CN: TRANSPHOBIA, SEXISM, DEPRESSION, SELF-HARM
I wasn’t always a feminist. Sure, I always believed in equal rights for people of all genders, but in my twenties I bought all the stereotypes about feminists: they hated men, they all wore Birkenstocks, they were all lesbians, they didn’t shave their armpits, and they all listened to Lilith Fair folk music. Now at nearly 32 years old, after years of deconstructing gender norms–eventually coming out as genderqueer–I realize that feminism is so much more than the stereotypes. In fact, I need feminism not just for my own liberation as a DMAB genderqueer person, but also to unlearn years of internalized misogyny.
There’s a lot of debate–and some blatant transphobia–in the debate over the inclusion of trans politics in feminism. In their book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, however, bisexual genderqueer activist Shiri Eisner writes not only are trans politics compatible with feminism, but that ending transphobia and cissexism should be goals for feminists. Eisner writes:
If the goal of feminism is to end patriarchy and gender-based oppression, then transgender politics supplies us one of the most important perspectives from which to view–and challenge–binary gender and gender-based oppression . . . If no clear distinction exists between “male” and “female,” it becomes impossible to oppress people according to their gender. If we have no sole criterion for determining who is “man” and who is “woman,” we can’t know whose role it is to be oppressor, and whose to be oppressed. (p. 235)
Under the patriarchy, masculinity is seen as superior to femininity. Just look at phrases like “Grow a pair” and “Man up” vs. “Don’t be a pussy” and “You throw like a girl.” Phrases like these put genitals on things that have absolutely nothing to do with being a man or a woman. Not only that, but they equate having a penis with being strong and having a vagina with being weak.
And if you’re a person with a penis who expresses femininity in any way, shape, or form (even if you are cisgender), you’re seen as a traitor to the patriarchy. Eisner writes:
While women have fought–and still are fighting–for their right to wear pants, to not be required to wear makeup or shave their entire bodies, men are still strictly forbidden to wear skirts, jewelry, or makeup, to shave their body hair, or to otherwise “feminize” their appearance. Hell, even men ho wear masculine clothes with colors that are too bright, or with the appearance of putting too much effort into it, are policed for their deviation. The complete ban on anything perceived as feminine is meant to secure masculinity’s status as superior and femininity’s status as inferior. (p. 200)
Although I’m not a man, people still see me as one, so when I paint my nails or shop for women’s tops at Goodwill, I get a lot of strange looks. I pretend that I don’t give a fuck, but secretly I worry that one day someone will either harass me, kick me out of the store, or worse, physically hurt me in some way. And I shouldn’t have to live that way.
All my life, I’ve been told I’m not a real man. I spent years struggling with depression and self-harm, thinking that there was something wrong with me. Now I know that it’s not me who is broken; it’s society. That’s why I need feminism: to break smash patriarchal gender roles that tell people like me we’re “sick” or “broken.”
Having said all that, though, I also need feminism because I have internalized over thirty years’ worth of sexism.
I spent thirty years of my life identifying as a cis man, and during that time I bought all the lies about how women are obliged to be with “nice guys” like me. In a world full of jerks, Nice Guys like me were the heroes. Nice Guys were always the ones who got the girl in the end once she realized how nice we are. And if a girl didn’t pick a Nice Guy, she was obviously stupid.
I ruined a few good friendships doing the whole Nice Guy thing. In fact, it’s still something I struggle with. But feminism has taught me the importance of giving people space, and letting women decide who they want to be with. In a patriarchal society that robs women of self ownership, feminism gives women back control over their own bodies and sexuality.
Eisner writes, “We are all oppressors and we are all oppressed” (p. 88). No where is this truer than with me: a DMAB genderqueer who both gets shit on for not conforming to society’s gender norms, and shits on others by thinking women are somehow obligated to be with me. This is why I need feminism to both free me from oppression and being an oppressor.