(Cis) Women Aren’t the Only Minoritized Gender
Recently, Cards Against Humanity had an idea, an idea which I in fact generally really like. They wanted to create a university scholarship that would significantly help a few people who have been traditionally locked out of science. I say a few because of course there won’t be tons of people receiving these scholarships and generally speaking such programs are not structural change.
When the program was deployed, it was a scholarship program for women (including, after some discussion, trans women) in science. Even though all of our data tells us that Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are much more underrepresented in STEM than white women, the program still focuses on women. Even though all of our data tells us that when programs are intended to benefit women they typically mostly benefit white women, the program still focuses on women broadly.
Okay, I accept that white women, especially white trans women, really do experience discrimination and still need pro-active affirmative actions to promote them in science and more broadly in society. And the rest of society seems to accept this at least about cis women too, since white women are the primary beneficiaries of American affirmative action programs. (Except Abigail Fisher, pobrecita.)
But here’s what happened when I asked whether other gender minorities, for example people who don’t fit neatly into the binary, could apply for the scholarship:
First: “I don’t know. I will ask.”
It’s blank because there was no follow-up, and I never got an answer. I admit I also asked if someone could explain to me why non-binary/genderqueer people would be excluded. There was obviously no answer to that question either.
Why do I care so much? Well one because I happen to be a person who pays attention to how the world works (it’s actually my profession to think about how the whole universe works, coincidentally). But secondly I care because I belong in the nonbinary camp, and I was concerned about people getting left behind, for essentially no good reason and maybe for the worst of reasons.
Wait, you belong in the nonbinary camp?
Yes, read my twitter bio where it says “#agender/cissex female.” Or read my blog where I came out because TERFs are the fucking worst.
I am agender. I am also cissexed. That means I am both comfortable with the sex I was assigned at birth and simultaneously do not at all identify with a gender. I cringe a tiny bit when people call me a woman, but mostly because I know they think it is a gender assignment and not just a sex assignment. Being gendered as a woman can happen one of two ways: you can be transgender, which means that you are a woman whose gender does not match their social sex assignment at birth. Or you can be cisgender, in which case your gender matches your social sex assignment at birth. Being sexed as a woman can also happen in one of two ways: you can be transsexual, which means that you are a person whose sex and/or gender identity does not match your sex assignment at birth. Or you can be cissexed, which means that you are a person whose sex identity matches the identity you were assigned at birth.
My gender does not match my social sex assignment at birth of female. But my sex does.
It’s actually not really that complicated unless your notions of gender and sex are somehow rooted in outdated essentialist ideas that are not terribly different from, “Men are from mars, women are from venus.” I am writing from a place of believing that it is terrible to essentialize people’s identities. Yes, it’s true that people of certain gender/sex identities are typically socialized in particular ways. Cis men are socialized to think they are entitled to take up lots of space, especially if they are white. Black cis men experience a different gendered socialization around space. Everyone, including trans people, are usually socialized to believe there is something problematic about the existence of trans people, and this not surprisingly ends with high suicide rates. We are all together taught some very complicated things about the essentials of “womanhood” and “manhood,” although how we receive them and what we do with them really depends on our gender/sex identity, as well as disability status and socioeconomic and racialized social locations.
Some people like me are agender or genderqueer: we don’t belong neatly in the “womanhood” or “manhood” camps. We experience ourselves as somewhere in between or in some cases as somewhere entirely outside of that binary. It’s important to remember also that some of us come from racialized/ethnic communities where the gender binary is not part of our cultural tradition but is rather a product of colonialism.
It’s really not that complicated, actually. Some of us are binary gendered and some of us are not.
And this would be great, except that the conditions in American society are such that trans people have some of the highest suicide rates of any population. Trans (and likely intersex) people of color account for half of the victims of violence in the LGBTIQA community. Pleas for trans people to live long enough to die of natural causes are common. Genderqueer/nonbinary people are put in the awkward position of almost never having the right gender box to fill out on forms ranging from SAT registration to passport applications. They rarely have access to campus affinity groups where they are acknowledged and welcomed. Their very existence is the fodder for comedians and mocked by people who more comfortably fit in the binary.
In the context of this dreadful social reality, I literally cannot imagine why anyone would think about leaving trans people out of binary spaces, although cis women often do this to trans women, in the process suggesting that women can be reduced to their vaginas, which is pretty epic given that many cis women super hate it when Republicans/men do this.
I literally cannot imagine why anyone would think about leaving genderqueer/non-binary people off of a scholarship or any program that seeks to promote women in science or business or anything else. Show me a community where women are marginalized, and I will show you the further marginalization of gender nonconforming people who are trying to survive it.
I think the makers of the Cards Against Humanity have their hearts in the right place. I’d like them to get their knowledge base in the right place too. Genderqueer/nonbinary people exist and they are extraordinarily marginalized. For this reason, it should be obvious that the scholarship and programs like it should be expanded to openly acknowledge the existence of genderqueer/gender non-conforming/non-binary people, especially the femme-leaning/identified ones.
In the coming weeks, there will be data releases that highlight the difficulties I describe, particularly in the physics and astronomy communities. I hope scientists are listening, ready to respond to the facts on the ground and not just their own subjective world view. In the end, I used the Science Ambassadors Scholarship as a jumping off point for talking about this problem, but the scholarship is but one (easy to point to) example of how people get locked out. This is a community wide problem. The American Astronomical Society and the American Physical Society both had committees that addressed cis women’s issues decades before LGBTQ+ people would feel compelled to start their own.
It’s time for people to understand that gender marginalization doesn’t happen on a binary. (Cis)Women aren’t the only gendered group that are regularly disempowered and pushed to the sidelines. It’s the 21st century, and we know that. We have the data. We should be a little more scientific about things and actually use it. It is literally a matter of life and death.