I’m Back + Dean Spade

Hello again! I’ve been away this past week, but now I’m gonna get back on this blogging horse and ride. I want to share this sweet article I found by Barnard graduate, Dean Spade. If you want to know about him, read his about page here. But what I want to talk about is his awesome writing.

I came across About Purportedly Gendered Body Parts when surfing the queer interwebs, and I think it perfectly clarifies the way to speak about body parts in a non-essentialist ways. Let me lay some quotes on you:

‘Even in spaces where people have gained some basic skills around respecting pronoun preferences, suggesting an increasing desire to support gender self- determination and release certain expectations related to gender norms, I still hear language used that asserts a belief in constructions of “biological gender.”’

True that. This language, although we wish it could be easy, requires some serious thinking. I acknowledge that calling people ‘biologically male/female’ is first step, but Dean is totally right that it’s not where we need to end up, because

‘These “bio” terms reproduce the oppressive logic that our bodies have some purported biological gendered truth in them, separate from our social gender role.’

To resolve this problem, he puts forth four ideas for not gendering bodies when talking about body parts:

‘1) We can talk about uteruses, ovaries, penises, vulvas, etc. with specificity without assigning these parts a gender.  Rather than saying things like “male body parts,” “female bodies” or “male bodies” we can say the thing we are probably trying to say more directly, such as “bodies with penises,” “bodies with uteruses,” “people with ovaries” and skip the assumption that those body parts correlate with a gender.  Examples: “Unfortunately the anatomical drawings in this book only represent bodies with penises and testicles, but I think this picture can still help you get a sense of how the abdominal muscle is shaped.”  “People with testicles may find this exercise easier with this adjustment.” “Some people may feel a sensation in the ovaries during this procedure.”
2) The term “internal reproductive organs” can be a useful way to talk generally about ovaries, uteruses, and the like without calling them “female reproductive organs.”  Example: “The doctor might think it is necessary to have some ultrasounds of the internal reproductive organs to find out more about what is causing the pain.”
3) We can use “people who menstruate” or “people who are pregnant” or “people who produce sperm” or other terms like these rather than using “male,” “female” or “pregnant women” as a proxy for these statuses.  In this way we get rid of the assumptions that all people who identify as a particular gender have the same kind of body or do the same things with their bodies, as well as the mistaken belief that if your body has/does that thing it is a particular gender. Examples: “This exercise is not recommended for people who are menstruating.”  “People who are trying to become pregnant should not take this medication.” “People who produce sperm should be warned that this procedure could effect their fertility.”
4) When we want to talk about someone and indicate that they are not trans, we can say “not trans” or “non-trans” or “cisgender” rather than “biologically male,” or “bio boy,” or “bio girl.” When we talk about someone trans we should identify them by their current gender, and if we need to refer to their assigned gender at birth we could say they were “assigned male” or “assigned female” rather than that they are “biologically male” or “biologically female.”’

This really helped clarify my thinking on this subject. I think using thoughtful language is one of the biggest things we can do to help each other and transform our world. Keep fighting the good fight, everyone!

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