This is something I’ve been struggling with. So, I’m a female chauvinist. And I’m not really sorry.
Well, sort of. You know I’m sorry about everything, except for being sorry about everything. I should be clear about what I mean. Because I don’t hate men, at least not in the sense that you think of that term in the context of feminism (slash basically no feminists really do*). Sometimes I think I’m better than them (okay, kind of a lot, you guys make it too easy) and sometimes I think they’re better than me (okay, only occasionally). But saying I love being a person wouldn’t cover it – I love being a woman. And that’s on the short list of things for which I’m not at all sorry. I’m thankful to have been born born all kinds of other things – fast, smart, trans, pretty, occasionally funny but not when I tell dirty jokes** – but particularly, I’m thankful to have been born female.
So, chauvinist but not exactly a chauvinist pig.
And I think there is room for restorative pride in the feminine experience, pride in womanhood, pride in girlhood, that recaptures the imbalance in society’s objectified, distorted, and sexist ways of patterning everyone’s thoughts about us (including us). The idea that pride is restorative is really bedrock to this. Pride in womanhood is fundamentally different than pride in manhood because of the hierarchical sexism inherent in our society that places manhood above womanhood. Pride in femininity is fundamentally different than pride in masculinity because of the hierarchical sexism inherent in our society that places the masculine above the feminine.
In this way, talking about pride in being a woman – female chauvinism – is not only a good and radical thing, but it is analogous to other pride in the context of other kinds of struggles. So white folk get uncomfortable at the idea of #BlackLivesMatter, wait wait wait, uh, you mean all lives matter, don’t you? And please don’t mug me – I listen to Beyoncé! And straight people can’t understand why gay people need a pride. Why don’t I get a flag? And when they do have a flag, they have distorted reasons about what it means within a system of oppression from which they benefit.
But, while “good feminists” embrace the idea of black pride, they reject the idea of female pride. And I’m saying they shouldn’t.
I believe these phenomena arise from a really interesting side-effect of marginalization, which I want to be the focus of this piece. In many ways, the mechanism of marginalization – of all these isms – tends to attribute all the diversity to the dominant group. So we pay lots of attention to differences in hair color and eye color, because they vary a lot in white people, but we ignore all the things that are different about the billions of us black haired, brown eyed peoples. Guys are individual, identity-laden agents of change, but women are interchangeable hoes***. And there are a million and one straight love stories, every one of them different, but society-killing, Christ-denouncing, global-warming-causing same sex marriage can be simplified into a unitary construct, as if there’s no diversity among LGBT love stories.
Now you’re really going to think I’m crazy, but what I’m going to do here is say that the dominant culture – the white guys – also have a point. Don’t worry – it’s not the point they think they have. The interesting phenomenon is that, simultaneously, dominant group mechanics, while seemingly attributing all the diversity to the dominant group, actually whitewashes**** much of the really meaningful diversity in the dominant group. You can see this in white folk who cling to the 1/64th of their ancestry that is Chippewa or Cherokee – because they recognize that being “white” does not confer them a really meaningful racial/ethnic identity in the way that being Indian-American does me. This is why every white person wants to be Irish on St. Patrick’s day. You can see it in how all the clothes all the straight guys wear looks exactly the same, but it’s really important to them to be distinctive by having those shoes in just that shade of brown – again, the process of marginalization makes the world all about men, but it whitewashes men in some special and perhaps hard to realize ways. And they don’t want to be whitewashed (and I’m glad of it!).
This isn’t just a case of the grass is greener, of all the straight haired girls want curly and all the curly girls want straight. This is a fundamental characteristic of that asymmetrical relationship.
To me, the solution to this is radical, and it comes from chauvinism. I actually think that straight people should have a Pride. It’s just that it’s the LGBT Pride we’ve already got. As we become a cultural force with which to reckon (oh, we will / we are), I think it’s right to think about making the centerpiece of Pride be about gender and sexual diversity, but to emphasize that not only LGBT people are diverse with their gender and sexuality. Of course, our diversity is the most obvious, but straight people are diverse, too. I’ve taken to pointing this out, every time I talk about the concept of gender expression. You take 100 straight girls who work in the same industry, and some of them don’t even own pants, and some of them wouldn’t be caught dead in a skirt. Some of them don’t wear makeup to interviews, and some of them wouldn’t be caught without false eyelashes at the gym. That’s diversity of gender expression. And you don’t even need to understand LGBT people to get that it exists. And if you really celebrate it, to me, you’re welcome at Pride, not as an ally, but as a full blooded sibling. Even if you’re straight.
So, my answer, radical as it is, is to not only embrace chauvinism in my womanhood (and the idea that I can be proud of being a woman but that pride does not bind me to a course of being sexist), but to embrace the idea that you can be proud of who you are. Even if you’re a straight white dude! But you’re going to need to re-capture who you are. Because you’ve been defined in this sexist way that makes you everything and makes us nothing, and surprisingly and unintentionally, also makes you nothing and makes us everything
This is a big part of the reason I really nudge Teri and his friends along in this idea of developing a robust, future-compatible concept of manhood, not just for themselves, but as a gift to all men. Sure, I benefit, because if men weren’t tools, feminist movement would be so much easier. Obvi. But the truth is I benefit directly, because Teri is a man, and moreover, he’s my fiancé, and the better man he is, the better my life will be – not because I need a man anymore than a fish needs a bicycle, but because my life and his are wound together. Just as the better woman I am, the better his life will be. That’s the shared destiny of our selecting each other as mates, and it’s the consequence of the commitment we make to each other, the one we will consecrate someday soon in marriage.
And finally, yes, I glossed over it so I could pack in a not very funny joke, but I did say born female. As a trans woman, I take some relatively strong views. One of them is that I am biologically female, irrespective of the sex to which I was designated, irrespective of anything, period. I don’t know what my karyotype is – I haven’t and don’t need genetic testing to know who I am. Moreover, that very concept is backwards – my genes have the potential to explain the diversity of sex, because they probably aren’t typical female genes, but they’re carried by a woman (me). I’m a woman irrespective of how they look – and I know this from years of trying to deny this simple truth. In embracing authenticity, I’m not living “as a” woman or or somehow changing to my gender identity – I’m simply accepting reality*****. For this reason, I reject terminology****** like male-to-female or female-to-male, for myself, anyways.
The relevance of this strong view is that I reject the idea that I was a man, or even a boy. Which is important, because it allows me to be unabashedly a woman – I think everyone who knows me knows I don’t identify as anything, and I don’t prefer things, either.
So I’m proud to have been born female. And I’m proud to be a woman. And I’m not sorry. And I want you to be proud, too. I just want you to be proud in your identity, and I’m willing to help you find your identity. Because you can’t be proud in your privilege.
* I found this article while I was looking for another article, and it’s so amazing that I have to make sure I mention it, by creating a footnote to nothing (cue the bridge to nowhere hyperbole), and I’m going to have to figure out some way, before I publish this piece, to footnote something with this. Because this is amazing. The truth is that, although she uses aggressive language (very Dworkin-worthy), I pretty much actually agree with her. Except that I, unlike her, am kinda cutesy. Well, more than kinda. And I don’t fight, I play fight, and most likely, I don’t hate, I play hate. No, not player hate. Ahem. She explains by the end of the short piece (although apparently too long for the men’s rights folks to finish reading it) that she doesn’t actually hate men, which would also have been obvious from the rest of the piece if one were actually reading it (slash if one were a woman). Also, in solidarity with her, I hate refrigerator magnets. Ask Teri. Or better yet, ask me about the whole situation with having to clean rust off my stainless steal dishwasher that I hardly ever use because of the giant stupid refrigerator magnet someone put on it. Ahem. No, we’re cool, actually I totally love her, we’ve since become really good friends, that one and I.
** Okay, I told one dirty joke that was actually really, really funny, and totally on point. But it’s the only one I can think of. The punchline was “Let me introduce you to my Beaver Cleaver.” You kind of had to have been there. Erm.
*** Or, all too often, interchangeable holes. Oh, you thought I couldn’t be that radical? But seriously, this idea is rife in the “makeover” element of every movie where some mousey girl gets a makeover and looks like she came off the cover of a young woman’s magazine – it’s important, because the dominant culture messaging of men says that every woman could be that girl, if she just toed the line a little harder.
**** Only here to be funny to Teri: Well, that’s an unfortunate name.
***** Truth be told, I still use the term transition – the thing about having a reclaimed identity is not just that I didn’t make up the language, but that I must find a way to describe who I am in a language that wasn’t my choosing and that wasn’t designed to include me in the range of possibility. So, I still use transition, but I’m predicting that you’ll see it appear less and less, and although it’s been in many of my posts, and in this case, I’m relegating it to a footnote. Baby steps.
****** I kind of had a moment of annoyance at an event I did a few months ago – a local activist asked me to be on a panel to “speak about the transgender,” and she had an “MTF” and an “FTM” and a “non-binary” and anyways… I told her, sorry, I don’t do talks about the transgender, and I don’t share stages with MTFs or FTMs. Mostly being flippant, but I think, in the long term, you’ll like my language better, because you’ll like the identity-validating message underlying it. And also the simplicity. Because seriously, like, I can’t keep it straight, whether I’m an MTF or an FTM or an MTFTMTF. I’ve got a little pea-sized girl brain, give me a break.
Let me start by stating what will be obvious to some and make others uneasy: We aren’t. We haven’t. We don’t.
It’s endemic in the way we talk (leading to terms like microaggression). That part of town. Don’t get caught with a flat tire over there. My neighborhood is bordered on the northern side by a street that is a huge racial and class divide, with mostly white lower middle and middle class people (and a few affluent people and a few poor people) on one side, with modest, but stable housing values, and systemic impoverishment and deprivation of American lives on the other side, mostly visited on black people. A food desert, with roads that somehow magically never get fixed, and a clear lack of opportunity. Not a coincidence – no, this situation is all too common in all too many towns and cities, as a result of redlining (not just conceptually, but redlining was real, here, in Grand Rapids). Not just for black people, but for our Hispanic family, too. So there’s this fabulous restaurant on Division here in Grand Rapids – it’s an old drive-in, with a big awning and picnic benches for eating outside, a very “hearkening back” kind of vibe, makes you feel safe and wholesome. Taqueria San Jose. We’ve known about it forever, but somehow it seems like a light, summer thing, and when we’re hungry, we end up someplace else (we go to a number of other restaurants right there, just never this one), and when we drive by it, we’re forever saying, “We should go to that place!” A lot of my hipster friends know about it (and it was full of white hipsters on lunch break when I went). But I get surprised that many of my white friends know this part of town incredibly poorly, and are surprised I go there at all. “Oh, I don’t get out to that part of town very often.” You should know a few things about Division. One is that a disproportionate number of the violent crimes that happen in Grand Rapids happen on stretches of Division, typically late at night (but it’s totally safe from inside my car, for me, any time of day, and particularly in the middle of the day, because, of course, this violence isn’t random violence but violence that exists in a racist system that impoverishes groups and classes of people). You should also know that the Hispanic community has invested greatly in their money, and their sweat, and their tears, in building businesses in this part of town, something that has changed rapidly even just in the six years I’ve been here*.
I had another similar experience – back when I was in the business of dating straight girls** – I was on eHarmony (okay, you guys, I really didn’t know about this, and I’m sorry), and I was living in Hyde Park in Chicago. Hyde Park is kind of a unique place. It and its sister neighborhood, Kenwood, are predominantly black, but also affluent, and there are very few places like Hyde Park in the US that are congregations of black affluence. Which is too bad, because y’all should really have the opportunity to live in such a place. The University of Chicago is there, along with the Museum of Science and Industry, the former being what brought me to town. I lived in a brownstone rental two and a half blocks from the Obamas’ home. But I remember at least once, a woman couldn’t believe I lived in Hyde Park and made it really clear that she would never come to Hyde Park, because of the danger, with heavy racial implications. I politely indicated that I loved living there, and I made it really clear that she and I would not be dating (#TaylorSwiftVoice Like, Ever). Many of my white friends in the city told me I had a different experience living there, because while neither black people nor white people think I am them, they both have a stronger tendency to just be themselves and be comfortable around me than they would around each other, but I had a beautiful time, as an outsider living in a black neighborhood, and I’m so thankful for having had that opportunity and for the graciousness with which black neighbors accepted me. For me, I spend much of this American life surrounded by people who don’t look like me (that’s you) – but it’s still good for me to be in a place where all the people are black and don’t look like me, and not only in places where all the people are white, and don’t look like me. If you’re white, you should have this experience, because particularly if you’re a white man, you may not have any idea what it would be like if the world didn’t belong to you. If you’re black, you should have this experience (again, there are so few of these kinds of places in the country that most black people haven’t), because you need to see black power.
There’s a story I’ve told a number of times – it’s one of those stories I tell because I don’t really understand what it means. There’s some funny business to the driving while black / driving while brown phenomenon. One of the funny things is that I don’t get profiled as an Indian American (and I’ve rarely heard of my Indian American friends getting profiled, either***), even though from a distance, I can’t look that different from the range of appearances of Hispanic people. When I was starting to come out – this was two winters ago – I went out for drinks, with Teri, and I was driving home down Division (the same street Taqueria San Jose is on), and this big SUV pulled up next to me at a light. There were these two big, white guys in it, and they were clearly staring over their steering wheel at me. And I was scared, as a newly visible woman out by herself. I reached for my cell phone, to call the police. And we made eye contact, and I realized they were the police. And as soon as we made eye contact, they lost interest, drove off, and pulled someone else over a block up. What was that all about? For one thing, it was about the racial order of things – as I’ve commented before, although I am not white, as a mostly non-marginalized minority, in the racial ordering of things, I am placed**** in the category of the people who are protected and served, whereas Black and Hispanic people are often placed immediately in the category of the people from whom “we” are protected. To me, it is also about the insidious nature of racism. I am, somehow, subtly, read consistently in this process, through a mixture of minute signals. I think sometimes those signals are wealth signals (I was driving my cute VW Eos, for instance), although I think even wealth signals are subverted by the process of racism – for instance, clean cut and made up, in a fancy-ish car, I might be read to be a professional, whereas my car might be read as having been the result of my work in the drug trade or some other illegal enterprise, if I had been read other.
The biggest problem, to me, the biggest barrier, in talking about these realities is that we want to talk about them without talking about racial/ethnic diversity. So, we point out the obvious – that, biologically, race is a marginally meaningful construct at best, that all lives matter, that everybody deserves respect and dignity.
Yeah, that isn’t going to work. Really. It’s not going to end racism. And racism really can be defeated.
What should we be doing? One, we need to stop expropriating issues. I mentioned this in the context of Lana Wachowski at the Trans100. 84% of hate crimes against LGBT people are against trans people. Of hate crimes against trans people, almost all of them in the US are committed against blacks and Hispanic people, largely impoverished black and Hispanic people. In a similar way, ignoring the fact that violence and crime in general, in many of our cities, like Grand Rapids, is not evenly distributed – that there is no unitary concept of how safe a city is, explaining how Grand Rapids can be simultaneously the best place to raise “your” children and the worst place to be black. We need to stop talking about crime like risk is unitary and talk about the people most at risk and the factors placing and keeping them at risk.
Two, if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, we should talk about it as a duck. Whatever else turns out to be the truth, Charleston was either an act of terrorism, or there is no such thing as terrorism. It is not only racist and ethnocentric to operationally define racism as only acts committed by radicalized people of Muslim background – it is nonsensical. When a white person shoots up a church – not any church, but a church that has burned down, been attacked many times, because it is a seat of anti-racist movement – we should talk about it as an act of racial terrorism unless some mysterious countervailing evidence appears.
Three, we should learn about and embrace the cultural heritage of others. I have been telling this story recently, in the LGBT context, as queering the value equation – but we have to start understanding that embracing the fact that people are different from “us” (and perhaps that there really is no “us”) – is one of the greatest sources of power available to us in a diverse country like the United States. So stop telling minorities (or women or LGBT people) they’re just as good as you. They’re already aware of that, and they’re aware of the ways they’re better than you, too.
And four, we need to be showing up in these impoverished communities – supporting them. Not just at candlelight vigils for their dead (as a trans person, much as I love our own TDoR and the importance of remembering our fallen, our story is not just about loss but is a story of hope, and we have to accept that marginalized communities are not a sob story for which to have pity (I hate pity), but a wondrous source of resilience, creativity, and innovation. So, stop saying you’re sorry, and show up. Don’t just show up at the vigils and the protests – don’t just tweet the rage hashtags – show up at the shops and restaurants. Make your own business open and inviting to people who aren’t like you, too. Again, not for the purpose of pitying them or showing them charity, but because you embrace them as sisters or brothers or … whatever.
Because you actually see their beauty, because the truth is, people who don’t look like you are beautiful.
* I actually just joined the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of West Michigan. I believe it’s the right thing to do to serve underserved families, including black and Hispanic families, but I also know that, demographically, we are going to have more and more young Hispanic kids over time, so being perceived as the best partner for this community is cold hard business, too.
** I know more than a few trans women who still try to date straight girls, after they transition, which is the joke… for the record, I think this is a really bad idea and more likely than not will be invalidating for everyone involved. But, hey, live and let live.
*** There was an incident when I was in maybe fifth or sixth grade, when my mother was driving us home from some youth activity – she went through a series of ridiculously cheap giant station wagons – if you’re much younger than me, you don’t get this, because they were rapidly becoming relics already by then, but the 40+ crowd knows what I’m talking about. Anyways, we were driving home in this big lumbering station wagon, and my mother used the turn signal, and slowed down to take the left onto our street off of the two lane road leading up to it. This truck came careening from behind and tried to pass us on the left, while she was turning, and it knocked our car into the woods. I suppose we could have been seriously injured, but miraculously, the car slowed down and neither of us were hurt. She sent me home on foot while she dealt with the situation. She felt that the driver of the truck was obviously drunk, and even though he, himself, said that her taillights and turn signal were clearly visible, the other (white male) driver wasn’t tested for intoxication and was not ruled at fault. My mother had a couple other times like this when she did feel discriminated against, and I take her more seriously with age. Clearly, there are also awful hate crimes against Indian men, particularly Sikh men, absurdly***** mistaken for Muslims (as if it were okay to kill Muslims), but I do argue that, in many contexts, most notably Nikki Haley sitting over South Carolina during this crucial time, in much of America, this is how things are, and as I argued before, there are dangers in distracting us from the dangers and depredations visited on Hispanic and Black communities.
**** This is the very point of the idea of privilege – I did not place myself in this category, and I did not decide how this was supposed to work. But I derive benefit from it, whether I like it or not, even if I make myself part of trying to pull the system down.
***** Deserving of my vaunted (and ridiculous) footnote-on-a-footnote, absurd because these men are thought to be Muslim because they wear turbans, whereas men who wear turbans in the United States are almost invariably Sikhs. Made more absurd because of the history of relations between Islam and Sikhism. And of course, and sadly, made far more absurd, yet, by the fact that most of the acts of mass violence in the United States are committed by white men.