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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gender Borders & National Borders (2007)

by sallydarity

this is the text that i read for a workshop i did at feminist/queer event. the ideas could use some expanding, but i wanted to share it...

June 1969, New York City, at the Stonewall Inn, one of many regular raids on gay bars, which often involved humiliation, arrests, and physical assaults on queer, and transgender people at those bars. But this particular night, people fought back, throwing bottles, setting the bar on fire once the police had retreated into it-- the people to be arrested were the employees, and those without identification, and those who were considered to be wearing clothes of the “opposite” gender. “They continued to fight the police who had been called there to disperse them. They threw rocks and bottles and shouted “gay power”. These were the Stonewall Riots, which are now often celebrated among the LGBTQ community as a major turning point in history.

You could say that back then, the police acted as a sort of gender border patrol, targeting people who crossed the line in terms of “correct” gender. Today the cops don’t act that way in an official sense, but certainly queer people and transgender people, as well as women who don’t act “properly” (i.e. prostitutes) often are subject to police harassment, assault, and beyond. And police still enforce laws that have to do with gender borders, such as using the “correct” bathroom.

Before I move on, what do I mean by gender borders?
By gender borders, I refer to the line that’s drawn between female & male, woman & man.
The line that causes doctors to feel an obligation to use surgery on a non-consenting intersex baby to make it conform to the sex on one side of the border or the other.
The line that means you don’t put a baby boy in a pink outfit or give a young girl a beebee gun or a toy truck and such examples.
But also the line that means women should be put in their place- and stay there. If she rejects her submissive role, she’s called a bitch.
The line that makes it so there are certain things that if a guy does, he’s subject to be called “fag” or “pussy”.
And obviously the line that determines who you’re supposed to be attracted to (the “opposite sex”), who you’re supposed to identify with, what pronouns you should use, etc.
If you cross that line- or border- you’re breaking these known rules (ridiculous as they are) and therefore you could be considered a “gender outlaw” a term Kate Bornstein has used.

So I mentioned that the cops have acted as gender border patrol, but we all know they’re not the only ones who try to control those who would cross those borders- or punish those who have crossed those borders.

When I talk about gender, often I’m talking about sex- which I hope isn’t confusing. There’s a whole lot of theory, like queer theory, postmodern philosophy and such -- very academic, that there’s a lot of it I don’t quite get- but that makes sense as far as sex being a gendered category- or that they’re so tied up with one another, that to distinguish them is to make it more difficult to discuss. I think that gender- and sex- should be questioned and should be considered as more of a spectrum than a dichotomy, if significant at all apart from their political context.

The gender border creates a binary, or dichotomy (depending on which word you prefer) that I consider to be a false dichotomy, which creates a hierarchy that affects our lives.

As an anarcha-feminist, I believe there should not be these systems of hierarchy or these gender rules. Although some anarcha-feminists will not agree with me, I think we should question the fact that the medical community, the scientific community, the church, the traditional family model, the police, the media, and many more act as the authority on who should act in what way according to these gender rules and regulations. As an anarchist, I question these authorities on these grounds as well as others, and as a feminist, I want to neutralize this gender hierarchy. Kate Bornstein’s quote kinda sums up where I’m coming from: “The continued oppression of women proves only that in any binary there’s going to be one up and one down. The struggle for equal rights must include the struggle to dismantle the binary.”

Why is it such a “crime” for a man to wear a dress? It doesn’t need to be an actual crime for it to be somewhat enforced- not officially, but socially. Why do people feel threatened when those boundaries are crossed? Similarly, why do people feel so threatened about non-citizens coming over the national boundary illegally. I wanted to talk about a “no-borders” vision- I wasn’t sure what else to name it. First, the borders that divide us must be examined.

Clearly there are certain borders that don’t mean as much. Such as state and city borders. Although, they can matter depending on the political context, such as in the case of when black people from New Orleans were trying to escape into another town during the hurricane, and they got shot at. National borders matter more when they divide the haves and the have-nots- so not so much when people cross from Canada into the U.S. , but from Mexico into the U.S. Gender and race borders are similar in this sense. These borders have benefited the haves by “justifying” exploitation, domination, control, stealing land and resources. You can check out the books like How the Irish Became White or The Abolition of White Democracy for some insights on whiteness in this country, and check out Caliban and the Witch for a history and analysis of the relationship between the witch hunt, development of capitalism, colonization of the “new world” and about the strengthening of the divisions between sexes. These and many others provide a better understanding of how people are divided in the interest of power.

I’m not talking specifically about race here too much, but we must acknowledge that national borders are tied up with race, as well as class. There’s an arbitrary line that is drawn between races- these lines are drawn not on a biological basis, but in a political sense- race is often called a social construct. National lines are drawn usually not so much on a physical basis, but also a political one.

I’m arguing here that people who cross gender borders and people who cross national borders (specifically those who cross national borders into a first world country from a non-first world country, and more specifically crossing from mexico into the u.s.) have a common struggle. The two cannot be equated, because there are many limits to the comparison, but there are various parallels between the two struggles.

We’re talking about divisions created between people so as to keep power, wealth, and privilege in the hands of certain people. The rules and regulations, and the shape those borders take, do not always match up in the different manifestations of the bordered divisions. As an example, we can take men, who are the “up” in the hierarchy, and who are not supposed to do anything womanly. It is not so much of a threat for a u.s. citizen, who is the “up” in that hierarchy, to cross the border into mexico and do Mexican things. There’s a number of other examples of how the gender borders/national borders comparison is limited.

We mustn’t forget the overlap that occurs here as well. There are national-border crossers who are also gender-border crossers. We can’t really separate these two issues, because for so many people, they are intimately related.

There is a war going on against undocumented immigrants right now. Over 18,000 people have been arrested in raids (and jails/prisons?) in the last two years, hundreds of people have been deported, there have been raids on workplaces, there have been raids on homes at 4 in the morning, kids have been handcuffed and arrested- even little kids who were born here, parents and kids have been separated, the alternative to “amnesty” is a guest worker program, which will still involve tons of people being “illegal”, people will probably have to pay huge fines/fees to stay here, the workers will probably be treated like the current guest-workers- like slaves who have no recourse as far as fair working conditions go- hardly any ability to unionize or organize, mainly because this is being pushed by big business via the democratic party; there are tons of laws being made and passed regarding undocumented immigrants that further criminalize their activities like getting work, driving, renting a living space, paying out-of-state tuition in Arizona or not going to college at all, and now there are laws they’re trying to get passed that would make some undocumented immigrants domestic terrorists, would make them trespassers anywhere they are in this country (or state), etc. and the Maricopa county sheriff (phoenix area) has gotten officers trained to enforce immigration law. The courts are checking on immigration status because certain undocumented immigrants are not eligible for bail. They’re checking the immigration status of people in the jails and prisons so they can deport them. They’re trying to build a big wall on the border, dividing native people’s lands, making it more likely people will die crossing, wasting a fucking ton of money, and profiting the private corporations who will be involved in the development of it. They’re spending lots of money to fly undocumented immigrants out of the country, polluting on a large scale, Corporations are involved in the detainment and transportation of undocumented immigrants; people are blaming the immigrants for lack of jobs, but ignoring the fact that corporations are bringing thousands of job out of the country to exploit cheaper labor; the minutemen are patrolling the border for the 3rd year in a row, immigrants are getting shot by the border patrol, and by others in the border areas including in tempe, which if racists are not directly responsible for, they are indirectly responsible for creating a situation in which it can happen, and I could go on and on.

Why is this happening? It’s not a simple answer. There’s a whole bunch of issues like free trade and its effects on mexico and other countries, the criminalization of people to divide the working class and better exploit them, etc, and it is about race, but the racism that’s occurring is different from the way most people understand racism, and unfortunately I can’t get into that now, but one aspect of it is that people coming from south of the border are seen as threatening because they’re outsiders and because they are viewed as unassimilable. I’ve read people quoted in articles about “soon we’re not going to be able to speak English in our own country!” “It’s an invasion”. And especially, “they’re destroying our culture”…

Whose culture? Are queers/feminists/trannies/gender queers part of American culture as defined by those who want to protect it from immigrants? Do you think many politicians think we’re legitimate citizens? Some of the LGBTQ community has argued, “but we’re just like anyone else”. And some feminists are trying to make their place in the capitalist culture, trying to break that glass ceiling and climb to the top. The dominant culture, as I understand it, is capitalist, and mostly white upper/middle class. Assimilating doesn’t necessarily have to buy into the concept of these borders I’m talking about, although it often does. But it also means participating in the exploitative, over-consumptive culture. Why should anyone assimilate to the dominant culture? Who does that benefit? Who does that deny freedom to? What is it to be an American? Isn’t America founded on genocide, slavery, colonization, oppression of women, invisibility of any LGBTQ community, and doesn’t it continue to oppress and impoverish most of the world, and destroying the planet with over-consumption? This is what we’re supposed to protect from being destroyed? (And we must ask, is it really just their culture they’re concerned about, or do whites feel they’re getting outnumbered?) One of the aspects of my no-borders vision is one against the concept of assimilation. Assimilation for one, buys into this idea that there is anything to assimilate to- that there’s a concept of a dominant group that is of one culture- making difference within that dominant group invisible. Second, that that which we are to assimilate to is superior to all else. Third, that there’s this idea the only way to have a fulfilling life is to be included, to assimilate, insinuating that to not assimilate would make you lost, and could even destroy the dominant culture, which of course the dominant culture would be threatened by. Fourth, trying to assimilate, or trying to maintain that your identity is not threatening to the dominant culture traps you into a situation in which you cannot commit any threatening acts lest you lose your legitimacy and will be excluded. Buying into the idea of assimilation further enforces the borders that affect us, and also enforces the larger system of dominance. The rejection of assimilation gives a different meaning to the struggle for equality. Equality, usually seen as rising to the top for whoever is to be equal, but within the dominant culture really means nothing while others are exploited. A no-borders vision is about self-determination and not assimilation.

I’m not saying that if you try to do something that’s considered assimilation, that you’re counter-revolutionary or something. Self-determination values one’s right to make choices about ones’ own body and life, or a community’s right and access to make choices about they’re livelihood, who they are, how they want to organize themselves, etc. There’s a difference between buying into assimilation and acting in a manner that is consistent with assimilation for reasons other than buying into assimilation, like for survivial, or because who you are just happens to conform to the standard. Parenthood is one example- sometimes in order to not be separated from one’s kids, one must conform to certain standards…

One problem with assimilation too, is that it is accessible more-so to people with more money. It takes money, jumping through various hoops and dealing with red tape to be “official”, “legitimate”, or “legal”. So people without money can’t afford to do it the “right way”.- they can’t afford to get a sex change (which is what some people are expected to do to be considered legitimate, or what they need to do to be “real” or accepted or to pass; or in the case of immigrants, people without money can’t become citizens. There’s also the waiting period, and the proof of loyalty to the country; or in the case of transitioning the proof that a person should become the “opposite” sex. So there’s an economic factor playing into who can be accepted (not that fully transitioned trans people have it all that easy, but its easier to pass). Bathroom use tends to be easier when one is fully transitioned, more “legitimate” – what’s involved in getting a sex-change? And a person who is “legal” is not going to get deported. How official we are shouldn’t matter, especially when how official we can be is restricted by economic factors.

Crossing borders is more complex than I’m making it sound. In terms of gender borders, there are many different ways of crossing that line that I talked about earlier. And the consequences vary. You could also say that some who cross the gender border, also exist in the borderlands. They’re marginalized, and sometimes invisible. Bisexual people “straddling the fence” for example. Or people who are neither gender or a gender other than woman or man. And there are examples of crossing this border, that cannot be compared with a physical crossing from one to the other, but still can be said to be “crossing the line”. National borders are more physical in that there’s the action of crossing a boundary, which often involves passing through a port of entry or climbing over or through a fence. We should keep in mind also, that often undocumented immigrants come over legally, but then lose their documented status by overstaying their time. It used to be that people, especially people who lived near the border, regularly crossed back and forth. Border security is fairly new- and was actually originally enforced to keep the Chinese from crossing from Mexico after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. Yes, it’s been racist all along. Something you may or may not know about is that there is native land- O’odham land, that spans the u.s./mexico border. Currently, because of the criminalization of border crossing, and because of the funnel-effect caused by border security in more populated areas (and because of the criminalization of drugs), drug smugglers are wreaking havoc on these communities. It is also proposed that there be a wall constructed, which would divide this land, desecrating the land, causing environmental damage, and dividing the native community. It’s already difficult to cross, as native peoples, many of whom don’t have proper documentation, and are harassed at the border when they try to cross back into the u.s. They’ve had guns pointed at them by the border patrol, and been treated as suspects because of the color of their skin. Border areas, marginalized as they are, are also subject to becoming or being dumping grounds, as there is also a proposed waste dump for Quitovac, on o’odham land south of the border. Also along the border are the maquiladoras, people living in poverty, being exposed to toxins in their work environment and where they live, and many of you have heard of the terror women of Juarez have been facing as well.

But people who live on the borders, and people who cross the borders are proof that these borders mean little other than in a political sense. They show that there really aren’t these divisions that can be easily drawn between us as humans. But yet, the consequences of crossing the borders, or being in the borderlands, and being divided from those who have access to power and wealth is clearly real. But these borders must be exposed as what they are- man-made boundaries that exist to protect power, privilege, and wealth for the few. Breaking down these borders break down the hierarchies that exist.

Breaking down these borders must not deny people’s self-determination. It is not to create one big country with one government, but one land populated by free peoples. It is not to create an androgenous or non-gendered world, but a realm where all are free to be who they are. I am advocating for self-determination, and for solidarity between groups of people, not for appropriating others’ struggles. Solidarity means that if undocumented immigrants fight back against the raids, we should consider their struggle as similar to that which resulted in the stonewall riots- it’s not for us to say whether they should fight back, but I hope you know where you will stand if it happens- or that you are willing to take some action now so things don’t turn more violent than they already are.

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