Monday, January 9, 2012

The distinction between gender and sexuality

Biyuti is a Bakla Filipina living on stolen Algonquin land. He works to sustain and increase the biyuti of the world through decolonization and through her explorations of the intersections of race with queerness/gender. He also blogs at The Biyuti Collective.

It is a regular part of many Trans 101 discussions to highlight how gender and sexuality are separate and not the same thing (see here, here, here, and here). At all. What few people appear to realize that if this statement has any truth, it might only true in the Western discourse on gender and sexuality. Or, rather, that this is the context in which the statement makes the most sense and can be asserted with the most confidence.

Again, I'll repeat one of my axioms: gender/sexuality are socially constructed, but that constructions depend on the society. Different societies will have different constructions. This seems like a basic understanding, but since the West likes to think itself the centre of the universe, this is rarely emphasized as strongly as it should be. Even more rare are those who recognize the basic normative and imperialistic notion of asserting that all gender is distinct from all sexuality.

This is not my truth. Just as I do not experience my race as distinct from my sexuality/gender, my sexuality and gender intersect and overlap. Perhaps, they are even the same thing. I'm not quite sure and I'm not really concerned with working out the exact boundaries between the two (if they are even exist).

Now, I wanna be clear that understand why it is important that many trans* people make a clear delineation between their gender and their sexuality. I understand the historical and cultural context that makes such a distinction necessary. I also understand how the West is obsessed with marking clear and distinct boundaries between all the things. I also understand that the West is still clearly committed to a larger colonial and imperialistic program that causes many (even in activist circles) to participate in this very same program.

It is this uncritical participation in Western imperialism that often alienates PoC like me (and at least one other Asian). I cannot truly feel like I belong in a movement that continuously tells me to understand my gender and sexuality in ways that feel false to my own experiences. I also find that this Western urge to continuously make hard distinctions between things causes many movements born in the West to fail to be truly intersectional.

It becomes difficult to hold onto your conception of your self when there are continuous messages that you've somehow incorrectly understood your gender or sexuality. That maybe you are doing something wrong or somehow failing when your experiences fail to reflect the hegemonic narrative spoken from so many mouths.

Even more important, is when a narrative becomes so hegemonic that it begins to exclude people who might like to participate and wish to become part of the community. When the trans community says that being trans means something unrelated to sexuality and insists that this is the only correct or true concept of gender, they begin to create a community that validates and privileges some experiences and stories, while erasing and silencing those who exist outside of the framework of their discourse.