Attacking the Myth of Binary Biology: MIM(Prisons) Eliminates Gendered Language
Resolutions on Gender Pronouns and Secure Communications
A couple resolutions passed at our 2015 Congress in July. One was focused on clarifying our policy on securing our communications outside of prisons. The full policy remains internal, but it reads in part, "Our policy is that we do not have cell relations over the internet if the other cell will not use PGP or equivalent encryption." This clarifies our existing practice.
The second resolution was proposed to change our use of pronouns to reflect the non-binary reality of biological sex categories. This proposal was taken as a task for further research as comrades were not well enough informed on the topic to put it to a vote at that time. Below is our final resolution on this question, as a result of further research and discussion.
Distinguishing Biology from Gender
As revolutionaries committed to fighting gender oppression, we distinguish between the biology/physiology of sex (male/female), and the socially constructed categories of gender (men/wimmin).
Our definition of gender places it firmly within leisure-time:
"Historically reproductive status was very important to gender, but today the dynamics of leisure-time and humyn biological development are the material basis of gender. For example, children are the oppressed gender regardless of genitalia, as they face the bulk of sexual oppression independent of class and national oppression.
"People of biologically superior health-status are better workers, and that's a class thing, but if they have leisure-time, they are also better sexually privileged. We might think of models or prostitutes, but professional athletes of any kind also walk this fine line. Athletes, models and well-paid prostitutes are not oppressed as 'objects,' but in fact they hold sexual privilege. Older and disabled people as well as the very sick are at a disadvantage, not just at work but in leisure-time. For that matter there are some people with health statuses perfectly suited for work but not for leisure-time."(1)
Our definition of gender has not changed. But with our growing understanding of the artificially binary definition of biological sex, MIM(Prisons) is changing our use of language to better reflect the reality of biology.
A Bit of History on Biology
In the past MIM line has treated the biology of sex as basically binary: males and females. But humyn biology has never been entirely binary with relation to sex characteristics. There are a range of interactions between chromosomes, hormone expressions and sexual organ development. The resulting variation in anatomical and reproductive characteristics include a lot of people who do not fit the standard binary expectation. Studies suggest that as many as 1 in 100 births deviate from the standard physical expectations of sex biology.(2) To this day anything deviating from the "normal" binary of distinct male or female is seen by mainstream society as a disorder to be corrected or covered up. Genital surgeries are conducted on newborn babies causing lifelong pain and suffering just to "correct" a body part that is seen as too large or small, or even just because a baby identified by doctors to be a boy might grow up unable to pee standing up.(3)
People who are born with variations in sex and reproductive organs that don't fit the typical binary are termed intersex. This term encompasses a wide range of biological expressions, including people entirely indistinguishable from society's definition of males and females without a chromosomal test or other invasive physical examination. There are even instances where someone would be identified female by a certain set of criteria (such as an external physical examination) but male by another set (such as a chromosome test).
The Value of Removing Biologically-determined Pronouns
From studying the history of humyn biology we learn that it's not possible to easily identify the biological sex of an individual. In fact, there's nothing wrong with having a spectrum of biological characteristics that we don't have to fit into two neat categories. Further, we do not generally see value in identifying biological sex unless it is the specific topic of discussion. We are committed to fighting gender oppression. And part of this fight involves teaching people not to be concerned with the biology of others, and instead to judge them for their work and the correctness of their political ideas.
Many languages are relatively gender neutral compared to english. Chinese is just one example. These languages do not suffer from confusion about the identity of people, and they are arguably much easier to learn and use in this regard. In Spanish, the transition to a gender neutral language has already begun with the use of @ in place of o/a in gendered words. While English does not offer us a similar gender-neutral option, we have a history of modifying the language to suit our revolutionary purposes. We have changed America to Amerikkka to identify the domination of national oppression in this country. And we have changed woman to womyn to remove the implication that a "woman" is just an appendage to a "man."
Building on MIM's Legacy
For most of MIM's history, it used gender-neutral pronouns of "h" instead of his, her, him, hers; and "s/he" instead of she or he. Ten years ago at MIM's 2005 Congress, a resolution was passed on gender-neutral pronouns, which read:
"MIM hereby extends its policy on anti-patriarchal language (including such spellings as 'womyn,' 'wimmin,' 'persyn,' and 'humyn') to cover the use of gender-neutral third-person singular pronouns. Henceforth feminine pronouns will be used for persyns of unknown sex who are friends of the international proletariat and masculine pronouns will be used for enemies of unknown sex.
'From each according to her abilities, to each according to her needs.'
'A true comrade devotes her life to serving the people.'
'The enemy will not perish of himself.'
'A labor aristocrat derives much of his income from superprofits.'
"This rule applies only to the otherwise ambiguous cases when sex is not stated. Accordingly, George Bu$h is still 'he' and Madeleine Albright is 'she,' although both are enemies. All MCs, HCs, and others close to MIM are 'she' at this time, since their real sex cannot be revealed, for security reasons.
"Traditional patriarchal grammar maintains that 'he' is the only correct 'gender-neutral' pronoun in all of the examples above. MIM's realignment of the pronouns along the lines of 'Who are our friends? Who are our enemies?' is more egalitarian and corresponds fairly well to the facts at this point in history."
While we see great value in the above resolution, in applying it to our practical work we ran into many problems. Regular readers of ULK may recognize that MIM(Prisons) has defaulted to the old MIM practice of using "h" and "s/he" pronouns.
The vast majority of MIM(Prisons)'s subscribers are cis-males, meaning they were classified as male at birth and they self-identify as male today. (Note that these criteria are not material tests of one's sex.) Much of our subscribers' reasons for being imprisoned in the first place is related to this male classification. And they are held in facilities that are "male only." Prison is an environment which heightens all of society's contradictions, and this environment tends to be even more violent in reinforcing social codes of conduct (including "male" and "female" social markers) than the outside world.
In our practice of running a prisoner support organization with our organizing resting heavily on the written word, we have seen it as too confusing to use "she" pronouns for our cis-male comrades. Further, the 2005 resolution is not clear on whether prisoners as a whole, who are of the lumpen class, should be referred to as "she" or "he." Historically the lumpen is a vacillating class, which is in a tug-of-war between bourgeois and proletarian influence. Determining if the lumpen are "friends of the international proletariat" is sometimes unclear. Thus the use of "h" and "s/he" was much more useful in our specific work.
We believe this new writing policy will have a positive impact for our transgender, transexual, and genderqueer subscribers and contributors as well. The preferred pronouns of these groups are often individually self-selected, as is how they present their gender identification. (Note that preferred pronouns and gender identification are not material definitions of one's sex or gender.) Defaulting everyone's pronouns to a singular set of gender-neutral pronouns reduces the subjectivism inherent in this type of identity politics. We hope our new writing policy will draw this movement into a more materialist and internationalist direction.
New Writing Policy
When referring to an individual in the third persyn, we will use either their name or the neutral pronouns of ey, em, and eir to replace s/he and h. Ey, em, and eir are singularized versions of they, them, and their and we believe these more accurately reflect the biological sex of humyns, in that they downplay the inaccurate binary which has developed over thousands of years of patriarchal history. We also think ey/em/eir will have the greatest ease of use, from the wide selection of gender neutral pronoun sets which have been proposed in the past.(5)
We define men and wimmin as those who are oppressors in leisure time and those who are oppressed in leisure time, respectively, and regardless of biological genitalia or reproductive capacity.(4) This is the strand of oppression called gender. When referring to people or individuals when gender is relevant, we will refer to them as men or wimmin and use he or she pronouns. (Similarly, we don't always reference other defining characteristics of our correspondents, but we do refer to someone as "New Afrikan" or "clean-shaven" when relevant.)