On Being a White Feminist (No, Wait, Please Hear Me Out)

I am a white feminist. You guys*. It’s true. I’ve made the argument before that the idea that I function as a woman of color is at best, problematic and defies any uncritical acceptance. I want to go further, now, and point out that I am a white feminist. This puts me in illustrious company – Amy Schumer, Taylor Swift, that actress** who said something ignorant at an awards show, that other one who said something ignorant at an awards show, that other one who said something ignorant at an awards show. Well, you get the picture. And a pretty one, she is not.


You guys, our feminism is WHITE. With just a touch of color over on the far end. Just like this picture. (Source: Unilever)

I don’t actually want to spend this post proving this to you. But let me start with the whitest feminist of my white feminist perspectives. When people say things like, “Can’t we understand that we’re all just people first?” I shut these conversations down, often, particularly recently. I shut them down by pointing out that, precisely because I am a woman, I am messaged in subtle and overt ways, over and over again and since my birth, that I am not a person – that women are not people. The second wave rallying cry, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” was necessary as precisely in that day, because society did not behave in a fashion that suggested it believed this statement, as the phrase Black Lives Matter is necessary in more recent discourse.

This is the whitest thing I have to say, of all the white things I say and all the white things I do – I see myself as a woman first, before all my other identities. This is white feminist precisely because, as I’ve come to be educated, my feminist – even my womanist – sisters of color very rarely see things this way, because race is almost always their most unignorable experience. It isn’t mine. So they’re proudly women, but woman is somewhere lower on their list, most commonly. Often second. In contrast, most of the time, like other white feminists, my race is only relevant in discussing my experience because it privileges and protects me. And like my white sisters, I am more often unaware of it than in any other state. What is important about this is that I am not saying I “pass” for white – I am saying I function as white. These two are not at all the same thing. I benefit from privilege. I did not seek it out.


You guys, this is how far our sisters of color have to go to correct the bullshit that we too often call feminism.

But back, for a moment, to my white feminist identity. I say I am a woman first, not because I want all sisters to say this, but because this is how I experience the world. I stop, later, and recognize, yes, I do have a race, and that it is indeed part of who I am. And that I have a class – actually, I am aware of my class more often than my race. But even that is a relative rarity, while I am almost never unaware of how being a woman affects my experiences.

I’m not entirely saying I don’t experience racial microaggression***. Occasionally, other white people – like really, really white people – can make a play to erase my privilege. In fact, last night, I had one of these conversations with a white woman. You know the one. It began with. “You’re so exotic. Where are you from? Don’t say Michigan.” But this not only happens less and less, but it seems to be less and less effective at marginalizing me.

Sisters of color, if you are not already fed up with me, have not already stopped reading, please know this (and continue reading, if you’d like). My goal is simple: I want to help us white feminists figure out how to stop being such a pain in the ass. Don’t be nice. You know it’s true. That is precisely what we are. My goal is to help us be the good Sisters we are meant to be, and not the bad Sisters we have been most of the time. My goal is not to celebrate the outsize space we take up in movement, but to help us to a path to actually allow us to address our misbehavior and stop stealing your space.

Back to my fellow white feminists. Okay, so a solid chunk into this screed, how am I going to accomplish this goal, if I have not turned you, too, off? I think I have an answer. Like all very complicated things, it is also very simple.

We are faced with a conundrum. We are rightly called out for our white feminism. We are told to knock it off. In fact, we want to knock it off. Badly. Erm. We want it badly, but we actually instead do it badly. Here’s why. We replace white feminism with white intersectional feminism. Which, unsurprisingly, is crap. What do I mean by this? White feminism is the queen of all single-cause social justice movements. Its one cause is to help white women feel less worthless all the time. You see, we take up outsize space within movement, and we take up even outsize space in racially mixed groups outside movement, but we take up far less space than we are due in polite white society. And we do, actually, feel worthless, like all the time.

This is the conundrum in which we’re stuck, much to the chagrin of our sisters of colors. We are white feminists because of our experience of marginalization. Our experience, in which race is a source of privilege and not marginalization, begins young. We are not born hating women, perhaps. We open our eyes and see our mother (most of us do), and we love her. She is, in fact, nearly everything. But soon, we notice that the world does not love her, does not value her. And perhaps we learn to hate women by first scorning her as the world scorns her, or perhaps we do not learn to hate women until we recognize ourselves in the mirror. But hate women, we do, sooner or later. And as we are nurtured on the mothers’ milk of misogyny, we learn that we are needy. Overly emotional. We are told and told constantly, although it seems like we try to take up no space at all, we are in fact taking up far too much space. We are told that, although it seems we give far more than everything we have to others, we are greedy for withholding our bodies, our hearts, even our smiles. This is, perhaps, why we sit on the edge of chairs even when they are made for only one person. Because we are not worth the space of one person – we can at most be a fraction of a person, and even then we are inevitably too large a fraction. This is, perhaps, why we paint our smiles on twice, once with makeup and once with the falsity of “putting forth one’s best.”

Our feminist experience then, white feminist sisters, is that we learn this state, we become awakened (often by sisters and sometimes even by brothers of color, who have always had our back in a way that we have not had theirs), and then we band together with others of like experience – that is, other white feminists (because, help us though they did, our experience did not feel quite like the experience of our sisters of color, because, in fact, it was not quite the same). So we bond with other white feminists. And we do get as far out of privilege-borne narcissism to realize that their suffering is like ours, and that the means to our own happiness and theirs are inextricably linked. This is our feminist experience – it is not quite like the feminist experience of our sisters of color, many of whom are taught to hate their race even before, and far more thoroughly than, they are taught to hate their sex.


Kyriarchy, as far as I know, has nothing to do with that annoying 80s song (Source: That annoying 80s artist who sings that annoying 80s song)

Being confronted with the white feminist nature of our white feminism, surprisingly, is precisely where we go most astray. For we are faced, it seems, with two options: White Feminism (capitalizing for the willful practice of foolishness), or intersectionalism. Some of us choose White Feminism. We turn to actively saying things that are destructive. Our feminism becomes a tool of kyriarchy**** and not of liberation. For the rest of us, who would rather die than knowingly put people in chains, the only option we have is intersectionalism. But we don’t know how to stop being white feminists (back to lower case), so we become white intersectional feminists. This, I am arguing, while insidious in its danger, has the possibility of being even more problematic than White Feminism.

The why and wherefore of this comes directly back to how we became feminists – our marginalization histories, and our years of internalized misogyny before we were awakened*****. Sadly, this is the only framework in which we can process the fact that we take up too much space in movement – both in feminist movement and in social justice movement. We do two deeply destructive things in response. They both run deep in us, but for different reasons.

The first, which comes from our marginalization, is that we cover over our need, as we always did before we awakened. We recognize that, in the scheme of things, although we are less privileged than wealthy white men, we are often very privileged. So we place ourselves in a classic old feminine hierarchy, one in which too many of us spent our whole childhood being victimized, deciding whether our pain is of enough merit to voice, and we find that it is not – almost always not. But our silence is precisely what suffocated us before, and it does precisely the same now. And suffocating, dying of asphyxiation, our feminist yearning to survive takes hold, and so even in trying to do this, we lash out. Except now, and precisely because we were holding our breath to try and make space for them (or rather, to try and avoid our habitual stealing of their space) that we lash out at our sisters and brothers in arms. But we know this is wrong, and we hate ourselves all the more for it.

The second thing we do is much like the first, but it comes not from our marginalization but our privilege. We take on the role of Overlady (or Overlord, if your feminism thinks you will be equal when you are a man). I have seen this so many times. White intersectional feminism, unlike intersectional feminism that is not white, is hegemonic in general, like all white feminisms. Its hegemony comes from our whiteness and not our feminism. When she is taught intersectionalism, she “naturally” takes on a conductress role in which she becomes Arbitress of the Intersections. She self-designates her role as deciding who matters more, and who matters less. She silences thus, not just herself, but her sisters as well, for the misguided hope of “giving her voice” to her sisters of color, when indeed, they need not be given her voice so much as she must stop stealing theirs. This, of course, is the prison of internalized and self-policed misogyny in which too many of us were reared – that is, we are leading our white feminist sisters back into precisely the gilded cage from whence we emerged, and we believe it is feminist that we lock them back in the cage and stand guard******.

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 11.06.50 AM

This is what that Arbitress role looks like when it is held by a dude. Please overlook the grammatical lapsing in my comment, however, which was originally directed to our new Mayor

It should hopefully have become very clear that she does this because she is white, not because she is a woman or because she is a feminist.

We need, very simply, to stop being white intersectional feminists and engage in a more assertive******* dialogue in which we embrace our feminism but learn to undo our whiteness. Our white feminism tries to say, because race marginalization is so much more onerous a burden on others than gender marginalization is on us, womanhood doesn’t matter. That is not a feminism at all. This is not an assault on our sisters of color – only we white feminists say anything this stupid. Note that our sisters of color who reject the label of feminist call themselves womanists. But we create a feminism that liberates others but does not liberate oneself, and this encapsulates, inevitably, that most unfeminist sentiment of all. If I do not believe I matter, then I cannot truly believe women matter, for I am a woman. I learned this years ago but forget it, time and time again, with surprising alacrity.

I become the proverbial empty pot from which no tea (but much hatred) may be poured. But likewise, a feminism that says that race marginalization is not real, or, astoundingly, says treatment by society is better when one is poor and black in America than rich and white, is just foolishness masquerading as feminism. Of all the intersectional feminisms, only white intersectional feminism would make either claim. The problem is not that we white feminists do not occupy intersecting identities, but that we occupy a great many privileging ones, and the still-profound marginalization we experience is due to just the one or two, having to do with our womanhood and femininity, that are not privileging.

We thus cannot simply drop the white and be intersectional feminists, which would be a simple answer and of great service to our sisters of color if it were possible. We do not know how to do this. We might, someday – this would do so much, if not everything, to stop racism. This is because, and we must learn this, race is entirely about the fact that our whiteness makes us “matter” in the kyriarchical system of racism, and the non-whiteness of others makes them not matter, or at least matter much less. Thus, if we could stop being white******** – that is, not stop having a racial identity, but stop having an hegemonic racial identity, then we should undo racism itself, because it is precisely the hegemonic nature of our racial identity that created and maintains racism.

It is not incidental but paramount in understanding the situation, to realize that white is not a single racial identity but a cluster of racial identities into which groups have been privileged, over time, and it, itself – not our skin color but the in-group powers we are conferred when our skin colors are granted the privilege of whiteness, is the source of the hegemonic systems that hurt us and with which we hurt our sisters and brothers in arms.

This is the non-parallel nature of the system. One does not need to learn to stop being African or Latina. But one must learn to stop being white. It actually does operate much in parallel with the hegemonic nature of manhood, into which one is privileged, and the captive role of womanhood, into which one is cast. Just as we have learned that eliminating sexism, even from ourselves, is no easy task, eliminating whiteness, even from ourselves, will be no easy task. One does not need to learn to stop being a woman. One must learn to stop being a man in the hegemonic identity sense, if one wants not to be a tool of patriarchy. African and woman are not hegemonic identities*********. White and man are. We white feminists have a foot in both worlds. The wealthy white feminist is like the child who leads far and periodically darts back to base to tag up and avoid being thrown out by the pitcher for stealing.


I make, dear sisters, a sporting analogy (source: Wikimedia)

What is different about this line of sentiment is that it recognizes we cannot fiat our way out of whiteness nor expect others to do so. It allows us to confront the domineering nature of the discursive system our whiteness creates, while continuing our own liberation as women, and reducing gender-based oppression. I am neither asking us to magically stop being white, nor asking us to accept our whiteness as “the way things are.” So in the end, I offer no magic bullet, but rather a turning into the sharp points. I call us as white feminists to do the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do, and learn how to stop being white, and in this way, and this is precisely why I am recognizing my white feminism, I believe we can learn to stop being white feminists and finally become feminists.   

* After all, I do say “you guys.” Like, a lot. And like, like, a lot. And it labels me as in group instead of marginalizing me.

** Another post, another time, on why it is not such a feminist victory that we say actor instead of actress, but I will respect the preference of others, and it seems that Delpy uses actress, which is admittedly the term I would also use, were I an actress instead of a provocatrice.

*** And I’m certainly not saying that all my Indian-American feminist sisters are white feminists. Probably most of you don’t feel you are, and the circumstances of my experiencing life in such a white fashion are a complex thing that still remains much shrouded in mystery, even to me.

**** If intersectionalism is the recognition that we operate in intersecting identity spheres that confer on us layers of privilege and marginalization, and that make our experiences, each of us, unique, then kyriarchy is that kissing cousin who reminds us that patriarchy itself is one of intersecting systems of dominance and marginalization that, itself, interacts with other systems, such as racism and classism.

***** Awakened with a kiss, doubtless, this is a white feminist fairy tale, after all, and one reposes gracefully to be woken by kisses in our world. It’s just a fairy tale of the proper, Grimm sort. That is, the fantasy is more warning than pleasant distraction.

******  Right outside the cage door, since someone must be free, after all, and it might as well be me. And we fool ourselves that, because we are in the prison as wardens and not prisoners, we are free, when we can never be free as long as there are prisons.

******* When we teach communication, we teach that there are three principal styles – aggressive, assertive, and passive. A passive style – which is nadir and birthplace of most of us white feminists – is one in which the needs of others matter, but our own needs do not. We know this too well, but our feminism was liberating to us entirely because it exposed this lie, and it will never be a source of liberation for anyone if it returns to it. It is the style of the self-made martyr. An aggressive style – in which our needs matter but those of others do not, is the quintessentially White Feminist style. The white intersectional feminist style tends to be a mixture of the two – passive aggressive. Which you’ve probably been taught is not a compliment.

******** Here I reveal that when I talk about being white, I am entirely talking about privilege, and the harm done to the world because I am given it. I do not aspire to whiteness and claim to have reached it – I find myself stuck in it and am trying to escape it.

********* At the risk of having a ridiculous number of footnotes, there are some rare but notable exceptions to this statement. In the context of exclusionary feminists who operate not in the context of women and men, but in the context of cis women and trans women, woman in their usage becomes a hegemonic identity into which one must be privileged. In general, in this way, Straight is a hegemonic identity and queer identities are generally not, but a like exception in the context of queer women’s culture is when lesbian friends reject a woman whose partner comes out as a trans man, perhaps because he will now have to struggle with having moved into a hegemonic category as a man. I feel like I have to run the risk of footnote perversity and explain this exception, since I was reminded of it by a couple I just met yesterday, who had that latter experience.

A Brief Note on Self-Policing

This brief piece is a response to recent comments by Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, as can be seen here or here, for example. It builds on my call to build an inclusive feminism, as well as to create a culture of calling in, wherever possible (sometimes, it is admittedly not possible). 


Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) was the source of recent controversy for blaming the loss of reproductive freedom on women born since Roe v. Wade.

In the spirit of calling Ms. Wasserman-Schultz in, rather than out, her statements really help reiterate the importance of teaching the powerful role of self-policing in patriarchy / kyriararchy processes. The system knows that no one will ever guard the cages in which women are held better than the women themselves. The “system” benefits by pitting women against women, because it frees up its resources to focus on robbing our rights from us.

When a woman lashes out at other women – young women in this case (even as young as me, since Roe v. Wade has been in place all my life) – it is not a random act of relational aggression. It is a design of the system. I should like to see Ms. Wasserman-Schultz learn this. I should like to see every woman learn this.

Self-policing is part of what makes these processes like patriarchy so insidious and so difficult to eradicate. A crucial thing for us all to understand is that, because we were born in cages, we do not know fully what the freedom we are creating looks like. None of us has ever seen a world in which women matter – a world truly free of misogyny. We have never seen a world without the cages we are trying to destroy, even when we have broken free temporarily from them. And far more powerful than the bars of the cage is the belief by many caged people – women in our case – that there is no cage, or worse, that the cage is where we belong.

When Ms. Wasserman-Shultz understands this, she will understand that, even when it is true that women are enforcing the patriarchy (which is not at all true of the entire class of women who are under 43 years of age, but in this case, is true of her, herself), we need to educate them, precisely because we believe that women (and every other marginalized group) deserve to be free. And irrespective of everything else (e.g., if she is asked or choses to step down), it is my hope that we all do exactly this for her, and for anyone else who makes these kinds of missteps.

An Ode To One’s Spirit

Jupiter and Juno by Annibale Carracci

Jupiter and Juno by Annibale Carracci

She says the greatest sin is to not live for oneself. You do not understand her.

You say she is selfish and she blushes in gratitude.

Her responses confound you. But in the contradiction, there, you may glimpse her.

Though she alone owns her body, she alone owns her spirit, she sees her self, her identity, her body, her spirit, all these things and more, as a gift to be given freely and richly, and in giving that gift she finds greatest pleasure and greatest sense of self. So give she does, over and over, and her joy and her self both show increase for it. Such gifts that she fashions, which she makes only for herself and gives only to others.

This is her cave of two mouths.

She will allow you passage through her, the truth visible for barest glimpse. She will not force you to know her.

Emerging, you would think it arrogance. But in that moment, that glimpse, you saw, for a moment, that it is not.

The glimpse was fleeting, and it indulges you to slide back out of her, but you will not know her unless you embrace it, unless you remain inside her. So remain you must, and see her truly, for she will show you gladly. She knows no secrets.

And when you do, you who wish to compliment her, you who accept her truth, you will say nothing, offer only nod of encouragement or fleeting smile.

If you remain inside her this long, you will breathe a unity that needs no words, and you will rarely speak of it. When you must, you will say this:

This is she, who dreams of what might be, who prays for what should be, and who creates what must be.

On Embracing My Fears

For living a joy filled life, for finding passion and excitement, making dreams come true, living stories that I will tell and retell, every single day, I want to make an admission that might surprise you.

I am afraid.


It is a constant current running through the back of my mind. I wake up every day to a day full of opportunities to disappoint everyone I care about, to fail everything in which I believe. To not make a good enough breakfast for Teri. To not be a good enough mother to Iago, a foreshadowing of my failures to come as a mother to a human child. To not be pretty enough or put-together enough. To not be a good enough entrepreneur or scientist – to let down my team, which is a family to me, and especially my two closest co-dreamers. To let down all the children and families we serve.

I am afraid, too, that we will not keep our house well enough to be good neighbors. That I am not doing enough for my community. That I am not doing enough with my voice to make our world better. That I do not give enough money, time, or attention, to all the causes that need me.

And always that I will let down my mother and father.

This isn’t something to be overcome.

Audre Lorde said this:

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

Lorde wrote this in the context of her Cancer Journals, understanding-through-writing about her experience with breast cancer. Although it is in part an ode to grappling with mortality, it is a paean of everyday life, too, for all of us as women especially, and given the statements about fear found stitched throughout Lorde’s powerful writing, for her, herself.

Lorde's many comments about fear and the role it plays in women's lives are a worthy reminder for all of us, whether we have embraced strength or are still striving to do so.

Lorde’s many comments about fear and the role it plays in women’s lives are a worthy reminder for all of us, whether we have embraced strength or are still striving to do so.

Like Lorde, when I say that I do not see overcoming my fear, I mean that I cannot stop being afraid, but I can learn to live in a way that makes my fear irrelevant. The reason I am joy-filled and adventure-filled today is, in great extent, because I have been learning to do this, and although I remain filled with fear, that I am also filled with joy and that my life is filled with adventure tells me validates my path for me.

One of my recent realizations is that I have come an immense distance in my authenticity. I feel I am true in nearly every moment, and when I display artifice, it is with reason. I’ve even learned to be authentically vulnerable. But the interesting thing I find is that, even when I am authentically vulnerable, I am channeling my fear into lessons for myself others. What is wonderful about this is that I have learned to be powerful even in the midst of embracing fear.

The revolution is not that I say, “I am not afraid anymore.” It is that I say, “I am strong.”

I find the latter so much harder to own than the former, even though it is truth and the former is lie.

When I say that I am strong, I am filled with fear.

To this there is only one antidote.

Whenever I am filled with fear, I will be strong, and fear shall become my kōan.

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.

Sisterhood is the Best Part of Being a Woman

The following is the text of my comments to the National Organization for Women Greater Grand Rapids Chapter. I was so glad to have the opportunity to speak alongside the fierce and inspiring Pastor Chaka Holley and the brave words of Lyza Ingraham, and alongside powerful award recipients including Kathy Humphrey and Lady Ace Boogie. The theme for the evening was “Voices from the Margin.” Apropos of the comments I made in the fifth footnote to this article, I chose to talk feminist ideology and feminist movement, although I very much enjoy telling my own, personal story. 

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak tonight, and just for the opportunity to be here, among so many fierce and committed sisters. I want to take a few minutes to talk about the Sisterhood, why it’s the best part of being a woman, and why sisterhood must be at the core of future feminism.

Sisterhood and solidarity are enduring and familiar to us as feminists and womanists

Sisterhood and solidarity are enduring and familiar to us as feminists and womanists

We have a long tradition of strong bonds among women. For a long, long time, while societal pressures isolated us as women – isolated us in our homes and childcare, isolated us in relationships that use a cloak of invisibility to keep us from escaping violence, isolated us in the pink collar ghetto or in the non-profit worlds many of us run in, often running according to mysterious and handicapping rules that the rest of society is free to ignore – for a long, long time, solidarity with other women – Sisterhood – has been our antidote to this. Sisterhood is a big part of what got us where we are – it shapes the way in which we are like no other movement, and our ideology is really like no other ideology. The sisterhood isn’t something sisters need to apply for – we shouldn’t ask why “they” haven’t joined the sisterhood, but how or why we have estranged them. The sisterhood is the birthright of all women.

Patricia Arquette is still a sister. But we need as sisters to call bad actresses back in.

Patricia Arquette is still a sister. But we need as sisters to call bad actresses back in.

As sisters, I don’t think we’re perfect, and I’m not back-tracking to the idea that, if we just put women in all the positions of power, there will never be another war. Don’t get me wrong, we’re going to put women in all the positions of power, anyways. But, one of the things we need to continue understanding better is feminine relational aggression. We should be paying attention, because probably many of us have gotten sucked into it, at one time or another, and many times, this is how we led the sisterhood astray. Sisterhood cannot mean ignoring, or worse, supporting bad actresses, and we need to know that, many times, when those bad actresses strike, it is relational aggression that is happening within the sisterhood. A feminism that keeps having “Patricia Arquette moments” will not do justice to representing all our sisters. But isn’t sisterhood a way to understand our own role in recognizing when sisters go astray and calling them back into the conversation? We just have to be good big sisters, right? We can’t be big sisters who victimize our little sisters, or exclude them. If we’re good big sisters, good sisters in general, to each other, it will be far more, and not less, natural for us to see it as our civic duty to the Sisterhood to fix the problems in feminism. In that light, whether they were actual sisters, or that girl a year ahead of us in school, or that women a step or two more senior than us in our chosen professions, I know for me, as far as I look back, there have always been big sisters looking out for me, big sisters to whom I looked to know my way. And now, I’m still looking to big sisters, every day, to know my way. I need to work harder as a big sister, myself, to help other sisters build their identity and find their ferocity.

Click on the image to learn more about how not having access to water affects women throughout their lives.

Click on the image to learn more about how not having access to water affects women throughout their lives.

If we can unite as a sisterhood, we have some critical opportunities. First, we are on the precipice of women in visible leadership like never before. The difficult choice in front of us is this – and I say this without a hint of irony as a transgender woman – when we get our chance to lead, will sisters lead by pretending to be men? Or will we lead authentically, as the women we are? Will we just keep talking about why women say they’re sorry, too often, and never about how men say they’re sorry, not often enough? Will we keep arguing about pantsuits and “girl” bodies, or will we talk about girl hearts and girl minds in leadership? Second, we have unprecedented visibility of ethnic minority, queer, and other sisters. We are just that – sisters – so will the sisterhood be a sisterhood for all of us, or just the “right sort” of sisters? Will it continue being okay for some sisters to not have water, education, menstrual, prenatal, child care, to not have choices? Will we parade in voices from the margin so we can feel sorry for “them” (I suspect some of my minority or queer sisters had the same groan I had over that thought) or will we push each other as sisters to spend all our time at the margins, where all the opportunity is? Finally (and I think you know this is the right answer), when we get all our sisters into the fight, into the margins, will we recognize that it will make a better sisterhood for everybody?

Let me start where I began – sisterhood is the best part of being a woman. It is our shared destiny as sisters that is our greatest challenge and our greatest opportunity. So let us all rise and fall, together, as sisters.

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.

Why I’m Giving Up Picking Fights within the Sisterhood

Back when my friends, whose religious practices involve sacrificing something for Lent, were making their picks, I quipped that I would give up picking fights within the Sisterhood* for Lent. It became a little less quip and a little more aspiration, over time, and “for Lent” gradually became a provocative question of what life would look like if I (we) never picked fights within the Sisterhood. I’m not going to pretend that I’m doing that now, or that I will ever get there, but that provocative question gradually became a mission. When I take on missions – I don’t take them on lightly. I don’t know who coined the word impossible, but I bet it wasn’t a Sister.

I'm not stopping cracking the whip altogether. I'm just doing my best not to crack it at other Sisters.

I’m not stopping cracking the whip altogether. I’m just doing my best not to crack it at other Sisters.

Sisterhood** is a powerful thing. A powerful thing in my life – whether it was Gloria Steinem, or Jane Austen, or Charlotte Bronte, or so many other Sisters of the Revolution, who spoke to me as a Sister, and helped me find my own Sister’s voice inside me, or so many Sisters in my life yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It breaks down barriers. It allows me to talk with, to advocate alongside, women who are different from me in so many ways – our skin color, our socioeconomic status, our politics, our life experiences, our education, our queerness or straightness – and I have seen, so many times, we are instantly Sisters, and although all these other things remain, Sisterhood is more fundamental and more immutable. Of all the things worth preserving to me, as a woman, Sisterhood is the greatest***. And my choice is predicated on my treasuring of this most precious thing, on this day that belongs to us, and to me. 

I wrote last year, and spoke at last year’s V to Shining V, about the idea that fights both within and among marginalized communities inevitably stand to benefit our oppressors, and oppression itself as a force, and to fail to help any of us. I stand by that claim. This does not mean that Sisters should not continue learning to cultivate spaces in which inclusive and earnest dialogue occurs over our differences, because we will have differences – because of our experiences, because of our perspectives, because of which part of the Struggle in which we have embedded ourselves most passionately. We would do well as Sisters, also, to include people who are not Sisters in that dialog, because the truth is that there’s a lot of oppression in the world, and it isn’t all directed at people “like us.” And we would do well, as Sisters, to embed ourselves, when welcomed, within dialogs where we ourselves are the outsiders and allies.

I want to be careful here, because telling other people not to pick fights is, frequently, itself picking a fight. Or making some kind of subtle or not-so-subtle assertion that a certain narrative – usually a dominant narrative, like, inside the Sisterhood, the middle-class, white, straight feminist narrative – is more important than other narratives – like, inside the Sisterhood, the narrative of multiply marginalized Sisters. We know as feminists that this is precisely what is done to women – we’ve spent generations and millennia under patriarchy changing the world and then giving credit to our husbands (and even, often, having the gall to say that, with them is where the credit belongs). And, sometimes, we’re angry about it, and we probably do go about voicing our anger in ways that are counterproductive as measured by our own outcome desires (for instance****, in comparing the role of Suffragists in Abolition to the point our sister Patricia Arquette tried to make and the way in which she made it, at the Oscars). Anger is okay. And if my Sisters choose to direct it at me, or at each other, I am not going to judge them (or pretend to be better than them). I am just going to learn not to participate. And I am not going to conflate the Sister with her anger.

I am writing also, a little, and processing still a little, in response to the claims that feminism in Social Media is a toxic thing. I think most Sisters have seen the Sisterhood get toxic. I don’t want to deny this can happen, because it would sound absurd, even to me. But, aside from the ideological analysis of this kind of attack, how it is levied, on whom it is levied, and what its likely function in a system of oppression is (hint, it probably isn’t reducing marginalization), I think I, like many Sisters, reacted to this instinctively in a negative way, because the cloud of women we know in social media (and more generally in the Sisterhood) had done, are doing, will do so much to support us, lift us up so many times, be a cheering voice in our triumphs and a commiserating cry when we fell short. When we think of the Sisterhood, we know this is what we do. Whether modern feminism is toxic (it must not be allowed to be or become so) or whether some of these behaviors are toxic (they are) is just not a fight worth picking. That would allow the toxicity to define us, and it simply does not. Rather, it is reminding ourselves, focusing ourselves on, aligning ourselves with, each other as Sisters, on which we must focus. That defines Sisterhood, and that defines us and makes us who we are. So how am I going to give up picking fights? Without gagging and binding myself? This is what I am learning to do, and what I am pledging to do.

  • When there are opportunities to do good, to make progress, to change the world, I am going to focus my efforts on doing just that. This is probably the biggest thing I’m going to continue doing. My behaviorists talk about replacement behaviors (although there are limits to this philosophy, as we know), and I think this is really the Sister’s ultimate replacement behavior, because alongside connecting with and empowering each other, this is what we do best. So try and stop me.
  • I will continue to tell my own story. Because it’s the only one that’s truly mine to tell. And because there is no point in feminism if it creates a world in which Sisters matter conceptually, but not in practice, as individuals. We would then replace the patriarchy with some internal censer who places our narratives in a hierarchy and uses semaphores to direct us when to speak and when to be silent, and at that phase, the Sisterhood would cease to be revolutionary.
  • I will continue to listen to other Sister’s stories, and to all stories of oppression. I will never own stories other than my own. But having learned to know when our voices were missing, and to call the bluff on histories that pretend to be complete without us, I will continue to listen for the voices that do not get heard, because this is perhaps the most revolutionary act of radical feminism.
  • Whenever I can collaborate with you, I will. Not because I owe it to you, but because I believe in Us, because I owe it to me, and because although we are strong as individuals, Sisterhood makes us far stronger together.
  • If and while you choose to be a fight-picker, you may find yourself on my ignore list. Sisters don’t have to be suckers. If you are the person who wants to constantly ask why I don’t stop telling my own story or changing the world in the way that I’m changing the world, to tell someone else’s story or do what you think needs to be done, or if you want to nitpick or establish yourself as my critic, I’m just not going to respond to you, and please allow me to re-refer you, in advance, to the first bullet point. This also means there are a whole bunch of fights I’m not going to weigh in on, because they seem, to me, just opportunities to argue, and I have decided to be too busy changing the world to argue.
  • When I get angry at a Sister, I will ask why I am really angry. Solidarity in the Sisterhood doesn’t mean man hating (or masculinity hating). But I will remember my own claim, that this infighting is a tool of our oppression, and whenever I am angry at a Sister, I will ask myself what the patriarchy’s game in this is, and I will direct my anger back at oppression, where it belongs.

If you’re somebody who loves me, and you see me get off track with this pledge, please tell me. Preferably, in private, and definitely, in love. I will try to listen to you. And if you’re somebody who loves me, I hope that you will know that I will fail – will fail repeatedly – in my way to achieving this goal, and you will keep loving me anyways, not because I deserve it (I don’t), but because it’s who you are (it is).

It’s International Women’s Day. And women should celebrate by doing whatever they want to do. Because, well, that’s rather the whole point. What this Sister wants to do… is change the world, and she is paring down all the stuff that gets in the way of that.

* By Sisterhood, I really mean radical feminist women (I do embrace that term), but… well, see the next footnote. This raises a whole bunch of red flags to certain people, I’m sure, already. I’m going to talk about “us girls,” and in so doing, I’m talking about and with girls and women who make a choice to co-advocate alongside other girls and women for the good of girls and women. This isn’t really a blog post about whether men can be feminists (of course they can, my mister is a feminist). It isn’t really a blog post about whether or not other gender minority groups belong inside the big tent of women, either as guests or as members (I think they do). But I celebrate the right of women to talk about themselves and not only spend all their time talking about someone or something else.

** I chose Sisterhood as a term because it’s the one that means something to me. In some ways, Sisterhood is the movement wing of what we do in feminism (as opposed to the theoretical wing of what we do). On another layer, there is something sort of else about it. I think all the Sisters know what I am talking about. Probably, if I look at it really carefully, there are people who are women who make nuanced choices not to be Sisters, or who make thoughtless choices not to be Sisters, or who just find themselves not experiencing the connection of Sisterhood. I don’t judge any of them, but I do recognize that, probably, I like any other Sister, can only partially understand what that’s like. Not all women are highly relational, and of course, many men are highly relational. But there’s something special about being a Sister. It is also, admittedly, as much a not mythical thing as it is a mythical thing. It can go awry, which is the whole point of writing this blog and of taking this stand. Still, within the prism of my own experience as a woman, to me, Sisterhood is the best thing about being a woman.

*** And I’m an only child, saying this.

**** In fact, even trying to provide some gentle, inclusion-focused, non-shaming retrospective analysis of a situation, itself, becomes very quickly fight-picking.

Mira Goes Het – Way, Way Het

I intimated recently that you should expect this post. Teri’s been writing about stuff that’s been going on with him, over at his excellent blog, throwing all kinds of foreshadowing (reader*, note the stylistic difference between Exhibit A and Exhibit B, and Teri’s newest blog, on trans men reclaiming manhood… #SorelyNeeded) into the mix.

#NoHomo to be seen, at all?

#NoHomo to be seen here, at all?

We’ve known for some time, that there is, if anything, more diversity of sexual orientation within the trans community than within our cisgender siblings. I’ve commented, before (there’s a little reprise of it in this Gays.com article I did) on how I had felt attraction to men, prior to transitioning, but trying to date gay men, as a man, had been a miserable disaster. I had accepted being a heterosexual man as the only sensible option available to me, but I knew that wasn’t right, either. When I finally became honest with myself, and started coming out, my attractions did trend right back to men. And then I met Teri. And all I knew was she held the door. Teri fit the bill – first as my Prince Charming who used she and her pronouns, and now just as my Prince Charming.

And so, suddenly, with Teri’s own newfound openness, I’m a straight person, again. Interestingly, it’s really hard, within the visible elements of the trans community, to find a trans man + trans woman couple. There were Arin Andrews and Katie Hill, for a hot minute, but at least as a couple, they didn’t last (this isn’t a criticism, they seem to both be doing very well, and to have remained close, and more power to them!). There are one or two stories like this one, about a trans couple having children. These stories tend to be transition-centric, and in the case of the Andrews/Hill relationship, transient. Really, our love is neither transition-centric nor transient. So I guess, we’re going to be defining and owning this space.

I had written, quite some time ago, about my insistence that people who bring gender and sexual diversity (the LGBTQIA+) should retain the term “queer.” I’m starting to come around on this idea, a lot – I have/do act as an ally for people who are different in many other ways. Autism being an obvious example, but at work, also, I’ve acted as an ally for someone on this very specific topic of respecting personal choices related to body modification. However, my queerness is not a moving target – I am still queer. In actuality, my sexual orientation was not a moving target, either. When I came out of the closet, I became honest about what I want and need in a companion. I am attracted, as it turns out, to men and bois*. And Teri fit in this category from the beginning, and he still does, today.

Here, I make a distinction with some of my friends. There is a tendency of sexually fluid people (whether bisexually identified or not), interestingly, to impose the assumption of their experience on other people – for instance, by saying something like, “It’s the heart that matters, the plumbing will take care of itself.” It’s not always so simple, for all of us. Of course it’s the heart that matters, but we don’t all experience our attraction in an “I’m attracted to the person” kind of way – that’s one sexual orientation amongst many. So it’s not all about the plumbing (in the sense of the stories that spend all their time talking “sex change” surgeries), but the physical/chemical attraction is also not always irrelevant. My situation, also, I suppose, is a little different than Tina’s situation (as Alice sees it) on L Word. I am taking no easy road out of anything (although, arguably, when I tell the car dealer I can’t make a decision, because “I have to go home and ask my boyfriend for advice,” I may be treading some fine line).

Where have you been? Oh, right. Stuck in the far reaches of Heteroville, that's right.

Where have you been? Oh, right. Stuck in the far reaches of Heteroville, that’s right.

In our case, in any event, the conversation was a gradual shift in tone. I had jokingly called Teri, “sir,” many times before, when I was very happy being “her” girlfriend. And “Mister.” I had, at one point, had a conversation something like, “Would you want me to call you my wife, when we get married someday? It doesn’t seem quite right. But I would, if that’s what you want.” (Whereas, there is no ambiguity that I want to be a bride/wife). At that time, Teri had said, “I’ll be your husband and your wife.” Interestingly, later, a variant of this conversation happened at work, for him, also – “Would you prefer that I call you ‘he’? I feel so badly calling you ‘she,’ like it doesn’t really fit you, and I want to respect who you are.” In truth, all this time***, I was not “gunning” for any one answer. I love Teri. I’m content – was content, am content, will be content – to be terisexual. Who knows how the introduction of something like testosterone would affect our relationship? But Teri was here to watch me make the jump to clean-burning estrogen, and that was surprisingly uneventful. It might make our love even better. It might pose a hurdle here or there****. All eminently manageable.

That part, actually, is easy. And thus she writes many paragraphs about it. The part that she has been avoiding, thus far, dear reader, is the hard part. As a butch/femme couple, we already had to start having a dialog about heteropatriarchy and the dangers of our queer relationship emulating all its flaws, and acting to strengthen it (making us accomplices). I have had to, before any discussion of pronoun preferences surfaced, confront things like my feeling wholly inadequate as a partner if I do not provide a fresh, hot, home cooked meal at least once a day. How quickly I feel responsible for doing his laundry and cleaning up after him. The tang of annoyance I get at also being the primary economic agent of the household, on top of “taking care of” Teri and Iago. Of how, suddenly, I am dealing with heretofore unexperienced impulses in me, to defer to Teri’s judgment and to want him at the head of my table, to take my place at his side, to chose my actions in a way pleasing to him. And scoffing at the idea that he may be able to weigh in on aesthetic matters.

Reader, I am still a feminist. And I seek to be as radical as she comes. But, although I was never any political lesbian, there was a sort of safety in being a lesbian, much in the sense of pride one feels when buying fair trade, organic coffee – as if our relationship came stamped with some “No Proceeds Went to Support The Patriarchy” badge. The truth, though, is that butchness and masculinity, themselves, bear far more overlap than we generally care to admit, and in truth, a great many butch/femme relationships do function as accomplices to oppression under the patriarchy. If anything, a trans-hetero relationship bears that risk and then some. This statement, that our marriage would, surreally, now be back to a union between one man and one woman, seems to raise the bar, or heighten my awareness of the risk. Suddenly, one goes to get one’s fair trade, organic coffee, in a big SUV*****, replete with guard grilles over the headlights (in case the driver should need to run over the proletariat on the way to Starbucks, no cosmetic damage would be incurred).

Teri and several of our trans guy friends were at an excellent in-between-the-holidays party we threw for the trans community here. We had a really great discussion (because I’m that trans girl who likes to ride in cars with trans boys… and call them by their last names, okay, basically, I am One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male Driven Comedy) about how trans men are reticent to be called men. Sometimes, we all agreed, because their identities are actually non-binary. Sometimes, I argued, because they are afraid of taking their stand within manhood, and being able to embrace the good and fight the bad from within. Because, as men, they lack Gloria Steinems to whom they can unabashedly look up. It occurred to me that, whereas I have a cloud of inspirational women (most of them cis, but many trans also) around me, as role models and inspirations, when I asked Teri, or other trans men, who their role models were, I got … weighty silence. In those cases, I argued, they are indeed binary, and ought, indeed, call themselves men, but they are scared to take up arms and fight within manhood against the patriarchy (I commented, later, because this is what our pillow talk is like, that “man” is the traditional form of reference for adults who use he and him pronouns, and if trans men reject the title, we all need them to do more talking about why and what their choice means).

I also took Teri to task, several days later, because he said, “I wouldn’t ever want to be the breadwinner.” I pointed out that this seemed overly convenient, since I had no similar choice in our life together. He explained what he meant by the comment, and I understand where he’s coming from. In essence, he doesn’t want to force our relationship into a “traditional” configuration. I don’t want that, either. The truth is that, even if Teri could support us financially, I rather like being out changing the world, both for kids with autism and for the LGBTQIA+ community. I also don’t want Teri (or any man, cis or trans), pushed into not being allowed any emotions or into having to be stoic in the face of all odds. I don’t want Teri forced into a job he hates just to keep me in a lifestyle (whereas I love the job that keeps us in our lifestyle right now).

But…I suppose, to whatever extent I have a right, in the binary, to influence what kind of man Teri becomes (or manhood generally), don’t let’s have trans men become the sort of men whose manhood is living in their mom’s basement, because the internet is free, playing Call of Duty all day, and asking me to evaluate them and say they have autism and are thus disabled (okay, so that might hit a particular nerve for me). Manhood, in the traditional binary sense, and the masculinity it accompanies, is bound up in the idea of agency. And I fear for young trans men / boys – some of the ones around me seem not to develop this sense of agency (as seen in many good men, and better yet, in most feminist women). Who want a manhood that involves a wide variety of women solving all their problems for them. So I challenged Teri, in essence, to view his manhood not only in terms of the privileges it affords him, but in terms of the responsibility that comes with that privilege. His blog post represents a way station in that process.

The challenge reflects back on me, too. I’m going to have to learn to be a straight girl, without selling out the movement. I’m going to have to learn how to love my man but remain tall, fierce, and proud, loving my womanhood. To figure out what femininity means, inside the binary, and all my desires to “give” myself to him, in a way that does not destroy my selfhood. I’m going to have to learn to support Teri’s development of a holistic, sustainable, beautiful manhood, without ever asking him to “man up.”  This is going to be really interesting. It’s the first day of 2015, a whole new year, and I think I’m up to this challenge.

* Reader, I snuck this gag into my About Mira, page, but please be forewarned, I am so bowled over by the delicious titling of this piece about my middle namesake, that I cannot stop making reference to it.

** I openly admit (and Teri tolerates) that I find trans men, generally, quite hot – this is in no way meant to be any kind of incentivization to Teri to transition (or not transition).

*** Okay, you know I’m a little impish. There were many conversations, like, “Can I call you a dude?” “What about saying you’re my fella?” Accompanied by endearing, but annoying, Mira-isms.

**** One does not know, for instance, how one feels about facial hair. But one is willing to give this idea a try, because one’s partner wants some. There may need to be a Mira Embraces Lumbersexuality blog post, soon.

***** Reader, I just leased a Prius C. Although, Teri… wants a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. and goddess help my ecofeminist soul, but I find this idea disturbingly sexy.

The Secret Lives of Boys

Reading a novel I just finished*, it occurred to me that, as a trans woman, I (we) have a unique perspective. While I sometimes regret not having had a proper girlhood, and I didn’t really have a proper boyhood, because I was never more than pretending to be a boy, as an outsider, I had an intimate glimpse into the secret life of boys that few women are afforded. Most of the time, I just feel like a survivor, but I enjoyed my strange childhood (bullying, teasing, and my internal dysphoria notwithstanding), albeit not nearly as much as I do my queerhood. As I reflect on my transition from being a perceived-male leader to a woman leader in the workplace, and I continue to learn to understand (& frequently still wonder at) my male peers (although I’ve had more female than male bosses, and even my favorite engineering supervisor was a woman … I’m not so unsocialized as a woman), I actually think it’s quite a gift to have had this.

I’m a feminist, and I really believe I try to be a truly radical one, but the part of me that doesn’t wish I were an upper middle class British daughter in Jane Austen’s day makes me wish I were a 50s housewife**. I’ve adjusted pretty readily to my current life, where I’m the breadwinner, and am entirely likely to make far more than my girlfriend, for the foreseeable future, even if she is the man of the house***. She has taken on some of the yardwork, but I also do the vscuuming and the laundry and the cooking and the majority of the dishes, so I’m kind of the housewife also. And damn me, but I like it, and I even kind of like it when my partner feels me up while I’m cooking instead of helping. It’s fulfilling****.

I also could’ve been the other Boleyn girl, but that ended a bit badly….

But, I did spend my childhood riding bicycles around the neighborhood, pushing how far we were allowed to explore from the house. We put playing cards in the spokes to make motorcycle sounds and our moms got mad when the deck was missing the jack of clubs and the two of hearts. We explored the undeveloped land at the end of my street, which was maybe two acres, but felt like an empty national park, and we played king of the mountain. I sucked at this. Once, we went to the corner ice cream store. I didn’t wear shoes, and my friend Paul didn’t wear a shirt. The sign said, no shirt, no shoes, no service, and I think they wouldn’t have turned away two six year olds, but I lent Paul my shirt because his shoes didn’t fit me. My mommy was mad that time also – Paul’s mom wouldn’t give him money, so I shared mine, against her wishes. We also once ate cat food that came in a sample package in the mail, because the box said it was for ages six and under (now this should go in a footnote where I can minimize embarrassment). I had boy adventures. I got to come up in the treehouse where the (other) girls weren’t allowed. I got to shoot a hunting rifle when we went to see somebody’s hick cousin outside town (I’m Indian … I have lots of cousins and none of them have guns). Sure, there were girls in our little gangs, most of my childhood. There was one in my earliest group of friends (she was a jerk though, and mostly friends with Paul … maybe she viewed me as competition! Probably they’re married now…), and later I occasionally managed to score a separate clique of girl friends, who included me on girl imaginative play that delightfully involved less killing things. But I was also included, especially in those young years before puberty, in pretty much the full boy experience, and they weren’t.

In fairness, there were also eras (most of adolescence) when I also really was excluded from the world of the young men, and I can tell you that sharing the boys’ locker room during puberty was terrible, and where the bruises from the kids punching me for fun, were incurred. Boys making fun of my nipples was pretty terrible (they’ve, erm, grown on estrogen, but they looked more like girls’ nipples even then, just like I’ve always had hips, at least since adolescence).

To some extent, this inclusion in the boys club did pick up again after puberty. By eleventh grade, the teasing had largely ended. I had a clique again of intimate friends, still mostly boys with a few girls, and I started being included in some guy stuff again. I really loved and valued my friendship with my freshmen college roommate, and my two best friends still, whom I met at orientation, although I increasingly seemed like an awkward fit into the boys’ hall in the dorm (my roommate and I were both odd fits in our hall full of Long Islanders).

After college, there was a summer when we would hang out at my friends Calvin and Chris’s place, and play tennis or swim until it got dark, and then Wei would cook steaks shirtless (this looks like the same story you’re imagining where all the people are white, except with less body hair). I was already shifting to spending more and more of my time becoming platonic friends with women (other women, but I wasn’t ready for that clarification quite yet … this was a gradual progression, and as I’ve learned to navigate not getting crushes on them, because I don’t really feel attracted to feminine women, they make way more sense for me as close friends than men, outside of the handful with whom I share decades and who will own my heart until the day I die). And so, yet again, this inclusion faded over time.

Nobody has invited me to a poker party in a long time, and the only Super Bowl party invitation I can think of in years came from one of my female best friends, Lisa. We went out to a restaurant my friend manages. There were root chips in ridiculous quantity. I had a mixed drink and later got food poisoning. Anyways. The truth is I’ve been an outsider to the private lives of men for years, and even any male privilege I retain now is largely eroded by the well known facts that I love pink, watch romantic comedies way too often and cry all the time (also when telling stories about our autism kids), and like brunch way more than yard work. And trunk sales way more than power tools. Way, way more.

These are still way better for making bicycles make cool motorcycle noises, although my friend Wei is now apparently a coolly competent card sharp at the poker table

As for the boys, I retain their sense of adventure, and although it’s shaded with body image issues and shame and guilt that any other woman who survived anorexia knows well, most of the time, I share their sense of agency. Like them, I still thrill when I can use my talents and when I solve problems. Like them, I enjoy it sometimes when life is quick, when it is unpredictable, just as I enjoy (sometimes) running to the next terminal at the airport 10 minutes before boarding, to get Starbucks, and weaving through the slow moving passengers a I dash back to get “in before the lock.” (Okay, I did this right before the flight on which I wrote this post, and, uncharacteristically for me, I did not get a peppermint mocha, nor did I get a birthday cake pop.) And I also have some of their battle hardening, from the time I had to rescue an engineering project that had lost more than three years of its four year development cycle, and get it out the door, essentially flawlessly, in all of eight months. The battle scars from coming into my Center, driving out the people who were killing it like Jesus in the moneychanger section of the Temple or a World War I soldier invading an enemy foxhole. Sometimes I feel like it killed the little girl inside, a bit, but I also am proud of my survival (and overcoming anorexia is a pretty good girl template of overcoming … hardly any guy is strong like a girl who survived that!).

Thus, in ways, I’ve been working on the problem of how to be a professional woman, just like any other woman, long before I transitioned. But some of this won’t really come into fruition until I’m full time, in the next couple months*****. A lot of the leaders around me are women, in this environment, but a lot are men. It is kind of useful to have grown up with their kind, at a level of intimacy girls don’t have. Maybe I’ll make a good double agent for other career women. Like most of my female leader peers, I think our femininity adds to, not subtracts from, the workplace. I think mine already has, because I’ve always been feminine, and when the last vestiges of pretending are gone, it will, even more so.

But I don’t dream some Amazonian vision of the future where men are obsolete. I think they bring a lot to the workplace, too. I wonder at them. I admire their strength, physical and emotional, although I think we push our boys too hard, to be too strong, too hard, and too soon. Nonetheless, I like their strong arms****** and their strong hearts. I don’t think that women are better than men, and certainly I don’t think men are better than women. I think we’re just different. I don’t think that every child needs a mom and a dad (two moms or two dads is great, and one of either suffices for many in a pinch), and I dont think that because it was Adam and Eve, that Adam and Steve can’t look equally cute together. I do think women and men complement each other, and that masculinity and femininity complement each other, on a broader scale (and in my, ahem, private life… I love being in love with a butch). We are better with both, albeit letting both develop naturally, and not policing our boys into masculinity or our girls into femininity.

And thus, I’m thankful that I got to be a girl in deep cover*******, and I think it adds to my womanhood rather than subtracting from it. My therapist thinks I carry way more male privilege than I do, and warns me about how I’ll withstand loosing it. I wish she would listen better and talk less, but my undercover girlhood amongst the boys, paired with my increasing comfort in and confidence with my feminity, will help me navigate my womanhood with grace and courage. And I shall wear my scars, both scars of bicycle crashes and scars of the heart, proudly. They are badges of honor, and even when I conceal them with makeup, they make me more beautiful.

* Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, our at-the-time-of-writing current book club book…it’s excellent, I really enjoyed it. And I didn’t pick it, so don’t start with me!

** Just for those of you who don’t know me well, the vast majority of me is too busy being in love with this moment and and this life to spend too much time thinking how good I’d look with alabaster skin and a corseted dress or my hair in pins and a tweed skirt and cape. Although I do have a tweed skirt and hairpins….

*** Not to be insensitive to my girlfriend or to overdo the idea of the butch-femme relationship mirroring the heterosexual relationship, or to give too much ammunition to the fellas who want to know “who’s the guy,” but this is pretty much the way it is… I’ve even caught my girlfriend mansplaining things to me, like how I should manage the $2M budget of the clinic I build from ashes with my bare hands (and my team, whom I love, it really was NOT all me… After we got rid of all the people who were snakes in our midst, the people we have left are my true family, and it would break my heart to leave them).

**** The tail end of second wave feminism and the very beginnings of the “land grab” era did at least lead to things like questioning the feminism in belittling a woman for liking to keep house.

***** It’s so close. I ordered girl business cards. I have a skirt suit. And a transition plan for work. I probably can submit my paperwork to change my name in about a month. And I just can’t wait.

****** As long as they’re not ridiculous. All the ladies know exactly what I’m talking about.

******* I borrow this – Jill Davidson, a fellow trans woman psychologist, called her memoir Undercover Girl. I like Connected Queer still, but I have to admit she aced it with that title.