The Feminist Dude

This past weekend was one of my new favorite yearly events – V to Shining V. For those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick history:

In 2012, Michigan State House Representative Lisa Brown was speaking on the House floor about a bill that was attempting to put strict regulations on abortion providers and ban all abortions after 20 weeks. During the speech, she stated “And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no’.”

She was subsequently banned from speaking on the floor. Because she said vagina. The men on the floor, whom apparently are offended by the proper term for a woman’s genitals, suggested she use something less offensive, like “lady parts”.

The absurdity in this entire story grabbed the attention of Lizz Winstead, creator of The Daily LPJlogoShow, and others, and they came together to form Lady Parts Justice, to spread awareness and fight against those trying to regulate reproductive freedoms. Their yearly event, V to Shining V takes place to rally support for organizations under attack, like Planned Parenthood, and to educate people on the issues and get them out to vote and make their voices heard.

Last year was my first year attending, and was when I truly understood why I needed to be a feminist. This year was no different. Not only did the event further my resolve in feminism, but it added some new reasons.

I’m a transman, as you all know, and proud of who I am, and who I’m becoming. And part of who I’m becoming is a stronger feminist. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a Tedx talk titled We Should All Be Feminists. And it’s true. All of it. Why wouldn’t I want to be a feminist? As a transman, one might agree that certain aspects of feminism, like intersectionality and marginalization and equity are ideals and knowledge applicable to my status as a transgender individual. And one would be right. But it goes beyond that. Far beyond that.

The biggest fight in feminism right now is over reproductive freedom. The fight against abortion has become even more intense as legislation is introduced to ban some types of abortions and put restrictions on clinics. Perhaps the biggest fight is the fight to defund Planned Parenthood.

I’ve been to a Planned Parenthood clinic before. I could get into all of the things that the clinics do that don’t involve abortions. I could tell you about the STD testing and the birth control they administer. I could tell you about the sex education, pregnancy testing, and ultrasounds they provide. I could tell you about all of these necessary services they provide to those low and no income women and men (yes, the STD testing is available to men, too. After all, the place is called Planned Parenthood.) to ensure they receive necessary health care. But the fact is, abortion remains legal. And what PP does is, and has always been, within the scope of the law.

And, I am a stakeholder in all of this.

And I’m calling all of my fellow transmen to the table on this. Because we ALL are stakeholders in this.

Let’s face it. We were born with parts that don’t belong to us. But we have them, and I’m fortunate in that I don’t cringe when I think about the fact that I have a vagina. And with that, I’ve got all the other parts too. Yes, I know not every trans guy has one, but if you do, you need to take care of it, which may mean uncomfortable visits to the gynecologist. Trans health is a big issue, and it’s necessary.

But how does that apply to reproductive freedom? Well, I’m sure you’ve heard stories about women who needed emergency medical care and were denied that care because the Catholic church feels that bishops know much better than doctors. And if you haven’t heard these stories, you need to. See, the thing is, the care was denied in these cases because it would have involved procedures that are considered birth control – like hysterectomies. And if you’re a trans guy, you’re probably going to get one of these, if you haven’t already. And until you have a hysterectomy, access to proper care is necessary as well. Including exams and birth control to help regulate your cycle. And they offer these services on sliding scales so EVERYONE has access.

If we sit by and let the government and churches take away reproductive freedoms, there’s a very good chance we’ll be letting them take away some of our livelihood, too. Because it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that hysterectomies could be banned. Period. After all, if Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock can make the claim that women who are raped should be forced to carry the pregnancy to term because the baby was a ‘gift from God’, then it isn’t too far away from those same nut jobs telling us that we don’t get to choose what path we take because God doesn’t make mistakes.

Yeah, it’s a selfish reason. But sometimes in order to rally for a cause, you need a selfish reason to find that passion. It is of course, not my only reason, either.

I’m part of a marginalized community. I can be fired for being trans, despite the fact that has absolutely nothing to do with work performance. I can be kicked out of the bathroom, because I don’t “look” like I’m supposed to. I can face scrutiny whenever I need to show my ID because my gender marker doesn’t match my name or my appearance.

We need to band together and fight. I was at the Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival on September 13th. And my fellow feminists there, they made space for the trans community. They showed movies about those inside and outside of the binary, and talked about how trans women are being murdered at alarming rates. They made space for us. They know marginalization and struggle and invisibility. And they help lift our voices. So why aren’t we doing the same for them?

Yeah, I know transmen are marginalized, and often our voices are silent. But are our voices silent because someone else is holding our mouth shut or because we’re doing it to ourselves? See, when we start transitioning, we gain privilege. We gain access to the lives of men. We are allowed in spaces we were always meant to be in, spaces where women’s voices aren’t heard. But what do we do when there’s a sexist joke? When someone makes a blonde joke or talks of a woman’s body like it’s property, or a trophy to be taken? Do we speak up and say it’s not right? Or do we just shift uncomfortably in our skin, and chuckle half-heartedly, because it’s easier than doing the right thing?

This is where our intersectionality is important. We have access to these areas, where our voices will be heard and our thoughts and ideas and opinions will be taken seriously. And we need to use our voices in those spaces to say not just that the joke or comment is inappropriate, but it’s wrong, and it’s unacceptable. We have the unique ability to be a part of these spaces, and to say the things we know need to be said to other men who will listen to us.

I’m calling on all of my fellow transmen to step up. You want to be a man? Then be a feminist. Vote for politicians who will protect a woman’s right to govern her own body. Don’t stand by when another man tries to use the word ‘pussy’ as a term for weakness. Because if you do, then you’re no better than those who stay quiet when you’re being discriminated against.

In fact, you should be offended. Politicians and clergy are working hard to tell women how incompetent they are in making decisions on their own bodies. They’re finding new ways to veil discrimination – through words like ‘protection’ and ‘religious freedom’. They’ve already tried those tactics on us, and it’s worked, in some areas. And they’ll keep trying these tactics unless we use another right that they’re working on taking away – the right to vote. If you don’t vote, if you keep your voice quiet, then you’re an accomplice, or worse, an oppressor.

So you really want to change the definition of manhood, and what it means for you to be a man? Then I dare you to not just say you support women’s rights, but to fight for them. I dare you to embrace the label of feminist, and to truly understand and accept your privilege as a man, and to use that privilege to further feminism.

I stand with Planned Parenthood. I am proud to be a feminist. And I’m not afraid to say vagina.

How about you?

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On Being a Man and a Feminist

I identify as a trans man, and as a feminist. Not because it’s trendy or because it sounds good. Not because my girlfriend is (although Mira is incredibly fierce, and I do aspire to hold some of the same values as her), and not because it’s an easy thing to be (because frankly, it’s not).

I am a feminist because it’s necessary. And it’s right. I’ve been fortunate to have been allowed to explore my masculinity as a child, and while I didn’t necessarily have strong male role models growing up, I wasn’t raised to believe that because I was a girl I “couldn’t”.

And now, though I’m fortunate enough to experience a degree of male privilege, it doesn’t mean that suddenly I don’t have a responsibility to fight for rights of women all over the world.

Mira and I watched India’s Daughter the other night. It’s about the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh that took place in Delhi, India, back in 2012. The documentary lasted only about an hour, but in that hour I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so angry and filled with such palpable feelings of injustice (which isn’t the right word either – it goes beyond a simple injustice).

The things the men said between the lawyers for the rapists and one of the rapists himself were beyond incorrigible. In fact, as Mira and I talked about later, the views of the men are reflected all over the world. Opinions that women shouldn’t be out late, they shouldn’t be out alone, they shouldn’t wear ‘provocative’ clothing – opinions reflected in that documentary, have also been spoken in the United States. The idea that women are somehow solely responsible for sexual assault is, while grossly disgusting, not a new idea.

I strongly urge all of the men I know to watch this documentary. Though if you’ve read my blog on a regular basis, you’ll know that the men in my life are my role models, good, strong, loving men who understand the strength of a woman. But sometimes that isn’t enough.

As a trans man…as a man, I have a unique place in feminism. As I’ve said, I was raised with an emphasis on the more masculine side of gender. That’s not to say that I was taught that women are lesser or othered. I was raised as a daughter. Which also meant that I did experience the inequality between men and women. I saw it in gym class, when boys and girls were held to different standards when completing the Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school. Among my peers, I was a tomboy, so I was allotted a certain amount of distance from any ‘feminine’ behavior – gossiping and standing in a group at recess.

Even then, I never thought it was right – that boys and girls had different physical fitness standards (more than once, I watched a boy get the snot beat out of him by a girl for making an off-color remark) or that because I was a girl that I wasn’t supposed to play soccer or dodgeball with the guys.

At some point, I remember being told that I had to be careful when being alone with a boy or being outside after dark by myself. Even then, it was understood that it was more important to control my conduct than to teach appropriate behavior among the young men. I’d see stories on the news about “taking back the night”, and scores of women, arms linked, walking down streets in both a protest and an effort to reclaim their rightful place in their neighborhoods. And why? Because no one else would do it. Time and time again, there would be news stories about another rape and murder of a woman – and time after time, initial reports would claim the women were prostitutes (somehow this meant their death was okay by the simple fact of their profession, or that they were asking for this because of ‘risky behavior’). The blame was always, always placed on the woman.

“She asked for it.”

“She was dressed like a slut. I figured that’s what she wanted.”

“She shouldn’t have dressed that way. If she had just been home before dark, like a good girl, and had some decency, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Because a woman’s body is not her own. We’re told this time and time again – legislators passing laws to govern a woman’s body, television and movies showing scantily clad women being sexually promiscuous, and somehow they’re the sexual deviant, not the men. Women who have been raped being forced into a place of shame and blame because somehow, by the mere fact that they are women, they should just accept that they’ll be sexually assaulted, and not fight it.

The disparaging remarks made by the rapists from India’s Daughter  are sentiments echoed by the men in our own country. I’d written in the past about the baggage that comes with claiming manhood, and this is another aspect of it. Somehow, somewhere in history, society gave men a free pass when it comes to things like rape and sexual assault. It’s even associated with male privilege, that it’s my right to assert sexual dominance over my partner, regardless of whether or not that’s what she desires. In fact, it wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape was considered a crime in all 50 states. Even then, it was still disputed as a ‘real thing’ because how could rape occur in a marriage when the woman gave herself over to the husband? Each state has their own law regarding marital rape and in several states, there are differences in the definition of what constitutes marital rape – like the severity of violence, how the rape occurred, under what circumstances the assault occurred. Suddenly it didn’t matter what the woman’s experience was – no didn’t mean no anymore. If I’m honest, no hasn’t meant no for a lot longer prior to this.

I remember my sister telling me a story about rescuing a girl from a frat party. My sister was leaving and witnessed another woman, clearly unable to make decisions for herself, being half led, half dragged up a stairway to where the bedrooms were. She grabbed the woman, made up a name and acted as though she had been looking all over for her, and rescuing the rufied woman from certain sexual assault. Although depending on who you ask, if a woman is drugged, then consent is not required.

These things are beyond wrong. And these acts of violence are perpetuated by men. It’s pretty obvious why I’d been so hesitant to call myself a man when you read articles every day about men imposing themselves on women, because it was their privilege to.

And I’ve got that free sexual assault card. I sure as hell don’t want it, but I’m not going to give it back, either, because all that means is an extra card for someone else. I’m going to tear it to shreds and burn it.

As a man who is a feminist, it’s my duty not to defend women, but to change the attitudes of my fellow-men. Enough of the victim blaming/shaming. Enough defending a woman’s right to be outside after 9 pm. Enough defending a woman’s right to wear the clothing she chooses. It’s time to change the attitudes of men.

When I’m in a space where women’s voices are not present, it’s my duty to shut down the sexist remarks and disparaging comments. And it’s not enough for me to just say that I don’t want to hear it. Systems of oppression exist not just because those preventing the oppressed group from advancing keep the wheels turning, but also because others who know these systems are wrong do nothing to alter it. Silence can be just as deadly as privilege, if used incorrectly.

So stop being silent. If you love your wife, your partner, your significant other, your girlfriend, your fiancée, then say so. If you are in a room with a group of guys, and they start objectifying women, say something.

Vida Boheme: So, I gather you like hitting ladies.

Virgil: Some ladies need to get hit.

Vida Boheme: Well then, it stands to reason that some men need to get hit back.

There’s an article that Mira shared with me, about Michael Kimmel and his efforts to promote feminism among men. The article is good, up until this paragraph:

But the real mission of these four days is explaining why feminism should appeal to men. After all, if the patriarchy confers benefits, why would guys give it up? Appeals to fairness are not enough, it seems; the current vogue is to persuade men their lives will be better if women have more freedom and better jobs and work-life balance.

This to me still isn’t quite right. I know and understand that by nature, humans are selfish and self-centered. Mira and I have talked about the benefits of being selfish in that doing for yourself often makes you more apt to do for others, or that the act of being selfish in many circumstances, can benefit more than just you. But when it comes to being selfish about the benefits drawn from the patriarchy, I would like to believe that simply seeing the negative results such a system of oppression has on those that don’t belong would be reason enough to abandon it.

The quote from the article is basically implying that we, as men, can keep women happy, and in turn, off of our backs and not nagging us, if we give women more freedom in their lives. But again, this does nothing to change our behavior as men. It still screams of male privilege and patriarchy. It’s still saying that women are not their own, that they aren’t capable unless *we* give them the freedom to be. I mean, I understand that by tearing down the patriarchy and establishing equality does just that, the fact that the article surmises the way to get men on board with being feminists is to use their male privilege to gift freedom and equality to women kinda stinks. I’m afraid that approaching it this way does nothing but stroke the male ego. The same goes for another quote in the article, about men approaching Kimmel and stating that they agree with everything the feminist movement says, but they can’t bring themselves to identify as feminists.

So do we eliminate this word from our vocabulary? Is this a new movement? To be a ‘closeted feminist’? It still equates the ideas of shame and lesser and othering to women. This is not the movement we, as men, need to be a part of. There is no shame in lifting any marginalized group to a place of equality. But to be a man who identifies as a feminist is more than just agreeing with what the movement says. It’s acting upon it. It’s modifying our own behavior, and planting seeds of change in others. That’s why it’s so important not to placate women – that’s an asinine view to begin with. How much of a pompous a-hole do you have to be to believe that a woman would fall all over you because you gave them the okay to go to work? Get the hell out of their way, man! We’re at a point where our job isn’t to focus on helping women by being their escort. Our job is to change our behavior and the idea that we somehow have a right to women, that we have a right to their bodies. Feel free to hold the door open for her, but understand, very clearly, that she is fully capable of not only opening that door, but ripping it off the damn hinges.

Instead, send out a clear message to the other men you interact with, that you will not accept other men objectifying women. Send a clear message that in spaces where women’s voices are not heard or represented, you will find a way to lift up their voices.

Don’t ‘defend’ women’s behavior. That’s not your place. Women don’t need our defense. Again, it goes to changing up the concepts of manhood and entitlement. We are not entitled to women. It is as simple as that. So stop using your privilege to dictate women’s spaces. Use your privilege to turn the system upside down.

Change the concept of manning up from one of machismo and misogyny to one of respect and pride. If you’re still at a loss as to what to do, then read this. And for crying out loud, if you are a man, and you agree with what the feminist movement says, then stop being scared that your manliness will fade if you call yourself a feminist. We exist. I promise.

No. I am a man. And I am a feminist. And I’m proud to be both.

(Mira posted this video before, but it’s so good it’s worth posting again)

Oppressor or Activist? Turns out, I’ve been both…and more.

I am an oppressor. I am an accomplice. I am an ally. I am an activist.

I have kept silent while others have made jokes about someone’s weight. I’ve felt my blood boil as someone made a racist remark, or said something derogatory about the trans community, but I kept my mouth shut.

Why? The reasons are endless – maybe some part of me thought it was true, or I didn’t feel like getting into an argument that day, or I knew if I spoke up, it wouldn’t do any good. The reasons don’t matter, though.resist_oppression_communism_will_prevail_india_revolution_operation_green_hunt_cpimaoist

Sometimes someone will make a comment about the weight of someone we both know, making a joke or some off-handed remark, I laugh along with them, while I should have, could have, said something, not in defense of their object of fun, but in response to the inappropriateness of the comment. Instead, I commented as well, not wanting to seem “weird” or “awkward” by going against the norm.

I am an oppressor.

black-tape-mouth-shut-no-speaking-700x45_660If I’m at work, where the majority of my co-workers are heterosexual and all of them, save me, are cisgender, I keep my mouth shut about many things. I haven’t officially come out at work, and so when I talk about being trans, or the trans community, I speak in hushed tones, not making eye contact, keeping my head down, as if the words I’m saying are something I should be ashamed of. When people use the word ‘tranny’, I cringe internally, but respond with “Yeah, I don’t see the big deal…” My silence is as dangerous as the loud voices of the bigots and discriminators.

I am an accomplice.

I am not proud of these situations. Because I should have stepped in and said it was wrong. I should have made it abundantly clear that their attitudes and opinions were their own to have, and solely their own to have. I didn’t. And I regret that.tumblr_m5ixrhNjhD1rpy84ao1_500

I went with Mira to a Lady Parts Justice rally. I was there to support her, but now because of the inspiring acts of the women that spoke and performed, I’ve been inspired, and I really want to speak at the next rally, to the importance of allies in the fight against the patriarchy telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.  Because if we do not stand alongside women, if we do not stop the regulation over their bodies by men who claim to know what’s best but essentially just want to dominate and put women “in their place”, then we all are subject to the repercussions of such a loss.

I am an ally.

During the last lame duck session in Michigan, there was a movement to change the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA for short), to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. There was another splinter group that thought it best to only include sexual orientation, and come back to revise the law later to encompass gender identity and expression. Years ago, I would have totally been all for the ‘half a pizza’ argument.

activistNot anymore, and not just because I’m now a part of the LGBT that has historically ended up without any slice of pizza, but because it’s simply wrong. And because of this, I went to a few ELCRA rallies, I went to TDOR (Transgender Day of Remembrance), and I want to speak out against the injustices faced by the trans community, a community I am a part of, and one that I fully embrace.

I am an activist.

I play all of these roles at varying times. When I identified as a lesbian and I fought for equality – I was an activist for the L and G, and an oppressor to the T. The B wasn’t even a concern, because in my head, they were simply confused. That has all obviously changed, for the better. I don’t want to ever play the role of the oppressor, and I think it’s even worse to play the role of the accomplice. Having the knowledge I do from my brilliant and insightful girlfriend, Mira, and my other activist friends, I’m learning when to recognize oppressive behaviors and attitudes in which I act as an accomplice.

Self awareness is just as important as self confidence. Being aware of my actions and words is just as important as saying them in the first place. I’m still going to screw up. But I will be aware of my missteps, and I will not silence my voice. If I am not empowering, I am oppressing, and I am contributing to the reason why equality has not yet been achieved.

If I don’t use the power I have from the privileges I have to raise up both the marginalized groups I belong to and those I do not belong to, then I am failing not only as an ally, but as an activist.

Everyone has some kind of privilege. It may not be obvious at first, but you know that saying – “There’s always someone worse off than you” – it’s true, and those who are “worse off” are most likely part of a marginalized group you do not belong to. If you have a place to live – then you can be an ally for the homeless, and use your privilege of stability of a roof over your head to help advocate for housing the homeless and providing them with an opportunity to achieve the same level of safety and stability you have.

If you are cisgender, you can ally yourself with the trans community, and use the power of being cisgender (and yes, you do have power, because you have privilege) in circles to support the trans community when the trans community is not represented.

I’m working on being an ally. I want to be a better ally. I feel I have the tools and the knowledge and the support to be a better ally.

Because it’s not always about my story.

How about you?

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