As you probably know if you’ve ever taken a good look at the world around you, violence is a problem in the world today. We have the general violence of war and conflict, the economic violence of debt and austerity, the emotional and physical violence of our educational institutions, and even intimate violence (IV) in the supposedly safe domiciles where we live our family life. However, people in intimate adult relationships are not the only people to experience violence and abuse by the people they know. Children also experience assault and abuse. Indeed, many children and adolescents experience various forms of violence coming at them from their family, “friends”, and schoolmates. One particular group that experiences a lot of bullying and violence is the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-Spirit, Queer and Questioning) group of kids. As Steckley and Letts (2013) note, and despite some hopeful signs on the horizon, violence against LGBTQ kids is an endemic and widespread phenomenon in Canada. This is certainly not a thing to be ignored. The violence that LGBTQ kids experience is so bad that sometimes they kill themselves just to get away from it.
We can use, Steckley and Letts (2013) do, the general term “homophobia” and “transphobia” to describe the LGBTQ violence children experience, but frankly I don’t like that term because I don’t feel the term homophobia captures the issue. In fact, I would argue describing anti-LGBTQ violence as “phobic” normalizes the practice, obscures the issues, and obfuscates the reality of it. Consider the term “phobia”. The term itself is a fairly neutral term. Calling somebody “phobic” is not negative in any way. I am arachnophobic, for example, and that’s never been a source of social guilt or shame for me. Nobody has ever flashed me “the eyes” (i.e. a look of derision/disgust) for being afraid of spiders. Arachnophobia is just not that big a deal. My wife is afraid of snakes (orphidiophobia) and it is the same with her. Nobody looks down on her for having this phobia, and in fact, most people sympathize with her regarding that phobia because they have it too. People accept the fact that phobics exist because we’re all phobic in some way. What’s’ more interesting, when you call somebody a phobic, there is rarely any analysis. Nobody ever asks the question “why are you arachnophobia” or “why the fear of snakes”. “It is what it is” seems to be the unanimous consensus. In our society, phobias are just not that big a deal!
That, I think, is pretty much the way it is with homophobia. Unless you are a social scientist, like I am, when we you hear the term “homophobe” you do not express a lot of concern, and you do not put a lot of analysis into it. You read “homo” as a fear of people that’r gay and you read “phobia” as something we all have, and you come away with an “it’s not that big a deal” feeling. You may shake your head and click your tongue because you either secretly sympathize with the homophobes, or because you do not understand what the fuss is about, but that’s about as far as the reaction goes. The term “homophobia” just doesn’t invoke very strong reaction from people. And that’s too bad, because things would be a lot different for LGBTQ people if we used a different word to describe what it is we were seeing when we saw an individual bully an LGBTQ youth or adult. We need a different word because a different word would allow us to perceive better what was really going on. A different perception might lead us to different thinking, and different actions!
Perhaps an example will make this clear. Imagine you are a child at school. Imagine that you are normal and healthy. Imagine you have loving parents and fun friends. Imagine your parents yell and scream occasionally, and maybe hit you now and again, but for the most part life is shiny and you are happy. Imagine, in others words, a “normal” childhood. Now imagine that one day everything changes. Imagine that one day you wake up in the morning and your parents no longer love you, and no longer even want you in their home. Imagine one day you go to school and the teachers are looking at you with disgust and your friends no longer want to sit with you. Imagine that now, when you walk down the hallway, students point fingers, laugh, and even spit. Imagine the bullies in the school are now targeting you. Imagine you suddenly find yourself being periodically hit, knocked down, or even beat up while everybody else, even the teachers, just stand by and watch. Imagine, in other words, your life has just become a living hell.
You start searching around for a reason and you slowly realize this is all because you don’t fit into the gender norm anymore. You’re not “male” and you’re not “female”, you are something in between, or even something off to the side, and people don’t seem to like that too much. In fact, they seem to hate it. You search around for a label and somebody says “homophobia”. You think about that for a while, but that term just doesn’t seem to fit your experience. These people aren’t phobic, they are psychologically, emotionally, and physically violent! These people aren’t afraid of you, they are attacking you. It doesn’t seem to be about fear, it seems to be about something else. You’re confused, and rightly so. Not only has your life been turned upside down, but the word used to describe the reality that you are experiencing doesn’t make any sense. “Homophobia” doesn’t seem to describe your experience at all. In fact, quite the opposite appears to be true. They say “homophobia”, but all you can see from your perspective is exclusion, violence, and abuse. Clearly you need a different word to describe your experience, but what?
For myself, when you see or experience homophobia, I would suggest you use the term persecution to express what you are seeing. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines persecution as:
- a program or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate people based on their membership in a religious, ethnic, social, [sexual], or racial group (sexual added):
I think you will agree, the word “persecution” appears to capture the experience of young LGBTQ people a little better. All you have to do is add the term “sexual” to the above, as I have, and you have a perfect description of exactly what is going on. If you are LGBTQ you are being subjected to a campaign of persecution designed to either a) and subjugate you to “normal” gender rules or b) banish you from the social world altogether by driving you out of home, school, and life. It is not homophobia that you experience, it is persecution, and it is important to name it as such. Nobody ever looks at an anti-Semitic and sees a semiti-phobe. People look at anti-Semitics and see mean, sometimes violent, racists engaged in mean, sometimes violent, campaigns of persecution. And that’s the way it should be, because that’s what anti-Semitics are, and that is the reality we’re dealing with. Anti-Semitics are mean, violent, racist, and they persecute Jews just because they are Jewish. Anti-Semitism captures the reality for Jews; homophobia does not capture the reality for gays. So instead of calling it homophobia, call it persecution. Just like Jews are persecuted for being Jews, gays are persecuted for being gays. If you are LGBTQ, you experience persecution plain and simple; and it is bad. If you are an LGBTQ youth, even your parents can turn against you.
I like term persecution better than homophobia. In my view, the term persecution represents a more accurate representation of reality than “homophobia”. Not only does it reflect more accurately the nature of the perpetrator, but it also reflects the victimization better. The question at this point is, why would anybody persecute you just for being different? Unfortunately, that’s a tough question with no simple answer. Steckley and Letts (2013) talk about post structuralism, discourse, and heteronormativity, but that’s bit of a whitewash. The authors say we start with some normative ideas about sex and gender and then, through a process of social “discourse”, we “construct, sustain, and reproduce” proscribed norms. The authors say we have our ideas about what sex and gender is, and we learn to enforce those ideas by talking about them amongst ourselves (social discourse). That’s about right, but the definition raises a lot of questions, like for example where do our ideas about gender come from, how are these ideas “reproduced”, and (most importantly) why are gender boundaries enforced with such bitter, angry, violence?
As to where our ideas come from, most immediately, our ideas about gender come from Agents of Consciousness. Agents of Consciousness are parents, teachers, reporters, advertisers, artists, actors, directors, and anyone else involved in a) modelling or b) talking about gender more specifically, and Archetypes more generally. Agents of Consciousness are responsible for assigning your sex, and passing on gender ideas. Remarkably, it starts at the moment of birth when the doctor examines your genitals, assigns your sex (you don’t have a choice in the matter), and passes you to the nurse who then marks you with a pink or blue blanket. Gender assignment continues at home where your parents act differently towards you based on your genital arrangement, treat you differently (boys are treated with rough insensitivity, girls with gentle concern), teach you different things (boys learn about mechanics, girls about dolls and babies), and expect different behaviours based on your assigned gender. Eventually you go to school where teachers and your fellow students take over the “reproduction” of gender with the same gender dichotomous teaching and expectations. In this way each new generation “learns the rules” from Agents of Consciousness. This is the reproduction of gender. Gender is reproduced through the actions (and sometimes inactions) of Agents of Consciousness. The only thing I would add to this is that “normal” gender follows a “two-gender” or (Binary Gender) theoretical script. That is, we generally believe that there are only two possible genders, male and female, and we force all children, adolescents, and adults into one of the two binaries.
Now of course, for most people all we are talking about, like the definition says, is “reproduction” of gender. For most people we are not talking persecution. Most people “read” the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) social cues, accept their gender assignment, and think and act accordingly. Unfortunately, the two-gender theory isn’t adequate and some people just don’t fit in. In some cases, individuals may find themselves thinking and expressing personality, feelings, and sexual urges in ways that do not fit the two-gender model of human sexuality. They may act differently at an early age (boys playing with dolls, girls wanting cars), and become confused and even anguished later on by the rigid gender assignments that they increasingly sense they don’t fit into. Everything is hunky dory of course as long as they suppress their differences and stay within prescribed boundaries of “normal” gender, but if they step outside, watch out because that’s when the “enforcement” (read violence) begins. Everything from physical abuse (dads screaming and hitting their boys for dressing up like girls), through emotional and psychological assault, and even social exclusion may be directed at the individual who deviates from binary gender. People who don’t fit in to the ridged gender mould, people who act outside the proscribed boundaries, people who don’t honour the two-gender model, become a target of the militant and violent Gender Police. The job of the gender police is to either force you to fit into acceptable gender patterns with whatever means they have at their disposal (sticks, stones, name calling, etc.), or banish you from the social sphere.
And that is basically that. Modern society has a “two-gender” theory of human sexuality, binary gender. Agents of Consciousness teach you the rules and the boundaries (values, norms, behaviours, etc.) and you are expected to fit in to one or the other of the prescribed genders. If you do not fit it, violence and persecution ensue. If you are not LGBTQ it is easy to discount it all as simple homophobia, but that’s a mistake. The persecution that LGBTQ folks face is so horrific and unfair that even their own parents may come to reject them.
If you are like me, when you get to this point in your unfolding awareness you shake your head and wonder in dumbfounded confusion, why does society have a two gender model of sexuality; more importantly, why do children as young as five experience gender based persecution, and why is it so violently enforced? The answer to these questions is not complicated, but it may surprise you. To answer these questions you have to start with the sociological awareness that the dominant economic systems on this world, whether they be socialist, capitalist, feudalist, or whatever, are organized around the exploitation of working folk. If you look at the history of the world with an open and sociological sophisticated mind you see that at all the economic forms we’ve had, from feudalism and mercantilism through socialism and capitalism, are all about the exploitation of the many (the masses) by the few (the elites). Karl Marx said as much in his Communist Manifesto when he said that the history of the world is the history of class exploitation (class struggle), with some classes on top and others subordinate and oppressed. I’ll let Karl speak for himself below.
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations. Karl Marx
Admittedly, Karl Marx has been the subject of a lot of ideological derision over the years, and you may want to dismiss his comments outright, but don’t be too quick. Warren Buffet, one of the richest elites on the planet, agrees with Marx. In a 2006 interview with Ben Stein of the New York Times Buffet said, and I quote “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning” (Stein, 2006).
So yes, there is social class; yes there is class war; yes the .01 percent exploit the masses for their own benefit; but what does this have to do with gender policing? To understand the relationship you have to understand that all societies on Earth are organized around what Karl Marx called a Mode of Exploitation. The Mode of Exploitation is basically the way the ruling class go about accumulating surplus labour. According to (Ruyle, 1975, pp. 11-12)any specific Mode of Exploitation consists of three interrelated factors; these factors include
- Exploitative techniques (i.e. the mechanisms through which economic surplus is extracted, what we might also call a regime of accumulation),
- Mechanisms of force (like the police and the army who are called in to ensure regimes of extraction continue by physically coercing the population if necessary), and
- Ideological institutions (like the church, Hollywood, the family) tasked with controlling the minds of the exploited populations.
According to Ruyle (1975: pp. 11012) “These elements of the exploitative system may be institutionalized separately, as in industrial societies such as the United States and the Soviet Union, or they may be integrated into a single unitary institution, as in the early Bronze Age. The precise ensemble of exploitative techniques, together with the manner in which state-church elements are institutionalized, constitutes a historical mode of exploitation.”
The question before us now is, what does a Mode of Exploitation have to do with gender? The simple fact of the matter is, binary gender figures into the exploitative techniques used by modern capitalism to extract surplus and enforce accumulation. That is, the two-gender theory of human sexuality has more to do with the way capitalist exploitation is organized than is does with actual, natural, sexuality. To put it as bluntly as possible, Binary Gender is a “factory based” gender arrangement. You see this clearly when you consider the content of the gender stereotypes and how this content supports the capitalist (or even socialist) social order. Think of the emergence of capitalism during the industrial revolution. Prior to capitalism, production was feudal, craft based, and land based. Families, and in particular husbands and wives, worked together in the fields, tending farms, raising families, running family businesses, etc. Prior to industrial capitalism, gender wasn’t so much of an issue in the nobility’s extraction of surplus. The nobility where able to extract what they wanted without a concern for gender because man and wife worked together in the fields, and the nobility earned their piece from that work. As Middleton (1979) notes there was some specialization of labour, but it wasn’t strictly enforced, and it wasn’t exclusive:
In agriculture and in animal husbandry, each sex … specialize[d] in a particular range of occupations. Predominantly male tasks included ploughing, hedging, ditching, reaping, mowing, spaying and gelding. Planting, winnowing, gathering straw, stubble and chaff, and weeding were done by women, who also undertook the care of poultry and the dairy. But arrangements were generally flexible and sexually nonexclusive, and there is evidence of women being engaged in most male tasks—such as reaping, binding, mowing, carrying corn, shearing sheep, thatching and breaking stones for road-maintenance. Heavy ploughing was the only task from which they were almost totally excluded, and even here there is evidence that women were accustomed to drive the plough oxen on some estates (Middleton, 1979).
To be sure the gender arrangements were perfect, and certainly not wholly egalitarian, but gender roles and gender hierarchies of advanced capitalist society were absent. The point is clearer when you consider pre-capitalist, pre-feudal societies like the North American Navaho. Their production was not organized for exploitation and, as you saw in the documentary film, they did not ascribe to binary gender. Indeed, gender is far less of an issue in societies not organized around a specific Mode of Exploitation. The question now is, why is gender an issue in capitalism. It has to do with the way production is organized. Under industrial capitalism, workers go to factories (or offices) and they produce for the capitalist. Going to work in factories (and not in the field outside the home) wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t for children. Unfortunately for capitalists, children are necessary to regenerate the capitalist labour force, therefore children must be trained to fit into the production system. The productive/economic problem is, somebody has to go to the factory, and somebody has to stay home to raise the kids. Enter Binary Gender. The problem was solved by manipulating the consciousness of the masses and forcing a strict bifurcation of gender roles. Men became the masculine “breadwinners”, strong, responsible, and disconnected, and women became the warm, nurturing caregivers. Men were thus drawn out of the home to work in factories, while women stayed home and reproduced the next generation of workers. Binary Gender facilitates this arrangement, not only by providing a specific organization of labour, but also by providing the ideological, even spiritual, justification for the dichotomy.
As a student reading this you may doubt that the elites of this world manipulate gender for the purpose of organizing exploitation, but you don’t have to look any farther than WWII to see that Agents of Consciousness working in service of The System do just that. During WWII when men were off dying for their country in the war, corporations were short on labour. In order to fill the gaping holes in the labour force left by young men off to war, gender expectations were manipulated so that women, who had previously been presented as weak, effeminate, and fit for the kitchen, were now presented as strong, independent, and capable of factory work (Honey, 1984). This manipulation was organized around the infamous Rosie the Riveter campaign (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosie_the_Riveter). This was a campaign, designed (it should be strongly noted, by the Westinghouse corporation) to manipulate gender expectations so that women would enter the labour force and work in place of the men. In this campaign, ideas of gender were modified and women were portrayed as strong and capable. The campaign worked, gender expectations were modified, and women entered the labour force. It didn’t stick though. Following the war, when men came home and wanted their jobs back, traditional gender roles were re-established and women found themselves ejected from factory work life (Honey, 1984), probably because capitalists organizing the campaigns felt that women needed to be back home, and in the kitchen again. Over the next several decades women, and in particular feminists, fought to get women back in the labour force, mostly succeeding. The point here however isn’t to go over the history of gender struggle, the point is to highlight the fact that elites manipulate gender for the purpose of organizing exploitation! And that is why, in modern capitalist (or even socialist) societies, we have Binary Gender. Binary Gender has nothing to with the actual or “natural” expression of gender. Binary Gender facilitates the capitalist exploitation of labour, period.
Now, I could say a lot more at this point. I could talk about how binary gender is not natural and how it doesn’t capture the full expression of human sexuality. I could talk about family, church, and even state, discuss how these institutions are co-opted, and show how they are shaped into a form suitable for service to the Mode of Exploitation. I could also talk about the profound psychological and emotional consequences for us as human personality and potential is raped, and our collective sexuality is manipulated, corrupted, and diminished in service to The System, but this unit is getting too long as it is. Instead, I want to close this unit by suggesting some things that you can do to end the manipulation and return your world to a more natural, fluid, and sensible conceptions of gender.
The first thing you can do is recognize, like the Navajo in the film Two Spirits, that there are more than just two ways to express personality and sexuality. Personality and sexuality covers the spectrum from stereotypical female representations (like Julia Roberts or Judy Garland) to stereotypical male (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and all points in between. The key is variation. More to the point, the key is to not pathologize variation. When it comes to the expression of personality and sexuality, there is lots of natural variation. The rainbow of variation should be embraced for the beautiful thing that it is!
The second thing you can do is recognize the political significance of the Binary Gender Model. As we have seen, the Binary Gender Model is there to serve political/economic interests and nothing more. It doesn’t represent God’s view, and it isn’t that way in the natural order of things. In other words, open your mind to reality. Human sexuality is manipulated and corrupted for the sake of private interests.
The third thing you can do is recognize the profound impact that this manipulation has on us. Steckley and Letts (2013) give hints at the mental, emotional, social, and even spiritual cost that accrues because of the systematic suppression and corruption of human sexuality, but I’m sure if you pay attention to your own life, and give it a little thought, you’ll be able to see the consequences for yourself. And note, we are not talking about a little bit of suffering here. From the violent murders that occur from time to time (recall in the film Two Spirits how the victim’s face was smashed in by a jagged rock), to the psychological and emotional anguish that must come from feeling that you are “wrong”, through the shame and anxiety that come from being violated and rejected by the world, it’s a profound and negative impact. Don’t white wash that impact with poorly chosen words like “homophobia”, face the truth and express the horror of the gender-based persecution. We don’t do ourselves, or the planet, any service by pretending it isn’t as bad as it is.
Finally, make a change. Steckley and Letts (2013) frame it as a choice to uphold basic human rights, and you are certainly fine to do that; but as a parent, I prefer to see it as an act of protecting our children from the violent imposition of self-servicing political/economic ideology. Our children (and ourselves for that matter) are damaged by the imposition of the Binary Gender Model of sexuality. Pay attention to attempts to impose the Binary Gender Model on your children and resist the imposition with all your might. You can resist by
- accepting your children for who they express themselves to be,
- protecting them from the violence of their peers, teachers, etc., and
- challenging discourse, perceptions, and actions that reflect the Binary Gender model.
Educate yourself about gender, pay attention to the world around you, and don’t be silent about what you see or think, and what you think. Speak out. If you hear somebody using derisive gender based language (like “that’s so gay” or “faggot” or something like that), say something. If you talk about boys and girls, challenge the gender based status quo. Don’t let people get away with it! Things are changing rapidly its true, but there is still much work to do. A lot of children are going to be hurt, and a lot of families are going to be fractured, before the last vestiges of the ideologically motivated Binary Gender Model is eradicated from the consciousness of this planet. It is in all our interests to get rid of it as quickly as we possibly can, so get to work.
 For an overview of the process of accumulating labour, see Rocket Scientists’ Guide to Money and the Economy.
 For some indication of the variety you could explore the Wikipedia entry on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermaphrodite