For, there is no space really untouched by the vicissitudes of history, and emancipatory projects never begin nor end properly. They are constantly hampered in their activities by the closure-effect repeatedly brought about when a group within a movement becomes invested in the exercise of power, when it takes license to legislate what it means to “be a woman,” to ascertain the “truth” of the feminine, and to reject other women whose immediate agenda may differ from their own. In undoing such closure-effect one is bound again and again to recognize “that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knows only the oppressors’ tactics, the oppressors’ relationship” (Audre Lorde).
–TRINH T. MINH-HA
I no longer know or understand my own politics. Rather, I’m embattled: I recognize that social organizations are desperately needed for change to take hold in this world, and yet I feel a tug-of-war spurred onwards by that undercurrent of consciousness which makes me perceive hierarchical flaws in most possible groupings of identities.
At thirteen years old, I stared hatefully at the purple-inked notebooks of my female peers, resenting their adolescent infatuations and romances. At eighteen years old, I proudly laughed about how I was Not Like Other Girls, and even joked that I was a misogynist, at least towards fictional characters (that I was bisexual and had dated women didn’t register as a necessitating a change in perspective; cognitive dissonance on socio-sexual politics is a strange phenomenon). At nineteen-or-twenty, I read this article, and felt something murky deep within me coming forth to the light: concepts which I had sensed, instinctively, but for which I had no names. At nineteen-or-twenty, I began calling myself a feminist. About a year into my undergraduate degree program, I changed my minor to gender studies. I found a way to work feminist analysis into most every major paper I wrote in college.
I read Judith Butler: Gender is performative; gender roles are not authentic nor derived from nature. There are no inherent differences between the sexes.
I read Julia Serano: Maybe if a lot of women are drawn to feminine trappings, there could be something innate to that preference, or at least it may not be a total social fabrication.
I read this extremely in-depth historical analysis, which also commented on Serano’s critique: Maybe Serano is somewhat foreclosing feminist analysis about the relational side of feminine performance.
I have wrestled with narratives. I hated Born This Way for gay (and bi, and other non-straight) people. I also came to hate Sexuality is Fluid. We organized around Born This Way because it was a legitimation of civil rights, with the law of the land presuming that in order to be treated with the dignity of a human being, we must present proof that this quality for which we are and were ostracized is one into which our births moulded us through the hormonal determinism of our brains. In fact, we should have those rights regardless. I believe, above all, that there may be no magical key to the narrative of sexuality and gender. I believe that a person may identify with a particular sexuality for reasons of the bodies one is attracted to, the social groupings one is attracted to, the social groupings one feels comfortable within, the resonant power of a particular word or label, for political reasons, or because of factors too many to name.
Do you see my dilemma? To organize, we must have narratives. To have narratives, we must have dogma. When this dogma paints with broad brushes, we call it polemic and the language of rage and punching up. We must speak according to our ascriptive category (one assumes). Yet we know that this categorizing is merely a shorthand: No one believes Sarah Palin can speak to feminist issues, and who would listen to Thomas Sowell or Clarence Thomas about race? Obviously, it’s not just about speaking as a woman or speaking as a queer person or speaking as a PoC: It’s about speaking as those categories while also holding a particular political doctrine. And please don’t mistake me: I’m not saying it shouldn’t be — I’m certainly not advocating that we suddenly give right-wingers credence on the basis of their categories. My point, rather, is the opposite: How strongly do we truly empathize with one another on the basis of our categories? How fully do we identify in one another’s experiences? Do I see her and say — she’s a woman, she’s queer, we’re of a similar socio-economic class and education level — my God, how we relate! Do I?
Perhaps what’s troubled my certainty about empathy in categorical identification is that I’ve seen those inevitable cases on the margins — those people who have felt as though they were eliminated from identification itself. I’ve known non-binary people who confessed to me that they felt excluded from the category of “woman” because of assumptions about what “all women” experience. I’ve known biracial people who felt they were locked out of calling themselves PoC even as they didn’t feel internal identification with whiteness. I’ve known PoC who felt obstructed by the assumption that they were cultural traitors or acting white if they didn’t feel for a particular cultural political stance. I’ve seen every manner of queer conflict: Should the I be there? Should the A be there? Is queer a preferable term to lesbian? Is lesbian a preferable term to queer? Where do bi individuals stand in relation to the L and G, and what about the identification possibilities for non-binary people?
There’s a point at which I feel The Movement self-cannibalizes: we turn on each other, eating one another alive or producing ideas about Group Experience which inevitably lock many people out who might nominally identify with the group in question. But what’s the solution? To say categories are meaningless would leave us to the dogs of predation, the cogs of capitalist hetero-patriarchy and white supremacy. That’s not exactly an answer.
I am trying to forge a holistic politics through which I can approach the world.
I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m often glad that others are able to plunge ahead in a way that I struggle with, full in thunder, for I am trapped by the inertia which forces me into action-less reverie — at a time when action is crucial. While I linger in this twilight of figuring out where I stand, I will write. Writing can be a stress to me. It’s a sort of labor. An exertion. I long for the soothing comfort of fiction writing, but until the day that I find it, I write so that I may organize myself into something less terrifyingly inchoate.