Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dismantling the binary

We live in a highly structured world. Everything related to what we have come to know as human nature is controlled by the structure that we call society/patriarchy. There is almost nothing more structured (in society/patriarchy) than the gender binary system; a system dominated by the structure of power. From the moment we are born we are assigned either to the female or male gender category based on the doctor’s first glance of our genitalia. Very early in life we are also taught that almost every single thing is consigned a gender within the binary (e.g. toys, games, sports, objects, clothing, music, movies, books, etc).

Beginning at birth, the structural control of gender grants us minimal choice in deciding or even knowing who our authentic selves are. I argue that because we are born into this meticulous organization of gender power, we are socially and culturally shaped and constructed in ways that are beyond our control. Those of us who search for ways to look beyond gender-normative discourses produce deep ontological threats and are often silenced and/or considered deviant. Furthermore, there is a type of gender surveillance that occurs in our culture. This gender surveillance is most apparently manifested in the pathologization of gender and in the pressure our culture places on people to constantly find ways to fit into normative gender categories.

The structural organization and power that constitutes the gender binary system is used to control and oppress women and people who do not fit into the binary. In other words, the gender binary is constructed to privilege an idealized and unattainable male body and oppress all other bodies. From this perspective, the prescription of the gender binary system on bodies reinforces patriarchy. I view the gender binary as a type of prison system that we are born into (Goffman, 1961; Flax, 1990). The people who break free from the prison and discover that they do not fit into the binary are seen as the outlaws in need of capture and repair.

It is time we begin to problematize hegemonic discourses of gender and question "gender". We must also interrogate the tensions that exist between trans discourse and feminist theory and discuss how the two schools of thought can work together to enhance human understanding. Let us all begin dismantling one of the most powerful structures that we human beings have created...