Men and masculinity studies is old hat, so why is The New York Times pretending it’s new?
My initial response to last week’s article in The New York Times about a new men and masculinities program being offered at Stonybrook University in New York State was outrage. I wasn’t outraged that such a program exists, but I was outraged that The New York Times was framing it as something new.
According to The New York Times, men and masculinity studies is a brand spanking new field of study and we should all be shocked. A Master’s Degree in…Masculinity? presents Stonybrook professor Michael Kimmel as a pioneer in masculinity studies and insists (against our supposed disbelief) that “yes, that’s a real [thing].” But most feminist academics will know that masculinity studies already exists. And it’s called gender studies.
Yes, gender does include masculinity, people.
The New York Times article seems predicated on the tired belief that feminists – in this case, feminist scholars – don’t give a shit about men. It assumes that feminist scholars don’t write, think and talk about men. Well, I’ve got news for you – we do.
Let’s be clear: studying men and masculinity has been a part of women’s studies since women’s studies inception in the late sixties. In fact, it’s impossible to interrogate what ‘woman’ means without interrogating what ‘man’ means. The two are irrevocably linked.
Any self-respecting student in the humanities or social sciences should and will be made to interrogate what masculinity means in the context of their discipline. Not only is any investigation into these disciplines an exercise in what men have been creating, thinking and writing about for the last 2,000 years, but students are also encouraged to think about what it means that men get to decide what history is, what art is, and who is sane and who is crazy. Humanities and the social sciences are always a critical investigation of men and masculinities.
My anger here is not that men and masculinity Studies exists (it should), but that it’s being framed as separate from women’ studies. All of the macho behaviours associated with the pressure to prove your masculinity – violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, speeding – are performed against and in response to the existence of femininity in the world. Without a cultural understanding of women as feminine and femininity as weak, we wouldn’t have macho masculinities. It’s disingenuous to separate men and masculinity studies from feminism in this way, especially by implying that masculinity studies is a new and independent field.
Michael Kimmel’s work recognizes that he is writing in a tradition of critical interrogation of what gender means. But The New York Times article makes it sound all new and crazy that people are studying masculinity. Erm, this has always been one of the premises of feminism. That masculinity is just as much of a construct as femininity, and both need to be interrogated.
Of course, it does Michael Kimmel’s career a whole lot of good to be complicit in this framing of men and masculinity studies as a new thing. It makes him look like a vanguard in this area. But, the truth is, he’s not.
Although I think that studying men and masculinities is a good thing, and will help advance our understanding of gender so that we can all embody our genders in ways that are less violent and harmful to everyone, I am also ambivalent about the formation of a Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. Masculinity and men cannot be studied without studying femininity and women. The genders are completely reliant on each other for their existence as apparently real things in the world.
In all, the framing of Michael Kimmel’s exploration of masculinity as a new frontier in academia is utterly bogus. My suggestion to the The New York Times is, go and do your research. And stop relying on tropes of feminist scholarship as man-hating in order to boost your web traffic. The end.
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 brilliantlyelsewhere. 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.
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.
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:
As you know, I’ve joined the ranks of featured bloggers at Rabble.ca. Come and check me out there as I will be publishing exclusive content on both ye olde blog site, and ye newe conglomerate host. As always, please let me know what you think as ask:
Is burlesque a new-wave feminist performance or a throwback to a misogynist tradition? I try to pin down the pin-ups and find out if burlesque really is just stripping.
Often touted as the mother of a movement that has been lauded by fourth wave feminism as ‘liberating’ and ‘empowering’ for women, for von Teese to equate burlesque with stripping flies in the face of many of her female fan’s pro-burlesque arguments.
Burlesque is, for feminism, a controversial issue. Feminists of the anti-porn persuasion might argue that taking your clothes off in public means you are buying into the illusion that women only gain power through the lens of male objectification. Sex positive feminists might counter that by taking control of the ‘male gaze’ the burlesque performer is cultivating her* own subjectivity. As she determines what sexual image she presents, she is the agent. The latter is the viewpoint of a fourth-wave feminist audience who are eager to claim that burlesque is anything but stripping.
My own view of burlesque is a bit more ambivalent. I don’t think burlesque is inherently feminist or inherently sexist. I have been to well-known burlesque clubs in London (the European one) and Berlin, where i failed to find much that is feminist in the performance. On the other hand, seeing performers with various body shapes and genders create performances around fraught subjects such as fat, eating and the politics of hair removal, I found their burlesque intellectually stimulating and 100% bona fide feminist.
Personally, I’ve found that the difference between a conventional strip and a feminist performance often lies in the appearance of the unexpected. As an audience member, I often find myself wondering if the performer is reproducing stereotypes of femininity, or exploring gender and making me see it in new, unpredictable, ways.
Another ingredient that can turn sexist assumptions on their head is the appearance of the performer. If she has a non-normative body or chooses to present it in a non-normative way, this can challenge the expectations of the audience and thereby convey a thought- provoking message. Performers with bodies that are culturally scapegoated, such as fat people, trans* folk, or people of colour can use these to present a new glimpse of what sexy can be. Performers with culturally “normative” bodies can present them in an unusual way (by strapping on a dildo, for instance) and thereby challenge our notions of gender, sexuality and a “woman’s place.”
It would, of course, take a PhD level of inquiry to explore the distinction between burlesque and stripping satisfactorily, and I just don’t have space to do that in 1500 words or less. However, it is safe to say that burlesque goes beyond a purely titillating performance when it is naughty in other ways. The radical nature of this burlesque lies in its cheeky challenge to sexist norms.
Now, if you’re a really radical feminist, you might be wondering “What’s so wrong with stripping, anyhow?” My, and most people’s, use of the word stripping implies a moral judgement. Stripping is for stupid women and those who don’t have any other choice. Stripping is a bad thing, a last resort.
For the purpose of the article (and perhaps because I am chicken), I haven’t been trying to make a moral distinction between burlesque and stripping. As Dita von Teese said, things are more messy than that, and where’s the fun in being PC anyway?
Many feminists’ desire to distance burlesque from stripping is symptomatic of the ideological messiness that von Teese argues is inherent to the medium. Not only is burlesque an art form, it also is stripping. Perhaps even the most radical feminists won’t be able to argue away the sexist conventions that are upheld even as they are parodied on the stage.
However there is a difference between burlesque and stripping. If for nothing else, the difference between the two can be boiled down to class. As my very wise partner said, burlesque is a privilege. And as I am very wisely going to elaborate, that means it is a choice. Every single burlesque performer I have met does it as a hobby. There may be a few well-paid professional burlesque dancers out there, but the majority do it purely for fun. I doubt anyone would perform in a strip club for free. Stripping is most definitely work, and burlesque is something only the privileged can afford to do.
As much as I would like to tie up the loose ends of this article in a neat little bow, I don’t have the recipe for what makes a burlesque performance feminist or not. As an amateur burlesque performer and a stringent feminist, I hate to hear that other feminists consider my performances inherently sexist. Although I agree that aspects of the burlesque tradition are sexist, I think these conventions can also be turned upside down to give the audience a new idea of what sexy can be. Burlesque, it seems, is hard to pin down.
N.B. I sometimes refer to the burlesque dancer as “she” in this post. I realize men, genderqueer and trans* folk can and do perform burlesque, but I have chosen to address the sexist dynamics of burlesque mainly in relation to its female, cisgendered performers.
How Disney fucked up my love life and how it literally pays to get married. Plus, surprisingly readable musings on the nature of happiness.
Hi guys! Me again. Yup this one is pretty long – I was going to post it as two pieces but I think it makes more sense in one go. I have inserted cunning subtitles and pretty pictures to keep you entertained. Plus, wittiness! Knock yourselves out. I would especially enjoy responses to my questions about how cis, trans and gay guys feel about romance. Do you, too, feel conditioned to love in a particular way?
“Hollywood is the devil and if you’re not careful it can ruin even the best of relationships.” – Feminism for Anarchist Men zine
In my post on careers last month, I suggested that, in a world which only allows women as value as girlfriends, wives, attached to another, maybe we don’t feel there is any point in nurturing women’s abilities. You may have a brilliant daughter who is hugely talented, but the most important thing to you is that she finds a partner, settles down (whatever that means) and has babies. And, of course, this isn’t only an external pressure. We have all internalised this pressure to mate. The idea that a monogamous long-term relationship is our only possible happy ending. I mean, I used to lie about my past relationships because I thought I was a failure if I hadn’t had one. Never mind my own talents, I only have value if I am, and have, a lover. It seems that being single is even worse than being gay.
Happiness. That old bind. I remember my friend reporting to me how, at a dinner party, one of the guests said that women would have been happier without feminism. Apart from some possible responses to this – what, we would be happier without the vote, the criminalisation of rape within marriage, the right to own property? – it is actually quite a hard statement to argue against. Happiness is hard to quantify, and who feels happy when they haven’t got a man?
As a woman, it is virtually impossible to be happily single. With everything in our lives pushing us towards the ‘happy ending’ of a relationship, we can never feel completely happy in the moment of now. Now, I am single. Now, I am writing. Now, I am doing something I have always wanted to do, the thing that I am best at, but am I happy? Fantasies about meeting the ‘right person’ who I can ‘settle down’ with take up a lot of my headspace. Where is my home, if not with this imaginary other who is going to make everything all right?
“Will you marry me?” – pretty much ever movie, romantic novel, ever.
I have spent a lot of my life waiting for someone to rescue me. A prince to ride up on a white horse and take me away from my tower. I won’t try to free myself, because that’s not how the story is meant to go.
Most little girls don’t know they have the power to make themselves happy. Because they have been told they don’t. As Betty tells her daughter in Mad Men, the first kiss is of huge importance in a girl’s life. The kiss is the moment that wakes Snow White / Sleeping Beauty, and the prince will then whisk her off into a world of affluence, orgasmic sex and, happiness. Of course, in a world in which men still earn a lot more than women, this myth does have some truth to it. Marrying is, for heterosexual women, still a choice of economics. If you earn less than men for the same work, then to have kids, be rich, to have everything you want, you need to marry a guy who will financially support you.
Despite the fact that both my parents are equally qualified, as a physician my mother earns far less than my surgeon father. It’s true that she could have chosen another specialty and thereby earned a higher wage, but she decided to give up her dreams of being an anaesthetist to be a mother. Even as a GP, she still was hardly at home and both my brother and I had nannies. As a woman who wanted to marry and live a respectable middle-class life, how much choice did she ever have to become an anaesthetist? Especially when the dream includes a nice house, money for holidays and to give your children everything you want for them. Even today, my female doctor friends are not choosing surgery because the male culture and long hours are inimical to family life. The main reason for my best friend getting married is to get better mortgage options, although of course the public commitment to her husband is meaningful. Plus, everyone know that when you get married you get a tonne of presents! (The financial rewards of marriage are obvious.)
“being single is even worse than being gay”
Of course, my argument here is very middle-class and I realise that marriage does not give most people these luxuries. But we would be kidding ourselves if we pretended that the Disney dream were only about love. How do we quantify happiness in this capitalist world if not in terms of money and possessions? Even if you are a girl born into a working-class family, you are still taught to dream of being rescued by a rich prince. Ariel and Belle married above their class and Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty both masqueraded as members of a different class into order to catch their man. (Prince Charming falls in love with Sleeping Beauty when he sees her, apparently a peasant, dancing in the woods with animals. Luckily, it turns out she is the daughter of the King and Queen so he is allowed to love her after all.) Romantic comedies of the past two decades like Pretty Woman and Cinderella remake Maid in Manhattan still sell this dream. It’s OK if you are a prostitute or a maid working in a hotel because a rich business man/politician will ‘discover’ and rescue you from your shitty job. We are all taught to wait for that special someone who will always find and save us. (Btw, check out this feminist run down of Disney princesses. It’s awesome.)
For heterosexual women, marriage is a compelling sell. It makes economic sense. It also (weirdly) offers the promise of autonomy. When are your parents ever going to recognise you as an independent woman if not when you marry? Marriage is the moment fretful mothers breathe a sigh of relief; their daughter has finally flown the nest and responsibility for her wellbeing has been passed onto someone else. Girls marry to be seen as a woman, a grown-up, even if the transaction of marriage still means that they have just been passed onto another owner.
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn…” – Moulin Rouge
Heterosexual or not, we only take people seriously when they are partnered up. There is nothing weirder to us than a single person. It doesn’t matter if you are queer, straight or whatever, the most important thing is that you are in a relationship. As women, we are taught that it is our job and our destiny to seek out a guy and even in the case of a lesbian, a committed female partner is still better than none. When I was a teenager, all the talk with my friends was about when we going to get a boyfriend, kisses and who we were dating. Now, living mostly among queers, I still feel the same pressure to hook up. People expect me to be an actively sexual person and to have a (probably non-monogamous) partner. This pressure to be sexual feels similar to the pressure I experience from my family’s side to be in a long-term monogamous relationship. It seems that, no matter which community you live in, you are valued more when you are in a relationship. If you are a single woman, then you must be ‘unhappy’.
It is undoubtedly better, in our eyes, to be in a bad relationship than no relationship at all. I may recognise that other people’s relationships have some pretty major problems, but I will still be jealous of them for being together. It doesn’t matter if the majority of marriages end in divorce, getting married is still the best thing that can ever happen to you. I know women who will endure years of bad relationships just because they are terrified of being single. I recognise this clinging tendency in myself when I am desperate to keep dating a person even if I am not particularly into them; I generally find it extremely difficult to end the relationship for myself. Upon being dumped, I often feel relieved that that (right) decision has been made for me and simultaneously ashamed that I couldn’t make it for myself.
“who feels happy when they haven’t got a man?”
I remember being particularly upset when, a year ago, an old friend said she was ‘disappointed’ that I hadn’t been in a relationship since I had last seen her 2 years before. What could this disappointment possibly mean? It had nothing to do with concern about my happiness. She knew I had been depressed, at times suicidal and I told her I needed and wanted to be single so I could look after myself. So, we expect people to be in relationships even to their own detriment? Apparently, being in a couple is more important than my health, or even my life. If this is true, then what, for women, does happiness mean?
The social desire for women to be in a relationship is cloaked in false concern about our happiness. The conservative social dream, that keeps us neurotic, spending all our energies trying to make ourselves attractive in order to catch a man (whether he actually be a man or not) is sold to us as a dream of happiness. We are promised that our prince will rescue us from our insecurities by providing us with the financial security of (heterosexual) partnership. Of course, this isn’t so explicit and financial security is worked into a fairy tale of orgasmic kisses where I ‘just knew he was the one for me’ and ‘I had finally found my one true love’. Even some of my straight feminist friends still describe their boyfriends in terms of ‘the one.’ Just see Sex and the City’s Mr Big for an example of true love being sold to highly intelligent and otherwise sane, successful women.
I imagine that men don’t experience this urge to merge in quite the same way. Growing up with a different set of stimuli, they are allowed to be happily single. The rich older bachelor is for many men a figure of envy. He hasn’t been presented with a ticking biological clock and a deadline by which he must settle down and reproduce. He can play the field for pretty much as long as he likes.
Of course, if you’re a guy you are also (financially) better off being gay. You have double the top salaries and it’s less likely you’ll have children to support. Visit mainstream gay villages in the Western world’s big cities and the orgasm of commerce there will tell you just how much more money these guys have to burn than us lesbians. I also wonder where men who were raised as women generally fall on this scale of pressure. Do trans men dream of settling down and feel the pressure to desperately seek a partner, or does their gender allow them to ignore the conditioning directed at women? What do you guys think?
This dream of love seems to be blind to sexuality. I, still, wonder if my date will be ‘the one to rescue me’ at the same time I consciously recognise this idea is bollocks. No matter if the person I am with is male, female or neither, I have a constant internal dialogue about our relationship. Where is this going, are we going to settle down together, is this the person ‘I am going to spend the rest of my life with’? This internal dialogue has nothing to do with the person in front of me. Even if, on a date, I am thinking how much this person is irritating me, I will stil desperately cling to them because I want them to save me. Even though I know, beyond a doubt, that this is a false dream I have learnt by some very successful (and ongoing) social conditioning, I can’t seem to get rid of it.
Not My Happy Ending
The dream of ‘the one’ has had some pretty disastrous effects on my love life. It causes me to cling onto my lover as if I were drowning, neurotic behaviour that is not very sexy. It also, as Germaine Greer argued in The Female Eunuchway back in the 70s, provides a very convenient distraction from myself. Linked to the self-abuse of fat hate, the desire to catch, keep (beauty myth) and be rescued by (Disney) a lover keeps me away from the realisation that only I can rescue myself.
I am unhappy. Am I unhappy because I am single? No. I am unhappy because I want to have more adventures (including love affairs), to be more creative. But I am too busy obsessing after someone I barely know to work on being happy for myself. I am never happier than when shut off from media, travelling, spending my days writing and exploring. But every time I fancy someone I obsess in a way that takes me away from the real world and more into myself. The dream of love leads me away from adventure into self-defeating masochism. This behaviour is also circular: the more miserable I get, the more desperately I look to the other person to save me.
“If you are a single woman, you must be unhappy”
Having had depression over the past two years has forced me to do some hard evaluation of the way I engage with life and relationships. In her autobiography Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal Jeanette Winterson says that “creativity is on the side of health” (I will be reviewing this book on feminist mag The F Wordso keep a look out for the link). I too have learnt that writing and other types of art provide me with an outlet for that nervous energy that I used to invest so destructively into my affairs. I believe this misuse of our energy is exactly what Disney and the myth of romantic love works to achieve. Keep our attention away from ourselves, and we, the oppressed majority will never rebel against our oppression. We will never rebel against our potential.
All this isn’t to say that I don’t believe in love. I do, wholeheartedly, believe in love. Love which is sane and healthy and forms a deep connection between individuals. I also believe that the myths surrounding romantic love are deliberately harmful to women and the heterosexual men who love them. The imbalance of power in such obsessive relationships can only lead to destruction of some kind, whether of the relationship itself, or the independence and creativity of the lovers. I would love to learn to form relationships that aren’t needy and obsessive but strong and calm. The kind of feeling I get when I am by the sea; the feeling I am home. When each wave is a new moment and it is constantly and calmly changing.
Disney princesses dubbed with clips from Mean Girls:
Part 1 of two pieces on careers and women. Why women are expected to be more quiet, speak less, and be more self-deprecating than men.
I’m a pretty shy girl. Well, maybe shy isn’t the right word. I can often be quite friendly and steer conversations in a social setting. I sometimes even introduce myself in a self-confident and open manner and continue to an interesting topic of conversation such as ‘what do you think of the bunting?’ and ‘isn’t the selection of desserts great?’ like I did at my friend’s wedding party this weekend. But as soon as I admire a person, as soon as I think they are talented, interesting or, let’s face it, hot, I clam up. I start to put myself down and insist that I am a less worthy human being than them who doesn’t deserve to kiss the ground at their creative/innovative/sexy feet.
I find myself jealous of people who are able to speak about their career with confidence. Men, in particular, seem to have the gift of the gab. An ability to find the right words and have an unashamedly self-confident attitude that will make their listener believe that their companion is a man worth listening to; a man who knows his stuff.
“I’m pretty much a nobody really. You should probably talk to someone else. “
When I meet people, I am often frustrated at my own inability to, as it were, big myself up. When asked what I do I generally freak out and put myself down as if to insist, contrary to my own belief, that I am a really boring and unsuccessful person with no talents whatsoever. Although I am a pretty fucking clever, talented and well-travelled person with plenty of strong opinions the way I describe myself gives off the subliminal message ‘I’m pretty much a nobody really, not worth talking to. You should probably talk to someone else. ’ I’m pretty much a self-confidence train wreck, really, akin to Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns before she gets transformed into back-from-the-dead Catwoman.
The conversation usually gets off to a good start. I say ‘I am a writer’ to which people respond in a genuinely interested way. Faced with this positive reaction I invariably to continue to make sure my conversation partner knows just how unsuccessful a writer I am by stressing that I ‘only’ write on my blog and the internet, and that I don’t get paid for it. That my zine is only an amateur home-printed publication.
It all depends how you spin it. While the above information is true, it doesn’t mean that I am less talented or successful than the self-confident guy who ‘has a studio’, ‘exhibits worldwide’ and ‘is currently exploring a way to replicate soundscapes in a digital application’. I can either say I am an unpaid blogger with larger writing aspirations, I give workshops on sex and sexuality and I teach English to German kids or I can say I am a self-employed writer with a moderate online following who is currently experimenting with her creativity while living in Berlin. I can say how I conceived, edited and promoted an 80-page bilingual publication and recently organised and performed in a cabaret attended by over 600 people.
See, I even had to insert the word ‘moderate’ there. I AM SO TERRIBLE AT SELF-PROMOTION!
While I think I have always been insecure and afraid of bigging myself up, I do think this tendency to downplay is more common in women. A lot of the British career women I know, no matter how brilliant, habitually talk in a way that puts themselves down. We undermine our achievements in order to appear more socially acceptable. We make ourselves seem more stupid, smaller, less significant in order to cater to the subconscious idea that a woman is meant to have a lower place in society than a man.
A man is encouraged from birth to inhabit his personality and develop his abilities. He is nurtured in a way that women often aren’t, who are taught to hide their brilliance and pretend that they are somehow lesser than they are.
I see this attitude in my parents’ celebration of my intelligence along with their desire to push me into a ‘normal’ job. Any job will do, no matter how unsuitable, so long as I fit into the mainstream idea of acceptable-things-to-do-with-your-life. They would rather I were a miserable secretary, employed in a job that uses none of my creativity, than a happy, unknown artist (if I were famous like JK Rowling, as my Dad points out, that would be another matter).
It is now my project to stop apologising for myself when asked what I do for a living. I am going to proudly claim my artist / writer label and not say, ‘but don’t worry, I’m really brainless and broke and what you do is way more important anyway’. I’m going to be proud. Go get ‘em girl.
At first I was going to address this piece only to the trans guys in our community, but then I realised that I experience this kind of sexism at the hands/eyes/unconscious of many queers. I don’t think sexism is 100% determined by your gender, and I feel just as excluded/alienated/stared-at-in-queer-parties by other women, gender queers, dykes and lesbians for the way I present. I feel just as unsupported by them, and also question how much they really would be there for me, a feminine woman, when I need them.
What kind of man are you going to be? Are you going to support me when I am harassed, or are you just going to stand idly by and let it happen? These were the questions yelled out by a friend into the late Summer night. We were sitting by the fountain at Alexanderplatz, bitching loudly about the femmephobia of the Berlin queer scene. A couple of wandering men approached us, seeing us as easy targets. We got rid of them quickly, loudly, aggressively. They seemed surprised.
My friend had just finished telling me about an incident in which she was harassed in a Berlin squat bar, and then blamed by other guests of the queer feminist party for ‘causing a fuss’ when forcibly evicting the harasser. Both of us were deeply frustrated with the failure of our fellow queers to support us when we are threatened. We felt that there was a hierarchy in the queer scene, which placed transmasculinities at the top, forcing transfemininities to the bottom.
Another friend of mine said that the queer trans men in Australia are much better at questioning the privilege their masculinity gives them in this sexist world. I know, of course, there are tonnes of lovely feminist men, trans and cis, out there who question male privilege. But, in general, Berlin doesn’t seem to be doing too well on that point. When queer masculinities are celebrated as the epitome of queer eroticism, when transmasculine queers takes up so much space in our bars and parties and forget to step aside for me, making me squeeze around the edges, then there is a problem.
(Why should they step aside, you ask? Because this world is really sexist. Because in every space I move in, on the street, in bars, in shops, discussion groups I am expected to step aside and make space for men. To give them priority, first word, right of passage. To automatically put them first and myself second. And I fucking refuse to do this in our queer spaces too.)
There is a tendency to self-satisfaction in this small community. We seem to think sexism doesn’t happen here. We are queer feminists, dude, we are so radical! But of course the patriarchy gets in here. It gets in everywhere. And even among self-declared feminists, masculinity is being celebrated at femininities’ cost.
I don’t think misogyny is inherent to masculinity. I don’t think that being a man or a masculine person makes you automatically more sexist than, say, a feminine woman. But I do think men are socialised to believe in their superiority. There is a lot of power that comes with taking up male space. And with that power comes responsibility. How are you going to use your agency? Are you going to help carve out a space in which femininities can also be respected? Or are you going to take advantage of your power, which always comes at femininities’ cost, and perpetuate the sexist status quo?
I think I have said this, like, a million times. Hell, I’ve written a whole thesis on it. Masculinity and femininity don’t have to be played off each other, like cheap adversaries; femininity the Tybalt to our lovely queer Romeo. In order to celebrate transmasculinity, you don’t have to reject me. You can celebrate muscles and ties and sexy bois at the same time as loving colourful feathers and cleavages and feminine flirtation.
Man, I get all into my queer utopias when I start imagining alternative definitions of masculinity and femininity, maleness and femaleness, ones that don’t involve us saying one is bad in order to make the other seem good. Eat your heart outJosé Muñoz! Will masculinity and femininity, men and women still exist in this non-sexist utopia? Or will these identities automatically be destroyed when we break down sexist boundaries? Man, I hope not, or my whole erotic identity will be buggered. God, I love that play on gender!
It is right to celebrate transmasculinity and recognising its right to be celebrated at a time when medically transitioning is only just becoming possible. But there is a fine line between celebrating and fetishising. And when the sexist behaviour of individuals and groups is ignored and allowed because trans men can do no wrong, they are the epitome of the oppressed, the superqueers, then fetishisation is happening. I think that a lot of the dynamics I see happening here in Berlin are unconscious. I don’t think people are deliberately trying to exclude femmes or trans women or make us feel unwelcome. But that is exactly what is happening because there is an unexamined idolisation of transmasculinity.
So, I would like to address this question to all transmasculine queers in our community. It’s not only what kind of man are you going to be, but also what kind of queer, dyke, butch, boi, genderqueer…? Are you going to question your masculine privilege in our queer society or are you going to embrace it and take advantage of it at feminine women’s expense?
Hey guys. I wanted to let y’all know about a really awful breach of human rights happening in Berlin right now. A father of an 11-year-old transgender girl has the authorities’ support to remove her from her mother’s home and place her in therapy (yup, that’s a mad house to you and I) until she returns to ‘normality.’ They will force her to grow up as a boy. I can’t imagine the psychological and physical damage to this child that will result from this action.
Get informed by reading this article in English. I find it shocking, sad and depressing that these kinds of things *still* happen in so-called developed countries. Bleurgh.
On a happier note, I am very proud to be quoted in next month’s Hugs & Kisses magazine. This queer German mag contains an article about asexuality written by the amazing author of that zine on asexuality I wrote about. In fact, my most popular post on not wanting to have sex will be reprinted in the next edition of the zine. Yay for me! The article will also be featured in a new zine for queer youth in Berlin. More details to come sooooon!
Your sad and happy news for the day. Over and out. LTx