Managing Conflicts Among Women

I wrote this piece, about eight months ago, and I gave this speech, about six months ago, as way stations in my progress towards articulating* my thoughts about how we respond to confrontation within feminism, and confrontation generally with other women. I’m still working on this line of thought. I probably will be forever. This is just another way station. A somewhat lengthy one.

I need to start with a couple of disclaimers, and everyone knows I hate disclaimers, because these things I am talking about are not sins at all, and I am deeply unrepentant of them**. The disclaimers do, though, lead to the heart of the matter.

The first is that I wish to talk to, with, and about other (moderately to very) feminine women. Yes, this is certainly a conversation more about femininity than about womanhood. Yes, there are butch and masculine women. Certainly I am their great fan (certainly, they make my heart go pitter-patter, although it turned out that it belongs to a man). Although I see guilt-voices from other feminists chiding me to then speak of “femininity,” and not “womanhood,” I respond that, here, I talk about feminine women, both because I do not entirely, yet, understand the entanglement of womanhood and femininity, and because I really do not presume to speak on behalf of feminine men. I am not of them, nor to have spent great time studying them. They might tell me I am describing them as well as myself. Feminine women, too, may tell me I am wrong. But this is a significant part of what feminism is about – it is discovery of the bounds of the invisibly gilded birdcage in which one is made to present both beauty of feather and of lilt. There are feminists who believe her freedom is found in casting off her femininity. I am not one of them. I wish to help her embrace her femininity and create a world in which she can be both free and authentic. So let me dispense with that, sisters.


A whole bunch of women (and three men) who are not talking about feminist stuff. Source: Reddit

The other disclaimer is that, when I talk about confrontation among women (who may or may not be Sisters), of course, not everything every woman says*** is feminist. Obviously, right? I mean this isn’t news. Look, you, at the the women of Fox News (who occasionally might get it right, but frequently get it wrong). Look at Carly Fiorina. Extending this obvious point, though, is perhaps a more subtle one: there are disagreements between women that are not grounded in feminist principles, and for these disagreements, feminism may provide groundwork but not substantive resolution.

But in this, the sister is damned if she does, and damned if she does not, and now we are getting somewhere.

She is damned when the disagreement is feminist, damned in a million traps laid for her. She is hard pressed into forms of logical discourse that may or may not apply well, to feminist theory, and more particularly, which encapsulate sexism in that they favor strongly masculine thinking styles over feminine thinking styles and masculine knowledge over feminine knowledge. I’m not saying that women nor femininity are inherently illogical – they are not. My scientific credibility is not in conflict with my femininity – but these rules and processes are built by men and for men, to operate in a world of men, and I am saying this as a feminine woman who has spent great time and effort acquiring this knowledge, both from other women and directly from men. To this point, too, these processes also favor the knowledge of the enfranchised over the knowledge of the un- or disenfranchised, a thing we see over and over again in phenomena like mansplaining and whitesplaining. And thus she finds herself damned into conversation that amplifies all of the disparities she opposes in the most deeply moral ways imaginable to her kind, and as her adversary is likely pressed into the same type of conversation, she is double damned.

She is damned, too, and perhaps less overtly, if she does not. My observation is predicated firmly on observing myself (and learning, over decades, to not see this as a flaw in myself). It is necessarily generalizing, and it is not meant to invalidate the examples of sisters who differ in these particulars. But for a moment, I want to speak to what I suppose, are many woman besides myself. We have no love for fighting. In fact, we hate it. When we choose to use the didactical tools of the patriarchy, we, like men, are somewhat able, although I suspect far less completely than them, to depersonalize our conflict. Certainly, when we fight men, they will tell us to do so. And damn us, we try. But our fighting is inherently far more personal, I believe, than theirs. This can be seen in archetypes and stereotypes – particularly the archetype scene of the two men who pummel each other with fists, and running out of endurance, lying on the ground together, find healing. These men then arise and drink beer together. Because their fights, even, surreally, when they seek to physically hurt or even kill each other, are not very personal.

This is not how fighting among women seems to work, at least not in many of the scrapes into which I’ve gotten. No, our fighting is deeply personal, it is scarcely anything other than personal. Contrast against that example of the men in a fistfight a prototypical way that a woman has fought with violence: by throwing herself into the gears.

Probably not completely unique to women (and feminine people in general), but more pronounced, on average, among women, is a tendency that needs consideration here. Even if we do lash out, we also lash in, and this is important. The gears stop, but against our bodies are exacted a terrible price. In a funny way, my history with anorexia is a good example – I would get caught up in self-starvation, the mental health problem that could most double as a political statement!

My observation (and particularly my introspection) reveals that our anger almost always is deeply enmeshed with guilt, self-doubt, and self-loathing. This makes our fights very different from fist fights, and it makes our very notion of victory, in the best of cases, very different from what other kinds of victories look like. Think about this: when was the last time you felt good after conflict, and particularly when was the last time you felt good after conflict with another woman? If you’re having trouble finding even one example, think about all those times when you didn’t feel good. Perhaps you “won” the fight, but that victory was deeply pyrrhic for you. Inside the Sisterhood, “white feminism” demanding an erasing solidarity probably works entirely based on this subconscious or even conscious knowledge, for all of us, that there are no knockout punches in our fights, and we will never walk away unhurt, nor really even feel any strong sense of having won. Often times, sisters back down to other sisters, for this very reason, although this, too, is pyrrhic, in the self-loathing engendered by allowing (what we believe to be) wrong-minded views to flourish.


Rose McGowan, whom I love, recently picked a fight that should be addressed (because she was right about almost everything, but what she was wrong about made all the difference), but not in a way that just hurts all the sisters involved. Source: Wikimedia

I am coming to believe, buried in this, and probably at a level at which we are rarely cognizant of it, there is some kind of fear that there is evil in us, evil that works in a morphology like dark magic, where once it is unleashed, it is not re-bottled, and it will consume us. Society is all too willing to reinforce this idea about us, from the witch trials, to the very idea of hysteria, to the celebrity-gone-mad storyline****. Although not uniquely told about women, these are all strongly gendered messages, and ones we internalize in our self-hatred as well as recast onto other women.

Thus, we find we scarcely know how to fight someone else without fighting ourselves, and although we may be mortally afraid of others, in ways, we are always more afraid of ourselves.

And that is why this message is so powerful.

And that is why this message is so powerful.

And thus, although our fighting is deeply personal, deeply sensual, focused not so much on weapons nor damage, but far more on tooth and on nail, it is powerfully violent in a whole new way that fists could never be.

This is interesting. If the prototype of men fighting is the fistfight (something I suspect very few women have ever done – I certainly have not, in any event), it is worth noting that this kind of fighting is optimized not to inflict severe injury. Think about our bodies and think about how fighting looks (the stereotype on television will work). There are certainly places on the body (such as the base of the skull) in which a relatively smaller force could be lethal. Men in the stereotypical fistfight do not hit each other in these places. In fact, this is seen throughout animals – rams head-butt each other in a way that involves a fight that results in a winner and a loser, but which relatively less frequently involves anyone killing anyone else. Now guns and knives change this, significantly. But the point is that the culture of fighting among men (and certainly, they have spent time creating such a culture, over many, many generations), is optimized in a very different way than the culture of fighting among woman has been. In primitive society, strong solidarity was far more crucial to the safety of women than men, and being cast out was likewise far more dangerous to women than to men.

Echoing this, over the millennia, although incarceration certainly primarily affects menfolk, broadly, there is a pronounced emphasis on casting out when it comes to the treatment of women – adulterers, sex workers, and other women of “ill repute,” single mothers and those not deemed appropriate for pregnancy, and many others.

We echo this, as well, in our discourse. It is a part of the reason why we argue about whether other women are feminists, in a way that men would not do (instead, typically arguing that he is wrong, or more broadly, stupid). We do not have old boys’ clubs, or really a direct equivalent, but we do have amorphous but pervasive networks of social power, and many of us rely on them in far-reaching ways. And they are networks from which women are far more commonly cast out, a thing for which the old boys’ network is not renowned.

So we have a different brand of fighting, often, among women, with different stakes. In some ways, these stakes are far more precarious, and rather than analyzing the ways we fight each other as women by comparing us to men, we should understand how these ways have evolved over time to be most damaging to most women.

Now what?

First, if we buy into this line of reasoning, which is admittedly here in a rough draft form, then, we should see that making fights among women more like fights among men will not solve anything. Certainly, most of us don’t have any real interest in throwing punches. But even when we consider fighting amongst men outside of throwing punches, it is optimized to serve priorities of men and masculinity. It will not be a good fit to our concerns. If there is any level on which we agree that the deeply personal, emotional realm is somewhat emphasized in us as women, we cannot simply shift our fights more into the realm of masculine logic, any more than our fights would be simply resolved just because we held them in Spanish instead of English (or vice versa). Rather, we must complement the development of masculine / agency – driven tools for confrontation with the development of more powerful, but unabashedly feminine / communion driven tools.

Second, such a line of reasoning changes how we understand escalation. Escalation to physical violence, in many of our arguments, makes no sense, and having come this far without using physical violence to solve any problem, like ever, it is not something we are going to accidentally use. Rather, the escalation types, of which we must be most wary, all involve some kind of outcasting process. So if we want feminism-informed conflict among women, we must seriously look for ways to take this, from exiling women from feminism, to exiling women from being recognized as part of what needs to be done in female representation in business or political spheres, to exiling women from our social networks, off the table. While recognizing that our arguments may be deeply personal, and that we may indeed fight tooth and nail, we need to recognize as well, the needs of our opponents to maintain community.

These are pretty lofty demands, and it is still hard for me to understand how I would use them practically when I am in confrontation. But there is power in knowing what needs to be done.

* The book I’m writing, when – not if – I finish it, is centrally about understanding what inclusion issues in feminism teach us about feminism, both as movement and as ideology, and resolving our struggles in-Sisterhood not through solidarity that means silencing those most vulnerable, nor through assisting privileged sisters in drowning themselves in self-hatred, but in a way that recognizes our plurality and focuses on the strength that plurality brings us and the opportunity it delivers to us to build better feminisms.

** I grieve sins, far too many do I grieve, but these are not the sins I grieve.

*** Nor even everything any one woman says, you know, like even if that woman were one we hold sacrosanct within our movement. But certainly not if they’re just some bitch like me. This now being the third blog post in which I’ve dabbled in the footnotes, talking about the idea of using bitch as a reclamation word, and not delivering on it. Who knows, you might have to wait for my book.

**** These stories are far older than Norma Desmond. They have been encapsulated in things like mad songs, almost always sung by women, from ancient times – in proto-operatic forms, the mad song was even a standard component of many compositions, and in my nature of impertinence, although it is, certainly pertinent, I am listening to my favorite collection of them as I write.

On Why I Haven’t Been Going to Church

I haven’t been going to church. I’ve been a devout churchgoer for wide swaths of my life – from around fourth grade, when I became best friends with a preacher’s kid, all the way through high school. That church I left, because my first sin against God was physics, and I had no room in my sensibilities for such a religion. After a couple of years off, I spent a significant amount of college, my wonderful time in engineering graduate school, and a few years after, at another church. The excessive focus on sexual impurity, even though at that time, I was a “virgin,” drove me away. I had had enough when a married man earnestly counseled us that we could be committing “adultery in our hearts,” because the emotional connections of our chaste relationships could damage our future marriages. Again, I had no room in my sensibilities for such a religion.

You cannot love both God and this foolishness, dear Sister.

You cannot love both God and this foolishness, dear Sister. Source: Pinterest

Then, after a long pause of probably eight years, I went to Mass, because someone I loved was (is) Catholic. Now I make fun of Mass – the Brothers Fathers free styling over the beat break in the Lord’s Prayer, the recurrent sermons about the Father’s pension account, etc. I am not a Catholic, but I even helped for some time serving refreshments for hospitality at our Cathedral. I found, mostly, that, while I loved the grandeur of the ceremony, I felt a lack of substance at times, although I was thankful to be able to spend time experiencing it.

Finally, last year, I made a couple of attempts to find a church among progressive kinds of church spaces. People from my last church tell us they miss us and that we should come back. We miss them, too. I fear we shall not be back, soon, If I in any event am making the choice.

We do not unite in this kind of solidarity enough. Source: Jewish Women's Archive

We do not unite in this kind of solidarity enough. Source: Jewish Women’s Archive

I am taught by my feminist elders a feminine tradition of understanding the values placed on our bodies and their compliance to society. Certainly, this value is seated in many ways in the sexual roles of women, and compliance is most clearly demanded of our sexuality. We certainly agitate to redefine our roles – we are not bound by our sexuality, we do not exist for the benefit of the male gaze, even when those women among us, who, like me, are attracted to men, choose to allow ourselves to be viewed and appreciated by them. We are not baby making machines nor baby rearing machines, and we are not relegated to domesticity by our sex. But in recognizing the extent to which we do engage in those roles (women do more unpaid domestic work than men even in the most equal countries), there is tremendous power in the notion of the women’s strike as a means of reminding society how much it depends on but how little it values the agency of women.

In the United States, a Woman’s Strike for Equality in 1970 garnered only tens of thousands of women, but it still became a clarion that brought the second wave here to the US. In Iceland, a few months after my own birth, a far more unified strike occurred, with 90% of the small nation’s women refusing to work, cook, or look after children. Although the strike did not end sexism (an enemy that has had too much time to grow too large and too infiltrated by far), it revolutionized a nation and certainly contributed to that nation nurturing sisters who inspire us still today, like fierce Birgitta Jónsdóttir.

This tool is used still, and perhaps we sisters should all be more cognizant of it. Although I recognize that some of our sisters are extremely brave warriors, like many women, I have little experience with violence, and my place in the revolution is through peaceful means. Peaceful, but I shall surely be insistent.

Certainly, I will not make my body available as evidence or implement of violence in the prurient war on impurity waged by many of the “evangelical” branches of faith. And surely I will not support the choice of progressive Christianity to sit by idly, doing nothing to confront their own supposed brothers in Christ, but rather telling gay people that they “love us” when one must surely quip, “What’s not to love?” If I go so far as to call this sin, I call it sin not to decry you as a sinner, but to refuse to participate in it.

Surely, I will not submit to nor enforce the authority of men who have never owned a uterus over the rights of my sisters to make choices over their own pregnancies and to plan their own families. If I must stand for the notion that this is a spiritual question at all, I will stand closer to the American Nuns than anyone else speaking spiritually on this topic, and most firmly with the sisterhood of women of any (or no) belief. And though the Pope does not condescend to ask my opinion, I say very simply, that no forgiveness is required, for no sin has been committed.

Although I can never make the choice to be or not be pregnant, know that this is personal, and I will fight for other women to have that choice. Source: Daily Kos

Although I can never make the choice to be or not be pregnant, know that this is personal, and I will fight for other women to have that choice. Source: Daily Kos

Believe me, I will not participate in a system in which the rich cry to the poor to cast off their sins, while they gather their fortunes. If I do not give you my money, know that it is because you will not use it to do God’s work.

Know that I will not participate in a segregated church world in which white Christians cry out that they are oppressed because they are called to account for their corrupted and un-Godly beliefs, while they turn a blind eye to the smoke rising from burning black churches.

I act only for my own body, and my own sensibility, that body which I own and which no one else may ever own, not even those to whom I give of it freely and richly. I act in pride of ownership, for I own myself, both grace and flaw. And I wish to own my choice to refuse church.

My choice is not a choice of convenience, and I do not refuse church to sleep in on Sunday mornings or for brunch. Anyone who knows me knows I am not ruled by convenience, and although I may do both of these things, they are not the reason you do not see me in the pew.

My choice is grounded not in my lack of faith, grounded not in my lack of appreciation for spiritual teaching, grounded not in any lack of sense of community, but grounded simply in my observation that I have the right to disallow the use of my own body as a means of my oppression. I do not dispense with God, for God is not bound up in your temples. I do not dispense with belief, because belief is not conferred by your priests or holy men. I do not dispense, either, with fellowship. When you are in the world, when you are amongst our people doing good, fighting for truth and justice, when you decry inequity, I remain your natural sister, and though I do not enter the corrupted places to take communion with you, at least not often, I remember every day, the sacrifices made for me. If I vex God, and surely I must often, it is in a spirit of knowing deeper faith, not for pursuit of blasphemy.

Finally, although I pray mostly for strength where I am unstrong and courage where I am cowardly, and most of all, for those who hurt, too often under your feet, I will surely say an occasional prayer for you, as well. If you pray for me in return, do not pray that I return to church. Rather, pray that I will remain strong in my sensibilities, that I will have no room in me for false religion. For I, like you, am tempted.

The strike may not last forever – indeed, I hope it shall not. But please know that this is why I do not go to church.

The Hidden Danger to the Sisterhood of Hierarchical Assumptions

I believe that one of the most worrisome, hidden dangers to the feminist movement of the fourth wave, is hierarchical sexism. This is sexism in the form of beliefs and attitudes that the masculine is better than the feminine and that the typical behaviors of men are better than the typical behaviors of women*. No feminist actually explicitly believes that men are better than women, mind you. But pervasive in our dialogue is the idea that masculine behavior is better than feminine behavior. This argument is supported from the other direction, too – masculinity is better (generally) than femininity in subjects, but femininity is better than masculinity in the isolated context of asking what may be objectified.

Heels can be a tool of patriarchy, but, somewhat amazingly, jackboots cannot. This was seen in the conversation between Laverne Cox and bell hooks about whether one can wear heels and not pander to the patriarchy, but it is much broader than that. Masculine garb is the attire of leadership. At the same time, women who simply prefer it face criticism for refusing to be objectified, prominently, Ms. Clinton. Thus, women find ourselves “damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.”

Photo of Military Presence in Georgia

Jackboots have never been used to advance the patriarchy? Really? Really?

The dialog around how often women say, “I’m sorry,” is entirely rooted around women apologizing less often. It carries the implicit assumption that masculine behavior is the baseline against which femininity should be measured. Women are taught to stop apologizing for taking up space, a very feminine behavior, far more than men are taught to stop assuming a right to take up space (although, finally, the latter is also happening). It is never suggested that men apologize more, and only that women apologize less**. Again, in contrast, when women are expected to take up space, it is typically for objectification (so our naked bodies are on far more billboards… sometimes selling the most seemingly non-sexual of things).

Dude, stop the spread, please.

If one really wanted to press the analysis, she might observe that men are asked, rather sheepishly, to change their specific behavior, but they are not asked to think about occupying space in the way most women think about occupying space.

We fight objectification (masculinity is far more rarely objectified), but we struggle immensely with the idea that women can ethically choose to be in object roles, even though we know perfectly well how many sentences in our language require both a subject and a direct object (this is part of the complex question of ethical sex work, although to me, this in itself is not enough to define the road to ethical sex work). Yet, again, damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

When powerful women choose to play object roles - in big ways, like an Allure photoshoot, and in small ways, like wearing sexy clothes to the bar - we frequently face criticism for  being sexy (and open to objectification)... while ignoring the inescapable fact that a great many of us want to be seen as pretty (and yes, sometimes sexy).

When powerful women choose to play object roles – in big ways, like an Allure photoshoot, and in small ways, like wearing sexy clothes to the bar – we frequently face criticism for being sexy (and open to objectification)… while ignoring the inescapable fact that a great many of us want to be seen as pretty (and yes, sometimes sexy).

And – to our credit, we’ve picked up on this one a little bit – we have many conversations about whether women leaders can butch it up enough to lead, but we never talk about whether male leaders are feminine enough. Womanning up is not a thing at all***, and no one talks about how, if he spent a little time thinking like a woman, Vladimir Putin might engage in a few less atrocities – no, in order for there to be any sale to men of his ilk (say, our own Dick Cheney), sale must be made entirely on the idea that it is actually more masculine, more manly, to stop the bloodshed****.

This is the state, too, of conversations inside feminism, not just out in the broader world. Serrano and others, particularly in queer theory or queer feminism, argue the dangers inherent in this explicitly because masculinity and femininity are not the same as maleness and femaleness, but inside the sisterhood, we need to be particularly wary because, even if they are not the same concept, they are highly intercorrelated. This is a concept queer theorists seem to struggle with immensely – yes, gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things, but they are highly intercorrelated – it is not a coincidence, and any neuroscientist or biologist could tell you it is not a coincidence – that masculine people of any sex are relatively more likely to be attracted to femininity, and vice versa.

The Genderbread Person is useful to illustrate that gender identity, sexual orientation, etc., are different things, but there is danger in assuming that two different things are automatically entirely uncorrelated.

The Genderbread Person is useful to illustrate that gender identity, sexual orientation, etc., are different things, but there is danger in assuming that two different things are automatically entirely uncorrelated.

This is also really a message that is recapitulated in many other -isms, and thus sharpening this dialectic sharpens our intersectionalism. Poor people are expected to understand and demonstrate some of the behaviors of affluence (or at least the lower middle class – most visibly seen by the fact that scarcely any Americans view themselves as not part of the middle class). In other contexts, at other times, they are expected to “act poor,” so that the barrier between affluent and poor people can be preserved. And thus poor people face criticism for having, perhaps, an iPhone, eating fish, having stylish boots or a statement purse (it is not the poor who are meant to be making statements!), or a decently clean and late model vehicle. Black professionals struggle with being open to criticisms that they are “acting too black” in the workplace, and at the same time, we can levy harsh expectations to “act black” on superstar African American musical artists and others. And queer people are at their most acceptable either when they are highly socially conforming, or when they’re highly “gay,” so that they can easily be read and othered.

Thus, this is important as a general concept. Any system in which the behaviors more natural to one group are assumed to be better than the behaviors more natural to another, without some more meaningful reason than the -ism, is dangerous to all of society. But, again, my provenance is the Sisterhood, and although I care about all these groups, I do care first and foremost about the cause of us as women.

Notorious, indeed.

Notorious, indeed.

And we sisters want a world that is made better because it is full of women leaders. There will be enough female heads of state when they are all women. There will be enough female Supreme Court Justices when they are all women. But here’s the tricky part: we want them to be all women, but are we ready for each one of them, to be, herself, all woman? Meaning, can women be seen as authentic with whatever mix of masculine and feminine traits they take on? Are we ready for unabashedly feminine leadership? Are we ready for femininity in leading men? Are we ready to see a world that changes, and changes we believe for the better, because it is full of the feminine leadership that patriarchy systematically weeded out (whether witnessed in men or in women), or are we only sufficiently invested to get to a world that is full of leaders who are women acting like men?

To me, if we accept the latter, we feminists risk unwittingly losing our fight altogether.

* Cross-reference, later in the article, this concept of intercorrelation, and how queer people don’t like intercorrelation, even though not liking intercorrelation is sort of like not liking the gravitational constant. The truth is, of course, that we all occupy dynamic space composed of some masculinity and some femininity – I am not, myself, wholly feminine in my predilections, and I have just a pinch of my own androgyny.

** Placing me in the somewhat amusing role of taking up space to voice my demand that I be allowed to say sorry whenever I damn well please.

*** This is evident in a much deeper way in American coming of age expectations. Girls are often considered women based solely on menarche, and thereafter their (young adult) womanhood is not called into expectation, whereas manhood is defined largely on “acting like a man.” For the longest time, I saw how this was harmful and problematic to young boys, but it is deeply problematic to women, as well – it sends a clear hierarchical message that womanhood is just something that happens (perhaps transforming the girl from “jailbait” to the woman who is “fair game”) not a chosen feminine object role but clearly objectification. Only manhood in this calculus is seen in aspirational terms.

**** And as I mentioned, previously, as in the case with Forster’s pithy analysis of colonialism in India, if femininity or womanhood is in this conversation, it is included primarily to discuss how it’s presence modifies masculinity.

I Am A Real-Life, Fairytale Princess

I am a real-life, fairytale princess.

No, I mean it. Not just by my namesake, but in myself, as well.

What does it mean to be a real-life, fairytale princess? It’s practicing the dark magic of a uniquely feminine brand of self-hatred. It means growing up never, ever feeling like I’m good enough, brave enough, strong enough, pretty enough for anybody. It’s growing up too soon, while trying to retain and always display childlike innocence. It means having spent much more of my life escaping dungeons and traversing wastelands than wearing ball gowns or tiaras. It’s being seen as the subject but always serving the role of the object. It’s being judged for things I didn’t do, words I didn’t say, thoughts I didn’t even have, and having to accept and rise to the judgment. It’s learning to be, never enough, but brave as I know how, while always looking pretty. It’s knowing how to look beautiful for others, and letting others draw courage from my beauty, when feeling far from pretty on the inside.

I'm not saying, I never get to wear pretty dresses....

I’m not saying, I never get to wear pretty dresses….

It means learning to save my best for someone else*, and sometimes a long line of someone elses. It’s having found my Prince Charming, but recognizing he’s got his issues and his downsides, that I would need to build a happy ever after together with him, because he could not carry me into one readymade for me**. It’s standing guard with my captains on the parapet, to defend my family (probably in heels). It is allowing my very body to be a weapon, always ready to be thrown into the gears to save my people. It is to sacrifice liberty to assume power in the service of them.

Okay, who am I kidding? Of course, this is a thing. And it's eerie that it actually works... when my hair gets long enough I'm totally trying this style.

Okay, who am I kidding? Of course, this is a thing. And it’s eerie that it actually works as well as it does… when my hair gets long enough I’m totally trying this style.

There is all this energy behind the marketing of things like the “Disney Princesses.” There are endless attempts to redefine them – in different colors, in different sizes, as men. We princesses know, they all focus on the image of a princess and not the substance***. Princesses wear our dresses to play our roles, but it is the story of a princess that reveals who she is.

It is there that she is light forged amidst darkness, beauty alloyed with suffering, daring built upon fear, passive dolls who foment revolutions.

I should know.

* I was, myself, surprised at how, whenever I make a meal, I see if there’s a better cut or portion, to give to Teri, or I make two plates and give him the presentation that came out better, or… without scarcely thinking about it.

** And he is still the one I have always been waiting for… I have no dances on my dance card that do not belong to Teri, and I never will.

*** Well, okay, there’s this one.

Sexual Healing

This is a part two to last year’s Learning to be Loved*. Teri’s a part (intermittently) of a certain Facebook group for transgender people, which will remain unnamed, which I joined briefly last year and went running from, arms flailing and mouth screaming. And it’s a great example of how few safe spaces there are to have a constructive conversation about the sexuality of mono-amorous, relationship-oriented, yet proudly sexual trans people. There recently was a blow-up over there (I’ll check and see if Teri left the group again – yep, he did) related to who, how, and when a person could be attracted to a trans body (like mine). A blowup that did not include a productive conversation on this topic**.

No, sir, I plead not guilty.

No, sir, I plead not guilty

Even in our national spaces, like First Event, one struggles to find room for this conversation. I was able to sneak my way into some excellent seminars, led by trans men and about trans masculine sexuality***, and this was pretty great. I made some new friends, and I brought home something**** autographed for Teri (do go check out Mitch’s site, too, he’s so cool) to spark further discussion back home. A discussion about queering heterosexuality, alongside the conversation about what trans men can contribute to a desperately needed reboot of manhood.

Go buy this book, for serious

Go buy this book, for serious

But, so, with my recent Mira Goes Het article, I focused on the relationship between our heteroqueer relationship and the heteropatriarchy. I want to return back to the ground of that even older post, and this question of the feminine body as an object of desire, and the extension to the situation in which that feminine body is a trans woman’s body, or, well, in this case, my body. Back in one of those panels, someone said something interesting, and noteworthy for its non-provocativeness. He said, basically, “You know, I date everyone except cis guys.” This was non-controversial … it basically extracted chuckles and knowing nods. And “Honey, I feel you, I dated a cis guy, once.” I did feel badly for the one cis gay guy present, but then again, he made a comment something along the lines of, “You know, if my partner has a vagina, I’m going to want to penetrate that” and… well, there are just no words.


Also at First Event. I don’t want to just make fun of him… well, maybe for that last bit. But how do we get to being sexual without the weirdness?

So then, on Facebook, this morning, there was this interaction Teri had with a fella who was attracted to trans women (specifically/exclusively). This person was attacked, fairly mercilessly, as one of those “tranny chasers.” The only space that was opened for anyone to be attracted to a trans woman was the absurdist reduction of “trans women and cis women are exactly the same” (I’ve seen trans women take, also, the polemical position that they wouldn’t consider any lesbian an ally unless they would openly pledge, ridiculously, that they would date any trans woman). Apparently, another trans guy (because Teri’s my Dear Future Husband) chimed in and was open about his own attraction to trans women. That was “okay” because he was one of “us.” In contrast, the original poster (OP for you OG’s) was cisgender, and so he was… disgusting. A pervert. The difference between these statements, how they were perceived, and where they came from, was — is — worrisome to me.

Also on Facebook a friend posted an article about what lesbian-identified trans women (a class from which I’m increasingly the dearly departed) refer to as the “cotton ceiling” (namely, because I’m using my footnotes up too quickly today, and I feel bad when I get to ten asterisks, when cis lesbians accept trans women conceptually but reject them as potential partners for cis lesbians, either in the general sense of the dating scene, or the specific sense of dating them, themselves). I responded on Facebook that the biggest thing I could do to fight the cotton ceiling was to openly and authentically be in love with Teri – to be, in the public eye, the subject and object of love, and the object of physical desire*****.

So here is the presentation of the conundrum. Janet Mock has talked about this, too. We cannot extend a blanket statement that people attracted to trans women’s bodies are disgusting, without in turn, making an unacceptable but implicit statement that my body, too, is disgusting. And I’m here to tell you it isn’t (and if you don’t believe me, ask my boyfriend). My body is lovely, not because I’m “almost” as good as a “real” girl, but because I’m better than any other girl Teri’s ever going to find (because I’m the one, Mister). Friends (who are newer to trans people) sometimes say to me, “You looked hot the other night – is it okay if I say that?” And I tell them, of course it’s okay. I like to look hot – and my friends are benefitted by me with the right to appreciate it. And I’m desirable, not to everyone, but to the one that matters, not because I’m exactly the same as other women (because we’re not Barbie dolls … I don’t look like or have the experiences of an African woman, as much as a waitress recently thought I look like Pam Grier, or a woman from Uzbekistan, or any number of other women), but because of my unique value and desirability as a woman unlike any other. And if you pay any actual attention to actual women, that’s (not to speak for everyone — some women are asexual or aromantic) what we want.

I’m not in the business of telling other people to whom they should be attracted. I’m going to go on several limbs, and I don’t mean to offend out here, but I’m going to say what I see. We live in a world that is dominated by long-term, stable, mono-amorous romantic/sexual relationships. That’s the political battleground, for most of us. And yet we do not leverage actual trans people in romantically/sexually, long-term, stable, mono-amorous, satisfying relationships as a part of the war on the cotton ceiling – most of the people I know, Mock aside, who have much to say about this are way outside of this space. And this is crazypants. I’m not in the business of telling anyone to whom they should be attracted – not even Teri. But Teri is attracted to me. And I am attractive to him. I bestow on him the right to have me be the object of his desire, and I delight in his desire. And I deserve it.

I changed the tagline of my blog this year, to “Welcome to the Revolution.” So I might as well be clear about the revolution to which you’re welcome. There are lots of revolutions, actually, but with respect to being trans, I’m reminded of a comment Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said about being feminist – she had to clarify that she’s a happy feminist, because of the dominant assumption that feminists aren’t happy. My revolution is that I’m a happy trans woman. A happy woman (because trans is a modifier, I am not anything other than a woman). Not just like cis women. Different, but not less. I’m happily in love. I’m happy to be the object of desire. I look good – sometimes I even look really hot (and even less frequently, I actually believe this about myself). And sometimes, I need to be told I shouldn’t wear that, because it doesn’t do anything for me. Or to stop obsessing about the scale.

If we want more trans people in happy, satisfying, romantically/sexually fulfilling relationships, this is the kind of revolution we need, and we need to get more of our stories out there (because I know Teri and I are not the only happy ones). We can’t solve the “cotton ceiling” or its heterosexual equivalent without actually including the stories of trans people in good relationships. And just like I play a unique role in being the trans woman who gains acceptance quickly and easily, and who doesn’t really seem to scare anyone, ours is one of those trans relationship that is the safe gateway to the idea that trans people are relationship material. So I’m going to welcome you to it, and help you understand that it … is wonderful. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said that we should all be feminists. She’s right. I’m going to add that we should all be happy.

* You know, everything needs a sequel. Even Pride & Prejudice.

** I admittedly read this conversation over Teri’s shoulder.

*** I was welcomed as having the stake as a significant other of a trans man. Actually welcomed. We need to learn how to actually be welcoming (without diluting our standards or intent) in the queer community.

**** I tend to lead with something like, “I’m in love with a trans guy, and it’s so amazing, we’re so happy together, and no relationship I’d been in before this one just made sense, like this one does” and this tends to go over well, and make me friends / establish me as the trans girl who rides in cars with trans boys. There is probably something about this whole still complex question, as we exit the butch/femme paradigm and move into this heteroqueer space, about this dual issue of whether we end up endorsing the patriarchy and how to come to terms with what the “safeness” sexually we have with our trans guys and bois, absent from interacting with cis guys, says about cis guys, says about the damage of masculinity, says about how to help guys achieve a rebirth of slick.

***** Reader, she means lust. She is the subject of physical desire, as well, but she is a femme and rarely admits it in public.

Learning to Be Loved

I’ve said before that I really haven’t been fooling anyone with the sad drag show that has been my male life. At support group the topic of coming out on social media came up – I’ve always been out here, obviously, and on Facebook. That’s because I resisted joining Facebook for the longest time, and my erstwhile male identity never was on FB. Twitter is a different story – I have a fairly mature presence there, with a lot more followers than anywhere else. So, it’s actually important to me, and I have given a little thought to coming out on Twitter. I joked at group that I would say, “I’m transgender. I’m sorry for my sad impersonation of a man. I know it’s embarrassing, it won’t happen again.” That actually pretty much sums it up – if you follow me on Twitter* you’ll probably actually see that tweet in a few months. It’s probably funnier to me than anyone – it probably won’t be how I finally break into Huffington Post’s Funniest Tweets by Women weekly column. Sigh.

I’m kind of a walking stereotype, which I’ve also said before. I like heels (but not embarrassingly high, and those chunky low heel pumps from Coach are being discounted, hmmm…). I like skirts and dresses (but not too short). I like makeup (but not too much eye shadow, it looks garish on me). I’m not even full time and I have two designer purses (Saffiano is way nicer than I expected it to be, incidentally). I drink cosmos and drink every kind of martini but an actual, normal martini. I listen to girly music. And cry along at the sad songs. Kind of a lot. I still dream of being Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice (the original, not the one with zombies, although in a pinch I’m open to negotiation). I’m flirty, often just because it’s fun, and I understand the concept of a flirty hemline.

The one place where I’m not exactly a walking stereotype is the continuing ambiguity of my sexual orientation. I do find it incredibly liberating to say I’m not really sexually/romantically attracted to very feminine women, although I like them a lot as friends, and I enjoy looking at how they dress and do their makeup, and I try to learn some tricks from them, because I’m pretty moderately feminine myself. That pretending went away immediately when I came out the first time. I want to be a beautiful woman (and the emotionally unstable one, but let’s not get into that trope) far more than I want to be with one. And I always nod along silently when women say they’re not that into guys based on their looks. Preach it, sisters. I was never really attracted to what I was “supposed” to be attracted to. I am attracted to masculinity, though. At least in relatively small to moderate doses, I find it achingly beautiful. I don’t want to be it. I never have, and this is a big part of why my attempt at masculinity is so sad (on a particularly butch day in my en homme form** I’m probably roughly Ellen DeGeneres). But the gap teeth and the goofy smiles and the bravado, I find it all amazingly cute. So I say masculinity, whatever. I’m attracted to my girlfriend’s masculinity. Or butchness. Or agency. Or whatever. It’s so much hotter to me than girly girlness.

I adore how she can wear the same couple of shirts she cycles through day after day without any self-consciousness, while I try to remember the last outfits the people I’ll see today saw me in, to avoid the mortification that they’ll see me in the same outfit again (I’ve been a little bit less like this in my en homme form, recently, because it’s just getting harder and harder to put on a male mask, even a kind of a sad one, day after day, but before transition for some time, I was pretty much like this already). I love that she doesn’t consider matters such as whether her underwear matches her clothes. That her clothes are pretty much not getting ironed unless I do it. That she went to a “bro party” because her friend considers her one of the guys (and I get to tease her and pretend to suspect that there were strippers involved). That she lets me say I’m attracted to her masculinity (I usually say butchness, but I have said it that way) and isn’t threatened by it.

She’s got some issues that we’re working through, too, to be sure, and I’m still kind of holding on to see how those get worked out. But. I’m kind of in love with her. Okay, when I say kind of, I mean my heart’s skipped a lot of beats recently. I want to build a nest for her and not let her do any of the decorating (she’s been trying to convince me recently that her choices are not terrible, and I’m observing the evidence, but so far, #No). Okay, I’ve already begun reminding her that diamonds are the Taurus birthstone and educating her about the importance of truly conflict-free, ethical trade diamonds. Soon I’m sure I’ll start dropping hints*** about my ring size (7.5) and setting preferences (something simple and elegant, probably white gold, just one stone, nothing ostentatious). Okay, I’m a little embarrassed that I actually typed all that “out loud.” And haven’t deleted it (and in fact saved the strikeout text for a much less embarrassing admission in the next paragraph and neither this nor the really embarrassing thing I say in the footnotes).


Yeah. So, erm something like this with a didn’t-leave-a-shorty-armless diamond, please? What… not subtle enough to put a picture of an engagement ring in the middle of a blog post? Can I at least work out some click-through arrangement? Or should I just be really embarrassed at blatantly inserting a picture of an engagement ring in this post?

And…moving on.

In terms of defining my sexuality, I’m really not bisexual-going-on-lesbian in the pansexual kind of sense (being bisexual means a whole lot of things, and covers a really wide range of experiences and orientations, incidentally). I really like a slice of mildly to moderately masculine/butch people. The rest, I feel, is actually *gasp* sort of like how those creepy sexologists describe feminine sexuality – I’m kind of attracted to everything pretty. I don’t foresee myself being with a hairy, dirty-white-cap wearing football superfan, and I don’t really want anyone who thinks his biceps are prettier than I am. But… a sensitive guy with strong arms and a gentle smile? A dog and a pickup truck Prius Subaru-with-a-manual-transmission-so-I-can-borrow-it-in-snowstorms-and-continue-to-drive-pretty-but-impractical-convertibles? Swoon. I know. Stereotype. Total Reece Witherspoon movie moment. And I’m sure if I were not in love, and if he came along, Reece will steal him from me anyway, probably by talking him into teaching her how to drive a manual transmission. Hands meet on the shifter. Happy ending by the two hour mark, and time left over to buy new pink Prada pumps that I would never be able to pull off. Sigh.


Oh my god, oh my god you guys…

I write all of this in support of a really cool story that came up on my timeline recently about a cis/het woman who fell for a trans man. I loved that article.


Seriously, this was such a beautiful piece, it really made me cry

My situation is quite a bit different, but my experience of sexuality is very similar – there’s some level at which masculinity is kind of a separate entity from maleness (particularly karyotype maleness, since I do consider the gentleman in the story to be male). It would be ideal to call it something other than masculinity to avoid policing anyone else’s gender expression. But whatever, you know intuitively, most of you, what I’m talking about. Whether the objects of our affection are cis men, trans men, or butch women, she and I are both attracted to masculinity or whatever else you want to call it. I haven’t met her, but I suspect like me, it might just her heart swoon. It might make her want to preen and do her hair just right. Maybe it makes her want to twirl around so her boyfriend can appreciate her dress. I kind of get that, because I’m enjoying the same with my girlfriend. It is, in essence, the “deep in the binary” feminine experience of romance and desire, and it’s really just like the straight experience of feminine desire, just queerer. It’s what I’m going through to learn how to finally feel attraction without compromise. And it’s an important milestone on the way to being loved and loving, in a romantic sense, again, without the hangups and compromises and unspoken components all this had when I was pretending to be a man.

And let’s not get into a hierarchy discussion of how it’s less queer than more gender or tradition non-conforming relationships, this is a love story, not the Olympics. Everybody should win their own prize.

* For safety reasons, I’m not linking my Twitter account here, until I come out on Twitter. I’m not trying to hide anything, but this blogging publicly with my full intended name en femme when I’m not full time yet is kind of uncharted territory, and I’m making this up as I go.

** I plan to be full time (Mira forevermore) around August. Can’t come a day too soon.

*** Here’s another thing… So in Michigan I can legally marry her, right now and probably for the next year or so, and it would probably “stick” later, even if I were caught wearing a cute dress, and I am for sure not going to be caught dead at my own wedding in a tuxedo. I really want to legally be a bride, though, and I may sound awfully impulsive, but there’s no way I’m getting married within a year … a small, intimate Indian wedding is 300 people and only one elephant. So I’d need to gay marry her, even if that were to happen. Erm. Support marriage equality.

Keeping Appearances

If you know trans women, especially politically active ones, you know that most of us hate the way our coming out is portrayed in the media. A friend recently was approached by a local reporter, who misled her into thinking she would do a piece capturing her humanity and professionalism as a trans woman, and then it turned out she was looking for something with pictures of her putting makeup on, a wall of wigs (my friend doesn’t even wear wigs, nor does she need to), before and after shots, and other totally objectifying representations. At this end of the narrative spectrum are these people who love transition stories lurid. The bigger the change, the better, ideally so that no one would ever believe the pre-transition person was them (in contrast, I too, wear my own hair, more or less within the range of neutrois to feminine styles I have for years, and I’m pretty instantly recognizable in makeup as me, although I might look a little younger and, I hope, prettier). I respect all my sisters, and I know they are survivors and that everyone makes hard choices, but I was really disappointed, for instance, in the coverage of Karen Adel Scot that, among other things, depicted her shaving her face (I’ll let you Google for that one) — we really need to support each other in saying this isnot okay media behavior and that we will not let ourselves be subjected to these kind of gratuitous expectations.


Okay, so you have no idea how accomplished
I felt when I made cat eye even this good,
but no photos of me doing my makeup until
they’re in a fashion magazine where women
are asked for their beauty tips. Which is
happening two-thousand-and-never. And also
can we talk about certain women who wear
cat eye way too often? Or would that be too,
well, catty? And can I also sneak “objectifeye”
into this obnoxious caption?

On the other end of the spectrum, I will admit, there are some trans people who choose transition, but their definition of transition is to declare themselves female (for some reason, I see this more with trans women than trans men, although I’ve had the luxury to get to know some great trans guys, too), and that’s the end of the story. They dress, talk, act in a way that’s only marginally distinguishable from the range of what men do and appear as. Except they want a female name and pronouns and bathrooms and so on. This, to be honest, is kind of a mystery to me, also. I might choose to accept them as female, but I don’t, if I’m honest, read them as female. And I guess I do sort of understand why someone might have pause wanting to share a bathroom with them. I have never really gotten a clear understanding of this, because the people I know who do this don’t really share their narrative, if they even perceive themselves as having one. They seem to see that as superfluous. Some of them even go so far as to view with disdain attempts to fit in (which some regrettably call “passing”), whether by wearing makeup, adjusting dress, etc., not just in themselves but also in others.

Many people have written how this kind of calculus applies particularly to women of all kinds (including trans women) — femininity, in a patriarchical world, is viewed as less authentic than masculinity and as something people “put on” instead of “are.” But I think this is where my “no transition necessary” sisters are being more than a little ridiculous. The truth is that men do put on kinds of masculinity, and women put on femininity, all the time – not just trans men and women but our cisters and brothers too. For me, being a man always felt like drag. I didn’t choose exaggerated butch masculinity as my drag. I had fun with it. I wore a lot of pink neckties. But wearing a suit and tie is “putting on masculinity” just the same as wearing eyeliner or heels is putting on femininity. It’s just not perceived that way. More particularly, it’s putting on professional workplace femininity. Granted that exists over a range, but all the cis women I’m close to (and I’ve had a lot more cis woman close friends than cis/trans anything else) make active decisions about what kind of femininity they put on, to look professional but feminine, to look cute but not slutty, to be stylish but not slavishly fashionable. It’s just judged in a more salacious way when trans women do it (and much like our cisters do this stuff… some of the worse comes from our own).


So these are too cute to give away, unless someone
really appreciated them, but I’m not really sure what to
do with them, mmm-kay? I kind of 
have to channel
my inner xoJane to say things 
like mmm-kay, incidentally.

Now without getting into the whole issue of how women should not be raped, insulted, demeaned, etc, because of how feminine they choose to be, my point is that the standard that I not “put on femininity” is absurd. The reality is that I’m doing precisely what I did when I was pretending to be a “man,” except it’s far more honest. Now, I am still making choices. The girl inside says, “Hon, you’re too old for that.” Or there are lots of things that just don’t fit my body type at the moment the way I’d want to. Those problems are magnified for a trans woman who’s transitioning in adulthood and just went on hormones a month ago. So I don’t wear things I want to. Or I do wear things that aren’t my first choice, but I accept that they work on me. Is it restricted, and is it stylized to make it easier for people to consistently gender me as female and to let me feel pretty without being tacky? Well, yes, but how is that any less authentic than when, as a “man,” I said, “Okay, if I wear that, I will go way over the edge of acceptable male behavior and there will probably be a scene.” I know some trans women were way better at being men than me (like that should receive an award…) but seriously, I suck at it and that’s what it was/is like for me.

So to all my sisters who are far more gender revolutionary than me, who declare, Modo Femina*, and suddenly are women, congratulations, you’re way more of a gender revolutionary than I am. And to my sisters whose transition is like some David Copperfield act to which I’m not even good enough to be your scantily-clad-assistant-in-obnoxiously-high-heels, brava. Now just let me get on with being a middle aged woman. It’s rather delightful to me, and I’ve never wanted anything more.

* Okay, Latin was not the language I studied, and so I don’t know whether Ecce Femina, which seems much more Thus Spoke Sarah Schuster, is grammatically correct, but apparently Ovid used this, so it’s got major street cred.