I’ve been seeing an increasing amount of ire directed toward cis men. Primarily this is from some feminists and transgender folks.
For those who don’t know a cis person is someone who is comfortable with the gender in which they have been raised. So if you were called a male at birth, raised as a male, and have no problem with being male then you are a cis man. If you are not comfortable with the gender you were given at birth and you feel as if you should be another gender then you would be considered transgender. These are over simplified explanations, but for now simple works because my point here isn’t strictly about labels or identity issues.
Somehow cis has come to be slang for everything that is wrong with men. There is nothing wrong with being a cis man, or cis woman for that matter, just as there is nothing wrong with being a transman or transwoman. It’s just another form of being.
I understand that problems arise when cis men don’t check their priviledge and act in ways that marginalizes and harms others. I also realize that among all offenders, cis men are the largest group both as a population and as a percentage.
A cursory reading of my writings here should dispel any notions that I go easy on men, quite the contrary. This is not one of those “not all men” writings. I’m not using this as a cop-out for me or anyone else. I give guys a lot of shit because I grew up around them, date them, and hear the dumb things they regularly say which indicates a lot of them haven’t done any personal searching.
What we should be fighting against is toxic behavior no matter who exhibits it. Having dated cis men, cis women, and trans women (sorry no trans men yet, but I love ya just the same) I can tell you that toxic behavior can be found in all of these groups. Also amongst these groups are some genuinely lovely people. Everyone has responsibility and thus should be held accountable.
There are a lot of cis men out there who can be or who are feminist and trans allies. We don’t need to push them away.
As you can imagine this is a little personal for me. I consider myself to be very much pro feminist, pro choice, pro trans rights, pro identity rights, and most likely a cis man.
That last part depends on who you talk to; for instance Kate Bornstein in her book Gender Outlaws would posit that I am trans by bucking certain guy norms and by the fact that I’m also a queer crossdresser. Truthfully, how people describe me doesn’t much matter to me. However, since I am somewhat to mostly content with being a man let’s just say I’m cis for our purposes here.
If you’re trans, queer, and feminist, I’m doing my damnest to be there with you. I regularly check my privilege and allow others to check it for me. If I am called out, it does not diminish who I am. In fact, I make myself become a better person because of it so that I may help others, which is all I really want to do anyway. I live my life by a feminist/humanist ideology and owe much to the theorists from all walks of life who have helped me to see the world in all it’s complexity and with kindness.
And yet, I’m a cis man.
There are some real assholes out there, trust me I know, and I get it that men who have never had to question their privilege are most likely to be the ones to offend, but that is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. Maligning all cis men is the same as when TERF’s malign trans women as murderers and pedophiles, it’s the same as when fundamentalists call feminists nazis. Surely we have more compassion and nuance than those groups.
I think (and hope) that when folks generically write about cis men that they really mean the ones who exhibit toxic behavior. Without that clarification though they are throwing their allies under the bus.
We need to do better.
To be clear, this is not a call for moderation. I’m not asking you to be less militant. I’m not asking you to curb your anger. You have every right to be angry and you too deserve a hold on the reigns that guide society. Instead, what I’m asking is that in your anger, your militancy, your passion, your fire, and your drive that you bring some level of honesty and nuance to the world along with it.
There are times where I wonder what people think about men crossdressing. I was watching the television series After Life and an exchange between two of the characters piqued my interest. One said something to the effect of “you never see blokes dressing like women for fun anymore” to which the other replied “good because you shouldn’t.”
I agree and disagree. In the past, I’ve seen guys do it as a spectacle. I remember in high school we would have assemblies where the guys would dress like women and then try to complete a ridiculous obstacle course. I never found it entertaining in the least and it’s probably part of the reason why I ditched school during those events. That stuff should go away. There’s nothing funny about a man dressing in women’s clothes.
However, there are men out there for which crossdressing is derived from an emotional standpoint other than humor. This form of dress should stay around and it’s that which I will speak to.
Can I get more options?
As you can imagine, I crossdress. I don’t crossdress in public (well, once but that’s a story for another time) but I don’t hide the fact that it is part of who I am. I dress around home for me and my partner. I’m sure there are a number of motivations for a guy to crossdress and I’m also sure there are a wide variety of people who do it, so I should caution you that this is my story alone.
For me, and I’m going to bet most other men (whether they realize it or not), traditional American masculinity, rigidly adhered to, is confining in the least and soul crushing at most. Men are supposed to act and look a certain way and I find both of those things incredibly limiting, toxic, and just generally non representative of what it means to be a fully actualized human being.
If you look at men who are insecure about their level of masculinity they often overcompensate. It’s no coincidence that men become the majority of our mass shooters, militia nut jobs, gay bashers, racists, misogynists, and incels. While these are the most pernicious forms of our individuality denied, it should be noted that gender policing among guys is still shockingly common. Calling someone gay (as if gay is non-masculine) when they do something that isnt viewed as manly is stlll appallingly common. These things signal that manly is still a category that is heavily scrutinized and controlled.
Given this climate, I figured I could go one of two ways. I could own a gun, drive a four-wheel drive and double down on my insecurity by hating anything feminine and portraying myself as over the top masculine or I could create my own version of who I wanted to be. So now, I own a gun, drive a four-wheel drive (because some things just don’t change), and flit around in so-called girly things.
So why do I crossdress?
I have almost always wanted to feel desirable in the clothes I wear but what I find attractive are the clothing styles made for women. There isn’t much for guys to wear in order to feel sexy.
As men our physical sex appeal is mainly derived from our bodies which are supposed to be somewhat bulky. I am tall, I am also thin. In fact, I am probably thinner than most women. Because of that, I’m never going to carry a good deal of rippled muscle and any other bulk would have to be in the form of a beer belly which while obtainable, is not really my style. I have gone 40 years without having a body that others regard as truly manly.
This bothered me as a kid but now I love being this thin. I’ve never found muscles or a strictly “manly” physique attractive. I’ve always been drawn to the slighter, softer side of anatomy in all types of folks and so in myself as well.
So donning women’s clothes allows me to feel sexy by virtue of what I’m wearing and there is something I find alluring, even empowering, in that. As an added bonus, my thin build pairs well with women’s fashion. At least as well as it can for a guy. Donning a cute skirt to accentuate hips I don’t have, and a crop top and belly button ring to show off the small waist I do have, is an exciting and fulfilling experience. I finally get compliments about my body that I have never received while dressed as a man; and that’s not hyperbole either. So that’s one reason but, it’s also more than that.
Just one body?
The next reason may throw you for a loop, or you may understand. I’m perfectly happy in a male body and I readily identify as a male. Still, if I could also morph my body and have a female form, male form, or some other form depending on my mood then I would love that. This isn’t a fetish, it’s an actual desire to be able to live this way.
When I see a woman walking down the street in a cute outfit I will do a double take but it’s not for the reasons most guys do. Rather, I’m jealous that I can’t look that cute in the same outfit and that I wouldn’t be accepted if I did. Both concerns stem directly from the fact that my balls tend to hang out of skimpy shorts. Physiology problems, am I right?
Joking aside, I’m also aware that dressing as a man in women’s clothes could also put me in danger from closed minded bigots (those guys I mentioned earlier). Having a female form to change into would eliminate those worries. Since I can’t do that, cross dressing is a way for me to overlay a feminine shade on a masculine base color.
It’s here I feel I should take a step back and clarify a few things. I worry that saying these things sounds privileged in some way because I’m a guy. The claim being that I want to experience different forms of being but not permanently and so without responsibility.
I, for now, claim the exact opposite. Different bodies come with different socio-political realities. If my body morphing powers came to fruition I would simultaneously be bearing the brunt and benefit of each body type I filled. I couldn’t take any form without it’s reality bearing down on me. I have no misgivings that if I were some version of female I would be the subject of men’s toxic behavior. If I had a combination physiology then I would have to fear people who can’t wrap their mind around anything but a gender binary (still mostly men by the way). My claim isn’t that there is no danger, but that wearing some of the things I want as a woman puts me under the radar bigots. Changing forms then would simply be changing realities and not escaping altogether. However, I want to explore this idea more fully in the future.
What do I call myself?
I know I am not transgendered. That’s how I initially started this paragraph then I read some material from trans folk that includes what I do under the trans umbrella. I have no problem with being called trans should people choose. I love my big, beautiful, queer family and that absolutely includes my trans brothers and sisters. I support them wholeheartedly. We have some similarities I’m sure and some differences. We can celebrate them all as facets of our uniqueness.
Maybe there is a term for how I feel. I think of what I do as gender blending for the most part. I’ve seen the term transfeminine (male at birth, but identifying closely with femininity, yet not desirous of being a woman) and I think that fits closely but not exactly. I am desirous of being a woman, but also a man, and also configurations in between. To be perfectly honest, the name for what I do and how I feel doesn’t matter much to me. I’m just trying to embody what feels like the truest expression of who I am within the bounds of reality.
I have always thought it would be an easy thing to explain; this way I feel. Now that I try to put it in writing for the first time the words seem too definite. Each sentence that I try to use as a tack to hold down what I am seems to have my feelings squeezing out and around every word. Nothing seems as accurate at the conclusion of my sentences as it did when I began them. Feelings are easy to experience but more difficult to write down. Still, this is a beginning and that’s an important step.
I don’t know what my future holds on this front. My everyday look is slowly evolving. I’ve picked up bracelet making and I’m trying to blend masculine and feminine styles, I paint my nails when I have the time, and I’ve been tossing around the idea of a choker necklace and eye liner. None of this is overly important other than to say, my goal is to blur gender expressions just enough to soften my masculine edge. I think that’s where my happy medium will be but the whole endeavor is an experiment and I’m enjoying the process. Life is more colorful, fun, and lacy now.
As far as my advocacy goes, I plan to discuss this issue more often from a variety of standpoints. I also want to talk about useful things for folks that crossdress such as finding the right clothes (once I learn how), shopping tips etc. I want to make this issue more visible because there are more people like me out there and I want us to be seen and heard.
Ultimately, I want the kind of society in which folks with all types of bodies and styles of dress can be accepted and don’t have to face the repercussions of closed minds. Perhaps then I would be satisfied with just my body, perhaps not.
I imagine I will expire from old age before I will see the type of society in which I would be comfortable. The best I can do right now is to help expand what being male can be so that someday, someone else can live my dream. I want to help enlarge our circle of compassion so we may be the better for it. Crossdressing helps me wrap my mind around that from a practical and abstract standpoint. It helps me to feel things that I am not traditionally allowed to feel and to be closer to who I want to be. It puts me in touch with something rather intangible that I want to help others find.
I’ve always found it odd that we place so much attention on what famous folks do. It’s as if we think that because we watch someone on television that we also have a say in their lives. We may root for them in our favorite shows or as part of our favorite sports teams but that is where it ends. Their lives are separate from ours and they don’t follow a script to please us when they aren’t working.
Recently, Ellen Page (last time I will use that name) has come out as transgendered, would like to be known as Elliot, and prefers male or gender neutral pronouns. Sounds simple enough.
As you can imagine some people are not happy about this. There really shouldn’t be a problem with any of these things but it often sends people over the edge. It’s like these folks think that their identity has been challenged by Elliot coming out as trans.
One of the people who is upset is the editor at Spiked-Online who published an article with a number of opinions positioned as objections. Because these things are apparently hard for people to deal with, I thought it might be useful to go over his assertions. I have quoted his main complaints and responded to each.
“Yesterday, Ellen issued a statement saying she is now Elliot and her pronouns are he and they. That’s just bad grammar.”
So . . . yeah, If we’re starting with grammar as an argument against identity then we know the person making the argument is going to take umbrage with everything.
Sure, if someone is a writer then grammar ranks high on their naughty list but even here gender neutral pronouns actually are beneficial to writers? I’ve been using gender neutral pronouns on nearly all of my articles for over a year now and it’s remarkably easy. The only time it gets complicated is when I use the plural they/them to refer to an individual while also talking about them in relation to a group. Most of the time this can be avoided by using names for specificity. I spend more time trying to figure out how to avoid ending sentences with prepositions than I do pronoun usage.
Writing with gender neutral pronouns allows what’s being said to apply to a wider variety of people. If I write about dating a woman and a reader doesn’t date women then they may not care about what is being said. However, if I use gender neutral pronouns then that same reader may be more likely to think about the situation as it applies to them. I haven’t excluded their experience and as a writer that’s important because I want my material to resonate with as large an audience as is possible. Gender neutral pronouns accomplish that quite handily.
Plus, c’mon! Are we really going to harp on a celebrity changing the way we refer to them? Really?! When Sean Combs decided we should call him Sean Puffy Combs we did it, when he later said to call him P. Diddy we did. No one actually thinks there are birth certificates laying around somewhere that say Snoop Dog and Lady Gaga on them. Let us also not forget Prince who changed his name to a symbol. We called him “the artist formerly known as Prince” or “the artist.”
We change names for people all the time and very few of us care when it’s for artistic/advertising purposes. We can easily extend the same courtesy for someone who would like a change in order to reflect their identity. It’s such a small part of taking care of each other and being a compassionate, empathetic person and yet seems to be a step too far for some.
“Who won gold in the decathlon at Montreal in 1976?’, it says: ‘Caitlyn Jenner.’ Which is a lie. They’re lying about the past now.” And then “Well done! You completely erased a woman who did some very important cinematic work over the past 15 years!”
If the past were erased you couldn’t find out who did those things at all. What has happened is that the names have been changed to reflect who the person is now. It’s still the same person. It’s no different than when someone gets married. We refer to them by a current name for past actions all the time.
The names we use may change over time. People get married, they get divorced, they get nicknames, or they change their name for a variety of other reasons and we all accept it because it’s not that big of a deal. They are still the same person.
I can watch Elliot’s work in Juno as a pregnant teen and I can watch a clip of Caitlyn winning gold in a men’s event and understand that these are the same people; that one is a transman and the other a transwoman. There is no incongruity around this issue. Sure, at first it can be easy to get crossed up. Old habits are hard to break but as you sit with it longer and think of them the way they wish to be seen it becomes quite easy.
“Could it not further confuse young lesbians and make some wonder if their sexual preferences and possibly tomboyish attitude also means they are a ‘he’?”
First an aside, this argument fails in a number of ways. Unbeknownst to many, some lesbians prefer he/him pronouns as well. Where is the outrage about that? People who make this argument don’t really give two shits about lesbians. They just hate transgendered people and they’re willing to position any group against them they can. They are grasping at straws because their argument is lacking.
Another problem with this line of thought is it assumes that lesbians are simply pawns without an independent identity. It denies lesbians agency in their life. Proponents of this argument seem to think someone somewhere first decided to be trans out of a malicious desire for control and then fooled others into joining. This isn’t Scientology.
Keep in mind that sexual attraction and gender are two different things. Trans folk claim a different gender because they are that gender. Some will first wonder if they might be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or any other number of sexual orientations. It can be difficult to figure one of these things out, much less both simultaneously. We shouldn’t be surprised to see these things happen in progression.
This argument is also belittling to people who are experimenting with their gender and sexuality. If any lesbian decides that their attraction to females is a result of their desire to be a male then naysayers automatically claim they are confused. Former lesbians now trans, by their logic, don’t know what they are talking about and are victims of the trans agenda (whatever that is). It’s a page straight outta the book of misogyny to say that these people’s claims about themselves don’t matter, that they are not to be believed, and are misinformed or just plain stupid. They are feigning concern for lesbians while simultaneously calling them stupid. We are not the saviors for lesbians or trans folk, we are their allies and we need to listen to what they say about their identity and sexual orientation.
Plus, the lesbian argument seeks to impose limits not expand choices. When people are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be, they should have all the options possible. Those who would deny them these choices really just want control. These arguments are levied by people that think being a lesbian is less objectionable than being a transperson so they try to corral people into their belief system. They are not interested in helping anyone learn about themselves or determine their own destiny.
Think about your own life, chances are if you lived it how other people thought you should you would likely be miserable. Our autonomy is important to us and we should extend that wonderful gift/right to others as much as we can as an act of compassion.
One last note, let us not forget that it’s not just “young lesbians” who are testing the waters but women of all ages come to question their sexuality and/or gender at different times throughout their lives. The choice about how to live authentically is not exclusive to the young.
“But what about us, the people who also inhabit this world? What about our recognition, springing from millennia of observation, that if you give birth you are a mother, not a father? What about our understanding that if you produce sperm and impregnate someone – as Bruce Jenner did – then you are a man, not a woman?”
Obviously, these folks have given up on disputing gender so they are looking to chip away at biology. So let’s look at a millennia of observation from which our recognition should spring.
For instance, before white folks came to this continent many indigenous cultures had members who weren’t recognized as women or men (India still does). Each tribe had its own name for its special gender. There’s ample evidence here that producing sperm and menstruating were not the only means to determine gender. Instead of anglosaxons adopting and finding merit in these cultures we, for all intents and purposes, eradicated them. It’s the same thing some folks want to do to transgendered people today by denying them recognition. They would rather trans folk not exist so their erroneous world view remains unchallenged.
In this rush to claim biology as the ultimate trump card we often forget that there are many other biological ways of being that we crush out of existence or to which we are oblivious. Virtually any child that is born as outwardly intersexed (variations in sex characteristics that aren’t what we think of as male or female) is generally surgically altered soon after birth. This is if it’s noticed, some genitalia variances don’t show up until years later. Some folks die without ever knowing. In those situations, a medical examiner finds out upon performing an autopsy.
For our purposes though, let’s say a surgeon somewhere has deleted one aspect of genitalia from a intersex individual and then let’s look at the argument from biology.
Imagine a person was born with intersex genitalia and had their female genitalia removed at birth and were left with what was present of a penis and raised as a boy. Are they male? If not then we are saying that genitals alone do not determine biological gender. If we say they are a male then we have to acknowledge that they are male because they were surgically altered just as a transman could be if they choose.
Perhaps we could stake out a middle ground to sidestep this conundrum and say they are neither male nor female. If that is the case then our rigid reliance on a gender dichotomy is superfluous.
Any option we take of the three listed above renders our idea of a gender binary moot. Some men never produce sperm, some women are incapable of having children. Men and women have varying physiologies and the difference between penis and vagina is a gradient not an either or proposition. There are all types of interesex folks who have a wonderful blend of physical traits rendering the definition of biological man or woman neither here nor there.
Additionally, only a few among us know what our chromosomes are. There are people who have lived their whole lives thinking they are male XY or female XX when the truth is something more complex and wonderful than they could have imagined. Some folks who were born as women have XY chromosomes, some males have two “female” chromosomes are XXY, folks who are intersex can have mosaic genetics which means some of their cells have XX chromosomes and some have XY chromosomes (How cool is that?).
Unless, we end up with a disease that requires our chromosomes to be checked, most of us go our whole lives thinking we are just XX or XY. There is such a thing as biology but it does not speak in the stark terms that we do.
So, as was asked initially, what about us? What do we say from a millennia of cultural and biological observations? Do we heed their lesson and honor the fact that people come in a wonderful tapestry of shapes, forms, and genders or do we keep yelling with our eyes closed and our fingers in our ears because doing otherwise makes us uncomfortable? I know what compassion would have us do.
If people like Elliot can finally live the life they feel they have been destined to live and it upsets other folks then I think that says more about those other folks than it does Elliot or his allies.
The editors article, unfortunately, reads like one big temper tantrum. Our refusal to call someone how they want to be called won’t stop them from identifying that way. It will however make us look like the assholes we are when we continually violate someone’s boundaries because of our own selfish viewpoint.
I fucking love you. I hope you’ve realized it already but if you haven’t let me tell you how special you are. In our society there is a lot made of the normal mode of being, which is to say heterosexual. As a queer person you firmly encompass a group that sociologists and philosophers like to term other. In a cookie cutter world (I’m not anti-hetero, I have straight friends) what a wonderful thing to be.
Chances are as queer folk you’ve felt at some point as if you are on the outside looking in. This can feel isolating at times, but it gives you a perspective that few hetero folks will ever have. This different way of seeing and interacting with society is why I love you. It’s for this reason that I wouldn’t want to be anything but queer. I love the insight and the way it sets me apart from most folks.
Let’s be honest. You will always encounter those who don’t get it. Worse yet you’ll always be able to find someone who actually says something shitty. Trust me, I’ve been called a faggot but there’s something very important to remember about these interactions. These people are afraid of what you are.
There’s probably a variety of reasons for this. People straight up (pun partially intended) fear what they don’t comprehend. There are also people who can’t handle their thoughts. Perhaps they are struggling with the fact that they really are queer or maybe its something way smaller like seeing some other person of the same gender and finding something about them attractive. These are normal things for people to feel but some just can’t handle it. These people are failing to accept something about themselves and not only will they try and mask their thoughts with derision and hatred towards others, they will simultaneously dislike you because you have accepted what they won’t. You being the best version of you is a threat to them.
This isn’t your problem, though they sometimes do their damnedest to make it yours. Hold your head high and be fucking proud my beautiful gendered and agender family. You are part of a diverse and colorful tapestry of the world.
If you believe biology shapes us then we are a wonderful variant meant to define the nuances of life. If you believe nurture holds sway then we are simultaneously a part of and yet a defiant and proud offshoot of our parent culture. Either way if society thinks life is simplistic and deterministic then allow us to show them otherwise.
Even among our wonderful queer family we have many nuances. We are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, agendered, transgendered, transsexual, asexual and even more. All I ask of you is to fucking love who you are because you are gods damn beautiful. Bloom, like only you can do and fuck the rest of the world. At the end of our lives we aren’t going to care that we played by the rules and fit in. And we certainly aren’t going to care what some muggle said to us as we crossed the street. Rather, we are going to care that we were out on that street in the first place, that we lived our lives by our rules, cared for those around us, and that we went after what’s important in making us whole.
So please, more than anything else, love who you are because who you are is amazing.
Postscript: Case in point: The finishing touches to this piece were done between sets at a She/Her/Hers concert in a garage filled with queer folk dancing their asses off. Such a beautiful thing to experience.
Like one of the authors of the articles below I have always wondered if labels concerning human sexuality do us more harm than good. I think there are arguments for both sides and I find the interplay of ideas particularly interesting.
Here are two stories of people who though they were stalwart adherents to a particular way of being until someone special helped them discover an unexpected truth about love.
As you can see by the titles, the first story follows a traditional view of relationships while the latter has a more non-traditional story arch. I hope you enjoy them and whoever you love now or come to love in your life, I wish you the greatest happiness.
Punk has changed a lot in the time I’ve been involved in the scene. I started going to Midwest shows as a teen in 1995. Back then the crowds were adorned with metal studs, safety pins and liberty spike mohawks. Unfortunately, at times it could be cliquish, violent and racist (skinheads). It seemed for many that the purpose of a mosh pit was about causing as much carnage as possible.
Punk has mellowed since those days. Now I’m living along the front range in Colorado which has a much larger punk scene than I’m used to. Braces, spikes, piercings and mohawks can still be seen (thankfully), but the scene is also replete with hipsters and beards. Moshing now isn’t just for the brawny, but for nearly everyone. The scene is far more inclusive and welcoming. Perhaps both the aging punks (like myself) and the millennial punks just don’t have time for that shit anymore. Thank goodness for that.
“gathering . . . is an act of defiance in a society that tries its damnedest to eradicate us.”
Somewhere along the line though I started to get the feeling that punk just didn’t have the social impact it used to have. While still political, punk is undoubtedly less political as a genre than it used to be. Bands make entire careers singing about relationships and while the positive side of that is a diversity of songs, the downside for me has been that the social urgency of punk has felt more watered down. I just didn’t know if punk had a grand purpose anymore such as I had imagined it having in the 80’s positioned against Reagan and Thatcher. I began to wonder if it ever had such a purpose or if that was simply my imagination.
And this is where my thoughts had remained for years until one Sunday night. On this particular evening I went to an Against Me! Concert also featuring the bands Mobina Galore and Typesetter (Represent Illinois!). This evening was different in an important way.
You see, generally my evenings are starting to look the same. One could say dismally familiar. Because life is inextricably political with human needs coalescing and contradicting as they do my nights have come to be politically charged. See if you will recognize the scenario. It is one in which the carnage of the day is paraded before me by news outlets. The always deserved and hard fought civil rights of the people of this country are rapidly being eroded. It’s another day in Trump’s America where diversity is seen as something to be feared rather than heralded. The unique among us have become scapegoats for the more vehemently conservative portions of our society.
I know you feel it too. If you’re racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or a bigot in general you sense a surge in pride and excitement that the type of thoughts you nurture are no longer something you need to hide. You finally feel like things are going your way. You also don’t refer to yourself by those monikers but let’s call a spade a spade and move forward shall we. On the contrary, if you’re a Muslim, female, person of color, an immigrant, transsexual/gender, queer (like me), or a member of another historically marginalized group then you feel fear, sadness and anger.
It is in this atmosphere that I realized a punk show is politically alive and well. You see, it’s not that Against Me said anything political outside of their songs (which admittedly have plenty to say). Rather, it was what went unspoken. For those who don’t know, the singer Laura Jane Grace, is a transwoman.* What is beautiful (aside from her glow on stage) is the way she and the rest of the band have just owned this reality from the very beginning. If you’re saying why wouldn’t they, then good for you. However, realize that not all people think this way. This acceptance, coupled with their songs, has created a kind of de facto safe-space. I’ve seen this in action before at one of their shows in Bloomington, Illinois but this is the first time that the gravity of what was happening became clear to me.
“There are those forces in the world that don’t want an open society.”
What I witnessed is awe inspiring and heartwarming. As I stood on a bench at the side of the venue and overlooked the crowd there was humanity in wondrous display. There were people singing their guts out to the band’s songs. The crowd was singing so loud at times that Laura Jane Grace’s voice could not be heard. It was amazing and I wasn’t the only one there who knew it.
In the mosh pit was a woman with “shoulders too broad for a girl” jumping her heart out (for the uninitiated that’s nod to a song lyric from the band about not “passing” as a woman, not me being a dick). The crowd was a smattering of people from a variety of identities and it was awesome (I’m old so I think I can still say that).
When my friend went to restroom she was checking for feet beneath the stalls in order to find a vacancy. In one women’s stall were a pair of feet facing the toilet. No one freaked out, no one cared. No one was checking birth certificates at the restroom door because fuck that noise. This punk show, at least, is a staging ground for how we want society to look and function.
I thought about the opening up of our society that had happened in the last twenty five years. Back when I graduated high school in 1995 I’m not even sure I knew what the term transgender meant. I’m pretty sure a transwoman could have never fronted a popular band without hyperbolic hysteria from a good majority of the public.
Then I thought about all the ways in which society isn’t as open as it should be and how we have so much more to learn. There are those forces in the world that don’t want an open society. They want people like Laura Jane Grace, and others at that concert, to exist in the shadows or not at all. Our presence offends them not because of who we are but because of who they are. We shine a light on their insecurities and make them uncomfortable. We force them to look inward. It’s easier for people to dismiss us, to marginalize us, to increase our disenfranchisement, to harm us and to kill us than it is to undergo personal growth or just be a god-damned empathetic human being. Art generally, and punk specifically, can be a good way to throw your own shortcomings in your face.
As these thoughts and sights paraded through my mind I was brought to tears. Yes, the 40 year old punk near the back was weeping tears of joy. The fact that so many people had gathered to rock their face off to a punk band singing about trans rights and issues was one of the most compassionate and intentional acts I have ever seen. These people and their spirits were beautiful. I realized that gathering in such a way and showing this unwavering acceptance is an act of defiance in a society that tries its damnedest to eradicate us.
Yes, punk rock is still politically relevant. It’s also much more than just apropos. Punk shows, much as they have probably always been, are places where we can come to recharge, to be safe, accepted and in many ways loved. This punk show is our society, our hope and our future. So if you want a place to feel accepted come on out to the show with us. When you’re here you can be and look however you damn well please no matter which way your feet face in the bathroom stall.
*I was going to say that Laura Jane Grace was a woman first and foremost and perhaps a transwoman second, but I don’t know her feelings on the matter. I don’t want to erase a part of her identity. I opted for the term that added context.
So for those of you who don’t know there is a trans boy (born a girl but identifies as a boy) in Texas who has been undergoing hormone therapy for about a year and a half. His name is Mack Beggs and he wants to wrestle in the boys league. However, the governing body for high school wrestling in Texas has said that because he is listed as a girl on his birth certificate he must compete as a girl.
Because his hormone levels are equal that to other boys his age he has a greater muscle density than do the girls he is competing against. The other day he won the girls state championship.
I’m writing this because I think it’s funny. Not for Mack mind you. He just wants to wrestle in the boys league and since he has been on hormones for a year or more should be able to (just as olympic athletes can). It’s also not funny for the girls he competed against because they were at a disadvantage and one of them would have been state champion in his stead. Those are both unfair situations that shouldn’t have happened.
Rather, I think it’s fitting because the State of Texas forced this situation on themselves. They didn’t want to recognize Mack as a boy because that wasn’t how he was identified at birth. They were being dogmatic and pushing back against what they see as a progressive agenda and, if we’re being honest, probably something they think is against God’s will.
They thought they would punish him for choosing his identity. To be fair they did hurt him, but they also hurt the girl wrestlers and deprived the boy’s team of a teammate. What they also achieved though is to illustrate the idiocy of their policy. They got a girls wrestling state champion who is a boy with the physique to match. I’d like to congratulate them on a job well done.
Extend this lunacy to the situation with bathrooms and we end up with legislators who don’t want transmen to use men’s restrooms or transwomen to use women’s restrooms. However, none of those legislators (or people on the street who talk shit about transfolk) would be comfortable sharing their restroom space with someone who doesn’t look like them. Imagine a person who looks like and identifies as a woman walking into a men’s restroom because her birth certificate said she was born male.
These conservative legislators are so afraid of men ending up in women’s restrooms that they are actually going to force that very scenario into existence should they get their way. And that, Alanis Morrisette, is the original definition of irony.
Thank you Texas. You are leading the way in showing us the absurdity of policing identity. We owe you more than you know.
I think for many people the premise that sexual orientation is not fixed, but can vary with stimuli, will be a difficult one to accept. However, thanks to trans folks (again) we have a wonderful new outlook on the world. Here are a couple of women who might just change the way you think.
Sociologists have long known that the way we do friendship now is not the way it has always been. However, you’re not a sociologist (well not an employed one anyway) so check this out to start understanding that there is something contrary to human nature about how we do friendship then work to change that; both for your health all those other guys who just want someone to hang out with.