Okay, I’ll start with a disclaimer. This post is based on an observation that is heavily biased because a lot of it originated from my Twitter filter bubble. But it relates to my worries about where (queer) feminism is heading, so I put it out there. If you know better than me, please let me know.
A while ago I read an article that I actually did not like. I found the tone unnecessarily aggressive, cynical, and disrespectful. Anyway, after reading it, I started to make some observations and I think that despite the tone, the author has a point. I noticed that more and more amazing feminist, critical women that I know (personally or via Twitter) reflected critically on the category “female” and came to the conclusion that there is a lot attached to this category that they are not happy with. So far, so good. I feel the same.
What happened next was that three of them declared themselves “genderqueer”, “genderflux”, and “non-binary”, which was supposed to express exactly that: that they do not conform to femininity in all the ways expected of them, and that they don’t plan to. That is totally worthy of support, but the status of the labelling needs clarification.
As I see it, there are three options to deal with the feeling that one is not conforming to all the typical features of one’s gender (in this case: woman): The first is to proudly become an unconventional woman. I think that that’s an amazing option. The second is to think that your critical stance makes you somehow have another gender and drop out of being a woman. But that means that to you, being a woman is identical to conforming to the stereotypes about women. That’s actually pretty misogynistic. The third way (and as far as I know the one genderqueer people go for) is to acknowledge that they are somehow still women, but not cis women. But “cis woman” is a term that many of us accept for ourselves out of respect for trans people. Me being a cis woman means (as I understood it) that I am a woman who did not have to cross (or look like crossing) a “border” between male and female in order to be able to be (and be seen as) a woman. However, it should not mean “someone totally uncritical who is absolutely happy with all sorts of gender norms.” If the term “cis” has come to mean this, then it is -especially among feminists- simply an instrument of bullying.
I might have overlooked an option, but if I haven’t, then flooding the market with new gender labels will either lead to “cis” being an insult for people who have never produced a critical thought about gender, or to an abandonment of the notion of female solidarity because critical minds do not positively identify as female anymore.
So what do we do? I don’t know. I will keep acknowledging that I have some sort of privilege that trans people don’t have, but under these circumstances, I would rather not refer to it as “cis privilege”. And if you are a woman and a feminist and sometimes non-conforming, please don’t leave!* Being an unconventional woman is an amazing way to be a woman!
*This does of course only address cases in which a choice is involved and in which the process of identification is a willful political act. I have no idea if I am right about this but I understand that the other cases either fall under the trans* umbrella or concern people who know themselves to be intersex.