So as in most limits of language I find myself having a visceral reaction to the term “gender non-conforming” each time I hear it, read it, and even at times I have used it. For me, it felt like the term lesbian which never fit me either (for me), Butch Dyke was were I have spent most of my identified life, and now when asked I say female-bodied masculine queer. But back to the concept “non-conforming” and gender. As a child targeted as a “gender non-conforming” person and subjected to the psychiatric practices involved in reparative and correctional therapies,I have had a long relationship with the violence required for “conformity”. In my research of the UCLA Gender Identity Research Project (Founded in 1963) were I was taken as a third grader I found this quote in the archive,
“While privately, one might prefer to modify society’s attitudes towards cross-gender behavior, in the consultation room with an unhappy youngster, one feels far more optimistic about modifying the behavior of that one child than the entire of society” (Green, Newman & Stroller, 1972, p.217).
This is one of, if not a key pathological theory and methodologies for targeting natural human expression in children and adults. It centers heteronormative gender expectations that arise from invented and socially constructed biologically markers of sex difference as “normative” and targets with a pathology (Mental illness) of “non-conformity”. Social and political agenda has always shaped sex & gender, “Choosing which criteria to use to determine sex, and choosing to make the determination at all, are social decisions for which scientist can offer no absolute guidelines (Fausto-Sterling, 2000:5), the process of social bias supports the above quote about changing the “Unhappy Child”. What is also known is that, “…scientist create truths about sexuality; how our bodies incorporate and confirm these truths…” are “sculpted by the social milieu in which biologist practice their trade, in turn refashion our cultural environment” (Fausto-Sterling, 2000:5), “Non-conformity” then is born of social and political power, the power to place value on false notions of difference.
The relationship between western science and population control have been married from the start, therefore privilege, surveillance, and violence create a trinity that “Non-conformity” thrives on both in the public and private lives of people.In the nineteenth century, Gender Identity Disorder(GID 1965),now Gender Dysphoria (2013) began its path into the social and cultural consciousness and the medical and sociological discourse as researchers encountered individuals seeking Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) that was not related to biological or physiological variation. Hermaphroditism, the term once used for “intersexed” or “transgender” individuals, is not new to humanity but took on a different connotation under the western clinical gaze due to how it was viewed as something that “taunted the social order” (Stryker, 2006:13), thereby helping to spur “the development of sexology, psychiatry, endocrinology, and other medical-scientific fields involved in social regulatory practices” (Stryker, 2006:13). Body modification, human fluidity to gender identity and sexuality are the human experience, classification such as race, able-bodied, class and nation, when interjected into the human experience of gender identity and sexuality produces un-match violence and privilege.That is not to say that currently in some cases the need for the controversial target of GID/GD for some folks seeking healthcare or agency within the prison industrial complex who are at higher rates POC folks that I do not see the need for both the support of and the destruction of body surveillance and being targeted as “non-conforming”.
I would like to suggest that instead of using pathological language that serves as an “othering apparatus” we might consider using the Term “Gender Self-determining”. This language removes the target of a pathology (mental illness) and at the same time covers the expansive fluidity of those folks moving through, between, or not participating in, “normative gender expectation” by either conforming or non-conforming. As we know language is limiting, but my request comes from a lived experience of wanting language and “policies” that center agency in the experience of those affected by material conditions that can be both exclusionary and pathological instead of acknowledging healthy natural expression of humanity. As we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us let us reflect on one of the many things we have learned from Black feminist thought in the Combahee River Collective Statement from 1977. A key and fundamental point was this, “Above all else, our politics initially sprang from the shared belief that Black Women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as adjunct to somebody’s else’s but because of our need as human persons for autonomy” (31). I urge us as a collective community to find in our language the refusal of the term “Gender non-conforming” and the inclusion of Gender Self Determining as a form of autonomy and agency for those of us that want a choice. Let us keeping the vision to move beyond language that in its good intention still targets those it is trying to help.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. 2000. Sexing the Body Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York, NY. Basic Books, A member of the Perseus Books Group
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. 2005. The Bare Bones of Sex: Part 1–Sex and Gender. Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2005, vol. 30, no. 2 The University of Chicago
Stryker, Susan 2006. “(De)Subjugated Knowledge An Introduction to Transgender Studies” Pp. 1-17 in The Transgender Studies Reader, edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle New York, NY. Routledge