ON TO THE SECOND WEEK OF GENDER MONTH!
Each week of this month I’m focusing on a different theme in relation to Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness. If you missed last week’s post on NATURE, check that out here.
WELCOME TO MULTICULTURAL AWARENESS WEEK!
This week begins with perhaps one of the most influential books I’ve read. Transgender Warriors/Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman by Leslie Feinberg. I knew of their work because of an earlier book, Stone Butch Blues published in 1993. Both of these books made sense out of my experience in the world as a queer femme and gave voice to something many of us were experiencing at that time but not completely understanding.
I can still sit and read Transgender Warriors for hours. There is so much queer/trans/intersex history from throughout time, and across the globe, gathered in one place all being digested in real time by a real life trans/queer. It’s like entering an alternate universe where people I love exist and where I make sense. Each story feels like a precious secret uncovered, another truth revealed. Even now, over 20 years from my first reading.
We have always been here. Queereternal.
That’s why we’re here now, and forever. Gendernow.
Despite geographic and historical distance of many of Leslie’s stories, they didn’t feel far away. And they included contemporary stories. These informed and contextualized my present. My ex had begun transitioning in 1994 and I was one of his main supports. And when I traveled to India in 1996, the same year Transgender Warriors came out, I witnessed a community of Hijras board our train and lovingly harass the passengers with song and dance until they were tipped appropriately. I also saw a singular Hijra out at a restaurant in the evening in a district where Indian women were prohibited to be out alone. This woman was not only alone, she was quite nearly holding court in the back of the small eatery as man after man waited on her.
Even though I lived a very queer life, I felt Feinberg’s work initiate a reorientation, perhaps because of its scope. Slowly but surely history and culture queer’d in all directions at once. No corner was left untouched. Nothing could be seen from the same angle again, ever. And the world felt more like home. I had been researching bits and pieces since I came out in 1984, but having one resource where I could immerse myself in so much information coupled with queer perspective was significant. It led me deeper into my self and my work.
I don’t pretend to understand how folks in other eras, cultures and locales felt or feel, especially about their sexuality and gender or how it fit/s into their social structure. But by learning as much as I can about as many different kinds of experience as possible, I’ve at least confirmed that there are countless ways to feel about sexuality and gender.
“When I try to discuss sex and gender, people can only imagine woman or man, feminine or masculine. We’ve been taught that nothing else exists in nature. Yet, as I’ve shown, this has not been true in all cultures or in all historical periods. In fact, Western law took centuries to neatly partition the sexes into only two categories and mandate two corresponding gender expressions.”
“The paradigm that there are two genders founded on two biological sexes began to predominate in western culture only in the early eighteenth century,” historian Randolph Trumbach notes in his essay, ‘London’s Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Gender in the Making of Modern Culture.’
When a patriarchal system using violent aggression to colonize and eradicate a culture is present, physical safety, economic survival, and emotional trauma contribute to cultural shifts that otherwise might not have happened.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces I felt Feinberg retrieved through their scholarship was the spiritual aspect of queer/trans/intersex people in multiple cultures. In fact, the very act of transitioning was often seen as a spiritual act.
“In ancient China, the shih-niang wore a combination of female, male, and religious garb. In Okinawa, some shamans took part in an ancient male-to-female ceremony known as winagu nati, which means, “becoming female.” And trans shamans were still reported practicing in the Vietnamese countryside in the mid-1970s.
Female-to-male priests also exist—and most importantly even co-exist with male to female shamans. Among the Lugbara in Africa, for example, male-to-females are called okule and female-to-males are named agule. The Zulu initiated both male-to-female and female-to-male isangoma. While male-to-female shamans have been part of the traditional life of the Chukchee, Kamchadal, Koryak, and Inuit—all Native peoples of the Arctic Basin—Inuit female-to-males serve White Whale Woman, who was believed to have been transformed into a man or a woman-man. And female-to-male expression is part of rituals and popular festivals with deep matrilineal roots in every corner of the world-including societies on the European continent.”
Legal third gender status is currently available in 11 countries: Austria, Australia, Germany, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, United Kingdom and parts of the United States.
Although people who would be assigned female are also present everywhere that people who would be assigned male are, the vast majority of documentation focuses on queer/trans/intersex people who would be assigned male. This may be in part the effects of patriarchy.
Here are three reflections from Samoa, India and Pakistan, and Indonesia.
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT…
Take the time to try this on. Stop and imagine a world of 3, 4, or more genders. Not an isolated case, but a universal concept that included everyone. Everywhere that you could travel across the globe, everyone acknowledged the basic truth of nature, that there are numerous genders.
It’s easy to imagine all the small and large aspects of life that this would affect. Bathrooms, of course. Fashion. Travel. But don’t go there yet. Stay with yourself. Remember, in whatever way you can, your own birth. Imagine that there were more than 2 boxes to choose from, including a gender free option that allows an individual to acknowledge for their selves what gender is theirs, when the time is right. Imagine guiding your parent’s hand, choose this one!
What would it be?
And if you guided them to choose the same that you were assigned at birth, does it feel any different knowing that you and everyone has more choice?
Are you a parent? What if you had more than 2 boxes to choose for your child? What if you could give them time to figure their gender out for their selves? What would change if you had a 3rd or 4th box to assign them?
Now imagine for another moment, that the spiritual leaders in your community are queer/trans/intersex people. Perhaps it’s even you. What wisdom do you have to share? What stories would you tell to help others like you grow strong, especially our youth. Perhaps you’re already doing this. (thank you!!!xoxoxox) Many queer/trans/intersex people choose lives of community service. Spirit keeps us strong.
WHAT IS COMMONLY TAUGHT AND THOUGHT
Homo/transphobia is an international issue. Change toward greater acceptance is seen as a landmark shift toward human rights, but remains a hot topic. Queer/trans/intersex people are traditionally used as scapegoats in Western culture, and those impacted by colonization directly or indirectly, to release social pressure. Homosexuality is currently illegal in over 75 countries. Change is slow, but steady. This number is down from 92 countries in 2006. (you can go here for a full list and to learn more)
Another marker is the classification of homosexuality and transgender experience as a mental illness across the globe.
“First published in 1968, DSM-II (the American classification of mental disorders) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. In this, the DSM followed in a long tradition in medicine and psychiatry, which in the 19th century appropriated homosexuality from the Church and, in an élan of enlightenment, transformed it from sin to mental disorder.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) asked all members attending its convention to vote on whether they believed homosexuality to be a mental disorder. 5,854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM, and 3,810 to retain it.
The APA then compromised, removing homosexuality from the DSM but replacing it, in effect, with “sexual orientation disturbance” for people “in conflict with” their sexual orientation. Not until 1987 did homosexuality completely fall out of the DSM.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) only removed homosexuality from its ICD classification with the publication of ICD-10 in 1992, although ICD-10 still carries the construct of “ego-dystonic sexual orientation”. In this condition, the person is not in doubt about his or her sexual preference, but “wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioural disorders”.
The evolution of the status of homosexuality in the classifications of mental disorders highlights that concepts of mental disorder can be rapidly evolving social constructs that change as society changes. Today, the standard of psychotherapy in the U.S. and Europe is gay affirmative psychotherapy, which encourages gay people to accept their sexual orientation.”
-excerpt from, When Homosexuality Stopped Being a Mental Disorder
TRANSGENDER EXPERIENCE: The APA currently talks about ‘Gender Dysphoria’ in relation to transgender experience. You can learn more about how they frame it here. As of 2017 in Denmark, it’s no longer a diagnosis.
Buzz Feed News published an overview in 2016 of a survey covering 23 countries across the world. There was a faint trend toward supporting transgender people. In Brazil 50% of the people surveyed said that they knew a transgender person, in Russia it was 16%. Spain and Argentina consistently showed more overall support in comparison to the other countries.
The spread of Western culture across the globe has fundamentally modified thought and practice in most indigenous cultures it has colonized. Gender and sexuality oppression seem to specifically appear in relation to Euro Western countries exploiting and colonizing indigenous, usually nature based cultures across the globe. This has a lasting impact and is firmed through a long standing international focus on Western culture and its academia, including Darwin. I’m reminded of what Trumbach said, “The paradigm that there are two genders founded on two biological sexes began to predominate in western culture only in the early eighteenth century.” Darwin’s influence cannot to be diminished, despite the fact that many of his theories remain unproven.
Many indigenous cultures retain positive traditions of homo/trans identity acceptance despite deeply rooted homo/transphobia introduced by and perpetuated through violent contact with Western culture.
On LGBTQI2S+ Community:
Oppression of our community can often feel explosive and violent as well as less significant in relation to other communities, even marginalized ones. It is connected to multiple layers of silence and suppression, misinformation and aggressive lies used to oppress the people at large by separating them from their core beliefs and truths. This is usually rooted in a past of violent colonization of indigenous people, usually most violent against queer/trans/intersex people of the community.
BACK TO THE TRUTH and PRACTICAL, DAILY APPLICATION
Look at queer/trans/intersex experience throughout the entire world pre-colonization. Then look at post-colonization perspectives and how and why a culture may have changed. Place this beside our more complete and current understanding from the last week of nature. The more we look at global experiences of what I’m calling queer/trans/intersex and how it’s talked about, especially through time, the more we can see the underlying indigenous culture still present alongside the impact of colonization. I believe Transgender Warriors would be wonderful required reading for queer/trans/intersex folks.
Including global perspectives in home and educational settings helps bring greater awareness to the diverse fabulousness and eternity of our community while highlighting some of the ongoing awareness that’s needed about international oppression.
Bringing this kind of critical awareness and making connections at a kid’s level may seem daunting at first, but understanding our world and their position in it is empowering. And when we teach from a place of powerful self- and community-love first, that is the strongest message communicated and that will help keep all of us strong. The details and lessons are like seeds. They’ll grow over time.
It’s also valuable to understand nuance, make connections and further conversations. 10 countries where homo/trans expression may be punishable by death: Yemen, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates are Muslim. That doesn’t mean there aren’t queer/trans/intersex Muslim people. Like with Christianity it is a hot topic. Having been raised Catholic and then disowned by my family because of their faith and homophobia, understanding the history of the Bible and queer reality was my first step into historical activism. Looking at the different translations within context and how they changed over time was enlightening indeed and began a more expanded perspective of myself and helped me negotiate the intense homophobia in my family and the faith I was raised in. Islam is similar.
In the book Islamic Homosexualities, comparative sociologist Stephen Murray and award-winning author/scholar Will Roscoe look at a great history often known for its queerness. It’s also worth mentioning their book, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands/Studies of African Homosexualities.
Books like these while explicit at times and inappropriate for kids, are a great resource for grownups to educate ourselves about the prevalence of queerness across all lines even when current narratives deny it.
Queer Theory and Queer Studies. Developed in the 1990’s queer scholarship and understanding is on the rise. There is power in truth, but again it’s important to retain critical awareness especially about context and history. There are many contributing factors and being able to see through the global influence of Western culture is imperative. I’m always excited to see new generations coming into voice, especially IPOC queer/trans/intersex folks.
Here is an interesting pair I found who freshly posted this video:
The International World of Queer Identity and Colonialism:
Here are 4 areas where you can put truth to action:
- 1. Think differently. Open up to the possibility of thinking outside of LGBTQI2S+ Western frames in relation to gender and even sexuality. Again, this includes thinking beyond opposites and binaries, beyond stereotypes and generalities. Take time to look at nuance, greater and greater inclusion, what erasure if any is functioning and if and how context influences things. Try looking at things from new and larger perspectives. For example, it’s not about thinking queer/trans/intersex indigenous people are exactly the same as our contemporary community. What is different? What is there to learn?
- 2. Speak truth. Open up to new ways of speaking that reflect an expanded understanding of international, multicultural perspectives on sexuality and gender.
- In my book Call Me Tree I don’t use pronouns, all of the kids are in nature and all of them are in poses inspired by the Yogic Tree pose. I wanted to create a framework that could be used to explore an expanding reality.
- It begins with nature, then connects the kids to their bodies through Yoga, specifically the Tree pose and variations thereof. This provides an opportunity to learn about Yoga and India. We can learn that India has a legal third gender. We can then reflect back on the book and explore the kids’ genders.
- I wrote a letter to my readers acknowledging that the main character would have been assigned female at birth and ask how does knowing this change their understanding of the other kids in the book?
- 3. Interrupt falsehoods. Speaking truth is awesome. As we expand how we talk about nature and break down the binary we can include stories and awareness of many cultures. The more perspectives we learn about the more resources we have to draw from, especially for our kids, as they move into new understandings beyond our experience. Again, we must also take the time to say what is not true and acknowledge that almost everything around us is saying these untrue things, but that doesn’t make them anymore true. If we don’t model this for our kids, no one will. We can embrace the truth about gender and sexuality in many cultures now.
We need so many more children’s books!! Here’s a beautiful one by Canadian author Vivek Shraya that expands gender through their lens:
4. Educate toward truth/children’s books and adult resources.
- Gender Now Coloring Book
- Download a few more coloring pages from Gender Now – (2 pages, 2MB)
- Call Me Tree
- Download the “Call Me Tree, Gender Free, Note to My Readers” – (2 pages, 4MB)
- The Boy and the Bindi
- Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman
- A World of Rainbow Families: Children’s Books and Media with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Themes from around the Globe (Sept 2018)
Resources and References:
- Legal 3rd Gender:
- Illegal in countries:
- Update Bugis:
- Africa and Homosexuality:
- Gay in Muslim countries:
- Gender Now Coloring Book
Maya Gonzalez is a ferociously quirky queer femme with a deep love for daily drag and dress up. She’s also an artist, progressive educator and award-winning children’s book illustrator and author. She has been a close ally of the trans community for over 30 years and her partner is trans. Her work focuses on art and story as powerful tools of reclamation and transformation both personally and culturally. Currently her primary tool of activism is creating and publishing radical children’s books that tell the truth of who we are and what we can be. She invites grown-ups and kids alike to do the same through her online school and free kids program that teach a holistic approach to creating and publishing children’s books.