What is masculinity actually meant to be though? I think we have done some good work (which must continue!,) to gain understanding of what it should NOT be… but what SHOULD it be? Any opinions? (preferably from men/masc people, non-men welcome too). Asking As A Men.


My answer for this necessarily rests primarily on my own lived experience,as I’ve done little reading about masculinity. However, my experience has been unusual and instructive.

Binary Oppositions

The problem with looking for positives about masculinity is that exists within a power structure designed to promote it and men and the expense of femininity and women. This makes the question immediately fraught and difficult. Furthermore, cis hetero patriarchy is prescriptive (as opposed to descriptive) and imposes a very simple model of masculinity and gender. In the most basic form of this model, masculinity and femininity are a binary opposition inherently tied to physical sex. Hélène Cixous writes that all binary oppositions map on to this binary opposition – good vs bad, sun vs moon and so forth. Power, strength and goodness map on to the male half. Evil and weakness map on to the female half. (1997)

Some more progressive notions of gender attempt to detoxify this model by decoupling sex and gender and expanding it from a binary opposition to a one dimensional spectrum. However, this expanded model still has a notion of binary opposition embedded within it – if something is closer to the masculine end of the spectrum, it’s further from the feminine end. Thus any positives about masculinity are inherently sexist, as they imply deficits of femininity. Some take this to mean that gender itself is toxic and should be abolished.

Where do we go from here?

Firstly, we can say that eliminating gender is not a good or reasonable goal. It’s not a coincidence that this goal has been weaponised against trans people as we are those who most conspicuously align ourselves with gender categories. This aside, gender is a human universal. The specific expression of gender vary widely by culture, but there are no cultures I know that have no concept of gender. People, cis and trans, seem to seek out gender expression and perform it. Most people like having gender. What they don’t like is oppression.

It does show that talking about cis people illuminates very little about gender – they don’t know much about it and their experience is too limited and inappropriately universalised to draw conclusions from. By looking at trans and gender nonconforming people, we can learn much more about what gender is and isn’t.

People do not transition with the goal of shifting within a power hierarchy. Some people experience dysphoria related to social aspects of gender. Both these things show that gender is extremely important to people and that it has meaning outside of power relationships. Given this, how do we talk about masculinity decoupled from that power relationship?

Gender is not a binary

Non-binary gender identities show that the one dimensional model is too simplistic. While it might be tempting to say that they’re simply between masculine and feminine poles, this does not seem to reflect their experience or presentation. Some people have a lot of gender – masculine and feminine, for example bearded ladies in frilly dresses. Some people seem to have much less gender, for example people who identify as agender. Instead of seeing masculine and feminine as opposite poles, one can see them as distinct but related concepts. A two dimensional graph with a masculine axis and a feminine axis would be a somewhat less inaccurate model.

Therefore, masculinity is not the absence of femininity (or vice versa). But if it is not this and it is not (just) a power relationship, what is it? Looking for a universal answer immediately runs into the stumbling block of extremely divergent cultural encodings, which also vary over time. The current dominant mode of masculinity in the west posits masculinity as inherent authentic, unadorned and related to labour. But one only needs to look at portraits of French kings to see that the very opposite was once true. In those portraits, fills, leggings and leisure were signifiers of masculinity.


We’ve previously rejected embodiment as the basis of masculinity as this would seem to exclude trans and gender non-conforming people. But one of the examples I chose contained embodiment in terms of a beard. To pick apart this further – the decoupling of gender and sex is a relatively recent development, which has lead to extremely unhelpful educational aids like the ‘genderbread person’. (Gonzáles, Prell, Schwartz n.d.) (Killermann 2015) Treating sex and gender as entirely distinct is widely understood to be a form of allyship with trans people, but the problem is that it tends to lead to discussion of trans genitals. Rather than fall into this trap while trying to deconstruct it, I’ll just quote a trans woman on twitter who posted “sex is just gender with a doctor’s note.” (Anon n.d.)

While trans people certainly know a lot more about gender than cis people, the systems were created by and for cis people, so some talk about cis embodiment may be necessary. Which is to say that masculinity is not cock and balls, but is related to them.

In penetrative sex, a person with a penis enters triumphant, but exits deflated. A certain amount of identity seems to surround one’s cock, but one has almost no control over it.

Cis hetero masculinity is a struggle towards inevitable defeat.


A defining notion of masculinity in my culture is struggle. One struggles against oneself, against society and against other men for social rank. This last one is generally toxic, but the others need not be. Furthermore, defeat is inevitable. One is never fully in control of anything, least of all oneself. Where masculinity becomes toxic or good I think may partially lie in how it copes with both defeat and victory.

One can have grace and humility or one can have terrified bravado. Good masculinity seeks self-improvement. (Recall that we’ve taken away the binary opposition and presences in masculinity are not absences in femininity.) Toxic masculinity seems to stem from fear of being unworthy. This leads to futile attempts to suppress parts of oneself and to inflate one’s perceived rank through unearned means, such as systemic power relationships.

Embedding masculinity within struggle tends to be compelling to people seeking direction. While I find this satisfying, it’s possible I’ve overly universalised my own experience. Masculinity has been a struggle for me, in that I’m not cis. It’s been a long challenge to be able to claim this space. I therefore believe that this was a worthwhile thing to do. Not just because it was hard, but because I felt compelled to do it. The result is that I’m a happier, kinder and more productive member of society. Therefore, from my own experience, I feel there must be something positive here. I fought for this, so it must be worth having.

The rise of fascism

Alas, the spectre of binary opposition always looms over discussions of gender, making them potentially harmful towards women and feminine people, however, it’s important to continue to have these discussions, while simultaneously rejecting the notion of prescriptive binary. If there are no positive discussions of masculinity, there will be only negative ones. There are a lot of young men searching for meaning and we can’t leave the conversation to Jordan Peterson.

Masculinity itself is morally neutral, but easy to weaponise. It’s important to speak about the positive factors and potential within masculinity without a binary opposition and without denigrating femininity. Genders are socially constructed, but, unlike other constructions, like, say, money, we can’t point at a time before they existed. Indeed, efforts to get rid of gender have not been emancipatory, but have been attacks on people with less gender privilege. With this in mind, discussing theoretical and practical aspects of masculinity in a public way is a necessity. It’s trite to say that young men need role models, but it’s nevertheless true. If we try to tell them that masculinity is shameful, this is a disservice to both young men and trans men.

Narratives about anti-heroes are extremely popular right now. These characters are made sympathetic in the telling, to make them compelling characters. Unfortunately, some take this to mean they should also be role models. If examples of toxic masculinity are ubiquitous and positive masculinity is taboo on the left, we are at a dangerous disadvantage.

Works Cited

Anon. (n.d.) I tried to find this but couldn’t.

Cixous, H. (1997). Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays. DOI:10.1007/978-1-349-25621-1_8

Gonzáles, C; Prell, V; Schwartz, J. (n.d.) The genderbread person. [Referenced by ] [Accessed 3 September 2019]

Killermann, S. (2015). The genderbread person v3. It’s pronounced metrosexual. [Web] [Accessed 3 December 2019] This content is plagiarised, but the original is not easily available.

Brand New People

Around five years from now, a method is invented which allows saves the life of several infants who would have otherwise died during birth. However, they are born comatose. Doctors hope they will spontaneously awaken, but they do not. They are alive but unresponsive and unthinking for years. Their bodies mature and occasionally a researcher has a futile idea for how to wake them up. Years pass, until finally, 23 years on, a junior doctor has an idea that she gets permission to try on a patient.

This patient, in a coma from just before birth, 23 years ago, awakens. Eyes flutter open for the first time. A long-delayed wail reverberates down the care home corridor. Some newspapers offer the headline ‘Woman Awake After Spending her Entire Life in a Coma’. But is this right? Letters to the editor raise the question, ‘Is this patient, assigned female at birth, who menstruates, but has never participated in culture or had a sense of themselves until this morning: are they a woman?’

The doctor, eager to see if her cure works on others, awakens two additional patients: one assigned male at birth; one assigned female, but discovered years ago to have been born without a uterus. A local newspaper says, ‘Flush with success, Doctor X Awakens a Man and a Woman.’ Again, a debate debate on Comnet carries on: Are 23-year-olds who have been unconscious their whole life, who have never menstruated or had an erection – are they men and women?

Meanwhile, thanks to the therapy techniques developed over the next 30 years, the first patient is successfully learning to communicate and can now indicate words for generalised items, such as ‘food’ and for roles, such as ‘doctor’, ‘nurse’ and ‘therapist.’ The patient learns signs for ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and, after seemingly grasping the concept, constantly refers to themselves as a ‘man.’ The communication therapists first attribute this to the fumbles of a new learner, but the patient has a high degree of accuracy applying this to others. When the therapist tries to correct the patient, they shake their head in vigorous disagreement. ‘Man!’ they indicate, with increased forcefulness. ‘Man!’

Appeals to genitals do not sway the patient’s assertions. The medical staff at the care facility have a meeting to discuss this.

‘She can’t possibly know she’s transgender’, a few say, ‘she doesn’t have the life experience.’

Others argue, ‘We allow patient B to say he’s a man, without life experience. We allow patient C to say she’s a woman. They have even less experience than A does, who’s been awake six months longer.’

Feminist texts are consulted. Someone leaks a broad outline of the meeting to the national press. A scandal emerges. But all the while, Dr. X’s new method gradually awakens patients around the world, all 21-23 years old, but brand new people.

Timanna Bennett, R.I.P.

I know, in my life, there have been many people who loved me, but maybe two people who i feel like have ever really understood me. Yesterday was the funeral of one of those people. Timanna’s memorial service started with her family speaking, then her best friends and exes. People spoke about how accepting and understanding she was. She would accept one person and simultaneously accept her other friends being judgmental.
T was queer and genderqueer. She could grow a sparse moustache (better than mine), which she often did. For the inauguration, she decided to wear a wig and a muumuu to go to the Parkway Theatre and watch Obama get sworn in. She also would sometimes butch up in a suit or a tux, and cut quite a dashing figure. Several butch women spoke very movingly about how T helped show them that it was ok to be a masculine woman. Alex talked about how she and T used to go to thrift stores and buy old man clothes together.
Other people spoke about T being unconventional and flamboyant. Somebody mentioned getting thrown out of a movie theatre. Nicole told me about a road trip where they had been thrown out of a Denny’s (for playing Madonna on a boombox). When I was an undergrad, I had an overdeveloped sense of propriety and T liked to shout “penis!” at the top of her lungs in grocery stores and whatnot when I was with her, just to watch me squirm.
Sophie wrote a eulogy where she shared that when she was a freshwoman and new to Mills, a group of new students had decided to go skinny-dipping in the fountain in the middle of campus, during the night. Timanna grabbed all their clothes and ran off with them.
T was almost larger than life. She was the most creative person I’ve ever met. Frustratingly, she didn’t do that much concrete with it. Her senior art show was really cool and she did an awesome zine. I always hoped she’d have more frequent output. It seemed like she was always helping other people be more creative. When I was a youth and put out my first album with, a vanity label, T bought a copy. I think she’s the only one to have bought it. A couple of years ago, she commissioned me to write a short piece. She was one of two people who encouraged me to start blogging.
Somebody said how T seemed to have trouble figuring out her life path. Lately, she had some problems with drugs, but it seemed like she was really sorting herself out. She was trying to quit and was volunteering at a law center to help victims of domestic violence. She had just applied to do a MA program at Mills in public policy. T was an activist, always working for social justice and change. One of her professors from her undergrad days talked about how she had written a recommendation letter for T, how she was going to get into the grad program.
The professor wants to set up an institutional memorial for T at Mills. T has been around Mills for over a decade now, involved in the community. Her mother spoke about how T had never felt she fit in anywhere, until she got to Mills. There was a stirring of recognition in the mourners, many of whom were Mills women (and another Mills man aside from me). I started crying at that moment and haven’t stopped much since.
There’s so much I want to ask T, about herself and about gender issues – like what it means for me to have felt so strongly validated as a Mills woman then, but a man now? And I just want to talk about Madonna or whatever pop culture thing she was into at that moment.
The last time I saw her, I was home for Christmas and it was a stressful visit. I saw my family for the first time since starting transition and my ex girlfriend for the first time since breaking up and I almost didn’t want to be in California at all. Timanna came over and we went to the White Horse, her favorite gay bar, in Oakland. It was karaoke night. I’ve barely got any control of my voice since it started to change, but the overall quality of singing was on a par with what I could manage. We sang a duet of “I Touch Myself,” a song I hadn’t even heard in years. If we got any notes right at all, it was by happy accident. But we acted like “horndogs,” according to the MC. T didn’t even seem embarrassed, even as I was blushing.
I think all the queers and butches and femmes and transfolks and academics and activists and friends packed in the pews of the chapel and standing in the back could tell a story like that, about how T was a bright spot in their life. And at this dark hour in mine, I keep thinking that if I’m in the Bay Area and I’m so sad, I should call her up. It’s hard to even conceive of a world without her.

Old Men

The sort of charm of pipes and shaving kits and things made of leather.
The charm of men who drink Jenever
and fought in the war.

They are old men.
Our fathers or grandfathers.
Charming with their tweed and antique handguns and easy masculinity.

They wish they spoke like Hemingway,
so they chop their feelings instead of their sentences,
show their affection by talking about your car.

“You dress like an old man,” my last girlfriend said about my hat.
I want to skip straight to old, missing awkward and gawky and this second puberty.
I envy them their beards,
their unquestioned assumptions,
their bodies which, at least once, matched
before they needed doctors to make things work.
We have that much in common.

New Information

DOROTHY: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?
You don’t need to be helped any longer.
You’ve always had the power to go back to

I have?

Then why didn’t you tell her before?

Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She
had to learn it for herself.

I have a French friend, Sasha, staying with me for a couple of nights. He asked me why I wanted to change my name. I gave hi a look, but before I could speak, he continued, “It’s a gender neutral name in France.” And went on to tell me that it was exceedingly traditional.
Saint Céleste was the second bishop of Metz, around the end of the third century. My middle name is “Marie”, which is a traditional masculine middle name for Catholic French men. To pick an unfortunate example, it’s the middle name of Jean Marie Le Pen.
Sasha said, you can’t get much more traditional than that, the name of a bishop and then Marie as a middle name.
It’s somewhat archaic. In the 18th century, it would have been male all the time. Now, it’s more often given to girls, but still can go either way.
All my life, I’ve wished I had a gender neutral name.
What do you mean I’ve had it the entire time?!
I had filled out zero paperwork towards trying to get my name changed. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass, obviously, especially living abroad. I was going to wait until I could also change my gender marker, which will also require a new passport – and thus a new student visa. It took me months to get the last one, so you can see why I hesitate.
It’s certainly simpler not to change my name at all. Ok, in English, it’s almost always given to girls, but it’s not an English name. Really, what was my mom thinking giving me a French name in the first place? There’s no French in my family, even, except for a rumor that her maiden name had distantly French origins. Like, Norman Invasion sort of distant.
I have a hobby, and that’s second guessing myself.
But name wasn’t nearly as girly as I thought. Plus, I have a saint day, the 14th of October. (This is something that matters in Catholic school . . ..) And the saint was a dude. If I wanted to change my name because it was much too feminine, but it turns out to have masculine roots and a masculine present, well, that changes things.
In the states, nobody will have heard of such a thing, but it’s not common there anyway and I’m not going back in the next two years, so . . . What to do? I want to work this out sooner, rather than later. It’s a funny thing, Sasha brought it up because I was changing it, but never mentioned it earlier.
I feel kind of like Dorothy in that scene in the Wizard of Oz. (that’s so so gay.)

The WSJ on Social Structures in the Loo

The Wall Street Journal waxes poetic about the ladies’ loo. It starts with, “It’s a good thing office lavatories aren’t coed.” This is more or less the crux of the article. Why is it a good thing? Well, the author never actually says, she just hints. The reason, of course, is that it’s a holy temple of feminity. A safe space, for gender normative women. For others?

Not every woman, of course, wants to join an office ladies’ room club. Some undoubtedly think there’s more to be gained snagging lunch dates with staff several rungs above them than exchanging advice with women colleagues. Others simply don’t feel comfortable sharing confidences in front of toilet stalls. They wash their hands in silence and, while they’re present, conversations around them halt.

And this has nothing whatsoever to do with gender presentation. The reason that women have always fallen into icy silence when I tried to pee near them wasn’t because I was too butch. It was because I was a stuck-up bitch who scorned their advice. Who knew?
Oh, but what about the mens? Well, this is the WSJ, so we can’t focus on women’s issues, even when they’re as normative as possible. “Still some of my male colleagues, who describe their exchanges in men’s rooms as monosyllabic at best, tell me they want to join the ladies’ room club. To which I say, come on in — but listen.”
To which I say, give me a fucking break.
Ok, it’s nice that women can get a break from men and have some of their own space. It’s valuable for minority communities to have such spaces. But these informal clubs cement power in conforming members and exclude non-conforming. Also, access to toilets is a biological necessity, not a luxury. Bearded ladies need access as much as those who might want to deal with “ripped panty hose.”
Fuck the ladies room club. Move it someplace else.

The Last Day


So on the last day to the ETC, we started out with an evaluation. It was a big love-in. “I love you guys! You’re all so great!” It was a nice, positive vibe. There was some discussion about privacy and posting images from the con and some also about possibly having some equipment or an organization. The stream was constantly screwed up, so maybe an org should buy a computer for streaming instead of trying to recycle junk computers into a stream machine every time?
Aileen spoke up about how she was happy that there was no organization and it was all kind of ad-hoc. She talked about how people could just do things and it would all fit in some how. She said that since people wanted me to come, they had just changed the policy on who could come and that was that. An organization might be limiting.
I felt all warm and fuzzy. Aw, they really do like me! I’d spent the whole week feeling awkward about whether I was really meant to be there. Was I intruding? Were people annoyed by me? Was it all in my head? When people shortened “women and gender minorities” to “women” what did that imply for my presence? Aileen’s statement was not contradicted at all. Clearly my nervousness had been in my perceptions only! I felt pretty good and thanked people for letting me come.
That was a weird thing to do.


Then, we rode the train north to the the dunes and walked several km to the beach. It was a bit cold and cloudy, but still very nice. The beach had a strange, thick foam. We sat out and picnicked. Some people tried to swim in the frigid, foamy north sea. After a while, we moved to a cafe where we drank tea and hot coca and beer. It was on the beach, but had glass set up to obstruct the wind, but not the view. Some ETC people starting climbing up the outside and juggling and otherwise being silly. I laughed so hard my sides are still sore.
It started to rain, so we went back to A’dam. Some of us went to a benefit dinner for migrants. A few others, including me, went to get stuff from our space, with a vague promise of dinner.

The Discussion

There was no dinner. Instead there was a lot of discussion about the future of ETC. I felt really uncomfortable during it because it talked a lot about trans issues. Some of the people there felt like there should have been discussion before the definition of who was to come was changed.
What I was thinking at the time was, “I’ve only been transitioning for a few months. I’m not fully secure with it. Anything talking about this is like poking a fresh wound. I want to be proud of who I am and my queer identity, but I still feel sad that I failed at being a woman. I really tried to make it work, but couldn’t.”
I don’t have a clear memory of everything that was said. Because unless somebody is saying something like Aileen said, it feels like poking a wound. In fact, some of the things said were transphobic. It mostly wasn’t personal (it never is), but I felt terrible afterwards.
Right now, my inclination is that I will not go to another ETC event. Last year was really the last time I went into a gendered space as a woman and it was so positive and the contacts that I made so valuable, that I had hoped I could still participate. Part of my pre-transition identity really had a lot to do with being in a certain kind of gendered space: feminist spaces where variance is welcome. ETC was the perfect combination: feminism, tech, green, free culture. All these progressive elements have synergy and it was so wonderful to be around others making the same connections.
A generation ago, there was worry that lesbians would somehow mess up feminism. Now it’s transgender people. C’est la vie. I’ll do my own sort of gender liberation, you do yours. I’m in search of a community. God knows where I can find it.

The Party

So, feeling like shit, I started biking towards a drag party. At least I can do drag, right? Or something. I was really feeling low wondering how I will ever be able to have a coherent sense of self if I have to pick between my own gender and the political issues that I see as so vital. Part of what motivated me to transition was that guys a few years out say that they don’t really have to think about gender anymore. It’s something that for years now, I’ve had to think about all the time. Now my hopes to be able to move on to something else seemed to be doomed. I wanted to just keep biking forever and not stop.
But I did stop and there was a sign on the door which said, “you are now entering a gender-free zone.” Well, that’s a positive development. I paid my cover and went to get a beer and one of my (awesome) hosts was behind the bar dressed as a pirate! She took me around backstage where I painted on a goatee. There were people in all kinds of drag. Butch women in dresses. People presenting some female drag items paired with some male drag items. Hairy cleavage. Goatee and eye makeup. Every kind of genderfuck. I started feeling better.
There was a burlesque show / drag show / comedy show / whatever fun thing. Dykes, bis, trannies, queers. It was awesome. Afterwards there was dancing. This being amsterdam, there was also more booze and more pot and it was totally awesome.
And suddenly, instead of being some irreconcilable fringe character, I’m all sexy and cool. Girls were after me!
I’m in puberty right now, for the second time. It’s cool, but it’s still weird. I haven’t been feeling especially attractive. But there, suddenly, people wanted to kiss me! I was out dancing and being drunk and stupid until the sun came up.

The Next Day

I went to help clean the bar. I was supposed to help clean the ETC space, but the bar also needed cleaning. And I had happier feelings about it. There were people I really wanted to see while doing ETC cleanup, but my last conversations there had sucked so much.
So I got things out of going to ETC this time, but I think it was a lot about seeing people I had met before and being in a country that I want to return to. And being in queer spaces that were just coincidental to ETC.
I don’t know anything about anything. I kind of like being foreign, obviously, or I would move home. But, I guess that’s a broad category of experiences and some are great and some are not. I was thinking of trying to play on the Ladyfest circuit, but right now, I’m wary of it. Part of being foreign is creating communities of outsiders, of expats, of artists, of queers. I felt it sometimes in ETC, with some people. Some folks there were awesome.
I need something right now. English isolation = not so great. Somebody in the discussion of doom suggested that I start a group. I guess I have to.
Anyway, that’s the last about ETC. I’m ready to move on and feel some complexities some place else. Maybe in music. I’m supposed to be a composer.

Gendered Spaces

Why Limit by Gender

We live in a patriarchy. People who are perceived as male have privilege over people who are not. This starts from very early childhood and continues through adulthood. Statistically, people raised as girls tend to be steered away from science, technology and math. Children internalize these messages, so as adults, people tend to think of men as being good at technology and women as not. This is easily observable by phrases like “the mom test” or “the girlfriend test” for software usability. Women are dumb, so if they can manage the user interface, it must be really good, because even a neophyte can handle it. Because your mom could never be a software engineer. Your girlfriend could never be a hacker.
There’s a million arguments already made about how mtfs share this sort of experience. Many are aware of their gender identity from early childhood and internalize all of this crap too. Finally, when they do transition, they get all the discrimination against women, and also all the discrimination against trans people. And ftms tend to also be around these kinds of places. We were perceived as girls through our childhood. I had a lot of access to technology as a child, but definitely felt unwelcome in my highschool’s computer room. The boys used tools like degrading pornography to enforce the male gaze and male dominance (and heterosexual dominance) to keep others out.
Women and gender minorities, therefore, tend have a shared experience around technology. It is an experience of being discouraged, of being not taken seriously, of being excluded.

New Feminism

The ETC had a kind of interesting talk about New Feminism. (There were some issues with it, but whatever). One of the speakers, Rosy, was making a lot of generalizations, which irked many, but I think there were some kernels of truth in what she was getting out. She heavily disparaged identity politics, saying they were an aspect of capitalism and market segmentation. MTV was trying to sell us our identity. I bristled a bit about this, since MTV is most definitely not selling me my transgender identity. It’s something I have to constantly fight for. I asked her about agency. If an identity is being asserted in opposition to corporate culture, what does that mean?
She said identity politics were narcissistic and had several problems. If we say women should be equal, well, equal to what? Should rich white women become just like rich white men? Furthermore, it creates a context of victimhood. In order to organize for rights around a particular identity, you need to say that identity is lacking. I think she meant to imply that there’s a danger there of failing to see intersections. She noted that there are situations where lesbians were the dominant political power. If you see lesbians constantly as an oppressed class, you won’t see where you’re oppressing others.
Of course, you sometimes have identities forced upon you by others and organizing around that is vital. In the feminist forum that I help moderate (livejournal feminist), we have rules about “oppression olympics” where we require that intersectionality be taken into account. I think that Rosy’s thinking and our thinking is very similar. Yes, there is an institutional, hierarchical power structure in society which privileges some identities and bodies over others (the Patriarchy!), but we all function within it and might be upholding it in ways that privilege ourselves. A white lesbian is still white. A upper class gay man is still upper class.
There aren’t that many places where lesbians are at the top of the heap. But when you’re talking about women-only spaces, such a situation can arise.

Focussing on Women

Comparing oppressions is rarely a useful exercise, but if you wanted to do so, there are metric you could use. I would pick unemployment figures and salary gaps to look at economic discrimination. I would use hate crime statistics and domestic violence statistic to look at safety issues. There are a few other metrics that one could employ. People who are out as transgendered do worse on these metrics than do heterosexual women. They even do worse than lesbians.
So if you were the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and you had a policy of only admitting people who had been born and raised as female and who were still female-identified, you would have a policy of excluding people who were lower on the ladder than you. I think most progressives can agree that there’s value in oppressed classes creating their own spaces. I think most progressives can similarly agree that there is not value in privileged classes creating their own spaces. A men-only event is different than a women-only event.
So excluding trans people is asserting privilege. Yes, it changes the vibe. But if a group of all-white women suddenly racially integrates, that changes the vibe too. If you bemoan that, you’re a fucking racist. Certainly, it’s more comfortable to be around people of your own race, gender, and economic class. But if you’re trying to do something political to benefit people who face gender-based discrimination and you’re all cisgender, bourgeoise, legally immigrated, white women, that’s kind of problematic. If you worry that changing that will change the vibe of your event, well . . . the response that springs most immediately to mind is “fuck you.”

Who gets Access

We’ve all heard the stories or perhaps even experienced a hostile male response to spaces that exclude them. I think the contexts of power and privilege make these replies different than trans people asking for access. Indeed, the entire justification and model of progressive, gender-exclusive spaces says these are different replies. But in the patriarcal challenge, the cisgender man says, “can I come if I wear a dress?” The annoyed feminist says, “no, fuck off.” How can we tell who is a man in a dress trying to start a problem and who is gender minority?

The Gender Police

We can judge them by how well they pass! Yes, in this fantastic model, we employ something I’m going to call the cisgender gaze. Gender normative people can feel empowered to determine how well transgender people are passing. It’s a fun diversion for cis people. And devastating to the identity of trans people! Yay!
When I try to explain the male gaze to people, I sometimes talk about a phenomenon that occurs on University Campuses in the US. Sometimes men will set up chairs along a bust walk way and make score cards like those used in the Olympics. A woman walks by and they all hold up scores on her attractiveness. 6.3, 7.5, 8.1. However, unlike the Olympics, these are just women trying to get to class who did not ask to be rated by their male peers. Indeed, they are no longer peers, there are judges and judged. A power structure is created where one class of people sits dominant over another class of people. Men judge women. In the context of a rape culture, this is especially alarming.
The cisgender gaze has a lot in common with the male gaze in that a rating and ranking system is employed. The people doing the rating have economic and social power (in a broader social context) over the rated. And we live in a society where the rated have to be concerned about experiencing violence at the hands of the class of people that is rating them.
Plus, this has the added bonus of kicking people where they’re already wounded. Trans people often have a lot of anxiety about passing, especially when they’re just starting on their transition. We can all wish this were not so. But nobody would transition if they did not with to be perceived as a particular gender. Furthermore, there is a safety issue when we try to get access to other gendered spaces, like toilets.
Would you tell a cisgender woman that she looks like a man and you would think she was one if you encountered her out in public? Then why the fuck would you tell a trans person that you were certain you could read them? Fuck you. A woman wh heard that would probably feel like shit about it. But some trans people are also fighting for their identity. I have to jump through a million hoops with the NHS. I have to come out to people. I have to struggle to assert my gender identity. You just told me I’m failing at a core aspect of my identity. I don’t even want to fucking hear that I’m passing very well today. Are we best friends? Do I get to tell you that those trousers might make your ass look big? No? Then shut the fuck up.
At last year’s ETC, we all went swimming naked in the Danube because it was hot as hell. I felt really weird being naked in front of other people, largely because of trans issues. At the time, it really felt ok. Now, though, I wish I hadn’t. People were talking to me last week about my breasts. Yes, they’re larger than you would think. No, they’re not especially masculine. I don’t want to fucking hear about my boobs from anybody, unless we’re snogging or something. They are not up for casual conversation! Again, shut the fuck up.

Up For Further Discussion

The change from Women Only to Women and Gender Minorities was made without much discussion. Nobody wanted to have an argument. Some people wanted me (and a couple of other transguys) to come, so the change was made.
That’s great for you that you don’t have to argue about who should access gendered spaces. But alas, I know you meant well, but then those conversations fell on my shoulders.
There might be a bajillion trans organizations and trans activist, but I’ve just come out in a foreign country where I don’t know that many people. I don’t know any such groups. I’m one person trying to get through multiple border crossings at the same time. I don’t have the resources to deal with extra shit..
My roots are in feminist spaces, in queer spaces, in women’s spaces, in doing tech. I’m not entirely pleased to be moving away away from certain aspects of my roots. When I first realized I was queer, I had several unhappy breaks from the institutions of my childhood. I lost my religion, for example. Former spaces of support suddenly excluded me. Now, it seems like the spaces that I found, that seemed so much better than the spaces that excluded me, are now breaking away also. This fucking hurts.

I’m at the ETC


That’s the Eclectic Tech Carnival a fun mishmash of technology, feminism and social activism. I’m playing a show tomorrow night. And yesterday, I taught a workshop on Audacity and podcasting (some text from that will be available shortly).
The con is for “women and gender minorities.” Which means I’m the only guy in the room. Back in the old days, I was often the only woman in the room, which, at a tech event, really bothered me. Actually, when I go into a public meeting on tech or music, I always do a headcount of men vs. women and wonder what can be done if the ratios are not good. This is entirely different, of course and ok as long as I don’t think about it too hard.
I’m not the only transmasculine person here. I might not even be the only transsexual here. But I’m definitely the only male-identified person. “Women and gender minorities” gets shortened a lot to “women.” I wonder how I will feel about this in the future? On the one hand, I probably won’t ever be in this community again and that’s a loss. On the other hand, right now I’m not overly confident in regards to gender and so when I see things get shortened to “women” I feel anxiety. Everyone is really accepting and accommodating. Alas, I think it is my fate in life to always be asking for exceptions. I ask for fewer now, at least. Nobody asks for me to wear a dress or leave the appropriate loo. So on the one hand, it’s fine. But on the other hand, I can’t think about it too hard.
This avoidance comes out in weird ways. People keep asking if Xena, my dog is a male or female and I find myself getting irrationally defensive around the question. She’s a dog! She doesn’t have a gender identity as far as I know! Who are you to say if she’s a vrowje or a manje based on her genitalia!?! Ok, I know this is crazy, but better to be irrational about my dog than other things.
Until last night, I was staying with Vivian in Delft, which meant a lot of time in transit. I got back to Vivan’s flat last night at 2:30 am and had to feed the dog and give myself a shot of T.
Ok, so I don’t feel like my feminism is incompatible with being trans. The name of the sponsoring org for this thing is Gender Changers. It’s all ok. I still feel weird coming home from being surrounded by all these great women and then shooting up T. But if I were to put off the shot, it would make me feel sluggish and unhappy, and anyway. It’s ok to be trans or it isn’t. The timing of the shot shouldn’t have any bearing on that. And this is part of what I mean about not being confident.
So I was sitting on the floor of Vivian’s guest room, naked, right before sleep, trying to flick stubborn bubbles from the needle. I’m still not good at this. It’s messy. The way the British ampoules work is that first I draw all the T (in castor oil) up into the needle and then turn it around and try to get the bubbles out without spilling too much. Then, of course, I stab myself. Lately, I’ve been pushing the needle in slowly, which is a bad idea, but doesn’t cause physical harm, so whatever. Push needle, tense muscle, relax, push slightly further, tense again . . . ok, it does cause physical harm, but so does people biting their nails.
I pulled out the needle and there was blood. Not a little spot of blood, but a coin-sized pool of blood coming from my leg. Aieeee! Blood! Aiiieeee! 3:00 AM stark naked at my friend’s house and a pool of blood! I saw the antiseptic wipe I had used early and pressed it down to stop the bleeding. Oh my god! Oh my god! oh my god! I started to shake uncontrollably.
I saw this thing where you’re supposed to try pulling back on the plunger to see if you draw up blood. If you did, you hit a vein or something and need to re-try injecting. That didn’t happen. So where did the blood come from? Ok, weight lifters take more in a day than I just took, so it doesn’t matter if it went straight in my blood. Well, 0.8mL of castor oil in my veins in probably not good, but it’s not like I could do anything about it. If I can’t do anything about t and it won’t kill me, then there’s nothing to do but shake a lot and try to sleep.
(Castor oil is secreted by beavers, according to the dictionary on my mac. Um.)


This is my first time back in the Netherlands since moving away. It’s even nicer than I remember. I love the bikes. I love the urban planning. I love the train system. I love Dutch people. Delft is south of Den Haag, so taking the train into Amsterdam, I could see the train station and the church tower next to where I lived. I felt such an unexpected wave of attachment for the Grote Kerk tower. That’s my home. That’s where I have friends. That’s where I walked my dog. That’s where I biked. I love Holland. I love California. I love France. I left my heart in San Francisco. I left my stomach in Paris. I left my mind in Amsterdam. So now I’m heartless and mindless.
Good Dutch food: the beer. The coffee. The little sweet things you eat with coffee. Vla. Pancakes. Appeltart.
I have to find a way to move back here.

Naked Image

When I was last at the Tate Modern, I saw some video by Francesca Woodman from the 1970’s. She had a piece where she had stretched butcher paper in front of the large window of her loft. Light was shining through the window and through the paper. She stood naked behind the paper, so that her silhouette was visible and drew on the paper from behind. Then she tore the paper in a kind of provocative way, revealing increasing sexualized parts of her own body, until finally she stepped through it, tearing it all away and walking off frame.
I’ve been thinking about this piece a lot. I was first drawn to it because of the attractiveness of the artist, but the viewer is being asked to consider several things. By drawing on the paper, I think she was trying to create an idea of it as a canvas. We have a cultural idea that artists express themselves in a pure, cerebral form through their art. The canvas becomes almost an extension of self – but specifically, a very dualist kind of self. The canvas is not about the body, but about the mind.
Hélène Cixous argues that all binary oppositions eventually come back to gender. So when we put mind and body into opposition, immediately, we assign one of them to male. And, indeed, historically (and currently, alas) men are mind and women are body. These oppositions are also an implicit comparison, so the mind is more noble and pure than the body. The (male) artist is thus a triumph of masculinity. He expresses the true, the valuable and the pure of himself through his canvas. But if this is implicitly masculine, then women have greatly reduced access. They’re not artists, they’re women artists and that’s something different. Their body is thus always made visible, not just because it’s a site of difference, but because women are presumed to entirely be of and about the body.
By allowing light to filter around her naked body and through the canvas, Woodman makes this explicit in her work. The strip-tease aspect of her tearing makes a connection to sex and femininity even more explicit and invites a feminist analysis. Her drawings are torn to bits to reveal her body / herself, which / who then leaves. She breaks down the mind/body dichotomy, and, in so doing, her work is placed in the male gaze, which is not a site of empowerment. But she remains in control. There is no operator behind the camera. She controls what we see and when we see it, as much as she can, since the paper tears in unpredictable ways. By working within the male gaze, she makes it visible to the viewer.
I was also drawn to the aesthetics of the piece. It’s shot in her home. The attachment of the paper is ad hoc. The video is actually a series of takes. She tried this multiple times and put several of them on the finished tape. I like the experimental nature of it. I like that it’s about process. I think the aspect of it being in her home, which is an intimate setting (I mean that the way that small chamber music venues are described as intimate). She lets us into her life in a small way to make a statement about herself, her art and art in general.
I also admire her courage. There’s no metaphor for being naked on camera because it is the metaphor. She is actually uncovered, but never uncomfortable. It’s amazing.
So as I begin to think about making little films, I keep thinking of hers. I also think of her relationship to her body and the camera. I’ve spent most of my life striving to remain covered, living in my head. I don’t think I have the “wrong body,” but I think my identity was at odds with aspects of my body – not even in a way that I’ve been fully aware of. Which is to say, being naked on camera is not something I would ever have considered in a million years. No. No. No. What are you kidding? It’s another door that was closed – right next to all the doors that disallow crossdressing. These doors are starting to open for me. (Note that they should never have been closed in the first place.)
I’m working on a video of me giving myself a shot. It is uncovering. I thought of her video for courage to continue. My nakedness, though, is metaphorical. Do I want to put out there a picture of me in my bed room? Hesitating? Pausing? Failing?
Why do I want to do it? I have no idea. I try to get things out of my head sometimes and if you that with art, then how you do it is by putting it in other people’s heads. What does it feel like to have your identity hinge on an injection when you have a fear of needles? Well, here’s one answer.
I’m considering doing a piece with a bunch of still photos, slowly fading from one to another. In them I would be in the same location, in the same pose. I would start wearing a suit, hat and jacket and in each picture, remove one item until I was wearing nothing. (Why do I want to do it? I have no idea.)
I pass when I’m clothed. People see me as a man, which is what I want. But I’ve only done hormones and only for a few months. My body is ambiguous. Not even as ambiguous as I would like. It would be a stripping away of identity and of self. (Why do I want to do it? I have no idea.)
What is sex? What is gender? They’re both culturally constructed. My very body is queer now. I call all of these oppositions into question just by existing. My queer self is inscribed on my person, on my physical being.
I don’t want to be a shock value, though. I don’t want to be daytime TV. I don’t want to be a women’s glossy mag. I don’t want to be a bad joke. I want to be a person, clothed or unclothed. Woodman was dealing with the same sort of issues in her work, about how her image is transmitted and received. She can’t control what the perceiver thinks. Somebody like me could come up to it and think , “ooh, hot woman.” But if that person engages the work, they walk away with more than that. She does with pacing, timing, repetition of the same scenario. She’s got some advantage over me in that we, as a culture, acknowledge that cisgender women’s bodies exist.
So, I don’t know if it’s a good idea. I’m looking for thoughts.