Guest post: Strength has been something to aim for

Originally a comment by Steamshovelmama on Go, and sin no more.

Labels… *sigh*. This is a conversation I have had many times with my 22 year old daughter, who is rather more woke than me. Labels are important, especially to young people who feel lost and excluded because there is no one else like them in their culture and/or peer group. To that young person, finding that there is an actual name for what they are is a huge validation – and young, unhappy, confused, isolated people do need that validation.

The problem is, as always, reification. The label is usually an artificial term, placing boundaries round something that is really a point on a continuum. Unfortunately, people are strongly prone to believing that those boundaries represent something real and objective. When that happens, the label becomes a trap. No longer just “This describes what I feel, and I share this feeling with these people,” but more “This is what I am, and because of that, I know I cannot be that other thing as well, because that lies outside the boundaries of the thing that describes me.”

Of course, this applies to identities that are rooted outside the physical – ace (arguably), aro, demi etc.

re: the adoption of fragility

I don’t get this either. I’m 50, and for most of my life strength has been something to aim for. I grew up as a member of he English working class, which in itself is a strong non-physical identity (USAians may not experience this, but take it from me, in England class is a major part of your identity).

I grew up in a female culture where women considered themselves superior to men in all senses but the physical. The joke was: Q. What do you call a woman who wants to be equal to a man? A. Unambitious. Men were frequently regarded as immature boys (which, of course, meant that many of them were happy to play that role).

Women were the ones who held the family together, who took on all the responsibilities of feeding and clothing everyone, of stretching the “housekeeping” to do it, despite many of them working part or full time themselves. The very idea that you might need some sort of validation for who you were would have been considered ridiculous. You looked after your own, and if you wanted something you damned well got off your arse and worked out how to get it.

You developed a thick skin, especially towards male attitudes because, growing up, you were cat called and/or harassed on an almost daily basis from about 11 years onward. Now, that is certainly not how it should be (and it does seem to be a little better now, looking at my daughter’s experience), but the idea that you might be deeply hurt by a name (or pronoun) that somebody called you? Your Mother, Grandmothers, Aunts and friends would tell you to bloody well get up and stop making a fuss.

One of the most insulting things you could say about a woman was that she was “precious” – dainty, ladylike, feeble. Proper women were tough. They’d have had no time whatsoever for some man (and they would certainly see a trans woman as a man) poncing about in women’s clothes and talking about feminine essence. Feminine was not a large part of their lives or self image.

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