Race

No Indictment for Darren Wilson

This is not going to be a long post. I feel like there are many people qualified to provide commentary on the situation; I do not feel that I am one of those people.

But I will say that I am absolutely sick. Even as I write this I am holding back tears. I would’ve hoped that after everything that has happened, and is still happening, in Ferguson, that maybe there would be some justice.

I don’t usually pray, but I feel that tonight it may be in order.

This is so fucked up.

Guest Post: Internal Identity vs Social Perception vs Feminism

Why hello there!

My name’s Eli, and I’m the dude behind My Life Without Tits. Sophia asked for a guest blogger, and so here I am.  I won’t bother you with a run-down of who I am, but if you’re interested you can find my public bio here.

Sophia has been so kind as to give me carte blanche when it comes to topics for this post.  I went back and forth, considering some of my favorites, Chicago (my home), poetry (my livelong passion), trans stuff (for obvious reasons), and 90s music (I was in my teens and twenties then, and so have many fond memories of growing up with that music).

But ultimately, I came to rest on the topic of feminism and the trans man, as it is plainly of interest to me, and presumably of interest to you.  So let’s dig in!

I was at work the other day, and a friend asked me what was new.  The following convo ensued:

Pal: What’s new Eli?

Eli: Not much.  Actually, I’m writing a guest blog for another WP writer.

Pal: What’s the topic?

Eli: Well, her blog centers around feminism, so likely something to do with that.

Pal (now bug-eyed and alarmed): Oh no, Eli, you’re a dude now, and dude’s have nothing to say about feminism!

fin

My work chum was being a bit facetious, but there, in the air between one straight white dude and another, hung a note of truth.  Traditionally, straight white dudes are thought to have nothing substantial to add to conversations about feminism.  Of course there are plenty of guys out there that are feminists, in that they believe women to be their equals, believe in equal pay and in the autonomy of a woman’s body, etc., etc.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Socially, I’ve only been a guy for about a year now.

For 30 years I was a woman, a gay woman, a self-identified dyke: the scariest and most feminist of all the feminists.  I was in the Vagina Monologues three years running, I gave money to Planned Parenthood.  I took a reading and writing sexuality course in college.  I might not have been Gloria Steinem, but at least I knew who she was.  I guess my point is that I identified as female, was treated as female, and was proud of it.

Well, publicly identified as female.

And uh, was kinda proud of it.

It was complicated, as gender can be.  I firmly believed (and still do) in woman’s equality and autonomy.  And I identified with that struggle in that I knew I was just as capable as my male counterparts.  But I believed it because I saw myself as male.  And now that my outsides are starting to match my insides, it does not change my politics or beliefs.  It does, however, change how people perceive my politics and beliefs.

My work friend’s comment points out not so much the false belief that men have no role to play in feminist politics, on the contrary, I imagine just like gay people can’t legislate rights in their favor without the straight vote, women can’t put in place equal pay structures or health care reform without men working along side them.  Until we’re all on the same page, we never going to make lasting positive changes for women’s equality.  But that’s actually beside my point.  What my friend points out is that by writing about feminism I am outing myself again: as a turncoat, a traitor, a dude playing for the other team.  But this time it’s not about homosexuality, it’s about gender allegiance.

And so as trans men, we face the dilemma: do we work to stay true to ourselves, and risk being denied access to the boy’s club we have so longed for and know ourselves as rightful members of, or do we go with the patriarchal flow and laugh along at the locker room jokes we know to be sexist?  Of course there’s middle ground to be had, and made, and found: we trans folks are just the people to do it, too.  We know what it feels like to be seen as the other sex.  I can’t speak for every trans guy, but I didn’t have dysphoria to the degree that many of my comrades did.  I was “ok” being seen as a girl, because I live in a culture where I could butch it up, wear jeans every day, cut my hair short, date women, and that was “good enough” for a long time.  But “good enough” was never gonna last forever, and so I came out and have felt more at home in my body than ever before.  But this new body comes with some ugly baggage: if I get to use the privileges, I get to be seen as the oppressor, too.

I use the men’s room now, I am called sir, and when I ring up male customers I feel a new sense of camaraderie I have never been privy to before.  And it feels good.  It’s incredible just to have a guy say to me, “thanks buddy,” or “have a good one, man” and know he saw me how I see me.  I walk with my chin up for the first time in three decades.  I am proud of my body, of myself, to a degree never before understood, and I have a feeling this is just the beginning.  I am taken more seriously over the phone and have a confidence building I didn’t know existed.  But all these positive changes exact a cost.  Female customers don’t joke around with me like they used to.  They (frequently) don’t make eye contact with me when I ask them questions.  And I am very aware of making no physical contact with them, save a VERY gentle touch on the shoulder to address them from behind.  Of course this is commonplace public civility, but the comfort I felt with them before testosterone is gone.  Meanwhile, in my brain, I’m the same person.  It’s difficult terrain to navigate.

So where does this leave me?  The middle, I guess.  And I’m starting to realize there’s goodness and a power to be found in the middle.  So many people strive to conform to the traditional “masculine” male and “feminine” female figures that we have a hard time communicating between the two.  Do I want the camaraderie and kinship to be had in the locker room? Yes.  Do I have to accept the misogyny along with it?  Yes, yes I do because historically, men have been misogynistic.  That’s the facts.  That is the current situation.  But it doesn’t have to be the future.  Trans men can make the mistake of noting the perks of being male and accepting them wholeheartedly, hook, line, and sexist sinker.  On some days I hear more sexist things come out of trans guys mouths than cis- guys.  We’re trying to play the role, trying to prove our masculinity.  If we want to retain all the good qualities of ourselves we nurtured in our female bodies, and still be seen as men, if we want to be feminists who aren’t scoffed at, we have to write a new male history, and that starts with being true to ourselves.  Being a man means being honest and using your brain.  When we mimic men without thinking, we’re just being dicks.

Thanks for having me over, Sophia.  And thank you, readers, for making it this far.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

 

Sophia’s note: Eli asked me to come up with a title for this post. I wanted to come up with something witty but that’s not really my strong suit. Thank you so much to Eli for taking me up on my offer to guest post (which, by the way, still stands for everyone interested 😉 ) His blog, again, can be found here.

Dress Codes, Acid Throwing, and Validation of Personhood

For those of you not familiar with tumblr, it’s the website where the teenagers go to scream at each other about social justice and occasionally reblog pictures of their Starbucks drinks and call it art. I was on this site the other day when I came across a post showing pictures of an Pakistani woman with a scarred face conducting an interview with a man. The pictures were captioned with what was being said in the interview. He asked her how she got the burns on her face. She said that her husband, sister-in-law, and husband’s mother threw acid onto her. When the man asked if she then left her husband, she said that she tried to leave and couldn’t support her children on her own. In tears, she told the interviewer that she had to return to her husband’s home and make up with them, because she didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Acid throwing is (unfortunately) an incredibly prevalent topic in both feminist circles and the world at large. This horrible act of violence is commonly used by extremist groups as a scare tactic, trying to keep women and girls from receiving an education or from even having the nerve to show themselves in public at all. It is (at least, in my opinion) an issue that deserves a lot more time and a lot more action from all corners of social justice.

So, I already had the mentality that this is an issue that requires attention when I scrolled down to read the comment below; I couldn’t believe what I saw: “Meanwhile, in America, feminists are complaining about how dress codes are oppressive. You idiots have never experienced oppression, and pray you never do, because this is what it looks like.”

I was pretty pissed off when I saw that, but I honestly couldn’t quite figure out why. What this person was saying wasn’t exactly untrue—compared to acid throwing, dress codes (and things like slut-shaming which are intrinsically linked to them in my mind) are nothing compared to the horrors faced by women in other countries. But it just didn’t sit right with me. I shook the feeling off and went to read the next comment.

“As a South Asian American feminist, let me remind everyone that oppression is not a competition. Just because we fight one type of sexism doesn’t mean we don’t care about other instances of sexism that don’t affect us directly in our day to day lives. My heart goes out to this woman and the hundreds of other victims like her. I want to educate people about these kinds of incidents. I support organizations that help women like this. You may think that dress code issues are trivial, but they are related to a larger issue of women’s bodily autonomy, which affects women’s health and safety. So please, let’s try to bring awareness and bring about change instead of insulting entire groups of people because they are facing issues that are less scary than the one presented.[emphasis mine]”

I remember when I was first getting acquainted with the social justice movement, I would try and mentally map out (in a pyramid of sorts) who was least and most oppressed in Western society. Males who are straight, able-bodied, white, etc etc, obviously went at the top of the pyramid—in the space reserved for pharaohs or kings if this were history class. After that I thought white women probably came next. And then below that it got murky in my mind. Did gay people come next? What about trans people? What about trans people who were black? Were gay men above gay women or did they all take up the same chunk of the pyramid? I knew on some level that my logic was flawed (and I realize now that it’s just a pretty fucking stupid way of looking at things) but I didn’t know what was wrong with it. (This post was a huge help for me in understanding why.)

Now, if we as feminists are to believe in and fight for the personhood of all women, that means white women, and women of color, and women from all backgrounds and from all corners of the globe. Just because personhood and the trials of that personhood should not be overlooked because they come from a place of marginalization, does not mean the trials of personhood should be overlooked just because they come from a place of privelege. This ties back to my essay on the apsects of rape that feminists sometimes overlook. If a priveleged person is raped, that doesn’t make it any less of a rape. And if a priveleged woman has their bodily autonomy restricted or denied, that doesn’t make it any less of an issue. We have to stop thinking of the different sects of the social justice movements as separate and start thinking of them as one big whole.

Yeah, I fully realize that acid throwing is a lot more horrific and a lot more damaging than dress codes or slut-shaming. But both are infringement on women’s rights and both are infringement on the overall rights of human beings. I’m not saying that the issue of acid burning is less important than the issue of dress codes, because it’s obviously not—what I am saying, though, is that both issues are an important part of the same movement. Both issues deserve attention and both issues deserve action. Invalidating the experiences of one group of women in order to validate the experiences of the other is the wrong direction for the feminist movement and the social justice movement as a whole to take itself.

In order for the feminist movement to advance, it needs to represent a cohesive and united front. All acts that violate women’s rights need to be brought to light—we focus too much on the big picture of the progress we’ve made and forget that there are still so many battles to be fought. We shouldn’t be wasting our time fighting over who is more oppressed—we should be spending that time fighting for the rights of all women, and of all human beings across the globe.

~~~

Recommended Reading:

Social Justice and Racial Invisibility

What Constitutes True Social Justice?

The Privelege of Just Being a PERSON: Whiteness and Race Anxieties

Racism in The Places We Deny

Thoughts on Catching Fire

Katniss
While I do think that Jennifer Lawrence is a wonderful actress and looks great with dark hair, and while I think that she did a very good job of playing this character, there is a problem.

She’s white.

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