Who Is Gender Queer? by Carol P. Christ


carol p. christ photo michael bakas“It seems to me that calling oneself queer can be a way of affirming the parts (or all) of oneself that do not fit into the heteronormative paradigm. In my case, though I am white and straight, I am too tall, too smart, too assertive, too strong, too bold, too flashy, too unwilling to be controlled by men to fit the heteronormative paradigm of woman as in every way a little less than man–not as tall, not as smart, not disagreeing too much, not putting herself forward too much, not taking too many risks, not standing out in a crowd, and at least letting men think they are in charge. From this perspective, a whole lot of women are queer.”*

I wrote the above statement in response to a question posed to Vanessa de la Fuente after she called herself a gender queer Muslim feminist. Ivy Hellman asked if it is appropriation for a woman who does not herself identify as LGBTI to identify herself as queer: “where have you left room for queer individuals in their specificity and with their concerns? As a queer person (who happens to be Jewish and not Muslim), I have a problem with this because you end up losing what is particular about a certain group of people and their contributions as well as their particular gifts, struggles and perspectives within Islam (in your case) and Judaism (in mine).”

Vanessa responded that she claimed the term gender queer to describe herself as a feminist Muslim convert with dark skin who along with the “the women who participated in the mosque of women project” was about to “march along with feminist collectives, women theologians, trans women, lesbians, immigrant women, rural women, sex workers women, indigenous women, housemaids unions, all together to call for the early adoption and passing of the bill that legalizing abortion and ask on behalf of all women of Chile that our government hears each of our particular demands .”

I agree with Ivy that it is wrong for others to claim lesbian, gay, Jewish, or Muslim identities as a way of supporting struggles to end discrimination against particular groups. But am not so sure about the term “gender queer.” Though queer theory originally called attention to the ways in which butch lesbians and drag queens challenge gender stereotypes, the word “queer” has broader connotations, including “strange” or “different.”

*

Not long ago my friend Cristina called me “eccentric,” and I cringed. When I was very young, very tall, and very thin, my mother used to say to me, “You should be careful never to  gain weight because then you will not only be taller than the other girls, you will be bigger too.” While recognizing that in many ways I do not fit the “norms” that define the ideal female, I have spent a lifetime trying to pretend that I am “normal.” The idea I might be able to affirm that I am not normal but that I am nonetheless fine just as I am was an idea that my mother and I simply were not able to consider.

When I asked Cristina please not to call me “eccentric,” she responded that for her eccentric is a positive term because the last thing she would want to be is normal. Cristina’s embrace of her eccentricity caused me to wonder why I was still expending so much energy trying to claim my normality.

These questions were in my mind when in a ritual at the Skoteino Cave on the recent Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, I dropped a stone down a deep hole affirming my desire to let go of my fear of being different. While sitting in meditation in darkness of the cave, I was surprised to hear the words from a Sesame Street song my little brother used to sing form in my mind: “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just isn’t the same. If you can tell me which thing is not like the others, then we’ll finish our game.”**

As the words from the song swirled in my mind, I found myself physically raising my hand like a school child and while answering silently, “I am. I am the one who is not like the others.” This meditation was powerful because being taunted, excluded, or categorized because of my difference had caused me to spend a life time wanting to be like the others.

*

Before I posted my response to Ivy and Vanessa, I asked my theological pal Judith Plaskow (who like Ivy identifies as lesbian) if she would categorize me as gender queer because I am so much taller than women are supposed to be. She said yes. She went on to say that she gets tired of insisting that a woman can be as smart as she is and still be a woman. Sometimes, she mused, it is easier just to acknowledge that she is gender queer.

I was reminded that identity theories and politics name the experiences of excluded groups in order to call attention to injustice and to offer more inclusive theories. My work on women’s experiences is situated in this framework. While it can be exhausting to explain that women are, can be, and have been different than gender norms have dictated, I (along with Judith) continue to insist that our theories and our politics take account of and value all of women’s multifaceted and intersectional experiences.

Queer theory challenges identity theory by asking whether there are any fixed identities at all. Vanessa speaks to this point when she writes, “I think the beauty of being human is being able to flow, to mutate, to be free of categories and asserting oneself to embrace our quirks and our dark areas and our sorrows and doubts, without wanting to be anyone but myself and without wishing to be anywhere else than in the present moment . . . I am a queer person for many reasons . . . I surrender to the possibilities of life, of my body, of my mind, of my soul.”

As Vanessa states so eloquently, identifying as queer means no longer having to try to fit in, to be like the others, to be normal. Identifying as queer means that it is fine to be different, eccentric, not like the others. It means telling the gender police to “go jump in a lake and swallow a snake and come out with a belly ache.”***

*

Before beginning to write this piece, I watched the most recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I was delighted to see the camera focus on the way the character played by Geena Davis (who is six feet tall) “towered over” Arizona, Amelia, and Bailey. I hope Davis’s character will survive her brain surgery because it is such a rare treat for me to see a woman who is different in the way I am different have a part on television program. Thanks to Shonda Rhimes for creating a series where women who are not like the others are celebrated in their difference.

*The quote is edited slightly from the way it appears in the responses to Vanessa’s post.

**The Sesame Street game taught children to identify difference: for example, colors or apples and oranges.

***A children’s rhyme used to respond to being taunted.

Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter)–space available on the spring and fall 2015 tours.  Carol’s books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess; with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions; and forthcoming next year, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.

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Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Queer Theory

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31 replies

  1. Carol –
    I suggested reading some of these resources regarding gender queer and some of your above statements. I think you’ll find them educational and useful for follow up! I think the way that you frame your definition is a little too reductionist and your arguments would fit more into identifying terms such as cisnormativity or cisidentity. More importantly, I think the ways in which homonormativity has now policed LGBT identities that do not adhere to strict LGBT norms has created a shift or gradual move of many to identify as gender queer in order to fight against normalizing social, sexual, and gendered agents that come from members of their own “community.”

    http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/release_materials/agendernotlistedhere.pdf
    http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/02/sexual-orientation-for-the-genderqueer/
    http://katebornstein.typepad.com/kate_bornsteins_blog/2009/10/a-theory-of-othering-sex-and-gender-outlaws.html

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    • Thank you John. Like you, though perhaps for different reasons, I have felt somewhat uneasy with the gay marriage discussion. I am 100% for it, don’t get me wrong. On the other hand, as I have written here, I don’t think that couples without children should be getting tax and health insurance breaks just because they are married, whether they are gay or straight. And there has been a tenor (sometimes) to the discussion that accepts the idea that everyone wants to be, can be, and should be married–as in “we want what everyone else has” when in fact everyone else is not married, some choose not to be, and others simply never found that one person. Judith Plaskow and Martha Acklesberg wrote a statement years ago about why they did not rush out to get married when the opportunity first arose.
      https://www.keshetonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Why-Were-Not-Getting-Married.pdf

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    • John,
      I think you bring up such an important issue here: the heternormative policing of LGBT identities and normalizing of LGBT identities. The significance of this cannot be underplayed in an era of “Pink Washing,” where identities normalized through a heterocentric, capitalist and white-supremacist narrative are co-opted/ appropriated to support politics of exclusion, silencing and economic empire.

      Thank you for posting these great resources for everyone to consider. I think critiquing racist, size-ist, heteronormative and colonialist categories of cisgender or cisnormativity is very important work; but I strongly support your implied assertion that this work is something different than genderqueer.

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      • Sara,
        I couldn’t agree more! What we now are seeing, more than ever, are people in OUR own community trying to silence or exclude others. Homonormativity is, in my opinion, at times a bigger threat to our success and future than the larger social forces that have been working against us for years!

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  2. Dear Carol,

    I am always pleased to read you work here; your edited volume of Womanspirit Rising transformed my life, and I have the deepest respect for what you do.

    However, my primary concern with identifying yourself, as an otherwise cisgendered woman, with the term “genderqueer” is an act of erasure for those who do identify as genderqueer. You apply queer theory, claiming “Queer theory challenges identity theory by asking whether there are any fixed identities at all.” This is true, and queer theory offers ample space to apply the theoretical to the practical – like spelling “women” as “womyn” to queer the language.

    Yet people are not merely theory, and there is an entire population of self-identifying people whose gender is not “woman” who bends the stereotypes with her height or words, but their very gender identity is “genderqueer.” Sometimes classified under the “trans” category, but their own group nonetheless. Genderqueer can refer to someone whose chosen androgyny means they dress in either traditionally male or female attire on different days, but it can also mean a life lived in the liminal space between boundaries – someone who truly does not identify as “male” or “female” or even one who has transitioned from one gender to the other.

    You claiming that you are genderqueer, when in fact you do not (to my knowledge, forgive my assumptions if they are misguided) have a fundamental gender shift from “Woman” to “Genderqueer” erases the struggles of this community to exist. For example: when filling out a governmental form, and asked to check “Gender: M or F?” a genderqueer person can have a genuine conflict. They may pick the gender they were assigned at birth, but that is not true to their current identity as “neither.” Genderqueer may also include people born intersex – that is, with genitalia that is not easily categorized as “male” or “female,” making BOTH their gender and sex “queer” in its resistance to normality.

    You say, “As Vanessa states so eloquently, identifying as queer means no longer having to try to fit in, to be like the others, to be normal. Identifying as queer means that it is fine to be different, eccentric, not like the others.” This is true, but I urge you to consider the community of people who struggle every day against violence, against harassment, and against binary assumptions of their identity when you co-opt their terms of identity. Being queer – being attracted to multiple genders or one gender, living on the boundaries of sexuality and gender expression – is one thing. Being GENDERQUEER, as one whose fundamental gender identity (and maybe or nor maybe sexuality) is queer is another.

    Thanks for your time!

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  3. Ahhhhh, my friend, as usual, brava for writing so bravely.

    I’ve never thought about calling myself queer, but when I was seven years old, I found my name, Barbara, in my grandfather’s dictionary. “Strange, foreign, different.” Related to “barbarian.” I guess that set me off. Or maybe I’ve just been rebellious since birth. As for tallness, reached my adult height–5′ 2 1/2″–at age 12, which made me taller than my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother. And I’ve always been smarter…… Gee–am I genderqueer, too? That’s a concept worth thinking about.

    Thanks again for writing your usual thought-provoking post.

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  4. As I said in response to Vanessa’s post, as a cis-gendered straight woman, I cannot use the term for myself. Being tall, awkward, highly straightforward with my opinions, having uncomfortable views, and my tendency to prefer boyish clothes and haircuts does not make me gender-queer. Hell, one of my elementary school teachers insisted I was a boy and my name was “Larry.” I kept insisting in response, “I’m a girl!” I knew then and have always known, I am “a girl.” The form my body takes and my gender-identity “fit” with with the broadest expectations of society around me and there has never been the slightest confusion about that for me.

    I know which box to check when it asks “male” or “female.” I know which washroom to use. I know which section of the store sells the clothes that are appropriate to my gender-identity (boyish clothes for women are typically found in women’s preppy shops). I even know where to stand in a gender segregated mosque. And so on.

    What I understand from listening to my gender queer friends talk about their life experiences tells me that their struggles are not the same as my struggles. There is no box for them to check. If they want a gender-neutral washroom it is most likely labelled “handicapped.” Here in Ontario an idiot politician has put forward a bill that would bar trans people from using public bathrooms. They grew up knowing they did not fit in an incredibly different way than I did not fit in.

    I will end with one story that maybe makes my feelings about this issue most clear: My husband and I were marching in Pride one year and there was a person ahead of us, topless, with breasts, and also obviously with a penis and testicles, who had written (if I remember correctly) on their body, “I am a Trans Lesbian Get Used to It.” Right there and then, we had to confront all these contradictory elements that were not making sense to us (despite our full intellectual and emotional acceptance of spectrum gender/sexuality) and accept, no, honor this person’s self-expression no matter the confusion it caused us at that time.

    I am most certainly not gender queer. So beyond sheer inaccuracy in my view, I cannot honor my friends’ experiences or that beautiful human being’s experiences by using the term for myself, even if a few gender-queer or gay friends tell me that is alright.

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    • “I am most certainly not gender queer. So beyond sheer inaccuracy in my view, I cannot honor my friends’ experiences or that beautiful human being’s experiences by using the term for myself, even if a few gender-queer or gay friends tell me that is alright.”

      100 times this.

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  5. This was a very thought provoking piece, Carol, but I’ve always wondered why we humans feel that need to categorize ourselves into groups. All my life I have known I am different than most but never really tried to put myself into a particular category. I have always thought that as soon as I fit into one of those spaces I immediately become “normal” even if that normalcy is just within that category. When will we learn that we are all completely different from each other and that includes all those who think they are “normal”. In my mind there is no such thing as normal. Anyone who calls themselves that is usually a very boring person who is afraid to be who they really feel they are inside.

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    • I wonder whether part of the problem is “democracy,” which indicates the rule of the majority. That can put minorities at a disadvantage, and if they don’t label themselves to point out the problem, maybe they just disappear into the void?

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      • Definitely, Katharine. The issue of categories/naming becomes important because in our world these already *are* important; as Laury notes above, there are material consequences tied to them. Laws, policies, medical services, benefits of all kinds are enacted around such categories. So as long as there are social and economic consequences tied to very specific labels/categories/identities, then it cannot simply be a matter of affirming that there is “no normal” – for materially there is one – but a matter of struggling to have all persons’ various identities be honored. I so appreciate you all’s conversation around this – it really is an important one. Thank you to each one of you! And thank you, Carol, especially, for venturing into this conversation.

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  6. One of the issues I was trying to raise here is that gender queer theory began as an attempt to problematize identity politics (or at least that is one reading of it). But gender queer has also become a new identity which may or may not be limited to … all gays and lesbians or to a smaller group for example, cross-dressing, transgendered and intersex individuals. I am also responding to a wide group of students I have taught in recent years who identify as queer but may or may not belong to the group of all gays and lesbians or to the group of transgendered or intersex individuals. It may be relevant that many of these students are– to use another category — women of color. The fact that the gender norm for female is white female, may play a role in their identification as queer, at least for some of these women. I am not so much providing answers in this blog as I am raising questions. One of the questions Vanessa’s blog raised for me is whether–if we really think about it–anyone fits the gender norms. Another question is who defines them of course. I am not so much interested in defining myself as gender queer or claiming an identity as gender queer as I am in raising the questions I raised here. In some ways almost all of us are different from gender norms narrowly defined and this is important to recognize. Almost all of us have suffered for our difference. This is not the same as saying that we all suffer in the same ways for our difference. And these are important distinctions. So… thanks for all your comments and questions so far.

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  7. I remember conversations we had on your balcony in the late 80’s when we both half wished we could be normal and just fit in. Well that ship sailed long ago so …. What ever we call it – bravo to embracing your unique and beautiful self.

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  8. Part of the problem in this discussion, it seems to me, is our varying definitions of genderqueer which confuse the distinctions between gender and sexuality or interconnect them in different ways. I’m reminded of many different things as I read the post and responses to it, and some of my thoughts have to do with what I usually call sexuality and some of them have to do with what I generally call gender — just to muddy the waters even further, because, of course, we can’t really make that distinction very cleanly.

    When Carol writes, “Queer theory challenges identity theory by asking whether there are any fixed identities at all,” I’m reminded of my daughter’s generation, the progressive parts of which have taken on a very sexually fluid identity. She spent her 20s in what from the outside looked like a lesbian relationship, and now in her 30s, she’s with a man. She always defined herself as bisexual, so in some sense, this is unsurprising. But there are members of her cohort who have even more fluid sexusal identities, for example one young woman who had her breasts excised and still call herself a woman. One young woman who is involved with transwomen in what is a at least outwardly a lesbian relationship. And I could go on. This part of the story seems to be about sexual identity.

    When Carol writes, “As Vanessa states so eloquently, identifying as queer means no longer having to try to fit in, to be like the others, to be normal. Identifying as queer means that it is fine to be different, eccentric, not like the others. It means telling the gender police to “go jump in a lake…” Here I have to agree with Elizabeth McManus that defining queer or genderqueer so broadly is “an act of erasure for those who do identify as genderqueer.” In fact, this part of the discussion reminds me of the response of one of my male students in the early 1990s on the final exam for Women’s Studies 101. He was writing about what type of feminism (we had defined a range of feminisms in the class), he now thought he was at the end of the term. Being a clever fellow, he decided that the most radical form of feminism — which he assumed would be the best form to adopt — was lesbian feminism, so he declared that he was a lesbian feminist.

    On a more personal note, I’m bisexual, but because I’m married and live in what looks like a pretty normal heterosexual way, I bring this fact up to disrupt people’s perceptions of me, to broaden their minds a little. But most of the time, it doesn’t come up, because I actually do have heterosexual privilege in most ways, and it would seem like an erasure of others who don’t.

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    • LOVE your example of the cis-male student claiming to be a lesbian feminist. This example captures the power of naming – and the problem of well-meaning people co-opting such naming – beautifully. I also identify with your final comment about being bisexual but passing as heterosexual (I’m pansexual, but pass as straight also by virtue of marriage to a man) and think this is an excellent way to embody what I think Christ is targeting here. If we want to “disrupt” gender then we do so by disobeying, disregarding, or re-imagining gender norms. This is a great way to challenge such stereotypes like woman-should-be-short without co-opting a name that powerfully can assert someone’s worth in a non-normative gender space.

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    • I agree with you Nancy that people here and not only here are using terms in different ways and for different purposes.

      As for your male student, I think he came claim the term feminist (though some might disagree) but not lesbian.

      I was thinking of your daughter’s generation and some of the students I have known recently when I wrote the post.

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  9. “As Vanessa states so eloquently, identifying as queer means no longer having to try to fit in, to be like the others, to be normal. Identifying as queer means that it is fine to be different, eccentric, not like the others. It means telling the gender police to “go jump in a lake…”

    I identify as genderqueer, And I certainly don’t fit in anywhere, and never have. But for me, identifying as genderqueer is about way more than not fitting in.

    For me, genderqueer is (in no particular order):

    Looking at a government form that asks if I am “male” or “female” and knowing that neither one is true. And knowing once again that as far as the form-makers are concerned, I don’t (or at least shouldn’t) exist.

    Having female pronouns applied to me, and having the sense that the speakers are talking about an illusion in their own minds, not about me–the person standing right in front of them. This is especially difficult if it is a friend or a relative who is speaking. (I have not had much success whenever I’ve tried to explain why this is painful, and asked for neutral pronouns, or no pronouns at all.)

    Feeling odd about being invited to “female only” events by people who don’t know I’m genderqueer. As if I would be there under false pretenses, as if I would be intruding, into what other participants would regard as woman-only space. Deciding not to attend and giving a polite excuse… or deciding to try and go (if those organizing it don’t seem too hung up on it being female-only), only to have my body check out at the last minute and come down with the flu or something.

    Looking the mirror, and being unable to reconcile my name, the pronouns I am usually known by, and what I see. It is as though I see a stranger, much of the time.

    Staying away from most religious sites/rituals of my faith, because of the inevitable gender problems. Which door would I enter? Where would I stand? Feeling intense gender dysphoria and panic at the thought of having to be buried as a woman, with the gendered rituals that that would involve.

    Accepting female pronouns at work and in day-to-day interactions as a matter of ease and safety. Feeling as though I am hiding in the midst of them, and feeling false, and only somewhat safe. Like a rabbit that freezes in the field in plain sight, hoping that if it doesn’t move it won’t be noticed but readying itself to run in a split second if it has to.

    Fearing that God hates me. Does living forever in the gray zone mean that God has abandoned me?

    Does it mean that I have failed to be human?

    Knowing that my family–for the most part–doesn’t want to know. That it would burden them too much. Knowing that if I died it would be easier on some of them than having to deal with that.

    So no, it’s not some free-floating fluidity in my experience. It’s not a way of sticking it to the man. It’s a word I use in order to try to make sense of my own experience, to remind myself that there are others like me somewhere out there… and to try and find them, if only on the internet.

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    • Thank you, GendrQwr, for your comment. It is so valuable for us all to read and I so appreciate that you contributed it here. I hear you, I do.

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    • THANK YOU for your bravery in this comment. You put your finger on the pulse of where I think Carol P. Christ has gone wrong – fluidity in experience whilst still being cisgendered, still dwelling in the privileged space of a normative gender and identity, is not a genderqueer experience. Apply as much Judith Butler as we like, complicate our theory of gender as much as we like, but the reality of day-to-day examples like bathroom signs and government forms are where the rubber hits the road with theory. This doesn’t mean that what Christ has encountered is not challenging gender norms, and I don’t mean to degrade her experiences of discomfort in gender norms. But her claiming of genderqueer (which she spells gender queer, semantically something also to consider) can be an unintentional, but still powerful, erasure. Thank you again for posting this so bravely, you are NOT a failure to be human, and as a priest-in-training I want you to know that my church and the God I love would never condemn you.

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    • GendrQwr,

      Thank you so much for contributing to the discussion today. I wish I could tell you how important having your voice in the discussion is. I want to echo Xochitl– you are heard here. Your voice, above others, needs to rise here today.

      I was especially moved by : “So no, it’s not some free-floating fluidity in my experience. It’s not a way of sticking it to the man. It’s a word I use in order to try to make sense of my own experience, to remind myself that there are others like me somewhere out there… and to try and find them, if only on the internet.” As Elizabeth stated above– we are not theory. We are human beings seeking out who we are and THAT MATTERS.

      Again, thank you so much for speaking today. THANK YOU.

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    • Thank you for this reply GendrQwr and for sharing your experience. I do not share your experience as a cisgender, heterosexual woman; but many of those close to me do. I am particularly saddened by your discussion of how other people in your life gender you through pronouns that affirm their illusion of who you are, rather than who you actually are. I have seen this happen too many times, as well as the pain it causes– which you indicate here.
      I also know that this happens in public spaces where this inability to see someone as genderqueer has threatened their safety and lead to violence.

      I agree with Xochitl, Elizabeth and Martha here– you voice is very important in this discussion and (as Elizabeth states) really helps to show the difference between challenging gender norms and being genderqueer.

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  10. Carol — Thanks for this. I, too, am old enough to remember when being queer meant not conforming to gender stereotypes, regardless of one’s sex. Back then, we who called ourselves queer understood gender as a tool of patriarchal oppression. We wanted to abolish gender completely.

    Now, queer means the exact opposite. Gender is no longer understood to be the daily, social operating system of sexist ideology. On the contrary, gender is regarded as an innate individual characteristic to be celebrated and elevated as a protected legal category.

    Human sexual dimorphism, on the other hand, is vilified as an optional belief system that must be abolished.

    Back when I was queer, lesbians were not pressured to shut up and “accept” that men with penises are lesbians, too. Today, queer ideology demands it. Lesbians are tarred as bigots for not “affirming” the “identity” of lesbians with penises (a.k.a. men; a.k.a. not lesbians at all.)

    For me, the question is not whether you’re genderqueer, or whether its right or wrong of you to use this word to describe yourself. It’s whether you want to associate yourself with the tortuous, retrograde distortions and reversals of queer theory as we know it today.

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    • Dear Lisa, I think it is so important when we can engage with one another across our different perspectives, which is why, while I am grateful for your engagement, I must also say that your comment breaks my heart. I know the pain and anger it will cause many of my friends. The comment above by Gendr Qwr expresses well what is at stake and raises the very real issues of justice that genderqueer persons face daily. It is not about a distorted theory, it is about the right to self-name, to be seen and recognized for who one truly is, and to exist in this world with the same rights as any other. Our humanity, with all its various aspects, is complex and not so easily codified (not should it be). Throughout history the terms we use to capture and describe who we are in all our complexity have changed and shifted. We’re living through such a shift now, yes. My hope for us is that we can be willing to make room for one another, to allow each other to claim one’s place on this earth without thinking it a loss, but welcoming it as an expansion in our understanding of the reality of our great human diversity. It’s a matter of justice, really.

      My genderqueer friends are claiming their own place under the sun. I celebrate that with all my heart.

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  11. Carol, I remember the Sesame Street song differently, from when my children watched it nearly forty years ago: “One of these things is not like the other / One of these things just doesn’t belong / Can you tell me which thing is not like the others / By the time I finish this song?”

    I think “just doesn’t belong” probably expresses more aptly the experience you recall of being a young woman in a time and place where fitting in seemed like the only thing that could possibly stop the pain of being different. I got to a point at a fairly young age (my mid-20s) where being like everyone else seemed to be the worst thing that could possibly happen to me. I had a Frank & Ernest cartoon on my fridge for years, where one is the doctor and the other the patient. The patient is saying, “A normal life? Is that the best you can offer?!?”

    And while the statement that I got past it, to the point of leaning in the other direction, is true, it’s also not true. I’m 62, and still discover myself wondering why my church doesn’t value me. Don’t get me wrong — I teach history of christianity and believe me when I say I KNOW the answer(s) to that question. Yet once in awhile, that child who thinks being accepted by a person/community/institution who doesn’t really accept her and never will demonstrates that she’s still alive inside me somewhere.

    I don’t have the life experience to allow me to enter the discussion that’s ongoing over the use of genderqueer terminology. But I do have the life experience to say there’s more going on with the song that you articulated, and to say thanks for the vulnerability you showed in the post. I think of you and Judith as being pioneers who must have worked out all the answers already, and it’s helpful to be reminded that we’re ALL still working in one way or another on the same damn stuff we faced when we were twelve.

    And, while I’m sorry for you pain, then and now, I am so grateful that you DIDN’T belong and struck out the beginnings of a path for the rest of us who didn’t, either. Blessed be.

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  12. Again, I thank everyone who has participated in this discussion so far. Obviously there are a lot of issues here that I hope will be discussed further on FAR blogs from as many perspectives as are important. It was not my intention to police anyone or to exclude anyone’s experience. I was simply reflecting on what I saw as an ambiguity in term queer as it was being used in the discussion that came up between FAR bloggers Vanessa and Ivy. I am truly sorry if what I wrote felt excluding or appropriating of specific experiences that are not mine, again this was not my intention. Beyond the issues raised here, I truly believe that everyone’s voice must be heard and that everyone’s experience is valuable, and that our culture fails in many ways regarding that.

    I must say too that in some ways it is refreshing to have a dialogue with differences of opinion emerge again here. While I love hearing “great post,” I am also interested in differences of experience and opinion. So thanks for engaging too.

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  13. I agree with all of the folks saying that genderqueer and queer do not seem like words you are looking for to describe your identity.

    I believe that gender — as well as all these labels we come up with — is a social construct. and, people come to identify as cis, genderqueer, and trans for a wide variety of reasons: maybe for some folks this is about height and clothing choice and degree of conforming to gender norms. however, my sense is that, for most genderqueer and trans folks, gender is a LOT more than those things. just like I identify as a woman for deep, largely unexplainable, visceral reasons.

    these labels, like folks have said, are a way for people to name themselves with pride and resist invisibility. we all want to be visible as our true, full selves. however, to do this we gotta not just claim/appropriate someone else’s labels — we should find the right ones, or invent new one’s if we need to.

    perhaps you aren’t a genderqueer person, but rather *gender non-conforming* woman?

    similarly, with the term queer: that word does mean something besides being sexually non-conforming. it means being sexual non-conforming in a specific way: being attracted to people of a gender you aren’t supposed to be attracted to — that is, anyone who isn’t the opposite gender of you. kinky ppl and poly people are non-conformists, but they aren’t necessarily queer. I consider myself “a little” queer because I’ve liked some cis women and genderqueer folks and non-binary people. but, I don’t like to claim that label too much, because mostly I like cis men and my sexuality hasn’t been a burden to me.

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  14. I realize I’m a few weeks late to this discussion. I also realize that I’ve not previously posted here NOR am I in this particular field of study. What I am, instead, is a person who teaches 11-15 year old inner-city school kids on a daily basis where this is an important discussion.

    Please understand that I mean these comments as respectfully as possible, but the original post sits uneasily with me. While I *think* I understand the place from which Carol is coming at this issue, I think there’s a bigger picture disconnect happening here, in a way. If the purpose of gender studies, particularly feminism and religion, is to change the societal picture of how we talk about gender, then it needs to be accessible, yes? And not just to the academics who study the niche, but to the masses. This type of study and conversation should aim to positively impact people like my beautiful students and my fellow teachers and I as we try to love them and help them understand themselves. So that is the angle from which my response is coming:

    Rather than addressing the co-opting of someone else’s label (Queer, cis, lesbian, etc.) that many others have expressed concerns over, the thing that most struck me as difficult about this piece was the opening premise:

    “In my case, though I am white and straight, I am too tall, too smart, too assertive, too strong, too bold, too flashy, too unwilling to be controlled by men to fit the heteronormative paradigm of woman as in every way a little less than man–not as tall, not as smart, not disagreeing too much, not putting herself forward too much, not taking too many risks, not standing out in a crowd, and at least letting men think they are in charge. From this perspective, a whole lot of women are queer.”

    I in no way wish to diminish anyone else’s experiences and certainly I’ve never “walked a mile” in Carol’s shoes, so forgive me…but this seems both extremely judgmental toward all women as well as…apologies, but a “humble brag.” Perhaps I am reading it wrong?

    But to me, this reads as “I’m too powerful and unique to be one of those *average* women.” From Carol’s very well articulated thoughts, I’m 100% positive that she is powerful and unique :-) My frustration is with what seems to be her stated idea that most other women are *not.* When one begins a piece about acceptance of “other” but begins that piece by first insulting and entire group of the population, I feel the tone of the whole piece gets lost. Above and beyond stealing a legitimate identifier from another group of people who already struggle with ways to define themselves, I have a very tough time swallowing the idea that I could choose any perceived imperfection about my body and use it as a way to take an identity from someone else. I’m an overweight, tall, loud, smart, halfbreed, stright, white woman. Shopping in the plus size section does not entitle me to be queer. You know why? Because then how do I explain to my 11-12 year old gay kids that the *one* label they finally have found to feel comfortable using for themselves doesn’t really belong to them?

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  1. Who Is Gender Queer? | Enfoques

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