Tokenization and Identity Politics

I was once the lucky winner of a large scholarship for women at my university. I was super nervous about this for many reasons. Even though I’ve been female-bodied my whole life, I’m pretty androgynous-looking, so that was the first thing. They asked me for a picture, and I became nervous and put on some clothes I don’t normally wear. I tried to make a “feminine” face. I’m not sure it was very successful. I am probably more likely to ID female when I stop trying so hard. But it has been a thing with me since high school. I’m not sure if it’s the shape of my face, the broadness of my shoulders, or all that combined with the fact that I wore my hair somewhat short (although I thought it was a distinctly a feminine haircut). But I have, since I was young, often been called sir or been misgendered (are agender people misgendered?). You’re probably thinking I’m full of shit and totally reaching here, because we live in the sort of times where people go around denying others compassion as a point of pride. But listen, seriously, for a second. Potential love-interests have admitted to not even entertaining interest in me because they assumed I was a trans woman (The fucked-up-ness of that aside). And my gynecologist prescribed me supplementary female hormones based on complaints I was making. I am at an age where being prescribed hormones is damn weird. This felt like coercive normalization and I didn’t take them.

Anyway, I took the awkward picture and tried to make sure I looked female so I didn’t get vagina-checked. I get weird reactions in the restroom sometimes, although I’ve never been confronted explicitly. My ex once told me that he was sure my new boyfriend liked me, just as he himself had, because I was like boy-lite, a sort of bridge to full exploration of intimacy with another man. I’ve never really understood this appraisal because I’m the most sensitive person I’ve ever met to the point where it is really quite uncomfortable for everyone involved, so was being boy-ish just all in my physical appearance? I’m not sure exactly what about me is masculine other than my appearance and the way I carry myself physically. Those aesthetic qualities always seemed like stupid ways to characterize a gender if gender is supposed to be this fundamental spirit or something. But, either way, I went off to this scholarship dinner to meet the folks that gave me the women’s scholarship.

Of course, as soon as I sit down, they want me to tell them about my homelessness. They say it in this funny way. One of the ladies raises a glass of wine and has a big grin on her face. “Tell us,” she said, “and you don’t have to be nervous. We all read the essay.” She is talking about the scholarship essay in which I wrote about my homelessness. She has this sort of salivating, dropping, rabidly unabashed grin on her face. She is expecting her own personal front row seat at a Lifetime show, performed live. I hate this shit. I didn’t want to even write about the years I spent homeless because of this. But I needed the damned money and after years of writing around having been a foster kid, parents absent to drugs, homeless, and many other things that basically completely prevented me from doing anything I actually wanted to in life– the nagging suspicion that I was only cheating myself with my pride was an itch that needed to be scratched. I’m not sure I came out the other side with much fondness for this tactic, to be honest. It’s been a year now and sitting down to write scholarship essays has me thinking it’d be easier to go thousands more in debt than endure this tokenization further.

for-every-girl-there-is-a-boy1I’m not sure if it is because of my appearance or not, but soon, as seems to happen around me, the conversation turns to… trans women in bathrooms! But of course these old ladies are all referring to the controversy very vaguely, so vaguely that at first I am not aware. There is a statement, something like, “yeah, and I’d bet they still didn’t worry about which bathroom to use!” And I’m all daydreaming, thinking, “Yeah! Fuck worrying which bathroom to use… wait a minute.” Maybe it is because I lead the sort of lifestyle where I use the family friendly aisle and don’t see magazine covers, or maybe it is because I don’t watch ads, ever, or that I haven’t heard more than a handful of new pop songs in the last decade– but it’s always like a ton of bricks when I actually come to the realization of exactly how bigoted, ignorant, disgusting, and brainwashed most people are.

There had been some joke about even emasculated males knowing which bathroom to use or something equally horrid (we are supposed to feel fondly about jokes against males because we are women– even if these jokes are totally earnestly bigoted), and of course within a few moments another one of the ladies is steering the conversation with a vengeance toward typical male-bashing and, of course, what seems to be the definitive centerpiece of the rant: because the scholarship is for women. Not men. She makes that very clear when she says it, and she sort of twists around in my direction with a sort of slightly-drunk cock of the head and what, even against my greatest skepticism, seems undeniably like an expectant glare. There is an awkward pause and I feel confusingly as if I have been found out. There is a sense of shame that used to be subconscious, but I extended my awareness there long ago, so simultaneously as it comes up I think, “feeling ashamed is ridiculous. Even if they think you aren’t female who gives a shit?” Someone starts picking up the table. And then of course everyone moves and someone is eager to turn the conversation to something else.

I get this sort of shit all the time, getting called dyke and faggot and other such shit by people driving by in cars or, most often, by people whose sexism I have overheard and challenged. I’m not good at keeping my mouth shut in that regard. But that’s beside the point. The thing I want to talk about here is tokenization. I’m going to connect it with identity politics and I’m going to outline the basis for a critique in order to make room for the subtlety erased by the IP model. What am I? I have never written about this, and I don’t speak about it because I am sure I am going to piss someone off. What am I? People don’t seem to know what to call me. Doctors seem to think I don’t fit well enough into one box or another. I don’t like being female-bodied because it means I have to put up with sexual harassment a lot. I’m not incredibly sexual, though, so I don’t have a terrible urge to change my body, although I do spend a considerable amount of time lamenting that I don’t have a penis when I do feel sexual. But at the same time, gender pisses me off so much that I want to stay female for political reasons, just so I can fucking break all conception of what that is. But I don’t like being this way. What does that make me? Whatever, give me interchangeable, replaceable parts, that is what I want. I don’t want to be one sex. I want to be whatever sex I want whenever I want. It is hard to enjoy one’s body when it is constantly expected to be presented in a way that provokes objectification, when the shape of one’s body functions as nothing more than bait on a hook for negative experiences. Then again, I equally hate masculinity for originating all of this abuse upon me. I don’t feel submissive, nor aggressive. I like to adjust myself for the times, and I change as I go to accomplish what I want to accomplish. I don’t want to limit myself. Make me a cyborg, and we can free ourselves of this playing field and start out into a new space of possibilities.

Old drug addicts know a lot of important shit. One thing any old drug addict can tell you is that when you want to change a habit, you have to change your friends, and you have to avoid old places. I don’t see why it should be any different when it comes to dismantling patriarchy. If we can move onto a whole other playing field, why not? This is why I didn’t take the hormones. I don’t want to be on that binary playing field and I’m proud my hormones “need to be supplemented.” I like to think I’m a great mutation. I think we should all consider experimenting with hormones. I think it is totally weird to have urges and not feel at all in control of them, but having the ability to adjust one’s hormones as one desires gives some level of control. I have never felt like I was allowed to say this, though. I feel kind of afraid to say it now, because without a doubt there is something I’ve missed. But I doubt it will be kindly suggested or joyfully pointed out on equal footing in the spirit of discovery. These are sensitive issues, and there are approved narratives. This is not one of them. What am I? I think about all the examples of nuclear families, the submissive mothers, and the enraged, working fathers. And all the shitty social dynamics imprinted on their children. I kind of just want to throw the whole thing out the window. Sure, five genders is nicer than two. But can we just have infinity? On the order of Aleph-null, at the very least, my friends?

Applying for scholarships sucks because only certain people are deemed worthy of compassion. In Sarah Schulman’s Conflict is Not Abuse, she is not afraid to acknowledge that often times in social circles people compete as to who is the most oppressed. As ugly as it is to confront this behavior, it needs to happen because the reason why is telling. People define oppressed status using identity politics, which necessarily strips away nuance and leaves out people who need to be included for various ends. Then, after defining it this way, they classify some identity-boxes as being worthy of compassion and other as not. Then, the narratives that go along with those identity-boxes are marked with stamps of approval and all other accounts deserving of compassion are erased. Unusual narratives are met with skepticism or outright hate. You think I make this up. I started following Sarah Schulman after I read Conflict is Not Abuse (that book is actually what gave me the confidence to speak here because it pointed out that I had been silenced about basic facts of my day-to-day life and that this was doing major harm to my ability to relate to and negotiate with anyone). One of Schulman’s friends posted on Facebook about a trans/queer actress who said they had always wanted to transition and had saved for it as a young person, but has decided against it for various reasons although they still preferred to ID not based on the sex they were born. Well, this sounded similar to my situation a bit and I clicked on the comments, which was a mistake. Before I clicked those comments, I never really fully grasped the idea that I could express my weird gender dysphoria. I didn’t think it “counted.” But now I saw that it counted, and that it counted as something people would hate me for if I spoke about.

This person, who I leave anonymous, facilitated and encouraged droves of really hateful speech against people who associated themselves with trans issues in one way or another but did not currently intend on transitioning or identify with a binary identity. There were some people calling this behavior out on both sides, but it was definitely a slug-fest. The kind of thing that would talk me out of doing the sort of vulnerable and honest sharing I am doing here if it were to follow (which it did. A few weeks after the first publication of this essay, an angry person on the internet found my home address and shared it widely on the internet, saying that this essay was transmisogynistic. We had mutual friends, and I had my friend ask them to please identify what exactly was at issue in this essay. They did not respond. I took this essay down for more than a month out of fear. I am however a little beyond living in fear at this point in my life). It became very obvious that my experience was not something I ought to speak about unless I intended on having a very bad day, and having several handfuls more of that sort of asinine bully shit that repeats in your head even though you know it is totally stupid. One person on this comment thread shared their experience, and it was like mine, and I reached out to them. They were supportive and said not to let the community get me down. They said they were proud of me for facing this on my own. It was one of the nicest messages I ever got from a stranger. I felt genuinely grateful. But I was in no way any less convinced that if I mentioned the specific, messy contexts of my relation to gender and my sex, I would not be met with kindness.

I read an article today critiquing rad fems which said (in order to rebut a rad fem contention) that it is not true that women choose to ID male in order to avoid sexism. But I do. I choose to ID male partly because I have been sexually harassed so much that I can’t stand it anymore, I’m going to punch someone and go to jail if it happens anymore. I also feel objectified when I wear women’s clothing. I still like putting on makeup from time to time as I see it in a more creative light as an ex-painter, but I don’t like women’s clothing. People act like these are strictly thinking or feeling things. They act as if women are being cold if they choose to ID male to avoid sexism, and thus choosing to pollute trans issues with the products of their self-interest. The truth is much more nuanced than that. I think that I want to avoid sexism and I feel a very real aversion to wearing women’s clothing . These both happen at once. Over time, thoughts solidify associations that make me feel certain ways about concepts, and I begin to hate my femaleness. Just because I thought about the utility of avoiding sexism doesn’t mean I don’t also feel a very real gender dysphoria. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t have models which explain my gender dysphoria in terms of social conditioning and encourage me to exercise morphological freedom without the bounds of identity politics.

People act like things are so cut and dried, but ideas and worldviews often shape feelings. I know I shaped my own aversion toward my female body. I constantly tried to cover it up when I was homeless because I had to in order to stay safe. Before that, in high school I constantly agonized over whether aspects of my body fit the female type and whether I would be deemed deserving of affection. Now it makes sense that I genuinely feel more comfortable when my body is not on display. Thoughts settle down into you and become feelings. This is the messy truth people don’t like. It’s also the reason why some days, I find it ethically alright to hate straight people. Some days, I think being straight is a choice. It’s the choice of people who love uneven power dynamics. Some days I see all of straightness as a pure fetishization of dominance and submission. I watch male friends fall for the same little sexual manipulation tricks I heard women talk about in locker rooms as a young person. The mating rituals are so predictable, freewillpracticerecone has to wonder if these people are exercising any agency at all. Some days, I think they are not, and I think it’s because they found it easier to find creative ways of fetishizing uneven power dynamics and living with them instead of taking a risk by resisting the masses and dismantling a shitty system to start over.

Rad fems say I am supposed to be ashamed for wanting to ID male partly to avoid sexism. I don’t see why, suffering for a social construct one doesn’t care about seems stupid, eh? It’s no better than hating people for moving out of the ghetto, which really is a thing. Sure, we want to smash patriarchy and the segregation caused by the intersections of race and class. But why people think that means we ought to stay in the ghetto and stay objectified, I have no idea. I hate the gender binary, why would I preserve my place in it just to spite the other side? And members of the trans community on Sarah Schulman’s friend’s facebook wall who were interested in policing the lines of trans-hood expressed a similar disdain. People who want to ID something other than their birth sex, but don’t want to fully transition presently for whatever reason, are viewed as fucked up assholes fucking up trans issues. Which confuses me. My trans woman friend who was on HRT for years never fully transitioned, but there’s no way she could pass as strictly male anymore, and there’s no way you could deny she is part of the trans community as she has worked in services for trans people for years and everyone views her this way. My trans man friend only opted for parts of a full reassignment surgery. So what are they according to people who police the lines of gender identity? What am I? What is my old friend who has been suicidal over a period of years because they feel it is too late in their life to transition– so they will never be accepted by the community without transitioning, and they will never be accepted by the straight community because of their undeniable queerness, and they feel they will never be able to “pass?” Who are we? Where does the line between various shades of queer and trans-hood end, and why are we so worried about it anyway? Does it end when people are complaining every day that they feel like they want to die because of gender dysphoria? Or are we still going to police this person who needs our help because they don’t presently intend to transition?

Now, some anarchists seem to be aware of these arguments. They will tell you that anarchism uses the categories of the method of identity politics in order to get shit done, but that it understands that underneath these categories lie far more subtlety and complexity. I read this answer by someone on /r/Anarchism101 recently. I was happy to see people saying this, but it got me thinking. Anarchists say that, but I don’t see them practicing it. The culture associated with some anarchists I see seems to be a very hostile culture in which people are waiting to tear each other down for not embracing the safe, approved narratives, or for saying something that requires a good grasp of subtlety to understand. Just as gay nationalism is now being seen as a problem, we have to finally come to terms with some of the biggest failings of social justice and anarchist discourse of late– that our ideas need to evolve because they lacked fucking needed subtlety that has been hurting very vulnerable people. That some ideas that we institute need to have pre-designed points of termination in the timeline, or planned ways to evolve. Ideologies grow out of control and have unintended consequences, like gay nationalism. The people we empower today could be ruling us tomorrow. We must, first and foremost, begin cultivating a culture of subtlety and interest in exploration of unusual narratives and unusual ideas, centered around truly discerning what is the most accurate representation of the real shared truth that everyone on this planet can equally investigate. We must truly embrace radicalism, because it will uncover the fundamentals that allow us to institute ideas in a way that does not eventually turn to aid the power structures we fight, like feminism and gay liberation has. What I am saying is identity politics, or any other method proposed so far, has not uncovered those fundamentals but rather obscured them, and that anarchists are (albeit understandably) so taken with defending themselves that they’ve become too defended to notice when the methods they use begin turning against them. But do not fret. We just simply have not gone deep enough, we have not gotten fundamental enough, we are not radical enough. At least the way forward is clear.


This is only one corner of the ways in which identity politics is inadequate. Another argument made to support identity politics is that oppressed groups have a health-based need for a positive collective identity. Maybe other people do truly feel that way, but personally, I have always felt very suspicious of collective identities, even when they are manufactured for “my” group. For instance I never identified with Bikini Kill even though I was an in-your-face socially conscious female punk rocker. The whole fact that I knew that identity had been manufactured for me sort of turned me off to it. That’s not to mention the fact that it clearly embraced aspects of the gender binary which I always conceptualized as male expectations of me forced on me. I know that at least some people of color feel the same way because I read and hear them talking about it. I get a strong feeling no one wants to be a “female queer blob of color.” I get the feeling we all want to be “the beating hearts we feel.” The reason why is because the former is limited, and the latter is not. We are anarchists. What do we want? Everything. Fuck your bondage. Fuck your identities and approved narratives. Fuck your tokenization. As if it ever should have been unclear that this is not the unbounded future we were looking for.



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