wrapping it up

i just saw this article today that fits in to yesterday’s post: http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/know-about-invisible-illnesses/

SO my point with all of this is that our social constructions often pose as biological or absolute fact. this creates problems for all of us. i hope that i’ve provided perspective, information, and resources that serve to expand some definitions.

when we’re working against any form of oppression (sexism, racism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, classism, etc) we need to consider all of these things and even MORE because i’m sure i left stuff out.

no one has one identity. we all have our identities related to all these different concepts, they work within us all the time, and they shape our world all the time. justice for everyone involves solutions that are created by and for people of every identity and every combination of social location.

See Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “intersectionality”:


so if you’re fighting for justice in big ways or small ways, ask yourself who you’re helping, and who you might be leaving out.

expand your definitions and think on  your own conceptions and ideas.encourage others to do the same. when someone gives you criticism, reflect on yourself instead of getting defensive.

never stop learning and seeking new voices!

you can’t see all disabilities

our spaces, public and private, are made for people that think, communicate, move, and exist in specific ways. if someone doesn’t fit the expectations of how to do these things, we think about them in a different way. sometimes we say that they have a disability. sometimes we accommodate them, sometimes we don’t. what we think of as a person with a disability is not entirely accurate.

disabilities can look like a lot of different things, and it’s time to broaden our image and ideas of ability, so we can create spaces accessible to everyone.

so, everyone has things they can do and can’t do. people use resources to help them do things like wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetics, medication, hearing aids, or even glasses. these tools might make it difficult for people to be in environments that aren’t built for their equipment. a common example is elevators or wheelchair ramps. through laws and public awareness, we made it required for buildings to be accessible my someone who is using a wheelchair or other mobility devices.

there’s still major problems, though, with physical accessibility (here’s just one example from Yale: http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2015/02/24/wheelchair-accessibility-leaves-much-to-be-desired/).

and there are also problems with types of inaccessibility that people don’t often think about. people with learning disabilities, for example, might require different ways of teaching or test-taking. people with PTSD, anxiety, or other mental health conditions may be unable to exist in spaces with too much noise, lights, too many people, or certain social conditions. people with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) can suffer severe irritation around any sort of chemical or fragrance, and public spaces can be impossible for them to navigate. People with chronic fatigue or chronic pain might not be able to participate in physical activity for very long. these are just a few conditions that should be considered when creating accessible spaces, and there are many more.

visible and invisible disabilities prevent people from getting quality education, holding jobs, and even performing everyday tasks. people who don’t have anything they think of as a disability can often see this as an issue that doesn’t relate to them. however, most people will have a disability at one point in their life: whether permanent or temporary, like after a surgery or injury. despite everyone having differing levels of ability, we still think of a specific kind of able-bodied person as “normal”.

disabilities, especially mental illnesses, are heavily stigmatized and it often prevents people from seeking help. people with disabilities are affected differently because of their other identities. overall, we need to take a step back, and stop limiting our image of people with disabilities to one stereotype. people who use wheelchairs need to be accommodated, but there are many other people out there, too.

Here’s some resources.

Invisible disabilities: https://invisibledisabilities.org/

Disability news & info: http://www.disabled-world.com/

Disability as it intersects with other identities: http://disabilityintersections.com/

Ableism: http://www.stopableism.org/what.asp

race categories don’t represent us well

race categories

Race is a social construct, and the race categories as we know them have no real genetic or biological validity.

Maybe that sounds familiar to you, or maybe it makes no sense. The ideologies related to race in the U.S. are in the foundation of many of our biggest institutions, and these ideologies rely on race being a biological reality. So we’re taught that it is, and on the surface, it makes sense. But there are three big reasons why race is not a biological (or genetic) construct:

  1. Human variation is clinal, or gradual. Our race categories teach us to group people into discreet categories based on physical appearance: skin color, hair color, hair texture, the shape of our lips, eyes, noses, many different features. These are all features that vary within human populations, mostly because of the geographic location of our ancestors. People living in different parts of the world developed different features to live in those climates, and we’re all descended from a mix of different people. But the features change gradually over geographic space. If you walked from the equator to Norway, you would see great changes in the physical appearance of the people that are indigenous to the land. However, there’s no way to delineate exactly where a feature like skin color changes. It’s gradual, and we can’t decide on a line where people stop being “black” and start being “white” in a way that has any validity. Of course, we still do draw these lines, they’re just based on cultural perceptions rather than biology.
  2. Human features are nonconcordant. This means that if you have one feature, like curly hair, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have another feature, like fuller lips. One trait doesn’t predict another. Any person can have any number of traits, based on the genes they inherit from their parents, but just because they have one trait doesn’t mean they’ll have another. This is more evidence that begins to corrode the way we think about “races”: not everyone in any given race can be identified by a trait.
  3. There is more genetic diversity within our race categories than between. There is a vast expanse of genetic diversity among humans, but it doesn’t correspond with our race categories. We’ve found more genetic differences between the people in one “race” category than between all the different categories.

For more information about how race is not biologically valid, I recommend the book Race in North America by Audrey and Brian Smedley. Not only does it cover how our race categories were constructed, it also discussed some of the consequences of our racial worldview. Here’s some more information: http://genome.cshlp.org/content/14/9/1679.abstract?etoc

Even though races are biological nonsense, they are incredibly real, and have real social consequences. Race categories were created by institutions and people in power in order to control populations of people, and they are still used that way today. Race categories and definitions have changed over time to adapt to changing social climates. You can read about it here: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/06/racecraft-racism-social-origins-reparations/

People are treated differently based on the race they are defined as. This happens on an interpersonal level (yes, racism is still around even though we have a mixed-race president) but it also happens institutionally and systemically through our media, schools, workplaces, universities, healthcare systems, government support systems, voting laws, law enforcement and prison systems, and many other institutions. While it is important to focus on individual racist people like white supremacists or even people who make racist jokes, the institutional side of racism is often ignored or denied, and it can have a much more powerful effect on people and the country as a whole: http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/at-the-edge/2015/05/06/institutional-racism-is-our-way-of-life

***It’s also important to understand that racism effects people differently depending on their other social locations like their gender, sexual orientation, class, ability, national origin, and other factors. Different communities of color experience racism in different ways. I’ll discuss this more in a few days.

I recommend the three-part PBS documentary Race: The Power of an Illusion. It covers the biological nonvalidity and social construction of race, as well as some history and modern institutional racism. You can view it or read the transcripts here: http://www.pbs.org/race/000_General/000_00-Home.htm

sexuality is not the same as gender

So gender is a complicated map. People have biological sex, as well as their gender identity, which is not binary. There’s also gender expression, which describes how someone presents themselves on a scale with masculine, feminine, androgynous, or any combination. Everyone falls somewhere on these maps, although not everyone thinks about it or chooses a label.

It’s very important to understand that these things are NOT the same as sexuality or sexual orientation!

gender= who you are

sexual orientation= who you are attracted to

We tend to think of them in the same light, but your gender or the way you express your gender has NO bearing on who you’re attracted to or who you form relationships with. Because of the gender binary, we’re socialized to think of feminine-presenting people as being attracted to masculinity, and vice-versa. For some people, that’s true, but not for everyone. we’re taught to, but you can’t assume anything about someone’s sexuality based on the way they look. and you shouldn’t–someone else’s sexuality and gender aren’t any of your business until they share them with you.

similar to gender, however, sexuality is more complicated than we typically think of it. mainstream culture is now generally aware than not everyone is heterosexual (although hetero is still considered “normal” and anything else is “other”).But it’s not just straight and gay. it’s a spectrum, or a map, or a cloud-thing depending on how you visualize it. the point is, like gender, human sexuality doesn’t fit into neat boxes and labels (although many people use labels). a spectrum/chart thing that shows sex, gender, presentation, sexual, and romantic orientation looks like this:

gender sexuality spectrum

source: http://krazedwriter.deviantart.com/

I think this is pretty self-explanatory. it shows that there are more than two categories for all these identities. i like this chart because it separates sexual and romantic orientation as well as gender identity and expression.

This is just one way of visualizing or thinking about these different things.

so about sexual orientation: people can be attracted to any other type of person, everyone, or no one at all.

sexuality is enormously complex and different for everyone, so people use the terms that they feel work the best for them. here’s a little glossary of terms (this also has gender-related terms) from PFLAG, or Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Yeah, there’s a lot more different kinds of queer folks than just lesbians and gays, but still: http://community.pflag.org/glossary

language is complicated, important, and constantly changing. all words are steeped in history, and can be derogatory based on their historical (or contemporary) use. if you’re unsure of what term to use, do your research. and also remember these things:

-don’t assume things about people’s gender or sexuality

-people’s gender and sexuality aren’t any of your business. if they want to share their identities or experiences with you, that’s great! but respect people’s boundaries. no one is obligated to discuss their personal stories and experiences with anyone else.

-sexuality is complicated and can change a lot over the course of people’s lives. if someone decides to start using different terms for themselves, respect it. they know more about themselves than you do, and it’s totally normal for preferences and identities to change.

-if you’re confused or curious, educate yourself! but always remember to be critical of every source you find. one person that uses a particular label doesn’t represent everyone of that identity. everyone has a different story.

-if you or someone you know finds a term or an identity that fits better than the current one, it’s okay to change. But publicly changing terms or “coming out” isn’t always the best choice depending on someone’s situation or environment. don’t pressure someone to come out, they will do it if and when they feel it’s right.

-think hard about the way you see people and think about sexuality. constantly reflect on what you think and why, how you were taught to think, and how it affects the way you interact with people. self-reflection is good!

that’s as much as i think i can write. i can’t speak for anyone else but me. educate yourself, find some different voices and listen!

okay? so? and?

gender boxes

so the gender binary that we live in and participate in is the cause of a lot of problems. if you start to learn about it, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. the gender binary has given us:

-gender roles, and everything that goes along with them

-warped ideas of masculinity and femininity : they tend to make the rules about what we wear, say, do, and live, down to ridiculous details. read about toxic masculinity:



-the erasure and censorship of those who fall outside the binary (and the subsequent loss of their stories and voices)

-inherently gendered language: we only commonly use him or her to speak about singular people. it’s common to say “his or her”, but what if neither of those pronouns makes sense for someone? here’s some info on pronoun options: https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/

-gendered things that don’t need to be gendered, and weird, random shit like the “pink tax”:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/13/opinion/the-pink-tax.html

these are some things that have been in the news recently, and it’s a lot to think about. but there’s some other, enormous problems that go unheard in the general media, mostly because they affect non-binary folks:

-unequal or inadequate representation. when’s the last time you watched, heard, or read something that even acknowledged a person outside the gender binary? when they are acknowledged, how are they portrayed? it’s often with flat stereotypes or degrading caricatures. so when trans and nonbinary people are represented in fair and nuanced ways, who is telling the story? if it’s in a movie, is the actor also nonbinary? often times, the answer is no. it matters: http://www.themarysue.com/transparent-trust/


-queer and nonbinary youth are often not welcome in their family homes when they come out. many face homelessness, violence, and mental illness: http://www.bustle.com/articles/87452-5-shocking-facts-about-transgender-suicide-and-violence-that-you-need-to-know

-many queer and nonbinary people can end up in prison because of ways that their existence is criminalized. our prison system is already hell for the people living in it, but it can be even worse, especially if you are sent to a prison designated for a gender that doesn’t match your own: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/04/trans-transgender-women-died-mens-prison

**I also highly recommend the book Captive Genders by Eric A. Stanley. It covers how trans and nonbinary people are specifically affected by our prison system.

-Nonbinary people of color, people with low socioeconomic power, those with unstable living conditions, queer and nonbinary people with disabilities, and undocumented people face even more hurdles. Their voices are often completely ignored, even within queer movements: http://returnthegayze.com/2016/02/06/nbgncpoc/

-healthcare is often difficult to deal with or plain inadequate for trans and nonbinary folks. even if they have access and the means to get healthcare (which they often don’t), there are problems (this study is based in the UK, but it highlights many of the same issues in our healthcare system): http://uktrans.info/attachments/article/378/ATH-Non-Binary-Survey-Results.pdf


Okay, so there’s a bunch of problems created by the gender binary, and some resources. I left a ton of stuff out, because if I tried to address everything, I would never be able to stop writing. Comment if you have any important issues or resources!

bathroom signs are basically useless

Whewww I’m starting with the big one. Let me tell you why the gender binary is sort of a problem.

In our country, most people are sorted as either “boy” or “girl” right at the moment they pop out and start screaming. This creates a lot of problems, mostly related to the fact that gender (our ideas of appearance and behavior that indicate either masculine or feminine) is a socially construction, but it tied in our minds to sex, a biological construction.

The problem is that gender is not the same as sex. It’s very, very different. Sex is determined by biology: someone’s anatomy, physiology, hormones, and chromosomes.
Gender is determined by culturally specific social constructions as well as someone’s personal identity.

The other problem is that gender is not a binary. We often think of only man OR woman, only masculine OR feminine. The reality is that gender is a spectrum or a cloud of different identities and ways of existing. Some people identify as only one gender, and it’s the gender that was assigned to them when they were born, usually based on their genitals. However, some people identify differently than what they were assigned. Some identify as between genders, or they don’t identify with a gender at all. One way of thinking about it is like this:

gender spectrum

where I found this neato graphic: curtisgrahamcracker.tumblr.com/

Here’s a good list of a bunch of terms relating to non-binary identities: http://genderqueerid.com/gq-terms

There are many terms to describe a vast number of identities, and people typically use whichever one feels best for them.

These people exist. There is much more variation within people than just man and woman. It’s also important to note some other stuff:

-people’s genders can (and do) change over long or short periods of time. people can flow between genders freely, even from day to day.

-gender is performative: this means it consists of actions we do, ways we present ourselves, and ways we think about ourselves.

-gender is NOT the same as sexuality. the way you perform your gender doesn’t have any bearing on who you are attracted to or who you form relationships with.

-while many people might use the same label to identify themselves, everyone’s experiences are unique, and are affected by their other identities such as their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, nationality, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, etc.

-even within biological sex, male and female are not the only possibilities. intersex people or people with intersex variations have anatomy, chromosomes, hormones, or other traits that fall in the grey area between what we think of as the sexes. learn more here: http://www.isna.org/

-our ideas of gender are specific to our cultural history. I’m speaking about the ideas of the mainstream culture in the U.S., which has its roots in Europe. all cultures have their own concepts of gender, and many of them look much different from those in the mainstream U.S. Just because they seem unfamiliar doesn’t mean they’re in an way less valid. for example, many groups of people indigenous to North America share the idea of two-spirit identity: http://gender.wikia.com/wiki/Two-Spirit (it’s important to note that there are hundreds of distinct indigenous groups in N.A., each with their own cultures, and they’re in no way homogenous).

that’s my little explanation. tomorrow I’ll write about people outside the gender binary and what sort of consequences it has.

all I can write about is what I’ve learned through my education and personal experience. there are many, many activists who have more experience and knowledge than me. I want to promote their work and urge you to seek out many voices!

Here’s some resources & info about nonbinary and gender nonconforming experiences, as well as some info about how gender is constructed:



Sociology of Gender










This blog is a project I’m working on for a Queer Studies class at Oregon State University. I want to introduce some of the topics and theories we learned about in class to people outside of that sphere. My goal is to use what I’ve learned to open a conversation about issues facing our society and promote activists doing social justice work.

I’m going to be writing about binaries…the artificial, socially constructed ideas that one concept is the opposite of another, and there is nothing in between. Think Good/Evil, Strong/Weak, or even Republican/Democrat. We often think of these things as complete opposites, but reality is much more complicated. I hope to relate this concept directly to queer studies, and examine how our ideas of gender, race, sexuality, and ability are malfunctioning social constructions.

Each entry will be about the basics of a subject, with resources and information to learn more. While I hope to reach people with my words, there are many people who more and have more experience than I do, so I’d like to share their voices. I’ll be writing once a day for about a week. Stay tuned if you’re interested, and contact me with questions, suggestions, or resources for me to check out!