Why do we police other people on their sexuality and gender?
Maya Gabriella Davies
English 1110 section 13
"In 2016, advocates tracked at least 23 deaths of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded. These victims were killed by acquaintances, partners and strangers, some of whom have been arrested and charged, while others have yet to be identified. Some of these cases involve clear anti-transgender bias. In others, the victim's transgender status may have put them at risk in other ways, such as forcing them into homelessness. ... 2017 has already seen at least 25 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means."
These are the statistics listed by the Human Rights Campaign in their article "Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2017." These statistics are a reflection of people's conscription to ideas of the roles of gender in this day and age. They echo Rebecca Solnit's description of violence against women in "The Longest War," and these expected roles of gender are also touched upon in Aaron H. Devor's "Becoming Members of Society: Learning the Social Meanings of Gender" and in Michael Kimmel's "'Bros Before Hos': The Guy Code." These essays have convinced me that the root cause of violence against women is part of a larger problem towards people that do not conform to the codes of gender that both men and women police within their own and each other's gender groups. This opposition to non-conformity especially shows itself in terms of homophobia and transphobia, topics which are not explicitly covered by these essays.
Rebecca Solnit's essay, "The Longest War" is a feminist essay on how violence against women is not only a problem in other countries, but also in the United States of America. She proves this through a long series of examples and statistics on violent crimes against women, domestic violence, and rapes that have happened here in the United States, stating that the highest percentage of violent criminal perpetrators are male, though she acknowledges that women can also commit violent acts. Furthermore, she states that the disproportionately male-enacted violence is largely due to the image of masculinity and men's desire to control women, as if women were their property and the belief that men can treat them as such. Women, in general, often prepare themselves to try and prevent an assault from taking place - yet little to no means are undertaken in order to prevent the perpetrator from committing the violation in the first place. Solnit describes how this harassment is public, private, online and is embedded in our political and legal systems (528). Several times throughout the essay Solnit acknowledges that not all men are perpetrators and many are allies. She especially stresses how gay men have helped by undermining and redefining the idea of masculinity (530). At the very end of the essay, she stresses that we all have to work on changing this pattern together: "It's your job to change it, and mine, and ours." (531) This quote, in which she is calling out for action, aligns with her history of being an activist for various causes, including violence against women. She has a master's degree in journalism. These aspects and her female gender identity make her qualified to write on this subject. (Rebecca Solnit) The main cause for violence against women that Solnit stresses is that men need to feel like they have power over women and that they can control them.
Michael Kimmel's essay on what it means to be a man in our society gives us a deeper insight into why men feel this need to control. It is an excerpt from his book Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men and is called "'Bros Before Hoes': The Guy Code." Kimmel's essay details the struggles that men go through to prove their manliness towards other men, in order not to be considered a "wimp, faggot, dork, pussy, loser, wuss, nerd, queer, homo, girl, gay, skirt, Mama's boy, [or] pussy-whipped." (544) Kimmel claims that this need to prove their masculinity is the reason that young men take more risks. He also claims that the forced suppression of emotion, because it's judged as being too feminine, is the cause for higher depression, suicide rates, aggressive behavior, as well as being diagnosed as "emotionally disturbed" (548) and as having ADHD. This disconnection from most of men's emotions other than anger is, according to Kimmel, thus the root cause of the anger and violence against women and other men as they act out in fear of being seen as less of a man. Additionally, it is the reason men find it difficult to reconnect with their loving and caring sides, because other men police them on it and keep them in line through threats of violence and social exclusion. The opinions of women do not count in this matter - just those of other men. Furthermore, Kimmel points out that homophobia is actually a twisted reflection of inward-facing homophobia and that it's actually a fear that men have of not being seen as masculine enough themselves, if they say that it's okay for other men to act in unmanly ways. Kimmel has a PHD, is a leading figure in male studies, and is a strong advocate for women's rights (Michael Kimmel).
Aaron H. Devor also dives into the topic of what is considered to be masculine in his essay "Becoming Members of Society: Learning the Social Meanings of Gender," which an excerpt from his book Gender Blending: Confronting the Limits of Duality, but also covers the same issue concerning what is considered to be feminine. This section of the book details the development of gender identity in children as they come to define their own gender based on what they learn from society. This is very familiar territory to Devor, who is a trans man. (Aaron Devor) Children, Devor points out, generally differentiate genders based on what they visually see rather than on the genitals. As they grow older, this changes, however, and the children learn about the expected role and behavioral patterns for their genders, as they become aware of the personal and private "I" differing from the "me" that they present to the world. This "I" falls into the "generalized other" that society expects and scrutinizes. (474) Since the codes of gender are given to us as children by society, they affect the "I," even if the "me" might not actually identify with those codes. Yet they still feel pressured to make the "I" fit into these standards as it is constantly monitored and measured by society. (474) The fact that these ideas of gender identities are more fluid in children than in adults, as well as the fact that many "aboriginal cultures" (472) have a so-called third gender, shows us that genders need not be as clearly separated as they currently are. Both males and females have their own set of traits that are ascribed to them. Females are thought to be passive, submissive, subordinate, cooperative, communal, harmonious, dependent, maternal (and thus heterosexual), polite, empathetic and compassionate (475 - 477). Males, on the other hand, are thought to be dominant, aggressive, (475) tough, confident, self-reliant, violent, and daring (477). Devor also goes into how these aspects are reflected in behavioral patterns down to people's body postures and how these characteristics are a reflection of the ideology of "the dominant gender schema in North American society" (479), thus leading to the conclusion that we are raised into these gender roles. We do not always completely conform to them, though, which can be taken to mean that "the gender roles are the result of systematic power imbalances based on gender discrimination." (479)
Due to the stronger gender policing tendencies of men towards other men, as Kimmel describes it, violence towards trans women is a larger issue than violence towards trans men. According to the Human Rights Campaign website, of the twenty-six transgender deaths that are recorded on their website thus far, four of them were towards trans men and twenty-two were towards trans women. Thus, about 85% of the deaths of transgender people in the United States were men who had transitioned to females. The three essays discussed in this paper give clues as to why this higher rate of hate crimes geared towards trans women is apparent. Solnit mentions over and over again that men are more aggressive and more violent than women are, and Kimmel explains that this is due to men's fear of being considered as feminine and thus losing their status as being "real men." As Devor would state, in transgender people, the "I" and the "me" are of different genders and thus at some point a shift has to take place to bring them closer together; as a result, the person changes genders. However, that unfortunately does not always absolve them from all of the social expectations connected to their original gender identity. Women might judge them because they might not walk, talk, or act like other women. Men, on the other hand, will judge them for having given up and lost their masculinity. This would be taking femininity a step further than even homosexuals, namely becoming female and dressing in women's clothing. Ask almost any "straight" man and he will frown upon the idea of wearing women's clothing, even though he might prefer the textures and fabrics used in female clothing, or the fact that skirts are cooler in summer. Men will mention the guy code and state that they couldn't wear that, because they would become outcasts or even be beaten up by other men. If asked why, they'll often say something like, "It just isn't done." In some cultures the response to this can go as far as family members performing "honor killings" in their families for crossdressing (even if it's for something as benign as a costume). So, the fact that these transgender women are doing exactly that, grates on these men. It is the epitome of the homophobia that Kimmel describes and quotes Eminem on, in which "faggot" doesn't mean homosexual, but instead means the loss of masculinity and thus is the highest insult. (544) If someone willingly gives up their masculinity to become a woman, who is seen as something lesser (543) and someone to be controlled (526), this is not just breaking the male gender codes, but shattering them. Transgender people do not conform to the codes of gender and that bothers people, because we still feel that we have to gender police them, since we feel that we are accountable to them as well. Except that, in this case, the ultimate judgement of the gender police was death due to non-conformity.
While the policing towards trans men might not be as harsh and violent, since other men may very well still consider these trans men to be below them on the social ladder (because they are still considered to be women, because they were born as women), that does not mean that trans men are exempt from the issue. According to Kimmel, women do not have the same expectations set upon them as men do, because of how hard they've fought and earned their own rights. To illustrate this, he quotes a female student, "'Nobody can tell me what it means to be a woman anymore'" (540). However, Devor points out various ways in which women are expected to be subservient and the body postures that echo this, postures which are thought of as female. One example for this is keeping "their arms closer to their bodies, their legs closer together," (477) etcetera. Solnit also points out men's expectations for women to act like this and when they don't, the men act out in violence against them, because they believe that they "have the right to control" women (526). Thus, obviously, men try to police women as well as other men and Solnit brings up many examples of this. Trans men, once again, are trying to be seen as 'one of the guys.' They have to learn the guy code, but at the same time, because they look female, they will have to fight harder to be accepted than any of the other males. If they step out of line, though, it will be nigh impossible to get back in, and they will likely be treated as a somewhat masculine female. If other men feel that the other person is not conforming to their gender the way these men believe they should, the men will disregard them or act out against them in violence, like they do to women. The very epitome of this, though not discussed in any of the essays, would be so-called corrective rape through which the perpetrator tries to force the other person back into the perpetrator's idea of gender or sexual norms (usually cisgender and heterosexual).
Being part of the LGBT+ community, I have talked to a lot of people and heard many stories. The thing that always shocked me was how people could be very supportive and accepting of homosexuality in the opposite gender, going as far as to describe it as "hot," while turning around and denouncing homosexuality within their own gender, which definitely lends credence to Devor's description of gender policing being on all sides of the gender spectrum. One example is my own father. When my sisters and I came out to him, he was very supportive and accepting of us. He never had a problem with any of us being more inclined towards women than towards men. However, when speaking of gay men, he would refer to them by their orientation, while my mom referred to them by their names, and he stated that if he ever found himself attracted to another man, he would kill said man. A lesbian I knew in Switzerland recounted that her father had been fine with her sexuality as well, but her mother had been completely opposed to it. The trans female in our amateur theater group had to confront and force the guy running the group to let her take on female roles. A gender queer friend in Switzerland does drag queen performances in which he continually messes with gender norms and ridicules them. He gets along fine with his family, as far as I know. Other transgender people I know no longer have contact with their family due to abusive situations. I always try to remember the right pronouns to use, but even then I sometimes slip up and that troubles me because, in the end, I'm helping to contribute to the problem rather than the solution. It bothers me when gay guys are all over the drag queens and talking about how hot they are, because I feel that these gay men are objectifying them just as readily as women are objectified. Even if this may be wanted, I remember talking to a drag queen who was not interested in a gay guy I knew, because he was treating her as a man in women's clothes and thus objectifying her. She really enjoyed talking to me, though, since I treated her the way I would anyone and didn't objectify her. At one podium discussion I went to, a drag queen mentioned that she will often get dressed at gay bars, because she didn't have to fear the "gender police" that way.
Having volunteered in Queeramnesty, a subgroup of Amnesty International dedicated to the human rights of queer people, I got to meet and talk to several transgender people. The thing I remember the best, though, is the recounting of a trans female, who kept on seeking asylum outside of her country and it kept on being denied to her, because her country, I believe it was Brazil, was not seen as a source of refugees. However, it should be a source of transgender refugees, because they are in a lot of danger there - even more than in most other so-called "civilized countries." As a matter of fact, the trans female who had sought asylum from her "well-off" country, was killed in her home country after being turned away after seeking asylum many times. This denial of her asylum was not right. Asylum is meant for those who actively fear for their lives. It was also during my time volunteering with this group that I first encountered the concept of corrective rape, as it was used in a letters campaign as poster example of something they were running across frequently in that part of the world and others. A lesbian had been brutally raped and killed in South Africa as a means to try and "heal" her and convert her back into being a heterosexual. This idea of "healing" through corrective rape not only connects with Solnit's idea of men trying to exert control over women through rape and violence, it also connects with the whole concept of gender policing being closely intertwined with sexuality.
With crimes against transgender people rising in the United States and reaching new heights each year, I believe that this is a very important subject to cover. All three of the authors encourage us to take action against these various things that encourage this violence and gender inequity. It is true that we need to take action to change these issues. However, we have to widen our scope and see the bigger picture: women are not the only ones suffering. Transgender people are at high risk of suffering from hate crimes, too. It's time we did something to lower the number of them killed in the coming years and learn to be more tolerant and that it's okay to feel things like compassion and love for others and ourselves.
"Aaron Devor" Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Devor
Devor, Aaron H.. "Becoming Members of Society: Learning the Social Meanings of Gender" Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing, edited by Gary Colombo et al., 10th edition, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2016, pp. 471-479.
"Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2017" Human Rights Campaign, https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-transgender-community-in-2017
Kimmel, Michael. "'Bros Before Hoes': The Guy Code" Gary Colombo et al., 2016, pp.540-549.
"Michael Kimmel" Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Kimmel
"Rebecca Solnit" Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_Solnit
Solnit, Rebecca. "The Longest War" Gary Colombo et al., 2016, pp.522 - 531.