Should trans men be allowed into women’s colleges?

It would be an understatement to say I was pretty bothered by some of the views expressed in The New York Times Magazine’s article “When Women Become Men at Wellesley”. Despite the sensationalist title, the article was a well-rounded read, discussing diverse attitudes towards the inclusion of trans men at women-only college Wellesley in the US. I’m not going to descontruct some of the opinions expressed by the trans men in the article, because that has been done so brilliantly elsewhere. However, I do want to examine why we, as women and/or queers, welcome trans men into women-only spaces. And why don’t we welcome trans women?

My knee jerk reaction to the article’s implied question ‘Should trans men be allowed to attend women’s only colleges’ is ‘no.’ I don’t think a women-only space should be coopted by men, no matter whether trans or cis. I have always found the common inclusion of trans men in women-only spaces highly problematic. In the left-wing dyke queer scene, this inclusion usually simultaneously excludes trans women, whether explicitly or by sheer numbers. I feel this dynamic is offensive to both trans men and trans women.

When we say trans men are welcome in women-only/dyke-only spaces, aren’t we effectively saying that we don’t see them as men? That their female-assigned-at-birth status trumps their identification as men? When trans men participate in this inclusion, I also wonder why. Maybe they don’t want to give up a space they were formerly a member of. Maybe they simply haven’t examined the problematic dynamic of men taking up women’s space.

I just didn't want the first pic to be Cathy Puke Brennan

I just didn’t want the first pic to be Cathy Brennan

Although it may be bittersweet, transitioning means you do have to give up some things. For a trans man, he may have to give up the openness of women around those they perceive as other women. He may have to give up access to a dyke club, to a sisterhood. But, this is part of being a man. Sad as it is, the sexism inherent in our world means that women are mistrustful of men. Whether or not it is sad, women-only spaces are necessary and demanding to inhabit that space, as a man, is ignorant at best and misogynist at worse. It is clear that having been female assigned at birth does not give trans men ‘special insight woman powers,’ otherwise trans men might realize how women are routinely pushed out of physical, financial, institutional space. They then might realize how they are participating in that exclusion and cede the space to women.

It is also tragic that the inclusion of trans men in many women-only spaces often goes hand-in-hand with the exclusion of trans women. It’s weird to me that trans men would want to participate in this dynamic because it so obviously stems from seeing trans men and women as the gender they were assigned at birth, rather than the gender they actually are. Trans men are allowed in women’s spaces because they are perceived to not really be men, and trans women aren’t allowed in because they are perceived to be men. That feminist spaces perpetuate this transphobic dynamic saddens me.

Are we being transphobic jerks like Cathy Brennan when we exclude trans women from women's spaces?

Are we being transphobic jerks like Cathy Brennan when we exclude trans women from women’s spaces?

However, the exclusion of trans men from women’s colleges isn’t as clear cut as we might like to think. Although trans men shouldn’t attend a women’s college, what about students who as FAB (female-assigned-at-birth) and gender queer? If gender is a spectrum, where should the cut off line be drawn? Although a butch woman should undeniably be allowed to attend a women’s college, what about a FAB trans gender queer person who takes testosterone but doesn’t identify as a trans man? As the New York Times article posits, you could say that, by challenging gender norms, gender queer folk and masculine women are being true to the spirit of women-only colleges.

I don’t have the answer to this last question, so I would appreciate any of your insights. What do you think about this debate? Should any lines be drawn?

Here’s some food for thought by the great thinker, Julia Serano:

Why are you still in that shitty relationship?

OK, so maybe the title’s a cheap gimmick. But I got you to look, didn’t I? This one’s about the pressure to be in a relationship and how it affects our self-esteem and happiness.

As a teenager and woman in her early 20s I felt like I had a lot to prove. Specifically, a lot to prove sexually. Upon meeting new people, I felt like a failure because I wasn’t in a relationship. My short and, most often, disastrous mini dating spurts made me question if there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I get a girl? (I was more gay back then. And no, homophobes, if you have mysteriously managed to stumble upon this post, it wasn’t ‘a phase.’)

I found that every time I found someone I did like I ‘fucked it up’ by being overly keen. I was desperate to be with them no matter how much I actually liked this person or how awesome they were or were not. I had such low self-confidence, and I wanted to prove that I was loveable (to myself and, I imagined, to the people around me), so would take any offer I could get. This trend started with a disgusting first kiss and continued throughout my twenties with a series of failed mini-relationships with, for the most part, people I wasn’t really that into in the first place.

Nowadays, I find that my self-esteem has improved a lot but I still often feel unloved. I question whether my friends really like me and I find it hard to accept the love that is freely given to me. I also don’t think I’m the only one who feels like this. I have seen many of my loved ones stick with violent relationships, or relationships with people they are just not that into.

We feel a more valued member of society when we are in a relationship, no matter our relative level of happiness or how dys/functional the relationship is. We feel more presentable to the world, more socially acceptable. I wonder what it is about our society that makes people desperate to be in a relationship, any relationship, at whatever cost?Maybe it’s because the forces that be would prefer us to be preoccupied with the heteronormative structure of exclusive pairing, children and paying the mortgage, than single and dangerously free to think outside and, perhaps, smash the system.  Neil Patrick Harris knows best

Despite all its lip service to individual freedom, society wants us to be in a relationship, no matter how bad that relationship is and no matter how unhappy we are. I am more approved of when I’m in a relationship. I’m seen as more successful and I am taken more seriously. Perhaps this is one reason why groups of friends often get married orpregnant around the same time. It’s a culmination of the pressure to do what is socially acceptable plus female competition – to prove you are just as, or more, successful than your friends.

I am certain that this social pressure falls more heavily on women. We are judged so much more harshly than men. It is far more important to keep us in our subservient place by making us neurotic about the importance of being in a relationship and if, when and how we have children.

When I started dating my partner, I was both touched and slightly irritated by just how happy everyone was about it. Everyone wanted to tell me just how happy there were; even my best friend’s mother declared “I’m so happy she’s found someone.” I appreciate the well-meaning behind such declarations, but I also want to shout, “I was quite happy being single, you know!” I did my best to rail against the feeling that the most important thing in my life was getting a man, and the Disney narrative of being saved by your lover.

Being in a relationship is great, in so many ways, but it also hasn’t saved me. My problems haven’t gone away, I just have more consistent support to deal with them. I’m happier, but I’ve also had to compromise in some areas, for example with the use of my time. A bit like having a baby, relationships aren’t to be entered into lightly. They’re a huge waste of your time if they’re not right.

My partner is great, but there is a lot more to both of us than our relationship.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I’m sick of being valued in comparison to others. I’m sick of female competition to get the guy, marry the guy, be impregnated by the guy. And this competition definitely carries over to affect queer folks, as the sex-obsessed queer ‘community’ proves.

I would love to know whether you have felt this pressure to date, or to stay in a relationship because, gasp, what if you are truly unloveable and can’t get someone else? Have you felt this pressure as a guy, and why do think it’s so hard to think outside the relationship box?

I am more than my relationship. I am more than a single, dating or married person. And I know you are too.

I’m in a book!

Well, an ebook. But that’s still a book, right? YES IT IS.

Thanks to the lovely editors of rabble.ca, who chose my piece “I don’t want to have sex” to go in Best of rabble.ca, 2014 edition: The Year of Living Consciously. You can download the book here if you would like to read all of the other thought-provoking articles from Canada’s radical lefties. I know I will.

 

Counting calories in the office

You know what I fucking hate? Moral judgements around food.

The office I work in has recently relocated, which means I have been forced out of my antisocial hidey hole into an open plan nightmare. Not only does this mean no more cute videos of bulldogs on skateboards, it’s also forced me into contact with a couple of colleagues who are obsessed with counting calories.

“This is so naughty,” “How many calories are in that?” “I shouldn’t. Oh, go on then.” This is what I hear around me every lunchtime and afternoon. This kind of food talk between women is so common it feels trite to claim it’s noteworthy. But we should pay attention to this language; we should notice it.

I’m so mad at this situation that I’m finding it really hard to come up with coherent thoughts about it. Hearing this kind of language at works reinforces a lot of negative beliefs I have about my body, but have also been trying to de(con)struct for some years. I think I look quite good, with my round tummy and pencil skirt, munching on a chocolate, but then I hear a colleague joking about how she’s going to be “naughty” and have a cookie, and I think – “wait, am I supposed to be feeling bad about this? Am I supposed to be hating myself? Oh God I am, aren’t I!” and descend into a bout of self-hating that, as we well know, contributes to an obsessive relationship with food and, paradoxically, comfort eating.

OK, this isn't office workers on a donut, it's police on a donut. But I thought it sufficiently similar to be funny. Thanks, Tumblr.

OK, this isn’t office workers on a donut, it’s police on a donut. But I thought it sufficiently similar to be funny. Thanks, Tumblr.

It’s not like these thoughts aren’t already there. I’m not blaming individuals at work for my insecurities, but I am certainly blaming an anti-feminist work culture that fails to support its colleagues by excluding this kind of moral language from the office. I guess this is what is meant by triggering. Although I am leery of the culture of excessive trigger warnings I see around me in lefty, queer, feminist online spaces, I can appreciate their use in this situation. I just want to yell SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU ARE MAKING ME FEEL BAD ABOUT MYSELF AND NOW I CAN’T CONCENTRATE ON THIS DAMN PROOFREADING! Hearing them talk about their own insecurities remind me of, and contributes to, my own.

I have enough internalized fatphobia as it is, I don’t need people at work making me feel even worse. When are we going to learn that internalized misogyny is just as harmful and pervasive as the racism and homophobia that we already (mostly) know is not OK in our workplaces?

I know I could take the feminist high ground here and empathize for these people who have such a complicated relationship with food. But, you know what? So do I! And I don’t need to be exposed to anyone else’s.

So, the next time you joke about being bad because you’re going to have one of the chocolates in the kitchen, spare a thought to the rest of us who don’t need to be reminded of our own body hatred and difficulties with food.

And now it’s time to turn to you, dear readers. I would appreciate your advice. Do you have any strategies for dealing with this language at work? I really don’t think pointing it out to them would be productive, or supported, as it is the management team who talks like this. Any advice would be great.

Lastly, here are a couple of resources that I’ve found helpful:

Navigating assumptions about weight loss as a fat positive person

Self-hating feelings about fat and their transformation into FAT ACTIVISM AWESOMENESS

Let’s just start…

Is June too late for a new year’s resolution?

I am tired. Tired of not writing, tired of being blocked. Tired of flagellating myself and living up to an imaginary standard. Tired of imposing writing rules on myself about length, genre and content of my writing. So, fuck it. You know what’s worse than writing something bad?

Not writing anything at all.

Coming out when you’re single

In this, my last of three posts on coming out, I examine the shorthands we use to come out and ask what kind of pitfalls they have

There’s no doubt — being closeted is bad for your health. It places you in the position of feeling like you are doing something wrong. You feel guilty because you’re hiding the truth about yourself. In this, my last post on coming out, I want to explore ways we can come out in order to ease this burden.

Two weeks ago, I asked how different work cultures affect our ability to come out. I also argued that being trans, genderqueer, or anything other than a straight [ha!] gay or lesbian can leave you open to misunderstanding and feeling less able to come out. However, if you are in a workplace where coming out is a possibility for you, the question remains — how do you do it? This week, I want to look at how we come out. What are the shorthands we use for declaring our queerness and what kind of pitfalls do they have?

One of the easiest ways to out yourself is to refer to your same-sex partner. You can casually drop a reference to them into the conversation to signal your queerness to your colleagues. This has the benefit of feeling like a very natural way of coming out. It’s not obvious that your intention is to come out (thereby feeling natural), and because it feels very casual, you are probably less likely to experience a negative reaction from others.

However, this strategy isn’t available to everyone. After reading my first post on coming out at work, a friend commented she’s not sure how she should come out to her employers, because she’s single.

Source: adventuresingay.tumblr.com

Source: adventuresingay.tumblr.com

As someone who’s been single for most of her adult life, I understand this dilemma.  There is a huge difference between casually referring to your same-sex partner in front of new acquaintances and coming out as a single person. The first is an easy go-to phrase that allows you to test the potentially homophobic waters when meeting people for the first time. The second feels awkward. It feels way more legitimate to refer to your same-sex partner than to find another way to casually drop the gay bomb into conversation.

When I was single, I felt frustrated with this situation. Having a partner provides you with an easier way to out yourself. It feels awkward to say, by the way, I’m gay! Like you’re pointing out your difference. Of course, this feeling of awkwardness is probably internalized homophobia. It just doesn’t apply to a straight person talking about their sexuality.

The world — even the queer world — is set up to privilege couples. Being in a relationship facilitates every aspect of your life from cheaper rent, to vacations to work and family events. I’ve often felt that the pressure to be coupled is such that it’s considered better to be in any relationship at all even if it’s unhappy, than to be single.

However, before the revolution happens, we need to find ways to come out that feel less awkward to us. (After the feminist socialist queer revolution, this won’t be necessary.)

So, how do you come out when you don’t have a partner? One alternative way to come out is by dropping a super gay activity that you do into conversation. You can mention that you’re going to that gay curling or queer tango class this evening. Like referring to your partner, this has the benefit of feeling natural as it fits into the kinds of conversations colleagues have at work.

This is just one idea and I am sure there are many more. So, now I turn it over to you. How do you come out, especially when you don’t have a partner?

Ode to 2013 and some thoughts for 2014

(Not resolutions! I’m not writing my motherfucking resolutions! That’s just a recipe for disaster…) 

Happy 2014 readers! How on earth did that happen? You know you’re old when you start the new year by telling your partner “I’m looking forward to spending 2012 with you.” In my head, I’m still 29 (man, that makes me sound old).

So, I know, I know, it’s been ages since I blogged regularly. I’m surprised most of you haven’t given up on me. Ever since I moved to Toronto a little over a year ago, I’ve been overwhelmed by life. My depression has recurred, I’ve been working full-time, commuting two hours every day and started a serious relationship.

All this has got me wondering, how on earth do people who work full-time find the time to blog?! I swear many productive bloggers must have day jobs but I don’t know how they do it. They must not sleep, or BE MAGIC.

You know what else is magic? Sherlock.

You know what else is magic? Sherlock.

This year, I’m going to do my best to balance it all. Write, love, work, somehow get status in Canada and apply for a PhD. All this in one year? HELL YEAH. 2014 is going to be the year of productivity. Just make sure they don’t release another Sherlock season, because that’s going to fuck it all up. I waste way too much time watching Benedict Cumberbatch gifs on Tumblr.

Like this one.

Like this one.

Goodbye 2013. You were a tough year. You gave and you took away so much:

You were generous:

Getting a full-time job with the miracle qualities of working for a company I actually care about and using some of my skills. Having been underemployed for the previous 3 years, I know how not being employed can weigh on your self-esteem. In a culture where the first question people ask you is “What do you do?”, being underemployed feels like confessing, every time you meet someone new, to what a failure you are.

You taught me how to love:

As of tomorrow, I’m going to have been in a long-term relationship for a WHOLE YEAR (I’m going to freak out and revert to 16 now I’ve written that). Being with my partner has taught me a lot about myself, my use of time, how to be intimate with someone. I feel blessed to have him in my life. He’s been my rock.

You were a bitch:

Even though I appreciate aspects of having a full-time job, this working full-time for the first time in years has me as convinced as ever that the working week is designed to keep you as exhausted as possible. ‘Keep the peasants tired and they won’t have time to rebel.’ Working 37.5 hours a week and commuting two hours every days leave me little me time. I’ve fantasized a lot this year about being rich, and isn’t that telling? The fantasy of being rich keeps us all dreaming rather than criticizing the system that only allows a few to earn their freedom.

You weren’t very creative…

Even though I started off this year with the best of intentions, they were soon buried under the search for employment and demands of actual employment, a relationship, commuting and moving house.

I knew that moving back to Canada would be damaging to my writing career. It would take me away from the group of readers I had built up in Berlin and would leave me, unemployed, in the middle of new city and country, having to start all over again. “Better sooner than later,” I thought and packed my bags.

Although I have struggled to find the time to write this year, that hasn’t been the only reason my blog has suffered. I’ve been afraid of success, of failure, of finding things out about myself I don’t want to know. The usual reasons artists are blocked.

Even when I was offered opportunities to develop my writing – such as posting my blog on Rabble; writing articles for the Shameless blog; or creating an article for Existere, York University’s creative writing journal – these opportunities compounded my fear of success and blocked me even more.

I was even blessed to have asexual folk from all over the internet submit their thoughts and feelings about being asexual to me so that I could write a representative article on their sexual orientation for Shameless. I never wrote that article. I feel that I have let a lot of people down, and myself most of all.

…in fact, you were the year of procrastination

I saw this marvellous quote on Tumblr about how perfectionists are also procrastinators because they feel like they can’t work until they all the information they need. Which I felt summed me up pretty well, so I just spent an hour trying to find it in my feed. I was like, “I can’t carry on without this vital piece of information!” Until I realized that I just proved my own point, and decided to let it go.

Writing as a perfectionist is hard. Because you expect everything that comes out of your mouth to be fucking fantastic. So I’m going to try and get over that worry because, more often than not, when I reread something I wrote that I thought was terrible the next day I’m like “that’s actually quite good!”

[^^ The syntax in that sentence is fucked up]

 

So, in 2014, I’m going to give myself permission to write bad things. Because sometimes you just have to wade through the shit in order to get to the good. I’m going to spend more me time, because I need that in order to survive. And I’m going to apply to do a PhD to get me out of the office job. Because it just doesn’t suit me.

Happy 2014 guys! I hope yours is wonderful.

Gratuitous Sherlock gif

Gratuitous Sherlock gif

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 158 other followers