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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The Measure of an Activist

The internet has been abuzz as of late about Indiana’s RFRA, specifically, about a little pizzeria called Memories Pizza. (By the way, the business didn’t bother to purchase their domain name.)

They closed shortly after coming out on the news talking about their opposition to serving the LGBT community, specifically stating they wouldn’t cater a same-sex wedding. The owners claimed they received death threats and because of this, felt they needed to close their business for their safety.

Yet none of these alleged threats have been discovered. None of the articles posted go into any sort of detail regarding the threats. To me, a threat of death is far more serious than a threat to boycott a restaurant.

This post, however, isn’t about the validity of the threats, or why RFRA is wrong, or how obvious it’s been that Memories Pizza was chosen to be a martyr for the “Gays are Evil” movement. This post is about activism and advocacy, and how important these things are.

I comment on a post about exactly that, how these people are martyrs for the cause. Someone responded with a comment that didn’t set well with me. They said that yes, the LGBT community and their allies had shut the business down, but that we didn’t change the minds of the business owners, so essentially, nothing had changed.

I beg to differ. Shutting down a business because they have bigoted, discriminatory views does change things. Recently Mira received the honor of being a member of the Trans100 2015. One of the keynote speakers, Tiq Milan, talked about his mother teaching him about taking up space, and how he has a right to take up space, and a responsibility to take up space.

By shutting this business down, the LGBT community has shown them that we deserve to be here, and we will take up our rightful space, whether others feel we deserve that space or not. And it’s our responsibility to continue to take up our rightful space, no matter what the opposition says or does.

How do we gauge the success of our efforts? If it’s solely by the number of minds changed, then are any other efforts moot? The Woolworth sit-ins in Greensboro most likely didn’t change the minds of the shop owner or many of the other white people sitting in the diner. Because they didn’t change the minds of those people, does that discount the fact those four students sparked an interest that ultimately resulted in 1000 people protesting the segregation? Certainly not.

Those four students had enough. They took up their rightful space at that counter. And the LGBT community needs to do the same. We need to continue to take up space and show our opposers that we are not backing down. Of course I’d love to change minds in the process, but that obviously isn’t always going to happen.

To poo-poo the efforts of the LGBT community and their allies to get businesses to close their doors because of discrimination is hurtful and extremely dangerous. If enough people felt the way this commenter did, the likelihood of any kind of movement for social change wouldn’t occur, because ‘we couldn’t change their minds’.

Change doesn’t occur overnight, either. Stonewall was the catalyst for the LGBT movement. But their efforts didn’t change the hearts and minds of all people. Clearly that fight still continues. The results of their actions, however, gave others the inspiration to no longer sit back and be trampled on.

Yes. We came out in force against this business. Yes, we may have helped in shutting the business down. And yes, we didn’t change the way they feel about the LGBT community. But things have changed. And they continue to change.

We may not change everyone’s minds. But it is our job to continue to fight, to take each step forward as a victory, as fuel to continue down the path to equality. As Tiq Milan said, success is measured in the space we occupy. It’s measured in the quantity of people out fighting for a cause. It’s measured by the quality of life those fighting for rights have. Each victory, no matter how small, counts.

This is a victory. It shows other businesses that we will not back down. It shows others within the LGBT community that we do matter, and that we can make a difference.

SIDENOTE: I understand that the owners of the pizzeria became puppets of the religious right. I also understand that they were most likely approached and told if they closed their doors, they would be repaid for it. I understand they became martyrs and targeted to be martyrs. This however, to me, is still a victory. Our voices were heard.