“What I’ve come to notice is that all these kids are rehearsing and projecting.  trying it on. Rehearsing their masculinity. Projecting their experimental versions of it. And wordlessly looking for cues the whole time. Not just from each other, but from older people around them, especially the men. Which can be heartbreaking to witness, to tell you the truth. Because the feedback they get is so damn unhelpful. If it’s well-meant it’s often feeble and half-hearted. Because good men don’t always stick their necks out and make an effort.” Tim Winton

Pretty regularly I post something about a shooter or other violent offender being a cis het white guy, as no doubt many of us do, and almost invariably, I get a PM from some young man or other who decides to confront me about how much I hate men.

It always strikes me as funny because I love men, for the most part. I’m charmed by them, I’ve almost exclusively dated them, and in general, I’ve chosen men as some of my best and closest friends. Many of my heroes and mentors have been white men. As an angry, somewhat masculine woman, that has also been terrifically complicated, but it’s still true. My oldest friend used to joke, when we were still teenagers, that I could never, ever raise a boy because I’d be too indulgent of his bullshit.

But they can’t be excused and we can’t fail to see, when we look at the political landscape, a lot of cishet white guys running shit. They’re the ones leading the march against women and trying to derail or curtain women’s health care – and yes, that includes abortion, and that always includes abortion – they’re the ones running cop shops that take out young black men on the regular; they’re the ones foamin at the mouth about gay rights, too. They are definitely ones getting away with rape and domestic violence and yes, they are the ones shooting up schools.

It’s the kind of thing it’s impossible not to unsee once you see it.

I don’t think it has much to do with any individual man. I think it has everything to do with how we raise men and what we expect of them, but moreso, it has everything to do with what they expect.

Read the rest on Patreon.


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.

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.


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.

Help for Grammar Nerds: AP Stylebook Adds “They” as Singular Pronoun

The headline along is enough to make some grammar nerds fidget nervously: AP Stylebook Embraces ‘They’ as Singular, Gender-Neutral Pronoun.

I was watching some grammar nerds – and yes, I count myself as one – discuss the difficulty of this.

Two points: (1) You already do this all the time: “I wonder who left their phone behind. I bet they’ll really want it back.” You know the phone doesn’t belong to a group, and if you don’t know this person’s gender, ‘they’ is an easy default. Someone objected that there is a difference in spoken (informal) verses written (formal) writing, to which I can only reply: either respecting people’s identities is important enough to change some grammar rules or it isn’t. I think it is.

(2) The real issue, I’ll insist, is whether or not you actually respect and acknowledge the multiply- or non-gendered as REAL. If you’re having trouble calling a single person by the pronouns “they”, it may be because you don’t actually believe in their gender identity as multiple or not gendered or non binary.

In which case, that’s the thing to work on. Once you respect multiply or non gendered people as legit identities, “they” as a singular pronoun is pretty obviously the most pragmatic solution to the English language’s lack of a gender neutral singular pronoun.

Male Privilege & Trans Women

I’ve said in the past that I’ve made all the mistakes and asked all the dumb questions as a feminist who is trans-allied, and I have. I’ve put a lot of it in print.

The reality is that many of us still talk about gender as if it isn’t intersectional. So we ask: do trans women have male privilege before they transition? But that is both too big and too small a question; too big because it implies that trans women are monolithic, and too small because it implies men are as well.

So instead perhaps questions like: is a woman who is suppressing her gender and suffering from gender dysphoria actually experiencing the world as a man? Also, if we know that a gay man doesn’t experience male privilege in the same way a straight man does, and we know black men don’t experience it the same way white men do, then isn’t it possible that trans women, before they transition, also don’t experience it the way cis men do?

While there are women like Laverne Cox and Jazz Jennings, who expressed their femininity from a young age, who never experienced male privilege at all, there are a lot of trans women who hid their femininity. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there or that they didn’t suffer with it. It means they were being raised like sheep in wolves’ clothing: visible only to themselves, and exposed to some of the very misogynistic, sexist attitudes men share when they think they are around other men only.

I remember my wife coming home after being on an elevator with a bunch of guys from the College of Insurance and being horrified by the way they spoke about women. I said: I know. And she said: no you don’t. And I believed her.

Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity is useful here. She outlines some kinds of masculinity, like subordinated masculinity (like gay men) and complicit masculinity (the guy who isn’t hegemonic but who still benefits from patriarchy). So male privilege might be thought of on a similar scale, that it’s not YES or NO but rather: what are the other intersections of identity that might modify the experience? If being black or gay disappears some of male privilege, at least in the world at large, then it’s easy enough to say that trans would as well. Add more intersections of marginalized identity, such as being feminine, gay, and trans, and male privilege has all but disappeared.

Sometimes when we talk about gender we want a hammer to solve all the arguments when what we need is a scalpel, a microscope.

None of this is simple.

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.

RIP Lady Chablis

Heartbreaking news from Monica Roberts: The Lady Chablis, aka The Doll, aka Brenda Dale Knox, had died at the young age of 59. She became famous by playing herself in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, after which she wrote her amazing autobiography Hiding My Candy.

When I first started teaching Trans Lives as a class, there was a huge lack of work by or about trans women of color. Ditto for those who transition out of drag identities. Hers was both: an important book that talked about her upbringing, about the South, about race, about what it meant to become a woman after working as a professional drag queen. Its entire sensibility differed from all the other narratives by white trans women (and men) – it brought a sense of humor, a stunning fighting instinct, and so much dignity in the face of too much difficulty.

This woman has long been a heroine of mine, and I’m sad to see that she’s died younger than she might have. Still, I’m sure she was always surprised that a million things along the way didn’t kill her, either.

Thank you, Lady Chablis, for all the pleasure and beauty and glamour you brought so many. You will be missed.

Surveying Gender

It’s back to school and students everywhere are looking at a form that asks them to choose M or F.

Some have changed it to include Transgender, or Other, and still others add a “don’t care to answer”.

I’m glad to see there’s a few more options than there used to be, but there’s still a few things I generally don’t see addressed:

  1. the additive model. I’d like an O for Other and an F for female and I don’t want to choose between them. Likewise, many trans men might want both an M and a T. If the average trans woman has to choose between F or T, she will choose F. You wind up with no stats on trans populations.
  2. explain. For that matter, why do you want to know my gender? Maybe explain what you’re doing with the information; if it matters to your school or workplace to know how many trans people are in the mix, then say so. Many trans people are reluctant to respond if they don’t know why you’re asking.
  3. pronouns. In addition to a gender choice, maybe add a pronoun choice. That will give you a little more data.
  4. caveat. If you have to, by law, ask for only an M or F, then simply point out that you are having to follow federal/state/city guidelines for data collection. A simple note that says “hey, this isn’t what we’d choose, but we are required to gather this info” goes a long way in making your place more welcoming and inclusive.

There are a lot of ways to make trans/GNC students welcome, but the very first – and sometimes the most distressing way NOT to do so – are the endless checkboxes of gender on forms. Do away with them where you can, finesse them when you can’t, and otherwise design forms that express the spirit and intent of your school as welcoming and inclusive.