musings about 'indigenous gender' as a concept
December 30, 2014
since i’ve been talking a lot this past few days or so about gender and indigenous gender systems, i wanted to spend a bit of time with my usage of ‘indigenous genders’ as a referrent for genders like my own (bakla) or really for most/all genders embodied by iaopoc (‘trans’ and ‘cis’ alike).
the first thing that this term necessitates is an indigenous culture/gender system in which individual bodies and genders obtain coherence. in the case of bakla, this is tagalog culture.
but what of people who are iaopoc but lack access or knowledge of the respective indigenous gender system in which their gender would be coherent?
of course. whenever i say shit like this, i have a very specific people/s and context in mind… Black americans (or people in the Black diaspora generally).
i’d argue that, in actual fact, the existence of the Black diaspora is proof of concept, rather than a challenge. it is the specificity of Blackness (and anti-Blackness) that demonstrates the full project and power of white colonization on indigenous genders and their systems. in my last blog post, i wrote:
i can at least learn about the history of my gender. i still have a name for it. i know lots of iaopoc who don’t. who have to struggle with a colonially imposed language of some kind to articulate the incoherent and the impossible. all the while having to listen to white ppl (trans, cis, binary, nonbinary) tell them/us that we don’t exist. but not just that… that is impossible that we could exist. some of us might have once existed, but this is no longer possible…
when you look at scholarship/writing on anti-Blackness this is, in its most true form, is the ontological position of Black people today. additionally, the added bonus of anti-Blackness actually gets us one step further than ‘impossible to exist’ ‘once existed’ to have never existed in the first place. it is a unique position that only Black ppl occupy (that only Black ppl could possibly occupy).
this is really what i mean when i say that iaopoc ppl (esp. Black ppl) who don’t have any real access to cultural heritage or language, who can only struggle with a colonially imposed language, that the act of asserting that you exist and that you exist in whatever way you determine, using the words you choose for yourself, is an act of resistance to the colonial, binary logic that claims you are impossible (and for Black ppl that you could never even begin to exist).
and the thing is, is that even ppl without direct access to their heritage, still manage to embody gender in ways that refer back to their respective indigenous gender system, even if they do not know what it is. you only have to look at something like Ball culture to see that Black ppl can and do create ‘new’ systems for gender that are incoherent to whiteness (i mean, the way white ppl engage with Ball culture echoes the first colonizers and their anthropologist descendants).
speaking of anthropologists…
‘indigenous gender’ to me, has the added benefit of disrupting white discourse on iaopoc ppl, our genders, and our gender systems. at this point, many ppl will be familiar with ‘third gender’ as an anthropological concept used to describe iaopoc genders that just happens to reify the primacy of the white gender binary.
the use of ‘indigenous’ asserts that our genders (and the gender systems) have an existence that is prior and distinct from the white colonial gaze. in other words, our genders do not require white observation/control in order to exist.
it also encapsulates the logic of indigenous genocide as it conceptually applies both to the genders and the ppl who embody them. this is why, yes, i can read a white anthropology textbook that asserts that all of the ppl who embody my gender are gone… lost to the annals of history because of colonization.
but of course, this process of ‘disappearing’ baklas isn’t neutral or accidental. it is a violent and coercive process that is, yes, still incomplete. this is something we actually know from history (in the case of tagalogs and asogs). it also goes hand in hand with enforcing the white style of patriarchy (at least in the tagalog case, but i’d guess that it applies in most other cases).
so. yeah. this hopefully explains why i use ‘indigenous genders’ instead of someother term like nonbinary iaopoc genders or whatever else.