Recognition is the Gift that Keeps on Taking
Side note: I don’t love Trump. And the fact that this entry is about him frustrates me. I don’t believe in giving power/energy to people or concepts that are absorptive of what could be used creatively in my ordinary. We get enough of that in everyday life.
For those who don’t read my stuff (and it’s not a lot of stuff so I can’t blame you) I’m mostly focused on issues of trans studies and critical theory. For those who do know my stuff, you know I’m fairly critical of liberal rhetoric about recognition. And it’s easy to be. There’s enough written about this tradition that rehearsing here would be repetitious.
And yet the current administration has recently released statements that they will roll back on Obama-era trans-inclusive practices. Trump wants to make sexed identity an entirely birth-assigned phenomenon. Gender is thus attached to a patently tired theory of dichotomous sex. Here’s the NYTimes:
The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.
I don’t want to over- or understate what is going on. This is no doubt a situation rather than an event. An event constitutes the actuality of things, it refines and defines and puts clarity to inchoate feelings. The event is good or bad. Maybe it’s neutral. It depends. Situations often come and go and allow us to speculate about the possibility of the event. And that’s what I would like to comment on. We are speculating about the future ahead. We are worried about the power of recognition being taken away.
For me, as someone who is just coming into feelings of transmasculinity and exploring what it means to be nonbinary, Trump’s memo is one part frightening, one part meh. I’m frightened because these changes prevent needed structures that would ensure a sense of security for trans people in ordinary life. There is a symbolic weight that feels crushing. And it will surely make public dialogue about the flexibility of the conventionalities of sex/gender more difficult. And this is why I’m meh. You know the conventions–the ones we endorse everyday; the ones we ratify just to get along; to figure out who we want to befriend or date or both; or fuck (if that’s your thing). For Trump and his followers, it means that a “biological female” can fail to look and act like a woman according to some of these conventions–all the while misrecognizing those failures as so many forms of success. This is old news, but a different way of thinking about what constitutes “realness” in sex/gender, or the right or wrong way to embody it. And what’s fucked is that people like Trump get to codify the failures he’s comfortable with. The rest of us who are living within the interstices get to deal with the mess. “The messes are what kill you…”
So if we all live for recognition, what kind of recognition? From whom? Where and in what space/place? Maybe part of this gift that keeps on taking is the fact that we are all viewed as being a part of some larger event even though it defines something we struggle with in our most ordinary ordinariness.