the concession of language
May 14, 2012
(Originally posted at Womanist Musings. Posting here for archival purposes.)
I had an interesting discussion about language and the trans* community. One thing that I've been discussing a lot in my posts here has been the hegemonic discourse of the white trans community. How they police language very heavily and use it in ways that continuously erase and exclude PoC.
One thing I ended up saying that using english was about the only concession I was willing to make when discussing gender with white trans* people. But I will resist using their definitions and arguing in their frameworks.
The fact that my first language is english is a result of colonization. And what makes using english particularly galling, is the fact that white people wield their arbitrary language rules like a weapon. We are always, always expected to engage white people in their spaces, in their languages, and following their rules.
I cannot uncritically use language in the way that white people do and want me to simply because of how language is used as a tool of white supremacy. It always boggles my mind that trans* people can so intelligently and critically examine the ways that language can erase, silence, and dehumanize trans and/or gender variant people but so frequently fail to understand how whiteness is also encoded into the language we use.
The amount of times I read a text written by a white trans* person who will end up defining or using terms in ways that always entail that this is the only correct way to use or define a term. They set themselves up as authorities on gender and end up being the gatekeepers to the discursive space. And they are very, very quick to punish and penalize anyone who does not (or will not) use language in the ways that they insist it must be used.
My classic example is the post I made before about how the chorus of “gender is entirely separate and distinct from sexuality” ends up leaving a bunch of people outside. I’m not sure how I can ever have a discussion with a white trans* person because I refuse to recognize that this distinction is true in all contexts and in all times. That I refuse the submit to their authoritative posturing on language.
If it is at all possible for me to speak my truth, I need to be able to do so. This is how silencing and erasure truly work: I’ve been struggle for almost a year to decolonize my mind just so that I can understand and articulate the truth about my gender.
It has taken me so many years to even begin dealing with this question. Years of depression and dysphoria. Years of internalizing transphobia and transmisogyny because I utterly failed to see myself as a possible member of the trans* community. And my failure to see myself in the community is simply because it wasn’t built to accommodate people like me. Because they have stolen my words.