Being transmasculine and a feminist is a confusing experience sometimes. I’m deliberately not using a blame-word like “erasure” because part of the confusion is not knowing how much space to occupy. Add my history of being rescued from abusive women by empathetic men, and the alignments get even more complicated.
What I’d like, first and foremost, is to decouple the fight against patriarchy from assertions about the relative virtuousness of “women” and “men”. When the discourse goes there, as it so often does, I get that feeling where the words stick in my throat and my skin doesn’t fit right.
My mom-of-choice streams lesbian movies for her friend group, which unsurprisingly includes many in her demographic of white butches over 70, as well as a few harder-to-categorize younger queers like me. I’ve seen some brilliant indie and foreign films in this series that wouldn’t have been on my radar otherwise. While folks are getting settled in, she likes to precede the main feature with a woman-centric short film or music video. One of those was Israeli protest singer Yael Deckelbaum‘s “War Is Not a Woman’s Game”.
I was stirred by the passionate music and message, yet faintly uncomfortable with the premise that anything (other than their lesser political power) made women inherently more peaceful than men. I wondered whether I should accept that this piece of media was simply not for me, and observe it with silent empathy, as an emotional release rather than a proposition I needed to agree or disagree with. But I did feel I belonged in the movement Deckelbaum was creating, and would have had no doubts about the invitation, had it not been for the gendered framing. That’s why I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw some men in the song circle in the video.
In the chat, four or five of the women watching the video with me became heated about the men’s presence. They said they were sick of men centering themselves in everything, and that there shouldn’t have been a man in the front row of the singing group. Nobody contradicted them. Now what could I do? To speak up as a trans man would have confirmed the very objection they were raising. So I’m taking up space on my own fucking blog instead.
The other day I heard an even better song on the car radio. The catchy melody, the clever rhymes, and the body-positive message gave me a physical boost of good energy. I’m talking about “Victoria’s Secret” by Jax. It’s an anthem to her younger self, and young girls today, to let them in on the real secret: stop starving yourself to comply with impossible “beauty” standards. “She’s an old man who lives in Ohio/Making money off of girls like me/Cashing in on body issues,” Jax sings. “I know Victoria’s secret/She was made up by a dude.”
Technically this is true–according to Wikipedia, Les Wexner of Columbus, OH (now chairman emeritus) bought Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and turned it into the sexpot brand we love to hate. The same entry, however, mentions a number of female CEOs and high-ranking executives throughout VS history.
More to the point, I’ve always seen it as a cop-out to blame the male gaze for women’s cruelty to each other, which is a primary mechanism by which these fatphobic and butch-phobic standards are enforced. In my adolescence, my failure to perform thin and sexually alluring femininity merely made me invisible to young men, but repulsive to my mother and my female doctor. Girls scrutinize each other’s bodies and style choices with forensic attention to detail, while boys are like, “Duh, is she wearing a bra?” Fashion industry editors and tastemakers are predominantly women, as are the consumers of these images.
As a contest judge and avid reader, I see no difference between male and other-gendered authors in using fatness as shorthand for telling us that a character is unlikeable or stupid. And after two years of weekly attendance at lesbian movie night, I can count on one hand the number of women-made films I’ve seen that don’t center thin, young, conventionally attractive femmes. (I especially recommend “Late Bloomers” and “Cloudburst”.)
At what point will we stop judging people’s virtue by their gender identity, rather than their allegiance or resistance to patriarchy?