Gender is Ours is a project derived from GSS 350: Sex Radicals. I was in a group of five wonderful people where we spent the semester writing a manifesto, making a zine, and executing a disruptive action inspired by works that we read and watched in class. Our group’s topic was transgender inclusion and liberation, so we thought of the slogan “Gender is Ours” to convey the complexities and ambiguity surrounding gender in a global context.
Before we say anything, we must acknowledge that we can only speak because we are on stolen land. This land, the land that Davidson College occupies, was stolen from the Catawba people, who were forcibly and violently removed from a land that was rightfully theirs.
Welcome to our manifesto. We want to invite you into an exploratory space, a space that makes demands at the same time that it extends love. Gender is something that is too often taken for granted in Western society. Some of you already know exactly how fucked up dominant conceptions of gender are, while for others, this might be more of a journey. The journey is as personal as it is political, dealing with the most intimate spaces as well as those publicly marked and the intersections between the two. So we ask you to start with yourself: let yourself question everything you see around you and inside yourself and in our manifesto. Let’s switch the default question, take away some of the taken for granted quality of gender and cis-ness, and ask not what’s the proof that someone is trans, but instead, what proof do you have that you’re cis?
We invite you to consider this, to consider what we put forth in our manifesto without feeling any pressure to come to a conclusion. We want to legitimize existing in gray space, in the in-betweens, wherever you find space to wrap yourself in and be comfortable. To help us build understanding and strength, let’s all get on the same page about what we mean by “trans.” To us, to be trans is to not fuck with the gender you were assigned at birth.
It is time to reclaim gender. Gender isn’t “dead”—it’s ours.
Studies of gendered oppression have led some activists and scholars to conclude that, perhaps, the solution is to dissolve gender altogether. Their belief is that, if gender is not a factor at all, how can someone face gendered violence? This flawed logic, however, ignores the lived realities of binary trans folx who have come to know gendered violence through the duality of binary logic itself: to either be excluded by the powerful, or to be erased by them.
To proclaim “gender is dead” is to advocate for gendered violence and the erasure of the footholds binary trans folx create to validate their existences.
Let’s be clear: to dismiss gender would be an act of gendered violence itself. Instead, we invite you to celebrate the many meanings and manifestations of gender—to understand gender outside of the institutional violence of the Western binary.
We’re here because we recognize that the ability to understand and define our bodies and our genders for ourselves has been taken away from us. We’re here because we, as a collective, have grown tired of living in a world and on a campus that rejects trans people for living in the ambiguous gray area of gender identity, for defining themselves outside of the definitive, biologically coded terms of “male” and “female.”
Living at Davidson College is a daily experience of violence for trans people. We live on gendered halls, use gendered bathrooms, eat in gendered spaces, and occupy gendered roles in the classroom; our gender is decided at the door. We are categorized by the eyes of our peers, professors, and administrators alike. We are made to feel that we don’t belong, that there is no space that we can rightfully occupy unless our bodies and our souls match these predetermined definitions of man and woman. There’s a terrible pressure to know exactly where we are with gender, to define our gender in concrete terms. Ambiguity is unacceptable. The gendered spaces of the campus and this world force us to decide, to categorize ourselves in public and invite folx around us to make assumptions based on our choice. They force us to be “out”- but what does it even mean to come out? That we owe the world an explanation of our bodies? Trans people on this campus are forced daily into a dissociative state: we are present but not really, removed from our bodies and the feeling that we have agency over our movement.
We demand action now because we refuse to wait for the violence that we’ve seen visited on others to prompt change. The everyday experiences that occur here, on this campus, and in this world, are violent enough. It’s time to reclaim gender, to redefine it for ourselves, to live in the gray area and to love it.
We have a vision for a campus and a community that not only allows or tolerates but rather supports and celebrates trans people.
We see that gender is whatever the fuck you want it to be. By this we do not mean to say that “Gender is dead,” because we see those who feel best in certain gender formations, whether they are considered to be traditional expressions of gender or not. We see that identity is not static, and it has no end point. There is no shame in questioning, changing, or moving around – we see that it is encouraged. We see that gender is not weaponized and used to divide and categorize. We see the end of strictly gendered spaces. We say goodbye to biological essentialism, and we see that gender has no foundation in any given biological factor.
Gender is ours.