No Outlaws In The Gender Galaxy Makes You Question Everything You Know About Gender [Book Review]

Posted: April 26, 2016

No Outlaws In The Gender Galaxy discusses the how society fails all those who biologically do not identify as male or female in terms of social privilege.

Have you heard of the privilege walk? I’ve never been part of one, but it goes something like this. Participants walk hand in hand in a straight line and for each question asked, each participant either takes a step forward, or backward.

A sample question might be – If you are a while male take a step forward. Or, if you have disabilities take a step backward. The idea being that at the end of the walk, you would know where you stood vis a vis others in the room, and could reflect on your privilege.

As a woman in India, and in technology, I’ve participated in many gender conversations to discover what the line between privilege and deservedness is. Gender, feminism and the surrounding discussion has occupied a lot of my mind space in recent times. And although the feminist umbrella covers our LGBT colleagues, I had only a vague idea of the actual day to day life of a non-heteronormative person.

When I started reading No Outlaws In The Gender Galaxy, I was prepared to be both ashamed about my lack of knowledge and get educated at the same time. What I really wasn’t prepared for was to be challenged on the very concept of binary genders.

The question ‘Why are you a woman?’ which is quoted as the start of this study and book was one that made me think deeply. Why am I a woman? Because I was born one? Not really.

I feel like a woman because of the cues that society gave me. Our gender is actually constructed bit by bit, by the interactions in our families, in our public spaces, at school and at work. What then happens when you are assigned a gender at birth but don’t identify with the cues society gives you for all your life afterward?

To back up a little, the book is a result of research and dialogue with 50 queer PAGFB (People Assigned Gender Female at Birth). Some of the topics the book covers would probably read as questions in a privilege walk like this:

  • If you can walk into your gender assigned public toilet with nonchalance take a step forward.
  • If your wardrobe has skirts, trousers, sarees and shorts and you control when you wear each of them, take a step forward.
  • When you visit a hospital if the Doctor does not knows how to check your body take a step backward.

It can be challenging when you are constantly negotiating the core of your very presence, for gender as we know it today is such a basic “natural” system of classification.

Most of the participants have described their gender in a variety of ways and in such a wide range, that it becomes obvious that a binary Man/Woman classification is not sufficient to describe our identities.

The interviews with the respondents also bring out the fact that this nuanced identity too changes over a lifetime.

The term that the authors propose to describe this – is plasticity of gender. That is, at certain points in their life, we may identify with a certain gender state, but may change to a different one somewhere down the line.

Unfortunately we don’t have the language to support this, and that is the problem the book highlights and tries to solve to a large extent.

Getting your own copy?

If you’d like to pick up No Outlaws In The Gender Galaxy by Chayanika Shah, Raj Merchant, Shals Mahajan and Smriti Nevatia , published by Zubaan Non-fiction, use our affiliate link: at Flipkart, at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

Women’s Web gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!

Image source: gender by Shutterstock.

Sunita Venkatachalam. Geek manquee, works for an American retailer, passionate about reading, writes but falls short of her own standards, so doesn't write as much, mother to two girls and erstwhile mommy blogger.

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