#metoo Read Up

Let me get out of the way that I’m one of those horrid feminists who not only works with men but who works to bring men into feminist movement. In addition to men of course being part of the problem, by act or omission, they also desperately need freeing from gender. We all do.

I’ve been wishing lately, in the midst of all of the articles and op-eds about sexual assault, that women all over the world might just publish the direct messages, chats, conversations in women’s groups, and transcripts of phone calls that have been happening for months now, the ones that start “shit this week has been triggering” and “okay the Ansari story is exactly it” and the like. But we won’t. We shouldn’t have to.

Because it’s all already out there, as Lindy West just pointed out in the NYT. So many things, so many. We have been talking amongst ourselves lately for months but we’ve also been talking about this amongst ourselves for decades (and before that, we were pointedly not discussing it but trying to keep other women away from those men, when we knew them). Women recommend these books to each other all the time and give them to each other as presents sometimes to say #metoo to teach other but also to say #yesallwomen but rarely do we give them to the men in our lives.

I suspect that most of my closest male friends have not read one book that’s explicitly feminist, and I’m what some might call a humorless feminist, so the men I’m close to are generally of the more enlightened variety. But even among them, I suspect there are very few who have read any of the books on that list or any other books by women and about women.

So guys, READ UP, would you? Almost any woman you know would be happy* to recommend one and most would even be happy to discuss it with you, but with one giant caveat:

You Can’t Be a Jerk About It.

Here’s How: (6 Easy Steps! A Listicle! Learn things about women while investing almost no time!)

  1. Read to understand, not to disagree. No looking for the holes in the arguments.
  2. Read it as if you were a woman. That is, try to imagine you were assigned one at birth and raised one or transitioned or whatever version of woman  you can imagine yourself being most easily.
  3. Try to remember that most of the is lit is written by white women and reflects all of the privilege and self-selection that implies.
  4. don’t think about your sister/wife/girlfriend/mother/daughter because your relationship with them is likely already stepped in a fuckton of male privilege you probably don’t recognize. That is, you already think of them as women, which is really the root of the whole damn problem.
  5. Tell a woman who might be willing to talk to you about it that you’re ignorant af but really want to understand how you could have grown up in a culture where you failed to notice that more than half the population is scared to say no, or hi, or to speak to men they don’t know or to men they do know except when they’re drunk or angry or men they thought they knew and trusted only to find out how wrong they were.
  6. Also, don’t discuss it. Highlight things that confuse or perplex you and ask her to explain them. Don’t talk. Listen. Quietly. Without objection.
  7. When you’re done, start over with a new book and maybe with a new woman (dependent on how likely you followed the previous 6 instructions).

This is how you learn things, guys, by learning things. Read books written by women in whatever genre you prefer: it’s all in there, in one form or another, in one book or another.

You might even find a new favorite writer. (Really. I actually like some male writers, no kidding, but only if I can relate to their lives.) (OK, that’s a joke. I like a lot of writers I have absolutely nothing in common with. That’s kind of the whole point of reading, to understand other people’s lives and so live in the world with compassion.)

Start now, please.

*Okay, I’m only kidding. Don’t ask a woman to volunteer for this bullshit. Find one who is willing to work with you and PAY HER to educate your ignorant ass.  

Brenda Tracy #settheexpectation

TW: sexual assault, violence

Brenda Tracy is an incredibly gifted, heartfelt speaker who talks to men about the gang rape she experienced. A local group, Voices of Men, invited her to do seven events in NE Wisconsin. My wife Rachel Crowl made this video of her visit.

A huge thanks to the students of MARS, a group I helped create, for organizing her evening at Lawrence. I am regularly happily astonished by how dedicated younger men are to stopping violence against women and wanting to be the kind of men who step into the kinds of men who take women for granted.

Pussy Bites Back, Indeed

so i feel like everything women have ever said about our lives is now unfolding in broad daylight and it’s a little weird to have been feminist this whole time & to watch the world learn of the button matt lauer had installed in his desk to lock the door from his seat, and to just say HEY THIS IS THE WORLD WE’VE BEEN LIVING IN THE WHOLE TIME. because i know men didn’t believe us.
 
honestly, some days i can’t believe it’s as bad as it is, & then i remember that it’s worse.
 
there is so much more than that fucking button. so much more. 
i am so glad these jerks are finally getting fired. FIRE THEM ALL, EVERY. SINGLE. GODDAMNED. ONE.
hey patriarchy? we’re coming for you. this is what happens when you elect a Head Pussy Grabber in Charge.

Matt Lauer’s Button

On learning that Matt Lauer had a button at his desk that allowed him to lock the door without getting up – which Anne Branigin at The Root just called “his little trapping button” – my friend Jill Barkley asked:

Who authorized the expense to have the button installed? Which men in power positions over Lauer knew about the button? Which men at equal levels of power as Lauer knew about the button? What did the guy who installed the button say out loud to his coworkers about it? What did the male members of the cleaning crew who saw the button say to their coworkers?

Basically, what I’m asking is: men who know about fucked up shit and don’t do anything to intervene, WHAT THE FUCK? I’d say pardon my language, but I’m not actually sorry.

For anyone who is shocked or surprised, I only want to say: maybe someone should have asked the contractor who put it in, or whatever asshole approved the work order, or, I DON’T KNOW, ANYONE WHO KNEW IT EXISTED AT ALL.

“These stories are true.”

I’ve been thinking all day about Louis CK’s statement not just because I like him but because he admitted that he thought asking first made it okay.

“At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true.”

Because that is, effectively, what we teach men (& everyone else) about consent, isn’t it? Silence isn’t consent, drunk isn’t consent, but someone saying “yes, that’s okay” is sufficient.

He continued by explaining he did learn better (after it was too late).

But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”

And now we’re getting somewhere, to something like Consent 2.0, when people with power – due to age, sex, popularity, or any other kind of privilege, real or metaphorical – actually think about whether or not the person they’re asking has a real, actual choice to say no.

If they don’t, it isn’t consent, and it’s not just a ‘predicament’, either. It’s sexual harassment or assault or both.

I predict there will be numerous students who come out about their former professors, all sorts of business folks who will come out about executives, and plenty of other people in situations who had to say yes when they didn’t want to who will now start talking about how real and how frequent this bullshit is.

Keep them coming, folks. This is disgusting behavior. These stories are true.

All the Genders #metoo

Feminist friends, sexual assault and harassment is not just a women’s issue. People of all genders are assaulted, harassed, and raped.

This includes: straight men, cis women, trans women, trans men, girls, boys, GNC people, genderqueer people, gay men, lesbians, butches, femmes, bois, queens, drag kings, fairies, androgynes, enbies, bigender people, people who are agender, asexual, bisexual, queer, transmasculine, masculine of center, genderfluid, third gender, two spirit, fa’fafine, kathoey, hjira, guevedoce, muxe, intersex, fems, ETC.

ALL OF THE GENDERS experience sexual assault and harassment. 

What is wrong is a patriarchy system of violence – rape culture – which permits or ignores when someone in a position of power feels entitled to another person’s body and sexuality.

Please, let’s not be stupid about this. Women do not own these issues. We may experience in them in greater numbers, but the shame for people who are male-identified and/or masculine is pretty goddamned significant and I’m sure we have no idea what those numbers are really.

I know women have significant trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and the rest because of this violence or the threat of it, but that doesn’t mean people of other genders don’t. They often expect to be heard and listened to and believed far less often than even we do, and that’s a problem.

Surviving sexual assault and harassment doesn’t have a gender. 

 

Birth Control Is Healthcare

With even birth control under attack, various people and organizations have been posting about all the other medically necessary reasons for birth control. I, for instance, have PCOS, which leads to all sorts of crap, including irregular periods, so they put me on birth control for 20 years. There are numerous other medical instances that aren’t pregnancy that birth control is prescribed for.

But: preventing pregnancy is a medical reason. It IS healthcare. Body autonomy is health-care.

Don’t cave to these fools. People have the right to prevent pregnancy, to plan pregnancy, and the entire nation benefits from our ability to do so.

And you have the right to have sex without getting pregnant and without getting someone else pregnant.

CisHet White Men Questionnaire

Application Allowing Cishet White Men to Live Among Us

In the light of yet another mass shooting by a cishet white man, it is apparent that, as a group, these individuals do not quite understand the basic laws of civilization. Therefore, this committee recommends only allowing them to live among us once they have filled out this questionnaire which will in turn be reviewed by a small committee consisting of 3-5 individuals preferably including (1) RBG or Elizabeth Warren, (2) a professional woman, (3) a radical queer/trans activist, (4) an ethnic studies prof, critical race theorist or BLM activist, and (5) a gender studies professor or long-time feminist activist. Much thanks to Jonathan Swift for his input.

  1. Do some women just regret having sex the day after, or are some just making up sexual assault allegations?
  2. Do you secretly wonder if gay men find you attractive? Are you able to acknowledge in public and around other men that any man makes you a little tingly? Do you respect and admire him for that?
  3. Do you actually believe you are smarter than a black man, a woman, or any queer person? Please provide reasons and evidence.
  4. Are you absolutely sure that you can bring a woman to orgasm? Like, are you really really sure? 100 million percent sure? Are there women in your life/past who will certify that you can?
  5. Have you ever used any of these phrases while involved in sexual activity: “It’s just so hard to tell when a woman has an orgasm” “Did you come yet?” “You’d be more attractive if you __________” “I really can’t use condoms” or “But I really only get off with a blowjob.”
  6. Have you ever noticed that you talk a lot in classes/meetings/political rallies? Are you aware of talking significantly less when only other men are present?
  7. Do you maintain personal hygiene, clothing, weight, hair style, and shoe selection based on being attractive to women or gay men? Do you often think “she’d be pretty if…”?
  8. Do you watch porn/fantasize about fat women, mature women, women with penises, women with short hair, muscular women but *somehow* managed to marry/partner with a conventionally pretty, feminine, petite woman with a tiny waist and long pretty hair whose only goal in life was to have children?
  9. Do you understand any jokes women tell?
  10. Do you feel left out when in a room full of women/black people/gay and lesbian people? Does it anger you to feel left out?
  11. Have you ever stopped a meeting to point out or repeat what a woman has just said and made sure to give her credit for the idea you’ve just re-shared?
  12. How often do you call any woman who was kind to you – your mother, an aunt, a grandmother, a sister, friend, whoever – just to thank her? Have you sent her a card on mother’s day or brought her chocolate just because? Have you ever calculated the unpaid labor that people around you do to make your day/life easier? Do you, in turn, try to make it easier on them?
  13. Have you ever gotten away with some high school prank that you know would have gotten a person of color in much more trouble? Have you ever done anything to acknowledge that incident?
  14. Are you aware that you have emotions other than anger? Do you ever have them in front of other people? Are you secretly pleased with yourself if people are a little scared of you?
  15. Have you ever threatened violence, raised your fist or hand to slap or punch a woman, or threw a nearby inanimate object in a woman’s general direction?
  16. Are you aware that most of your people do not know how to resolve conflict or frustration without committing acts of violence? What are you doing to help them?
  17. Do you understand that many people are nice to you precisely because they’re afraid of you? How does that feel?
  18. Have you ever truly felt that someone owed you sex because _________________.
  19. How many times a week does someone like you make a joke that makes fun of women, black people, trans people, gay people, different abled people or the mentally ill? Have you ever shut down the person telling that kind of joke or stopped being friends with them?
  20. Do you understand that guns kill people, and that it is not our god-given right to decide to kill them depending on your mood/financial situation/having been cheated on/had a woman turn you down or break your heart?
  21. Is depression for women?
  22. Can you dance, cook more than 2 meals, get a baby to sleep, change a diaper, or resolve a conflict between children?
  23. Can you get two of your own kind to STFU, sit down, and stop arguing?
  24. Do you think of your wife or girlfriend as “yours”? Your children? Do you take pride in how good they look or in how well they do in school while doing absolutely nothing to foster those achievements?
  25. Have you ever felt you deserve a job and are surprised or chagrined because there are women, black people, and gays who are “doing better” in life than you are? Are you confused by how that is even possible?
  26. Do you understand that black men generally comport themselves in a way to be less threatening? Has it ever occurred to you that there might be any situation, save one concerning a police officer when you’re drunk, where you need to be compliant or passive and otherwise agreeing with whatever someone else is saying to you?
  27. Do you understand that violence is not a way to resolve conflict, to express emotion, or to make a political statement?
  28. How often do you tell women to smile? Do you feel better when they oblige you?
  29. Have you ever tried to explain/justify racism to a person of color, try to give pointers on how to behave around police, or even thought “just don’t break the law” when a person of color is arrested for a minor offense?
  30. Are you super proud of your daughter when she steals a base? Are you as proud when your son wants to be Wonder Woman for Halloween? Are you even aware you should be?
  31. Do you think it’s a woman’s responsibility to dress in a way that makes you capable of controlling your penis/libido/anger?
  32. Can you recite any lyrics by Morrissey, Big Freedia, or any female lyricist? Are any of those lyrics words you would have tattooed on you or that you feel you live by? Are any of your favorite bands lead by women or gay men?
  33. Do you think of yourself as a “hothead” “hot under the collar” or as someone who just “needs to let off some steam” once in a while? Have you ever noticed that children or women around you look worried or concerned when you do so? Or that, if they are able, they leave the room/house/bar when you start to get upset?
  34. Do women simply stop talking altogether when you start yelling? Have you noticed a worried, faraway look on a woman’s face when you are angry? Have you ever noticed a woman moving toward people if you are having a personal quarrel with her in public? Have you ever seen another woman glance protectively toward your wife or girlfriend during an argument with you?
  35. Have you ever started to disagree with a woman by saying “Well, actually…”?
  36. Are you aware that trans women are women, that your desire for them is heterosexual, and that having been assigned male at birth is not some weird way to trap you into expressing same sex desire?
  37. Do any of your favorite movies or books pass the Bechdel Test? Are any written by women, feature a female narrator, or involve only a female heroine or protagonist? Likewise for any books or movies written by or about black people, Native Americans, books that are translated from another language or films with subtitles?
    1. Do you know what the Bechdel Test is?
  38. Does it upset you not be able to use the N-slur, the T-slur, or to be told, in general, that you shouldn’t use a word if it is not one used to describe/denigrate you?
  39. Are you endlessly “intellectually” curious about whether women or black people or whoever can actually do science, art, comedy, or any other pursuit? Do you seek out scientific validation of your own biases and validate them by calling these studies scientific?
  40. Finally, please write a short essay explaining briefly why most of the violence in the world, especially gun violence, is committed by you & your kind. Spelling and grammar count.

Women, Dammit, Listen

Can I just say, as a woman of a certain age, that I am sick to death of beautiful, smart, talented, creative young women felling shitty about themselves?

& That includes my own former self to boot.

But goddamn ladies, even broken you remake the world in astonishing ways.

What hurts my heart is that there are too many of you I’m thinking of and that my opinion can be dismissed because.

But I’m telling you I know the world, and your hot mess is the best thing in it.

You, Take Care

Hey, all. The news that’s coming down about what will probably happen tomorrow prompts me to write. Tomorrow may be a difficult day for many of us in the LGBTQ+ community.

It’s more likely that you’ve heard the new healthcare plan could define sexual assault, domestic violence, having had a c-section, and post-partum depression as pre existing conditions. Surprising to no one is that these pre existing conditions focus morbidly on women’s health. An insurance company could deny you coverage – not just a claim, COVERAGE.

What you may not have heard about is that that the “religious liberty” EO, which may or may not be like the draft we first saw in February, which will sanction discrimination against LGBTQ+ people if a person’s belief system warrants it, will be signed. (I can’t use his name.) I don’t really even know what that means but I do know it will be a dog whistle to all the haters out there. Keep yourselves safe. Keep track of each other. Know that you are loved and valuable and essential to the world.

Please don’t minimize what this means. Please don’t read sources that make your heart pound. Please do take some time out for yourself, play with pets, eat good food, listen to music, whatever it is you do to feel a little better and better loved and more centered in the world. BUT DEFINITELY CALL YOUR GODDAMN REPRESENTATIVES AND SAY NO.

 

Please call your representative bright and early tomorrow morning. (202) 224-3121, give the switchboard your zip code, and ask your representative to vote no on the AHCA and against the “Religious Freedom” EO.

Thursday will likely be a very hard day for LGBTQ+ people. Please don’t argue or minimize what this EO means. Please do tell us you love us. Please do call your reps and publicly state that you stand with LGBTQ people.

We are ready to fight, but we are also scared tonight. But we are, also, us = and as ever, full of fight and fear and love and steadfastness.  Love to each and every one of you.

 

Tomboys, Gender Non Conformity, & Trans Identity

A few more thoughts about that NYT tomboy article, the various rebuttals, and my post from yesterday.

I have to own that I wanted that mom to be right. For starters, because the world is transphobic and I am too – not because I mean to be but because it’s so easy to be so. It’s how the world is structured.

For example, some folks immediately objected to my using ‘he’ pronouns for this child, but only trans people objected to the child being referred to as ‘she’. And I think that’s precisely because most people still think biology is destiny, and thinking the child’s gender assignment at birth is more natural than the child being trans is, basically, transphobic.

Any assumption that the child being a trans boy is a worse or ‘less real’ outcome than the child being a tomboy is also transphobic.

While all of that may or may not have caused me to be cheering on this tomboy, it’s way more than that, too.

What was disappointing about that article is the way she presented trans and GNC as if they are mutually exclusive opponents of some kind. They are not.

The thing is, I want company. I’ve been gender non conforming in one way or another for most of my life; even when I was as feminine as I could manage – and I tried, I swear I tried – I was often assumed to be a lesbian. These days, when people know that me or my wife is trans, they assume I’m the trans one — though I’m honestly never clear which direction they think I’ve gone/am going in, to be honest. I’m personally thankful that the trans movement has made my own liminally trans/GNC gender a little more legible, but as a result I face another dilemma: people assume I’m trans because I’m GNC.

And that’s the nut of why I and so many others wanted that mom to be both honest and right: because gender non conformity is policed all the time, and it seems sad that the only way to convince others that your gender non conforming behavior or appearance is real is to identify as trans yourself. Gender stereotypes and gender role enforcement are bullshit for everyone whether you’re trans or not trans. A trans woman feeling forced to be stereotypically feminine is as bullshit as a non trans woman who experiences the same patriarchal pressure.

Here’s the thing: I know I’m not trans. Some crossdressers know they aren’t. For the same reasons we trust trans people to know their own gender identities, we know what ours are too. And mine just isn’t binary or nameable or whatever. Sometimes I like Ursula LeGuin’s “bad man” idea. Other times I remember I produce more testosterone than most people born with ovaries. I also choose not to identify as trans because I am married to my wife, who did transition, and who lives with a world of bullshit that I do not. That is, I don’t identify as trans because I respect the authority of the people who I know to be trans, and I am sure my experience is nothing like theirs. That is, I have cis(sexual) privilege, despite not being normatively gendered.

I really shouldn’t even have to explain that but I feel, often, that I do. I’m not trans because I’m not, just as my wife is trans because she is.

But right now my gender identity (GNC) and her gender identity (trans) are supposed to be part of the same big trans umbrella. Originally the word transgender was meant to be an inclusive term that included transsexual people (along with many others) but transgender has since supplanted transsexual and now that it’s been shortened to trans that’s even more true.

To explain: the definition of transsexual was, in the first place, meant to describe people who had pursued medical/legal/social transition. Transgender was supposed to enlarge and expand that, to include those who couldn’t medically transition or to cover those who were socially dysphoric but not body dysphoric, etc. So it’s awesome that we have an expanded sense of what trans is except that it really isn’t. The thing is, almost every visible trans person is not only transitioned, but they are usually and often binary transitioners (meaning they go from people who are assigned one gender at birth who live as the “opposite” gender after transition). As a result, transgender often effectively means transsexual, even though we don’t use the latter term much at all anymore. The umbrella has collapsed, where every other version of trans that isn’t transition has become ‘less than’.

As many genderqueer, non binary, gender fluid, gender non conforming people, crossdressers, drag queens, sissies and tomboys will tell you: when we don’t claim big umbrella trans it’s because trans is also policed, and only those who choose either binary or medical/legal/social transition are considered truly trans. As another piece explains well, it’s really as if cis/trans has become the next binary, or an emerging binary, except that I’m not entirely sure who’s supposed to be on which side.

So that’s why I don’t identify as trans. I use “gendery” because it seems more accurate. I have a lot of gender(s), and some of them are visible and available all the time and some of them come and go. I was a tomboy as a kid.

What we’re left with, really, is a problem, and perhaps the biggest unspoken wish when I was reading that tomboy article: not only do I want company, but I want to BE, and so do a whole bunch of people like me. And while it’s true that many trans people are open to the idea of others being GNC, I’m not really sure we’re considered real, not by anyone, actually, trans or cis alike.

The reality is that trans people are FAR more comfortable with gender non conforming people than cis people are. There is no trans agenda that “encourages” children to transition. But I’d argue that transphobia is itself the reason that people may want gender non conforming children to transition or for adults who are NB to “choose one or the other” (as if there are only two). Trans/cis is not a particularly useful binary for those of us who aren’t either, exactly; I’ve written before about being cissexual but not cisgender.

Here’s the first clue: maybe a goddamned binary won’t work, because they never do.

I don’t want to feel forced to identify as trans in order for my gender to be recognized, and neither should any kid. So maybe instead of diagnosing this child, we should be thinking instead about how we make space for children and for people who are traditionally gendered or binary, those who are gender non conforming, and for those who are legally/medically trans. We can call it the gender trifecta. Trinities are always cooler than binaries anyway.

The thing is, this girl exists. This tomboy. The NYT author may have been lying or in denial or just transphobic, but even if this particular child is not a tomboy and is trans, that doesn’t mean that other tomboy isn’t out there. She is.

I was her. She is me. That child may also grow up to be a man, a gender normative woman, or any number of other gender choices. What I hope she won’t be is hostile to trans people of any stripe: this is not a contest between; it’s a distinction among. That child is the reason I’m a loud and proud trans advocate; not because I don’t believe in trans people, but because I do: I live right next door.

(much thanks to Paisley Currah and Erica Foley for providing the space and pressure to work out these ideas.)

Dismayed: Tomboys in the NYT

So many people, including me, read that NYT piece about the mom who was proud of her GNC child who she described as a tomboy – a girl who is masculine but female-identified. Yay, gender non conformity! Yay tomboys!

There was expected pushback from trans quarters – expected and valuable, even if I thought it was sometimes beside the point. I have a problem with all GNC behavior being considered trans except for the kinds, you know, that aren’t “trans enough” – and I know you crossdressers and genderqueer/GNC and enbies know what I’m talking about, when a binary trans person claims the high ground.

But I agreed that it didn’t make sense for the mom to be so “but she’s not trans” because honestly? So many GNC children DO turn out to be trans, and the mom would need to be open to whatever path her child might be on.

There was an exceptionally good piece by Zack Ford that tried to work out the separations and overlaps of GNC and trans.

That said, it’s come to light that the child has in fact talked about being and wanting to be a boy. Here’s the line:

“As she started to announce in ways both subtle and direct that she’s a boy, and ask me questions like “Why can’t boys have vaginas and girls have penises?” the ratio of heartwarming to heart-sinking has shifted.

So honestly? I’m disappointed and aggrieved that this mom is clinging to her child’s GNC identity as if it’s somehow the last outskirts of “normal” – that she is trying to keep her kid from crossing over into scary transland.

Just FUCK TRANSPHOBIA already.

But here’s the thing: even if her kid was “only a tomboy” – which he doesn’t seem to be – the child is already trans. Maybe not transition track, maybe not interested in medical, biological changes to their body, but trans – in the sense of the trans umbrella – all the same.

So let’s all get over it, shall we? These are not teams where one side “wins” later. More tomboys doesn’t mean more/better feminist future. Gender non conforming children need support no matter where they end up, but the last thing they need is a mom proving some point (which honestly, I’m not even sure what it is at this point) or a bunch of strangers diagnosing their gender for them. What we don’t need is parents lying about their kids’ gender identities because it suits them, and that’s exactly what this mom did.

For once, please, can we all try to realize that everyone’s experience of gender is different, and that we need to hear what people say about their own, and provide environments for children to be trans or GNC or whatever it is they are.

#IBelieveinTransWomen

Look, my fellow big brained cis feminists who don’t understand trans people but who feel the need to question and evaluate trans feminism and the entire concept of gender because you’ve just learned this is something you should know about:

THIS HAS ALL BEEN DONE, HASHED OUT, CONCLUDED, long before you arrived on the scene.

I asked all the dumb questions. I posited all the tenets of feminist theory. I examined the role of socialization, looked at intersectionality, read books about intersex, argued with radfems, got cold shouldered by them, targeted by them, all of it.

Please please please just stop and take a minute to realize that this is not a new topic, that your feminist brain is not going to find some crumb of logic that mine didn’t, and that right now, all you’re doing is hurting women who are already marginalized in ways that are brutal. Especially right now.

Here. Read this.

I believe trans women, and I believe in trans women.

Int’l Women’s Day Teach In at Lawrence

Just as with February 17th, when a National Strike was called, tomorrow is the Day Without A Woman. A few of my colleagues and I agreed that education is more in our wheelhouse, so we created a day-long Teach In that includes members of our community, faculty, students, and staff doing presentations on various aspects of women’s political issues.

 

So pleased. If you’re in the Appleton area, this event is open to the public.

Hill & the DNC

I wrote this after watching Clinton’s speech at the DNC this past week (but was traveling & didn’t get a chance to post it until now):

This woman had negotiated gender in ways that astonish and amaze me: to find enough strength to be taken seriously as a (male) candidate but to do so with enough gentleness to be ‘acceptably’ feminine at the same time.

She’s drawing both on the concensus quality of women & the (masculine) bombast of patriotism.

Honestly, it takes a lot to impress me when it comes to gender presentation, but this woman is now a master.

Go Hill. Change the game. Fuck the patriarchy.

Me, Bathrooms, Target

Says the journalist: “While she appreciates the sudden concern for women and children’s safety, she says there are a million ways to ensure that without restricting bathrooms.” (itals mine)

The favorite line of mine they didn’t use: “I think the line for the ladies’ room is long enough without adding paperwork.”

Comments my wife after seeing the segment: “Kramer vs Kremer”.

Teaching While White

I’ve been thinking a lot about race and racism in the classroom, about microaggressions and why anti racist activism is needed now more than ever. We’ve been having more of a conversation about it at my own university, so I decided to write up a list of the kinds of things I do and think about when it comes to teaching.

This is a working document, not final, but I think it gets at a lot of the issues that trip me and others up when creating a racially inclusive classroom.

I also want to reiterate, in no uncertain terms, that these thoughts do not reflect the thoughts or policy of the university which employs me, but only represent my own personal thoughts on the topic. (There is a reason, after all, that I have not named said university.)

Thoughts on Creating an Inclusive Classroom: Focus on Race – Helen Boyd Kramer

  1. When presenting art or music or literature that is racist, there are hugely different ways to do so. Version 1: “Here’s some racist art but we’re going to focus on the brush strokes/melodies and not talk about how racist it is” is NOT going to do the trick. “Here’s some racist art and let’s talk about why it’s racist, what makes it racist, and what it means that this kind of art is still hung in museums and galleries while black artists still struggle to be taken seriously.”
  1. Talk about how you, as a teacher and scholar, negotiate whatever kinds of art may be oppressive to you personally. Ask yourself, if you’ve never thought about it: as a woman, how do I negotiate references to rape and sexism? As a gay man, how do I address homophobia in culture? As a Jewish person, how do I negotiate anti-semitism? I don’t mean in your life, but in the ways that as a person who has studied subjects wide and deep: talk to students about how you have decided to make sense of how upsetting it can be to discover these kinds of microaggressions in the work of artists you personally love, and how it’s more upsetting precisely because you love them otherwise.
  1. I use this statement on my syllabi these days:

Safe Space/Trigger Warnings: Due to the nature of the reading material, I will issue no trigger warnings about specific readings, precisely because any or all of this material may be difficult. That said, I am more than willing to excuse you if necessary, although you will have to do a make-up assignment/readings. My intention, and the intention of most gender studies courses, is to address issues that cause oppression and violence in order to empower and create change. In order to do so, it is vital that we discuss, research, and analyze these topics but that we do so from an intellectual, not an emotional, place. That said, do make time to process, make appointments with counselors, or otherwise find support if any of these topics are deeply personal and troubling.

Finally, an educational atmosphere cannot be safe space in the truest sense, but I do ask that you follow these four rules:

  • Assume the best intentions.
  • Don’t assume you’re more right than anyone else in the room.
  • Listen to learn.
  • Criticize ideas, not people.
  1. Take trauma seriously. When introducing those rules, I usually talk about how some kinds of trauma aren’t well represented; that people assume TWs are always about sexual assault when in fact articles about lynching, transphobia, gay bashing, etc., are also triggers for students. I tend to talk more personally about how, as a NYer who lived through 9/11, I have to gird myself when it comes up even in intellectual spaces – and that it’s been a decade since that happened, and yet I will be not quite right for a few days after the topic comes up when I wasn’t expecting it. Relate. Try to. Figure out a way to understand what trauma is, how it feels to the traumatized, and remember that everyone relates to trauma differently.
  1. If you’re white, assume you’re racist. I often tell my students that flat out – that the first important step for any white ally is to acknowledge that we are all raised to be racist – if not by our family of origin, by our culture. Admit out loud to students that you are aware of some of the racism you were raised with, and that you know becoming less so is a process but a good goal. You can always use Peggy McIntosh’s “Invisible Knapsack” article if you’re not sure how to go about acknowledging skin privilege: https://www.deanza.edu/faculty/lewisjulie/White%20Priviledge%20Unpacking%20the%20Invisible%20Knapsack.pdf
  1. Accept that race doesn’t exist but that racism does. Race doesn’t exist biologically, genetically, or in any other scientific way; that race is a social construction that has helped people organize and categorize other human beings, usually in a way that oppresses, enslaves, or disempowers them. If you believe there is something innately different between you and a black person, you haven’t done your reading. Check out Coates: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/05/what-we-mean-when-we-say-race-is-a-social-construct/275872/
  1. If you’re white, learn something about the Four Enlargements of Whiteness, and find out if any of your own ancestry wasn’t considered white at some point. The definition of Whiteness has changed over time in the US, so much so that Irish Americans and Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, were not considered white at some points in history. This helps demonstrate that whiteness is (realness, Americanness) – a social construction. Here’s Abagond on the Fourth Englargement: https://abagond.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/the-fourth-enlargement-of-american-whiteness/ or you can check out Painter’s History of White People itself: http://www.amazon.com/History-White-People-Irvin-Painter/dp/0393339742
  1. Read a LOT more by black authors. I recommend Abagond and Black Girl Dangerous (online). Make sure you’ve read at least some of the basics of black literature / critical race theory (variable list, but I’ll add mine at the end). My short list: Malcolm X’s Speeches at Harvard, Ellison’s Invisible Man, James Baldwin’s everything and anything, Nella Larsen’s Passing and/or Quicksand, something by Toni Morrison, Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks (along with many others of hers), Said’s Orientalism, Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.
  1. Be aware of stereotype threat – what it is, how it works. See Claude Steele’s original work and some of the follow-up research on it. Short version: Stereotype Threat is a situational experience for those in marginalized groups who are invested in a field of study but are reminded that they are often representing the group. That is, male students can fail individually. When female students fail, “girls are bad at math”. Whistling Vivaldi is the book, and here’s a short interview with Steele about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=failylROnrY
  2. If a student says something racist in the classroom, or if you do, stop the discussion and take a minute to attend to it. Do not brush it off. Do not call the student out individually. I usually try to take a minute to say, “OK, did we all just hear that? I’m not sure who said it but I’m sure other white people in the room were thinking something like it, so let’s not criticize the person who did say something out loud. Instead, let’s talk about what that word/expression means and why it’s not good for any of us. After class, send an email to the class as a group and invite any students who had a hard time with what was said to an office meeting to process it a little more. Black students will often say they’re okay with white students coming to said meeting, but usually they’re not. Again, ASK. I use the line “It’s all about what you need from me, so tell me what works for you.” And DO IT. Bring it up again in the next class meeting; remind the whole class that racism is often unintentional but still very serious, and that you’re happy to spend more time discussing it privately with anyone who needs to talk more.
  1. When you’re coming to do a topic that may be difficult for some students, give counseling services a heads up, and let your students know that you have. I do this whenever we do readings on sexual assault, lynching, homophobia, transphobia. You don’t need to know if anyone sees a counselor about these issues raised in class, but they do appreciate knowing you’re aware that this material can be emotionally hard. Again, as in my “Not a Trigger Warning” statement, I remind them that while we discuss things intellectually in the classroom, there are emotional ramifications – some expected, some unexpected – that may result, and that’s normal – just not for the classroom.
  1. Don’t be scared of your black students, and don’t assume they are all the same. They come with a huge range of life experiences, world views, ways of dealing with being black in America. Never ask a black person what they think about gangs, drugs, Spike Lee, jazz, or whatever is unconsciously coded as “black” in your head. Maybe sit down and think about what things you think are “black” so that you are aware of that. Also, don’t be surprised when they love Adele or some other white performer. White people like black music, black people like white music. Tolstoy was the Tolstoy of the Zulus, after all (Coates).
  1. Simultaneously, do recognize that your student IS black. Pretending to be “post racial” or “colorblind” is wildly insulting. You are disappearing an important and significant aspect of a person by pretending you don’t “see” race or ethnicity. People are proud of where they’re from no matter where they’re from.
  1. Be okay with being ignorant. Believe me, don’t fake it. If you haven’t read anything by a person of the student’s cultural group, just SAY THAT. Most of us aren’t well versed in queer chicana art and if your student is, they’re happy to tell you what they know and love about it. Meet up with them during office hours to get recommendations. But also, read more, expose yourself to more. Remember as white people we are deprived of whole schools of art, music, literature, and history; we should feel robbed that we only know the works and world view of white people. So boring. Which goes with…
  1. Get comfortable with discomfort. It’s okay not to know things. Most people don’t. As faculty we have a tendency to know everything, or know someone who does, and to intellectualize emotional responses. But race is an uncomfortable topic for white people. Being aware of race isn’t about feeling guilty or anything like it: it’s about stepping up to make the world a little less racist, and that’s all it is. Recognizing privilege goes a long way toward that goal.
  1. Validate your students when they come to tell you something racist happened, whether it was on College Ave, in another class, or at home. Validate that they felt hurt. Telling students to toughen up, or “it could be worse” or anything like that just lets them know you’re not the one to talk to. Don’t equate your experience of oppression with theirs – “because I’m a woman I understand” but do tell them you’re sorry racism happens and that you recognize how hurtful it can be to experience.
  1. If they confront you over something you did, check with The Toe Rule – when someone tells you that you stepped on their toe, you just say sorry: you don’t explain why you did, you don’t get upset with them, you don’t ask for evidence that you did, and you don’t tell them to be nicer about it. You just apologize.
  1. Learn to appreciate the scare quote, or air quotes, to indicate words or phrases that are unacceptable or suspect to you but that authors may use otherwise. As a white person, don’t ever say the N word out loud. Just don’t. It’s not yours. My general rule of thumb is that if a word has a history of violence, and you’re not someone who would experience that violence right after hearing it, don’t use it. “Faggot” or “dyke” isn’t for straight people. The N word isn’t for white people to use. “Bitch” or “Cunt” by men. You get the idea.
  1. Don’t assume someone who doesn’t look __________ isn’t ____________. Lots of black people “look white” (whatever we mean by that) and so do multiracial students. Don’t ask African American students where their people are from because slavery means they usually don’t know. Simultaneously, asking anyone where they are from, especially where they’re “really” from, is a microaggression unless there’s a good reason for it. If anything about the way you’re asking implies “I’m white and American, but you don’t seem to be” you’re doing it wrong.
  1. Whenever you see the term “politically correct” replace it with “treating people with respect and using terminology for them and their identity that they prefer”.

Oh, Ms. Greer

I’ve been doing work with and for trans women for about 15 years now. Arguably, I have met more trans women than most people on this planet. Older transitioners, young transitioners, passing, non-passing, those who pursue medical options, those who don’t, very feminine trans women, butch trans women, trans women who had children before they transitioned, trans women who had children after transition, trans women who are partnered to men, or to women, or to neither.

And the thing I tell most audiences at the outset is this: once you know one trans person, you know one trans person, & that is all you know.

So Germaine Greer has met a few trans women and she has made a decision about all trans women, and she has decided that trans women are not women. She has also clarified that she did not say this to prohibit trans women from getting surgery or other medical treatment, and also clarified that she thinks people who chose Jenner for the cover of Glamour were motivated by misogyny.

I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she is not making such a sweeping statement based on personal and anecdotal evidence. After that, we have only biology and theory as lines of reasoning for what a woman is. Let’s start with biology.

Here is what I think: trans women are not just women. They are female. This is a hang-up on the part of many feminists who are still stuck in some world where biology is destiny (oh, the irony!). Because if ‘woman’ is a social construct, and deBeauvoir was right, we become women by living as women in the world, by facing oppression based on gender. For some women, that social conditioning starts with birth, because of a vagina and a doctor’s declaration. For others, it starts at 15, or 45, or 75.

Trans women are aware that they are female and are meant to have bodies that allow others to gender them correctly. Harry Benjamin, when he started working with trans women, noticed that we had tried many ways over many years to convince trans women they are not women and that not only hadn’t worked but it caused undue (& for him, anti-Hippocratic) suffering. But bodies, unlike brains, are changeable. So he designed a way to make it work.

Because definitions of sex are based on only a very few things: chromosomes (which we now know there is a panoply of chromosomal variation, not just XX & XY but XO and XXY, etc.) and hormone dominance. The combination of those two is what creates a sexed body, but we also know that bodies with vaginas sometimes come with XY chromosomes and vice versa. We also really have no goddamned good idea what part of the brain “tells” us our sex, and mostly, for those of us who are not trans, we never face a disruption between our bodies/glands/hormones and the way we are socialized. But trans people do. Some experience a crippling, brutal disruption. They experience gendered oppression internally and externally, as it were.

Which is all my way of saying: ‘female’, like ‘woman’, is also an unstable category. Its very definition is changing, has changed, due to what we know about bodies, chromosomes, hormones, and fetal development, and what we know about brain sex even moreso.

Which is what leads us to theory for a definition of woman. As a feminist, my compassion is with those who experience gendered oppression of whatever kind. My intersectional feminism respects that all women experience gendered oppression in different ways: for black women, for instance, gendered oppression is racialized. For poor women, gendered oppression is classed. For trans women, gendered oppression is transphobic.

I don’t know why Germaine Greer missed out on 30+ years of gender theory which allows her to posit that woman is a stable, universal, and identifiable category. I really don’t. It hasn’t been for a very long time. I also don’t know how she can be any kind of post structural feminist and not acknowledge that socialization is what makes a woman a woman – it is, in essence, what we raise females to be, and it is made of how we treat women, including their right to self determine, to have bodily autonomy, and to resist definitions of woman-ness that oppress and restrict them.

And I don’t know of a group of women right now who are more restricted or oppressed by someone else’s definition of ‘woman’ than trans women (except, of course, black women and lesbians and childfree women and post menopausal women). ‘Woman’ is, after all, a category of patriarchy’s making, and it pains me to see a feminist borrow tools from the master’s toolbox and call them liberation.

Germaine Greer is wrong. And her speech, whether she admits to it or not, carries a greater resonance – and a greater burden – because we expect such remarkable feminism and knowledge from her. She is not dismissable nor stupid, but she is still wrong. Because everything I know as a feminist is built on inclusion; ‘woman’ is an alliance, not an identity you choose; it is the sum of all of the parts of what it is to live in a patriarchy and to feel no power and a tremendous threat of violence if you don’t follow the rules. And if there is anyone in the world who is experiencing those things right now, it is trans women. She is not just upsetting people by saying what she says. She is giving those who hate trans women permission to make their lives more miserable. And there is nothing, NOTHING, feminist about asserting the rights of the oppressors over the dignity and value of the oppressed.

Her stance is not just harmful and illogical but more than anything else it seems spiteful, exclusive, and lacking in compassion. It is not my feminism, and no feminist worth her salt would exclude other women based on how good or how bad they are at being women. And she is doing exactly that. Let her fade; let her be remembered for the good work she did do when she was still keeping up with the reading and while her fire was lit for ending oppression and not causing more of it.

There is nothing to see here. Ms. Greer has left the building.

To the Guys

In case anyone’s interested, here are my remarks from last night’s event.

(before video) Hi! I’m Helen Boyd and I teach gender studies here at Lawrence. I was inspired to make this video after hearing from a few male friends who were surprised that I think about my safety all the time, and I knew, from talking to women all of my life, that I was not alone in being vigilant.

(then we showed the video)

(after) When women complain about being catcalled, this is why. Too often we don’t feel safe and a catcall reminds us that we’re attracting attention – wanted or unwanted. & Sometimes it feels safer to be less noticeable when we’re out.

That phrase, “safe enough”, came out of a conversation I had with a gay man about what it’s like to walk past a guy on the street. You never know how he’s going to respond, or what’s going to happen. The safety concerns aren’t just women’s. The violence some of us worry about isn’t just sexual violence. It’s gay bashing. It’s transphobia. It’s racism.

The thing is, even if you’re not that guy, you probably know that guy. It’s not that you’d even know who he is, either, which is why everything you say or do when you’re only with other guys matters. Jokes about crazy bitches, gay men, all of that. When you don’t stand up in the little situations, the guys who would hurt gay men and trans people and women get permission. They think you hate us all too because of the jokes you tell or listen to without objecting.

Someone isn’t taking no for an answer, or is freaking out because a gay guy is crushed out on you, or because a trans woman is hot. It seems to me sometimes that it’s you guys who are afraid — afraid of losing face, of being gay, of wanting kinds of sex that other people don’t think is normal. And I know, too, you’re not supposed to be afraid and you’re not supposed to admit it even when you are. I’m a New Yorker and a punk rock kid and a professional activist – I make a living not being afraid of stuff. I get it. But something is wrong out there, something about the ways even the good guys don’t stand up, don’t step up, don’t tell that one guy in their crowd he’s ruining it for all of you. And believe me when I tell you he is – in communities where women feel safe and respected, they have a lot more sex, but in this culture, right now, women are so scared they give you the wrong number because they think a “no” will result in violence.

So what I’m asking of you, really, is to think about what you don’t think about when you walk home at night drunk. I’m asking you to think why you’d ever want to have sex with someone who wasn’t totally into you. I’m asking you to remember that someone else’s gender and sexual orientation is none of your goddamned business. I’m also telling you that not being an asshole doesn’t make you a miracle. Raise your own bar.

You’re going to be hearing some statistics next, and there are two things I need to underline: One is that all sexual violence is underreported, across the board. The other is that men are not just perpetrators, but victims – they are assaulted by men AND women, and they don’t report even more than women don’t. This isn’t about your mother or your sister or your best friend who is a woman. It’s about you, too.

So come join us in gender studies. Find out how many genders there are, how many kinds of sex exist, and how men who are married to feminists self report way better sex lives than men who aren’t. & Thanks for being here.

Here’s some local video coverage of the event, too.

Undergrad Men & Sexual Assault

Despite my reputation as a humorless feminist, I’ve been working with a small group of undergrad men (& one female student!) on a group called M.A.R.S. – Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault. We have a huge – huger than predicted or expected – event happening tomorrow night where we’ll be showing that short clip on safety and I’ll be speaking super-briefly.

And it’s been amazing, to be honest. I know a lot of you roll your eyes at this kind of thing, and I know an awful lot of queer women, especially, who just can’t and won’t work with the guys, & all for very good reasons. But I like guys. Always have. In so many ways. So this work was really right up my alley, especially as I got to partner with a local community leader, my friend Shannon Kenevan, and the local sexual assault center, SACC. I’m the faculty advisor to Lawrence’s feminist group, DFC, too, so it really brought a lot of worlds together for me.

There are staff and other faculty on board who have been helping organize, too, and of course we needed funding and meetings and space and all of the many things that have to come together. Joe Samalin of Breakthrough is coming to speak as well – so this event draws from campus, local, statewide, and national talent.

But mostly I’m just thankful to be able to do what I do, to know such amazing, inspired, angry young people who want to make a difference, but most especially I’m thankful for all of the women who have stood up to tell their stories and worked to dismantle rape culture from the ground up.