My interest in feminism could have started when my mom told me that people “aren’t weird, they’re just different.” It could have started when I was teased in elementary school for having braces or in high school for having overbite. It could have been those journalism classes or seeing how Native people in my high school were treated by my peers. Maybe it was because I had to come out as queer and then again, as a transgender man.
Hell, for all I know it started because I watched the Beatles animated film “The Yellow Submarine” every day with my brother when I was nine. All of those happy people dancing, becoming frozen because some Blue Meanie didn’t like music. Unjust, I tell you! I grew up listening to the Beatles because my mom was a huge fan. They promoted love for everyone. As a boy with unusual plumbing and a large vocabulary, I firmly believe that everyone has the right to love whomever they like and be happy while doing so.
Within all of that identity-seeking and stumbling around, I hadn’t yet considered feminism. I’ve emerged from last semester’s intense depression and now I’m coping day-to-day with being a closeted transgender man in college. I’m planning on being out in my university of choice (Women’s Studies minor!) but I need to finish my college degree first, which means I need to keep hopping on that city bus to school until May. As I’ve been struggling with depression, I’ve been going to a gender advocacy center at my university of choice. They have a peer support program so I’ve been walking over there every Friday to rant about my life. I’m dealing with a lot of anger and queer/trans (in)visibility/erasure, and all sorts of lovely problems. This anger is surfacing in my art and within my day-to-day life, to the bruised feelings of several people around me. I’m trying to be a good boy but patience is hard. The gender advocacy center that I go to is very feminist, working from a harm-reduction framework. They’re also anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-oppressive and other progressive things I’m certain I’m forgetting. This means that the gender advocacy center is basically my cheering squad—a great boost on a bad day. Needless to say, I’d been picking up a lot of feminist language and terminology without realizing it.
I was temporarily working as a polling clerk a month ago and I told someone that I had just gotten back from Toronto, where I had attended the Canadian Universities Queer Services Conference. I had met some amazingly hard-working people there and they had gotten my energy up. My co-worker then asked, “So are you a queer activist?”
I was startled. A queer activist? A trans one, sure, by virtue of coming out and educating people all the time, but queer? “Sure, I guess you could say that.”
Then a few weeks ago I was sitting in my college’s student union office when a young woman cracked a sexist joke. She made a joke dismissing her own sex. She said that she thought “anti-feminist” jokes were funny. I called her out on it and the head executive backed me up. She rallied a few people, who also chuckled at her jokes, and then the head exec shut them down. The incident rattled around in my head for a few days.
Spring break came and I attended a bunch of radical queer workshops. I met burlesque dancers, sex workers, and international activists who were doing and continue to do amazing work within their communities. It was incredibly inspiring.
Through all of my soul-searching these three years, of course, I was reading online and offline. More queer and transgender lit, but they so often intersect with feminism, don’t they? I found Kate Bornstein though the terrific gender-celebratory site Genderfork.com. Kate Bornstein, Goddess bless her soul a thousand times over, has supported me and others through her wonderful books and regularly updated Twitter feed (hashtag: #stayalive). She taught me to be compassionate to myself. Through her banter online and offline with S. Bear Bergman, I remember to try and be a gentleman at all times. She also had me aware of when I, as a white able-bodied male, could be using my privilege to get ahead of someone.
Somewhere last month, in between being attracted to burlesque dancers and re-reading Auntie Kate’s My Gender Workbook, I realized “Hey! Feminism is for everybody!”
The first time I stated it with surety was when I was in my psychologist’s office two weeks ago. I was talking about gender expression and stereotypes. Some people were under the impression that I was straight, that I would get married to a woman and have children, and that I’d play lots of sports just because I identify as male. It was pissing me off. I was adamantly telling my psychologist that I was not like that because, well because, I was a feminist, dammit! I wasn’t going to adhere to stereotypes because some people in my life expected me to! I was going to educate people about gender and oppression! I wasn’t leaving a box I hated for another box I didn’t like! I was a feminist!
It fell out of my mouth as naturally as saying “I’m a boy.” Like, duh. And now I need to catch up on my reading. People keep mentioning Butler and Foucault and I have no idea what they’re going on about! Gender is a social construction? But my gender feels natural so how is it a social construction? See, ignorance makes me argumentative and angry so I definitely need to educate myself some more.
Then I’ll move onto educating others. I want to teach some sort of art therapy workshops, pay-what-you-can, because art saves lives. I don’t think that’s acknowledged enough in society. Mental health is important. I’m working on keeping balanced as I bide my time in college, half-closeted. Being two different people in the same institution is very trying. Just yesterday, I was called both my preferred name and my birth name in less than a minute. That collision of identities was very painful. Incidences like those mean I need to drink a lot of tea and write vast amounts of angry spoken word poetry.
Fortunately, that gender advocacy center that I’m absolutely in love with is going to help me transition when I’m in university. They’re going to help me contact my future professors about my preferred name and pronouns. I’ve been accepted into English and Creative Writing. I still need to contact the Simone de Beauvoir Institute about getting into their Women’s Studies program but I’m sure it will be OK. I mean, I’m an angry feminist who’s a boy! What more could they want?