is either a boy or a girl, and they may not be either. ‘They’ is just the most inclusive option.

  4. The singular ‘they’ can be used to help obscure the identity of the person they are talking about, in situations where anonymity is important.
    So if I were to say, “someone reported that they were harassed at our last meeting,” I may be deliberately avoiding identifying that person’s gender in order to make it harder for people to narrow it down and figure out who reported the harassment.

    This can be important, because there is often backlash against people who report bad behaviour in groups.

  5. Finally, the singular ‘they’ still occasionally gets used by closeted queers playing ‘the pronoun game’.
    Sometimes when someone in a same-gender relationship is afraid to ‘out’ themself as not straight. So, for instance, a lesbian who is about to refer to her partner but doesn’t want the person she’s talking to to know she’s a lesbian may use the pronoun ‘they’ instead of ‘she’. It is often possible to do this without the other person really noticing, thus avoiding potentially awkward conversations. Although she could also avoid this by simply saying ‘he’, this feels far more dishonest than the neutral ‘they’ (actually lying rather than simply avoiding the full truth), and it also misgenders the person’s partner to call her ‘he’, and many people do not find it acceptable to do that.

I think that about covers it! The singular ‘they’ has a bunch of different uses. (Readers: please also let me know if I missed any!)

Questions from the search terms: a non sequitur

I am working on a really tough post, about gender and self-doubt, and it’s refusing to stop being a total amorphous unstructured blob of half-thoughts, so this week I’m just gonna throw you a quick rant inspired by the search terms, that’s outside of my usual purview.

I wrote one time about the movie Killer Joe, in the context of depictions of sexual assault in movies and tv, and I guess this is how this questioner got to me. [TW: indirect discussion of rape and conspiring to rape]

why does dottie shoot her brother and dad in movie killer joe?

I don’t know, maybe you missed that part of the movie where Dottie’s brother and father treat her like their property, and are constantly making decisions on her behalf, without so much as consulting her? Or, y’know, that time they used her as a bargaining chip (literally, as a “retainer”) when hiring Joe? Dottie literally didn’t have any choice in the matter of her “relationship” with Joe, did you miss that too? None of the men in this movie see or treat Dottie like a person at all, they are all just trying to get her to do whatever will make them happy, or make their lives easier.

And, I don’t know, maybe she decided she’d had enough of that? Not that I actually condone murder, or violence of any kind, but seriously, the fact that Dottie might be angry or feel hate for the men in her life, who either raped her (Joe) or orchestrated and supported her repeated rape because it helped them meet their other goal (which, by the way, was the murder of a another woman, so not a great track record these men have) makes her desire to be free of these fuckers pretty understandable. But I guess you missed all that, yeah?

Back to basics: questions from the search terms, vol. 2

This edition of “questions from the search terms” covers some 101-ish topics!

“why is victim blaming wrong”?

Ok, I totally remember a time when I didn’t really understand the problems with victim-blaming. Some of the underlying theory is not inherently obvious, and it is often talked about as if it is, so I’m going to try to make it all explicit here.

The main reason that victim-blaming is wrong is that it involves placing responsibility on Person A for the fact that Person B decided, of their own accord, and for their own purposes, to do something bad to Person A. This actually means removing some of the blame from the person who did the bad thing, and suggesting they are not fully responsible for their actions, which is problematic. Very often victim-blaming takes the form of suggesting that Person A wanted whatever terrible thing to happen, that they “asked for it” and brought in on themself, and that’s just not how things work.

But, the counter-argument goes, people need to take precautions to protect themselves from bad people. We encourage people to have strong internet passwords and to never share them, and that’s generally considered ok. People keep their houses and cars locked so they won’t be robbed, and these kinds of recommendations don’t get the same reactions from feminists as suggestions that women should dress more modestly, or that they should never go anywhere alone ever.

There’s… a lot going on here. I can’t unpack it all, but there are specific reasons why victim-blaming in cases of abuse or sexual assault can be particularly damaging, and counter-productive. There are multiple reasons for this, including these:

  • A lot of the advice on “how to avoid rape” is just plain wrong, in some sense. It mostly only applies to cases of stranger rape, which is a pretty small subset of actual rapes. Most abuse, both sexual and otherwise, is perpetrated by people close to and trusted by the victims.
  • Victim-blaming in cases of abuse/sexual assault teaches abusers and rapists what circumstances will allow them to get away with their abuse (because it lets them know what circumstances will cause others to blame their victims instead of them).
  • Reinforcing the idea that an abuse or sexual assault survivor is responsible for the abuse they experienced only adds to the self-blame that they are almost inevitably already inflicting on themselves. We already know all of your bad advice; we already know all of the reasons why it was our fault, and trust me, we’ve been even more creative about it and found reasons you probably never even thought of. We don’t need your “help” here.

There is so much more to say about this, but I will leave it here for now.

“why is it bad to say ‘not all men'”?

A couple of things, here.

Firstly, a lot of the time, people feel the need to jump to the defense of men as a group, and declare that “not all men” do whatever thing, in conversations that are explicitly about the behaviours of some men. And usually, the people in these conversations know that not all men are terrible, that not all men are rapists, that not all men do whatever thing is being complained about. And the conversation isn’t about all men. It’s about the things that some men do, it’s about how hard it is to be affected by those things, it’s very often about the real lived experiences and hardships of women (yes, all women) and/or people who aren’t men and/or people who aren’t cis men. And by stepping in and making it about whether “all men” do the thing misses the point of the conversation entirely. Don’t do that.

Secondly, it is very important to note that to some extent, regardless of whether all men do x thing, all men need to be a part of these conversations. All men benefit from male privilege in various ways. And this is not a fault, or a flaw, or something to be guilty about. But it is something to be aware of, and it is something you have a certain amount of responsibility to use for the good of those who do not have that privilege. So yes, all men.

“can i omit parts of consent”?

I… um, I don’t know exactly what this question is supposed to mean, but it is very concerning. I’m going to try to address a couple of different interpretations here.

I suspect that the “parts of consent” here refers to something like the “enthusiasm” required by the standard of “enthusiastic consent”. Enthusiasm is a great ideal in many situations, but requiring enthusiastic consent in order for a sexual interaction to be considered truly consensual ignores the actual lived experiences of many people, particularly asexual people and sex workers, both groups for whom sexual interactions may very well be genuinely consented to, without there necessarily being any enthusiasm about the interaction itself. So, yes, there are some situations in which true enthusiasm is not strictly necessary, though it’s a vital touchstone to aim for, in developing any sort of ongoing sexual relationship.

Really, I think the concept people are aiming for in pushing enthusiastic consent, is “non-coerced” consent. This may not always be easy to identify, because often the coercion that causes people to “consent” to sex they don’t want is cultural rather than something that comes directly from their partner. Asexual people are pressured into giving sex a try, or are repeatedly told that if they want to be loved, they’re going to have to have sex. And women generally receive similar sorts of messages about obligations to have sex. Being aware of these things, and explicitly reassuring your partner that they are under no obligation to do anything they don’t want to do, will make it easier of you to make sure your partner is comfortable, and to actually figure out what they want. It is better for everyone, in the long run.

I am struggling to fully nail down all that I want to say here, really, but this post from the Asexual Agenda has a great, nuanced exploration of some alternate models of consent. It is very worth reading.

Alternatively, though, the “parts of consent” in question here might be indirectly referring to the idea that consent needs to be acquired for some things, but not others. All I will say is this: the standard of non-coercion should apply to all interactions you have with all people at all times (yes, sometimes coercive force is necessary in self-defense, or defense of others, but these sorts of situations are definitely not what we’re talking about here).

“Misgendering”: questions from the search terms, vol. 1

WordPress tells me I started writing Valprehension three years(WP lies; it has been two years) ago today! Go me! Posts have admittedly become more sparse over the past few months, though, so in an attempt to get back in the habit of writing more regularly, welcome to my new blogging series!

[I am always interested to see what search terms bring people to my little part of the internet. A lot of the time I am baffled that I could have been high enough in the search results to merit a visit. Other times, I can tell that people wound up in exactly the right place. Every now and then, though, some compelling search terms come up for which I know the searcher did not find what they were looking for, even though I wish they had. Posts in this series respond directly to those search strings, filling in gaps in what people want to know about :)]

Today, the topic will be misgendering. This is a thing people are concerned about (and well they should be), and I am here to help!

“is misgendering a word”?

Yes. It is a word. To misgender a person is to use words (pronouns such as “she” or “he”, or other inherently gendered words like “sister”, “man”, etc.) that don’t match their gender. In other words, it is applying the wrong gender to someone.

“misgendering is it a problem”?

Misgendering is definitely a problem, though how big of a problem it is depends on circumstances. It is common, for instance, for anti-trans bigots people to deliberately misgender people, and insist on referring to them only by their birth-assigned gender and name. This is an incredibly mean, rude, and disrespectful thing to do. It is a form of bullying, in fact.

Accidental misgendering is a different thing. Sometimes a person’s perception of another person’s gender is wrong, and they might use the wrong words or that person. Misgendering of this kind of complicated, in that it is often very painful for the person being misgendered, but at the same time it is hard to know how to avoid this all the time. Sincere apologies and honest efforts not to do it again, starting from the moment you are informed of your mistake, are the best way to make up for accidentally misgendering someone. Also, if you don’t know someone’s gender, instead of just guessing, get in the habit of asking them before using gendered words to refer to them!

“how to avoid misgendering”?

The easiest way to avoid misgendering a person is to ask them what their gender is, instead of trying to guess! Sometimes people still have trouble with using the correct pronouns for people even when they know the person’s gender though. This often happens when our perceptions of that person’s gender are different from how they identify (i.e. a lot of people look at me and think that I am a woman, even though I am not.) Because most of us have spent most of our lives only aware of two genders (male and female, “he” and “she”) and we are accustomed to people “looking like” the gender they are based on whatever our particular culture says those things are supposed to look like, it can sometimes be difficult to overcome the way these things are programmed in our brains, especially during casual conversation.

The best way to do better with this is just to get into the habit of thinking more carefully about the words you use for people all of the time. This is honestly a good habit generally, and you will find you make fewer errors this way. Additionally, when you *do* slip up, you should make a point of correcting yourself as soon as your realize you have done so, and if you realize quickly enough repeating the sentence you just said, but with the correct gender. This will help your brain get used to using the right gender for that person, while also making it clear that you care. An apology is usually also appreciated. So for instance, you might say “Leslie and I were at the movies today and he didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. Sorry, I mean she didn’t enjoy it.”

Really, all it takes is practice. If you put effort into it, you will get there, I promise!

“email apology for misgendering”?

I am hoping the searcher here was looking for advice on how to apologize for misgendering someone. First off, sending an email is a great idea. Sometimes we misgender people by accident, because our brains are so wired to see gender in a particular way, and even if we know better that can be hard to overcome. Or sometimes it happens for other reasons. But sending a note acknowledging your error will generally be very appreciated – it sends the message that you actually realize you made the mistake, and that you know it matters. You might also want to consider letting them know what you plan to do to avoid making the same mistake in the future, even if that simply amounts to trying harder.