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:
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:
Sometimes I get so angry at the sexism I see in the world that it makes me just want to scream. This is the feeling I got when I read the sexist comments on Berlin queer mag Siegessäule‘s review of The Berlin Femme Show. The night was such a success with over 600 guests and 25 amazing performers. It really made me hope, just a little bit, that things might be looking up for femmes here in Berlin. The review was very appreciative and I was so proud of the amazing range of feminist statements our performers made: from body image, to trans identities, queer homogeneity to sex work. But no, apparently when you get a bunch of mostly feminine women performing burlesque, all we are doing is taking our tits out and being pornographic. Of course.
I mean, there is nothing political about a woman desperately breaking her diet by eating her cosmetics and then celebrating her fatness by dancing to Fat Bottomed Girls. There is nothing political about seeing fat burlesque at all, in a world which tells us we only have sexual power as women when we starve ourselves into thinness. There is nothing political about taking the stereotype of the housewife and using it to bake dreams of a different queer world and to celebrate all the feminists who have gone before us. There is nothing political about showing the thoughts of a sex worker as she strips and comes for a client, or standing up on stage as a transsexual woman and talking about the exclusion of transfemininities in the queer community. There is nothing political about standing on stage in front of a community who has done everything in its power to ignore you, discount you and keep you out and demand to be seen as sexual and queer.
Of course, all we girls are doing is taking our tits out and disappointing our queer feminist sisters, who obviously know a lot more about what it means to be queer and feminist than we do. Boo hoo fucking hoo.
So, I encourage all of you to read my zine which is now fully translated and consists of 80 pages of art about why, exactly, these kinds of attitudes are bullshit.
The rise of domesticity in feminist culture: are crotcheting and cunt cupcakes really that innocent?
Earlier this week, The Quietus published an article that criticised the rise of so-called “cupcake feminism”. It suggested that all these cute young women with their scarlet lipstick and intricate cupcakes had become the acceptable face of feminism, an image which leaves the feminist stereotype of the “angry, hairy dyke” well out of the picture. The writer, Meryl Trussler, argues that this acceptable image of contemporary feminism unintentionally affirms the facile dismissal of feminists who are not young, white and traditionally feminine.
To some extent I agree with this article. At a lesbian cake picnic in Hyde Park, London, a good friend of mine criticised cupcake chic. They said that they now felt obliged to cook delicious cakes for social occasions at the same time as being a mother and somehow having a life. Domestic work, they said, was not glamorous. Having seen first hand the unimaginable amount of work my friend has to do as a single parent to two children, I agree that, no matter how much Nancy Sinatra you play and fake pearls you wear, cleaning the toilet or hoovering the apartment is never going to be that sexy, or fun. Perhaps the fact that I am now expected to bring delicious creations to potlucks after working all day, writing, and my many other commitments, is limiting rather than ironic. Is the rise of crotcheting and cunt cupcakes really that innocent? Or does it play into the hands of sexist stereotypes?
“When I stand there, in a fluffy cardigan, holding a cupcake in one hand and feminist tract in the other, I am exploding stereotypes of femininity”
There is something to be said for, “no I can’t smash the patriarchy with feminist cupcakes right now, I need to go to work so I can feed my children and send them to school.” Even if, like me, you don’t have kids, it’s OK to not have time to bake. I mean, us ladies often have better things to do with our time, like working towards our respective careers or going to demonstrations. Maybe my Mum got it right after all. She always hated cooking and the obligation she felt to feed the whole family. Coming back from a long day’s work, she would often feed us frozen food or reheat leftovers. And do I blame her? No. To expect her to work 9-5, while bringing up two children, and running a household, was a bit much. I mean, without frozen food, would she really have had the time to pursue her own high-flying career? In fact, pre-packaged food became popular in the 1950s. It was marketed as the housewife’s time saver (has anyone seen Betty’s cooking in Mad Men?), so this nostalgic obsession with home cooking is actually an imaginative recreation.
“no matter how much Nancy Sinatra you play, cleaning the toilet is never going to be that fun”
I imagine that, as readers of this blog, you probably know what social phenomenon I am talking about here. You are probably young-ish, feminist and familiar with queer and alternative cultures. However, if you’re not, welcome! I hope you enjoy your stay here. For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, let me give you a few examples. It has now become commonplace for feminist and queer events to use cakes as a kind of sales technique and extra cutesy factor. Tabling at Zinefest Berlin, I cunningly used sugary vulvas (otherwise known as vagina cupcakes) to draw the attention of passerby to the zine I was promoting. I wasn’t the only person there who was using icing to lure people into purchasing art. Visiting London in December, I went to the Ducky Christmas Fair. Ducky is a weekly queer night in South London and the craft fair had a whole atrium devoted to homemade niceties. The fair was a veritable mecca for crafty feminists who like to embroider ice-cream brooches and craft swallow necklaces in-between demonstrations. This bonanza made clear to me the extent to which the cute has become a part of queer and feminist culture.
Make no mistake, this is exactly my cup of tea. I love dressing up, being pretty and presenting a stereotype of femininity while sweetly shoving my cunt cupcakes in people’s faces and mouthing off about sexism. Actually, this is my point, which I think Trussler kinda missed. When I stand there in a pink fluffy jumper and lipstick, holding a cupcake in one hand and feminist tract in the other, I am exploding stereotypes of femininity. My softly spoken feminist arguments give the lie to my apparent reproduction of 1950s femininity. It proves the whole show to be exactly that, a masquerade.
Although Trussler does acknowledge the fuck-you drag queening of this moment, her overall argument dismisses it as somehow ‘not enough.’ Not obvious enough, not feminist enough. She says that, by avoiding the feminist stereotype of the big hairy dyke, this image is kind of a cop out. That it’s an easier alternative to really getting stuck into the stereotypes perpetuated by the mainstream media. It is here that I find a big feminist black hole in Trussler’s argument. Never mind that she appropriates high femme, a queer trope, to describe a group of (presumably straight?) feminists who are rejecting the image of the big, hairy dyke. (Hello? As a butch loving femme I LOVE big hairy dykes!) Trussler also seems to forget just how much guts it takes to walk down the streets as a feminine woman. As I said in my interview with Transgender Radio, presenting in a feminine way makes you a target for sexual harassment and assault. Femininity is read by many fucked-up folks as an invitation to sexual advances and hate. Haven’t you heard of the Slutwalks Trussler? Isn’t this exactly their message?
To stand up and demand to be counted while wearing a gingham dress and cardy is a pretty darn brave thing to do. It shows that, femininity, too, can be strong and loud and brave. Darn it, femininity is powerful! In a world in which so much hate is directed towards this gender, and sexism against women is justified through the idea of femininity as weak, passive and artificial, to rant in the form of a crotchet patch is pretty radical. We have to be careful not to reject older art forms, such as sewing, knitting, and, yes, baking (an art form too!), just because they are traditionally female. The art world has always devalued personal, ‘domestic’ crafts (female) in favour of large, ‘universal’ abstract art (male). This is one thing I love about British artist Tracey Emin. Her massive quilts, which catalogue the sexist slurs she has had directed at her, as well as her thoughts, love affairs and travels, challenge the idea that domestic art forms are irrelevant. She shows that her personal experiences apply to every woman and that crafts can carry political messages. Heck, you could even say that the idea “the personal is political” is a foundation of contemporary queer culture! In the arts, Confessional poetsfrom the 50s & 60s like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton are now celebrated as mistresses of their art form.
I am not sure I agree with this search for an “acceptable face of feminism”. Feminism can’t be reduced to a catchphrase. It is too multifaceted, too large, for it to be represented by one image, one social group. Even the most awesome feminist is not going to understand or be able to represent the experiences of everyone. As a white, young feminist without children, there is a tonne I don’t know about the feminist needs of women of colour, older women and parents. I don’t think this means I am a bad feminist, but rather that it is my social responsibility to acknowledge my blind spots. What does this mean? It means that each individual feminist needs to do what they can, what is right for them, to create change. And this politics needs to be enacted with awareness of one’s own short sightedness; that is, with humility and compassion. Besides, as a movement that challenges the social structure of, like, the whole world, feminism will always be distinctly unpalatable to the status quo.
I find Tressler’s piece useful as it addresses concerns that have been boinging around the back of my mind for some while now, and I think it’s a good conversation to have. But some things in her article just set my teeth on edge. What do you guys think? As feminist, queers or women, do you feel the pressure to be domesticated? Do you think this cutesy craftsy feminism is too young and too white? And what do you think people would say if you turned up to a potluck, shock horror, with a shop-bought dessert?!
Oh yeah, and here’s your feminist cute of the day. Well, not really feminist, more just cute:
I’m back in town and overwhelmed to see how well party preparation has been going along without me! We now have OVER 15 amazing femme performers joining us to celebrate femmes in Berlin on Thursday 15th March. This is a fundraiser for my zine project about sexism within the queer community. Check out the deets below folks! And catch the updates via Facebook. Thanks so much to Trent for designing and Robekkah for contributing the artwork for the beautiful poster:
**ENGLISH VERSION BELOW**
Fem(me)inista productions präsentieren zusammen mit der Berlin Femme Mafia: The Berlin Femme Show 2012
Es dauerte zwar etwas, aber jetzt können wir zu unser großen Freude die zweite Berlin Femme Show präsentieren!
Wir laden dich_euch herzlich ins Lido ein, auf einen fabulösen Abend voll der Crème de la Crème der queeren femme Kreativtalente. Der Abend fängt entspannt und elegant an mit einem spoken word salon und deliziösen femme Catering von Ohlàlà Tartes-shop, dicht gefolgt von atemberaubendem und sexy Cabaret! Danach werden DJ_anes euch bis in die Nacht am tanzen halten.
performers: Alexander Alvina Chamberland, Annie Good, Margaret Steenblock, Lady Gaby, Marsmaedchen, Mimi Monstroe, Rosebutt, Sarah Martinus, Hedi Mohr, Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, Goldie Dartmouth, Laura Lipstick, Mademoiselle Kla, Yvette Bathory, Kay P. Rinha, Glittertrash, Lyndsey Cockwell, Femme Fraktionen und mehr!
Fem(me)inista productions, in association with the Berlin Femme Mafia present: The Berlin Femme Show 2012
At long last, it is our great pleasure to present the second Berlin Femme Show!
You are invited to Lido for a fabulous evening showcasing the very best of queer femme creative talent! The evening begins in a relaxed and elegant way with a spoken word salon complete with delicious femme catering by Ohlàlà Tartes-shop, followed by a breathtaking & sexy cabaret! After the cabaret will be DJs and dancing late into the night.
Performances by: Alexander Alvina Chamberland, Annie Good, Margaret Steenblock, Lady Gaby, Marsmaedchen, Mimi Monstroe, Rosebutt, Hedi Mohr, Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, Sarah Martinus, Goldie Dartmouth, Ms Laura Lipstick, Mademoiselle Kla, Yvette Bathory, Kay P. Rinha, Glittertrash, Lyndsey Cockwell, Femme Fraktionen and more!
Tomorrow I am going away to meditate in the woods for a while and won’t be posting here until the third week of February. But no fear, here is plenty of reading to mull over in the meantime. You can also check out my links sidebar (on the right) and find other awesome feminist and queer blogs. I’m just sayin’…
“A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a young woman, a college student, who claimed that her professor had assigned her entire class a special little assignment, for extra credits, for students who could track down my legal name and bring it to class. This young woman had tried and tried, she said, to find it online, but couldn’t, and she really wanted those extra marks. Would I be so kind as to just tell her?”
Reading this opening of Ivan Coyote’s latest story, I was pretty – well, not shocked, I guess, because I wasn’t surprised. But I was upset. Sometimes I forget what it must be like living on the borders of gender, carving your own path. As I said in my previous post, reminders like these make me want to be a better trans ally. To do my little bit. And then I got to thinking about the whole grammar thing of using “they” as a singular third-person pronoun, and I got a little bit obsessed. It turns out, there is a lot of historical precedent to using gender neutral pronouns in English and a tonne of research on the subject.
A Lipstick Terrorist’s Guide to Beating the ‘they’ Doubters:
1. First of all, If you are looking for a 2-minute ‘I told-you-so’ to show the ‘they’ doubters before you move onto reading about another subject, this is the place for you. As it is made by a dictionary, any grammar snobs will be super impressed by its air of authority. I can’t embed it here because WordPress is being stupid.
4. And then there’s the fact that you’re being a big transphobic plonker if you don’t use the pronouns your friends and peers ask you to. For anyone who feels that they (yes, that’s the singular they in action folks! See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?) could learn more about trans etiquette and manners, go here. I know I certainly could. And this is another really helpful resource for people who are new to having trans folks in their life.
Lastly, for a little fun, here’s a little song the Canadian singer Rae Spoon wrote that we can all sing together:
While searching for an appropriate title for this post, I spent some time looking in my thesaurus. I like thesauri. They truly are books of wonders. These are some of the meanings I found. I think they all apply to this essay:
1. entertainment, diversion, distraction
2. match, contest or play-off
1. brave, gutsy
For some time now, I have been pondering whether or not to post here about sexism in the queer community. I have spent a lot of time on this blog writing about my frustrations with the queer communities of Europe and North America and the gaping holes I see in simplistic political theories. I am always trying to follow my nose. To trust my bitch’s instinct to sniff out sexism wherever I find it, and report on it with a resounding, wolf-like howl. Yet, I don’t want my energies to be destructive. I don’t want to provide harsh critiques of queer communities because, after all, we are just a conglomerate of individuals trying to find our way in the dark. We hold each other’s hands as we wander, lost, through the dark alleyways of gender and sexuality. Sometimes we follow fun, sexy detours. Sometimes we stumble, like Alice, into new and wonderful lands. Sometimes we end up where we started, no matter how far we have walked, or feel we have travelled.
I have, so far, restrained from writing about this topic here for three reasons. Firstly, I feel that I have started the ball rolling on the subject, at least in Berlin, by creating my zine on sexism against queer femininities. My second reason is that my thoughts on the subject are not 100% formed and I am afraid I will make a huge fucking mistake. Lastly, I am worried that I will come across as a transphobic asshole and may even be one, too. Transphobic, you ask? Why, in particular? Because if I talk about the sexist dynamics of my queer community in Berlin I will have to say this: there is a hierarchy in the queer community, with some kinds of transmasculinity at the top of the pile of all things queer and unholy, which leaves transfemininities at the bottom. The dynamics of the scenes I move in say, both explicitly and implicitly, that transmasculine folks are more queer than transfeminine folks.
Cue: one big fucking political(ly incorrect) mess.
How can I distinguish my experiences of sexism as a queer cis femme from my own cissexism? Is there a point at which discussion of this traditionally sexist dynamic (masculinity is good, femininity is bad), which definitely exists in our community, by the way, will tip into transphobia? Anyway, isn’t my fierce energy better spent elsewhere? Shouldn’t we all just shut the hell up, stop fighting and just get on with it?
“I think that all of these concerns and fears and angers and loves and all are completely valid and utterly understandable. And I think that if we don’t quit spending so much energy on fighting amongst ourselves, we are going to look up one day soon and find the Department of Homeland Security on our collective doorstep, confiscating our banners and banning us from travel or work for being security risks by virtue of being too confusing, one and all. Then we’ll realise what a privilege it was to engage in border wars, when we had the leisure time for that. Before we ended up spending every scrap of energy on survival. That’s what I think.”
Yeah, Bear, you are so right. It isn’t productive to say, well my oppression is worse than your oppression because of this and this and that.
There is also my raging anger, however. There is also the feeling that, yeah, I have privileges because I am white and cis and pass as straight to a lot of onlookers (which can sometimes be a real bummer – for instance, when I want to get laid, or to be recognised by a fellow queer I spot while out and about), but I also experience sexism on a daily basis: in the world at large, in all my relationships and in my community. There’s no such thing as a queer bubble, right? And do I have the right to speak about my experiences of sexism? Of course I do!
And then, this complicated feeling leads me onto what I call the ‘Colonial Chicken and Egg’ argument of social justice theory. It’s the kind of argument you hear when governments justify their sexist development policies for undeveloped countries. The argument goes something like this: “Well, of course women’s rights are important and we will get onto them as soon as we can, but can’t you see that what this [insert group of people here] really needs right now is [insert human right here, such as access to medical care and food]?” It’s pretty colonial because it assumes that [insert all-knowing patriarchal authority here] knows what is best for said underprivileged group. The struggle against sexism just ain’t as important as the struggle for medical care. But, to extend the analogy to breaking point, when sexism leads to women being systematically raped and murdered, where can the boundary between women’s rights and access to medical care be drawn?
And, aren’t I being racist right now by using a Third-World analogy to illuminate Western social dynamics?
How can I complain that transmasculine folks are benefitting from some kind of privilege in the queer community when transmen are only just starting to get access to the medical care they may (or may not) want and which they undeniably have a right to? Whose fundamental human right is more important? My right to not experience prejudice as a feminine woman, or a transman’s right to claim and inhabit his gender? The answer is, of course, no one’s. We both have these rights and these rights are equally important. But tell that to a community of 1000 screaming individuals, each with their own needs and own experiences of oppression owing to dis/ability, race, religion, class, gender (and more). Tell them that each of their needs are equally important and what happens? None of them can be met. Political theory collapses. Go directly to Jail, do not pass Go, do not collect your activist points. This kind of shit requires one to spend several reincarnations studying the philosophy of ethics. And even then we’ll make mistakes. Because, after all, we’re only human.
We prioritise needs in our activism in order to get stuff done. You have to make a choice, right? Right?
My experience of being a political activist is a balancing act. Sometimes I have to hold my body on the fine edge of a knife and make this painful, dangerous terrain my home.
Reading the writing of artists like Ivan E. Coyote and S. Bear Bergman reminds me not only what I desperately, hopelessly love about transmasculine folks, but also encourages me to be the best ally, the best person I possibly can. But, sometimes, I get lost. Sometimes I am not sure where I am going, and I can’t see whether the path I am following will lead to a dead end or take me forward. I get distracted and I have blindspots, like anyone else. Sometimes, all I need is a little help. A friend to gently take my hand and help me find the way.