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๐ŸŒฑ Who's Afraid of Gender? | Colonial Fears Are Today's Fears

Part III: Indigenous Queer History & Resilience

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

Welcome Back! ๐Ÿ‘‹๐Ÿผ

I bring together indigenous cultural practices, a question posed to Judith Butler, and Benjamin Franklin's anti-trans rhetoric to talk about why the right-wing gender ideology is dominating and helping to spread fascism in the U.S. and abroad. Read on for more...

In Case You Missed It: Identity & Privilege through Indigenous Queer Wisdom

What You Can Expect
๐ŸŒต Who's Afraid of Gender?
โšง Gender's Threat to Colonialism
๐ŸŒฑ News with a Social Change Lens
๐ŸŒบ New A/B Testing on YouTube
๐Ÿ’ก Hollywood's Slowdown Explained

If you are in San Francisco, join Sister District to kickoff their 2024 candidates and meet Dallas Harris, Nevada Senator for District 11, on Saturday. It's a Pride fundraiser to help re-elect Dallas, a Black lesbian, so she can to continue to represent the people.

In the West, we often think of history as set and immovable. However, that misses the Western ideology of it all. In reality, much of our written history obscures the truth behind culture and histories, especially when the subjects are not considered white. The Americas are filled with misleading histories about societies who weren't allowed to tell their own stories.

Last week, I meant to take us back to the years when colonial domination met indigenous culture, but I ended up reflecting a lot more on whiteness in today's world. Particularly in relation to Indigenous and Latine people, the often overlooked brown people who go unseen in our society despite their labor helping to maintain society. The question I want to ruminate on today is why? Why is right-wing gender ideology resurfacing now? And why is whiteness so closely tied to gender fear?

Gender as Community Care

My partner surprised me with a date night to hear Judith Butler speak about their new book, Who's Afraid of Gender? last week. I'd already been deep in gender studies for this month's series, but this chat helped reframe some things for me and put the pieces together around why fascism and the right-wing are so stuck on gender right now. Before we get into what Judith said, let's hop in a time machine and chat with the founding fathers, because they think a lot like TERFs today!

When Europeans started coming over to Turtle Island (aka the Americas), they were already steeped in their gender ideology. People were carrying the trauma of centuries of religious wars, witch hunts, poverty, and cruelty with them on their journeys. When they arrived, they found matrilineal communities with shared reciprocity and respect for the earth. They also found that the people of Turtle Island had very different views on gender and sexuality. Indigenous communities like the Choctaw saw gender as dynamic, complementary, and infused with spiritual power.

Children were raised not as a certain gender, but as children. They could grow up and explore who they were and how they wanted to contribute to their communities before being labeled and treated as one gender. Through their development, children are supported throughout society and free to express and grow into their own gender expressions. Many grew up and discovered they were gender fluid and went on to serve various important roles in their community. We now refer to the blanket of indigenous people who identify as gender fluid as Two Spirit. Gender fluid people served many different central roles in indigenous societies including as medicine people, warriors, diplomats, caretakers, and in spiritual roles.

"In a lot of Native communities, the child would grow up and they'd be whoever they were... You're just loved and protected and nurtured when you grow up. That's freeing, and it's safe, and it's healthy."

โ€“ Arnold Dahl, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

Dinรฉ culture uses the word nadleeh for gender fluid people which means, "one in constant state of change." This speaks to the fluidity of how they identify, but also their role in society. Indigenous societies are communal and reciprocal. Nadleeh would often step into roles during times they were needed. Flexing and serving roles more fluidly helped strengthen the community. Two spirit folks served a central glue for the health of indigenous societies.

Gender's Threat to Colonialism

For colonial powers, the vibrancy of gender and sexuality in indigenous communities was a direct threat to their power, accumulation of wealth, and domination of the land. They rightly recognized the important role that gender fluid people played. Attacking gender was therefore not just an afterthought, but a direct genocidal strategy to eradicate indigenous communities. This is also known as gendercide.

Gender is also closely tied to the economics of capitalism. For capitalism to run smoothly, it needs to have a set of people doing unpaid labor. Women whether they are mothers or not are expected to perform a full jobs worth of unpaid labor throughout their life. Gender becomes an economic threat, when indigenous labor is based on reciprocity and need rather than accumulation and wealth.

To protect their new treasure (the land that they intended to steal), they used every mechanism to criminalize gender outside the colonial gender binary. Sodomy, criminalizing sexual acts that are deemed improper, was used by the Spaniards to vilify queer people in order to justify jailing or killing them. It was an effective tool to wield. It was a direct hit to weaken the health and stability of communities and a sticky bigoted belief that still remains today.

Our founding fathers in the U.S. also illustrate the fear that came with the feminine. As is today, colonial powers saw what would now be called queer men or trans-women as weak. Anything "effeminate" was lesser than. Catholics and Protestants alike believed gender fluidity was a symptom of a degraded society. When a people is "lesser" than, it's an easy justification to dehumanize and eradicate. We see many of these tactics today by the Israel's right-wing government in Gaza.

"The more effeminate and debauched a people are, the more they are fitted for an absolute and tyrannical government." โ€“ Ben Franklin

With this governing principle, the newly formed United States of America embarked on "a scorched earth" campaign to clear the land for resources and real estate deals. They justified the Trail of Tears, repressive and deadly native boarding schools, and constant settler violence because they deemed these societies as not fit to hold the land. (I hope the phrase Manifest Destiny takes on a new meaning for you. It's a phrase to retire from your vocabulary.)

What I find interesting about Franklin and Jefferson's response is that it is so similar to anti-trans people today. They hold so much fear about gender! To them, it is the destruction of everything they hold dear. At the Judith Butler event a person who could be described as a TERF asked a question that was anti-trans. I could hear the quiver in their throat when sharing their gender fear. It was real for them! There is real fear behind this reactionary movement and that's ultimately the point.

So, Who's Afraid of Gender?

The growing right-wing forces, which are picking up seats in the European Union and brazenly verbalizing their hope for a Christian Nationalists country, love the fear! They understand that the climate crisis and our many compounding human-made crises are catching up to them. Instead of pivoting to a community-based society and learning from indigenous wisdom to solve the climate crisis, they are sowing fear and blaming the people who are working to solve said compounding crises. Why?

Because if we truly solved the climate crisis, the gun violence epidemic, housing crisis, and more, we would need to pivot to a progressive, multicultural, feminist society. We can't capitalism our way out of the climate crisis and they know that. So rather than solving the crisis, they know they can whip up fear to distract while they accumulate more wealth and power to protect just themselves while the planet burns.

Ultimately, the people who get hurt are those that are fearful. To be afraid of gender is so devastating to me. It's a fear that strikes at the heart of a person who was raised in a patriarchal world. I really feel for the people who are struggling with gender. While I do think gender is amorphous and made up by us, gender can also be beautiful. Gender is ultimately about expressing ourselves to the world. If more people had the freedom to express themselves outside of rigid gender binaries, I think we would see more joy and creativity in the world.

Frankly, that's exactly what we need right now! Joy and creativity will ultimately be the solution if we can band together and solve the climate threats that will just keep accumulating.

So that leaves me with, what did Judith Butler say? After this person asked their question about wanting penis-free spaces, silence filled the room. Judith responded by flipping their question. Was it about this appendage or what it means to you in the context of our patriarchal society? Was it really about being away from certain bodies or away from the threat of patriarchal violence? There is real fear, because there is violence in the patriarchy for people who step out of gender roles and women. However, the fear is not based on a gender. It is based on a structure that harms all of our abilities to create joy and imagine more. I'll leave us with this speech from Alok. ๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿณ๏ธโ€โšง๏ธ๐Ÿ’œ

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Getting to the roots - evaluating the news with a social change lens
  • ๐Ÿ“š How Police Surveil Protestors Social Media Activity - The Brennan Center for Justice discloses how the D.C. police spends $100,000 a year to spy on social justice protestors. They work with digital data and software companies to crawl social media and request personal data.
    • ๐Ÿค“ The Root ๐ŸŒฑ - The types of requests by the police majorly infringe on privacy and our First Amendment rights. Using geolocation data, police received a list of a few dozen people who had been present in both Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, during those protests. The people flagged included a veteran, a student, and a public school teacher. This surveilance is only a continuing of decades of surveilling black and brown bodies protesting their freedoms.
  • ๐Ÿ“š Abortion is a Climate Issue! - The Grist and the 19th paired up to share a joint investigative piece on how the climate crisis is impacting peopleโ€™s ability to get pregnant. They share a harrowing story of a womanโ€™s IVF story and how Hurricane Ian dashed her best laid plans.
    • ๐Ÿค“ The Root ๐ŸŒฑ - The GOP claims their abortion stance is because โ€œwe need more babies.โ€ While this stems from the racist and anti-semitic great replacement theory, letโ€™s be clear that limiting reproductive healthcare will make it harder for people to get pregnant. Climate is one more barrier that the GOP canโ€™t solve with control.
  • ๐ŸŽŸ Movement and Migration in Appalachia - Voice of Witness has a new oral history collection showcasing the diversity and culture within Appalachia thatโ€™s sparked my interest.
    • ๐Ÿค“ The Root ๐ŸŒฑ - Join their launch party on June 20th for a conversation about displacement, resettlement, and belonging. (RSVP)
getting to the roots - navigating tech, media, and communications

A/B Test Thumbnails on YouTube

Last week, Google announced that creators not will be able to test multiple video thumbnails for one video. This will help creators see how their video performs (views, likes, comments, etc.) depending on the thumbnail image that is displayed before playing. While it may not sound big, testing thumbnails could really boost your results. A split second decision will decide if people will watch or not.

โ€œMrBeast, who runs the platformโ€™s most-subscribed channel, said in September that watch time went up on videos when he tested thumbnails where his mouth was closed.โ€

  • Thumbnail images can make or break whether someone is interested in watching your videos because itโ€™s the first thing people see before they watch the video.
  • Small scale A/B testing can help inform your content strategy in terms of what kinds of images or content people are drawn to.
  • Test out three thumbnails, each with clearly different images, and see which one draws more views. Ideas to test include:
    • Having text or no text on a thumbnail
    • Using people vs. real photos vs. graphics
    • Framing - where a person or the focal point of the image is in the picture
YouTube will finally let creators test multiple thumbnails at once
Time to test your thumbnails.

let's grow together - reflections, ideas, and curiosities of the week

TikTok recently has not allowed people to watch videos if they don't have the TikTok app, so sharing YouTube today instead. You can always find our latest social posts on our ๐ŸŽฌ Quick Bites page.

And that's a wrap on this weekโ€™s newsletter! We hope you found this helpful in your work. Forward this to a friend and help democratize communications! If you have any topics you want covered or have any questions, please reach out and let me know.

In Solidarity,
Sam Chavez
Roots of Change Founder

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๐Ÿณ๏ธโ€๐ŸŒˆ Queering Life๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ for activists & heart-first humans ๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿ—ผ๐Ÿ—ž: Newsletter๐Ÿ‘‘ Defeating White Supremacy

Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist whoโ€™s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.


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