A little while ago, I woke up to the radio announcer promoting a show about writers featuring two women who have turned their backs on their womanhood and rejected solidarity with other women, other lesbians, in order to gain a measure of safety and acceptance and power for themselves. They wrote a book together about their treachery, and are now celebrating its publication.
Of course, they do not see their embrace of gender-neutral pronouns, breast-binding and rejection of their own femaleness (along with femininity) as misogynist. But that’s what it is. The radio announcer said, “Both were raised as girls, but it never really sat well with them”, and then there was a clip of one of them talking about her preference for the (often grammatically noxious) use of the pronoun “they”.
OF COURSE they never liked being girls — I don’t know anyone who did, not really. Some women do like to be girly to an extent — there is some fun to be had in the dressing up part, but god, the pointy shoes, the toxic hair spray, the expectations to take care of everyone everyone — all the children, all the sick people, all the elders, all the men–all the time (and if we get paid for it, we get paid a pittance). Oh, there is so much about being a “proper woman” that is really hard and unfair and painful. And THEN, to add insult to injury, the clothes that women are supposed to wear almost ALWAYS have no proper pockets. And they’re uncomfortable and not as well-made as men’s clothes.
Women are always the ones to make adjustments in order to prevent attack. Carry a whistle, don’t go out alone at night. hell, don’t go out alone. don’t wear the christly clothes that men have designed and relentlessly marketed to us, don’t leave your drink alone, don’t drink, don’t go here, don’t go there, carry this, don’t carry that —
This trans thing is just one more thing women can do to protect ourselves from men’s aggression. Become men, then they won’t hurt us. Then we can also get the stuff that men get — the acknowledgment, the room to move, the attention when we speak, the extra money on our paycheques, the pockets and the sensible shoes. Plus, because men are not trained to pay attention to others as much as women are, they won’t likely notice the female in the locker room. If they do, though, they’ll be pissed. And they’re much more dangerous than are other women (which we know of course, that’s why we do all this elaborate stuff to avoid their wrath).
So there. a couple women who are a bit safer. And they can say, “we’ve never been women, we have always been men” because they didn’t feel comfortable conforming to the feminine gender. Meanwhile, all the other women, (who are ALSO uncomfortable conforming to the feminine gender, by the way), are left in the same rigid social constructs that benefit men (materially, certainly, though the cost to their humanity is great–if they only knew). They’re still cooking most of the meals, changing most of the diapers, making less of the money, and packing themselves and their kids off to transition houses when Prince Charming goes off the rails (again). But our heroes are brave and transgressing binaries by I-dentifying as masculine-ish “theys”. Thereby leading the way.
leading the way backwards. “You’re right,” their ‘choice’ tells everyone, “you’ve been right all along, being a woman is less than being a man. Women are, yes, weaker, dumber, and less important than men”.
If you are female and troubled because you are not allowed to take up your share of public space — don’t bother with all that messy, uncomfortable, complicated political organizing or rape crisis work, or trying to change the gendered, racist, capitalist systems that keep us apart from each other, that increase the pressure of the boot on the necks of our sisters and aunties and neighbours — don’t bother with all that. Bind your breasts, pitch your voice a bit deeper, call yourself Stefan or Logan (Do they ever pick names like Marion or Leslie or even Bill or Roger?) and be a man.
That’s why I call what they’re doing treachery. They can (kind of, almost) pass, and they have race and class on their side, too — they’re using all this to get a bit more for themselves. They’re not doing jackshit to change the conditions of other women’s lives — it’s such an unimaginative solution to women’s oppression*. Building solidarity and organizing politically with other women is really hard and messy and frustrating — but if it wasn’t for the work of women before us, we would not have the vote, or pants, or transition houses or laws that criminalize rape, or access to abortion or credit cards (a dubious benefit, to be sure) or literacy or—
Now i want to be clear — i don’t give a rats ass if they, or any woman, wants to take on a male name, and wear their jeans with the crotch at the knees like the boys do, and take up welding — what really burns my ass is the denial of their femaleness. Why do they not say, “We didn’t like what was expected of girls so we decided to change those expectations for girls”? Why not look around, see where the holes in the walls are, and hammer away at it to make space for other women too? I guess ’cause it’s easier to do the individual thing, and adjust your own behaviour than it is to look for where we benefit, too, and address the contradictions and take responsibility–
Those two, it’s not entirely their fault, their betrayal of women — and i don’t think they’ve chosen an easy road — no woman’s road is easy, well, not many — but the road of the ‘passing for male’ is I think easier. I think it’s kind of comforting for the powerful when the oppressed do something like this, conform to the existing social structures — they’re not rebelling or making waves, they’re just sliding in to a different part of the structure. It’s easier for everyone that way. Except for those who are already on the bottom. Their burden, then, becomes a bit heavier.
*I know there are some trans people who are involved in some political organizing — of course there are — and even some who are gender-critical and working with others to dismantle sexism, address class inequality and interfere with systemic racism — what i am most concerned with here is their utter disrespect for femaleness, and their seeming acceptance of the taken for granted assumptions that patriarchy makes about our ‘essential’ qualities.
I feel wide open and cold all the time. A north wind sweeps through me. It’s bracing, kind of, and my frequent tears are warming.
She was very cold. I asked to see her. My brother didn’t want to, nor did my uncle. But I did. I wanted to see if she looked like herself. I wanted to see if I could sense her there. She did, but I could not. Well, there was one brief moment, when I touched her forehead, laid my palm across her forehead like I used to do when we were little. She would have headaches and ask us, my brother and me, to rub her forehead with our soft cool palms. I couldn’t bring myself to kiss her, but I touched her face, and stroked her hair and said “goodbye” and “I love you” and “I’m sorry”.
I’m sorry I was impatient, I’m sorry I wasn’t with you when you died, i’m sorry i didn’t write down all the stories, i’m sorry your life wasn’t all you wanted. But I love you, i love you, I love you Mom. I know you were proud of us, and you loved us more than I can fathom. You gave me my sense of humour, my terrible feet, my capacity to love, my asthma, my ability to keep friendships —
She was found fully clothed on her bed in the mid-morning. Probably she had been dead for an hour — two at most. Lately, the effort of getting ready for her day had tired her out. She probably got ready to go to her physio appointment, then had a little rest before heading out to meet the bus. She had some card-making stuff on her table, her purse there, too. Her door was unlocked. She NEVER left her door unlocked when she was home. A copy of her will was on the table too. And a birthday card for a friend who lived a few doors down the hall.
That was like her, you know. It would have killed her to have been found in her nightie.
I hate goodbyes. I always have. I didn’t know the last time I visited when I said goodbye to her that it would be the last time, but I had a feeling. A feeling I pushed away, because I had a feeling like that last Christmas, really strong and sharp, when I woke up in that narrow bed in her spare room, the first thing I thought was, “this is the last time”. It wasn’t the last time, though, because I returned this summer, just for a few days. So I put that very strong feeling of ending into a box and shoved it into the corner where it sat, glowing a bit and every once in a while giving a little rumble. And it would rumble a little louder each time I talked to her on the phone. the Monday, that week that she died, I talked to her on the Monday, and she sounded tired.
“Did I wake you up Mom?”
“No. I just got dressed” she said. And at the end of the call, she said, “Well, I should let you go.”
I didn’t know she meant the BIG “let go” — I was going to call her on Thursday afternoon, and have a good long talk. I always called her when i had a million things to do, and i would walk around with my phone tucked between my shoulder and my ear — washing dishes, picking up trash, idon’tknowwhatall — while she told stories about people I didn’t know — But Thursday I was going to sit in one place, and listen to all those stories for as long as she wanted to tell them.
I went to visit this past summer after I finally finished my PhD. We had a good time, and lots of long talks, and we went for drives and out for meals and I took her to the mall to get some clothes. My brother Shawn was great about groceries and appointments and helping around the house, but not so good about blouses and knickers. Not that I’m such a good choice when it comes to sartorial matters, either, but one takes what one can get. I tell you what, glaciers melted in the time it took Mom to try one a couple of t-shirts. But I wasn’t impatient at all. didn’t act it, didn’t feel it — which is most unusual for me. She said to me near the end of our adventures in retail, “Erin, you have so much patience!” — she was surprised.
“I know!” I exclaimed, “what’s happened to your daughter?” and we laughed. Then I said, in the fine tradition of the Morgan women, “I think it’s on account of I’m a doctor now, doctors need patients”.
She herself was a relentless and unrepentant punster — she appreciated the joke. After she died, as I was ticking through my memories of recent visits, looking for clues, maybe something I could have done, I realized that Mom hadn’t been so quick with the puns lately. Not for a long time, in fact. She just wasn’t as sharp. She forgot appointments, she fell asleep in her chair, she misplaced things more often–not entirely, you know, she was still tracking most things, but the puns stopped. She wasn’t firing on all cylinders, you know? But i didn’t want to see that.
I made Welsh cakes a couple of nights before her funeral. When Dad died, we put out a bowl of licorice allsorts for people to take. They were his favourite candy. Mom used to make Welsh cakes. They’re easy, and one batch makes A LOT of cakes. But they’re time consuming, and lately Mom made them when I was home, (’cause I could make ‘em and she could boss me around from her chair) but not really any other time. So I made a double batch late Sunday night. I used both of her electric frying pans, (one that I’m sure is over 50 years old, the other only about 40), her rolling pin, her pastry cloth, the cookie cutter she’s had since the farm (older than the frying pans). I wore my shoes and my hat in the house, and I wept as I mixed up the dough, rolled it out, cut it and fried it. tears mixing with the currants and eggs, “Mom am I rolling them thin enough? Will you please watch so they don’t burn? Is one of these frying pans hotter than the other? When was the first time you made Welsh cakes?” She didn’t answer, of course. I didn’t feel her near, even if I was using all her stuff.
She was going to come to Vancouver for the graduation ceremony. NOW i know that she was too frail to make the trip. Even though I would meet her at the door of the plane with a wheelchair, even though I would have carried her everywhere if I had to, even though…”Do you think I should take my cane?” she had asked me, just a couple of weeks ago [no. not a couple. she’s now been dead for two weeks and three days. tick. tick. tick.]
“yes, bring it along, Mom. It’ll be good to have a three-foot extension to your arm anyway.”
When I was making the Welsh cakes, I said, “Jesus, Mom–if you didn’t want to come to Vancouver, you could’ve just said so, I wouldn’t be mad at you — you didn’t have to be so drastic“. I swore a lot more this trip than I usually do, too. But not around my Auntie Lorna, or the Langs, or at the funeral home or…
One day, the Saturday before the funeral, my brother came to Mom’s house. We were going to go through all the pictures and music and pick some for the slide show at the funeral. Shawn said, “We’re going to go through the pictures, then we’re going to clean this place up, make it like Mom … ” he sounded angry and then he started sobbing. Place didn’t look bad to me, but then again, Shawn is like Mom, fastidious like a cat. I am like Dad. Fastidious like…well, like not at all. I just opened my arms and folded him into me as he bent and sobbed into the top of my head.
There was a lot of that going on. Shawn and I holding onto each other. When he drove me back to Calgary to fly home, he said, “you’ve changed. You’re way more patient now than you’ve ever been.” He was relieved, I think. that I wasn’t as volatile as I used to be. That I was much more steady and patient. It’s because i’ve been working on that stuff, me and my sister travellers “on the road of happy destiny”. It’s because I know we’re not alone.
Louise came to be with us. I called her the day Mom died. She said, “Do you want me to come?” I said yes, but I didn’t know yet — When I got home to Red Deer, I talked to her again and Shawn was with me. “Will i be in the way if I come?” she asked, and Shawn said, “No! Come”. We have been friends for 24 years, were lovers for six of those years, and I played my accordion at her wedding to Diane. She helped me stop drinking, she’s helped mend my broken heart many times, and we hold each other up.
She met Shawn 20 years ago, and they sparked together from the beginning. Every time I go visit, Louise says to me, “Give Shawn a bone-crushing hug from me” and I do and Shawn giggles. I don’t know what we would have done without her. We would have done okay, but she was balm and glue when we were depleted and raw.
While I was making the Welsh cakes that night before she came, I was digging around in Mom’s pantry and i found a box of whisky. There were several opened bottles of rye, blended scotch, drambuie — and some little airplane bottles of johnny walker red, all of which had a tiny sip or two missing from them. I found that very odd. Who would take a sip out of each of those little bottles? weird. When Louise came, she noticed that these bottles were all sealed — the alcohol had evaporated. That would NEVER happen in my house….
Anyway, I was baking and weeping and feeling all of my feelings all at once and it was so painful and awful and i thought, “I could just shut this hurricane of emotion down right now–just go over there and get that bottle of scotch–“. I didn’t do it, and I knew I wouldn’t, but there was the thought, and there was the whisky, and the pain that it would most certainly ease…The next day I called a woman who had worked with Mom to tell her about Mom’s death, and she said, “I want to help, can I do anything?” and I asked her to take me to a meeting. She was happy to do that, and at the meeting i remembered again that all this is normal. This pain, this sorrow, this big grief — it’s human and it’s loving and it’s fine. When Louise came, she said that I knew way too much about what was in that box, and we should pour it out. I didn’t want to, so she didn’t say anything, but when I left to do something and Shawn was with her, they poured it all out. I didn’t know I was uptight about it until I came home (the place smelled like a field of lilies AND a distillery…) and felt such relief.
Even though Mom is gone, she didn’t leave us alone. We have each other. All these beautiful people. Our family, our friends, her friends–We are all family. I will always miss her, and right now it’s almost unbearable. But we are all connected, and this grief is a gift, really, it means the love she gave is every bit as big and powerful as this sorrow. as deep and wide as the prairie sky.
QotD: “Anita Sarkeesian cancels talk at Utah State University over threats of ‘the deadliest school shooting’ in US history”
Originally posted on Anti-Porn Feminists:
The feminist pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian has been forced to cancel a talk at Utah State University, after a threat of a “Montreal Massacre-style attack”.
Sarkeesian, who is best known for her YouTube series “Tropes v Women in Video Games”, assessing various anti-feminist trends in gaming, was scheduled to talk at the university on Wednesday, when the unsigned email was sent.
The author of the email threatened that if the talk was not cancelled, they would carry out an attack in the style of the 1989 Montreal massacre, when Marc Lépine murdered 14 women, claiming he was “fighting feminism”.
“I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs,” the letter said. “This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history and I’m giving you a chance to stop it.”
“You have 24 hours to cancel Sarkeesian’s talk … Anita Sarkeesian is…
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Radical feminism. Of course it’s threatening to men. Demolition, not renovation — then we can see the stars. Thank you, phonaesthetica.
Originally posted on phonaesthetica:
This is a joint post with the brilliant Hypotaxis.
It’s review day. Let’s clarify, once more, the differences between radical and liberal feminism.
Liberal feminism asserts that women’s liberation comes through equality with men, and therefore positions men as a benchmark, the “best possible case,” the default setting, the gold standard, the brass ring – if only to be respected like a man, if only to be paid like a man, or to be free to “choose pornography” or fuck anything that moves like a man. In liberal feminism, male is aspirational.
In liberal feminism, society itself isn’t broken, we just need to learn how to better exist within it – like men.
Radical feminism, on the other hand, understands that if you polish a turd, it’s still a turd. Radical feminism posits that the system itself is broken and the game is rigged. Radical feminism asserts that pornography…
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Lately people have told me, in various ways, that they admire my tenacity. I’m getting a new reputation over the last few years. If you ask me to do something, I will do it. If you offer me a challenge, I will rise to it. Like this–in late 2002 or early 2003, a woman I admire, and to whom I went for help, suggested I apply to go to Graduate School. i would not have come up with that idea myself, having long ago discarded the belief that I was smart enough or disciplined enough to return to school. But she thought I could do it, and she knew some people at the university I could talk to, so I did. I went to talk to the women she recommended, both professors in the department i was going to apply to, and i gathered recommendation letters, and samples of my writing and figured out some ideas of questions I’d like to ask, things i’d like to study. One of the professors said, “Where do you want to go, what organizations or groups do you want to understand? Think of it as an opportunity to learn anything you want about other people and places — how it all works together”. But I didn’t want to go and study other people. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I didn’t want to insert myself in someone else’s place and poke around in their business. I did want to understand more of a big picture — what the hell was going on that there was such a rapidly growing divide between the haves and the have-nots? what was going on that women were in increasingly grave danger? Why am I working so hard, and losing sleep and not accomplishing anything? Why are women who should be my allies so far away from me? we’re so far away from each other…Anyway.
So my friend and mentor said, “you should try” and I did. And I got into graduate school! Then I got Master of Arts degree, because teachers and friends and loved ones said, “I think you can”, and even though there were times when i did not believe I could, I did. Then I applied for PhD school, because I wanted to teach, and there were few opportunities I could see around me, but knew I would have more in post-graduate school. Even though i didn’t really believe that I had the necessary discipline or tenacity or focus to do it, other people said, “you can. Try it” so I did. And I was accepted into the program.
Now i’m a Doctor of Philosophy. and at my defense, my advisor said, “Erin is one of the most tenacious women I know”.
Over and over, I have said, “well, okay, if you think I can, I’ll try” and I have, in that manner, taken on new and frightening and challenging and enriching adventures. I teach now, I’ve gone to many conferences all over the place — Denmark, Turkey, New Brunswick, Chicago…the only thing I had to do was say yes. And then do the work that was required.
So, okay, i’m tenacious, in a way. If you ask me to consider something, if you ask me to do something, if you ask for help, I will do it.
But I realized that I do not initiate. I wrote an opinion piece for a newspaper, based on my doctoral defense. I sent it to a couple of papers so far, but haven’t heard back. I called the editorial section editor of one of the papers and left a message on their voicemail. But I’m too self-effacing. “I think i have a unique perspective on this topic” I said, but didn’t say exactly WHY. I don’t know how to say, “Pay attention to me, I have ideas worth considering.”
Girly behaviour, that. I am too old to be waiting around for “prince charming” (metaphorically, of course)– but here I am. I am still responding, but not proposing.
I’ll post that opinion piece here soon, but first I have to fix it up and send it to someone else, and this time follow up with an assertive phone call. “this is an important perspective, I have something important to contribute to the discourse”. damn. the very idea makes me anxious. Why, though? it’s part of my promise to others, it’s my responsibility — it’s not just about me. I’m not serving anyone with this false humility. argh.
okay. lookit. I have to go, meet a commitment I made but have resisted. I will post again another time.