It is perhaps more useful then to see gender identity as a story, one made real by building power structures and administrative systems around it.
Language is almost never neutral. Its meaning is shaped by context and it is used to exercise power and control. This is clearly visible in the construction of racial identity, which unlike gender, has no biological basis. Yet, the forces of power and control — who is allowed to enjoy certain social benefits, and who is excluded from them — can be seen in the ways that both gender and race are often policed so forcefully.
The researchers from New York University concluded that “bias at such a foundational level — our word choices — is potentially consequential.”
Language is not neutral but the simple fact remains that what isn’t counted doesn’t count. To exist on paper, in language and in stories, is to no longer be completely invisible. It is a jumping-off point from which further change can be pursued.
This is not simply about conservatism, Butler writes, but rather these anti-gender movements are a part of fascism: “The anti-gender movement is not a conservative position with a clear set of principles. No, as a fascist trend, it mobilizes a range of rhetorical strategies from across the political spectrum to maximize the fear of infiltration and destruction that comes from a diverse set of economic and social forces.”
Butler, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, goes on: “As a fascist trend, the anti-gender movement supports ever strengthening forms of authoritarianism. Its tactics encourage state powers to intervene in university programs, to censor art and television programming, to forbid trans people their legal rights, to ban LGBTQI people from public spaces, to undermine reproductive freedom and the struggle against violence directed at women, children, and LGBTQI people.
That is why it makes no sense for “gender critical” feminists to ally with reactionary powers in targeting trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people. Let’s all get truly critical now, for this is no time for any of the targets of this movement to be turning against one another. The time for anti-fascist solidarity is now.”
To include people who identify as non-binary is not the end of “boys” and “girls.” Nothing is lost. Instead, much stands to be gained when people can find themselves represented not just in language but also legally. But there is still much work to be done.
Story of the week
Indonesia’s parliament on Tuesday passed a long-awaited bill to tackle sexual violence, aimed at providing a legal framework for victims to secure justice in a country where sexual abuse has often been regarded as a private matter.