Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Fourth Pride.

Nottingham 28th July. Last Saturday. My fourth Pride in a row. Which was apparently the biggest yet.

And there was a large trans contingent throughout. It seemed important to attend in view of the tiny but irritating anti-trans protest (ffs) at London Pride this year. In Nottingham the countless trans flags streaming in the breeze, supported by cis allies carrying “L with the T” and “Lesbians Against TERFs” banners, were a big fuck off to that.

But it all went off peacefully. And due to ongoing roadworks on Pelham Street, we got to parade along part of Parliament Street and hold up the traffic. Yay! It feels almost like a real march if we're inconveniencing people.

Here are some of us:

(photo by Joseph Raynor, liberated from the Nottingham Post website.)

I was going to sign off there with “See you next year”, except that I've been out to quite a few things recently:

— a talk on ‘Trans*’ by Jack Halberstam at Five Leaves Bookshop;
— Carrie Paechter's inaugural lecture ‘Gender Matters’ at Nottingham Trent;
— a panel discussion on ‘Gender Identity’ with Maria Munir, CN Lester, Katharine Jenkins and Onni Gust at Nottingham Contemporary.

Perhaps I should write something about those sometime.

Briefly for now... I'm finding that cis feminist perspectives are of most interest to me at the moment. In the above events, those from Katharine Jenkins and Carrie Paechter. And elsewhere, from Sara Ahmed, Deborah Cameron, Sally Hines and Ash Sarkar. And Finn Mackay, who generously sent me a shiny booklet edition of ‘Raising Children: The Feminist Way’ (reciprocal donation to cat charity still outstanding). On which note, it's time I read Sandra Bem again. And I still have books by Sara Ahmed, Marilyn Frye, Surya Monro and Ellen Willis to read. And...

See you next year.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Straight male femme.

Once upon a time (April 2014) I submitted a 3000-word something to a proposed femme anthology, Queer Feminine Affinities. That has now appeared as issue #7 of Feral Feminisms. The final version has an overtly gender studies/queer studies slant, which is fine, if a bit dry.

But where are the editors' own words? An introduction? An overview?
As it stands, QFA is little more than a collection of academic articles on the theme of femme, plus some poetry. Individually interesting to varying degrees and certainly worth publishing (and reading) but hardly living up to the project's initial ambitions: to “contribute to, challenge and expand on the established legacies of” earlier femme (and butch) anthologies. Nor does it particularly “engage queer feminine voices and communities existing and emerging in the UK”, since over half the authors are, as usual, from North America. It seems that the original editors themselves had, for whatever reason, pretty much given up on it all.

And my piece didn't make it in. That wasn't really a surprise seeing as I'd heard nothing about it since March 2015. I guess it was just quietly shelved. *Sigh*. It'd've been nice to know that, say, one, two, or three years ago. But no. In the four years (today) since I sent it off, Lynn Jones is the only other person to have read it.

Well, okay, it might have been misplaced amongst all the scholarly stuff. And as I've already said, it's “like something from the past anyway”. Almost an historical piece. How I understood myself and certain aspects of gender at a certain time. Neither “straight” nor “male” feels quite right to me anymore, or even back then in truth. All the same, I still believe in the basic premise: that femme (as an identity) may be more applicable to some of us AMAB people than trans.

So here it is. At last. See what you think. The title is as above.

Re-envisaging heterosexual MTF transvestism as a femme identity.

I am a transvestite; a male-to-female (MTF) cross-dresser; a man who wears clothes from the "other" side of the store. I also identify as femme.

Femme is notoriously difficult to define, but I like these:

— badass, rogue, illegitimate femininity. It's the femininity of those who aren't supposed to be feminine, who aren't allowed to be, but are anyway.1
— femme might be described as "femininity gone wrong" (...) femme is the danger of a body read (...) inappropriately feminine.2

Femme provides the best model I've found for explaining who I am, what I'm about, what I'm doing.

— Butch and femme have opened up (...) a self-awareness of how I work, and a context in which I make so much more sense.3

Femme fits. As Brenda Barnes put it (for butch):

— Butch is the only word I've ever found that describes how I feel. It has been a long process to find and accept it as the right word. But butch is the word.4

Whereas "female" doesn't fit. I'm not female (either cis or trans). And "feminine" comes with all kinds of cultural baggage, not least its incumbency upon being female. Femme offers a way past: a gender (and erotic) identity independent of binary correlations.

— Released from the strictures of binary models of sexual orientation and gender and sex.5
— femme (...) answered questions I'd been grappling with both politically and personally.6

This is critical given my feminist-derived understanding of gender – in particular, that the constant gendering of aspects of human existence is false, arbitrary and oppressive.

— I do not consider any behavior, trait, or mannerism to be inherently "male" or "female", and (...) my operating assumption is that cultures assign behaviors to one or another gender category and then attribute gendered significance to various behaviors.7

But it's more than theoretical. Femme and butch lives and experiences – as related by femmes and butches themselves – have many parallels with my own. To try and show how, I've been rereading my books, noting passages which resonate with me as a transvestite.

I prefer the term "transvestite" to "cross-dresser". The latter denotes behaviour, the former an identity (albeit a misunderstood one). It's important because this is not just behaviour. It's not just something I do, it's something I am. Or rather, the things I do are an expression of who I am, of a crucial part of myself. Femmes have said the same thing many times.

— I feel it is a deep identity, not a 'role' that I 'put on'.8
— I don't just do femme, like a part read from a script or scored for a movie, I am femme.9
— As a femme, I did what was natural for me, what felt right. I did not learn a part.10

How we come to be how we are is of little interest to me. Presumably from a combination of things, inherent, experiential, cultural. It doesn't matter.

— However we've gotten there, erotic identity is not simply a specific activity or "lifestyle", a set of heels or ties that dress up the quirk.11
— Over the years women have asked why I dress so mannish. My response has been that I like wearing man-tailored clothing; it's the way I choose to express myself. It is becoming more apparent every day that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be, and I am doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.12
— The feelings themselves (...) and the tendency to express oneself in a feminine way are not things that I would consider to be chosen, although they may well be, at least partially, learned.13
— Queers are not immune from the effects of being socialized in a patriarchal world.14

Whatever the roots, our need to claim something definite, not easily discarded, comes from a similar place: The assertion of a deeply felt identity in a world or community that regards it as aberrant. Out of this need come many scenarios I recognize.

When our gender is considered suspect, it often produces shame and "giving up" (purging).

— it was so necessary, so important to belong, that I was willing to do anything, including getting rid of the female accoutrements that made me feel good, that made me feel pretty, that made me feel sexually attractive, and that made me feel connected with my real self.15
— intimidated by the stigmas attaching to femme (...) I threw my make-up away and resigned myself to short hair; I shoved my "straight girl's" clothes far back in a bottom drawer and costumed myself in tennies, shorts, a tee-shirt and baseball cap.16
— I had this mad hope that if I didn't think about these things I could somehow change, be someone I wasn't. That resolve lasted less than a week.17

Secrecy and fear are common.

— It's when you push boundaries of gender that people freak out. Could I ever be brave enough to look as butch as I sometimes feel?18
— And I was scared. I was scared of being identified. By everyone. It was a terrible secret I had to hide. (...) I thought everything I said might have hidden meanings that would be obvious to other people, so I was very dampened. My biggest priority was keeping people from seeing me.19

Ultimately, these are useless feelings, because the suppressed aspects of ourselves never go away.

— she can hold her breath longer than anyone I know, this other me. (...) Just when I think she's gone for good she comes back with a vengeance, and each time reasserts herself with a little more self-assurance. Looking me in the eye and saying, "I'm not going to put up with your being disgusted with me and embarrassed by me. You might as well love me, because I'm not going to leave you."20

Even if we're not closeted, social considerations affect how we (choose to) act.

— Arlette, a black fem, remembers how studs who lived at home would change their clothes in the car so that they would not offend their parents but could look the way they wanted when they were out.21
— I'm enjoying the cool swish of my skirt, the small oval of shade cast by my straw hat. I've missed my body's sensuality I dared not show (...) Now I've decided to dress as I please.22

I make my own concessions. My clothes are off the women's racks, but not obviously so. I hardly ever wear skirts or dresses. Or attempt a "female" shape or appearance – except occasionally; femininity has more cultural resonance in a female form, and it enhances your feelings when it's done that way, whether or not your femaleness is real.

If all this seems rather depressing, it doesn't have to be.

— I like being feminine. I enjoy the clothes and the accessories, the makeup, the shoes. I like recreating myself (...) as I "put on my face" in the mirror. I love the feel of just-shaven legs against crisp cotton sheets.23
— I grew to love the sensation of soft, swirling material brushing over my calves and thighs as I walked. I reveled in the spiraling arc of color and fabric that spun around me as I danced in late-night bars.24
— Femmes possess a certain type of energy. I like to swish around in my skirts. I even like to swish around in my jeans. (...) I love to wear earrings that catch others' attention.25
— When a high femme glides through space, everything halts as the experience is absorbed. Traffic stops, breaths are held, conversations falter. In our multitasking world, future and past fall away until there is only one moment, and that moment is her.26

The last quote comes from Shar Rednour's Femme's Guide which contains some very pertinent passages. She also mentions underdressing (a familiar transvestite strategy):

— Wearing sensual next-to-you things can also remind you that you are a Queen no matter what you have to be wearing on the outside. (...) Try wearing a velvet or embroidered bra under your McDonald's uniform. Or a PVC G-string under a power suit. No matter what costume we have to don to face the world, our lingerie is our armor (...) keeping us sane with reminders of our true nature.27

Even as a closeted boy (and adult), I used to do that much. We have similar experiences growing up too.

— I would go into my mother's closet when she was out and try on her clothes. She had a strapless long-line bra with a dozen tiny hooks and eyes down the back. The cups were so stiff they stood up by themselves. I didn't need tits to fill them. Hooking myself into the bra was my favourite part of the dress-up, slowly, painstakingly fixing the look onto my body, becoming the woman to be looked at, clasping myself into my own vision of desire.28
— I stole a pair of my father's socks. (...) That was my big first step in crossdressing. I was about fifteen. I don't remember if my date even knew I had on my father's socks. I knew I had on my father's socks, and it was tremendously exciting. I mean it was sexually arousing as well as being emotionally satisfying, an itch I didn't know I had.29

Part of the difficulty is that we have no language for who we are, what we're feeling.

— To grow up butch is to have no words or images for that way of being a woman. You have no gender-appropriate sense of self, though you know you're supposed to have one. And you can't tell anyone that you don't. (...) Living like this teaches you how to keep who you are to yourself, to keep your true nature under wraps.30

I didn't have the words either. I just wanted – needed – to dress in girls' clothes. Later, I found one word – transvestite – to repeat to myself.

— I stood in the bathroom (...) saying the word "lesbian" over and over to the mirror just to feel it, to see if it would stick.31

Butch/femme provides the words.

— This femme language that says, "Go on, try it. See what happens. And fuck the rest of them if they don't like it."32

Even if:

— It's not the clothes, although the courage to wear them is femme. It's not the make-up, although the look is femme. Femme is intrinsic power and comfort in your own body.33

So far, I've concentrated on gender and gender expression, but there's another facet to this: sexuality. That's another reason butch/femme is such an accurate model for me, because it incorporates gender and sexuality and regards these as intertwined. (Heteronormativity does this only to the extent of assuming everything will line up in a certain way.)

— With the reawakening of my sexual energy came the reawakening of my femme identity, and the recognition that the two are inseparable.34
— I think of butch as much as an erotic identity as a gender identity.35
— Femme is the self-asserted silhouette of not only our femininity, but our sexual desire and natural understanding of the seditious spirit of gender.36

I think this has general application.

— the real message of butch-femme identities is an acknowledgement of the full range of female, and lesbian, sexuality – actually the full range of human sexuality, because the truth is that regardless of their sexual identity, both women and men can experience either or both ends of this continuum (...) Butch-femme is the tip of the iceberg of issues that call into question matters of sexual and gender identity.37

Most male transvestites are woman-desiring, as most men are; equally, some of us aren't. Transvestism may be partly about sexuality, but sexual object choice is independent. Personally, I'm attracted to non-normative gender, preferably on women (I like my boys to be girls38, as one lesbian femme famously said), though I'm not averse to men.

— I love the contradiction between gender identification and biological sex. I love having the simultaneity, the both/and.39
— All of my attractions crossed gender borders. Tough women and soft men turned my head.40

The problem can be in finding reciprocal desire.

— If you're a butch, I think it's necessary to pick a woman who on some level can validate your masculinity, and feel comfortable with it, and like it.41
— We admitted to our fantasies: Kris's wanting to make love to a woman while she was fully dressed (in men's clothing, of course), and mine of being made love to by a woman in a suit.42

I want to wear women's clothing, and our prevailing culture doesn't recognize this as desirable, which makes things tricky. In relationships, my femininity has been tolerated and accepted (and rejected), but never desired. That's relevant here because a lot of butch/femme writing is explicitly about partnered sex, of which I don't have enough experience to compare. Nevertheless, while there are clear differences between transvestites and femmes – our lives are not the same – there are definite parallels, as some women have already noted.

— I have come to feel that femmes share more with drag queens and MTF transgendered people than we do with straight women.43
— Who else but Femme identifies with heterosexual men who are (...) crossdressers? Who else fervently nods with recognition when hearing descriptions of the first feeling of silk against skin, the first stretched arch in never-before-worn high heels and the first revelation of the power of blush against cheekbone?44

There are parallels with my own sexuality too.

— For me and many other femmes, the core of femme sexuality lies in femme hunger, in a particularly femme strength of sexual openness, vulnerability, and need.45
— I call that balance between butch and femme as butch power and femme hunger. I'm talking about sexuality specifically. Not general life presentations.46
— Femme is active, not passive. It's saying to my partner, "Love me enough to let me go where I need to go, and take me there."47
— that hunger, that desperate need, that desire to be "fucked senseless".48

Femme hunger – yes. But the decisive extract comes from Shar Rednour again:

— The phrase "object of desire" (...) usually refers to a person being the subject or object of another person's lust, obsession, and desire. I have determined that "object of desire" is its own class of sexual orientation (...) Being an OoD means our levels of arousal rise when someone gets excited by being with us or looking at us.49

An "object of desire" – damn, yes. Rednour goes on:

— To understand what I'm talking about, try this: Set up a mirror so you can see your body but not your face while you assume your favorite masturbation position. Now talk dirty while you have sex (with yourself). Call yourself a slut or princess, whatever words are charged for you. (...) Someone is watching you. Feel the heat of her passion. You may be surprised to find that your arousal rises, even though that someone is only you.50

I can't remember any transvestite writing about the mirror, about being turned on by yourself, by your own reflection, feeling desirable and desired, and then (maybe) doing something about it. Eddie Izzard's “two lesbians in a man's body” is vaguely in this territory, but his words have to be untangled to appreciate what he only might be alluding to. We really don't talk about this stuff.

But here a lesbian femme is writing about it unashamedly, suggesting using the mirror as a sex toy and masturbating in front of it as an instructive exercise. Goddamn. Okay, my favourite position is with a long mirror raised about 18 inches off the floor and me lying beneath it. Am I the object of desire? Fuck yes.

Other women have written about the mirror as well, if less concretely.

— Becoming the object of my own gaze, I'd slip my mother's black low-cut cocktail dress on over the bra, or her sleeveless gold lamé jumpsuit. Posing for the mirror, constructing the look that spelled sex to me.51
— I stood in front of the mirror that usually reflected my cock, and dressed myself in a lacy camisole, garter belt, and nylons. I put makeup on my face (...) I put femmy earrings in my ears. I put on the femme's mask and danced the femme's dance and watched myself in the mirror. And when I danced this femme's dance, I danced the butch's dance too, somewhere in my own head. I became a whore for myself and wanted to straddle my own thighs, lower myself onto my own cock, and fall in love with myself.52

That fantasy aspect has subsided for me somewhat. Maybe there isn't the same urgency now I wear "women's" clothes full time. When we keep a major part of ourselves confined, subject to only periodic excursions, we often need to release it in an all-at-once kind of way. Or maybe it's just that I'm getting older.

— You do change over time. The things that you considered fundamental to the way you constructed your femme identity when you were twenty don't seem really important after a while. It is intriguing to be in your own life when you're not scared of it. That has taken me fifty years to get to.53

Fifty years – yes, me too.

Anyway, those are just some examples of how butch/femme works for me. Would I conclude that many MTF transvestites are really femmes? I want to say “yes” but can only manage “maybe”. Because I think femme has to be claimed, it has to be a conscious identity.

— Femme is knowing what you're doing.54

I believe my understanding of myself as femme has wider currency, but whether it actually does for any individual is only for them to say.

— My words are not the only ones. This is not the only truth. This is my truth, at this moment, as I understand thangs. For some I hope this will sound familiar. For them I hope my meaning will be clear. That it will resonate like a rare and sweet groove. Touching them down deep inside. Signifying the possibility of alternate readings. As for those who envisage things differently ... no worries.55

As it stands, my community doesn't seem to know much about femme. (For us "femme" has a different meaning, referring to our "female" side.) Without that knowledge, I don't think anyone can meaningfully claim femme – especially as our femininity is generally learned from feminine straight women (or iconography), and they mostly don't know about, or claim to be, femme either.

— my non-queer female coworkers are just female, just women, though they look like femme women I know.56

As for me:

— I have earned "femme", and I am keeping it. You can't have it back.57


1. Elizabeth Marston, Rogue Femininity; Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (p206)
2. Chloë Brushwood Rose & Anna Camilleri, A Brazen Posture; Brazen Femme (p13)
3. Sinclair Sexsmith, With Both Fists; Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (p187)
4. Brenda Barnes, Butch is How I Feel; Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (p107)
5. Chloë Brushwood Rose & Anna Camilleri, A Brazen Posture; Brazen Femme (p12)
6. Josephine Wilson, TransFemme Theory with Miss File; Femmes of Power (p40)
7. Gayle Rubin, Of catamites and kings; The Persistent Desire (p479, n6)
8. JoAnn Loulan, Denial of Butch/Femme; The Lesbian Erotic Dance (p24); quoting Deborah Edel
9. Kathryn Chiesa Crema, Feeling Feminine: Femmedyke; The Femme Mystique (p248)
10. Joan Nestle, Butch-Femme Relationships; A Restricted Country (p95)
11. Amber Hollibaugh, My Dangerous Desires; My Dangerous Desires (p258)
12. Ira Jeffries, My mother's daughter; The Persistent Desire (p61)
13. Ann Tweedy, Subverting Normalcy: Living a Femme Identity; Visible: A Femmethology, Vol.1 (p66, n2)
14. Amy André & Sand Chang, There and Back Again; Visible: A Femmethology, Vol.1 (p97); Amy André
15. JoAnn Loulan, Passing and Hiding; The Lesbian Erotic Dance (p94/95)
16. Katherine Millersdaughter, A Coincidence of Lipstick and Self-Revelation; Femme: Feminists, Lesbians & Bad Girls (p120)
17. Debbie Bender & Linnea Due, Coming Up Butch; Dagger: On Butch Women (p101); Linnea Due
18. Ellen Grabiner, Plain or Peanut?; The Femme Mystique (p177)
19. Debbie Bender & Linnea Due, Coming Up Butch; Dagger: On Butch Women (p98); Linnea Due
20. A.J. Potter, French Fries and Fingernail Polish; The Femme Mystique (p183)
21. Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy & Madeline Davis, "They was no one to mess with"; The Persistent Desire (p68)
22. Minnie Bruce Pratt, Camouflage; S/he (p126)
23. Anna Svahn, Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove; The Femme Mystique (p87)
24. Ní Aódagaín, Skirting the Issue; The Femme Mystique (p264)
25. JoAnn Loulan, Femme Energy; The Lesbian Erotic Dance (p101)
26. Shar Rednour, The Shartopian Credo; The Femme's Guide to the Universe (p4)
27. Shar Rednour, Creating the Youtopian Collection: Fashion; The Femme's Guide to the Universe (p110/111)
28. Wendy Frost, Queen Femme; The Femme Mystique (p305)
29. Debbie Bender & Linnea Due, Coming Up Butch; Dagger: On Butch Women (p99); Debbie Bender
30. JoAnn Loulan, Butch Images; The Lesbian Erotic Dance (p131)
31. Kimberly Dark, My First Lover Was Not a Lesbian; Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (p33)
32. Chandra Mayor, Me, Simone, and Dot; Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (p164)
33. Lisa Ortiz, Dresses for My Round Brown Body; Femme: Feminists, Lesbians & Bad Girls (p91)
34. Sandra Chan, Femme '93; The Femme Mystique (p71)
35. Jewelle Gomez, Amber Hollibaugh & Gayle Rubin, Another Place to Breathe; My Dangerous Desires (p155); Amber Hollibaugh
36. Clairanne Browne, The Lament of the Dolly Lama; Visible: A Femmethology, Vol.1 (p169)
37. Arlene Istar, Femme-dyke; The Persistent Desire (p381/382)
38. Judith Butler, Subversive Bodily Acts; Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (p123)
39. Minnie Bruce Pratt, Pronouns, Politics, and Femme Practice; Femme: Feminists, Lesbians & Bad Girls (p197)
40. Ryn Hodes, Seams; Visible: A Femmethology, Vol.2 (p64)
41. Lily Burana & Jeanne Cordova, Conversation with a Gentleman Butch; Dagger: On Butch Women (p118); Jeanne Cordova
42. Debra Bercuvitz, Stand by Your Man; The Femme Mystique (p93)
43. Leah Lilith Albrecht-Samarasinha, On Being a Bisexual Femme; Femme: Feminists, Lesbians & Bad Girls (p141)
44. Serena Mawulisa, Trouble in a Tutu: Who Else but Femme?; Visible: A Femmethology, Vol.2 (p163)
45. Leah Lilith Albrecht-Samarasinha, On Being a Bisexual Femme; Femme: Feminists, Lesbians & Bad Girls (p143)
46. JoAnn Loulan, Denial of Butch/Femme; The Lesbian Erotic Dance (p98); quoting Deborah Edel
47. Amber Hollibaugh & Cherrié Moraga, What We're Rollin' around in Bed With; My Dangerous Desires (p74); Amber Hollibaugh
48. Madeline Davis, Roles? I don't know anyone who's "playing"; The Persistent Desire (p268)
49. Shar Rednour, The (Un)Common Denominator of Femmes; The Femme's Guide to the Universe (p13)
50. Shar Rednour, The (Un)Common Denominator of Femmes; The Femme's Guide to the Universe (p14)
51. Wendy Frost, Queen Femme; The Femme Mystique (p305)
52. Barbara Smith, The dance of masks; The Persistent Desire (p430)
53. Amber Hollibaugh & Leah Lilith Albrecht-Samarasinha, Gender Warriors; My Dangerous Desires (p240); Amber Hollibaugh
54. Tara Hardy, Femmiest of Femme Hobbies; Visible: A Femmethology, Vol.1 (p173); quoting Airen Lydick
55. T.J. Bryan (aka Tenacious), It Takes Ballz; Brazen Femme (p147/148)
56. Joshua Bastian Cole, Some Femmes Don't Wear Heels; Visible: A Femmethology, Vol.1 (p139)
57. Daphne Gottlieb, Diesel; Visible: A Femmethology, Vol.1 (p20)

Chloë Brushwood Rose & Anna Camilleri (editors), Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity (Arsenal Pulp Press 2002)
Lily Burana, Roxxie, & Linnea Due (editors), Dagger: On Butch Women (Cleis Press 1994)
Jennifer Clare Burke (editor), Visible: A Femmethology, Volume One and Volume Two (Homofactus Press 2009)
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge 1990)
Ivan E. Coyote & Zena Sharman (editors), Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (Arsenal Pulp Press 2011)
Laura Harris & Elizabeth Crocker (editors), Femme: Feminists, Lesbians & Bad Girls (Routledge 1997)
Amber Hollibaugh, My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home (Duke University Press 2000)
JoAnn Loulan, The Lesbian Erotic Dance: Butch, Femme, Androgyny, and Other Rhythms (Spinsters Book Company 1990)
Joan Nestle, A Restricted Country (Cleis Press 1987)
Joan Nestle (editor), The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader (Alyson Books 1992)
Lesléa Newman (editor), The Femme Mystique (Alyson Books 1995)
Minnie Bruce Pratt, S/he (Firebrand Books 1995)
Shar Rednour, The Femme's Guide to the Universe (Alyson Books 2000)
Del LaGrace Volcano & Ulrika Dahl, Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer Femininities (Serpent's Tail 2008)

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

In a Rut.

Checking my stats today – the seventh anniversary of this blog – I noticed that my pageviews dropped below 1,000 last month for the first time since February 2012. Hardly surprising, given that I haven't posted anything since last November.

I've been struggling to find things to write about for quite a while anyway. Getting on for two years now, I suppose, seeing as my ‘Not writing’ post was posted back in June 2016.

But on my (supposedly more active) chess blog, too, I've only written two posts since the end of October, one of which was yesterday.

I'm also four months behind in my ongoing “Buying one record reviewed in The Wire each month” project (scroll down here, here, here and here).

I've not been to my local trans group either, for however many months it is, because what do I have to say really.

I even have emails from last September that I've not replied to yet.

In short, I've been in a slump. The winter months are always the worst for this, so it may be seasonal affective.

Or else, to put it less fancily (or fancifully), I'm just in a rut.

In a rut.

I've gotta get out of it, out of it, out of it, out of it, out of it.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

TDOR 2017.

It was TDOR yesterday – the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

This year I made it to the Nottingham vigil. In view of the relentless, bludgeoning media assault on trans people by right-wing and alt-feminist commentators – churning out malicious scaremongering on a daily basis ahead of proposed changes to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act – it felt more important than ever to remember what ignorance, bigotry, and everyday hatred can lead to.

Forty (perhaps more) of us stood together in the near dark. There were readings and poems, and we lit little candles while the names of our dead were called: people killed due to anti-trans prejudice. Even more of them this year – 325 victims – again mostly trans women of colour, mostly in the Americas, in Brazil, Mexico, and the US.

What we didn't hear is how they all died, Naturally not, because no one would be able to read that out loud. If you want that information, the list of names can be found here, along causes of death. Please take the content warning as given.

Back at the vigil a light wind repeatedly blew the small flames out... only for candles very often to relight themselves. I don't really believe in symbolism, in signs and omens and such, but it seemed kind of hopeful all the same.

And on that faintly positive note, I'll leave this, my 100th, blogpost there.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Trans "vs." feminism. (5)

I've avoided writing anything on this subject for over three years (my last was in 2014), regarding it as a waste of both time and spoons. However, it becomes harder to refrain in the course of another clickbaiting run in the opinion pages, following an incident at Speakers’ Corner (about which Sam Hope writes perspicaciously here). Fortunately for me, a lot of papers are now paywalling their online content, and I'm certainly not going to part with actual money to read anybody's tripe. The Guardian, on the other hand, has so far kept its access commendably free, thus requiring me to exercise strength of will to ignore it, something I can't always manage to do. Latest in the Guardian's own series is a piece by radical feminist, Claire Heuchan, aka Sister Outrider.

I'm not going to critique her article line by line here, since it contains little which has not been said (and answered) a thousand times already. I might perhaps reiterate that, as history has repeatedly shown, most recently post-Brexit and in Trump America, normalizing prejudice contributes in no small way to the incidence of prejudicial violence, so she is being somewhat disingenuous in downplaying that factor for violence (etc) against trans people. If you help to foster an atmosphere in which such violence (etc) proliferates, in this case a dehumanizing atmosphere of disbelief and disrespect, you are at least partly culpable for it.

But leaving that aside (supposing you complacently can) to focus on feminist politics, I just want to highlight one short passage which, like the author, I think gets to the root of the "problem" – but, unlike her, think it's a problem that some (not all) radical feminists continue to make for themselves:

The tension between radical feminists and queer activists stems from two contradictory ways of defining gender. Queer politics positions gender as an innately held identity. The radical feminist understanding is that gender exists as a political system, not an identity. Recognising gender as innately held, a factor that should be enshrined as a protected characteristic, totally contradicts radical feminist principles.

Because, no, it does not contradict them. The fact that some people are trans has no impact at all on feminist principles, radical or otherwise. More specifically, trans feminist politics (more relevant than queer politics here) in fact position gender as a personal identity and a political system, without any contradictory issues. It's simply a matter of allowing a word (in this case “gender”) to have meaning in more than a single context. Whereas radical feminism, at least as Claire Heuchan describes it, understands gender only as a political system.

Within that context radical feminist analysis is indeed very powerful. Statements such as “Gender roles are the pillars of patriarchy. Therefore, challenging gender is a necessary step towards the liberation of women.” are ones with which most trans feminists tend to agree, even if we might not express it in quite the same language.

But crucially, a radical feminism that cannot consider gender in any other way is also unable to understand it in any other. For instance, the author's use of “innately held identity” above (never mind its immediate association with "born this way" narratives, which many of us find problematic) is then always misrepresented, logically but fallaciously, as the belief that gender norms are therefore innate, which we definitely do not believe. On the contrary, trans feminists are natural allies of radical feminists here, both being severely critical of gender roles and of essentialist notions that they might be somehow fixed according to binary sex. Cordelia Fine's work is as much revered in our feminist world as it is in hers.

To put it bluntly, given such a monolithic view of gender, radical feminism has virtually nothing useful to say about trans. Which is totally fine, by the way. There's no need for radical feminists to theorize about trans. It's not their turf. And trans realities are not a threat to radical feminist principles, whatever Claire Heuchan might think.

Nevertheless, some radical feminists do seem to be completely obsessed with trans, to the extent that they've been perpetuating a pointless and hateful conflict with us for over forty years (and are still being given endless platforms from which to do so). Throwing in lip service now, as the author does, to trans rights (their equivalent of “I'm not racist, but...”) isn't a whole lot of progress to have made in all that time. Similarly, criticizing one's obstreperous sisters, while repeating the essence of their views, is little more than tone policing – or, to paraphrase Stewart Lee, cloaking their inherent transphobia behind more creative language.

So it can't really be a surprise, can it, if trans people (and very many others nowadays) are utterly uninterested in listening to certain radical feminists blather about trans, no matter how impressive their feminist credentials might be. From a purely trans perspective, after four decades plus of your not listening to us, why on earth would we want to listen to you, let alone "debate" you? Instead, we're increasingly resorting to the only sensible option left, to tell you in so many words to talk to the hand, a strategy I shall now revert to once more myself.

See you again in another three years no doubt.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

How Not to Be a Boy.

Given the endless twaddle about trans that gets trotted out in the media – week in, week out – it's almost a relief to read a book about gender (partly) which has nothing to do with that.

In his autobiographical ‘How Not to Be a Boy’, Robert Webb, the comedy partner of Victoria Coren's husband (sorry, but that's how I think of him) writes about his life growing up in Lincolnshire, concentrating on his childhood and teenage years (usually the most entertaining if done right), and hanging it all on the hook of gender. Or, more specifically, gender conditioning in the form of “The Trick”.

As Webb describes it: “‘The Trick’ is the family code-word for the incoming tide of gender bullshit that Ezzie, Dory [his two daughters] and their friends (including the boys) will spend their lives wading through. The idea that boys and girls, men and women, have different roles to play in life according to the different contributions they make to a shared reproductive system is one they are going to have to deal with whether we like it or not. So they might as well have a name for it.

Or as I might put it: How children (and adults) both learn and are taught to suppress, according to the presumed arrangements of their genitals, certain parts of their personalities in order to fit in with arbitrary and oppressive cultural notions of binary gender.

Or as his daughter, Esme, more succinctly put it (aged six): “The Trick that makes boys unhappy and girls get rubbish jobs”.

In telling his story – of relationships (familial and otherwise), of feelings, of secret thoughts (referring to his – *facepalm* – teenage diaries), and relating how all of these were unhelpfully affected by gender expectations – Webb exemplifies the view that being (sometimes) a bit of a dickhead is a universal facet of the human condition and, consequently, he doesn't spare himself any on that account. It's not an easy thing to pull off. Self-castigating honesty, however admirable, can quickly prove tiresome if it's of the “aren't I terrible” variety, whether with a wink or a sob. But Webb totally succeeds by being funny about it, very funny, even if it's often cringe humour:

‘If I get this right, Tess Rampling will definitely want to have sex with me.’ The idea slouches through my fifteen-year-old brain and disappears before I've had time to ask it exactly why a sixth-former of Rampling's cosmic beauty would want to have sex with a GCSE pit-sniffer like me. I take Rick Astley's ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ out of its paper bag and gaze at his pink face.’

Those are the first three sentences, by the way. If they already have you smiling, you're probably going to like this book. I won't quote any more such since there is a narrative of sorts, if not a strictly linear one, and I don't want to spoil it for you. And it's not really relevant to this blog anyway.

More so: On page 48 Webb throws in a recommendation of Cordelia Fine's ‘Delusions of Gender’. Okay, he's definitely got me on his side now. (In my opinion, Fine's book should on the National Curriculum.) And he reinforces this further with a passage on page 87:

I promise I am not being wilfully dense about this. I don't know what the words ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ have to offer. Avoiding them, we still have a massive language of more precise words to describe individuals and their behaviour which somehow manage not to come pre-loaded with a steam tanker of gender manure from the last century. If we want to say that David Beckham puts a lot of thought into his appearance, then we can say ... oh, I've just done it. I didn't need to bring his sex into it. Or his attitude to his sex. I don't have to view his personality through the prism of his famously golden balls, assuming that were either possible or desirable. I could say Lily Allen's songs are full of swearwords which are at odds with her ‘femininity’ – or I could get a life.

Abso-fucking-lutely. And without the useless baggage of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, we might eventually get somewhere like page 322:

I mean to offer (...) a wider understanding of what it is to be a boy. That it's OK to cry. It's OK to talk about what's wrong. It's OK to play with girls if you like them, to dress like girls if you want to, to like the colour pink if you like it, to want to hang out with your mum if you love her company, to not be all that bothered about football if you're not all that bothered about football.

I'm certainly down with all that. Bring it on right now – or preferably even sooner. Apart from the bit about football anyway. Obviously everybody likes football.

As a footnote, I'd just add that none of that has very much to do with trans. Trans is not about gender conformity. (The trans community is hugely gender diverse.) In particular, seeing as Webb has since tweeted concern on this subject, gender non-conformity in children is not an indication that they're automatically trans and need to be "fixed" by switching binary genders. No gender-literate person – and trans people tend to be extremely gender-literate – would ever claim as much. That's why we mostly favour gender-affirmative approaches, whereby vulnerable children are simply given space and support to be themselves (ourselves), gender-wise, without any destination in mind, clinical or otherwise. In the meantime, if the rest of society would please hurry up and get its stupid gender shit together, that'd be great – for them as well as us.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Dorothy Perkins.

Tonight was a good night out.

We talked about music and football and books and music and people and work and music.

I wore my long, furry, denim coat from Dorothy Perkins (which I bought secondhand on EBay), even though it was a bit warm for it really.

And although people stared at me a bit, no one gave me any hassle at all, which is as it should be.

I caught the last bus home and walked back through the village and all the stars were out in a clear sky.

And when I got home I listened to Us and Them by Pink Floyd on headphones and ate strawberries.

Tonight was a good night :)