The gender binary was always a story. Now we can tell ourselves a new one


There will invariably be those in the United States and beyond who see this decision as an additional threat to certain values, after all, 2021 has been a record year for anti-trans legislation in the United States. But a growing body of research shows that when it comes to sex and sexin nature there are more than two.

It is perhaps more useful then to see gender identity as a story, made real by the construction of power structures and administrative systems around it.

Language is almost never neutral. Its meaning is shaped by context and it is used to exercise power and control. This is clearly visible in the construction of racial identity which, unlike gender, has no biological basis. Yet the forces of power and control – who is allowed and excluded from certain social benefits – can be seen in the way gender and race are often so forcefully controlled.

“White woman” or “Black man” for example are not simple descriptors but are loaded with meanings that change depending on where you are. As has been written many times, in the context of the United States, the first (in particular, as a professor of sociology Alison Phipps points out, “White bourgeois”) represent the paragon of virtue and the latter the embodiment of savagery.
If both of these tropes are true – and of course repeating them enough times to make them real, if not true – then the extraordinary violence against black men is justifiable because white men throughout US history have sought to protect white women from black men. The black woman in this context is either unleashed, servant, prostitute or quietly resilient.
During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was asked by Senator Marsha Blackburn to
In fact, Black, Native American and Asian American women will know that legally the category of “woman” had not always applied to them as they were excluded from the right to vote when suffrage became law in 1920.
And it’s not just the “woman” who reveals a power imbalance. A new study who analyzed 630 billion words found that even the concept of “person” or “people” is “not neutral as to how we use these terms”. In fact, we tend to prioritize men when referring to people in general. ”

The New York University researchers concluded that “biases at such a fundamental level — our word choices — are potentially consequential.”

Language is not neutral but the simple fact remains that what is not counted does not count. To exist on paper, in language and in stories is to no longer be completely invisible. It is a starting point from which further changes can be pursued.

It would, however, be naive to assume that mere recognition in language equals complete emancipation. It remains dangerous to live outside the gender binary, and like the American philosopher Judith Butler noted there is a growing backlash around the world against gender inclusive measures.

It’s not just about conservatism, writes Butler, but rather these anti-gender movements are part of fascism: “The anti-gender movement is not a conservative position with a clear set of principles. No, as a fascist tendency it mobilizes a range of rhetorical strategies from across the political spectrum to maximize the fear of infiltration and destruction that comes from a diverse set of economic and social forces.

Butler, who is non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them, continues: “As a fascist tendency, the anti-gender movement supports increasingly strong forms of authoritarianism. His tactics encourage state powers to intervene in university curricula, censor art and television programs, deny trans people their legal rights, ban LGBTQI people from public spaces, undermine reproductive freedom and the fight against violence against women, children and LGBTQI people.

The difference between sex, gender and sexuality explained

This is why it makes no sense for “gender-critical” feminists to ally with reactionary powers to target trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people. Let’s all be really critical now, because now is not the time for any of the targets of this move to turn on each other. The time for anti-fascist solidarity is now.”

Even if you disagree with Butler’s conclusions, there is no denying that There was always people among us who don’t fit into the binary. The Hijra in India, the Muxes in Mexico, the Sekrata in Madagascar, the Bakla in the Philippines, Two-Spirit people in many Native American tribes and many more.

Including people who identify as non-binary isn’t the end of “boys” and “girls.” Nothing is lost. Instead, there is much to be gained when people can find themselves represented not only in language but also legally. But there is still a lot of work to do.

The story of the week

Women demonstrate against women's inequality and sexual violence on International Women's Day in Bandung, Indonesia, March 8, 2022. (Photo by Algi Febri Sugita/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Reuters)

Indonesia’s parliament passed a long-awaited anti-sexual violence bill on Tuesday, aimed at providing a legal framework for victims to seek justice in a country where sexual abuse has often been considered a private matter.

Misbehaving Women: Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1959 – present)

So K'iche', 33, Guatemalan activist Rigoberta Menchú Tum, addresses a crowd, during a celebration in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  (Photo by AP Photo/str/Dan Hernandez, 1992)
In 1992, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that it was awarding the Peace Prize to Rigoberta Menchú Tum, a Guatemalan K’iche’ activist, the organization wrote that she has established herself as “a living symbol of peace and reconciliation across ethnic, cultural and social divides, in her own country, on the American continent and in the world”.
Born into a poor rural family in Chimel, a small Mayan community in the Quiché region of Guatemala, the young Rigoberta, according to the Nobel Women’s Initiativetraveled with his father, a community organizer, “teaching rural campesinos their rights and encouraging them to organize”.
She grew up during Guatemalan civil warwhich began in 1960 and lasted over 30 years, and his family’s activism came at a heavy cost. In January 1980, his father was killed during a demonstration at the Spanish Embassy which was violently crushed by the Guatemalan police. Later This yearaccording to Menchu 1983 autobiographyI, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala‘, his mother and brother were also killed by the security forces. She then went into exile in Mexico.
The book became a source of controversy for Menchú, when American anthropologist David Stoll accused the activist of writing about events that never happened to him. But Menchu defended his work saying, “I am proud of the book”, describing it as “part of the historical memory and heritage of Guatemala”.
In 2006, Menchú launched the Nobel Women’s Initiative to promote justice and equality with five others; in 2007 and 2011, she ran for president of Guatemala under the banner of the first indigenous-led political party she founded. Today, she continues to be active in public life and international affairs, calling – in her latest tweet – to dialoguedays after Russia invaded Ukraine.

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