Why being a grown-up is hard, being an older queer is harder, and my feelings on discovering my brother is pregnant
Happy Family Day Canadians in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan! Happy Viola Desmond day in Nova Scotia and also Louis Riel day in Manitoba! Phew. Why can’t all of Canada agree on the same bloody holiday? That’s what this girl from a island that fits into your country, like, 40 times over (I calculated it) wants to know. What better way to celebrate the (I feel, rather patriarchal sounding holiday) by oversharing my conflicted feelings about aging, babies, careers and being a queer lady who is not pregnant, nor has easy access to sperm.
My little brother, who used to be small enough for me to pick up in my arms before he grew into an oversized human, is going to be a Dad. He FaceTimes me on the way to a dinner party with the ‘Amy is pregnant and we’re engaged!’ bombshell. Cue slightly maniacal laughter from both of us about the prospect of him being a Dad, my predictable outburst “I’m going to be the coolest feminist auntie ever” and my also predictable sinking feeling that he will now definitely be my parents’ favourite child.
I immediately call my partner and discuss where we can get some gay sperm to knock me up. I can get very competitive.
I spent the whole of yesterday in a weird daze, having given myself some kind of half concussion by dropping a glass pot lid on my nose, and having found out that I am going to be an auntie. Within a couple of hours of my brother’s we’re-having-a-baby-and-we’re-getting-married,-surprise! bombshell, I found out a dear friend of mine is engaged. This follows on the heels of finding out my best friend is pregnant a couple of weeks ago and a literal baby explosion among my straight friends in the UK.
It seems like all of my friends are having babies and getting married.
I, on the other hand, had spent a good part of last week trying to convince my partner that we should move to the prairies for my PhD program and had finally resorted to the manipulative outburst “I’ll marry you if you do.” Well done, Laura, you win romantic proposal of the year award. No thoroughly planned replica of our original date for me, oh no, just a desperate attempt to have my cake and eat it too.
Apparently, now we’re pre-engaged, or whatever that is. I prefer betrothed, as it sounds more Jane Austen-y and less nineties romcom or whatever.
So, all this is to say, that I’m feeling a lot of pressure when it comes to the aging, queerness and career front. Having vacillated a lot on the babies question in my twenties, not least because it’s not so straightforward when you’re unlikely to be partnered with a cisgender dude, I am coming to the conclusion that I probably do want the babies. Problem is, I also want the career, am starting a PhD this year, have no money and, according to received opinion, my eggs will start drying up in a couple of years if they haven’t already started to do so.
Argh! I know, #middleclassproblems, right? I am also aware that getting to do a PhD is a huge privilege, I know that my parents will always bail me out financially if necessary and I can probably get the sperm from somewhere. As I get older, I realize more and more that a) time passes and b) there is no perfect time to do anything anyway.
Plus, I’m a feminist and sceptical of the ‘have babies now now now woman it is your job and your time is running out!’ patriarchal narrative, because, you know, the patriarchy has an agenda.
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:
In this, my last of threeposts 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.
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?
Who we are seen to be at work affects our relationship with our colleagues, managers and our job security. In my case, as a queer femme in a relationship with a transsexual man, I am often misread as straight, which forces me back into the closet. My perceived sexuality puts me in an uncomfortable position in relation to my co-workers and managers.
Things feel completely different in the corporate world, where the work culture I’ve seen is straight, male-dominated and pretty macho.
When I started there I found myself in the unusual position of un-outing myself, or at least of being seen to do so. Because my partner goes by ‘he’ I surprised a lot of my colleagues by referring to my boyfriend. I feel conflicted about this; undoubtedly most of my colleagues picture a cis guy in their heads when I refer to my boyfriend and think of me as straight, which is just a lie. But going out of my way to explain that my boyfriend isn’t ‘normal’ feels offensive (towards him) and just plain awkward.
It is definitely easier in some ways to let my colleagues make assumptions than out my partner as trans and me as, well, whatever that makes me. I imagine myself saying “my boyfriend, who’s trans, by which I mean a transsexual man (potential awkward explanation here)” and leave them to make whatever assumptions about us they’re going to make. It’s much easier for me not to include this addendum, which feels uncomfortably apologetic to me anyway. I feel like I’d be insisting on my abnormality, while apologizing for the complicatedness of my boyfriend’s gender. And, of course, it’s way easier to ride the wave of heteronormativity than consciously outing myself.
Of course, I am complicit in this misreading of my sexuality. And I gain heterosexual privilege from that. But all this makes me uncomfortable. After bumping into a colleague when I was with my partner and introducing him, I wondered whether her view of me had changed. Whether she felt I had lied to her in some way. Because this does feel like lying. Even with colleagues who are my age, I don’t want to out myself because it feels too awkward. And, of course, I fear their rejection.
Not to mention the fact that I feel I’ve let down the older lesbian at work. She immediately (correctly) pegged me as one of her own, and seemed disappointed when I started to talk about my boyfriend.
Maybe this is what all bisexual people feel like. They, too, are seen to be aligning themselves with a particular sexual group when they are in a relationship. If bisexual women refer to their boyfriend, they will be misread as straight. If they refer to their girlfriend, they will be seen as a lesbian. Both of these assumptions contain some element of truth, but both miss the whole picture.
Our understanding of sexuality is still so black and white. What happens to those of us who confuse these boundaries?
I’d be interested to find out how you juggle your queer identities at work. Do you feel comfortable or do you feel you have to hide parts of yourself? Can you share any strategies for coming out as LGBT and is it even necessary?
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.
Butch and Femme: the lowdown on why queer feminism is sexist. The below should be read in a Dan Savage-style rant with a lot of sarcastic emphasis and swearing.
A femme performer once said that butch and femme is the armpit of the world. By this, I understood that butch and femme is the sexuality everybody loves to hate on. It’s the scapegoat for why femme-on-femme or butch-on-butch or pansexuality is sooo much better. More radical. More enlightened. Y’know? Because butches and femmes who love each other are just imitating the heterosexuals! In this formulation, being into butch/femme is even worse than being straight because at least the breeders are doing it for realz!
Imagine my disappointment then to read her profess her tiredness of butch/femme via social media and the ridiculous responses to that post. Cue people calling butch/femme “socially constructed and limiting,” that butch/femme is a “category” from which others have chosen to “free themselves.”
This suggestion that butch/femme is socially constructed, that it is in a little brainwashed, pre-1970s birdcage of its own is really self-satisfied. It’s like, oh, you’re still doing that? Grrl, that is so 1950s! All the cool kids are doing this now.
But hey, I guess you don’t get to call yourself cool unless others are uncool.
As if other queers have reached this level of sexual enlightenment where we’ve somehow managed to distinguish between patriarchy and the personal. Between our selves and social attitudes. As if it isn’t fucking patriarchal to participate in a community norm that says all genderqueer / vaguely-or-explicitly masculine bois / trans men should only date other genderqueer / vaguely-or-explicitly masculine bois / trans men. Wow, apparently queer feminism is all about privileging masculinity and men now!
And, before you all jump down my throats, yes! OF COURSE I recognise there are multiple sexual expressions and this is OK and everybody is allowed to be different and THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I’M SAYING! Just leave me the fuck be! Don’t judge my sexuality. Don’t assume that you know more about me than I do. Don’t tell me what is better for me. You know what? That’s not an opinion you’re allowed to have.
It’s my 30th birthday today! To celebrate the occasion I have decided to reproduce on my most controversial, and heartfelt, pieces from the year. My question to you, is: Have the assumptions of masculinity, hypersexualisation and polyamory in queer circles created a false hierarchy between the ideal queer and the everyday realities of lived queer lives?
I had never thought much about asexuality until a couple of years ago when, for the first time in my adult life, I lost my sex drive. I mean, I didn’t actually lose it. It wasn’t hiding under the bed or anything, gathering dust with old shoes and mouldy peanuts. It just went on a holiday, to give me the time and space to sort some stuff out. Thank you, sex drive. That was very considerate of you.
Up until that point I had what I considered a very active libido. You know that old myth that men think about sex every seven seconds? Well, as a teenager I thought about sex so much that I didn’t doubt this myth was true. I just assumed it must extend to women, because I thought about sex all the time. This pretty rampant sex drive has followed me throughout most of my adult life, until, as I said, 2 years ago when I became depressed.
As well as being horny, I am a pretty radical person. I am what Caitlin Moran calls a ‘stringent feminist.’ The kind of woman who will make any dinner party awkward by calling out the conservative dude in the tie on his ha-ha, light-hearted jokes about women or race or the working classes. Oh, so funny! I am the stuff nightmare dinner parties are made of.
I am also queer, femme, into BDSM, curious about dating cis men, and all sorts of other interesting things. I consider myself sex positive and pretty non-judgmental when it comes to other people’s sexual adventures. I do my best to live by my feminist code of ethics. My feminism means that I believe we are all a little transphobic, sexist, homophobic, classist and racist because we live in a patriarchal society that is founded on these hierarchies.
We give men the upper hand by putting down women; we use racist theories to justify white supremacy, classism to explain a world-order in which most people starve while a few thrive, etc etc etc. My feminism means that I recognise I have all of these prejudices inside me and that I think it is my job to diminish them. This doesn’t mean that I am constantly beating myself up about what a horrible person I am, it’s more that I recognise my own flawed position. This is a pretty difficult attitude to take. Seeing some people behave in the most horrible ways and understanding the fucked-up logic behind their actions is exhausting. Dismissal is easy. Empathy is complicated.
Queer feminism has allowed me to embrace my kinky side and learn much about non-cis gender identities and LGBT history. But I also find massive flaws in the dynamics of the queer communities I know. There are three assumptions commonly made in queer circles, each of which creates a false hierarchy between an ideal of queer and the reality of many lived queer lives. These three assumptions are: hypersexualisation, the idea that everyone wants to have sex all of the time (and if you don’t you’re repressed); that polyamory is a natural desire and wanting to form monogamous relationships means you have jealousy issues; that masculinity is the hottest thing ever and being feminine, especially as a woman, means you are brainwashed. So, as someone who currently doesn’t want to have sex; prefers monogamous relationships and – shock horror – loves wearing dresses, I’m not being a very good queer at all, am I?
I didn’t come to this realisation out of virtue – I had never thought much about asexuality or people who choose not to or don’t want to have sex before – I came to it following a profound personal crisis. Having always had a pretty raging sex drive, the queer assumption that we all want to have sex all the time made sense to me. But losing my sex drive cut me out of the queer community. It meant that I saw no more reason to socialise in it. How’s that saying go? Oh yeah: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Sex positive feminism has done a lot of good. In a world which tells anyone assigned female at birth that all we want to do is find a heterosexual male partner and have babies, sex positivity has allowed us to carve the space in which to express our own sexual desires.
The celebration of polyamory, too, isn’t in itself a bad thing. The problem comes when polyamory is glorified as the ‘natural’ state of relationships, and if you’re monogamous you have jealousy issues and have been brainwashed. Erm, hasn’t gender theory taught us feminists anything? Since when did we start embracing words like ‘natural’ to describe our identities? Surely we have learnt to be hesitant about the monolithic meanings of such a word. As deconstructionists don’t we find claims that things are this way for everyone a little bit sketchy? No? Oh, OK. Moving on.
Now comes the moment for the trump card in this loving critique of queer feminism. Now it’s time to get the big skeleton out of the queer community’s closet. And that skeleton is -, sexism! What? Sexism? I hear you cry? How can queer feminism possibly be sexist? I mean, we queers have deconstructed the male/female binary and concluded that gender behaviours don’t go hand in hand with vague ideas about biology and evolution. How dare you accuse us of such a thing?
‘I can’t be sexist because I’m queer’. We hear this quite often. Don’t we?
Well, my friends, sad as it may be, it’s time to face up to the facts. Walk into a queer space and what do you see? A uniform of plain black hoodies, asymmetrical hair and caps. There’s not a dress to be seen. Not a hint of colour, lipstick, of long hair.
Despite all our lip service to multifarious gender identities, there is only one gender that we really celebrate in this queer community, and that is masculinity.
The boyish woman, the gender queer and the trans man are the epitomes of hotness in queer scenes. If you’re a feminine woman, cis or trans, then you are just not cool. Transmasculinities are at the top of the queer pile, pushing transfemininities down to the bottom.
Personally, I think this prejudice is unintentional. Talk to any good-meaning queer and they’ll be shocked when you mention things like sexism and femmephobia. But despite individual professions of innocence, we are all guilty. Any time I ignore a feminine woman in a queer bar because I assume she is straight, I am being just as sexist as the people who exclude me.
As Flavia Dzodan suggests in her recent article on sex positivism and race, the assumption that our desires are innate and not learnt, is worth questioning. How asocial and apolitical can our desires be? If no one professes to fancy femininity doesn’t that reflect our internalised misogyny? If we truly were free lovers, if we did express our natural desire and identities, then surely there would be a proliferation of varying desires and genders in our queer spaces. There wouldn’t be a uniform of jeans and t-shirts and strictly boi-on-boi action.
It’s true that not wanting to have sex or a lover has led me to feel alienated from the queer scene. Combine this feeling with my realisation that I prefer to date monogamously and have a very strong femme identity and I no longer feel included or appreciated in the community I have made my worldwide home for the past 6 years. And I am not the only one who feels this way. As responses to my first article on hypersexualisation prove, many people feel alienated from the queer community because their sexual desires don’t fit the queer bill. I’m not poly enough, not kinky enough, not thin enough, and not boyish enough. Not queer enough. As a friend said upon reading zines about being queer, it seems that we think of queer as something up here – she raised her palm above her head – and of ourselves as being down here – she pushed her palm towards the floor.
This notion of queer as an unattainable ideal is really messed up. What happened to queer as an umbrella term? What happened to the ever-expanding joyful list of people we love: LGBTTSIQQA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Transsexual / Two-Spirited Intersex Queer Questioning Asexual)? Unlike slightly mad UK feminist Julie Bindel, I love the idyllic aspirations of queer. The way it wants to join all us freaks together. So it made me really sad, upon moving to Berlin, to realise just how much queer doesn’t want me.
What I want to see from queer communities worldwide, what I think would be truly queer, is a celebration of difference that leads to diversity in our relationships, our beds and on our dance floors. Maybe it is human nature to form group norms (safety in numbers) but I am a political optimist. I think we can do better. Let’s start to really celebrate differences, the freaks and the outcasts. It takes a lot of courage, but I think we can do it. Surely individuality is what is queer.