Destroy Gender 2: Responses and Reflections

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It’s been a few months since I published Destroy Gender, during the rise of gender nihilism discourse in radical circles (I remember having Baedan 1 and the Anti-Manifesto in mind while writing).  What I would like to add to Destroy Gender has been covered in Baedan 2’s Against the Gendered Nightmare (which I unfortunately read after publishing Destroy Gender); I don’t claim any idea in Destroy Gender, or this piece, as original. I would like to respond to critiques and to clarify positions.

The two main critiques I received can be summarized as 1) lacking in discussion on colonizations role in gender / why not frame it as ‘colonized gender’ and not just ‘gender’? and 2) why destroy gender instead of gender roles, the gender binary, or patriarchy?

In response to the first critique, I must admit I failed to include a discussion on colonialism for various personal excuses, which is still a mistake and leaves a major gap in Destroy Gender. I must also admit ideological failings on my part for not including a discussion on colonialism, at the time of Destroy Gender’s publishing I saw gender (and patriarchy) as a domestication process that could be separated from colonialism because indigenous cultures were capable of developing patriarchy and gendered division of labor without colonial violence [1]. I also saw patriarchy and gender as interchangeable terms, both just different names for the same domestication process (division of labor, violence, separation, etc), and as one of many roots of civilization.

This understanding of gender/patriarchy falls short. Gender/patriarchy is not a root of civilization, it is civilization, it is domestication, it is one in the same. They are inseparable. To quote Baedan at length:

Within colonialism, new subject categories were created by western Civilization and were racialized and engendered as the foundation of the new colonial state. This creation process is composed of several operations: the introduction and entrenchment of gender roles, the imposition of Male gods, the formation of Patriarchal colonial government, the displacement of people from their traditional means of subsistence and the violent institution of the Family. These operations serve as a revision which recasts and genders tribal life and spirituality. This engendering does more than create the victimized category of women, but also constructs men as collaborators in domestication. Lugones cites the British strategy of bringing indigenous men to English schools where they would be instructed in the ways of civilized gender. These men would work within the colonial state to deprive women of their previous power to declare war, bear arms and determine their own relationships. [Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí in The Invention of Women] also cites the Spanish strategy of criminalizing sodomy among colonized populations, intertwining it with racialized hatred of the Moors and other ‘primitive’ people.

[…]

From this perspective, we can recognize all the incidents of gendered and racial violence in our lives as repetitions of this first capture. Sex work, abusive relationships, body dysmorphia, marriage, sexual abuse, familial constraint, date rape, gang rape, queer bashing, psychiatry, electroshock therapy, eating disorders, domestic labor, unwanted pregnancy, fetishization, emotional labor, street harassment, pornography: each instance is a moment where we are torn from ourselves, taken by another, captured and determined as a brutal repetition of the primary rupture which denied us a life lived by and for ourselves. In this schema, the assimilation and medicalization of queer and transgendered people can be understood as a re-capture of rebellious bodies. Police murder and racist vigilantism can likewise be understood as functions of this capture.

It is worth noting here that to understand gender as domestication is crucially different from understanding patriarchy as a consequence of domestication, in that the former is a break from the trap of essentialism. None of the above is limited to one subject of the gendered world. Rape, for example, is not solely the experience of women (as is often claimed by various regurgitations of second wave feminism), but is a disgustingly widespread experience among people of all genders. The assertion that any form of gender violence is the exclusive property of one category of people would be laughable if it weren’t for the litany of horrors which serve to disprove it. More sinisterly, these type of essentialist assertions obscure and shame those experience an entire range of very real experiences of gender violence.

Situating gender as domestication is a way to understand gender violence outside of an essentialist and white framework. Without this understanding, all theories which attribute some natural dimension to sex/gender (from eco-feminist to Marxist feminist) are structurally unable to account for the violence, capture, and exclusion experienced by anyone who deviates from the gender binary or the heterosexual matrix. These ideologies will expand to pay lip-service to queer and trans people, but they never alter the structure of their theory. This amounts to little more than the liberal politics of inclusion. If, however, we understand gender as something which captures us, rather than something natural to us (or extracted from our biological existence), we can begin to analyze all the methods of domination experienced by queer or transgender people. Brutality and exclusion come to be recognized as the policing methods by which individuals remain captured; assimilation and exploitation represent a more sophisticated capture. From here I can see the line which binds together the boys who called me faggot as a teenager and the gay men who would pay me for sex a few years later. Everything about the refusal of gender follows from this. The criticism of identity, assimilation, medicalization or any technique of the self becomes meaningful once it is placed in this continuum. [2]

In response to the second criticism, I avoided using ‘gender binary’ and ‘gender roles’ in my writing in order to frame my argument as attacking the material base of gender and not its branches. That is to say, gender roles are just the essence of gender and cannot be abolished without the abolition of gender (how can you have men, women, non-binaries, without a knowledge of what a ‘man’/’woman’/’non-binary’/whatever is? You can’t). As for the gender binary, it is not essential to the domestication of gender, since even those who claim to be outside the binary still fulfill their gendered roles (even if they don’t see them as roles // power doesn’t care how you want to interact with it). Civilization can take into account, normalize, categorize, and domesticate any gender so long as it advances Civilization (more commodities to sell, new markets to explore, etc).

They point to a more favorable gender arrangement, but lack the imagination to understand that people may have had relationships to one’s body and sexuality outside of the gendered cages which have been built around us. [3]

This is not to say that the gender binary does not deserve to be abolished, I just did not want to frame my argument in such a way. Back to Against the Gendered Nightmare:

In gender, we see all the ways that the gender binary is naturalized as sex and projected into pre-history as a way of explaining and rationalizing (essentializing) all of these experiences of violence. We are told those assigned female are meant to be mothers, and therefore it is in their nature to endure pain, to be caretakers, to submit to external authority. Those assigned male are virile hunters and warriors, violence and rape are supposedly intrinsic to their nature. Homosexuals are aberrations in nature, and thus they are fated for exile in their short, brutal and diseased lives. [4]

The gender binary, gender roles, and colonialism all deserve their own space for nuanced critique that I don’t feel right to write at this time.  Thanks to everyone who helped me in writing Destroy Gender, and thank you to all my sisters and comrades struggling, fighting back, writing, and plotting against gender.

For more writings on gender nihilism, check out Baedan, What is Gender Nihilism?, and Lies [5].

Until we no longer need identity,
Lena Kafka

1. Links are not a justification of my reasoning, just a reference to gendered division of labor in indigenous societies.
2. Against the Gendered Nightmare, thesis VII
3. Against the Gendered Nightmare, thesis VI
4. Against the Gendered Nightmare, thesis VII
5. 
Lies journal is not specifically gender nihilism, but has written much that influenced gender nihilism.

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