This series of posts is based on an interview conducted with Romy Lynn Attieh. The interview was conducted for a paper that Romy wrote entitled: “Exploring Kinship and Gender in the Return Narratives of Transnational Adoptees Born in Lebanon” for a class with Dr. Rosemary Sayegh called “Oral History and Gender”, in the Anthropology department at AUB. The first entry to the series can be found here: [link to entry].
RL: I want to know, for you, how has your perspective on gender constructs shifted and changed since you’ve been here? Personally and just general observations as well. You own experiences, your own observations…I know it is thick but…
DD: No, I think about it a lot. It’s difficult because you end up going into “what if” territory. What if I had grown up here? What if I had been here my whole life? [What is most strikingly different between the two places in terms of this question?] [For one example,] I remember growing up in the States and all of the things that I was interested in were not considered things that boys did or things that guys did. To be interested in music, or theater [, or art], or any of these things [was made obviously “taboo”]. To NOT be interested in sports (CHUCKLES). One of the things that struck me as I integrated myself more and more into my neighborhood, was the fluidity of [what is allowed to define one’s gender]. I’m not saying…it’s as macho an environment as you can find. But it’s mushy on the inside it’s not hard all the way through.
In the States, you know, words get thrown at you at the age of five that you don’t even know what they mean. But it’s based on perceived gender roles or gender stereotypes that at the age of five you’re not acting “like a boy”. What does that even mean? Whereas here I have never [sensed this perception] in any of those things that I like to do whether it be art or the idea of being interested in music or theater or any of these things. It is not met with the same (PAUSE), what’s the word, rejection, there’s a place for it. And you know, it seems weird to even talk about it because it feels normal here to me [compared to the aberration it always seemed to be in the States]. It’s kind of, it’s not a fixed binary where you slot in or you don’t. It’s kind of a grey scale where you are somewhere on there, and there’s an allowance for that. And this I appreciate.
It becomes, I don’t even notice it sometimes, until I go back to the States when, all of a sudden, I realize how stifling that environment is, especially for children (PAUSE). But it gets me thinking because there’s a lot of talk among adoptees, words come up like emasculation, and this ties into Orientalism and racism and the idea of the white man emasculating the brown or the black man. Frantz Fanon talks about this and I find his discussion of it to be very interesting. Because when you grow up, by virtue of adoption (PAUSE)—”emasculated”—meaning you’re never going to be in that [accepted] position [societally speaking and in terms of the given system/patriarchy what it means to be “male”].
How does that affect you? And how might you have been affected differently had you grown up in your environment, in the place where you were born where this doesn’t exist [in a similar way]? I try to look at it purely in terms of (PAUSE) current economic and political systems [and less in terms of individual psychology]; a climate that has existed for the past few centuries where the white man, for lack of a better term, you can say [European man, or] Anglo-Saxon man is dominant in terms of economic systems and political systems and is trying to impose this on the planet.
But this comes with a lot of heavy, what’s the word, baggage and imposition. We don’t see it. [For example], when we realize that [Lebanese] laws on our books concerning [the illegality of] homosexuality come from the French, they don’t come from the Ottoman Turks [for example, you start to see this Orientalist fear of “sensuality” and behavior among men locally; the “homosociality” or “male camaraderie” that is not the same as in Europe or the Anglo-American realm]. Same thing in Africa, Africa is going through this as well, in terms of [“Western” definitions of] sexuality. I am much more comfortable in a place that is not trying to force me into a strict binary. It’s there, don’t get me wrong, but it’s flexible. It was like what I was saying before, a woman understands, excuse me from talking this way, but a woman understands her role [as it is defined for her] in Lebanon [but there is an understanding that this is perceptual, on the level of facade, often quite different from lived reality].
But [there is a contradiction also here in that] I also believe that some of the strongest people I know happen to be women. The ability to push and change that space doesn’t revolutionize it, doesn’t turn it on its head, but that ability to push where it becomes [an unlabeled] “feminism” [is more present here I feel, contrary to how this place is defined by the “West”]—what has happened to feminism in the States? I don’t even know, I don’t recognize it, it’s about, it’s almost the reverse. It’s about being comfortable with the space that someone has—, the circle that someone has drawn for you to stand in, and you [simply] define it in a different way [and call this empowerment].
I mean I know so many more cases here of women, we know all the horrible cases of domestic violence and everything that women suffer here. I am not trying to say this place is better, I am not doing any of [that kind of relativism], what I’m saying is I’m aware of women asserting themselves in ways that flabbergast me. I was just like, “this woman, if this were the States, she would have her head handed to her. You can’t do this kind of thing [there]”. There is an allowance I guess, a flexibility is what I’m trying to say.
In my activism, or in [these sites of resistance, women are much more present and acknowledged than similarly “empowered” women in the “West”]…It depends a lot on the community too. What is expected of a woman and what is allowed for a woman, ironically it’s not what we expect. And ironically adoptees that come back and we think that our natural allies would be the community of our orphanage and this is not the case. This also happens to be the community which I think (TAKES DEEP BREATH) the woman’s role is much more clearly defined.
How to put this (?), okay I am just going to say it straight out, in the “boojy” upper classes of Lebanon women are much more strictly defined as to their roles and much more clearly told to remain within those roles than what are stereotypically seen as much more repressive environments, [for example the working class or] talk[ing] about Islam…Especially in the South or outside of the cosmopolitan centers. The perceived image and the actual lived experience are completely different things. And I am so glad to reject the community [and class] of the charitable organizations.
And this [awareness] started since the moment I came back. [For example] one of the, the mother superior of the orphanage died, and S. and I went up to go to the mass for her funeral, before her funeral. And the core family and community members were seated in the center of the church, and out on the side were the workers and most of them were Muslim men and Syrians. We walked into the center of the church and we were instead ushered to the side. And I sat there and I immediately, I was like “S. I am going to walk out this isn’t right. We’re a part of this crèche, we’re part of this family”.
She was like, “don’t make a scene in the church” [whereas I can imagine local women vocally making a scene here]. But it was at that moment I realized that we were basically detritus, we were to be exported and never to be seen again and it was a huge problem for us to come back; [that we were categorized with others seen as “detritus” as well]. And this is in stark contrast to (PAUSE) those of a different class and those of a different religion who have a different idea of adoption first of all but also a different idea of the place of the orphan in society in general and what society owes that child and (PAUSE) a different sense of community.
And so…someone, an adoptee online was asked the question: “Are we able to move on?” I said, “I don’t know if I’ve moved on, I’ve moved down and I’ve moved out, but I haven’t moved on yet”. It’ll come, you know, it’s come at a cost. It costs you your job, it costs you your status, it costs you your privilege as a foreigner, you don’t have this anymore. When this is made clear to me [for example] when you don’t pull these cards out [or exclaim this privilege], like when I went through a checkpoint and it didn’t occur to me to say, “I’m a goddamn professor you don’t have the right to treat me this way”. That’s when it really scared me, [concerning] the perception of me of belonging or not belonging based on class. Does that make sense?
RL: Like cultural capital too.
DD: Exactly. Their perception of me [at this checkpoint] at first was that I wasn’t Lebanese so they stopped me. And then when I explained I was Lebanese and they wanted to know all those sectarian questions: “Where is your family from? [etc.]” And I kept trying to explain I don’t know my family because I’m adopted. And then I didn’t understand one word and they gave me the benefit of the doubt of being Lebanese: “You speak Arabic so you’re [obviously] Lebanese.” Then it turns into such a mind-warping thing that, you know, I’m standing there talking to them and then do I thank them for acknowledging me as co-citizen? What do I do with this [ping-ponging of acceptance based on vagaries of perception]? And then it is also scary that the class acculturation that we come back with that lets us live an expatriate lifestyle, when you give this up you give up your right to [hold sway over others]…
This brings us back to gender because you know the difference between me and the men in the neighborhood, they have their wasta [accrued “ins” and “connections”] they have their connections, when something happens they’re on the phone and they talk to a general an abaday [powerful man], or I don’t know who and wheels move and things [get done]…Sometimes I think of myself at 50 years of age as being like a ten-year-old boy again. I’m [still] in the care of people. I have my connections if I needed wasta I could call and make a few [wheels move if I needed to]…I could get pretty high up the ladder if I needed to [within certain communities here].
But I don’t have the pull of a political party, I don’t have the pull of sect in certain circumstances and certain places. Some places it works to my advantage, some places to my great disadvantage [such as the university where I worked]. Going back to what we were saying about a kind of emasculation, it bothers me on some level, whereas I realize what is expected of me, getting married having children the whole thing. But at the same time, it’s not overt. It’s not, how to put it, I don’t sense it unless I’m thinking about it [; it’s not used as a weapon against me].
Something happened to one of the chabaab and I realized there was nothing I could do, I couldn’t call somebody. He [was in an accident] he hit someone on his motorscooter, and it ended up being the daughter of a general or I don’t know who. And he was waiting down in Karanteena and everyone was upset and the party chiefs of the neighborhood, in their own due time, you know, get on the phone making sure everyone knows how important they are. But I realize I didn’t have this, I have it in different areas but I don’t have the social capital that comes from being Lebanese [of a certain class], if you wanna call it that. [All the same, this does not deny my potential along these lines; this does not call into question the benefit of the doubt afforded me here along these lines that went missing my whole life in the States.]
RL: Can we go back to the term emasculation…
DD: I hate this term. I use it because…Finish your question….
RL: Can you tell me how you understand emasculation and what you mean by it?
DD: Yes absolutely.
RL: And then you said in the context of adoptees there is this notion of emasculation. What do you mean in the context, do you talk about it overtly, or does it come up in terms of your own interpretation of what is going on?
DD: When I use this word I tend to use it in terms that Frantz Fanon might have spoken of it. The idea that, (PAUSE) the brown or black male body is seen as competition, usually sexual competition, that needs to be broken. And it’s broken in very particular ways by, you know, the subservience of slavery or servitude or colonialism or [the denigration of] Orientalism, all of this has to do with [a need to sexually eliminate and then further bodily eliminate a perceived competitor]…It’s very complicated because on the one hand you have the emasculation that comes from [the era of] slavery [in which such slaves were feared based on their sexual potential]. Orientalism gives you a different kind of emasculation because it is based on a sense of men who are more sensual or more [stereotypically] “womanly” or more “emotional” and so it’s, all of these are, again, perceived to be female traits, off-the-bat negative, applied to the men of the [dominated] place [by those dominating].
So there is that [need to categorize such foreign men as “less than”]. When I talk about it I mean to say as an adoptee you are brought into the class structure [of the adoptive society] but you don’t have the genealogy, you don’t have all of the things that make, for want of a better way of saying this, that make a man [in that society]. What is a man in Anglo-Saxon society? [Someone who might be able to say] “I can trace my ancestors to the Mayflower, [I’ve married a] Daughter of the American Revolution, [we go back to the] Founding Fathers”, we talk this way in the States. This isn’t something that, I don’t think, how to put this, I don’t know how much this has been discussed in terms of written academic treatises.
When it is brought up in adoptee circles, it’s often spoken of only among women because men are less likely to be found online talking about their emotions. Again, going back to an acculturation, which says we don’t show our emotions, we don’t open up. To open up is to admit that you are weak, that you need help. It explains to me why in Scandinavian countries the number one cause of death for Korean [male] adoptees in those countries is suicide. There’s no fitting into the given patriarchy.
So when we talk gender we, I sometimes feel like we forget that the given is patriarchy and it is gendered in that way and too, that patriarchy doesn’t allow for grafting, doesn’t allow for putting the branch up in the tree and pretending like it’s a living branch. It’s not. So when we are adopted into Anglo-Saxon culture, the rules don’t change. The mythology changes but the rules haven’t changed. And I can’t help but think that we are [internally] aware of this on some level. That…
RL: We the…
DD: We adoptees. And especially I remember when it came up on Transracial Eyes I remember someone asked the question: “Why aren’t there more male adoptees online?” And I just hinted at it, I hinted: I said, “I think it has to do with a kind of emasculation, but I’ll let other people speak first”. And immediately: “yes, yes, yes, yes”….a sense that you are, to be adopted is [in and of itself to be] “lesser than”. In a gender respect, as well as in terms of masculinity.
First and foremost, I want to state for the record the inherent danger in this kind of discussion of seeming to acknowledge what is determined for us in terms of stereotypical gender roles. By this I mean to say that it ends up seeming as if we agree with dominant modes of “normalcy” or “normative” behavior by simply speaking factually about how society works systemically. As such, when I use terms like “emasculation”, I do so as in terms of imposing and dominating modes and methods, and not in terms of accepting such concepts as being valid in and of themselves.
This needed preface in and of itself reveals a paradox for the adoptee such that to discuss this subject is to call into question the gendered space one has managed to carve out for oneself. By this I mean to say that for an adoptee to speak of his or her place in adoptive society in an obviously demeaning or degrading sense is to actuate or make real the placement of oneself further down this societal ladder. In a discussion on the absence of male voices in the online adoption realm over at Transracial Eyes [link to discussion], Girl4708 points out that the men discussing this subject happen to often be academics, since this allows them to “preserve” for themselves their societal standing in terms of gender; it is an allowed “remove”.
I, too, feel enabled to discuss this topic not as an academic preserving his standing, but as someone who has left this structuring paradigm completely behind, and whose former class status has, in most respects, been stripped away. As such, I don’t have much more to lose. I’ve been putting thoughts out there on the subject from time to time at TRE that start to get into what I want to elaborate on, and I’m going to borrow from them a bit, but in order to foreground these discussions I’ll place their links up front here: “How has/Has being a transracial adoptee affected your sexuality?” [link to discussion]; “And why not suicide?” [link to discussion]; “Gender issues for rematriating adoptees.” [link to discussion]; I will consider their reading to be obligatory before continuing with this post.
To start off, I think it is important to stress on the fact that whereas as children growing up transracially adopted in the States we might not be implicitly aware of sexuality per se, we are often extremely aware of gender-based expectations that hint at aspects of sex and sexuality that go unspoken. This is wholly outside of how gender roles are enforced, maintained, or determined, which is a separate discussion. I want to focus on the awareness of what “flies” and what “doesn’t fly” in terms of our societal education, and the inherent contradictions and hypocrisies thereof.
I make allusion in the above interview to the name-calling and bullying that takes place in a school or neighborhood setting, such that words like “fem”, “fag”, “fairy” (what I recall from kindergarten on) are slung around and absorbed without an awareness of their implication, but with an overstressed awareness of the obvious need to avoid being the target of such epithets. This is where I find that most discussions I see online of bullying—especially as concerns adopted children—break down, because the “bully” as an archetype if you will is, in fact, a desirable and rewarded trait within American society. Furthermore, bullied children, in order to protect themselves, often turn around and do the same thing, depending on where they stand in the “pecking order”.
And so in retrospect I want to say that we all knew who were the “good girls” and the “bad girls” (and why); and we all knew who were the “good boys” and the “bad boys” (and why); and this long before we had any sense of the future societal roles we were being groomed for at such an early age, or what those implied roles meant in terms of their sexual or sexualized nature, or the direct contradictions that existed between behavior (often seen as negative, especially in a religious school environment) and rewards for that behavior.
Furthermore, many of us know what it means to choose our circles of camaraderie, as opposed to what it means to have those circles be the result of an “expulsion” from others who have this will and agency. This grooming and grouping ranged from our play habits in pre-school and kindergarten to the gendered nature of things such as intelligence, or ability to play sports, or being of use to school faculty or administration.
Before getting into the particulars of this as actually experienced, I think it is important to bring forward a way of speaking of such things that takes into consideration our places of acculturation as opposed to our places of birth. In a paper I wrote on Islamophobia and adoption, I attempted to elaborate this difference in a way that does not Orientalize or diminish or, on the other hand, romanticize the place we might return to, but which attempts to do away with the notion of a “universal” way of looking at the world(s) we live in. When I speak of not sensing similar “rejection” in the place of my return, or, on the other hand, noticing a greater fluidity of gender roles here, I feel the need to explain further. Quoting from my paper:
To further elaborate is the critical failure found within accusations that the Qur’an “bans” adoption, or that adoption “does not exist” within Islamic society. The imposed interpretation here is derived from a false binary which is of the culture so interpreting. A more nuanced critique would focus on the difference between what is allowed and actual cultural practice; whether such expressed allowances correlate with said practices or contradict them; whether this is considered internally hypocritical and/or dissonant or not; and what frictions this disparity or lack thereof causes in a given society as viewed from within.
It is, in terms of this discussion, like a Venn diagram of, on the one hand, expressed proscriptions (what is banned) and, on the other, understood allowances concerning guardianship or adoption. The outsets (of the Venn diagram) form the binary expression of these, shaped by internal and external pressures, incentives, and invocations. The overlapping subset reveals the much more gray and muddled actual lived experience, nonetheless legitimate.
In the spectrum of what might range from utopian (a completely overlapping set) to dystopian (completely binary subsets with no overlap) we can fairly place most variations of what me might describe as “adoption”. More importantly, we can see that there may be extreme contradictions between the expressed proscription or allowance as compared to lived experiences which are, again, nonetheless understood as valid despite such contradictions. [emphasis mine]
This Venn diagram I believe works with much of what I have been discussing these past days with the posts I’ve put up. Our place of acculturation enforces strict binaries, whether in terms of gender, race, or class, and the gray area is less apparent. I would like to add to this now, and say that the “gray area” is more or less apparent based on class status. Such that the working classes or nether classes express much more in the way of overlap/gray area than do the bourgeois classes who dominate and impose a strict, binaried worldview on others.
This worldview is thus expressed toward anything that does not “fit” the model, even if the targets of this “correction” do not understand the need for, nor the implications of, that correction to begin with. If I give this any thought at all, I am left trying to imagine what it means to experience a life in which a literary work such as Lord of the Flies is ignores how it in fact describes the norm, and not the result of a societal or civilizational breakdown; a kind of accepted social Darwinism. Beyond this, I’m now left to wonder what it means that a culture can so calmly and without wonderment produce such a literary work in the first place.
Along these lines, one of our discussions at TRE focused on this idea of the “painted bird” [link to discussion]. I had found an article concerning a transracial adoptee who was tormented in school:
Terry Clarke said he thought his daughter might catch some grief over being a University of Louisville fan. He said he never thought her race would be an issue. But Milena describes the treatment she has received from teammates as “awful.” She said it began in seventh grade, after she played her sixth grade season without incident.
“I was called a ‘chubby chink,’” Milena said. “They would say, ‘you are a slow Asian, you shouldn’t be playing.’ They would call me a ‘gook,’ and I had to look that up. I didn’t know what that meant.”
In an interview with WDRB, Milena described racially motivated harassment in basketball practice, in the classroom, in school hallways and the cafeteria. She said she took her complaints to coaches, who initially told her that she needed to “take it,” and to “be a leader.” In fact, the complaint states that these admonitions were delivered in front of her alleged harassers “in what appears to be a tactic to embarrass Milena and discourage her future reporting.” Eventually, teammates would make fun of her Russian Orthodox religion, and coaches would tell her not to pray in her native Russian tongue, which she and her parents took pains for her to learn to give her an appreciation of her native culture.
When she played with an AAU team in nearby Huntington, W.Va., she said her problems worsened. Some members of that team, including some African Americans, came to watch her play in the Russell gym. Milena alleges that her teammates’ attitude toward her hardened, and she was the subject of ridicule that included the N-word and suggestive taunts.
Beyond my horror that this still takes place, I am astounded by the amount of “binaries” involved, and how they overlap with other societal strictures beyond any rational logic other than destroying what lies across from the preferred side of the binary: Male/female (in terms of “manning up”); American/foreign; Christian/Orthodox; normal/fat-slow; capitalist/communist; English/Russian; All-American/black.
My parents too wanted me to “know my culture”, and I also remember not wanting to draw attention to it in any way, out of fear of such backlash; of being the “painted bird”. These binaries, it need be pointed out, exist based on still prevalent notions of a supreme white man being the pinnacle of society. Reading a book such as Grammar and Gender by Dennis Baron reveals that for centuries, the English language was emphatically gendered in terms of analysis in an effort to correlate it with Eve’s being “of” man; and this despite the less-obviously diminutive gendered nature of the roots of English.
So this binary worldview starts with a destructive view toward women. It then takes into account race, sexuality, abled-ness, and the like. This is readily made aware to us by the various civil rights movements that have grown in power in an effort to counter these binary strictures, starting with the suffragist/women’s rights movements, up to and including every other battle for civil rights that we have experienced in recent decades.
All of this is quite obvious, and restating it this way sounds quite redundant, if not silly. But I’d like to move beyond this if I may. In “Problems of the Adoption Discourse” [link to post] I frame it as follows:
The problem with these days and months–such as National Adoption Month–within American culture is that they are not, in fact, meant to focus attention on those in the minority; they are instead meant to further marginalize those who are outside of the dominant American cultural framework. This means that Black History Month is not a focus, but a marginalization, a sign that “Black history” is somehow still not assimilated into so-called American history. Unfortunately, ethnic studies and other foci on narratives from those who are marginalized do not in fact expand on or create this enlarged history; they instead point up the failed “melting pot” or “beautiful mosaic” or “rainbow coalition” of American society; they only further the dispossession of the Other that is the ultimate goal of Anglo-Saxon culture.
Giorgio Agamben, in his book Homo Sacer (Sacred Man), summarizes the philosophical debate on this subject as to how people are viewed in terms of who is given validity by the State (the polis) and who isn’t (those who simply maintain zoë, or “bare life”). Hamid Dabashi, in his book Islamic Liberation Theology, takes this one step further, moving beyond Agamben’s inability to come up with a valid praxis concerning this inequality:
The entire function of Orientalism, and by extension Islamic Studies, or Chinese Studies, Indian Studies, Iranian Studies, etc., is nothing but “to explain” the foreignness of these languages and cultures to their “Western” readers. To explain something is ipso facto to constitute its foreignness, and thus by definition point to the quintessential inexplicability of the phenomenon in its own terms–and thus to constitute the foreign as the enemy and the enemy as the foreigner, as he who does not speak one’s language (literally, “the barbarian”), the enemy who speaks a foreign, estrange, and thus dangerous language, and thus acts in a strange and inexplicable manner, and is thus in need of a native informer (Fouad Ajami) or an Orientalist (Bernard Lewis) to explain him/her, and is thus outside the form of the political [polis] squarely in the realm of zoë or bare life. The singular function of Orientalism over the last 200 years has been nothing but to constitute the “Orient” as the enemy of “the West” by trying to understand and explain it–the same holds true for all Area Studies fields. They make strange and thus constitute as the enemy that which they seek to explain and make understood.
Beyond Ethnic Studies we might easily add Queer Studies, Women’s Studies, etc. Here the point is that this alienation within a dominant culture fits into a functional aspect of that culture that seeks not to focus on or bring forward such studies and their represented minorities, but to eradicate their agents–the “constituted enemy”; not to bring attention to minority groups, but to co-opt and, ultimately and ideally, destroy them. In order to understand the scope of such destruction (literally or via incorporation), it will be necessary to refocus attention on dominant and dominated populations, in economic and political terms both inside and outside of the dominant culture, as well as the methods used for such destruction.
Adoptees, whether domestic or international, have been displaced; dispossessed; disinherited. They share with others in this realm of the zoë the nether-class citizen designation that is exacerbated and not denied by their adoption into the dominant bourgeois class. Such that when they speak up and out about their condition, they are told to “get over it”, or “be thankful instead”, or that they should “be happy” with their lives. No doubt this rings true to descendents of slaves, to those living in the shadow of the decimation of indigenous populations in the Americas and elsewhere, as well as slave-labor immigrants.
The problem for adoptees arguing about their position in society is similar to what has been experienced previously by other marginalized groups looking to make a space within the hegemonic culture. Namely, how to expand out from what is considered simply a personal issue; an individual hang-up; a “selfish” focus on one’s condition. The individualistic and solipsistic dominant culture ironically turns around and tells its absconded-with children to not be so “selfish” as to complain. In other terms, this was used against other groups as well–“don’t be ‘uppity’”; “know your role”. We should literally be seen and not heard.
I’d like to expand on this in terms of what likewise has been discussed here in terms of those who allow themselves to be co-opted by this system bent on destroying them. I’ve used terms that reflect this notion historically speaking, such as Uncle Tom, house slave, kowtower, comprador, drinkers of the Kool-Aid, those in the fog, colonized minds. This is of course borrowing from various liberation movements against colonialism, capitalism, and other societal oppressions.
Dabashi is alluding to the fact that the same society that slates us for destruction if we fall outside of its binary worldview similarly allows our anti-hegemonic expression if we accept the acceptance of our ultimate destruction, or if we trade this in for entry into the dominant class ideology. The only metaphor that comes to mind when I state this is one in which cows, on their way into the slaughterhouse, are “comforted” in terms of their environment, and this whether or not they are aware of their ultimate fate as determined by the system they find themselves wholly within.
Coming back to gender and class, we can see the expectation of our place of acculturation is not universal, but is extremely constricted by class definition. The polis, as it were, reflects the strict binary viewpoint as defined above, whereas this might in fact be contradicted within other segments of society, and this having to do with class level. Some examples to illustrate this might include the notion of a tailor, which is a valid trade for a male within certain nether segments of society, but which is extremely gendered to the point of “emasculation” in this target binary, where he becomes, say, a “fashion designer”, with all of the stereotypical baggage that comes with such a designation.
Rosie the Riveter gives us another aspect of this, as do certain trades having to do with societal learning, such as teachers or librarians. Locally speaking, it is interesting to me when I find a cab driver who happens to be female, a seeming contradiction of what is seen as “man’s work”. For the nether classes, she works without interference. On the bourgeois level, however, we see the creation of “entrepreneurial” pink cabs that attempt to address a “sexism” that is categorized as “of” “uncultured” society, but which they in fact create by stressing on the binary of it.
In stark contrast is the perceived anti-hegemonic discourse of much in the way of post-modern theory, which, in reality, simply shores up such hegemony, while providing entrance into society for its purveyors who refuse to give up their class status—our academic remove from society as discussed earlier, as opposed to an actual “stepping down” in terms of class position.
My question is thus: When such binaries are imposed on children in terms of perceived identity, long before they even evoke themselves as understanding of behavior much less behavior at all, what are the effects? How does this relate to a “slaughterhouse” evolution from “he acts like a girl” (for example) to “he is a girl” (for all intents and purposes), and this as still defined within the binary stricture and the society that imposes it? Along the lines discussed here concerning this forced binary, and beyond that the “allowance of the allowance” for such behavior (as long as the ensuing “demotion” of self is acknowledged and profited from), is revealed further binary breakdowns between, say, the “metrosexual” (as a subset of bourgeois cosmopolitan heterosexual males) and the “bisexual” (attempting to “fit in/not fit in” to heteronormative behavior). Finally, how does this binary imposition find itself fixed and immutable, despite obvious axes of context, or time?
The first attempts at answering such a question require that we separate out identity from behavior. In this light, we see again a class difference, in terms of, say, “being out” (and having the luxury and privilege to be so) and being “on the down low”, with the latter providing much in the way of fodder for further categorizations of a class-based nature in terms of the power differential found in pornography; racist food metaphors (“rice” or “hommous” queens) that define “taste” in men; etc. Here we see an internal binary within a putatively marginalized group that resonates with and reflects up to/mimics the racist, misogynist, classist culture imposing this binary in the first place.
Bringing this to the place of my return, I would quote here Joseph Massad, from his book Desiring Arabs, which gives us a historical overview of the subject and starts to define a point of departure for a valid discussion of it in terms of class difference:
It is not the Gay International or its upper-class supporters in the Arab diaspora who will be persecuted, but rather the poor and non-urban men who practice same-sex contact and who do not necessarily identify as homosexual or gay. The so-called passive homosexual whom the Gay International wants to defend against social denigration will find himself in a double bind: first, his sexual desires will be unfulfilled because he will no longer have access to his previously available sexual object choice (i.e., exclusively active partners, as in the interim they will have become heterosexual); and second, he will fall victim to legal and police persecution as well as heightened social denigration as his sexual practice becomes a topic of social discourse that transforms it from practice into an identity. When the Gay International incites discourse on homosexuality in the non-Western world, it claims that the “liberation” of those it defends lies in the balance. In espousing this liberation project, however, the Gay International is destroying social and sexual configurations of desire in the interest of reproducing a world in its own image, one wherein its sexual categories and desires are safe from being questioned.
I find this quote particularly instructive in light of a discussion I was part of in 2006, which Yasmin Nair summarizes succinctly here [link to article]:
All of these struggles over the status quo reinforce simplistic ideas about who gets to be ‘gay’ or ‘homo’ enough to warrant attention. A gay movement without an expansive notion of queer social justice is doomed to failure. The Iran fracas demonstrates that conservatives among us will always attempt to define our politics by a singular notion of gay and that only gay lives defined by sexual practice and identity are worth noting. If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If a lesbian goes through life without a partner, is she never a lesbian?
I return to this as a kind of stepping off point for something that I started to examine in terms of children “diagnosed” with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), which I described instead as “Resistance Against Domination” over at Transracial Eyes [link to post]:
From this I would be willing to state that race-similar children, not having the obvious physical “difference” to rely on—i.e., a kind of “safety valve” of obvious difference—might likewise go further in their “resistance” to the adoption, and against those they are compelled to “be like”. In such a light, RAD might better be stated as an acronym that stands for “Resistance Against Domination”, and should be categorized with similar resistances, and supported as such.
My expansion of this as a topic of psychology is likewise perhaps best referenced by a post I put up entitled “On “radical psychology” and adoption” [link to post]:
There is so much unsaid here [in this conversation between Angela Davis and Toni Morrison] that I think is important to bring forward. The importance of understanding histories of resistance in our own and other communities; the notion of “knowledge” as a possess-able, quantifiable, distibute-able, commodified entity; helping ourselves by helping others; the linking of the oral with written and archival traditions, etc. Most important perhaps is the idea of the systemic nature of our day-to-day, whether talking about a prison and its inmates, the town that survives based on [that prison’s] presence, the government that worked in collusion with corporate interests to establish it, and finally the racism, gender and sexual identification biases, as well as class warfare that support it all.
What I’m getting at here is that much in the way of psychological practice reflects further binary breakdowns suffered culturally speaking: Humankind from God; body from mind/spirit; mind from language; etc. As such, the focus is on us as atomized individuals, without taking into consideration this binaried worldview as defined so far, and the strict binaries our adoptive class might impose on us.
I remember when I first moved to my neighborhood, and I saw certain members thereof who reminded me of myself (and many of my excluded/outsider friends growing up), and I recall dreading a reaction against them that was to me, surprisingly at the time, not forthcoming; it was, in fact, a projection of my acculturation. There is, on the other hand, a reaction locally against the bourgeois, educated, and “foreign” NGOs that exist locally and actively promote as they claim “universal rights”, but I am convinced now that this is, again, determined by class realities in a resistant context more than in the context of the so-called rights they clamor for.
Is it possible to reframe the statement “a percentage of the population is inherently gay (or has RAD or has socialist tendencies or, or, or…)” and say instead: “a percentage of the population is inherently and adamantly opposed to a dominant status quo and will manifest this in terms of behavior”? From here, is it possible to say that of this percentage, some will go on to an “acceptance of their acceptance”; some will go on to end their own contradictory existence; some will go on to further impose binary categorizations on others? And as a logical conclusion of this, that some will also radically wonder what it would mean, the end of such hegemonic and defining categories?
A tree, unsheltered in a cove, grows leaning with the wind. Another tree grows in the opposite direction. Discussions are held concerning this other tree’s lean; its inherent nature; the need to chop it down; the hope that it will not “pass on” its tendency. Efforts are made to fix its growth; coerce it in another direction; force it against its will. Determination is later made that such growth is acceptable, and since it manifests itself among a minority of the population, is not a worry as compared to dominant modes of growth; it is destined to “die out”. Left wholly outside of the discussion is what might happen if the wind were to stop; if the tree were to find itself in another environment.
This is, I believe, the crux of what made for the movements championed by Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon, the Black Panthers, etc. The question then becomes, how has this “search for return” not manifested itself in terms of other civil rights activisms? Having returned, I feel I am coming to know what it means or would have meant had I grown up “elsewhere”, and this comes with much in the way of second-guessing of self, of identity, as well as regrets. At the same time, it comes with a renewed sense of resistance to the economical and political modes that give us adoption, and from adoption, the tragedy of adopted children reacting without knowing this is a reaction; resisting without the wherewithal to place this resistance; seeking answers individually speaking without understanding that the answers lie equally in their society and acculturation.
As the Palestinians say, “to exist is to resist”. As they might further say, I wish not to allow myself “an acceptance of an acceptance”. I will not tolerate being “tolerated”. Once my marginalization manifests anything that in and of itself shores up the very patriarchy and hegemonic status quo that brought about this marginalization in the first place, then this is no longer resistance, but compliance. The slaughterhouse entranceway has been rendered comfortable; I no longer wish to stand in line, discussing the inevitable binary choice of “mustard vs. ketchup”, and what that implies for our physical and psychological well-being.
I long for the logical conclusion of the hope for something that lies beyond the current status quo we suffer with. There has to be a way to break out of this, our current condition. This is expanded on in the next post, which is a repurposing of something I wrote in 2012 [link to next post] In a way it saddens me that not much has changed in my argument; I re-present it in the hopes that it might be helpful and expansive in terms of our discussions on the subject at hand.
The series entries:
On adoption, kinship, and gender. (I)
On adoption, kinship, and gender. (II)
On adoption, kinship, and gender. (III)
On adoption, kinship, and gender. (IV)
On adoption, kinship, and gender. (V)
On adoption, kinship, and gender. (V-postscript)
On adoption, kinship, and gender. (VI)
On adoption, kinship, and gender. (VII)