Monthly Archives: November 2018

Gender Identity Isn’t a Box. It’s a Yardstick.

This is a great explanation of the radical feminist critique of gender identity.


One of the big questions I was still left with when I stopped blogging here for a few years was very simple:

What, exactly, is gender identity?

If you read mainstream trans sources, the answer gets a bit circular: “gender identity is one’s deeply-held internal sense of one’s own gender.”

That’s exactly the kind of definition that doesn’t get us any closer to what is actually meant by the term “gender identity” when it is enshrined into law or company handbooks. After all, the law (in a liberal Western democracy, anyway) is generally unconcerned with policing the deeply-held internal senses of citizens.

Besides, this seemingly quick-and-easy definition doesn’t hold up with what mainstream trans activism is actually demanding. When using a non-preferred pronoun or disallowing a trans person from opposite-sex spaces is legally actionable, “gender identity” requires government employees, trans people’s co-workers, and those in sex-segregated spaces alter…

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On pariah status

My poem Lilit captured this but I need to push the political analysis and narrative.

In yoga, my instructor invites us to ‘set an intention’ for the practice.  Tonight I set an intention to create community where I live.  At the end of the practice, when she invited us to direct energy towards our intention and see it in practice, it came to me that I want to be my full self and be welcomed, embraced, respected, valued.  My full self is a survivor of forced psychiatry – once known as an ‘ex-mental patient’ – and a lawyer whose entire work is dedicated to international human rights law for the abolition of this practice.

My full self also happens to be a lesbian, a lesbian who insists that the female body is what I desire and what I am; a lesbian feminist who needs female-only space and culture and politics to exist, who still believes that ‘a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle’.  My full self is a Jew, a female-autonomous-spirituality-practicing Jew, a walk-in-the-woods-and-pray-with-trees Jew, a kid who went to yeshiva from a non-religious family Jew.  A New York Jew who grew up knowing few non-Jewish people until high school when I went further into the wide world.

Where I live now is a rural town where people don’t know what to make of me, and I don’t know what to make of them either.  I don’t work in the community, don’t contribute, don’t relate to them except in passing, at yoga class, in transactions at store or farmer’s market.  A couple of friends I know from the remnants of a short-lived fairly radical psych survivor organization about ten years ago, in a neighboring city/big town.  A few others we call friends from the Occupy vigils we went to religiously, hour-long and contemplative and connecting – but they ended.  Others we knew from a time when we attended a church with a lesbian minister of Jewish heritage, who understood spirit enough to create a service welcoming to the likes of me, but I had to stop going when she left and the new minister talked about ‘obeying Jesus’.  A couple of lesbians from a defunct brunch group. A lesbian couple who run a successful goat cheese business, not friends exactly but we like going to their open house and kind of ‘barn dance’ events, and the gay guy who sells their cheese at farmer’s market and brightens up my day.  And the ‘girls across the road,’ as the realtor said when she sold us the house, but they don’t stay there, they stay in her partner’s house in the next town.

In 2017, as I described in the Lilit poem, I tried to engage politically with a group that formed after the election of Donald Trump.  I had just come home from Norway and wanted to get involved with something; I have skills, I am politically active and know how to analyze legislation and policy.  I thought, ok, here are people in my home town that are not racists or homophobes and give a damn about things that I do.  And don’t you know it, the leader kicked me out after I used the adjective ‘fucking’ when talking about the Democrats as a corporate party.  Clearly there is a cultural thing here or a political thing that is insurmountable, and I haven’t gotten over it.  I tried the Green Party also, but don’t like the bickering and dogmatism engaged in by men in my local meetings.

I wonder where and how is the possibility for community.  Also in connection with my short-lived local activism, I talked about freedom in health care and my work for abolition of forced psychiatry.  Pretty much crickets and tokenism; ‘she’s the one who cares about mental health issues,’ – not.  And it’s coming back to me now when in the international work, some UN mechanisms are moving to the right on the issue of forced psychiatry- apparently having decided that it’s futile to instruct states to stop their repression against people who are struggling with life already, to stop the practice of arbitrary detention and torture with neuroleptic drugs, they are promoting the view that better support is what we need, and psychiatrists are good guys who are just frightened because they buy into misguided stereotypes of ‘danger to self or others’.  I can hear you – my sister and brother psych survivors – belly-laughing all the way from here on that one.

I am in a no-win situation even in the international activism sphere.  If I complain, I am a dangerous mental patient, a militant who doesn’t know what’s good for her, a thorn in the side of those who really want to help.  Just get out of the way, let the ‘real pros’ (after all they were paid or elected) do what they do best.  I have no power there, only what I have always had, my voice and my logic and my ability to make a moral and political argument.  And to the extent I still speak for everyone who has been locked up and tortured in psychiatry, my capability of representing our constituency of victims.

I still want community.  I want what we had in the Ad Hoc Committee where the CRPD was drafted and negotiated – a moral and political agreement that those whose rights were violated LEAD.  That the constituency of victims is the constituency of experts.  I want reparations.  This is reparations, to be able to speak as a full self, a person with a history and a political struggle that relates and connects with everyone in the room because who has not faced the idea of suicide, who has not struggled with what they know and can’t say, who has not had their mind do things that were unexpected?  Who has not feared the mental institution?  This diversity, and my being a lesbian feminist, and all our diversity whether ethnic or religious or anything else, should not be a big deal, should not be made ‘special’ or misinterpreted.  There’s a lot I don’t know, but a lot I do know, like anyone else.  I want feminism to be a principle of organization and for women to question men and stop them when they dominate or expect women’s care.

I want the trans bullshit to be stopped cold for the cantankerous infantile crap that it is.  Men don’t change into women by putting on lipstick or by taking estrogen shots, or by reconfiguring their penile tissue to simulate a vulva, clitoris and vagina.  We see you and we don’t like it, it’s the worst aspects of drag taken to the nth degree and politicized, weaponized to destroy the women’s liberation movement and erase lesbian identity and existence.  Just stop it, and progressive and feminist movements stop catering to this nonsense.

Life is short and the planet isn’t in great shape; is there a space for humans to get together and set their bullshit aside for once, let go of the betrayals and create a different kind of political action that doesn’t depend on betrayal?

Is there restorative justice that doesn’t depend on hegemony of an in-group and its particular set of values and worldview?