A recent controversial decision (now overturned) not to book any drag acts for Glasgow’s new Free Pride celebration has left many feathers ruffled. Not least those of the organisers who have admitted that they ‘made a mistake’ but decry the backlash which has included negativity towards the event itself. The ‘mistake’ appears to have involved more ideology than bureaucracy and has generated new debate on an old topic:
- is the cross-dressing of cis men offensive to women in general and to trans women in particular?
When I first thought of writing this blog post, I thought of contextualising drag queens with the venerable heritage of (holy) fools and the Commedia dell’Arte – now that everyone has a different opinion of exactly what sort of bodies stood in confrontation with the police, and how they were dressed, at the prime location in the mythical origin story of queer resistance known as the Stonewall Bar. Then I realised that some deeper issues were at stake.
Firstly, and at the root of the controversy, is the ideological confusion of epistemology and ontology. I would say ‘perception and reality’ but the latter term is philosophically empty (as it means such different things to different thinkers) and the former is confused, basically because the common use of fashionable varieties of mentalism (such as social constructivism) applies theories of Universal Mind to justify the acceptance of ‘consensus reality’. If you want to know more, read Alchemy at the Chalkface: Pirsig, Pedagogy and the Metaphysics of Quality. It’s a work of intellectual heresy and the amount of unlearning required to read it benevolently is too large for a blog post.
Secondly, what I am going to enlarge upon here, is the issue of language. To be more exact, the issue of categories: man, male, woman, female, trans, cis, gay, lesbian, strait (this is how I spell it), bent (that’s why), bi, sex, sexuality, gender, intersex, asexual, queer, etc. I have two suggestions:
- Let’s stop juxtaposing the nouns ‘woman/women’ with ‘male/males’. The former are human terms and the latter include beasts (and technological connectors). This juxtaposition is sexist and women would rightly complain if the reverse was used: ‘man/ men’ with ‘female/females’. Not convinced? Try this: ‘men, writing about relationships, tend to focus on value; females tend to focus on intimacy.’
- Let’s locate a person on three different axes, not just two:
- Sexual orientation
This suggestion needs some explanation. Due to the first confusion, ‘sex’ has been conflated with ‘gender’, both asserted to be socially assigned by the fiat of the (male or female) midwife: ‘it’s a boy/ girl’. The usual motive cause for such speech acts (the infantile genitalia – ask a midwife, I’ve quite a few in my family) is ignored as ideologically inconvenient. No, don’t go into a rage, I’m not an essentialist. So we are left with only two ways to describe someone. Therefore a drag queen may describe herself as ‘a cis(-gender[ed]) gay man’.
It ain’t necessarily so.
Rather than this binary understanding of ourselves, either/ or, wouldn’t it be more liberating to us all to be allowed (yes, allowed, because censorship is rife about these subjects) to describe ourselves and those we know in a fuller way?
If we allow that both transvestism and transsexuality are related but differing forms of transgender then we may also allow that the difference is to do with sex and gender and not with sexual orientation.
So, imagine someone locating themselves as being ‘mostly male in sex, mostly female in gender and mostly attracted to women’. Here I’m suggesting using male/female as adjectives and man/men/woman/women as nouns, although that ain’t necessarily so either (‘women writers’/ ‘man buns’). Less ambiguously (not everyone wants to be liminal) someone might say, perhaps in a bar or online, ‘I’m sexually female, gendered male and attracted to men.’ Now I’d even go so far as to suggest that those two descriptions could be rewritten thus:
- I’m mostly biologically male, mostly socially female and mostly attracted to women.
- I’m biologically female, socially male and attracted to men.
But that may ruffle a lot of feathers!
What do you think? Is this helpful? Tell me on Twitter (why? because I have RSI and limit my activity online and feel rude if I can’t respond to diatribes, and because diatribes often leave the subject behind and go off on tangents and get very rude and unclear) or direct me to a blog post you’ve written about this subject.
Thanks to Rf Vectorscom for putting ‘Map Marker Vector’ in the Public Domain.