Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Hello!  It has been an age since I’ve posted anything, which I guess is proof that I have a life outside of the internet.  Good to know.  But now, at long last, I’m back and, as usual, full of thoughts about quirks and oppression in pop culture.

Last week I received an email from a friend that contained three words and a link: “ugh, dan savage.”  For anyone who knows me or has spent more than five minutes perusing this blog, you’ll know that “ugh, Dan Savage” is a common reaction in my life.  The self-proclaimed (and self-aggrandizing) spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ communities and writer of the Savage Love sex column is perpetually on my shit list.

But wait, Dan Savage is a gay man trying to increase visibility of LGBTQ+ peeps.  Don’t you support him?

[TW: discussion of oppression and survivor-blaming]

Funny you should ask.  No, absolutely not.  In fact, I think Dan Savage should shut up and get out of the public eye ASAP.  He has a long history of being incredibly biphobic, trans*phobic, racist, anti-asexual, misogynistic (among other nasty, oppressive qualities) and mocking survivors of rape.  Whenever he’s called out (which happens frequently), he becomes defensive and attacks the people who’ve criticized him.  So no, I don’t support him.  If you are unfamiliar with these incidents, may I suggest Google:

Dan Savage is

You clearly don’t have to type very much before you’re well on your way.  If you want even faster results, a record of various shitty incidents and commentary can be found at Fuck No, Dan Savage!  Beyond perpetuating a swath of oppressions, I think Savage gives really terrible, shaming sex/love/relationship advice.  On the occasions I’ve read his columns, I’ve usually wound up feeling ostracized on behalf of the people who’ve sought his help.  Not good.

Consider the article that my friend sent me, thereby prompting this post:

“I no longer believe that most bisexuals wind up in ["opposite-sex" relationships] because you’re all liars and cheats, or that you’re all dying to access societal perks reserved for heterosexuals, or that you’re all cowards and it’s hard out here for a homo. I think most bisexuals wind up in heterosexual relationships because most bisexuals are mostly hetero. You may be physically attracted to both sexes, but most of you can only fall in love with an opposite-sex partner.

“…before angry bisexuals start pounding away at their keyboards, consider this: My current position on bisexuals winding up with opposite-sex partners (you’re mostly straight) is a hell of a lot more charitable than my previous position (you’re cowards, liars, cheats, etc.).”

Excuse you…WHAT?!  Some things:

  1. What are “opposite-sex” relationships?  There can’t be opposites if there are more than two options.  Casual reminder that intersex folks exist.
  2. Thank you, gay individual, for asserting that you know more about bisexual folks’ experiences of their sexuality than they do.
  3. “Angry bisexuals”–yes, anyone who calls you out for invalidating their identity is simply angry and their concerns should be written off.
  4. “My new disgusting stance is more charitable than my old disgusting one” is not an appropriate or convincing argument.  He’s openly admitting that his views are shitty, but isn’t remotely apologizing for them.  He’s simply moving onto new biphobic accusations.
  5. Yet again, bisexuals apparently need external validation before their sexuality can be considered authentic.  Thank goodness Dan Savage is here to give a stamp of approval…or not.

But wait, isn’t Dan Savage kinda a tiny bit right?  Some bisexuals are probably in relationships that appear straight because it’s more socially acceptable!

I mean…yeah.  That’s most likely true.  So?  Bisexuals certainly aren’t the only people who choose their partners based in part on social acceptability.  Like, not at all.  Furthermore, your partner(s) are your business and you could have any number of reasons for choosing them.  As long as you aren’t being actively shitty/oppressive to marginalized groups, I don’t care all that much.  My #1 goal isn’t for every LGBTQIAP+ person to come out publicly.  Being out looks different for different people and is a highly personal decision.  I’m far more concerned by people like Dan Savage who–out or not–are doing a lot of damage to other members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as to folks of color (cuz POCs are totally more homophobic than whites and their homophobia is totally a bigger problem than racism *vomit*).

Why did I originally start writing this post?

Believe it or not, my original goal was not just to chew out Dan Savage and his politics.  After discussion of the initial article, my friend asked if I had any suggestions of better sex columnists.  I must admit: I don’t read much sex/love/relationship advice online or off, so I don’t have an extensive list to provide right off the bat.  That being said…

  • Scarleteen covers a wide range of topics from sex “how-to”s to sexual health, relationships, navigating doctor’s appointments, and more!  Geared toward young people.
  • Early to Bed is “Chicago’s first women-owned, women-oriented, boy-friendly, queer and trans-positive sex shop.”  The website and blog also include a ton of sex advice.
  • Early to Rise is an online affiliate store, geared toward men.  More sex advice and tips abound.  I’m not as familiar with this site, because most of it’s not relevant to me/my relationships, but I trust the Early to Bed folks, so I’d give Early to Rise a look.
  • My Sex Professor: I know one of the bloggers, so I’m mostly familiar with her pieces.  The site has a lot of great info, but as I was looking through contributors’ bios, I noticed that almost all are white women.  Just putting that out there, as it’s bound to affect content at some point.
  • Good Vibrations: Good Vibes is a toy store, so you guessed it–much (but not all) of their advice section pertains to sex toys.
  • What else?

This is not my area of expertise, but I’m sure some of y’all have great suggestions.  Have you found helpful blogs/vlogs/books/magazine columns that address healthy sex, sexuality, and/or relationships?  Please comment with your recommendations.  Spread the resources!

Last, but certainly not least: no sex-related blog post would be complete without a totally unoriginal, but oh-so-necessary reference to Salt-n-Pepa.  So here I go:

Heads up, everyone: this is an angry post and it’s a hurt post.  If you aren’t up for dealing with that right now, this is your chance to exit.  That being said, I wanna address an issue that is incredibly important to discuss, yet gets written off as no big deal: misogyny in the queer community, specifically on the part of gay men.  I’ve been thinking and talking about this a lot recently and have gotten mixed responses.  Mostly, the gay guys I’ve talked to are totally unaware of this problem and don’t see how their own behavior fits these patterns.  Ugh.  Women…eh, reactions range from “OMG I KNOW I HAVE SO MANY STORIES JUST LIKE THAT” to “Are you kidding me?  There’s no way it could be that bad.  They’re gay–it’s not like that.”

Oh but it is like that.

[TW: body policing, casual misogyny, and sexual harassment/unwanted touching]

Groping and commenting on others’ bodies (unsolicited, without consent) is a huge problem, regardless of whether you claim to be sexually attracted to that type of body or not.  This happens especially in the case of gay men feeling entitled to women’s bodies.  In a society in which gay men are stereotyped as feminine, they’re both damned for that (“good men are masculine”) and celebrated as experts on femininity.  Since women are supposed to be feminine (cuz we all gotta be gender-conforming, amiright??), gay men are presented as having authority over how women should dress, act, modify our bodies, etc.  Think of the gay bff or fashionista stereotypes.*

What does this mean?

Body policing.  Comments that are not only unwanted, but are potentially incredibly harmful to our body images, self esteem, and mental health.  Touches that, if initiated by straight men, would immediately be identified as sexual harassment.  A lot of misogyny.

Not Sure I’m Following You…

I’m not gonna go into a whole spiel about how and why this happens, trying to convince you that it’s a problem.  If you’re confused or not familiar with this subject, I suggest you check out two articles:

  • Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies” by Yolo Akili – posted last November on The Good Men Project.  I was so excited to find this.  He explains the problem well and I’m always relieved to find folks in privileged positions doing a good job educating our own.  Writing as a queer man of color, he also touches upon the added oppressive dynamic of white men feeling entitled in any way to the bodies of women of color.
  • “Why Do Gay Men Keep Touching My Boobs: The Autostraddle Mini-Roundtable” – Autostraddle writers pick up where Akili left off.  This actually turned into an incredibly interesting (and, it seemed, healing) conversation on Autostraddle.

I’m so glad to see other people discussing the problem of gay men’s sexism prominently and to find shared experiences with other queer women (see: Autostraddle’s comment section, which is mostly devoid of derailing BS posts).  Honestly, it’s something I face a lot, and I’m not always around people who get what I’m talking about.

So…What are you talking about?

  • “You need more makeup.  Here, let me do it.”  DID I ASK YOU TO GRAB MY FACE?  FUCK NO.

  • “Why are you wearing makeup?  You don’t need that.”  Umm HELLO NOT DOING IT FOR YOUR APPROVAL.  I wear makeup for myself, regardless of when you think it’s appropriate.
  • So many anti-vulva/vagina comments.  Vaginas don’t have to be your thing, but disparaging remarks are not needed.  Bodies with vaginas aren’t inherently disgusting, thank you very much, nor are we desperate for your approval.

    Gabby from Autostraddle
    : “The comments are always quintessentially linked to what my/our vaginas might smell or look like. (Sidenote- if you don’t eat it, devour it, lick it off your fingertips, then don’t even for a second make a comment on that shit. Maybe if you did then you’d have the right to say something.  Maybe then you’d describe it as tasting like fresh cantaloupe or smelling like every good secret reason you’ve been late to class this week…)”
  • “I’m totally gay, but it is kinda nice to put your penis in one [a vagina].”  Wow, thanks for reducing bodies with vaginas to just vaginas…or, as they’ll now be known: NPRs (nice penis receptacles).  Note: being told this as a queer cis woman was exceedingly awkward, among other things, because he said it as though I should be grateful that someone was–in the same sentence–telling me he was totally not attracted to me, but that my body was good for something anyway.  Great.
  • Frequent comments against queer women, especially lesbian women. “I used to be beautiful, but now I look like a lesbian!”  Note: gay men seem shocked when I call these remarks out; I’m not really sure why.  Is it because they’re reading me as straight and are surprised that I care about queer women?  Is it because they think women–femme women particularly?–are passive and won’t cross them?  Are they totally oblivious to everything?

  • At a former job, a supervisor and a coworker–both gay men–speculated loudly about what my pubic hair looks like and whether or not I trim it.  They were standing right in front of me.  They laughed.  I didn’t say anything because I was so taken aback that I didn’t have a clue what to say.  Just be cool, otherwise they’ll think I’m super uptight.  Remember, they’re gay men so they don’t really mean it in a sexual way so it’s totally fine, right???  

  • All of the comments about my boobs.  All of the comments.  I have very large breasts and gay men (among others) tell me this frequently–in varying amounts of detail–as though I didn’t know.  Thankfully, there’s usually no attempted touching, perhaps because I give off a “touch me and I’ll break your fingers” vibe.
  • Calling me babe.  At work.  The first time they meet me.  When I’ve made it clear I don’t respond to that word.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m definitely into affectionate nicknames.  But unless we have a rapport in which we’ve established that that’s okay, just stick to my name.  For the record: babe is never okay for me.

  • A (queer guy) ex would play with my boobs in this really negatively objectifying way, like they were toys that weren’t actually connected to my body, like I didn’t have so many feelings connected to them (emotionally as well as physically).  I never found a way to tell him how much this bothered me, cuz ya know I was obviously being irrational, right?  He couldn’t be objectifying me, I mean we’re both queer and he was my intimate partner and HOLY SHIT SO MUCH BULLSHIT.
  • Calling people bitches all the time.  As a term of endearment.  As a put-down.  Just stop, okay?  Just because you’re gay doesn’t make it magically okay for you to refer to your friends/your coworkers/your cats as “all my bitchez.”  Did you miss the chapter about that actually being (potentially) really offensive, reductive, and hurtful?  See also: don’t fucking try to reclaim slurs that aren’t yours to reclaim!

What to do?

Regardless of your sexual orientation and gender identity, check yourself!  Where do you fit in these examples?  Have you experienced or witnessed any of them?  Do you perpetrate them?  Gay men: as individuals, many of you are marvelous and dear to me.  But as a group, do not assume you and I will be best friends, simply because we’re both feminine or because you’re gay.  As you might imagine (after reading all this), I’m pretty fucking wary of you.  That doesn’t mean I will bite your heads off immediately; it means I will be guarded around you until you demonstrate that you have your shit together and are aware of yourself and the space you take up.  Check yourselves and check your friends.  Deal?

* Obviously not all gay men are feminine or into fashion.  Yes, those are stereotypes and yes, stereotypes are confining and need to be broken down.  That’s another (related) conversation.  If you post comments about being a gay man who’s not obsessed with fashion, you might be completely truthful, but you’re not being helpful.  You’re derailing the conversation.  You don’t suddenly become not oppressive just because you break stereotypes.

** I clearly wrote this from my perspective as a femme queer woman.  I can’t speak for masculine-of-center women and non-binary folks, but my perception is that there’s a different sort of bullshit that goes down there, more in the vein of “why would you be a woman (or a person ever perceived to be a woman) and be masculine?  You’re wasting your femininity (cuz women are inherently feminine, right??).”  Ughhh so many problems.  I have all of the love for butches, masc-of-center, and gender non-conforming folks.  Y’all are beautiful, handsome, and endlessly snazzy.  Here is my adorable face, just for you:

This is the post full of femme awesomeness.  Y’all may have noticed that this is a recurring theme, but here’s where it takes center stage.  Why?  Because I have spent way too much time in queer communities and spaces that were/are riddled with femmephobia–in which I was made to feel really insecure about my gender presentation, or felt compelled to dress down all the time to avoid attention, or was constantly told (implicitly and explicitly) that femme was pretty much worthless and if I truly wanted to fight the patriarchy I’d present myself in a masculine way.  Ughhh so much BS.  (Need further explanation?  See: 87% of this blog.)  As a way of retroactively counteracting some of this negativity, I’ve decided to make a list of femme-positive moments.  Most are directly from my life; some I’ve observed.

Note: this is not a checklist of things required in order to ID as femme, nor is it a list of things that all femmes relate to, nor is it my entire conception of femme.  It’s a scattered collection of fun moments that I associate with femme or that exemplify how I do femme.  So, here goes…

  • Seeing other femmes out and about and smiling at one another.  Especially when we’re both reading queer theory on the train.
  • Nail polish with huge chunks of glitter in it.  I like to call this “don’t fuck with me” glitter.
  • Heels: some haters pity me for my apparent lack of awareness that I’m wearing tools of the patriarchy on my feet.  Fuck that~~if I’m in 3″ heels, I walk taller and you’ll be able to hear me coming from down the street.  Heels are powerful.
  • Enormous purses: why yes, I do carry a huge ass Mary Poppins bag at all times.  Laugh all you want, but when you need water, band-aids, medicine, tissues, pens, gum, hand sanitizer, sunblock, gloves (the wool kind or the latex kind), lotion, a bottle opener, books, etc., you know I’ll have them.
  • Realizing that that plum eye shadow really does compliment the gold eye shadow and accentuate your eyes perfectly.
  • Fuchsia lip gloss: I maintain that this is the key to improving any day.
  • Magical jacket: it’s sheer, translucent, green, blue, leopard-print, and chunky zippered all at once.  I know this sounds like an impossible combination, but it’s actually the best thing ever.

Magical jacket
(Oh yes, this is my face.  It’s been a while~~hello.)

  • As a femme cis woman: breaking stereotypes of what queer women are “supposed to look like.”
  • Glitter.  Did y’all here that?  GLITTER.  This is basically my life motto:

(source)

  • Rejecting the notion of “high maintenance.”  I hear this thrown around all the time as a criticism of femme folks.  Femininity is deemed superfluous and superficial; by extension, femmes are viewed as super demanding/unreasonable if we spend a lot of time/energy on our physical appearance.  Fuck that.  If I spend over an hour sitting in front of a mirror doing the most elaborate makeup for a party, I don’t need your approval.  If I bring a bigger suitcase than you because I needed to pack bunches of scarves and shoes (while you brought a pair of jeans and two extra shirts), my choices and opinions aren’t magically less valid.  I just intend to wear different fabulous outfits every day, while spewing my still informed, intelligent, valid opinions.  You’ll look fierce in your jeans and tees; I’ll look fierce in a never-ending series of fabulous shoes. 

(source)

  • Re-imagining femininity on our own terms: defined by our own values and desires, not the kyriarchy.  Resisting the pressure to be white (or at least light-skinned),  slim and also hourglass-shaped, able in all ways at all times, passive/quiet/unopinionated, dressed in ways that require large budgets, etc.  I love seeing and hearing about how other femme folks navigate these pressures and still look and feel fly.
  • Huge flowers: in our hair, pinned on our clothes/bags/shoes, on jewelry, painted on our nails, painted on our faces, etc.
  • Poofy skirts.  They’re the best.  Pencil skirts are the other best, as are huge bell-bottom jeans.  Cozy sweatpants are the other other best.
  • Sequins.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Coincidental fabulousness: that time when my shirt, lingerie, and phone case were all leopard-print, and I didn’t even notice til I was almost out the door.
  • Not being forced into or ashamed of femininity–(re)learning that it can be awesome/fabulous/wonderful/powerful/sharp/full of pizazz.
  • These shoes:

photo_7

  • The story behind that picture: taken on the last day of Femme Con 2012.  I was talking to a new femme friend (and recent Seven Sisters grad~~woot woot!) when suddenly this dapper person races across the lobby to us with a camera, pointing excitedly at our feet. “Can I take a photo of your shoes??”  We looked down.  I was wearing the peep-toe wedges; she’s got the combat boots.  They’re upholstered in exactly the same fabric.  We had no idea.  By this point, we’d been in a workshop together and had been standing next to one another for about ten minutes, never realizing that we were wearing matching shoes.  *Commence OMG squeals*
  • Later realization: that was the first time I’d experienced a masculine-of-center person making a beeline for femmes to compliment our style, rather than the other way around.  Perhaps this seems insignificant or surprising to you, but for me, it was definitely a wow moment of “oh yeah, my gender presentation is valued and appreciated by people besides myself.”
  • Shared experiences: connecting with other femmes and finding words for things you didn’t realize you were struggling with, so now you have a name for that thing that makes you so mad/frustrated/confused/joyful that you weren’t able to articulate before or were afraid no one else would understand.
  • These shoes:

Glitter heels

I own these shoes.  Bonus: I just finished a show for which I wore them every Thurs-Sun for a month.  Holla.

  • Huge shout-out to all the femmes of color!  Y’all are so gorgeous and your styles so fierce and your words so inspiring.  I say this not because I think you need my validation, but because I know that in some queer spaces, femme is most readily visible on white bodies.  In white-dominated queer spaces, we (white folks) often overlook QPOCs and marginalize your experiences.  I’m sorry.  I try my best to recognize when this happens/might happen and to do something proactive about it.  Always a work in progress, but I’m striving to be your ally.
  • Fascinators: Kate Middleton isn’t the only one rocking them; that’s all I’m saying.
  • Femme flagging: y’all get so creative!  I’m impressed.  Femme folks are going all out with strategically pinned flowers, jewelry, handkerchiefs in hair and on shoes/belts/wrists, and oh my god the nail polish.
  • Metal spikes and studs on clothing/shoes: rock on with your tough selves!
  • Cupcakes: baking them, eating them, cupcakes as patterns on cloth, looking like a cupcake personified~~it’s all good.
  • Shout-out to femmes of differing abilities and body shapes/sizes!  Obviously our heteronormative society has a certain set of beauty standards.  Beyond this, queer communities have developed standards of beauty/attractiveness that often perpetuate the same oppressive norms that we’re theoretically fighting.  Fuck all that.  This goes back to my point about defining femininity for ourselves, on our own terms.  Seeing people do this–however they’re doing it–is inspiring and beautiful.
  • Politicizing rhinestoned corsets
  • Mixing colors/patterns and not being afraid of being over the top.  As we learned from To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar 

Larger than life is just the right size!

Okay, y’all: I’m gonna do something new.  I’ve never used National Coming Out Day as a vehicle for coming out before.  I tend to be pretty out in my life all the time, so while I appreciate this day (which happens to be today) for raising awareness of and prompting conversations about gender and sexual minorities, I haven’t personally observed it differently from any other day.  I had no plans to do anything special to mark today.  Then a conversation with Pandaqueer changed my mind.

If anyone is unclear about who Pandaqueer is, just know that he’s fabulous.  We discussed recent conversations he’d had about femmephobia as it is incorporated into notions of “visible queerness.”  Not sure what I’m talking about?  When searching for a queer community or queer friends, to whom do you look?  What signs tip you off?  What does it mean when you describe someone as “looking so gay”?

If your visions of queer people are exclusively

  • thin, white, feminine men
  • non-binary folks whose genders you can’t “figure out”
  • androgynous and masculine women with “alternative lifestyle haircuts”

THEN YOU NEED TO FUCKING CHECK YOURSELF.  Wake up and open your eyes.

Who gives me a hard time about coming out?

I feel way more pressure to come out and to defend my gender and sexual orientation around queer people than around straight ones.  Non-homophobic straight peeps might not immediately read me as queer, but if/when I tell them, they usually just accept it without interrogating me.  This is probably due in part to their unfamiliarity with the nuances of gender presentation and identity labels within LGBTQ+ communities.  That figures.  At least I don’t need to defend myself at length (we’re not going into homophobic douchebags here).

Queer people are a totally different story.  Now, LGBTQ+ communities are many and varied, so these problems don’t occur in the same way across the board.  I’m speaking directly from my experiences in queer communities I’ve lived in and visited.

I’m speaking about queer communities that prioritize masculinity over femininity–that value studs, butches, androgynous folks, and masculine trans* people, over femmes.  I mean queer organizations in which masc-of-center folks are viewed as the best leaders, the most transgressive, powerful, and brave, the ones who really put themselves out there.  These are the groups in which I have to prove my queerness again and again.

  • If I talk to you for an hour about queer theory, will you take me seriously?
  • If my relationships look queer to you, will you understand that I’m not confused?
  • If I plan LGBTQ+ community events, will you get that I’m here to stay?
  • If I explain myself and my choices to you constantly, will you accept that I didn’t put on heels and lipgloss accidentally?
  • If I write enough of these blog posts, will you see that I’m not helpless or unaware of patriarchal oppression?
  • If I teach you the word femmephobia, will you recognize your own behavior?

Let me be clear: there are some amazing, transgressive, powerful, brave masc-of-center queer folks and they should be celebrated.  Gender non-conforming queer people (such as non-binary folks and masc-of-center women) face different challenges than those of us who are gender conforming (or perceived to be).  The problem is when the attention paid to them eclipses everyone else.  This happens particularly in the case of feminine-of-center and femme people.  (That I feel I have to justify writing about femmes and explain that I haven’t forgotten about masculine queer people is indicative of the problem.)

If you think “queer” and never think femme, that’s a problem.  Retrain your brain.  If you think “queer” and every image that appears in your brain looks the same (think race, gender presentation, age, ability, body type, class, nationality), check yourself.  Interrogate your assumptions.

Okay, Here We Go:

My name is Tamar and I am a pansexual, femme, cisgender woman.  I am not “hiding” in femme.  I’m here and I’m visible every day.  If you don’t see me, that your problem.

Phew–now that that’s out of the way, have a lovely video.

TW: street harassment

Yesterday something amazing was proven.  Y’all ready for this?  It’s groundbreaking.  *Drum roll*  It is possible to compliment someone–a stranger–on their appearance without scaring them.  Compliments without massive power plays–wow.  As I was going into work yesterday, a man passed me on the street.

Man 1: I like your outfit.

Me: Thanks!

Then we both kept walking.  This interaction was not creepy, aggressive, or terror-inducing.  It did not make me reach for my keys or rush into work and slam the door shut behind me.  We’re certainly not obligated to want compliments or be open to receiving them, but overall Man 1′s approach was pretty low-risk.  I appreciated the compliment and continued on with my day, looking fly.

The Much More Common Alternative

After an awesome day at work (dear god, I wish that were more firmly rooted in my memory than the rest of this shit), I headed to the train to go to an artsy networking event further downtown.  While walking to the train, I saw a group of five men–all in their 60s–standing on the sidewalk together.  As I neared them, one of them came up to me, moving progressively closer to the point of nearly pushing me into the buildings.  I was on the phone with a friend and trying to ignore the man walking with/on me, while his posse stared me down.  I sped up and so did he.  Then he pulled out the same old line that is thrown at women all the fucking time: “Smile!  Hey, smile!”  He said it five times, with increasing aggression.  He kept pushing and his buddies kept staring.

This is when the diatribe that is constantly playing inside my head actually came out of my mouth.  Pulling ahead, I spun around and yelled “NO!  I SMILE FOR MYSELF!  I DO NOT SMILE ON COMMAND!!”

They all stared, taken aback.  I hurried away.  A second later, a voice in my ear asked “Did someone just tell you to smile?”  Having momentarily forgotten about my phone conversation, I’d clearly just yelled in my friend’s ear as well as at five men on the street.  Whoops–that part was unintentional.

It wasn’t until I reached the train platform (a block later) that I realized I was shaking and freaking out. “Holy shit,” I thought to myself. “I just yelled at five men for harassing me.  Finally.  I’m glad I did, but that was scary.”

“WTF?  That’s so sketchy.  Who does that?”

To anyone reading this and thinking, “Wow, that’s so messed up.  You must’ve been in a ‘bad neighborhood’ or have really bad luck”: NO.  CHECK YOURSELF.  This stuff happens all the time, everywhere.  If you’re unaware of it, you’re in a position of extreme privilege.  I’ve had literally this same encounter–let’s call it the “smile bullshit”–at least four times in the past two weeks (minus the attempt to push me into a wall–that took things a big step further).

What type of man would do that?

All kinds.  Our society trains us all to believe that men deserve access to women’s bodies.  Do all men buy into that?  No.  Some boys and young men are raised around wonderful people who adamantly reject this notion.  Others work hard to unlearn it.  But still, there are zillions of men all over the place who believe this–consciously or not–to varying degrees.

I’ve noticed an awkward dichotomy in the way our society views older men.  Either:

  • a) they’re automatically assumed to be perverts and merit extra suspicion, or
  • b) when they’re actually predatory, their actions are justified to no end. “Oh don’t worry about him–he’s just set in his ways.  He doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Generational differences, blah, blah, blah.  He doesn’t mean anything by it; it’s harmless.”  FUCK THAT.  YES, IT’S MEANT TO BE AGGRESSIVE AND NO IT’S NOT HARMLESS.

Why does this happen?

Because patriarchy.  (Isn’t that the answer to so many things?)  Women and girls are always supposed to smile, appease, and be visually appealing and available to men.  Especially if you are feminine, in which case you should acquiesce passively at all times.  Great system, right?  *Gags*  This shows up in childhood when kids are told “Give a kiss to that relative you’re uncomfortable around.  He’s your [insert familial relationship here] and he’ll be sad if you don’t.”  It shows up from pre-teenager-dom onward when men catcall, yell at, make demands of, and physically grope and grab at gender minorities on the street, in our workplaces, in stores, in relaxation spaces, on the beach, at the everywhere in the world.

This is not to say that men never experience street harassment or that perpetrators are always men.  There are many targeted identities and many factors that could lead to someone being harassed.  However, in the vast majority of these cases, men are the harassers and people perceived to be men are safer on the streets.**  Because many men never experience street harassment (and other types of “casual” attacks), they’re often totally unaware of its existence and prevalence.  There are two groups of out-to-lunch people here:

  • The willfully ignorant: men who’ve been told by women in their lives about these incidents, but refuse to believe them and try to invalidate their experiences. “You’re overreacting.” “That’s never happened to me, therefore it can’t be true.” “Jeeze, can’t you just take a compliment?”  These men are tacitly endorsing harassment.  They’re assholes and I have no time for them.
  • The unenlightened: some guys have literally no idea that this shit happens.  They’re not trying to support patriarchal attacks, but they’ve never given them any thought.  I start telling stories like this and they’re actually blown away when I tell them that–even in my most relaxed state–I live with a constant baseline of fear.  I don’t let fear govern my life and curtail all my actions, but it’s always there.

Then there are the guys who are aware, look out for these situations, and call them out.  I appreciate those guys and I feel safer around them.  Yet this post is not about them and they do not deserve magical ally cookies just for being decent human beings.

It is never the responsibility of oppressed groups to educate privileged groups.  No one is obligated to do this, but I do believe it’s valuable to speak out if and when we want to, so that some of this inadvertent ignorance decreases.

Aftermath of Shitty Encounters

Beyond all of the bullshit already described, the thing that really makes me angry is how these comments–tossed out at no expense to the harasser–have the power to ruin my day.  Ya know what I mean?  I had an awesome day at work, after which I texted several friends and my mom about how excited I was to have met all these amazing artists.  I accepted an awesome opportunity, bonded with people over sequins, and was feeling on top of the world.  Then, the unwanted actions of five strangers threw my mood from euphoric to scared and wanting to curl up in a ball in bed.  I spent the train ride down to my evening event talking myself out of that and willing myself not to let those guys ruin my night.  Fortunately, I ended up meeting some great people and I’m glad I went.  Still, I hate that this bullshit happened last night, that it impacted me enough that I’m still preoccupied with it today, and that it happens all the time.

Attention, Chicago residents: I am sick of this.  You come near me in a potentially threatening manner and biting your head off is the very least I will do.  Stay the fuck away.

**I am referring specifically to this type of catcalling “smile for me, baby” street harassment, which is usually directed at women and feminine-presenting folks.  That is not the same as racial profiling, trans*phobic attacks, etc. and should not be equated to those.

Attention, world: Saturday was a “Do not mess with me today, I will cut you [viciously with my eyes and words]” day.  I mean, that’s my normal state, but this weekend the danger level was raised to code orange.  You have been warned.

Part 1: Looking for Trouble

Saturday was filled with all manner of fuckery, including the fact that my spellcheck (as I learned) did not recognize “fuckery” as a word.  Now it does.  Phew.  I woke up early and decided to read a book that has been on my list for a while, but I’ve never touched: Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.  I’d read excerpts, seen quotes bandied about on blogs, but hadn’t read the whole thing.  Now, I’d heard that the book contained problematic claims and a lot of trans*phobia, but I firmly believe in reading things first-hand before being able to properly refute them.  Opening the book, I saw that chapter four was titled “From Womyn to Bois.”

Me in my head: “This is bound to be a disaster.  Might as well jump in!”

TW: trans*phobia, femmephobia, and assorted patriarchal bullshit

Levy’s thesis is that lesbian women–no discussion of gradations of queer here–who either:

  • are somewhat gender-fluid
  • are immature
  • have/desire sex frequently (holy shit so much slut-shaming)
  • objectify other queer women (especially feminine-of-center ones)
  • want to be men (whatever that means)

identify as bois and see this as a way to eternally extend their teenage-dom.  Some trans* men also fall into this category, she says.  FYI: trans* men are not “real boys” unless Levy perceives them to be cis while walking through a park.  Okay, good to know.  WHAT THE FUCK IS SHE ON?  This chapter is littered with trans*phobic slurs; she asserts that t****y is the word of choice used by members of the trans* community to describe themselves.  Never mind the fact that she’s interviewing FAAB bois and trans* men, not trans* women (who are actually the ones historically targeted by that slur).

Phase A: Who on earth published this?

Reading this chapter, I became predictably enraged.  Levy glosses all bois as ignorant jerks who refuse to take responsibility for their lives, puts gender binary in scare quotes (cuz, ya know, that’s not a real institution to interrogate or anything), and basically every point she tries to make becomes a shit show.  Obviously, I want Levy to take responsibility for her words and the harm that they’ve done.  She’s perpetuating dangerous ideas and people cite her works as expert opinions.  But I also couldn’t help thinking “Who published this shit?”

Me in my head: “She actually sent this manuscript to a publisher and nobody said ‘Hey, how bout you don’t spew trans*phobia everywhere?’…no ‘This all seems really biased.  Are you sure you understand the complexity of these communities and are researching several perspectives?’…no ‘Did you listen to more than one token POC voice?’…no ‘This is a perfect example of terrible ethnography and journalism’”???

In a plot twist predictable fail move, Levy characterizes black queer women in general as butch, by virtue of providing no other examples.  Seriously?  That again?

My Phase A reaction was characterized by anger at how simplistically Levy glossed communities that I care deeply about and am connected to.  I  desperately want bois and trans* guys not to be seen this way.  Are there immature bois and trans* folks who perpetuate patriarchal norms?  Sure.  Are there immatures jerks across all segments of the population who do this?  Absolutely.

Phase B: Oh no, there are queer people who believe this shit!

Midway through the chapter, incredible sadness and anger at the interviewees overtook my anger at Levy.  Levy repeatedly quotes various bois speaking derisively about femmes, feminine-of-center women, butches–the list goes on.  Femmes are labeled “air”: substance-less, clingy, needy, subservient, there to please and then be discarded by bois.  Hey there, repackaged patriarchy!

Levy certainly shouldn’t have glossed all masculine-of-center FAAB communities as monolithic, based on these few examples.  It’s like she explicitly sought out the douchiest bois and then asked them to regale her specifically with tales of their douchebaggery.  However, her interviewees do exist and their femmephobia is real.  Despite my earlier urge to protect these segments of the queer community, I was left wondering “At what point can I no longer fight for them?  At what point is their behavior inexcusable?”**

Part 2: Books Lead to Great Experiences

Later in the day, I tore myself away from the joys of Female Chauvinist Pigs and went to the library.  I was greeted by a large sign informing me that Naomi Wolf will be there in a couple weeks to speak about her new book Vagina.  Vagina is the latest iteration of “woman = vagina,” centering whiteness, and cultural appropriation.  So y’all can guess how I feel about that.

Browsing in search of a book, I saw an older man walking between two shelves, staring at me.  Only vaguely paying attention, I glanced up, smiled weakly and said hi.

Strange man: “Aw I love that smile darlin’.  Hey gorgeous!  Smile for me like that more often!”

Me: (staring after him) “No.”

Me in my head: “No!  I smile for myself.  I DO NOT SMILE ON COMMAND.”

It was then that I realized that I’d seen this very same guy around town before, and he’d greeted me exactly the same way then.  Terrific.

Leaving the obnoxiously typical man, I headed up to the young adult section to find a book that had been recommended to me by a friend.  Apparently, since it’s a graphic novel, it’s classified as young adult.  Hmmm.  All the YA books in my local library are kept in a particular room that’s meant for teens and has a special lounge space for them.  Pretty sure people who aren’t age 13-18 aren’t supposed to hang out there, but we can…ya know…check out books.

I’m not sure what the deal is with the librarian who works in the YA section.  Every time I’ve seen her, she’s been grumpy/antisocial.  Maybe she had a whole lot on her mind or maybe she’s not great interpersonally–I have no idea.  Regardless, the moment I walked in, she looked me slowly up and down, scrutinized my hemline, grimaced, and said a brief hi.

Me in my head: “What did I do?  I’M WEARING A FUCKING SWEATER DRESS, how risqué could I be?

Super confused.  Whatever, I looked fuckin’ fabulous.  They didn’t even have the book that I wanted, so I peaced out.  On the way home with my brother, I recounted these events.  He was incredibly upset on behalf, especially about “smile for me” guy.

My bro: “I don’t always punch old men in the face, but when I do, it’s because they’re assholes to my sister.  Stay angry, my friends.”

My bro wins.  We had a long conversation about the smile comment and about dealing with street harassment.  This is the zillionth example that confirms my belief that it’s so important to speak out about these issues (if and when we are able), especially to people who don’t see or experience them, especially when those people are like my brother: straight, white, cisgender teenage guys.  Gotta train ‘em to see the shit that won’t be hurled directly at them, yet happens all around them.

Part 3: I Have No Time for Assholes

The day significantly improved in the evening, when I went to visit a good friend.  Having spent the L ride downtown scribbling furiously in my copy of Female Chauvinist Pigs (huge capitalized “NO”s and “STFU”s abounded), I was looking forward to chilling out in a thoroughly non-patriarchal atmosphere (as much as that is possible).  As I crossed a large intersection to meet her, a car sped by, honking profusely.  I turned to see strange guy #2–barely older than me and in a beat-up truck–staring out of the window, leering at me.

Without pausing, I flipped him off and kept walking.  He looked shocked shocked and horrified at my reaction.  I wish I had a picture of his face.  Too fucking funny.

Me: 

Success.  Then I waltzed off into the night with my friend and headed to her apartment for yummy food and wine.

** The answer, of course, is that this shit is never okay.  I love bois (and others) who are not femmephobic jerks.  Then again, I think all kinds of non-jerk people are great, ‘nough said.

Tag Cloud

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 72 other followers