On being a traitor

April 29, 2014 § 13 Comments

So, inevitably, the essay I wrote on genderqueer feminism and being accused of being a traitor for being open about being trans…has led to more accusations of being a traitor for being open about being trans. Not particularly kind ones, I have to admit. And they do hit a nerve.

Because, the thing is – I have worried – I have worried a great deal that I am, indeed, a traitor and a sell-out and a coward who can’t ‘admit’ that they’re a woman. I know many trans men, trans masculine people, FAAB genderqueer people who have the same worry. It was a party line we were told, both by mainstream ‘straight’ society and by a great number of feminists, of cis queer people. That trans people have so bought into myths about what men and women are that they would rather ‘mutilate’ themselves than face up to being a rebellious woman, or man. And that trans masculine people, that FAAB people who aren’t women – we’re all secret or not-so-secret misogynists. We’d rather turn our backs on the concept of womanhood than admit that women are diverse, strong, oppressed by patriarchal systems but still fighting back, and worth fighting for.

I wrapped myself in knots about it, as a teenager, trying to find some hidden vestige of misogyny in me that could explain why I felt myself to be trans, why I couldn’t be a woman. I loved and respected and admired and looked up to so many different women – women I aspired to be like, women I wanted to emulate – but couldn’t fit myself into that category, that word. No matter how much I valued bodies of all kinds, I knew that I needed to alter my body to make it a home I could live in.

The thing that helped me out of that place was the same thing that saved me with my OCD – that endless interrogation of the self in the belief that I was evil, terrible, deserving of nothing. It was the realisation that, ultimately, even if there was this part of me that was hateful, that was bad, that was misinformed and prejudiced and wrong – that it didn’t matter. Because I didn’t have to act as though it mattered.

If that part of me does exist – if a misogynistic, self-hating place is there, but hidden – it doesn’t stop me from leading a feminist life. It doesn’t undo my actions. That unknown, unbidden place couldn’t take back the money I’ve raised for women’s charities, or erase the protests, campaigns, events I’ve organised and worked for to promote women’s liberation. It can’t burn the performance scores I’ve made of forgotten women’s music, or unwrite the lectures I’ve given on the genius and importance of women artists. It can’t get rid of the support, respect and encouragement I’ve given to female friends, colleagues, students, loved ones.

I don’t say this because I want a cookie – I’m not a special case. I’m not saying it to justify myself to people who don’t want to listen. But I am saying it because I think this notion of ‘purity’ we have politics, in liberation movements, in our personal relationships, is bullshit. That you have to be one thing or another – with us or against us – perfectly aligned to a notion of what’s right or working against the cause.

Do I think I’m secretly a misogynist and a traitorous woman because I’m gendequeer and trans masculine? No, not at all. But, to be totally honest – I struggle to see what difference it would make. If not only the overriding goal, but the overriding work in support of that goal is to respect and support the equality of all people – then don’t those actions mean far, far more than a unvoiced thought that is never acted upon?

If I’m living a life that helps others in tangible, concrete ways then what is it to you which pronouns I use, which body I inhabit?


§ 13 Responses to On being a traitor

  • Jennie Kermode says:

    I’d go further. I’d say that if it is one’s nature to be entirely pure, perfect and loving, then one’s acts of kindness and support, practically valuable though they may be, speak very little to one’s moral worth. What is virtue without effort? This is one of the reasons why I don’t like the notion some feminists have that women are inherently good. Not only does it mistake the human condition, it mistakes what is important about humanity – that we strive, despite ourselves, in emulation of the divine. That we are fragile things, that we fail, yet that we have it in us to keep trying. That effort begins with being honest about one’s own nature, which is exactly what you’re doing – at any rate, I don’t see you taking an easy way out.

  • Jonathan says:

    That trans people have so bought into myths about what men and women are that they would rather ‘mutilate’ themselves than face up to being a rebellious woman, or man.

    Which is rubbish. As someone who does live as a (less) rebellious (than I might be) man with respect to gender, I can see that other people’s needs to alter their bodies do not come from the same place as my own needs with respect to gender. It’s not either/or, this or that, along a line; it’s in a different dimension. To try and conflate these different needs under a single, inflexible paradigm (of gender) is erroneous and, more importantly, doesn’t do any of us any favours.

  • Natalie says:

    Again, you bring such a powerful point to the foreground.This is just a testament to your resolution. I admit, I’ve struggled with your ideas. They bring a real thoughtfulness to an otherwise unthoughtful battlefield of the sexes and Gender roles. I want to be brutally honest with you, because I hope to expose my ignorance and fragility. You threaten my femininity. not by being trans masculine, non binary or anything but by being More feminine that I feel i could ever achieve, while fighting tirelessness to become something else. Masculinity, to me is an outdated need. There is no possible need to be strong enough to carry a dead OX home on your back to feed your children any more. I have tried to rid myself of my Masculinity, the power or need to always be that might is right, to fight. To me, masculinity is something like forcing an idea, imposing a body part or a role onto someone else, against their will. masculinity to me is honestly something i don’t understand. it’s so painfully pointless to me. And, even more the darkness that comes with it. But isn’t mother nature a cruel mistress they say? Are not the female of the species more deadly? Love, tenderness and compassion, these are things I’ve always equated with the feminine. Women absorb, they are vessels for life, and light and joy and happiness and as i grew i felt stripped more and more of that, as my masculinity erupted and asserted itself over my body and mine. I wanted to be that even more. You reject these principles and ideas or test them, question them. Sometimes, in my lack of ability to grasp what you say and I misunderstand I feel like I’m being mocked. That no matter what, i will never be accepted or measure up to the stand of being a woman, and that some women reject their femininity so outright and embrace the masculine entirely yet are STILL more feminine that me. The confusion of Gender roles and sex. I shame myself really. My confidence in my femininity because I lack those Genetic and physical traits I long for but don’t have, that. But you a traitor? to what? someone else’s ideal? never. Are you betraying yourself?! That’s the only question i feel is relevant. And if you aren’t then nothing else really matters. I spent a decade betraying myself, pretending to be something i wasn’t My masculinity, my Male dominated life killing me, making me feel ugly. desperately trying to break free and so consumed with pain and hatred for everyone who was so open and free. You didn’t do that. You didn’t see a girl and punish her by locking her in the body of a man to diminish her spirit and essence. i did that to me! I betrayed myself. You inspire people, you liberate!. You inspire me. I’ve sat across the room and listened to a beautiful spirit that I aspire to be like, even if i fall short. You are no traitor. The very thought is preposterous. And your struggle in your youth and now and whatever you turn your hand to, you are a liberator, not a traitor. Of course I would fail to see why anyone would want a beard or to want to impose themselves over another’s will. I think you’re just confident in who you are perhaps people like me look to you for inspiration in how to be a strong woman, maybe there is confusion there eve I know I totally misunderstood at first when i met you and had to be told. And I will always struggle to understand you i think and I will never stop trying either. Strength isn’t a masculine trait. It’s a human one . Standing against the wind and tide of life we are strong. And maybe, your masculinity is just you asserting that you Reject anything that doesn’t help you with you. And there is nothing wrong with that.

    Also again. I’m really sorry for the absurdly long and probably incoherent post.

    • cnlester says:

      “Strength isn’t a masculine trait. It’s a human one.” – Hell yes to that. As is beauty – and I don’t think that any compassionate person can ever be ugly x

  • Jamie Ray says:

    Thanks for writing this post. My partner and I are in that mutilation dialogue over my desire to have top surgery. It is so hard for her to grasp that I am not rejecting being a woman, and that I am just as trans whether I have top surgery or not. The difference isn’t that it would make me more trans or less of a woman, but that it would or might make me more comfortable in my own body. It is my body, not a female body, not a male body, it is a my body.

  • L says:

    The reply you’re referring to is hilarious to me. I just imagine being called a “”gender traitor”” by this same person for doing the exact opposite of the typical trans man or post-op transmasculine person does: desiring bottom surgery while bypassing top surgery and hormones. Wears pink. Likes tights.

    You’re familiar with TERFs, right? They’re a dying, 2nd wave breed.

  • curtishamm27 says:

    Very enlightening. Thank you

  • Squid says:

    SO YES..

    The haters will hate and the lovers will love.

    Stay awesome!!!


    Also I mentioned you (inarticulately and briefly!) on the first page of my zine “how very dare you do your own thing with gender”

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