Originally Published January 2020

Gender, Time & Other Methods of Policing The Body

Estelle Ellison

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To survive everyday life in a world that consists of so much suffering, we are coerced into accepting the various ways that other people will classify our bodies. Each classification determines our positionality in the world, shaping which systems of oppression will harm us and which systems will reward us. Where we fail to be classified, deemed unrecognizable, ungovernable, or unexploitable, we are violently erased and disposable. Of the identities that we come to recognize as our own, we make our selection from a predetermined set of identities that have already been chosen for us.

By design, each of us is expected to participate in gendering other people’s bodies. Whenever we view someone performing an action, we attribute gender to their behavior, retroactively (or after-the-fact). We assume the behavior came from some undeniably real gendered inseparable quality of their body, rather than from an external system of oppressive influences. Of all the possible ways that a person might live their life at any given moment; the infinite combinations of features, experiences, aspirations, and expressions; gender attempts to reduce our possible identities by half. But half of infinity is still infinity.

Upon choosing the way we will present our identities to every person we encounter throughout life, we come to associate our survival with how frequently others classify us as worthy of recognition. In this way, recognition is how we access everything that makes our survival possible. We become attached to everything we are most used to accessing, and we choose the way we will cope with everything that escapes our needs and desires. The extent to which some people deny us recognition is the extent to which we will be policed and pressured to assimilate into the scripts that make oppression possible.

Our conception of time itself is made possible by overlapping systems of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, patriarchy, ableism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, exploitation, and countless other forms of oppression. These systems of oppression manage to avoid becoming dismantled because they have colonized our very conception of time, even as they move closer to destroying all life on Earth. Time has been shaped into a net that spans the entire globe, arresting us wherever we would otherwise threaten the status quo, preventing us from even beginning the work of creating a more livable future.

The people who enlisted in the world’s armed forces that all threaten to intervene in our daily lives, coercing us into apathy and inaction, are enormously outnumbered by those of us who are outside of these institutions of organized violence. The reason these various states continue to exist, despite being woefully outnumbered, is because most people have internalized the logic of the police, the boss, the patriarch, and the white supremacist. We encounter the harmful attitudes and behaviors of colonization from the people we see in daily life far more than we become the direct target of the state’s various forms of violence.

As we are each sorted into roles and positions made up of different combinations of oppression and access, colonized time makes us complicit in the sorting process. We work to uphold or challenge notions of desirability; we participate in ableist disposability or we work to build universal access; we aspire to be the beneficiaries of anti-Blackness and white supremacy, or we become their gravediggers. Time coordinates every system of oppression into an endless series of joint attacks that target each one of our social interactions and decisions in the world, hoping to coerce us into complacency, leaving us to inherit a dead future.

There are futures without oppression waiting to be built from our collective imagination, our coordinated struggles, and our desire for everyone to have universal access to a livable life. Our collective agency is that variable that time tirelessly tries to immobilize. When we are able to identify the norms that exist to compartmentalize and neutralize us, we are positioning ourselves to liberate the possible from the impossible. When we say we want to abolish time, we want to abolish every method of trapping bodies within lives that are unlivable. We want a future where gender is a language of creativity and care, not fear and control.

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Estelle Ellison

Time dissuades us from getting free... Black Trans Disabled Writer (She/They)