Last week’s Trans Day of Visibility saw a surge of critiques of the phrase’s dubious politics on my Facebook wall. Created in 2010 by the transgender Michigan activist Rachel Crandall, Trans Day of Visibility was meant to be a positive twin to the Trans Day of Remembrance. A celebration of the living, as a counterpart to the remembrance of the dead. However, the articles on my Facebook newsfeed also reminded me that visibility often puts trans people in harm’s way. One’s visible trans status, especially in the case of trans women and trans women of colour, often leaves trans people vulnerable to transphobic and transmisogynist violence.
When I reposted a picture (below) celebrating TDOV, I paused at the word ‘visibility.’ It seemed an odd choice of word to me. For me, it seemed a word that might be more commonly used, or useful, in the case of celebrating lesbian, gay or bisexual identities, than trans identities.
Identity politics requires the coherence of the group in question. When the identity of the group might not be visible, as is potentially in the case of some sexual minorities, members need to ‘come out’ as belonging to that group. To come out is to claim belonging. For kickass academic theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, this “epistemology of the closet” has come to structure gay identity as we know it today. It is by coming out that lesbian, gay and bisexual subjects come into being.
When I was studying at McGill University, I was a member of a group called Allies Montreal. We would visit local high schools in groups of three and facilitate workshops on homophobia at school. Our workshops would always start the same way: with our coming-out story. By telling our coming-out story we were situating ourselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual subjects. The story told the students we were the ‘real gays,’ come to educate them on gay stuff. We were legitimized as authorities on gay things. It allowed us, in a way, to speak.
Transgender Day of Visibility relies on a similar language of visibility politics. This may reflect trans’ status as an addendum to the pre-existing LGB. Although now commonplace, T was only a recent addition. And for many trans activists, piggybacking on gay acceptance isn’t that beneficial to trans rights. After all, does a group who advocates for sexual minorities and a group who advocates for gender minorities have much in common? This joining of causes may have been encouraged by the prevalence of trans people in many lesbian and gay communities and our political unification under the umbrella ‘queer.’
We are bound to talk about our identities in certain ways. LGBT activism has asked for identity recognition as access to power. In this sense, TDOV is asking that trans people be recognized as trans in order to access the language of equal rights that identity politics provides. Identity politics necessitates engaging in visibility politics –if one’s identity gives one access to power, then you need to be seen as that identity, you need to be recognized, in order to access power.
All this is to say, perhaps visibility isn’t the terms on which trans people should be fighting for their rights. It looks like we need to develop new languages and new ways of acknowledging trans people’s rights. I’m sure many others are far ahead of me.
The falling out of friendships, the always temporal and sometimes temporary nature of activist communities spoke to my own experiences of friendship break-ups, activist relationships forged and broken, miscommunications, flawed politics, exile and exclusion that characterizes my life and work within queer communities in London, Berlin, Montreal and Toronto.
Hello all. I wanted to let you know that I have decided to officially incorporate my Tumblr blog into my Lipstick Terrorist empire. It’s called Mini Lipstick Terrorist and I want to use it as a space to share other people’s ideas, develop my own and have conversations with other femmes, queers, raging feminists and the like. I love how Tumblr lets you form and interact with communities. Expect to find quotes and reblogs from others I admire, my own theories in progress, fragmented thoughts and random geeky fandom gifs. It’s not very pretty yet, but it does have a lot of thought-provoking/hilarious content. Please follow me and I will be delighted to follow you! Head on over now to lipstickterrorist.tumblr.com.
Also, here is something funny I found the other day on Tumblr for all you GoT and cat fans:
How call-out culture verges on the abusive and how the language we use around conflict enables us to push out members of our activist communities at will.
When I moved to Toronto two years ago, I immediately fell into a friendship group of femmes and other queers, largely thanks to the welcoming persona of one of the group. I was invited to parties and had femme friends I felt comfortable around for this first time in my life. I had a pretty good social life, pretty fast.
And then, about three months later, it all fell apart. I started dating someone who would later become my partner. This person had gone on a date with one of my new friends two days prior to meeting me. Later my friend asked me to stop seeing them, and I refused.
A week later, I found myself blocked on Facebook by another friend who would turn her back to me whenever I walked into the room. I was pushed out of my new friendship group with no explanation. As these individuals attended a lot of the queer parties of this particular scene, I no longer felt welcome or comfortable at these events. Having gained and lost close friends in the space of a few months after moving to a new country and city, I felt alienated, lonely and angry.
This this wasn’t the first time I had been pushed out of a queer community. When I was organizing a zine in Berlin, a bunch of co-organizers met behind my back and wrote a letter stating they no longer wanted to participate in the project. They, too, refused to speak about the issue (I am still unclear what it was) and cut me off from all communication with that group.
I have been accused of being anti-Semitic by non-Jewish queers and told my white, middle-class, British mannerisms were oppressing a white, middle-class Canadian. I have been implicitly excluded from community because of my feminine and middle-class dress sense, my preference for monogamous relationships, and my fatness.
Of course, it is possible that I am an anti-Semitic, classist, racist, sexist, unattractive person who is unable to see beyond her own oppression and accept her natural polyamorous and genderqueer nature. And a bad friend. Even though I am undoubtedly invested in not being all of these things, I am also pretty sure I am not all of them. I mean, I at least have good dress sense.
Now, two years after the time when I lost all my new friends and was bullied out of the Toronto queer dance scene, I am wondering why we, in the queer community, do this to each other.
I know I am not the only one who has been pushed out of the queer scene. I am not the only one who doesn’t go to events because they don’t want to bump into a particular person, and who therefore stays at home feeling lonely. I am not the only one who has been told my politics are wrong, who has been scapegoated, cold shouldered, and looked down on in order to make someone else feel better. I am sick of this. I know we can do better.
My ten years of living in various queer communities has taught me that this kind of behaviour is pandemic. Recently, there has been much discussion about call-out culture and its effectiveness.
My take on call-out culture is that it’s very effective if what we want to achieve is the exclusion of anyone who behaves in a problematic manner or pisses us off. However, it is not very effective if we want to create a community that nurtures and educates each other. I, personally, would prefer a community that is able to deal with confrontation. That, like a good friend, tells you when you’re being a douchebag but still loves you anyway.
Call-out culture is a particularly self-serving way of dealing with confrontation. It enables the person doing the calling out to name someone else oppressive, and to do so in very black and white language. It allows what Asam Ahmad of the It Gets Fatter! project has called “a particularly armchair and academic brand of activism.” Calling-out doesn’t require any action on the part of the person doing the calling-out. It enables a person to name another person racist, homophobic, sexist, etc., and to put the onus of that label wholly on the other person. The accused then becomes outcast from the activist community, and no attempt at restoration is made.
The problem with this kind of public outcry is that it is taken up by the community as a whole who seem to enjoy participating in public humiliation more than engaging in an educative dialogue. Everyone enjoys having someone to point at and say how much better a person they are than the other.
To have a whole community turn against you is a horrifying feeling. To feel first that, as a queer, you finally have a place and then to lose that place is sickening. Of course, the question of the largeness of the crime is a pertinent one here. There are some actions that are worse than others. But, in general, a lot of this alienation happens for reasons that speak more to the toxic nature of the way we reinforce our collective political identities than to the personality or politics of the individual who is being called-out. Frankly, a lot of this alienation happens owing to a simple interpersonal disagreement, as in my case, rather than a concrete case of wrongdoing.
Another reason call-out culture seems more about affirming how cool we are in contrast to a demonized other is that we all have, to some extent, done something discriminatory. What white person has not had a racist thought or committed an unthinking racist action? What person, straight or queer, has not done something homophobic? Who hasn’t made an ableist comment?
We know patriarchal and capitalist values influence our value systems. In fact, I have found that it is often through a thorough examination of our own prejudices that we come to see how they work and to do our own bit to fight against oppression. So, to write another person off as a bad queer or activist and to participate in a public shaming that has hugelynegative social and psychological consequences for that person does nothing to tackle the problem. It also creates a culture in which a person and community can use public shaming to bolster their own self-image.
I understand the sentiment that we just do not have the energy to educate every other person who offends us. But I do think we should treat members of our communities differently to a member of the public who has not been exposed to lefty political thought. We should take the time to have difficult conversations in our communities, rather than pushing out those who hurt us.
This is by no means an exhaustive article. Many have started writing/thinking about and practising calling-in – a one-on-one intervention with the person who did the thing – instead of calling-out. You can read more about that here. I don’t have a solution for this problem. What I would like for now is for us to recognize that we all, as human beings, make mistakes.
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:
OK, so maybe the title’s a cheap gimmick. But I got you to look, didn’t I? This one’s about the pressure to be in a relationship and how it affects our self-esteem and happiness.
As a teenager and woman in her early 20s I felt like I had a lot to prove. Specifically, a lot to prove sexually. Upon meeting new people, I felt like a failure because I wasn’t in a relationship. My short and, most often, disastrous mini dating spurts made me question if there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I get a girl? (I was more gay back then. And no, homophobes, if you have mysteriously managed to stumble upon this post, it wasn’t ‘a phase.’)
I found that every time I found someone I did like I ‘fucked it up’ by being overly keen. I was desperate to be with them no matter how much I actually liked this person or how awesome they were or were not. I had such low self-confidence, and I wanted to prove that I was loveable (to myself and, I imagined, to the people around me), so would take any offer I could get. This trend started with a disgusting first kiss and continued throughout my twenties with a series of failed mini-relationships with, for the most part, people I wasn’t really that into in the first place.
Nowadays, I find that my self-esteem has improved a lot but I still often feel unloved. I question whether my friends really like me and I find it hard to accept the love that is freely given to me. I also don’t think I’m the only one who feels like this. I have seen many of my loved ones stick with violent relationships, or relationships with people they are just not that into.
We feel a more valued member of society when we are in a relationship, no matter our relative level of happiness or how dys/functional the relationship is. We feel more presentable to the world, more socially acceptable. I wonder what it is about our society that makes people desperate to be in a relationship, any relationship, at whatever cost?Maybe it’s because the forces that be would prefer us to be preoccupied with the heteronormative structure of exclusive pairing, children and paying the mortgage, than single and dangerously free to think outside and, perhaps, smash the system.
Despite all its lip service to individual freedom, society wants us to be in a relationship, no matter how bad that relationship is and no matter how unhappy we are. I am more approved of when I’m in a relationship. I’m seen as more successful and I am taken more seriously. Perhaps this is one reason why groups of friends often get married orpregnant around the same time. It’s a culmination of the pressure to do what is socially acceptable plus female competition – to prove you are just as, or more, successful than your friends.
I am certain that this social pressure falls more heavily on women. We are judged so much more harshly than men. It is far more important to keep us in our subservient place by making us neurotic about the importance of being in a relationship and if, when and how we have children.
When I started dating my partner, I was both touched and slightly irritated by just how happy everyone was about it. Everyone wanted to tell me just how happy there were; even my best friend’s mother declared “I’m so happy she’s found someone.” I appreciate the well-meaning behind such declarations, but I also want to shout, “I was quite happy being single, you know!” I did my best to rail against the feeling that the most important thing in my life was getting a man, and the Disney narrative of being saved by your lover.
Being in a relationship is great, in so many ways, but it also hasn’t saved me. My problems haven’t gone away, I just have more consistent support to deal with them. I’m happier, but I’ve also had to compromise in some areas, for example with the use of my time. A bit like having a baby, relationships aren’t to be entered into lightly. They’re a huge waste of your time if they’re not right.
My partner is great, but there is a lot more to both of us than our relationship.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I’m sick of being valued in comparison to others. I’m sick of female competition to get the guy, marry the guy, be impregnated by the guy. And this competition definitely carries over to affect queer folks, as the sex-obsessed queer ‘community’ proves.
I would love to know whether you have felt this pressure to date, or to stay in a relationship because, gasp, what if you are truly unloveable and can’t get someone else? Have you felt this pressure as a guy, and why do think it’s so hard to think outside the relationship box?
I am more than my relationship. I am more than a single, dating or married person. And I know you are too.
Howdy folks! Long time no everything! I’m back, and this time with a guest post I wrote for the Shameless blog. This mag for women and queer youth does awesome work here in Toronto and I’m proud to be on their site.
Part one of two on living single lives. Shameless reader Laura Brightwell examines what happens when you choose to be celibate in a community that defines itself by its sexuality
Sometimes people cannot or do not want to have sex. When I started to tell people, 3 years ago, that I didn’t want to date anyone, I was always afraid. I anticipated people’s judgment, much like I had anticipated their homophobia when I came out as a lesbian as a teenager. And yet, I still said it, because in my gut I thought it was important. I’ve always been stubborn.
Choosing to be single for the past three years has been one of the most empowering, self-loving choices I have ever made.
Three years ago in the Summer of 2010, I decided to go on anti-depressants. I also decided, at the same time, to be single for as long as it took to get my head back on straight. I arrived at this decision at a difficult time in my life. I needed to break out of negative relationship patterns and I couldn’t see any alternative route. This was my way out.
Growing up, my development steered by teen mags, TV and movies, I focused a lot of my energy on getting a boyfriend. My teenage years presented themselves as a list of milestones to accomplish 1) Kiss a boy (girls don’t count). 2) Have sex. My own enjoyment had nothing to do with accomplishing any of these sexual acts. Any bo(d)y would do. When I finally did kiss a boy, aged 16, I only did it for the social kudos. So that I could be one of the gang. When I had sex for the first time, it wasn’t special, or particularly enjoyable. But I felt a huge sense of relief. Finally, I’d done it. Now I could be an adult. Now I could fit in.
It’s sad to realize that nothing ever changes. Just as I felt the pressure to lose my virginity aged 16, in my twenties I still feel the pressure to be in a relationship. Never mind that the gender of the targeted sexual group has changed, or that my peers are mostly queers. Never mind being surrounded by a politics that is supposed to empower our individual sexualities and orientations. I am still told when to have sex (all the time), how to have it (in a kinky fashion) and with whom (masculine queers). My own desires still don’t count.
There is an enormous amount of social pressure around sex. I remember one conversation I had with a friend about this pressure. I told her I felt like an outsider because I wasn’t in a relationship. After chewing this over for a moment, she observed, “it’s as though being single is the worse thing you can be.”
It has been my experience that being single or celibate makes you an outcast in the queer community in a way that being in a relationship doesn’t. We live in a society structured around the couple and the nuclear family. So being in a relationship, even a same-sex relationship, heck, even a polyamorous relationship, is more tolerated than being single. If you are single, there must be something wrong with you. If you are single, you must be “looking.”
There is a huge stigma around celibacy. From a very young age we are told that being sexual is our raison d’etre; from the princess who needs a prince to rescue her to the action man who has a new girl in every city. No matter how successful you are, no matter your level of happiness, you will always be considered a failure if you don’t have a partner. I am sure that those of us who are socialized as women feel this pressure the most. Yes, you have a degree, yes, you’re a rocket scientist, but do you have a man?
The perverse effect of this pressure to date is that being single can make you unhappy even if it’s what you want.
My choice to be celibate in 2010 threw me into a state of confusion. As a person who hangs out in mostly DIY queer community-type spaces, I suddenly felt excluded from the main language of communication. If my connection with fellow queers wasn’t about sex, then what was it about?
When I published my personal essay “I Don’t Want to Have Sex” on my almost totally unknown blog in 2011, I didn’t really expect much to come of it. I thought that, like my other angry feminist rants, it would past the world by, smaller than a drowned gnat in the big pond that is the internet. I didn’t expect it to get 1000 hits in one day and spark a discussion about sex, sexuality and hypersexualization in the community around me.
My decision to not have sex or a relationship for a while struck a nerve in my queer community. In a community that has historically defined itself by its alternative sexual and gender expressions, what is the place of the person who chooses not to engage in sexual relationships with others? Is the queer community only a place for sexually active queers, or can a space be carved for others too?
I am disappointed at the lack of sexual choice we are presented with as adults. Sex seems to be the way in which we orient ourselves in the queer community. Our desires and our differing genders define us against the “mainstream” world. They offer us legitimacy, but, increasingly, I am finding they offer me a very small box indeed.
Sex positivity is a buzz word in the queer community. Its intention is to remove the stigma from sex and queer sex in a homophobic, sexist and transphobic world. It wants to empower us to live full sexual lives. Yet, sex positivity also has to include being able to say no to sex. It has to include being able to express that, actually, I don’t want to have sex now, for whatever reason. I don’t want to be in a relationship, and that’s OK. As one of the commenters on my blog wrote, “Just no sex is OK too.”
I’ve learned a lot during these past years about judgment and happiness and self-care. There is one thing about human sexuality I now truly believe. We can never find our way to sexual empowerment until we accept our single selves. As long as being single is seen as something undesirable or abnormal, we’ll never be truly sexually empowered, feminist or queer.
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.