Prof: 'Diverse gender identities' are 'culturally unintelligible'

  • A Northern Illinois University professor recently coined the phrase “compulsory heterogenderism” to describe how “trans* identities” are often rendered “invisible” by the assumptions of "cisgender" people.
  • Z Nicolazzo argues that "diverse gender identities" are often "culturally unintelligible" because of the tendency to view transgender people through the lens of sexuality rather than gender.

A Northern Illinois University professor recently coined the phrase “compulsory heterogenderism” to describe how “trans* identities” are often “invisible.”

Z Nicolazzo, a transgender professor who goes by ze/hir pronouns, first used the term “compulsory heterogenderism” in an academic article published Friday, defining it as the impulse to view transgender people “through their sexuality” as opposed to gender identity.

"Through compulsory heterogenderism, diverse gender identities...were deemed culturally unintelligible."   

According to Nicolazzo, trans people are rarely perceived as transgender, but instead as “dykes” or “masculine” lesbians because of their appearance, which concerns Nicolazzo because it results in trans identities going “unrecognized,” or otherwise being “erased.”

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"Through compulsory heterogenderism, [trans people’s] diverse gender identities and expressions often went unrecognized or were deemed culturally unintelligible, thereby erasing or otherwise rendering their trans identities invisible,” Nicolazzo argues.

Further, Nicolazzo bemoans the fact that “diverse gender identities,” such as “genderqueer,” “agender,” “transmasculine,” “comfortable,” and “non-binary” don’t receive the recognition they deserve, calling such identities “culturally unintelligible.”

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To study this issue, Nicolazzo interviewed four transgender students, one of whom, Silvia, spoke of her experiences with “compulsory heterogenderism” during a first date, when she, an “agender” but “feminine” person, took a “masculine lesbian” out for dinner.

The date started out awkwardly and grew progressively worse, especially since Silvia’s masculine-lesbian date “held the door open” for her, and the waiter gave the check to Silvia’s date instead of to Sylvia.

While this might not seem like a problem to the average person, Nicolazzo argues that this is just one example of “compulsory heterogenderism,” since neither Silvia’s date nor the waiter stopped to consider that she was an “agender queer person.”

“Not only does this extended example detail how various people act in accordance with—and therefore reinforce—compulsory heterogenderism, but it also portrays the overwhelming and omnipresent nature of the cultural reality itself,” Nicolazzo remarks.

Nicolazzo concludes by calling on educators to fight for increased recognition of trans people, expressing hope that people will stop assuming that masculine women are “butch lesbians” (as opposed to trans or agender).

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“The conflation of sexuality and gender…has deleterious effects for trans students,” Nicolazzo asserts, writing that “educators should work to continually challenge their own assumptions about gender, including how and why they read gender onto others’ bodies and expressions.”

Moreover, Nicolazzo states that “educators should embrace the opportunity to identify, explore, and summarily work to eradicate compulsory heterogenderism on college campuses in an effort to assert the inherent worth, dignity, and value of trans* existence.”

Campus Reform reached out to Nicolazzo multiple times, but did not receive a response.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen

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Toni Airaksinen
Toni Airaksinen | Columnist at PJ Media

Toni Airaksinen is Columnist at PJ Media and a Consultant at Youth Radio. She was previously a New Jersey Campus Correspondent, reporting on liberal bias and abuse for Campus Reform with a focus on Title IX, the OCR, and the First Amendment. During college, she also was a columnist for Quillette and The Columbia Spectator. Her exclusives have been featured on FOX News and The Drudge Report. She graduated from Barnard College in 2018.

20 Articles by Toni Airaksinen