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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] Queer Where do trans and genderqueer folk fit into ‘women-only’ play parties?

Where do trans and genderqueer folk fit into ‘women-only’ play parties?

What are the motivations behind a play party being exclusive to ‘past, present and future women’ only – and are they fair? Gauche Sinister explores notions of sexuality, ‘inclusion’ and ‘safety’.

Bearabouttown’s text-to-movie video “Why are/n't we going to the play party?” shows a trans man and a trans genderqueer assigned female at birth (AFAB) talking about why they do and don’t attend “past, present and future women” play parties.

The genderqueer (who isn’t going to the party) says events advertised as “past, present and future women” are often also advertised as “women-only”, and “I think there is something very messed up going on if a man assumes it is his right to enter women-only space based purely on the fact of his genitals.”

Being a gender-normative, cissexual woman, my right to access women-only space is never questioned, even if I’m personally unwelcome for other reasons, and though I may refuse to use it, I can expect to be given the authority to police such spaces.

I’ve no desire to discuss (or decide) which trans and genderqueer folks have the right to enter various gendered spaces, but I am interested in the ideas about gender that motivate a party being exclusive to “past, present and future women” in the first place.

I have more understanding for activist groups being exclusive, based not on identity but on experience and position – for example, a group closed to women and genderqueer and trans folks organising autonomously against patriarchy, with some shared affinity as patriarchy’s other – but it’s less obvious to me why a play party would be women-only.

Of course, there are a plethora of men-only events, but for the most part women I know aren’t trying to emulate that culture.

Safety is often the stated motivation for women-only play parties (as it is for women-only domestic violence shelters) but I think this essentialises violence as male, and erases the experiences of women who have been abused by women.

If the motivation is not safety but comfort (eg, because straight men watching makes it feel like a zoo) then I think the entry requirement should be something more specific, such as dyke-identified, or something more inclusive, such as queers only.

I haven’t encountered the construction of “past, present and future women” in my own life, and I’ve been told in Melbourne this is more likely to be phrased as “women and trans”. The latter phrasing is preferable, perhaps, in that it isn’t centred on women, but both are awkward, and unclear in how they relate to genderqueer folk, whether assigned female at birth or male at birth.

Both sound to me like a half-hearted invitation to trans men and women from a majority-cissexual dyke community that is both keenly anxious about (and sometimes averse to) maleness and masculinity and eager to include specific individuals connected to the community, even if they’re men.

Then again, it’s difficult to criticise assumptions about gender when it comes to play, given that sexuality is an area where gendered exclusion is widely accepted. Judging from profiles on Fetlife and OK Cupid, “everyone but cis men” seems to be a fairly common orientation.  

And while it’s easy as a pansexual to attack any exclusion as prejudiced or even oppressive, I don't feel I have the right to judge whether sex or gender or genital construction (or race or age or looks or whatever else) make legitimate criteria for a sexual orientation.

Because really it doesn't matter how politically astute or logically consistent your sexual orientation is, if you feel like you can't change it – even if it's based on current genital construction or presentation or sex assigned at birth.

And it's more harmful to try to change it if you can't, because you'd be seriously hurting people in the process: Please don’t seduce someone whose gender fits your orientation, knowing that their genital construction isn’t what you’re used to and that you might be uncomfortable with it, and then reject them based on a body they might already be dysphoric about, because your orientation was less flexible than you’d believed and desired.

So maybe I can accept each person’s sexuality is what it is. But maybe you don’t get to call yourself whatever it is that you call yourself, if it’s inaccurate – you don’t get to say you’re attracted to women when you’re only attracted to people assigned female at birth, or gender-normative women, or women with cunts.

As for play parties, I know who I’d invite if I were organising one, and that’s enough for me.

Gauche Sinister is a Shanghainese/Melburnian critic who writes to the left at State of Emergency. Ey also contributes to the queer hanky code blog, flagging opinicus rampant.

SEE ALSO: Anti-trans ‘feminists’, you’ve got it so wrong

Comments   

0 #4 Gauche 2010-08-22 07:24
@Jo:
Sure, I think attempts to make it about "experience and position" rather than identity are super clumsy and always privilege visible identity anyway -- people who don't have the expected appearance are expected to divulge more of their experience/posi tion, which is really messed up.

But the theoretical distinction can be made and maybe it makes more sense and is easier to maintain when it comes to an experience/posi tion that is never/rarely visible. Such as perhaps, experiences of abuse, certain mental health issues, substance dependencies, parenting ... I don't know. Everything can be an identity -- some things get essentialised a whole lot more, and more commonly than others.

Even with experiences that are connected to visible traits, I think anti-racist movements are a bit better at looking at positions over identities compared to mainstream feminism -- even genderqueer feminisms -- maybe especially when it's nascent and the idea of "people of colour" is still fairly contrived/obvio us & specific in its construction? (That is my favourite thing about the term and as it loses that, in Australia at least, I want to use it less and less.)

Me being personally unwelcome is not always politically unastute -- sometimes it's particularly astute in that it's about my individual position -- which is more fair than any of these other things, right?

@Emma:
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without having some cis guy come up straight after a scene and say 'hey, are you a man or a woman?'
I guess I'm trying to say that people who aren't cis men are just as likely to try to police gender in that way.

@Ali:
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available for looking at, leering at, wanking at, groping, or commentating my sexual activity.
I feel like these are really different things! If you're playing in public, you should probably be okay with being looked at. Being non-consensually touched is unacceptable and something that clear guidelines, good DMs, strong community backup and swift responses should prevent. Gender policing does not prevent assault. As far as comments go, I think having guidelines like "don't interrupt a scene", "don't question anyone's gender" etc would be more useful than gender policing.

I agree that it's complicated and difficult. And that some kind of framing is needed -- because specificity is sexy, if anything -- but I think you can advertise an event by its values and intentions (which may be focused on respecting sex and gender identities) rather than restrict participants by sex and gender (which as your friend experienced, can mean how your sex and gender is read by one door person).

Quote:
you don’t get to say you’re attracted to women when you’re only attracted to people assigned female at birth, or gender-normative women, or women with cunts.
I don't say things like "I'm into women, but not women with Southern Cross tattoos, or who are members of the police force or armed services, or who vote conservative and hate sex-workers", although that would be more factually accurate perhaps.
Of course. Obviously we all have heaps of preferences other than gender. But having a cunt is pretty different from having a Southern Cross tattoo in that it's widely associated with (or mistaken for) gender.
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0 #3 Ali 2010-08-19 10:12
Bad experience: attending a play party advertised as being for "women, trans, genderqueer & intersex" and having my friend who is intersexed questioned repeatedly about his right to be in the space. If the invitation hadn't specifically invited intersexed people, he wouldn't have chosen to come. As the invitation specified intersex people, I thought it was extremely shortsighted of the organisers to assume that meant only a 'certain kind' of intersex person, ie one that somehow the organisers would magically be able to read as intersex. It was also pretty rude of them to keep up the questioning once he'd outed himself to them.

I think that the tensions of safety/comfort/ sexyness and inclusivity are interesting at sex & play parties. I attend a lot of them. I've had enough bad experiences in mixed/pan play spaces to have absolutely no interest in playing in spaces that have large numbers of cisgendered, non-queer men present. It's a matter of safety and also of sexiness- I find it impossible to feel safe enough to feel sexy enough to get it on in an environment with a lot of men who view me (femme-presenti ng) as available for looking at, leering at, wanking at, groping, or commentating my sexual activity.

But, I do sometimes play at parties where there are people present who fit the cis non-queer male category. The difference is that those parties are carefully curated, with the numbers deliberately skewed by invitation lists so that they don't dominate the numbers in the crowd, and the people invited being screened and the space policed so that safety & sexiness can reign. Those parties tend to be private and difficult to find.

If you're going to put on a public rather than private play party, and you want it to be for the benefit of women's, queers &/or transpeople's sexual expressions, you're going to have to come up with SOME limitation on who's invited and SOME wording that sets itself up to exclude some people while including others. I don't think anyone's found a perfect/ideal way to do that yet. Our gender identity categories aren't neatly delineated, and that's awesome even if it does mean some awkward wording on play party invites.

"Queer" play parties can be one solution, but I think they sidestep the issue slightly- just cos I can enjoy a queer sex party doesn't mean there aren't legitimate needs and desires for gender-specific play parties. And "dyke-identifie d" doesn't really work as a replacement for 'women's and trans' play parties cos loads of people who go to those don't identify themselves or their sexual activities as 'dyke' in any way.

It's complicated, yes, and who is included/exclud ed/feels safe/feels unsafe is ferociously tricky territory to negotiate. I'd argue that the only solution is for there to be lots & lots of play parties with lots & lots of different invite policies, but there aren't so many places with populations big enough to sustain that ideal. In the meantime, we forge forward with our awkward, generally-since re-even-if-they -sound-half-hea rted invite policies.

I take some issue with this bit of your article:
"So maybe I can accept each person’s sexuality is what it is. But maybe you don’t get to call yourself whatever it is that you call yourself, if it’s inaccurate – you don’t get to say you’re attracted to women when you’re only attracted to people assigned female at birth, or gender-normativ e women, or women with cunts."
I can kind of get where you're coming from, but I think that's a ridiculous statement. I'm pretty sure I get to say that I'm into women without needing to be into every woman on the face of the planet. I don't say things like "I'm into women, but not women with Southern Cross tattoos, or who are members of the police force or armed services, or who vote conservative and hate sex-workers", although that would be more factually accurate perhaps. "I'm into women" is a general declaration of personal preference- the negotiation about whether any particular given woman fits into that preference is one for the interested parties to engage in, not for anyone else to police, I reckon.
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0 #2 Jo Latham 2010-08-18 01:57
I don't know about this: "activist groups being exclusive, based not on identity but on experience and position" - my experience is that they're exclusive based on identity.

good call on "it's more harmful to try to change your sexual orientation" with "you don’t get to say you’re attracted to women when you’re only attracted to people assigned female at birth, or gender-normativ e women, or women with cunts."

also this: "even if I’m personally unwelcome for other reasons" - politically unastute reasons are the worst.
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0 #1 Emma 2010-08-17 02:41
oh, to have diversity on the London scene to provoke conversations relating to this article! We have queer space, pansexual space and (soon to be) female dominated space and, briefly a women only space (which excluded trans women) but since the demise of the only club that welcomed 'women who live full time as women and FtM and intersex people who feel they still have a link to the womens/dyke community' there hasn't been, to my knowledge, a space free of (for want of a better phrase) cis men that welcomed trans people and female bodied genderqueers.

For me, the crux is that i won't play in an environment where my actions might be used as w*nk fodder by a non queer cis bloke. I'm lucky enough to have found a space where i can play with the faggy trans guys i know who are comfortable with my faggy masculine energy, but....

Maybe i'm a minority within a minority - a butch married to a power femme who has close friends who are transmen and wants a space that's inclusive for my trans male friends who have dyke identified partners, where they can play openly without having some cis guy come up straight after a scene and say 'hey, are you a man or a woman?'
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