The Genderqueer Challenge can be found here.
[CN: brief mention of conversion therapy]
19. What terms in the cisgender, GSM or trans community are problematic?
(Again, I’m switching out ‘GSM’ for ‘queer’.) Honestly? I think we all have a lot of words that are problematic in one way or another — just like people can’t be perfect, I don’t think words can be either. However, my main pet peeve with terms in the queer community is one that has been exacerbated by the Tumblr community’s use of ‘SGA’. The pet peeve itself is the entire concept of gender-based attraction.
I’m just gonna put a quick disclaimer here that I’m honestly not saying this to upset anyone; I know that, for a lot of people, their ability to use the gender-based attraction model to say that they have an interest in people of a different gender or genders than the one society tells them they should be interested in has been hard fought, and I don’t want to make out that that interest isn’t real or important — it is. It is just also part of a larger social construction of attraction that I would much rather replace with something less cissexist.
Okay, so, for folks who don’t know, ‘SGA’ stands for same-gender attraction (or, on occasion, ‘similar’ gender attraction). The origins of the term are disputed, but it seems like it comes from Mormon conversion therapy. Obviously, that already stands the word in a not-so-great place for folks who want to use it. The larger problem I have with it, however, is that it helps to entrench cissexist ideology more than gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or queer ever could.
I’ve spoken about this in the past, so I won’t go into too much detail, but basically, as someone who is nonbinary, and especially someone who is quoigender, I’m unlikely to find anyone who is the same gender as me. Nonbinary people are incredibly diverse, so I don’t think ‘nonbinary people who don’t use more specific terms’ would necessarily ‘count’ as the same gender as me. I’m not sure even other quoigender people would qualify, since for me it’s a way of signalling ‘I have no fucking clue and I’ve given up trying to work it out’ — that’s not really a gender in the specific sense of the word.
When I have talked to, or seen others talk to, people who use SGA, they usually have one of two responses: ‘SGA means similar genders!’ or ‘so the term doesn’t apply to you — doesn’t mean it can’t work for the rest of us’. The latter response (besides being ridiculously insensitive to other people’s concerns and brushing them off) doesn’t take into account the impact of anyone using that term which is the entrenching of cissexism in the queer community, and I think the former response gives a good example of how that works.
The idea that there are ‘similar’ genders is sort of ridiculous to me; all genders are different — even ones that have similar components, such as people who identify with different terms (genderfluid, demigirl, bigender, nan0girl, etc) but are partially girls. Those people are all still, partially or wholly, a different gender to the others at some point or all the time. But if that was where these people were coming from, it would at least make some sense.
However, SGA gained popularity as a term for gatekeeping; the idea was that only people who were SGA and/or trans were oppressed in the way that counted you as LGBT. Carrying that logic forward to ‘similar genders’, what SGA proponents really mean is people who are attracted to people that will be read as the same binary gender as them. Which is pretty obvious cissexism.
But even without the logic that I presumed in that last paragraph, which I’m sure someone would disagree with me on as what the SGA-ers are really saying, SGA still entrenches cissexism because it pretty much writes in stone the model of gender-based attraction (whereas other words like gay, lesbian, and bi at least have a tiny bit of wriggle room for different interpretations).
The problem with gender-based attraction (which I’m sure a lot of folks reading this will already know since I’ve gone on about it quite a bit but hey ho here it is again) is that you can’t actually base your attraction on the gender of the person unless you are (or have similar experiences to those described as) demisexual/demiromatic. Unless you don’t get attracted to a person until you know them well enough to know their gender, your attraction is not aimed at a specific gender but at your assumption of what that gender looks like.
For example, if that’s not clear enough, someone who’s attracted to me that doesn’t know me would probably say that they’re attracted to me because I’m a girl, and they’re attracted to girls. However, just because I am read as a girl doesn’t mean I am one. Surprise, hypothetical person! You’re attracted to a nonbinary person!
So, people aren’t attracted to genders. I don’t think you can say that people are attracted to gender presentations, either — monosexual folks who are attracted to masculine-leaning people aren’t attracted to all masculine-leaning people (they might be attracted to people they perceive as butch women or people they perceive as masculine men (or theoretically masculine nonbinary folks, although people are very rarely assumed to be nonbinary)), but if they’re monosexual they’re unlikely to be attracted by both). Plus, that’s discarding the fact that what is or isn’t ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ or ‘androgynous’ or otherwise as a gender presentation varies not just cross-culturally but also inside cultures (for example, black women and fat women both having to over-perform femininity to seem feminine at all). The only thing that’s left is sexual characteristics, which again varies according to ethnicity (I think? Correct me if I’m wrong) and of course HRT and some conditions can also cause different mixes of sex characteristics, so that doesn’t explain anything either.
In the end, the only thing to say about the gender-based model is that it doesn’t make sense. It’s based on cissexist assumptions; take those assumptions away and it fails. The only reason that it’s such a widely-held belief that that’s how attraction works is because it’s a social construction. That social construction could (and should) be dismantled.