binarism and colonialism
April 3, 2012
This is a convo happening on tumblr. Go here for the context.
I want to have a talk about binarism. But with some serious shifts in the discussion because what I’ve no interest in saying is:
- That binary trans people have anything to do with a special oppression for non-binary people.
- That white non-binary people have any special kind of oppression, i.e., that binarism is something that impacts PoC exclusively.
- That, if binarism is a thing, that this means that binary trans people have any less right to defend their communities and protect themselves from either non-binary or cis people. This goes double for binary TPoC.
- That binarism, if real, is a thing related to colonialism and racism (although, I’m still trying to think if it is distinct from just racism and colonialism — I think so but not quite sure how to say why).
- I want to do all of the above without erasing the very real nature of passing privilege and what I might call ethnic heritage privilege (some I use very reluctantly ‘cause I’m referring to PoC cultures, but I think there is some relative privilege here).
In some ways, I’m sort of saying that I think binarism is real problem, but not from a trans on trans thing, but actually more of a white vs. PoC axis.
First, that image with the comment that it is most of white, white-passing, or lightskin people who ID as genderqueer bothered me because of the way that it completely ignored/erased those PoC cultures where non-binary or third genders (if I may be excused for using this problematic term) exist. I realize it may have been referring to what goes down in canada, the us, or europe, but the effect is still the same. ‘Cause all ranges of skin tones will represent in non-binary PoC IDs, particularly if they live in the country of cultural origin (i.e., Nepalese in Nepal or Filipin@s in the Philippines).
But what I do want to say is that binarism is a tool of colonialism (like racism). I think it was created by white cis people to oppress non-binary PoC. In the cases I’m talking about passing privilege isn’t an issue because some (but not all) bakla aren’t about passing and it is, specifically, our perceived inability to pass that made ‘ladyboy’ the (somewhat dated) translation for bakla (which more recently has come to mean ‘gay’).
(but this process of meaning shifting from ladyboy to gay is, itself, a result of a binarist colonial process that erases and delegitimizes not only the bakla who pass and, thus, often just ID as women, but also those bakla who pass, but don’t ID as women, those who are effete gay men, those who are butch, etc. It is a means to reduce the rich diversity and complexity that exists in Filipin@ culture into anglo, binary terms.)
Part of my point was also highlighted by you, when you mentioned that Black genderqueer (or just queer) people have issues because they are expected to be butch (which is part of racism). Similarly, Asians queers (heck, all Asians) are expected to be femme, docile, etc. This are issues of racism, but I think that these racist stereotypes also include colonial, binary notions of gender which are used against PoC.
(which, I suddenly realize I’m contradicting myself ‘cause I said it was for non-binary PoC but now I’m saying it might be all PoC)
That binarism is connected to colonialism is important for how white people represented PoC cultures in their history books, because they sought to represent us using their binary constructions of gender.
This process I’m talking about, is also at the heart of the larger criticism that white/light-skin/white passing people are usually only seen as IDing as genderqueer. And the special snowflake status they seek because they wish implicate other trans people, as well as cis people. Moreover, it is problematic the way that white genderqueer people can be seen to fetishize, romanticize, and appropriate non-binary PoC IDs.
I think the consequences are very different for non-binary Poc and non-binary white people. Whiteness as, from the moment it encountered us, sought to erase, eradicate, or explain away non-binary PoC. It was part of the colonial/missionary project.
(and while it may be argued that it was homophobia informing this process, not a particular kind of non-binary specific transhobia, I’m not convinced that this can be supported. That americans, since I think it was them, coined the term ladyboy to mock and degrade bakla or – more recently – kathoey, when they could have just used queer or faggot somewhat indicates that they recognized a qualitative difference between what we bakla are and what they understood queers/faggots to be.)
Part of what I tend to agree with, is that a case needs to be made that something counts as its own oppression, as opposed to being part of a different oppressive access. Also, I feel the body count criteria is good. On this note, while I don’t have receipts because I’ve not done the research at this point, I have zero doubts that when colonizers have been in any cultural group that recognizes third or non-binary genders, those people have been killed, murdered, demonized, etc. Part of what I’m working from here is how ladyboy is a slur. And no one who is a ladyboy is passing and while white sex tourists in the Philippines may do violence against bakla, I don’t think it can adequately be explained by transmisogyny or transphobia.
Part of the fetishistic appeal of ladyboys is that we not women and we are not men.
In conclusion, I think binarism is a real thing. At least if we are talking in the context of colonialism and racism. I have my doubts about its relevance and realness if we are talking about white genderqueers.