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Quickie: linguistic dysphoria

December 2, 2010

Another crosspost from Dreamwidth.

axelrod posted something excellent (untitled) on gender and binaries last night, in which they go into the idea of linguistic dysphoria.

And I am going through a phase where language for gender and trans stuff and so on is bothering me. A lot. All the time. And a lot of trans people use cissentric language and/or binary-reinforcing language, too, and yes I know how hard it is to use accurate, inclusive language but that doesn’t change the despair I feel, esp when it seems like someone hasn’t made a fucking effort. (This is a big part of why I’m not interested in a queer community but rather seeking out the right sort of individuals, because the trans community as a whole isn’t going to get me.) And then I get pissed off at myself for caring so much and it’s just language and I don’t want to be a bother and if I complain people, including trans people, will do the “y so angry?” thing and at best will still require a lot of explanation before they start to grok.

And ok I don’t grok. I don’t have a diagram or analogy or anything which accounts for how human gender actually seems to work, as opposed to the arbitrary categories that dominate.

Which just makes it worse. I do not know how to think about myself. I can never expect to find anyone who can speak for me.

Call it linguistic dysphoria.

Oh yeah. This sort of thing has been bothering me a lot lately. As I have written some about elsewhere, my mind just doesn’t seem to do binaries, and it is very frustrating when you have to keep working hard to figure out how to even describe this. Much less, having to keep asserting that, cognitive dissonance aside, yeah, people like me really do exist. When you’re starting from a common set of assumptions that tries to edit people like you out of reality entirely, how do you even start talking about your experiences?

As I put it in one post, “Yeah, I got frustrated by this kind of thing before I got coherent words to wrap around the problem.” And still, I’ve had to make a lot of things up. Which, BTW, is a major reason I have continued to use binary-based pronouns to refer to myself: a lot of people have a distressing tendency just to dismiss what you’re saying if it looks to them like you’re just making words up. 😦

An excellent link from that post (and another blog to add to my reader–yay, “tranarchy”!): Not Your Mom’s Trans 101. From that:

But there are many trans people who are neither male nor female. They cannot be categorized as “either/or.” These people may use terms for themselves like genderqueer, two-spirit, androgynous, agender, or neutrois. They often use gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze/hir/hirs” or “they/them/their/theirs.” They can be both male and female, or none of the above, multi-gender, genderless, or something else completely.

In typical trans 101 discussions, right now I would probably be explaining to you that “gender is a spectrum” and drawing a cute little line graph labeled “m” at one end and “f” at the other. But this would be fallacious, as well as total bullshit. Gender is not a line, it is a huge three-dimensional space too big to be bounded by the concepts of “male” and “female.” Being trans is not always about falling “in between” binary genders, and as often as not, it’s about being something too expansive for those ideas to have meaning at all…

The entire concept of “sex” is simply a way of attaching something social– gender– to bodies.

Yeah, I did some flailing around before deciding to (sometimes) call myself “two-spirit”. (Which is a term only really open to me through accidents of ancestry and heritage.) When it’s so difficult to even find something to call yourself that seems to fit, that’s some indication of the linguistic dysphoria available.

Actually, I have been thinking more in terms of universalism dysphoria–since that includes most areas of life, and none of these freaking (oppositional) binary assumptions are inevitable. But linguistic dysphoria is an excellent description for some of the manifestations of that one.

BTW, Axelrod expressed some concern about the kinds of cognitive dissonance-based comments their post might attract, so please show some sense if you do decide to comment there!

Also, from one comment I made on a followup post, on the subject of dysphoria:

Useful to at least identity trangst as the source of the anger/depression. Or rather, admit that it effects me that much. Also, telling myself I’m not physically dysphoric at all isn’t helpful. I am, though a relatively minor case, and there’s nothing physical I plan to do about it. Linguistic dysphoria is a far greater problem, and far more intractable, damnit.

Oh yeah. That’s why I’ve been having to do more writing (and thinking) about it recently, recognizing that “just” being agender is indeed causing Real Problems for me interacting with the rest of the world. (Plus, I know I’m prone to falling into the “other people have worse problems” pit.) Just repeatedly hearing that binaries are the whole of reality, and you can’t possibly exist if you just don’t fit into them, is enough to lead to some dysphoria. 😦 Not to mention the whole “you look like what we associate with X side of the binary in some basic physical way, therefore you’re in for huge mountains of crap if you don’t behave and go to great trouble to look the way society insists X group must do”. The complications are slightly different, but they’re still complications that can and will mess with your head. And I’m not sure, at least in my case, that this hasn’t led to a slightly different version of physical dysphoria too, if mostly through demand resistance.

When you’ve been taught to think about the whole question of gender dysphoria in binary terms, it can be hard to even put words around the kind of dysphoria you can experience from various aspects of your life falling outside the binaries in question. (Where your view of reality is not the main problem.)

Edited to reflect expressed pronoun preferences. My foul for not thinking to ask. 😦

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