I refer to GenderQueer: Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binary (Edited by Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins), and the collection of essays in the beginning by Riki Wilchins, constantly. I referred to it last night, actually. It’s a wonderful anthology, and it shows — in real people’s voices, not just academic theory — that there’s so much more to gender than merely “man” and “woman.”
Perhaps one of my favorite quotes about gender is in Wilchins’ essay “A Continuous Nonverbal Communication“: “In fact, throughout our entire waking lives we are carrying out a continuous nonverbal dialogue with the world, saying, ‘This is who I am, this is how I feel about myself, this is how I want you to see me‘” (12). To me, that statement sums up why it is so important to allow people to identify and express their gender as they will — to do otherwise would be to deny who they are.
In “Deconstructing Trans,” which is one of my favorite essays dealing with trans issues, Wilchins sheds light on the hierarchies within the transgender community and movement (among other topics), hierarchies that place the most value on transgender people who can pass, people who have a gender identity that is firmly within the binary. Wilchins writes:
when we equate transgenderism with those individuals who can claim their gender is a sign of an internal, binary essence, we privilege transexuals over other genderqueers who cannot make similar claims. Moreover, we diminish those who conceptualize their transcending of narrow gender stereotypes as a matter of the right to self-expression (61).
“Queens in Exile, the Forgotten Ones,” by Sylvia Rivera, is blunt, rough around the edges, and entirely not P.C. It’s also freakin’ Sylvia Rivera, and you have to respect that. It’s powerful, in an honest, matter-of-fact sort of way, and it gives a look at life around the time of Stonewall and just after. It shows important insight into how people who fought at Stonewall have been pushed aside and ignored by the more mainstream gay rights movements for being too different, too other — “for four years we were the vanguard of the gay movement, and all of a sudden it was being taken away. We were being pushed out of something we helped create” (82). She shows that the idea of incremental inclusion — the “Oh, let us pass our bill, then we’ll come for you” (80) — doesn’t work:
Yeah, come for me. Thirty-two years later and they’re still coming for me. And what have we got? Here, where it all started, transpeople have nothing. We can no longer let people like the Empire State Pride Agende, the HRC in Washington, speak for us. And it really hurts me that some gay people don’t even know what we gave for their movement (80-81).
“Scars,” by Hilda Raz, is this short little essay written by a mother about her transgender son. Maybe it’s nothing ground-breaking or earth-shattering, but it feels revolutionary to me. It seems that there are so few accounts of parents lovingly, supportively, dealing with their children’s transitions, and I found this one really moving, brief though it is.
“World’s Youngest,” by Mollie Biewald, is a collection of memories about her gender-transgressive childhood. There are a few in particular that really speak to me. At 13, after attending a queer conference, she writes “If I’m transgendered, wouldn’t I know it by now?” (122), and I remember thinking the same thing, only I was 21 at the time. She whispers to her mom, “I’ll always be your daughter. But I’m your son too” (122). And she goes to a gay prom, and I remember being so jealous. Even though I’m well past the age for proms and school dances — and frankly, I never liked them whenI was — her few sentences make me wish I could go, too.
“Penis Envy,”by Toni Amato.
Halloween in the Castro. Mardi Gras. I’m walking down the street in my old uniform — the best I can do for a costume — watching a beautiful boy in gossamer float and flutter. Once more, the no-necks. They grow and spread like fungus, like mildew in a damp, dark place. And they, all of them, such brave men, start in on this reed-this apparition. So I mouth off, ask them why they come to the Castro if they don’t like queers. After all, I don’t live in the Bible Belt.
“Shut up, dyke. What you need is a real dick.”
I plant my feet. “I’ve got one, right here,” and reach for the bulge of a rolled-up sock, remembering how being loved made the Straw Horse real. Remembering my girlfriend who cuts my hair, folds my T-shirts and boxers, and every now and then bleaches the bloodstains out of my button-downs when my mouth goes into gear before my brain does. Then I remember that it’s me against this pack. Bad odds.
They start toward me, and I regret, for a moment, that my muscle mass doesn’t match my attitude. And then another pack of men turns. These with full beards, high heals, and gorgeous gowns. They step between me and the no-necks.
“That’s right, honeys. She’s got one that stays hard all night.”
Penis envy. Ha. Because, see, me and my people, we’ve got balls (227).
Nestle, Joan, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins, eds. GenderQueer: Voices Beyond the Sexual Binary. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 2002.