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Genderqueer Identity in the Spotlight
Photo of Mo Karnage wearing their "Vagina is for Lovers" shirt at Richmond City Council on April 1, 2014
Getting news coverage for any political issue is a double edged sword. On the one hand, you want news coverage because it is an opportunity for people to hear about important issues and to hopefully hear about the stance you are supporting. This is a good thing, and largely a necessary thing for any social movement. We need information to get out to people who might want to join us or might become convinced by our points. This is how the whole process works.
On the other hand, you have the anonymous Internet trolls. These are the people who miss the point entirely, misconstrue your position, attack you for real or imagined aspects of your personal life, and generally do their best to demean and insult anyone they do not agree with. Over the years I've gotten calloused to the point where I am mostly not upset by the cruel, inaccurate, and absurd things posted about me anonymously on news article comments sections. Lately I've found them largely humorous.
How you might want to deal with the trolls in your life likely depends on your personality, coping mechanisms, etc. But mostly I'd have to recommend ignoring anyone talking smack anonymously.
If you are engaged in your community and receive news coverage because of your activism, you are making strides. You are bravely taking actions to make positive effects on the world. Which means that folks who are not even brave enough to attach their names to their statements are way below your league. Don't worry about what they think, you are great.
A recent Style Weekly article about a City Council Meeting in my home of Richmond, Virginia has got a pretty interesting comment thread. One troll attacks me for my name, Mo Karnage. This poster says, "Her name is Moriah Karn...not 'Mo Karnage' as she refers to herself". My preferred pronouns are they/them pronouns for starters.
But the juicy part is this—the commenter's name? Joe23223.
Weird name right, wonder what his parents were thinking? I'd put money that he isn't named Joe23223 at all!!! What a hoax. His legal name is probably Joseph 23223. However, I have a lot of better things to do in my life than try to police what other people choose to call themselves. Names and pronouns are things that should be up to the individual. Not everyone will choose to take the time and money to legally change their names, and why should they? To please anonymous scaredy-cats on the internet? I don't think so.
Other commenters on the article have gone back and forth over my gender. One used male pronouns for me, and another replied attempting to 'correct' the person using male pronouns. Gender enigma.
Then we get to my most favorite comment of all. Wendy Gale March broke out her transphobia with this one: "The detainee is not a threat to public safety and 'Mo' needs to acts properly when addressing other 'adults.' Does she really want to hear 'Mommy who is that scary man-lady' at the Monument Avenue Easter Parade?? Name-calling elected officials in public chambers reduces any credibility."
Clearly, Wendy was going for a transphobic insult here, but I have found the statement empowering and affirming of my genderqueerness. I am a big scary genderqueer, a frightening man-lady who will not back down when fighting for justice. I'm glad that folks in favor of the privatization of a local park and in holding up the crumbling gender binary find me threatening. On my good days I am indeed a threat to their ways of life.
I've put some thought into why I find her comment less demeaning than she intends it. And I think that is because it at least acknowledges my existence outside of the gender binary. To be constantly ignored, to have one's gender identity ignored, is erasure. Erasure hurts, and ignoring genderqueer, transgender, and non-cis identites is oppressive at best and violent at worst. I'm not speaking from a perfect palace here. Several years ago, I published a zine where I misgendered two people. I regret doing so, am sorry for having done so, and have since learned more about why misgendering or ignoring trans and non-binary genders is so problematic.
When we take our protest to Monument Avenue on Easter Sunday, I hope little kids ask their parents about what we are doing. That is the whole point. We want people to find out more, get curious, question the status quo, and realize that there are vital political struggles going on in Richmond right now. And I hope that little kids ask me or their parents about my gender. I hope that little kids question gender.
I've been working in childcare for over 14 years now. I'm really good with kids. One of the things I love most about kids is their honesty, and how they will ask a question that comes to mind instead of making an internal judgement. I actually have kids question my gender all the time. I find these instances to be wonderful opportunities for conversations with the youth about what gender is, the gender binary, and alternatives to binary gender roles. It's funny and sad that the kids are the ones more open to these conversations and to accepting other humans and their multitudes of gender and gender expression than many adults are.
Adults in this society have a lot of unlearning to do around gender, myself included. We were raised in a world with only two acceptable gender options, according to the larger patriarchal order. Things have gotten better in many ways for transgender and genderqueer and other non-binary gender folks, but there is a long way to go. Acts of violence against transgender people, particularly transwomen of color are frighteningly high, and most states have no protection for transgender people in the workplace or anywhere else. Starting conversations with kids around gender identity is a great way to influence the next generation to be better educated, more compassionate, and more progressive regarding transgender and non-binary rights and issues.
I'm glad to have discovered this new phrase to describe my identity, as a scary man-lady. I think that is actually much more understandable to the general public than genderqueer, and I embrace being a scary man-lady wholeheartedly. I will continue to spend my days doing carpentry, throwing firewood, wrestling dogs, writing haiku, and insulting local politicians when their decisions insult and harm residents. Thanks Wendy, for the motivation to keep carrying on as an out there, out spoken, scary to some man-lady!
On another article, by local reporter Mark Holmberg, a commenter named Clotus Jones says about me, "She also claims she’s a vegan. I don’t believe her. Vegans tend to be thin and stinky. Did anyone else notice the size of Mo’s rear-end when she was at the podium? That’s not a vegan rear-end. That rear-end belongs to someone who stuffs themselves full of processed foods and sit around all day." We all know that non-cis males are pretty consistently body policed when in the public sphere. And this is yet another case of just that, mixed with some strange misconceptions about vegans. I'm stoked on having a biggish butt. Everyone should be proud of their own butt.
Even big butts in stupid anonymous Internet comments can get an intersectional lens. Body policing involves gender, and it also involves race. Loving big butts is not, as the linked Jezebel article explains, a new territory to be discovered by white women (or white genderqueers). Loving big butts is something where we need to give due credit and homage to the women of color, who have pushed this specific body positivity while fighting against the white supremacist culture of society. I like my ass, which is good, cause it is the only one I've got. But I do not have the same struggle around my body and do not face the same body policing that women of color do. In a white supremacist society, I will see bodies similar to mine reflected more often in media than women of color will. I'm glad I've got a big ol' vegan scary man-lady ass, and I'm thankful to women of color for struggling for years to promote body positivity around larger bottoms!
For background, please check out From Redskins to Monroe, We Shall Not Be Moved.
#Gender #Identity #Trans #Self #Protests #Activism #RVA