Feminism | Posted by Oliver L on 04/4/2011

I’m A Boy

My interest in feminism could have started when my mom told me that people “aren’t weird, they’re just different.” It could have started when I was teased in elementary school for having braces or in high school for having overbite. It could have been those journalism classes or seeing how Native people in my high school were treated by my peers. Maybe it was because I had to come out as queer and then again, as a transgender man.

Hell, for all I know it started because I watched the Beatles animated film “The Yellow Submarine” every day with my brother when I was nine. All of those happy people dancing, becoming frozen because some Blue Meanie didn’t like music. Unjust, I tell you! I grew up listening to the Beatles because my mom was a huge fan. They promoted love for everyone. As a boy with unusual plumbing and a large vocabulary, I firmly believe that everyone has the right to love whomever they like and be happy while doing so.

Within all of that identity-seeking and stumbling around, I hadn’t yet considered feminism. I’ve emerged from last semester’s intense depression and now I’m coping day-to-day with being a closeted transgender man in college. I’m planning on being out in my university of choice (Women’s Studies minor!) but I need to finish my college degree first, which means I need to keep hopping on that city bus to school until May. As I’ve been struggling with depression, I’ve been going to a gender advocacy center at my university of choice. They have a peer support program so I’ve been walking over there every Friday to rant about my life. I’m dealing with a lot of anger and queer/trans (in)visibility/erasure, and all sorts of lovely problems. This anger is surfacing in my art and within my day-to-day life, to the bruised feelings of several people around me. I’m trying to be a good boy but patience is hard. The gender advocacy center that I go to is very feminist, working from a harm-reduction framework. They’re also anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-oppressive and other progressive things I’m certain I’m forgetting. This means that the gender advocacy center is basically my cheering squad—a great boost on a bad day. Needless to say, I’d been picking up a lot of feminist language and terminology without realizing it.

I was temporarily working as a polling clerk a month ago and I told someone that I had just gotten back from Toronto, where I had attended the Canadian Universities Queer Services Conference. I had met some amazingly hard-working people there and they had gotten my energy up. My co-worker then asked, “So are you a queer activist?”

I was startled. A queer activist? A trans one, sure, by virtue of coming out and educating people all the time, but queer? “Sure, I guess you could say that.”

Then a few weeks ago I was sitting in my college’s student union office when a young woman cracked a sexist joke. She made a joke dismissing her own sex. She said that she thought “anti-feminist” jokes were funny. I called her out on it and the head executive backed me up. She rallied a few people, who also chuckled at her jokes, and then the head exec shut them down. The incident rattled around in my head for a few days.

Spring break came and I attended a bunch of radical queer workshops. I met burlesque dancers, sex workers, and international activists who were doing and continue to do amazing work within their communities. It was incredibly inspiring.

Through all of my soul-searching these three years, of course, I was reading online and offline. More queer and transgender lit, but they so often intersect with feminism, don’t they? I found Kate Bornstein though the terrific gender-celebratory site Genderfork.com. Kate Bornstein, Goddess bless her soul a thousand times over, has supported me and others through her wonderful books and regularly updated Twitter feed (hashtag: #stayalive). She taught me to be compassionate to myself. Through her banter online and offline with S. Bear Bergman, I remember to try and be a gentleman at all times. She also had me aware of when I, as a white able-bodied male, could be using my privilege to get ahead of someone.

Somewhere last month, in between being attracted to burlesque dancers and re-reading Auntie Kate’s My Gender Workbook, I realized “Hey! Feminism is for everybody!”

The first time I stated it with surety was when I was in my psychologist’s office two weeks ago. I was talking about gender expression and stereotypes. Some people were under the impression that I was straight, that I would get married to a woman and have children, and that I’d play lots of sports just because I identify as male. It was pissing me off. I was adamantly telling my psychologist that I was not like that because, well because, I was a feminist, dammit! I wasn’t going to adhere to stereotypes because some people in my life expected me to! I was going to educate people about gender and oppression! I wasn’t leaving a box I hated for another box I didn’t like! I was a feminist!

It fell out of my mouth as naturally as saying “I’m a boy.” Like, duh. And now I need to catch up on my reading. People keep mentioning Butler and Foucault and I have no idea what they’re going on about! Gender is a social construction? But my gender feels natural so how is it a social construction? See, ignorance makes me argumentative and angry so I definitely need to educate myself some more.

Then I’ll move onto educating others. I want to teach some sort of art therapy workshops, pay-what-you-can, because art saves lives. I don’t think that’s acknowledged enough in society. Mental health is important. I’m working on keeping balanced as I bide my time in college, half-closeted. Being two different people in the same institution is very trying. Just yesterday, I was called both my preferred name and my birth name in less than a minute. That collision of identities was very painful. Incidences like those mean I need to drink a lot of tea and write vast amounts of angry spoken word poetry.

Fortunately, that gender advocacy center that I’m absolutely in love with is going to help me transition when I’m in university. They’re going to help me contact my future professors about my preferred name and pronouns. I’ve been accepted into English and Creative Writing. I still need to contact the Simone de Beauvoir Institute about getting into their Women’s Studies program but I’m sure it will be OK. I mean, I’m an angry feminist who’s a boy! What more could they want?

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  • A @ at 6:29 pm, April 4th, 2011

    This is a fantastic, courageous, eloquent piece. Great job!

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 9:08 pm, April 4th, 2011

    Thank you so much for sharing. This was an excellent piece that really raises some excellent questions.

  • Katherine C. @ at 8:12 pm, April 5th, 2011

    :D

  • Sargasso Sea @ at 9:50 am, April 6th, 2011

    Oliver, gender is indeed a social construct. The simplest way to illustrate this is “On the inside I feel like a human being, on the outside I am treated like a girl.”

    Gender is not about how you feel, it is about how your society perceives you based on which *box* you were put in at the moment of (or even before) your birth. Have a fleshy appendage that could pass as a penis? Great you’re a boy! Anything else you’re a girl.

    And I know from first-hand experience that it is very, very scary to be a girl in a patriarchal culture: sexual abuse, domestic violence, pregnancy, homelessness, wage inequities, etc. I also understand wanting to *escape* those fates.

    Of course you don’t *feel like a girl*, you feel like a human being who deserves the full human status that you are currently (and for the last 18/20 years?) being denied.

    Also, you do know that there is nothing wrong with being a lesbian don’t you? Or are you simply wanting to pick up that white male privilege so you can do the oppressing for a change?

  • Sargasso Sea @ at 10:01 am, April 6th, 2011

    One more thing: despite what Julia Serano may tell you, transitioning (either way) is NOT a feminist act. Transitioning, especially for F2T people, is the epitome of internalized misogyny.

    Understandable? Yes. Solution? NO.

  • marta1 @ at 5:43 pm, April 6th, 2011

    Hey! Sagrasso Sea! If he wants to transition, that is NOT the epitome of internalised misogyny. Please don’t belittle choices that you clearly don’t understand. Trans men =/= lesbians who won’t accept that they are lesbians. Trans men are not just transitioning so they can ‘do the opressing’. WTH?

  • Lucy @ at 7:54 pm, April 6th, 2011

    Sargasso Sea, you’re really not getting it, are you? Pointless gender roles are certainly perpetuated by society, but gender is a real part of being human, whether you are cisgendered or transgender or genderqueer. There is a huge difference between being a transman and a lesbian – one is a BOY and the other is a GIRL. Oliver is the former, and that’s who he is.

  • Sargasso Sea @ at 10:37 pm, April 6th, 2011

    Okay, but Oliver is gambling with Oliver’s lifelong physical health (it IS the physical body that carries around Oliver’s gender after all) in order to win a theoretical measure of mental well-being. Being a transitioned F2T person requires years and years of artificial, forcefully applied hormone maintenance (costly) at best, along with risky (also costly) surgeries at worst.

    Some women have avoided artificial female hormones in the form of birth control and HRT, for example, because of the elevated risk of certain types of cancer and those are female hormones designed for female biology.

    Where are the long-term studies on the effects of synthetic testosterone on biologically female bodies? Where is the data that says there is no danger of life threatening side effects?

  • JKBC @ at 8:43 am, April 10th, 2011

    @Sargasso Sea; Can we quit with the cissexism. Gender is internal, innate – gender roles, norms, expections, expressions are socially constructed. Don’t confuse the two. Just because you have never experienced your gender as being at odds with what society’s telling you it is does not mean that no-one feels this way. Oliver is a man. Stop trying to discredit his knowledge of his self.

    Also, ever heard of ‘my body, my choice’? It applies to trans people too. And since you have never experienced body dissonance, you CANNOT talk about why trans folks transition medically. Body dissonance is incredibly painful, the feeling of your body being fundamentally not right. That’s worse than any totally unproven health effects of transition. Trans people are living to ripe old ages, and humans are not as sexually dimorphic as you seem to think.

    Transitioning is NOT an act of internalised misogyny. It is an act of truth to one’s core self. It is not trying to gain male privilege, it is not being unable to come to terms with being a lesbian. Those tropes are transhating and extremely damaging.

  • johnny @ at 12:18 pm, April 10th, 2011

    sargasso, you’ve already made extremely bigoted and false statements about transpeople. trying to backpedal and disguise that bigotry as concern is just gross.

  • Dylan @ at 6:33 am, May 25th, 2011

    LOL at sargasso…I am a trans man and I am Gay…never once fancied a woman…never been a lesbian…blows your whole theory out of the water doesn’t it.

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