TW: Discussions about corrective therapy, transphobia
Judith Butler, an influential gender & queer theorist, put forth a concept called ‘performativity’. It posits that we as members of society, constantly have to perform our gender roles for it to be ingrained in our culture and pass it on to the next generation. This means that gender or its subsequent roles are not natural or inherent, rather made up and constantly reiterated for it to stick. Think of small things like women wearing lipstick, boys having short hair, and now think of ways of subversion like boys having long hair and wearing skirts, more & more girls applying to be scientists, non-binary gender identities being normalized, and so on. Subversion comes in many small and large forms, all of them as significant as the last.
Like Owen Hurcum. They are the youngest and first openly genderqueer Mayor of the city of Bangor, Wales after an unanimous decision by the City Council. They were elected last year and are started work this May.
I keep thinking of how many people have to mask their truth and pretend to be of a certain gender because it doesn’t fit into the conventional boxes prescribed by the world. And this is why people like Owen Hurcum are so important. So many celebrities like Indya Moore, Ruby Rose, Cara Delevingne, Miley Cyrus, Sam Smith, Ezra Miller, and other American celebrities have come out and are proudly living their truth as genderqueer/genderfluid people. This is partly because they are privileged enough to do so, but people like them serve as an important inspiration and reminder that identifying with a gender beyond the binary is an option too. And having people like Owen Hurcum involved in politics is significant for representation and identity affirmation.
In India, we have people like Shabnam ‘Mausi’ Bano who was the first trans woman to become the MLA of Madhya Pradesh State Legislative Assembly from 1998-2003; there was even a movie released by the name Shabnam Mausi in 2005, based on her. Madhu Bai Kinnar is an openly trans person who is the mayor of Raigarh in Chattisgarh. Apsara Reddy was the first trans person to be appointed by Congress as the General Secretary of the Mahila Congress.
I find it strange, this juxtaposition of political ideologies. On one side we have very problematic and radically conservative ideas like the ‘third gender’ in India and the alarming increase of anti-trans bills and legislations throughout America. But at the same time, we have amazing people across the gender spectrum subverting normative perceptions.
When it comes to genderqueer, genderfluid or nonbinary people, one argument I see come up over and over is that of biological essentialism, that is people are born of certain sex, which results in their gender identity being assigned to them at birth, and anything outside of the norm is to be corrected. People with colored hair, tattoos, gender-bending clothing, and other non-normative appearances/expressions are the ones children are warned to stay away from, because they look a certain way that is not valid. This is why unlearning gender norms become so important. And that’s why it’s performance in the world we observe, experience, and absorb becomes paramount.