Taking Up Too Much Space?

My fiancée and I had a very interesting discussion the other night. Mira and I were talking about the space we occupy, and despite both the knowledge and belief that we are entitled to that space, sometimes, there is some guilt in occupying our own space. As if fully occupying our space, filled with its happiness and love and good fortune, we are taking away from those who are struggling.

I wrote a while back about attending the Trans 100 and listening to Tiq Milan talk about taking up space.

We are all entitled to space in this world, and we are fully allowed to occupy that space.

We have a right to exist, and we have a right to been seen, to have our voices heard, and to move through this world as everyone else does.

When others try to occupy our space, or even part of our space, it’s oppression and discrimination. They are trying to tell us that we are not important enough for our space, or that they are so important they need our space as well. When someone tries to silence our voice or speak for us, they’re occupying our space.

But what happens when we don’t feel entitled to our space in this world? What happens when our narrative feels akin to boasting?

My life is good now. It didn’t used to be. Those of you who know me know the struggles I’ve overcome. But that was then. The space I occupy now is different, stronger, and more confident. The life I live is happy, loving, and stable. But at times, almost (rather, quite) like a survivor’s guilt, I wonder if my story is too good to tell. Mira and I both struggle with this. Rather than talk about the good things happening to us, rather than rightfully occupy our space, we remain silent.

After all, I’m no braggart, and as an activist and an ally, I firmly believe it is my responsibility to lift those who are struggling, so their voices may be heard. If I speak out of turn, or if I talk over the voices of those I ally myself with, what kind of support is that?

So instead, we stifle our story, tamping it down so as not to distract from those who struggle. We lend sympathetic ears, and allow these stories to be told. After all, our happiness may push them further into their sorrow, right? If I talk about all the good things happening to me right now, that’s boasting, isn’t it? That’s telling those who are struggling that my story is more important, right? It’s taking away their space, right?

Oh my God…am I being oppressive?

Well, that escalated quickly…

I feel that people struggle with the concept of occupying space in this world. There are those who try to occupy too much, stepping on the toes of others and trying to push them out of their space. And then there are those who either don’t realize they’re allowed to take up space, or they don’t feel the space they have is deserved. There are also those who who remain in their space, but somehow feel their space is more important than others and insist they are the defining example of those like them.

My life has much privilege now – the privilege, essentially, of being a white, heterosexual male. I have white privilege, I have socioeconomic privilege, I have male privilege, I have heterosexual privilege…

Does my space shrink with the more privilege I have? I think the perception, the wrong perception, is that the space you’re entitled to increases with privilege. I don’t feel that is right. While there are no obvious, visible lines limiting the space we have, I think 1) it is our job to maintain limits in the space we occupy and 2) just as there is finite room on this earth, the amount of space available is finite, even if it isn’t a tangible thing.

Maintaining the limits of the space I occupy doesn’t mean I silence my voice. What it does mean is that it is my responsibility to be aware of those around me and the space they occupy. It means that sometimes my voice should remain quiet – this doesn’t mean that my voice is any less important. It simply means that it’s not my place to talk, and any opinions or thoughts I choose to share, should be considered with regard to those around me, and the stories they are telling. It means that in conversations concerning race and gender equity, I should do far more listening than talking.

Maintaining the limits of the space I occupy means that I have a duty to call others out, and then in, when they are overstepping the limits of their space and encroaching on the space of others. It means understanding the privilege I have, and not using that privilege to oppress, but to raise up those individuals who are struggling.

It also means that I don’t have to be guilty about fully occupying my space. My happiness doesn’t take away from others. It doesn’t occupy their space or prevent their voice from being heard.

When I talk of a finite space, it’s not finite in the sense that those coming into the world don’t get a space or those leaving this world take their space with them. I mean it is finite in the sense that our space is just that, our space. It is finite in the sense that there is space specifically for every individual on this earth, and that our space is all the same. No one is entitled to a bigger space than someone else, regardless of success or struggle, and your space doesn’t change in size depending on how much or how little privilege you have.

My story is part of the space I occupy. My beliefs, experiences, ideas – these are all rightfully mine and are contained within my space. But should they stay there? Should I silence my voice out of guilt because someone else is struggling? Should I silence my voice because my voice is happy?

My story, while both happy and sad, triumphant and tragic, deserves to be heard as much as any other story. Comparing the importance of individual experiences is a very dangerous path to go down. It pits the marginalized against one another, as if bleeding at the hands of someone else is somehow worse (or better?) than bleeding because of my own hand.

No. My voice should never be silenced. The space I occupy has been created for me, and quite frankly, it is my duty to occupy that space. If I don’t occupy it, then I’m failing those who are struggling, in a sense. If I don’t occupy my space, all of it, then someone else will, and I don’t have the ability to choose who that individual will be.

It is my duty to occupy that space in that my story of struggle and success could help someone else realize that as much of a cliché “It gets better” is, there is truth in the phrase. My narrative is relatable. It is as relatable as the other narratives that exist.

My voice may give others the strength to speak. So then, is it fair for me to silence myself and crawl into a remote corner of the space I’m supposed to occupy because someone else will be struggling more? No, it’s no more fair than if I were to try to silence the voice of others so I may be better heard.

It’s just as important for someone to be able to relate in the struggles of someone else as it is to reinforce that hope for the future.

To those who wish to occupy my space – it is mine, I am entitled to it, and I refuse to let you silence me.

To those who feel they do not deserve the space they occupy – stand firm, stand strong; your space was made for you, occupy it with the knowledge that it is important because you are in it.

To those who wish to blanket your story over mine – understand that all voices must be heard, and my story is just as important, even if it is for different reasons.

Go out in the world. Take up the space you are entitled to. Help others to occupy their own space. And don’t feel shame or guilt in doing so.

 

 

 

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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