July Online Gender Workshop: An exercise in the utility of definitions

When last we left our intrepid workshoppers, one month ago, we had had a rollicking discussion of definitions of gender, sex, and related terms.

One of the things that came out of that discussion is that when we are each pressed to define exactly what each of us as individuals mean by each person’s specific, personal use of terms like “gender” and “sex” and “transsexual” we not only consistently come up with different definitions, but we also routinely fail to come up with terms that actually cover everything we want to say.

In looking at people overtly performing gender, many of us struggled to find a way to express exactly what we wished to communicate using the terms we had just defined. Worse, in something little discussed as of yet, those people who are assumed to be the best and most skilled of us frequently declined to use gendered pronouns for some performers, but not others.

Why is this the case? If declining to assume an appropriate pronoun for Conchita Wurst is respectful, why not decline to assume an appropriate pronoun for Julie Andrews or Shirley Temple? One of the things we should, in fact, be discussing is the coercive nature of many gendered interactions. Did Shirley Temple choose the clothing or choreography for that scene? Did Temple have more agency in creating a gender (or a gendered image) than Conchita Wurst? At age 3 and 4? Given the legacy nature of Temple’s income and ability to work, what are the implications for Temple’s gender agency at age 40? And if Shirley Temple can’t be assumed to have had a free gender hand, why are we willing to trust an application of a gendered pronoun for Temple more than we trust an application of a gendered pronoun to Wurst?

To help solve some of these problems, it is necessary to have a common language. As revealed in previous exercises, we do not currently have that. We have idiosyncratic usage as created and modified by our successes and failures in conceptualizing and communicating sex and gender concepts. That simply isn’t enough when the times get rough.

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I am Power-Mad Drunk on Intoxicating Power!

As many of you may know, just less than a week ago some earnest questions were asked – to the Horde generally – about gender by morgan (frequent, though apparently not current, epitheter of metaphors). morgan’s questions reduced to a more fundamental one: “Why is constructively engaging gender so damn hard?”

This is something about which I’ve often written and spoken. It runs through my critiques of a number of disciplines/specialties, most notably the pedagogy of gender itself. It’s long been my thinking that we can teach gender much better than we do, and one important aspect of that is to encourage self-exploration rather than using idiographic studies of various exotic species: trans* folks and intersex kids and survivors of testicular, ovarian, or breast cancer. To encourage that self-exploration, I’ve developed workshops in the past that attempted to reveal to the participants’ view the transsexual analogous and transgender analogous portions of their own psyches. It occurred to me that morgan might find better answers through something like the workshops I’ve led than through simply reading a recommended book or a fantastically intelligent comment (to which, ahem, I might link). And so I offered to create an online workshop, though I’d never done one before.

Quickly others spoke up to express interest, and noted that weaving the workshop into the Lounge’s already multi-threaded complexity simply wouldn’t work. It would compromise the Lounge’s comfortable directionlessness, perhaps making idle chat feel less welcome in the exact space set aside for it. Likewise, it might make it very difficult for people to find, and follow, the workshop itself. So it was suggested that we ask PZ for a separate thread for our experimental conversation.

And how you responded! With more than 50 people – if I’ve counted correctly – jumping in during the introduction period, it became quickly apparent that even with our own thread people were bound to get lost. The solution? More threads! (Good for these cotton workers, if no one else.) I took to PZ the suggestion that he open a new thread for each set of exercises. His counter-offer has given me the power to make my own OPs on Pharyngula, under my own byline.

This will take work off PZ’s plate, permitting me to create separate threads on my own initiative, when my posts are ready. Also, it eases worries about posting times, as starting a new thread will not interrupt a conversation in an old thread. All in all, I think it’s a good idea.

But it only happened because 1) the Horde appeared to want it, and 2) it suited PZ’s whim. It will continue only so long as both are true. I have no aspiration to pepper Pharyngula’s headlines or to change the character of this blog: it is absolutely and always PZ’s house. I just got a spare key. I don’t have any plans at this point to post anything other than the this introduction and my planned workshop posts, although if it seems particularly relevant I might blog about a current event that allows me to make a point useful to the exciting gender discussion happening here.

When the workshop is over, I may hand the spare key back to PZ or, if he prefers, just keep it in my key bowl in case it’s needed. But for whatever duration, a few posts under my byline will, I hope, change nothing about my relationship to the Horde. I expect to be corrected when I make mistakes, challenged when I make an argument, and called out when something I do or say enacts or reinforces oppression. On every single thread not in the workshop series, I hope I continue to be no more and no less than I have been: a member of a very special group of people who enjoy learning from each other.

Rum, chocolate, and confetti (if you feel compelled to eat, throw, and drink these things in despair and/or celebration at this Crip Dyke-has-a-byline development) should be available in the Lounge. Afterparty with the scum and villainy will be in the ThunderDome, per usual. The third exercise set will appear sometime a little after midnight Blog Standard Time as the second OP in the workshop series [given that the second exercise set was posted under the first OP before this development].

In the meantime, thanks PZ, for creating this space. Thanks to the Horde for doing all the heavy-lifting in the workshop thread. I owe it all to… Oh, who am I kidding?

Power! Absolute power!

Our terrible secret exposed!

I am dismayed. Freethoughtblogs has been accused of being a den of Feminazis, Femistasi, totalitarian thought, and being equivalent to a totalitarian state, by no less a person than Paula Kirby. This is terrible news!

We aren’t ready! The interrogation rooms haven’t even been furnished, all the razorwire is sitting in spools and hasn’t been deployed, and we haven’t even settled on the final design for the uniforms. I mean, we’ve picked the colors (black, of course, with blood red highlights), but we’re bickering over the retro and dapper 1940s look, or this spectacular futuristic art deco Ming the Merciless style. They both look so fabulous it’s impossible to make up our minds. We have settled on the symbol: skulls — absolutely required — and tentacles.

But it’s not enough and we’re nowhere near prepared! I’ve had to spend my evening browsing through military surplus catalogs — it’s amazing what you can buy online — to get the gear for the 1st Pharyngula Panzer Division, since as you all know, fashion is more important than guns for a good solid popular fascist movement, so we waited until the last moment. We’re going to have to settle for some rather marginal tanks, I’m afraid, but it should be adequate to roll over the Dakotas and Wisconsin, especially since they don’t suspect a thing, and once we’ve seized a few depots we can upgrade. But still! We had a goddamned timetable (you know how we fascists love our timetables), and this just messes them all up!

Oh, well.

Say, if I put up a chipin widget or create a kickstarter to build a war machine, you’ll all contribute, right? We’ll take your name off the purge list if you do!

And, well, you all know what will happen to you if you don’t.