Friday, July 21, 2006

Why I'm becoming a fag hag

Early in this program a friend said he was thinking of asking people to use gender-neutral pronouns with him to raise awareness, so the burden wouldn't always be on intersex and trans people to teach the rest of us. I was amazed, since I had thought of him as pretty square before - "Wow! I never thought I would hear a straight guy say that!" Once again demonstrating my amazing lack of gaydar.

The more I think about who's actually on top of this gender stuff - both more traditional feminism and the added complexity of fiddling with the gender binary - the more ticked I get at straight cisgendered men. I used to think I liked being around gay men more than straight ones just because they felt safer. But that doesn't explain bi men, who I still find more fun to be around on the whole. Now I think it's that queer and trans men are the only ones I know who have actually considered our society's silly gender boxes and aren't interested in being in one. And they're not interested in putting me in one, either.

White guilt used to agonize me until I accepted that no amount of feeling bad will do anything to end racism. I can't change who I was born, but I can educate myself and change how I act. Likewise, I'm not going to assume all straight cisgendered men are doomed from birth to be ignorant oppressors, because they have the same chance we all do to better themselves. So why isn't that happening? The only guy I know who's my age and not trans and not queer who's worked through any of this stuff was one I led by the hand through most of it. (Today I was gratified to hear that my having made him learn to cook is serving him well.) I'm currently leading my dad kicking and screaming through it. It seems that nobody deals with this stuff unless they're whacked over the head by their own identity or someone else makes them think about it. What is wrong with you guys?

We'll save the question of why women, trans people and queer people seem to hold the monopoly on vegetarianism for another day.


Carter said...

I felt like that about straight cisgendered men for a long time. But since being accepted into the fold, I've gotten to see those men in a way I'd never been allowed before. It seems to me that many, if not most men HAVE thought about this stuff. What man hasn't felt like they had to do something they didn't like in order to be manly? I would bet that every man vividly remembers having that feeling. A lot of them just don't have the education to put it into words that make a lot of sense to themselves or to other people.

What I do believe they don't think about is other groups' restraints. They seem to stop at the difficulties of achieving masculinity, and don't make the connections to other forms of oppression. So there's a LOT of work to be done on these men, but the good news is that there is fertile starting ground.

Julia said...

I feel like I don't have anything to say in response, but thanks for responding (and reading!)

danni said...

Mm, interesting. ;-)

See, I happen to know quite a few straight white cisgender men who do an awful lot of questioning. Most of them are men I've befriended in college, or in college-oriented settings. I wonder if you have met fewer such men, as a student at an all-women's school? (This is not a criticism of women-only education...but an observation you might contemplate.)

Eli said...

This is something I thought you might appreciate, from here:

MRR: What does it take to be good trans allies?

DS: Good trans allies do more than use the right terms or come to a drag show. Being a good trans ally, like being a good activist in general, involves thinking personally about ideas and applying them to your own life in an intimate way. It means being as invested in transliberation as you think a trans person is, and working as closely to uncover how you participate in gender regulation as you can. So much of gender policing occurs in ways that seem trivial or personal, and it requires each of us to really take apart our minds and find the locations of these norms in order to create safe spaces for new gender actualizations to thrive.

CW: In my efforts to be a good trans ally, I've tried to start out by being honest about what buttons of mine trans issues push. And I've tried to interrogate those hot spots on my own, without projecting them on to trans people or asking trans people to guide me through my learning process. Don't ask trans people if they've had surgery, what their families say, how they expect to get a job-if a trans person trusts you and thinks they will get something out of that conversation, they will start that dialogue. I've also tried to share some of the burdens that trans people deal with as far as educating and challenging non-trans people. If I invite someone to me and Dean's home, I let them know before they come that we live in a trans and transpositive house, and we expect people's politics to meet those standards. I talk to people who fuck up pronouns. In group settings, I make an extra effort to use lots of gendered terms when referring to trans people present, so new people in the crowd will have an example to follow and won't use "wrong" pronouns because they're making incorrect assumptions about someone's gender. I also don't think I've figured it all out, I expect to make mistakes and though I won't beat myself up for not being perfect, I demand of myself a commitment to doing hard work.

And I think being a good trans ally means simply taking these issues seriously. Think of every moment of every day that someone addresses you by your gender, and think how easy and comfortable that feels. Think about giving that comfort up. If that doesn't seem like a big deal to you, recognize how many lives you are conveniently dismissing.