As a parent, a day-gigging child health policy specialist, and a night-gigging radical lefty former academic, I enjoyed this piece on how to reject the politicization and moralization of children.
With innocence as its baseline, the liberal idea of children seeks to make natural (but also to moralize) a property relation between child and parent. “Innocence” is code for powerless — a way to fetishize the child as both dependent and sub-human. This idea of the child is indistinct from private property.
This new reading understands anti-abortion activists as relying on the fetus as property. Politics: Jeff Sessions talks about refugee migrants “smuggling” their kids across the boarder like the kids are fucking Cuban cigars. Economics and social policy: children are a commodity we must (or must not) invest in. Children up for adoption incur varying fees according to their race. Gender theory: The moralizing, commodified ideology of children’s “innocence” helps us recognize that innocence‘s common opposite, sexual experience, is just as pervasively commodified–with crucial gender differences.
The article proposes shifting to thinking about children as people needing care. But adults need care too. When I was leaving academia these concepts of vulnerability and care as helpful theoretical constructs were emerging, and they helped me conceive of mental illness as vulnerability that would give people agency within all the contemporary pressures of late capitalism and the shift of all resources up to the .5%. Conceiving of subjectivity in terms of vulnerability and care is 5000000% the way to heal the damage wrought by individualist conceptions of the liberal subject (conceptions which have their apogee in our current presidential regime, so we can see their damage in a very non-abstract, non-theoretical way.)
Start with children and extend outward so that all people are individuals that need care. This helps us shift out of a capitalist model of our world of makers/takers, consumers/producers, usses/thems, people with willpower/moral failures. Instead, we can envision a world in which an individual is constructed by their network of caregiving and care-receiving.
We can think of families seeking refugee status as people needing care, not thieves of our resources. We can think of kids with behavior problems in school as people needing care, not as monsters disrupting the learning environment of the future cube-farm kids who actually deserve to learn. We can think of Medicaid members as individuals whose health care we are proud to pay for, rather than as leeches on the system paid for by people more deserving of care because they earn enough to pay taxes or were born here.
This kind of social/intellectual/theoretical change to the way we conceive of ourselves and our society may take some work, but increasing activism by people with disabilities, as well as people with non-normative genders and sexualities is pushing us closer.
However, as Judith Butler taught me, we all build our identities to accommodate the norms that surround us, even when those norms oppress us.
4 trans men–75% of whom are many years fully transitioned–discuss in print their experiences of having a gender in public. The article generates some interesting questions about gender & power and is adequately attentive to racial and gender justice ideals. Most of the interviewees were very aware of gender/power norms, having tightroped them their whole lives. We must believe how people represent themselves! These guys know what’s up! Still, I whiffed an occasional intrusion of a certain smell…that musk of male privilege.
People ask if being a man made me more successful in my career. My answer is yes — but not for the reason you might think. As a man, I was finally comfortable in my own skin and that made me more confident. At work I noticed I was more direct: getting to the point, not apologizing before I said anything or tiptoeing around and trying to be delicate like I used to do. In meetings, I was more outspoken. I stopped posing my thoughts as questions. I’d say what I meant and what I wanted to happen instead of dropping hints and hoping people would read between the lines and pick up on what I really wanted. I was no longer shy about stating my opinions or defending my work. When I gave presentations I was brighter, funnier, more engaging. Not because I was a man. Because I was happy.
Did the happiness of finally occupying the right body generate this man’s normative masculine workplace behaviors? Was it his transmasculineness? Or was it his highly dudely workplace? How long does it take to internalize and habituate to normy masculinity? Do such behaviors in fact arise from an abiding satisfaction in one’s gender identity or do they arise from social validation exclusive to certain bodies? I’m no TERF. Gender identity mystifies me. I celebrate all the ways people occupy such whacked out space. But do women–broadly and inclusively defined–become more direct at work when they’re happier about their gender presentation? Social science and personal experience issue a resounding hell naw.
Still, I’m grateful for all the activists that have been working to build us a better world, including these brave trans men who published their photos, names, and stories in a major national newspaper. That Washington Post article would not have been published even ten years ago. We have to remember these victories.