Saturday, July 19, 2008

Transitoning and Feminism

I never decided to transition, although I do think of my transition as a choice. I believe that I could be living my life as a woman, but I have no doubt that the severe depression I found myself in during college and the scary mood swings would be a major part of my life. So I didn’t decide to become a man all of a sudden, rather I decided to do what I needed to do to feel good about myself. It turned out, that was living as a man. But I didn’t decide that, it came upon me slowly and in small out-of-order steps. By the time I realized I was male it was too late to turn back, and I choose then to continue after a strong and serious debate with myself.

A strong part of that debate was trying to decide how to continue my commitment to feminism, and to all women. While my definition of feminism probably deserves its own post, I’ll just say for now that my feminism is based on the writings of the Combahee River Collective and the contributors to This Bridge Called My Back. The feminism I want to support and be a part of is flexible, accepting and rooted in an understanding of interlinking oppressions. I knew when I accepted myself as male that I needed to remember what being a girl had been like, and I needed to make a commitment towards the women in my life.

So, when my partner asked me if I would march with her in the Dyke March at the end of June my first instinct was a “hell yeah”. I had always been in the Dyke March in the Twin Cities, and I supported the thinking behind it – that any celebration of queer life needs to acknowledge and support the different way that women interact with their sexuality and gender identities. Further, the Dyke March is a protest against misogyny and patriarchy, corporate takeover of Pride, and other aspects close to various dyke communities. But then I got nervous – would it be OK for me to march? I would be marching in support of queer women, but what if the female-identified marchers thought I was staking a claim in a women’s community? While I think it’s essential to realize that masculine and genderqueer women make up a large portion of the Dyke/Queer Women’s population I would never force myself, as someone male-identified, into that community. At the same time, I was worried that not marching would be read as a dismissal of the importance of this march. I would be seen as someone who gave lip-service to feminism, but wouldn’t be seen in the presence of strong queer women, marking myself as a supporter. [Image Description: three older white men lining the path of the dyke march. They are standing in front of several bright geen trees. Two are holding a sign in the upper right corner reading "Dykes Make Me Proud" in rainbow letters. In the lower left a sign reading "I heart" is cut off from view.]

There are many different ways to read a man’s presence at a queer women’s event. Judging from conversations with gay male co-workers attending a lesbian-specific event isn’t wrong in their eyes, but it sure is unusual. I feel that there’s a general understanding across all LGBT lines that queer women experience their identities in a different way than queer men, but there’s very little effort to bridge that gap through self-education. Further conversations with co-workers confirmed that we all had a similar concern: would our presence be welcome? Should men attend events as an act of education and solidarity, or should we give these events space allowing for a safer space where explanations don’t need to be given quite as frequently? For me, my attendance of the Dyke March was a bit easier as I was explicitly invited by my partner to march alongside her as her ally.

So I did end up attending, and despite the downpours it was amazing. I also noticed a lot of transmen in attendance, folks I recognized from my circle of friends and from the LGBT Center’s transmasculine group. While being improperly gendered (referred to as female) is for many of us an action that can cut to the quick, I was thrilled to see that we were all sustaining this connection to the women in our lives, and for many of us, the queer women’s spaces we used to frequent. I know that before I was able to commit to the Dyke March I had to seriously consider how I would respond to people who assumed I was female during the march. The only thing I came up with was the fact that I know who I am, and if anyone engages me in conversation I will quickly be seen as male. But in passing, if someone was doing a count of the march and decided I was in the women's category...well it didn't matter too much. I don't want to become invisible, and I don't want to claim identity that's not my own, but for this one day being seen as female is OK. I thought about the allies who attended the gay-straight alliance at my college, the ones who always outed themselves as straight within the first ten seconds. For the rest of us, the flaunting of straight privilege was so irritating we quickly grew to despise the very people claiming to ally with us. I don't want to replicate that. I just want to be proud of all the women who have supported me along my route, all the women who face multiple oppressions everyday, and if that means I'm temporarily read as female, then that's just another reminder to me of what sexism can look like. And that's good. Challenging as it is, that's good.

1 comment:

nixwilliams said...

this is a great post, thank you.