You Gotta Have Principles

I love girl power, and I’m fine with most of the logos, but it’s time we have a feminism that gets back to fighting for “equality, period”

So… Rather than merely attaching myself to hooks’ intersectionalism or to Serano’s trans-feminism, to me, these are my guiding fourth wave feminist principles:

  1. Woman is born in chains, but we are everywhere making her free – to turn Rousseau’s famous quote on its head (although there are arguments that he meant closer to what I mean), rather than pretending that we are created equal, and that our differences are arbitrary constructs, we must recognize that we are born with many inequalities that give and take privilege before we even speak for ourselves and continue to operate in modified forms throughout and beyond our lives.
  2. Sex and gender are deeply rooted in the very existence of human social constructs, and the feminism that helps us will be every bit as radical as this, in an honest manner that understands what we can can and cannot change, today, about human biology. Like Serano and other scientists, and since I am a neuroscientist myself, I do reject the idea that sex/gender are purely socially constructed – although there is arbitrariness in what is perceived as masculine and feminine at a given time, that many people naturally congregate and compartmentalize behaviors into masculine and feminine, and that these are moderately to strongly correlated with karyotype, is a stable feature of humans across time and cultures, and evidence against either a purely socially constructed or a purely genetic (excluding epigenetic effects) notion of sex and gender makes both of these extremes implausible. The focus of fourth wave feminism must not be arguing with people about their gender identity or experiences, or arguing with people about the very existence of gender and sex, but must rather be on how we can use intellectual/philosophical, legal/moral, and scientific / technological innovations to create (not restore) equal playing fields, as we learn more and more about what we can and cannot change, and how we can and cannot change human beings.
  3. Only inclusion builds stronger society. We have ample evidence that segregation does not work. We must stop banging our head repeatedly against doors marked “separate but equal” when we know that this has failed us time and time again. Although she denies it, history generally credits Phyllis Schlafly with using the fright of unisex/gender inclusive bathrooms to stop the ERA, and almost 40 years later, we’re still scared enough of equality that we are frequently choosing segregation (Civil unions? Please…) when we know it is not “close enough.”
  4. The fights for every kind of freedom, for freedom from poverty, freedom from racial/ethnic marginalization, freedom from sexual oppression, freedom from unjust or inhumane incarceration, freedom from dominance by the ignorant – they are all the same fight, and every freedom fighter is our kin-in-arms, and I am in league with everyone who dreams of and yearns for the life beyond the bars. Whenever we start a conversation with “equality for xxx,” are we not implying that, even when we get what we want, some people will be equal-er than others? I’m not saying that we can’t be pragmatic, that we can’t implement equality piece-by-piece, but we have to be clear that the ultimate goal is an inclusive world that provides whatever we mean by equality (not homogenization) as something everyone can enjoy.
  5. No one ever truly became freer standing on the neck of another. Oppressing trans women will not make cis women free. Oppressing the poor does not make the rich free. Demonizing members for mere membership in the dominant ethnic minority is as wrong as demonizing someone for other factors not under their control such as their sex, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. We are none of us safe until we are all of us safe, and we must build freedom for those who lack it without trying to destroy the freedom of others.

“And Govinda saw that this mask-like smile, this smile of unity over the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness over the thousands of births and deaths — this smile of Siddhartha — was exactly the same as the calm, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps gracious, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-fold smile of Gautama, the Buddha, as he perceived it with awe a hundred times.” — From Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

To paraphrase Steinem, the advocates of the status quo, of ignoring all of these points, and of keeping one group or another bound in chains, they will do anything to make a woman like me seem ridiculous. They will argue with me about everything, from my hemline to my mascara to my genitals, from questionable translations of the Bible to non-credible histories of the founding fathers, in short with everything but what really matters, which is freedom for my people.

I Am A Radical Feminist (And Proud of It!)

Yes, you heard me rightly.

I think this needs saying. There are two historical meanings of the term radical in the context of radical feminism. Actually, Merriam-Webster lists three, although their first and second definitions are closely related (I’ll ignore definition four, or at least leave it to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).


Radical, dude!

The classical meaning of the term, and the first two entries in Merriam-Webster, goes back to the etymology. A radical approach is one that goes back to the very roots or origin of something. The other, of course, increasingly in vogue in the last twenty years, is the use of radical as a synonym for extremist. Although I don’t personally know any feminists who really hate men (I know many who hate things men do), and I don’t know any people who are really feminist separatists, who want to live off in some female-assigned-at-birth fantasy land (although there is such a fantasy land near here),

There are radical feminisms of both kinds. I want to dedicate this post to pointing out that the former is the more important use of the term, and that the idea of feminism being radical is so important, that we must absolutely not cede the concept of radical feminism to the makers of exclusionary movements, and we must continue to stand up as radical feminists, to own this term, to love it, and to make (by the former definition) feminism that is far more, not less, radical.

To be sure, when second wave feminists began calling themselves radical (1967 is commonly cited for the inception of the term), they existed over a broad range. Some of them were shockingly (for the time) open about how they found men beautiful and appealing. Others argued that patriarchy prevented even the possibility of an ethical sexual relationship between women and men, and that notions like romantic and sexual orientations must be entirely revamped to provide any possibility of ethical comity. (This is most commonly attributed to MacKinnon, and sometimes to Dworkin, but as points out, neither said anything like “all sex is rape,” and both were really, to me, insightful in analyzing the ethics of sexuality, particularly heterosexuality). To be fair, a few of them were openly suspicious of not just men, but of anyone assigned male at birth. Germaine Greer went farther than most, and in those days, was openly cruel to transgender people, and particularly trans women; she still has not really set the record straight, although recently her position has been more complex (and more confusing to some, although to me, having already said I think we should cut back on using the term transphobia, somewhat open to discussion). But again, others felt strongly and articulated clearly that feminism had a role in making the world not only better for cis women, but for everyone (Steinem and Firestone, notably — I think a careful read of Steinem’s work over the course of her life makes it hard to believe she was ever much of an exclusionist, but she has been far more explicit about this recently). Finally, still others seemed to vacillate (my reading of Naomi Wolf is this way). There was even room for some philosophies that tread a surreal line between comical and profound (if you haven’t read Vamps & Tramps or other early Paglia … it’s an experience, for sure).

But, this variation in feminist voices needs to be understood in the context of re-analyzing the world that made patriarchy from the roots in an honestly radical way, to figure out how to end the patriarchy. Moreover, while all these struggles for equality are the same struggle, I do feel we should not spend the bulk of our time making a villain of someone for fighting a different part of the equality struggle than the one that affects us at a given moment.

In careful reading of some of the authors I mention above, it is clear that, many times, their intent was to provoke theoretically, rather than demonize a group of people. Other times, I believe they were acting legitimately from fear, ignorance, or uncertainty, and from the memories of their own suffering (“hurt people hurt people“). But these women were spelunkers, lamps bound to their foreheads, crawling through the crevices and tunnels underpinning patriarchal society, having no idea what they might find or what it might mean. In the history of any new science or philosophy, as its principles are elucidated, their implications are not immediately understood, and claims that, in hindsight, seem erroneous or incompatible with the theory are made, being rejected later as the process continues. That is, the vagary of these early radical feminist views, to me, is just like the vagary of the early moments of new theories in physical science, new principles in software design, or other area of the design of science and technology.

Dworkin-IntercourseAt times, I was/am scared of Andrea Dworkin. I may be the only trans woman you’ll ever hear say this, but I was also strongly influenced by her way of thinking and her way of relating to the world, even if I disagree with some of her conclusions

Before I was aware of the latter use of the term radical, I used to call what evolved next, as the second wave slowed down, as a sort of “land grab” feminism (it has also been called cultural feminism and sometimes “difference” feminism falls into this space, too, when it is not called radical feminism in usurpment of the prior radical feminism). At the time, I didn’t know to articulate that the problem for me most centrally was that my own experience as a woman-in-becoming was being excluded. Nor did I really understand that, to the extent that I have any business talking about the concerns of or advocating for the needs of men, I was doing it as an outsider (because, in those days, I although my heart knew it, I, again, did not have the words to articulate that I was not, had never been a man). But what bothered me is that the feminism that succeeded radical feminism and ultimately stole its birthright was pragmatic in scary ways – willing to sacrifice ideology not just when no alternative was present, but at the drop of a hat, and willing to accept any intellectually odious approach or position if it benefited even one woman, even when it came at the cost of another woman (this cold be benefiting cis women at the cost of trans women, but most commonly, in the US, it was benefiting white women at the cost of black and Latino women).

This feminism was not honest. Rather, it was ready to be deceptive if it might prove beneficial. The old radical feminists were developing a science and a philosophy, and a technology derived from that science and philosophy. The new radical feminists were cobbling together bad technological solutions, because they did not care to understand or value the science or the philosophy.


If there is a reason feminism is associated with monstrosity (outside of the primary reason, which is that it is a tool the patriarchy and the status quo use to stop us), it’s this dishonesty, this unwillingness to follow guiding principles like creating a more just society. Smashing the patriarchy, in contrast, is not monstrosity at all

My feeling is that the results have been disastrous. We did not pass the ERA, because of stupid things, like believing that sex segregated bathrooms were more important to preserve and enshrine than the equality of women and men. (For those of you who are feminists and physical scientists, what this reminds me most of is the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox…. sadly, nearly 40 years later, the horror of the bathroom is again being used to dehumanize trans people) Feminism became irrelevant to modern life, and we spent the intervening years in stupid arguments that ranged intellectually all the way from “is Ally McBeal a feminist?” to “Is Miley Cyrus a feminist?” instead of talking about how we empower women and build a world where our stories as women matter, get told, are heard.

Behind the scenes, on the other hand, a slightly more complex story was evolving than this “woe for the death of feminism.” Shulamith Firestone, that genius who wrote one text decades ago and largely disappeared from public conversation, I believe, understood many of the intersectional aspects of feminism from her place as a middle-class, white, cis woman. Over the coming decades, bell hooks went far farther, and alongside other women, extended this story to integrate the narratives of the poor and oppressed ethnic minorities, long blind spots of feminism, and later yet, inclusionary queer theorists extended this story to sexual and gender minorities, but largely extending the same story told by Firestone and Steinem that the true feminism was the one that took everyone’s right to personhood seriously. In my mind, as these dies coalesced into the so-called “fourth wave” (which really became an extension of the best of the second wave), the long dark night without a relevant feminism finally broke, and dawn shone, and didn’t it feel good to be alive and to be woman?

So, in the newest lexicon, I endorse the intersectionalism of bell hooks and others, and the trans-feminism of Julia Serano and others. In spirit, I find kinship with most of the people who call themselves part of the “fourth wave” of feminism, as well as most of those placed in the fourth wave by others’ attributions. I endorse these types of feminism as the most radical feminism available to me. I will do my small part (if our gifts were measured by capitalization, bell hooks would be in all caps and I would be in lower case subscript!) to extend it, and to make it more radical yet, and most likely, because we’re nowhere near done figuring this out, there will be other terms for the most radical, and most honest kind of feminism that comes to exist, and when I see it, I’ll join it. I bet Steinem and hooks will too, and if she were here to do so, so would Firestone.

And someday, maybe, just maybe, our descendants, genetic and spiritual, won’t even need to call it feminism anymore, because the radical notion that women are people will seem as worthy of question as the radical notion that the world is a globe.

Calling Out Transphobia … Less?

I think it might behoove us to pick our battles, and respond with a smile and a sense of humor, sometimes. I hope that this doesn’t make me Sheryl Sandberg, and I am not trying to make the “Lean In for Queers” point here.


If I were doing Lean In for queers, I would tell you to man up.
I seem like the least sensible person in the universe
to be telling anyone to man up, particularly
as I continue the process of, well, manning down

I talk about misogyny, but you’ll notice that, so far, I don’t use the term transphobia much in this blog. It’s a real thing. It can make it illegal to use restrooms, deprive us of work, and in some cases, kill us. Part of being a connected queer is attacking this miasma of phobia by giving people a chance to know who we are, rather than hiding in the shadows and letting hatemongers do the public describing of us.

But, on Facebook, I found myself with … less of value to say on the whole topic of Jared Leto and Dallas Buyers’ Club (to be honest I haven’t gotten around to seeing it, but I think it’s in RedBox). I noticed I wasn’t the only trans woman with mixed feelings (Jenny Boylan, as always, brings a lovely balance of insight, perspective, and humor to this). More in my case, it’s a balance of being a person who just can’t hate anything or anyone if I see some small amount of good in them, and that I’m also a very live-and-let-live kind of woman. I don’t talk about transphobia that much on Facebook, either. Especially, I don’t talk about the million and one jokes that I find mildly distasteful, even though feminist scholars are increasingly studying some of this kind of behavior as “micro-aggression.” My point really is that we as a community are spending way too much time cataloging every micro-aggression and calling out everyone from Jesus Christ to Ellen Degeneres out for transphobia. Enough is too much. I’m not oops-shaming people who have chosen to be allies when they say something for which I don’t care. (Do ya like oops-shaming? I’ll also drop in a link to this great blog about abusing the word shaming in the women’s blogging world).

It’s not that I always find these jokes funny. When I can, I do gentle education. But, among my favorite movies, the ones where I know the lines by heart, I choose (yes, choose) to overlook humor I find mildly distasteful. Love, Actually has an unfortunate joke about hiring prostitutes for a bachelor party and how it “turned out they were men.” Music & Lyrics has a comment where the main character criticizes musicians for “wearing panties.” Because of my prism of gender experience as a trans person, I don’t care for these jokes. I still love these movies. I’ve been watching Love, Actually at least once a year for a decade now, and I don’t really ever watch movies even twice anymore. And Hugh Grant dancing is just fundamentally funny (& a little sexy).


Hugh Grant characters are sexy, but if I ever actually had a real
relationship with a man, I would take pretty much any
character Colin Firth ever played. So there, I’m even giving him
more than the usual 300pix width, because yum

I’m also not really backing down on my principles. I still think exclusionary models of feminism are falsely radical, that they are not real feminism, because they spend more time hating out groups than empowering even the women they do accept as women. I embrace anyone’s right to identify their sexual orientation as they wish, and I think there are some people who are fluid by nature and can “choose” things like the political lesbianism of radical feminism and have it help them be more authentically “them,” but I think the way exclusionary radical feminism uses it runs the danger of being tantamount to the same controlling of women’s bodies and experiences of the patriarchy we’re all supposed to be fighting. As a trans woman in love with a lesbian cis woman, who has more lesbian friends than trans friends, I also find the idea that I hate lesbians absurdist (and you can ask my girlfriend if you want independent verification). These kinds of ideas, which mostly take their roots in third wave feminism organized around the “RadFem” identity (everyone more or less agrees whom and what was in the first two waves of feminism; whether there is a third and a fourth wave, and what constitutes what, are a little more contentious), especially when they are about controlling or excluding women, are dangerous to all women. When I first started coming out, I thought that people who spend all their time fighting “TERFs” and other exclusionary / hate-mongering people hiding under the premise of feminism, were being heroines. The truth to me, now, is that this is a waste of time, much like having debates with “creation scientists” take good people and wastes their time.

When “feminists” spend their time arguing
about who is and isn’t a woman, and
who is and isn’t a woman worth empowering,
they need to be more radical, not less radical

We need to stand up against major acts of transphobia. Our sisters and brothers must be safe in the world. It is not okay when states try to make it a crime for us to use the restroom, or when it is open season for us to be fired because of our gender identity. And anyone who thinks I am a man (and that a trans man is, absurdly, a woman) is not an ally. But I think we need to shift the balance far, far, in the favor of publicizing strong and talented trans people, trans stories that go beyond the narrative around facial electrolysis and bottom surgery to how trans people are leading their communities, innovating, and living and loving alongside cis people. We need to do mor to help the cis world, including the cis queer world, have some idea of who and what on earth we are. Judging from all the cis people who have gotten to know me and are very loving and accepting, who enjoy my company, and don’t just include me on principle, I think this has to be a primary arm of our approach to building an inclusive world. For me, it’s simply also consistent with who I am – I am way too full of joy to spend all my time complaining.

Along the way, I may need to be held to my own standard, to not let this blog become negativistic. I did feel the need to start by clearing the air on some differences and nuances in perspective compared to other dominant views within trans and queer advocacy. But I need to spend more time being positive and lifting up, more time telling my story, and not be someone who silences her sisters. Please don’t oops-shame me, but I will accept your gentle reminders to be true to myself, and I’ll love you for it.

Why I Kind of Hate Calls to Signal Amplify

I hope this doesn’t come off as catty or self-absorbed. Okay. So I probably am both. I kind of hate calls to signal amplify. My intersectionalism card is sitting on the table, and I’ll give you the scissors, and you decide if you want to cut it up or not.

A little background from my particular perspective. I’ve survived a few decades of this rather awkward drag show in which I’ve been pretending to be a man, and feeling ridiculous, like when those women in bad comedy movies paint goatees on with makeup. But this experience is different for each of us. For me, although I knew really well the extent to which I was supposed to hide my feelings and particularly my fear or suffering, I just didn’t really have the heart to do it. I’ve been outright bullied, with non-metaphorical bruises to show for it, but much moreso, my childhood is littered with experiences where I tried to feel, publicly, even maybe complain or whine a little bit (not a lot, I’ve never needed to complain a lot), and this was met essentially with responses that boil down to, “Oh, your problems matter, but mine are worse. You should stop talking and listen to me, and when I don’t have any problems that are worse than yours, then it will be your turn.” Of course, my turn never seems to come up, and my friends and loved ones seemed to be blessed/cursed in such a way that it was always their day to suffer.

I feel that calls to signal amplify are very similar. There’s a phenomenon in our community that, as soon as some of us (and I believe this is often/usually directed against feminine people in the advocacy world) want to tell our own stories, we are hastily interrupted, a few words in, to “signal amplify,” because people who have it worse by virtue of their poverty, being in an oppressed ethnic minority, or being in another category targeted by the patriarchy for oppression. My experience is things like being pretty & stylish, and also smart or talented, seem to very quickly elicit calls to stop talking and start signal amplifying.

A couple of my own experiences. One person in the community, within a day or two of knowing me, comfortably told me, in essence, that I should empty my retirement accounts and give all my money to a loose acquaintance who feels that their transition is held up by lack of access to facial feminization surgery (if you’re not transfeminine, and you want to experience myocardial infarction, look up what that costs). Amazingly, this was the very first thing they suggested when I whined (no, emoted – I’m allowed to emote) that I didn’t know how to help this particular friend at this particular part of her struggle, because at the time, she was very negativistic and brushed off my attempts to empathize, listen, or even engage her in fun. Another person (I’m still friends with both the struggling person and this next person, for what it’s worth, and I have largely gotten over myself and found ways to connect and relate with them both) once came to my book club because we were reading Jenny Boylan’s book, and she felt Jenny’s voice should be silenced and replaced with voices of trans women who struggle more, because the fact that she is happy is unhelpful. Au contraire, ma sœur, these stories of happy trans women are what gave me the courage to finally start transitioning, what allowed me to survive. They mattered to me. bullhorn-muzzle

It may surprise you to note only one of these is designed
to amplify people’s voices. No, it’s not the muzzle

And here’s where it gets sticky, and you’ll have to decide if you’re going to out me as a faux intersectionalist. I do believe in the intersecting lines of oppression. I am cognizant of the fact that I am well educated and affluent, and that, while I am not white (later, I’ll take on the tricky question, “Am I a trans woman of color?” but let me work my way up to that), I am not very much racially oppressed either. I am aware that when these advantages are added to others, it’s likely that it will be far easier for me to survive transition than it will be for many of my sisters. I’m aware that I go to TDOR and mourn and grieve and advocate and call for justice, but it’s not people quite like me who end up in those shallow graves. And I do experience some “survivor guilt” over all of this. But (no, BUT) the path to empowering all of us is not to arbitrarily select a group of people who are “privileged enough” and isolate them and invalidate or silence their stories. And the people who self-select as arbiters, who have somehow given themselves the right to switch on and off other people’s right to be considered oppressed enough to have a story, are not helping the cause.

And then finally, here’s the part where I valiantly try to snatch my intersectionalism card back before you cut it up. I don’t hate signal amplification as a broad concept. These stories of (more) oppressed people (than me) are so important. It’s a major problem that there are now a solid number of stories of people like me – affluent, educated, professional trans women, who have a route to being fairly readily acceptable in society – and there is still hardly any visibility of transmasculine stories, of genderqueer stories, of stories of people who are discriminated against because they will never be “pretty” enough to be socially acceptable. It’s a major problem that the victors write history, and in the small way that women like me “win,” you hear our stories and not the story of the woman who spent months or years trying to find a basic job as a trans person and finally had to de-transition (or maybe even tried to kill herself), or the story of the person sent to live on the streets, and certainly not enough of the story of how those poor women and men we celebrate on TDOR suffered.

Rather, I celebrate these stories when I hear them. I’ve learned to listen when I hear them and know that they are absent (for which I am ever thankful to our sister-in-arms, Gloria Steinem, she taught me how to listen), and I do seek them out. So I think this is different than the longstanding battle in feminism between ethnic minority and majority voices. There, the problem is active silencing of black and Latina women’s voices, over which affluent middle-class white woman views are shouted. I’m not shouting over anyone. I’m the one being silenced. And silencing me is not the way to add visibility to these stories. Invalidating me is not the way to validate them. And ultimately, we need to support these brothers and sisters to be brave and tell their own stories, listen and celebrate with them, and get their backs when trouble comes. Not stop telling our own stories and insert theirs in our places – because there’s no story I will ever be able to tell like I can tell my story. So the kind of “signal amplifying” that involves invalidating other people, it’s got to go. And all our stories, all our experience, the house of love and hurt that makes us a community, they all have to matter.