Genderfork: Exploring Androgyny, Bending Binary

Androgyny” by Rasha XO. (Via Genderfork.)

Earlier this summer, Warren Ellis (yes, that one guy we reference every ten minutes on COILHOUSE, shaddup) posted some cogent thoughts on what he describes as the end of “The Patchwork Years” on the internet: “Nobody needs another linkblog… There are already thousands of them. The job of curation is being taken care of. Look ahead.” He’s right. I’m as guilty of rehashing as the next blogger, but yeah. Generally speaking, we could do with far less circle-jerk turd-polishing online.

Paraphrasing the feisty theater renegade Maya Gurantz, those of us in any position to create new media should be baking new bread instead of quibbling over stale crumbs. At the very least, we existing curators should be doing helluva lot more cogitating instead of regurgitating the same tired old ones and zeros. (“Hey dood, check out this awesome link via BoingBoing via Fark via Digg via Shlomo McFluffernutter’s Livejournal feed. Cut, paste, click.”)

More on internet culture’s addiction to shorthand tastemaking at some later date.

Meanwhile, even in these postulated-out, post-patchwork years, it’s still very possible to be galvanized by some vital new curator. Fellow bay area sasspot Whitney Moses emailed me a while back about a blog called Genderfork, run by Sarah Dopp.

Shave by Madame Raro. (Via Genderfork.)

Genderfork is an exploration of androgyny and gender variance through artistic photography and personal essays. Dopp has two personal goals for the project:

To compile all of the genderforking resources, imagery, and ideas that I come across on the web into one beautiful repository. I want to experience a sense of cohesion with these concepts — they all too often feel scattered and disparate.
To encourage a conversation around the grey areas of gender with friends, with strangers, and with strangers who need to become friends.
…because I think we can all agree: Gender is a loaded word.

Loaded, and how. That’s why complex arguments revolving around gay marriage and partnership rights can become so volatile so quickly, and why debate rages endlessly on between gender-abolitionist feminists and their less radical sisters. It’s why surprisingly empathetic reportage on 20/20 examining the lives of transgender children feels like a huge victory, and why my co-editors and I fought tooth and nail to find a way to publish Siege’s Neogender piece in Coilhouse Issue 01, if only in a limited capacity.

Peter in Transition” by Brook Dillon. (Via Genderfork.)

A curator is as relevant as their ability to contextualize. So long as a blog can bring hazy concepts and questions into sharper relief, challenge my preconceptions, or open new channels of thought, I’ll keep coming back. Needless to say, I’ve been revisiting Genderfork a lot. It’s not necessarily that its content is new or unfamiliar to me; it’s more about the presentation, and a sense of something larger coming into focus.*

I feel like sustained focus is increasingly difficult to come by these days, as the binary code scrolls past us in a relentless blur. With every tick of the clock, we are moving exponentially faster towards…what? Alan Moore says our culture is turning into steam. Transhumanists assert that the next step in human evolution will be for us to embrace biotechnological alteration, irreversibly changing our bodies and brains. Philip K. Dick believed that we are “being bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms” and that “objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live.”

Annie” by Tara L. McManus. (Via Genderfork.)

What is an authentic human being? How have traditional, strictly binary notions of gender (or anything else) challenged those of you who consider yourself “in-between”? What are the connections, if any, between the massive changes we’re experiencing in technology, in how we process information, and in fairly recent, massive shifts in “mainstream” perceptions of gender and sexuality? Any thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

*I realize this post is far from polished or focused, but I’ve been fumbling around with these ideas for months now. Rather than sit on them any longer, I figured I’d throw ’em into the CH think tank and see what insight might be gained from our sharp readers.

60 Responses to “Genderfork: Exploring Androgyny, Bending Binary”

  1. Speck Says:

    I know I’m coming to this after the discussion has already cooled down, but I think this needs to be said –

    I’m a bit mystified by the whole “if someone doesn’t mean to offend, then what they say isn’t offensive” line of reasoning that Jerem and Co. seem to keep falling back on. Seriously – think about that one for a while. If only the sting of some of the comments people made really was entirely dependent on the intentions of the person making them.

    The thing is, when you hurt someone, assuring them that you didn’t mean it is just the first step – if you stop there without figuring out what you did that caused the offense in the first place, well, then there really isn’t any guarantee you won’t do it again, is there? Apologies only have weight behind them when they’re followed up with action to make amends or ensure that the mistake isn’t made twice. Otherwise, you’re basically just saying, “Sorry, didn’t mean to step on your foot there,” then promptly doing it again.

    Oh, and Jerem – please, please, please take another look at your assertion that the transfolk are somehow choosing to be hurt by the offensive statements directed towards them. That kind of tactic is called “blaming the victim,” and it’s a standard tactic used by privileged people to blame oppressed people for their own suffering.

  2. Mer Says:

    The thing is, when you hurt someone, assuring them that you didn’t mean it is just the first step – if you stop there without figuring out what you did that caused the offense in the first place, well, then there really isn’t any guarantee you won’t do it again, is there? Apologies only have weight behind them when they’re followed up with action to make amends or ensure that the mistake isn’t made twice. Otherwise, you’re basically just saying, “Sorry, didn’t mean to step on your foot there,” then promptly doing it again.

    I’m in 100% agreement with you. Personally, I’m hoping that nobody’s tootsies get stepped on again.

  3. Z.Allomorph Says:

    Sorry, but I really want to say a few more things.

    I am, just as Rattenmaus, cisgendered.
    So I don’t really feel “competent” enough to say much on the subject of transpeople itself. Still, there are some things I’d like to say. I suppose, as I want to comment some “communicational problems”, my common sense or knowledge from what I experienced from other parts of my life where I’m lacking privilege should be sufficient.

    For example, Jerem Morrow: sorry, but NO.
    If words couldn’t be interpreted, communication wouldn’t be possible.
    What has been said to be “mere semantics” (like dressing your opinion up as a fact) mirrors what happens in your mind.
    For example, I told Zoetica why her words are hurtful to some people (I *know* they are, that’s why I don’t say “might be hurtful” – you get the principle?). I brought arguments.
    I don’t want to get this dismissed as “mere semantics”, by the way, because we communicate via language, we are talking on the internet, we all have enough time to think about what we say, and if we don’t, we risk hurting each other or just get misunderstood, but that’s not the audience’s fault. If you do not think long enough over your choice of words (an expression which shows what we are dealing with here quite well, it’s a *choice*), you take the risk, you are still fully responsible.
    There are a lot of things Zoetica (sorry, it’s you again – as Dingsi pointed out, it’s not about you as a person, it’s about what you wrote) said which are hurtful. You MIGHT read them differently, but then you’d have to put away a lot of context. Context is a wonderful thing, so I kind of like it, and don’t want to put it away. Also, it was said that nobody accuses her of being a nasty person who just wanted to hurt people, but in some points, she did nevertheless. She apologised, and even though I don’t have the right to decide whether this apology is acceptable or not (I feel the urge to put some exclamation marks right here, instead I just ask you to keep that in mind), her language shows she acknowledged she hurt other people’s feelings.
    That’s just on a linguistic level: She apologises, then explains what made her talk and think like that, she says (which I consider very important) she realised even the people whose experiences she observed are still not a valid source for general statements.
    She accepts she hurt people with her words.

    So, Jerem Morrow: If you don’t feel hurt: FINE.
    But I really think you shouldn’t degrade other people’s feelings as untrue, or as a choice, and blame them for that. You blame them for feeling hurt. You blame them for what others did.
    I could tell you, you were just lying to yourself, so you don’t have to face the negative emotions or anything alike. But I won’t say that. It’s a non-valid argument, something you claim about another person, a pseudo argument which cannot be falsified, because I could still say “well, you only say this because, on your inside, you still just push this away, but in fact, you DO feel hurt”. I could say you manipulate people here to act as you want them to, just by saying what is adult and what not, so, since nobody wants to act like a child, they automatically try to stick to the rules you make up.
    But I do not think I need this kind of pseudo arguments.
    Oh, by the way, what you said was exactly the same kind of pseudo argument.
    So please forgive me if I just ignore it from now on.

    If what you said were true, you wouldn’t even know some people felt uncomfortable.
    I think it is brave to participate in discussions like this if you are a member of the non-privileged group (something I am not), and feel uncomfortable or even hurt (which is, as far as I can tell from what you said, not true for you). So, do you make yourself vulnerable and do you have to overcome your feelings of being hurt when you participate here? I’m asking you, because I don’t want to judge you just like that, but if your answer was “no”, you have the same right as cisgendered people (who don’t risk anything, no outing, no talking about their bodies, intimate details about their feelings, not getting hurt, etc.) to judge those people’s choices to discuss or not, which would be: none.
    And besides, I think it’s wrong to expect every non-privileged person to be some kind of uber hero who fights every battle. Might work if you are younger, or temperamental enough, but I think it’s important not to blame everybody who gets just tired of the same discussion over and over.

    Did I get something wrong? Why are you apologising? What did *you* do wrong? Maybe I really missed something, but how exactly are you responsible? In fact, my impression was that you were one of those who really helped to de-escalate the whole thing and make people feel better if possible?

  4. Jerem Morrow Says:

    @ Z.Allomorph

    You’ve misunderstood me. At least partially…to nigh on wholly.

    I covered all of what you’ve taken issue with, in a comment that was thought perhaps too much of a firestarter. I chose not to post it.

    This discussion seems to be one too massive to have via text, as it’s thus far done nothing but lead to misunderstanding. But I’ll try, anyway, if others are willing. I’ve meant every word of what I’ve said, and more. But it appears I either suck horridly at making my point, or I’m speaking some strange, unknown language. I’m not playing all high and snobby, but I do find it ludicrous what’s been made of this.

    Not in regard to what Zo has said, mind you. That subject’s been settled, so far as I can tell. But specifically what I’ve said. It’s almost as if, in *some cases*, I’ve said “Purple”, but some want to say I, in fact, said “RED”.

    But I disgress…it’s simply not in me to continue this here. I don’t want to cause more turmoil. BUT, i am available, should anyone want to continue the discussion, via e-mail at kutuluzombie@yahoo dot com. I sincerely welcome notes from anyone.

  5. Mer Says:

    Thank you, Z.Allomorph. I don’t think you missed anything, but yes, I was genuinely sorry to see communications following the post I’d written arguably engendering (harrr!) more hurt feelings than good ones. That hurt may have occurred through no immediate fault of my own, but you can understand why I might still feel a bit responsible somehow, right? Like the host of a dinner party gone rather spectacularly awry.

    Anyhoo –again with the silver-lining-slathering– in the aftermath of all this, I’m thinking it would be very informative and healing to invite a genderqueer or trans person to guest blog on COILHOUSE. Perhaps some sort of Trans 101 piece? Of course, there are already tons of really informative and thoughtful articles online, but a piece published (or republished) here might very well reach a new audience. While not everyone who peruses this blog may be personally familiar with the issues we’re discussing, I’d say the vast majority of our regular readers are exceedingly open, curious, and kind folks who would appreciate a chance to learn more. Anyone have any suggestions?

    Meantime, I want to give a shout out to a very diverse shortlist of people: Julie Waters, Ian Harvie, Tucker Liberman, Baby Dee, Monica Roberts, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, and of course Lisa Harney. Badasses, all, and I’ve gained enormous insight from reading/watching/listening to each of them do their thang. Make with the clickies.

  6. Jerem Morrow Says:

    @Mer: I second this idea!

  7. Das Dingsi Says:

    Jerem: let’s take a close look at your comments.

    You told Drakyn, who explained to you the difference between “reaching a middleground” and silencing, to “[s]low down buster” and that you’re somehow “a member of [our] exclusive little club” — despite later still putting “we” into scare quotes, although even later you say “I’M ONE OF YOU” (in capslock, even!) while in the same sentence claiming that you’re also “one of *them*”, i.e. not like us. Which is useful, because that way no side is allowed to doubt you and you can always pull the but I’m one of us! card for both sides. But let’s say you are, if not trans, at least gender-variant (your comments are always very vague about that). You seem to think this gave you the right to behave condescending to others or declare their arguments invalid. Hint: it doesn’t. Being a member of a minority group does not mean you cannot make mistakes — gay people can internalize homophobia, trans people can bash other trans people for not being ‘trans enough’, and so on. That means that, bluntly speaking, your own gender issues mean absolutely nothing when it comes to the question whether you can say some pretty stupid and offensive things. You can, and you did.

    You said that you do not see people being silenced or erased in this thread, despite other participants saying otherwise and explaining patiently how certain statements hurt them by telling them they didn’t, or shouldn’t, exist. You say that we “make enemies of them [i.e. people like Zo], simply because they have a specific perspective”, as if we attacked them personally or were overly aggressive — adding that you, of course, are above this sad behaviour. People who react negatively might, according to you, “take themselves far too seriously” or lack “a sense of humor” (the fairly common Can’t you take a joke tactic). Then you accuse everyone who is either too hurt or too tired by this discussion of cowardice: “People who ACTUALLY want change, STAY. And deal with what may be uncomfortable.” (Note that you chose the word “uncomfortable”, a very minor annoyance opposed to being hurt or exhausted). In short, if anyone here leaves this discussion (after, mind you, writing one or many detailed comments and still being blocked by but certainly she didn’t mean it THAT way), in your eyes that can only mean one thing: they are insincere, immature and like to complain (“prepubescent whiners who cry out and scuttle away at the slightest hint of dissent”, which is possibly just “imagined”, too. Or maybe it’s even malice, as implied in your sentence “If we look for something awful in what others say, we’ll find it”).

    If you say “I could be wrong. You could be wrong.”, you only admit this in a context where others tell you that you’ve said something offensive, in this case you use it to address Rattenmaus’ concerns and deflect her criticism. However, you seem not to have those qualms about your opinion in other contexts: then it’s all clear as day.

    You also imply that actually there is nothing to get upset about, as the people who said that certain comments hurt them are only “*choosing* to be hurt” (and you compare feeling hurt to a physical addiction by saying that stopping to feel offended is somehow like “quiting [sic!] smoking”, which makes no sense, but whatever). And although you pay lip service to the idea that the trans people in this thread have the right to be hurt and leave (“not everyone needs be a fighter,” “I have thick skin, I realize. Others may not”), in the same breath you still paint them as immature, unwilling to “enact change”, and whiney, just like you did before. You even use the term “Professional victims” (hey, if it’s a profession, I want some fucking money for it!). The only thing you didn’t was calling us a bunch of pussies, really.

    Again, you put the onus of educating solely on the shoulders of trans people. They ought to do some “digging”, or else all hope is lost, but at the same time be very gentle about it, as we’re all humans and it’s just a difference of opinion and can’t we all just get along? So, the trans people ought to stay and educate others, no matter their own feelings (the hurt is only imagined, anyway), but at the same time, they ought to leave ’em alone already. That stance of The minorities shall educate me/the majority, who has nothing to lose, by engaging in a discussion that is personal and most likely very hurtful for them is very common, by the way. And it’s very tiresome. You basically blame the transgendered people themselves for the attitudes of cisgendered people, or their unwillingness to change: it’s not the cis people’s fault, after all the trans people didn’t try hard enough to educate them! So the trans folk have to go through the same discussions over and over and over again, because apparently it’s too much to expect from non-trans folk to look up stuff on Google or read the many transgender blogs on the net.

    Your comments are contradictory, messy, evasive, and exhibit stock arguments seen a lot around anti-trans discussions. Basically, after I’m done with this, I have no intention in discussing anything with you, ever (be it here or via email), for the reasons outlined above. But I doubt this will phase you, because a) I’m just a whiny pro victim ;) and b) according to your most recent comment, I’m just misreading you. You’re only being misunderstood. Just like the “choice” to feel hurt, Rattenmaus, Z.Allomorph and I have “chosen” to misinterpret your words. Which is cool, because it means you don’t have to question anything you’ve said. The fault is, again, with the minority and their allies. Clever!

    @ Mer: email is in the making, I haven’t forgotten you but my week was a tad stressful. Sorry!

  8. Jerem Morrow Says:

    @Das Dingsi

    Alright, then let’s have this final blurb and be done with it, eh?

    You make assumptions, just as I have. See, we’re both doing what you and yours (since I’m apparently not enough like you, to be a part of the club, as it were) claim only I’m doing. As you’ve said, CLEVER! Yippee. You’ve taken what I’ve said and refashioned it into what you need it to say, in order for you to make sense of it. That, I’m sure even you’ll have to agree, doesn’t make it right.

    You can’t come to terms with my un-PC view of the situation, so you’ve turned me into a villain. At least in your own head. Which, without any sarcasm at all, is something I’m absolutely fine with.

    I used the “you” and “them” labels to point out WE’RE ALL one. Yet, most seem content to continue partitioning humanity off. Get it now?

    As I’ve said, I will not, for my own reasons, continue this further, *here*. If anyone, and I do mean anyone, would like to continue via e-mail, then lets. I promise, I’ll answer each and every one. Even if it turns out to be hundreds. And hey, I don’t even mind if someone makes the conversation public on whatever blog suits them. I’m not backing out. Simply deciding this is bringing too much harm, to this forum.

    Das Dingsi: If you’re not, indeed, just having your fill of telling me off, then you know how to reach me.

    For my part, I’m done *here*.

    Have a lovely day.

  9. Rattenmaus Says:

    Jerem, I don’t know if you’re deliberately twisting Dingsi’s words, or if you’re just not getting it.
    In either case, I don’t see why one should even bother trying to discuss this with you any further.

  10. dalai donna Says:

    oh dear, i wish i could add something to this, but i don’t suppose it would be worthwhile.

    dear mer:
    you know who would make a good subject for a good article?
    lili elbe!

    i could ramble about her for days…