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.