Critical Engagment: Compliance is Gendered

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Hopefully through my direct engagement of Dean Spade's essay "Compliance is Gendered: Struggling for Gender Self-Determination in a Hostile Economy" I will be able to better describe what it was about then I did in class. Dean spade is the founder of the non-profit collective Sylvia Rivera Law Project which provides free legal services to people within the transgender and intersex community that are confronting issues of poverty, racism and/or discrimination. So a great deal of his writing focuses on, especially in this piece, what kind of legal help is needed, why it's needed, why this type of work is necessary. In this essay it is explained how all of our governments social service programs, welfare systems, public school systems, correctional facilities, drug treatment centers, homeless shelters, public facilities...everything is rigidly mandated by the gender binary. This in combination with the fact that all of these things listed only recognize legal gender classification meaning they only acknowledge birth certificates and/or legal documents of gender identity in determining where in the system you belong, they do not acknowledge self-determination of gender identity. So with this essay Dean asks the question, "who is at the greatest risk for extreme consequences within this system?"

This is where he really critiques how the GLBT movement has missed the mark. Dean feels that it is transgender and intersex individuals whose identities intersect with race and class (in this case poor/low income) that are the most susceptible to the types of violence doled out by these institutions. And since there is much evidence to support that within the transgender community there are disproportionately high numbers of people whose identities would intersect this way it begs to ask the question...who says welfare reform and immigration reform aren't queer issues when it greatly effects those individuals lives? However, the GLB movements of the last how every many years have continued to ignore the T in GLBT by focusing mostly on marriage rights and assimilation to norms which Spade considers to only to be issues for people who already have a warm bed to sleep in at night, a job to by basic necessities or haven't been placed in the system simply for using a public restroom because they don't have their own (basically middle to upper-class among other things). So Spade chooses to focus on ways feminist, anti-capitalist and antiracist analysis can lend a hand to GLBT discourse and vice versa in an effort to better understand how the these systems strategically place people in the system and how their treated once they're there, and most importantly how our activism can be shaped around it.

To be honest, there was much more than this in the essay but I hope I cracked into it a little more clearly. I know for me personally one of the reasons I like Spade so much is because he's truly concerned with improving the quality of people's lives, fighting injustice and acting as a resource for people (in the trenches so to speak). What I think is really interesting and productive about this work though is that Dean Spade is really thinking outside the box. He explains to his audience that he, as the child of a single mother, spent his childhood on welfare and is all too familiar with the ways in which you have to comply with gender norms in order to receive assistance (hence: Compliance is Gendered) and the ways you are punished if you cannot. As well, having a good understanding of how capitalism, racism and the gender binary all work in overlapping ways to exclude, mark and create hierarchies is allowing him to see the issues surrounding the transgender community in a very helpful way. Not to be too pessimistic, but what I'm not sure about is whether or not it falls on deaf ears. Spades call is to work together on issues that apply to a variety different perspectives, the question is will they listen?

In relation to my term, Punishment, I have this overwhelming idea of how the hetero-normative matrix that we've discussed numerous times is just controlling and dictating everything around it. Just like the donut diagram I handed out in class, the matrix is in the center and everything orbits around it. If you can comply or pass than you may access some or all of the benefits, but if you cannot you are at risk for a barrage of punishments. And no matter how minimal or severe those punishments are, either the reality or the fear of them nonetheless shapes who we become, how we interpret our world, and how we conduct ourselves within society, hence social construction.

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I think this is part of the reason that the question that the question of 'what is queer?' is so important. Expanding activism and organization of GLBT movement and their often assimilationist methods, in order to conceive of welfare and immigration reform as queer issues, as you've well argued that they are, is a material necessity for some. I think that Spade's assertion that the need to addresss the marginaliztion of transgendered people, and poor queers and queers of color within the larger GLBT, is espically important given the social and systemic violence against these bodies. If the movement can not, and in fact seems totally uninterested in protecting it's most vunerable members, so is the GLBT not queer? No, but it could improve significantly.