Gender reveals uphold the gender binary, and in fact, they reinforce the binary. This is something that I got to understand a lot deeper when I read Why Gender Reveals are Transphobic by Alok V Menon.
And now I clearly realise that gender is a cultural term rather than a biological fact. Gender is constructed – it is not even real or ‘natural’. But gender reveals reinforce the idea that they are natural, almost inherent to human existence. This prevents us from observing reality because each binary has a set of rules and frameworks to follow. In pursuit of those rules and to fulfil our duties to the gender assigned, we often ignore what is right in front of us, not just personally but even when other people are involved.
I have grown up in a world where gender sensitisation thoroughly occurred to me only in college. I learnt the importance of inclusivity only when my world opened up to the larger spectrum of people. I was not necessarily discriminatory. I identified as a feminist, and I still do with only one difference: I referred to the ‘common’ pronouns as ‘she’ rather than ‘he’ back then. Now I say ‘they’ instead. As I mentioned, I never was consciously discriminatory myself, but I was not able to understand prejudice and see prejudice the way it is – prejudiced. After two to three years of conversations, and following and reading the thoughts and views of people like Vqueer, Alok V Menon, Trinetra, etc. on social media and studying what I did in university widened my horizons.
And now, I am relatively in a better position to speak up or at least identify what is wrong!
The reason I say I did not know how to recognise prejudice is this – in school the way someone teased a so-called effeminate boy is by calling him a chakka, the oft-used derogatory term for transgender people. And I did not even know what the term meant till 8th grade. Every time a boy was physically close to another boy, they called him, both of them actually, chakka. Sometimes they called girls lesbians, but that somehow did not affect anyone because physical intimacy is normal among girls, and it was not among boys, which was obvious. Holding hands/hugging was forbidden for boys.
I was a feminist. And I was a very angry feminist. I always stood up when I even heard an ounce of someone degrading a girl/woman. It hurts me that I did not stand up and say something back then regarding using the term chakka. Indeed, I did not know any better, but I should have.
I am trying to point out that these boys who teased other boys for their so-called feminine characteristics sometimes were intimate with each other themselves, like sitting close or holding hands or hugging. The gender binary was so internalised in them that they did not know any better. They reinforced the idea that boys are supposed to be a certain way and girls a certain way, and when they are not, they are deviant and would use the derogatory term used for trans people. Half of them never understood what transness meant, and how would they when parents frequently avoid that conversation or say something like, ‘they do it for money’ when you see some people in traffic signals who you think are just men crossdressing. I now realise that it is plain wrong to put debunk and dismiss someone’s reality that way completely.
Another example that comes to mind is when I was having a conversation with a close relative about gay marriage and its problems not being legalised. This was back in 2018, but it is still relevant today. I was saying something on the lines of how anyone should be ‘allowed’ to marry. There was no question of allowing anyone to marry was my point. Her point was very problematic, and it went something along the lines of, ‘‘they’ can stay like that. Why do they want to get married?’ I do not think she still realises the implications of that statement, and my attempts to explain that will only be futile. Mind you, she did not use the pronoun ‘they’ because of its inclusive nature but because she was othering them, ‘they’ as in separate from her and separate from me. There was significant othering there. Obviously, this thought did not come naturally to her. It was 45 years of internalised patriarchy and 20 years of being married and following her role as a woman in that setup. This is not my way of suggesting I am superior to anyone or my relative because I noticed this – it is merely an observation.
Even today, after the legalisation of Section 377, the state of India refuses to recognise gay marriage. They do so because it does not follow ‘Indian values’, so-called values that do not respect or even recognise someone’s existence and love. It is a clear case of how everything is ruled by the gender binary here. Marriage as an institution survives because of the gender binary. Marriage in a patriarchal society is a power structure, where the man is the head of the family, and the woman nurtures the family and raises kids. Now in a non-heterosexual and non-patriarchal setup, how is that going to come along? Say a woman is married to a woman, who is getting to head the family then? The same thing applies if a man is married to a man – who will head the family then?
The point here is, does it even matter?
The state and everyone in it are dictated by norms that tell us what is normal and what is not. But then, the norms, that tell us that people who do not fit into the binary don’t belong anywhere, are not inclusive and end up leaving out a substantial section of our society.
Abhirami is an undergraduate student majoring in English, Political Science and History. She enjoys writing (as you can see) and is in uncharted waters here i.e. the writing arena. She is a recently discovered existentialist ambivert who enjoys debating among other things. She has a keen interest in research and queer theory. She relishes understanding and interpreting art and more often than not, stops by paintings and visual art with a rendition of pop culture in the digital form.
*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*