Archive for the Feminism Category

Unpacking Psychological Shit

Posted in Feminism, Gender, Romance, Sexuality on January 28, 2009 by alterisego

Tonight I finished this book called Middlesex. I don’t really want to take the time to summarize it, but very briefly the central plot point is that the main character is intersexed: genetically male, but with hormonal imbalances that made his genitalia appear female, and so he was raised as a girl until he was a teenager. It’s a great novel—not life-changing or anything, but a great novel. But in the midst of that, it’s cast me into self-doubt. It’s made me wonder what and who the fuck I am.

Obviously my genitalia are as normal as any girl’s, except for the fact that I’ve never taken a good look at them and don’t care to, nor have I ever been successful at masturbation. I’ve never inserted anything into my vagina, be it a tampon or fingers or the other things one puts in vaginas. I’ve never been able to have the least female and feminine success with what goes on down there. What’s more, it all disgusts me. I don’t want to touch my genitals because they’re gross. Revolting. Something I just want to hide away and not think about.

And so I get on in a state of prepubescent androgyny. I don’t hide my breasts or my hips. I don’t pursue hormones or surgery. I don’t try to live as a man. But I try to defeminize myself, and to desexualize myself. Somehow it’s safer to avoid any clothing that one finds in the girls’ section, and to wear the most conservative and least sexy of all women’s underwear, which is where I can’t hide. My underwear bespeaks old lady, or Christian homeschooled girl, because I don’t have to worry—and also hope—that no one will ever see me in it. The first thing I do in the morning is have a shower and dress. The last thing I do at night is put on pyjamas and get into bed, pulling the covers up over my head.

But I can’t explain why this is. I don’t understand what makes me hate so much my body and my life as a girl, as a woman. I can’t explain what makes me shrink away from the epithet of “woman,” the worry that now that I am so nearly 19 that I may call myself so, now that I am physiologically adult, I have to be a “woman.” I’m okay with being an “adult”—with doing my taxes, with working to pay for anything that isn’t tuition, room, and board, with making my own life choices. But being a “woman”? Being an individual who bleeds every month, who has to take pills in order to keep it in check, and to not become pregnant? Who has to worry about becoming pregnant? Who has to fight every day against the preconceptions and the barriers that a name and a birth certificate and the genitals behind them bestow upon her? Who is a “her,” undeniably, and who hates all that this entails.

I had this conversation with my mom last night, and she asked me why I was letting someone else define “woman” for me. Though she acknowledged that it was understandable why I felt this way, because you guys may deny it, but my mom and my dad and my sister and I have had many conversations about the culture of masculinity at my high school, and how damaging it is to those who try to beat it. Many of my female classmates tried to beat it by being attractive and appealing. And I tried to beat it by becoming androgynous and dirty-minded, by trying to beat them all, the smart and popular boys that is, at their own game. But it never worked, because I am a woman. I was never captain of my quizbowl team, which was all I dreamed for high school, and every match senior year I came home crying because my coach still liked the (male) captain better. Because I am a woman, I cried.

It’s this I hate, this gender essentialism that pervades my life. And I try to get past, and explain, and overcome, the deep abiding resentment that boils within me, the anger of high school and at high school, the tears rushing burning to my eyes right now as I think about how marginalized, how isolated, how other I felt. And I think that is part of it, how I turned away from dresses and dolls and imaginary games, to become, or attempt to become, collegiate androgyny of time immemorial. I channel a different time, when gender-bending was de rigeur, and I sit on my couch now in retro jeans, corduroy button-down, and this tweed blazer I love so much, gazing up at Allen Ginsberg on my opposite wall and thinking of the image I try to cultivate.

The friends I’ve made here remind me of this line-straddling, and make me consider what I might have been if it weren’t for my middle school, my high school, and what it all did to me as I tried not to be plowed under. The person I like the most here in college—I wouldn’t go so far as to say “best friend,” but certainly one of my favorite people—is a man who’s the kind of nerd I always was, before. Back when I wore long dresses or sometimes a Thomas Jefferson costume. He is the first person since my beloved seventh grade teacher to know about the Jacobite rebellions, to rekindle my love of the Royal Navy, to talk to me about fantasy books starring woodland creatures, to sit down with me and play Age of Empires on his MacBook. And he isn’t a man’s man; he’s gay in an Oscar Wilde way, all channeled into his intellectualism and his posturing, the way he drinks tea in his sweater vest, the way he sits with his leg folded under him and declaims, in his Oxford accent, about Victorian essayists. I don’t have to run to keep up with him in the masculinity race; I don’t have to be competitive except when playing Risk, and that’s a competition I take joy in. He’s brilliant, probably smarter than me, and yet he doesn’t beat me down. His friends don’t ignore me. Because here in the world of university, there are people to whom gender essentialism isn’t everything. I’ve found my belonging among the gay men and their allies, for some reason, and it ceases to matter constantly that I’m left behind for having breasts and a vagina. I could wear a tie or a dress; they don’t bat an eyelid. They’re used to things either way.

But if they’re not gender-essentialist, I am, or else I wouldn’t balk so at “woman.” Which is of course a bad thing to be, a very silly thing to be when you identify as feminist, when you identify as queer, and when you’re conversant in the language of theory that comes with that. I’m a tool of the patriarchy, then; I’m letting the patriarchal society define my gender and its roles. I’m letting it tell me that I’m not a good enough woman, that I therefore must be Other. Which isn’t a feminist thing to do. Which is a dangerous, wrong, and politically incorrect thing to do. To call myself not-woman makes me feel guilty, a traitor to my gonads.

But on the other hand, I think, a certain brand of feminism can no more tell me what to call myself than it can order me that my rape fantasies and my submission are anti-feminist, that I’m a tool of the patriarchy in that respect. We know that’s not true. We’ve been through that before. So need we worry about the woman, either?

I do, though, you see, because I worry how artificial it is, how much of it is a pure posture, a reaction to years of my life as a subject of sexism (and I know that sexism’s there. That’s one thing I’m sure about). And I also worry because I know that’s not the only reason. That there’s more, deeper, that I can’t divine, to the horror I feel, the bile that rises in my throat, when I try to touch myself, and the shame I feel of my body. I don’t know altogether what’s causing that, and for someone like me who is used to figuring things out, that’s a scary thought.

What started me panicking last night, and what led to a two-hour conversation with my mom, is that I worry what all this means is that I will be perpetually alone, perpetually Other, perpetually incapable of having a meaningful relationship. I remain jealous of my sister, now on her fifth (if I’m counting correctly) boyfriend, wondering what’s wrong with me, what’s so dead inside. And I worry this will just continue, that I will become not just 19 next week, but then I will become 29, 39, 49, 59… and it will continue, and I will die in an apartment all alone, all unloved, because I don’t know where the part of me is that can open up and can not be scared of and ashamed of myself. I feel as if there’s something so wrong and so empty and so missing inside of me, and I don’t know where to look for it.

Thoughts on identifying as genderqueer

Posted in Feminism, Gender, Orientation, Sexuality on October 17, 2008 by alterisego

I’ve been toying with this one for a while. I’ve never really felt totally on board with the “genderqueer” label—my Facebook says I’m “gender-nonconforming.” I identify with physical femininity and the submissiveness with which it is stereotypically associated, with having breasts and hips, and often in fantasy-land with the notion of being penetrated. But socially, I cringe at the limitations of this identity. I want the advantages of a penis: to be able to pee standing up, to jerk off like a guy. I want to be able to move with that oh-so-masculine physical assurance, to sit down with my legs spread and selfishly take up a whole couch or car backseat. Every once in a while I’m seized with this burning desire to grab some fantasy woman and fuck her with the aforementioned fantasy penis. And sometimes I think I try to rationalize the two by being a dyke, by socially combining brashness and shyness, by looking at women but not entirely being comfortable in their company, by dressing in androgyny on a daily basis but never bothering to entirely hide the curves of my body.

I wish I could press a button and go back and forth, endlessly flipping: straight woman to gay woman to straight man. I wish that in an instant I could blink my eyes and have a penis I could aim at a urinal, then blink them again and have tits that fill out a low-cut shirt. (Notice that my own innate reproductive anatomy is absent from this discussion. I don’t like vulva, vagina, clit, etc., I don’t like how I’m scared of them and revile them. If they’re present in the hypothetical blinking, it’s only as an unfortunate side effect of the feminine mindset, which is only ever desirable for entirely different reasons.)

Since I’ve been at college, I’ve met people who feel a little like this, or so they tell me. They talk about having different facets of their identities that manifest as masculine or feminine—I know one person who has a masculine and a feminine spelling of eir name, and who asks that we use pronouns like “eir” to refer to, well, eir (apparently the genitive and accusative have the same form in this declension?). It’s led me to think that there might be some rationale, some sanity, to this identity mumbo-jumbo. These people I’ve met identify as genderqueer—maybe I could too.

After all, isn’t “genderqueer” the accepted label for anyone who feels that their gender is fluid, who doesn’t fit into binary, who doesn’t feel like their biology but doesn’t want to transition? But at the same time, I think this is down to some personal fucked-upedness on my part—I don’t feel sane enough about it, reasonable enough, to claim it as an identity. And on a broader level, I can’t decide whether I even want a gender identity, really. I don’t know what I feel like I need to explain or justify. I look and act the way I do; anyone can see that and take from it what they will. All, I think, that anyone needs to know is that I’m open to advances from both men and women (though as you might be able to guess from the tripartite identity discussed above, “bisexual” doesn’t quite cut it). But then I also am inclined to think that all this tripartitude isn’t legit if I can’t classify and explain it. It’s as if in order to be alternately pleased when someone calls me “sir,” fear the women’s restroom, and wear a dress and shave my legs for prom, I need a good reason. And then, on the other hand, I wonder why I need to justify myself to anyone.

College is for this cogitating. I don’t feel like it’s something I can tell my mother, or the psychologist/counselor guy I’m now seeing, or the director of the LGBT Center, or the master of my college (whom I would otherwise confide in). It’s too weird, too experimental—and also too vested in my gender-essentialist D/s desires (assonance/consonance, yes?). In a weird way, it seems like I only want to revolt against gender in order to confirm every stereotype about it, and that’s not PC at all.

I know this will take years, and that even then it’s not going to be easy to describe my entire psychological self-portrait with a single label. But in the interim I need something to put on my Facebook profile.

Porn and Me

Posted in Feminism, Kink, Porn/Erotica, Real Life, Sexuality on June 28, 2008 by alterisego

I was so blown away by a post of Trinity’s on her experiences with porn that I felt motivated to think about my relationship with the medium. So here are some disorganized musings.

I attribute the whole thing to the fact that I was a rather traditional nerdy girl, who came of age with guys.

Maybe a year or two years ago (it seems so long ago in my head, but I guess it wasn’t), I was learning about and becoming accustomed to ideas of sex, sexual identity, and sexual expression for the first time, and growing into an idea of myself as a sexual being. I started giving names to feelings, responses that I had, and I moved from a stage of “fascination” with certain concepts or people to a stage of sexual attraction and arousal. That feeling I once described to my little sister as “needing to pee” became, I realized (particularly after watching a rather bizarre French documentary on Swedish television), swelling of my clitoris. I learned more, I read more, I talked more, and my hormone balances changed. The stories I told myself to fall asleep at night stopped having a plot, I noticed. Instead I would fixate, almost unconsciously, on the same scene, whether it was the scene where the protagonist (a cooler version of myself) had detention with the incredibly sexy young teacher, or the one where the protagonists committed a disciplinary infraction on an 18th-century Royal Navy ship and the cat was (literally) let out of the bag. (I was fond of that one. But beside the point.)

So here we are, I’m 16 or so, pretty emotionally immature, and not quite sure how to piece together my very extensive reading knowledge of sex education with my own feelings, which I can’t control and don’t understand. In the meantime, I make some new friends—and my new friends, as it happens, are a little more at ease with themselves and a little more at ease with me. Unlike the guys I always tried to make friends with in my classes, these guys were willing to talk about “guy stuff” to each other in front of me. It was the first time I’d ever heard anyone talk openly about their own sexual responses. I was kind of taken aback, but in the interests of being accepted, I adjusted. Naturally, because these were your average adolescent males, I started to hear about porn (in fact, it might have been around the second time I hung out with them outside of school). I’d never heard anyone talk about it before; I had only the vaguest clinical idea of what it was. I’d certainly never seen any. But I heard my friends mention the genre of entertainment in passing, and so formed the opinion they presented: that porn isn’t harmful, that it is normal to watch it, and that this is often done as an aid to masturbation, which is also perfectly natural (well, I knew that part from my teen health websites). I started to “heheh” at sexual references, and I started to become accustomed to their world.

I didn’t really integrate myself completely in it, though—and still haven’t—because, I suppose, I’m undeniably wired like a woman. Sex drive isn’t omnipresent for me, and it especially wasn’t two years ago, as a very late bloomer. Also, all this information was new to me, who had never even considered self-pleasure before I heard it discussed, and I didn’t entirely understand that this porn idea could apply to women as well. At the time I didn’t have very many female friends, and those I had did not tend to be sexually well-adjusted. I was very confused: to a certain extent, I didn’t think of sexualization as something women did, and that was partly because I saw it as “wrong”—I remember having ethical quandaries about the way my male friends would sometimes objectify women (until I, terribly, found myself doing it too, and figured I couldn’t really maintain the moral high ground). But at the same time, because what I knew other people had was a life with a sex drive, I began to think I was not quite normal. I described myself as asexual for a few months, until I grew into myself a little better and realized that wasn’t accurate at all.

So shit, I’ve gotten way off-track. What about the porn? I took 700 words to explain where I am now, and perhaps none too clearly. I think I’m biologically and hormonally as sexually developed as I’m going to be for a young adult woman (if not experienced or comfortable), and here I am. I still don’t watch porn, and I still don’t masturbate. I had problems with the masturbation, and I gave up trying so hard. I still feel bad that I can’t do something everyone else can do (even the female friends I’ve since, happily, acquired), but I also figure it’s probably not worth investing that much stress into it. And porn. What do I think about that?

You must understand I don’t think it’s wrong, or amoral—I’m a big supporter of the porn industry, of the idea of graphic portrayal of sexual material, and all that stuff. I would have no problem with a significant other who watched porn, or indeed one who was interested in watching porn with me. Sometimes someone will send me a clip or a picture and I’ll watch it or look at it—sometimes I’ve seen some very attractive things that way. Because of the way I’ve grown into myself, I think it’s amusing when I can agree with one of those straight guys about a good porn clip, or a hot actress (still a fairly rare occurrence, though). It’s like sharing a taste in, y’know, non-sexual movies. And I do a fair amount of research-type work into porn, reading the old shit and watching the more modern shit. I watched Deep Throat once because I wanted to know what started porno film, and of course I’ve read the standards from Fanny Hill to Story of O.

But I don’t go seeking it out to pleasure myself. And I can’t help but think that’s a little weird. I’m not sure if I’m repressed, or if I do secretly think it’s a bit wrong, or unhealthy. I think that to a certain extent, I’m still wedded to that misconception I had back when I started learning about it that porn is a guy thing, and I’m not a guy, therefore it’s not really my problem. I guess I don’t know where to start, or what to look for. I’m hard to please, certainly, and not only do I not like to see cocks (which kind of rules out a lot there), I don’t find anything interesting in mainstream heterosexual notions of female beauty. I guess I’m too lazy or too nervous to go searching for something other than the first Internet pop-up that confronts me. I guess I can tackle porn on a scientific or social or historical level, and when I think about it there’s a lot of sort of unusual stuff I’ve seen in my intellectual curiosity about unusual fetishes, or indeed about my own relatively vanilla ones. But then move outside of the scientific and say “This is hot”? That’s not something I’m too good at doing.

Someone sent me a porno once that I do actually like (and that made me feel like I’d finally succeeded in dealing with my sexuality), and as it’s all I’ve got other than the tenth re-reading of Story of O, there are times in the dark of night when I’ll navigate the complicated folder structure I set up to hide it and sit down and watch it all the way through. I squirm with something—is it discomfort at seeing a naked woman (something that’s never happened in real life), or is it just a little bit of carnal pleasure at what the man in the video says and does to her? I guess I wouldn’t keep watching it if I didn’t like it, and yet I’ve never—in a year, I think it’s been—typed in the URL that appears at the bottom of the video. I’ve never gone looking for more like it, tried to find out what I’m into, or if watching this stuff could help me masturbate the way I first learned it did other people.

Just like, for this 18-year-old virgin, sex is something other people have, porn is something other people derive pleasure from. It’s great for them, and I’m happy they can enjoy themselves. The first thing I learned about porn was that it is fun to watch and a healthy sexual indulgence. Combine that with what I know now about consent and 2257 and all that good stuff, and I have absolutely no qualms about saying that I am completely pro-porn and proud of it.

In a strictly abstract sense.

Stuff about fantasy

Posted in Feminism, Kink, Sexuality on June 12, 2008 by alterisego

I’m talking about fantasy because that’s all I know, other than the Internet. And I wanted to articulate a bit, if I can, what that’s like. This post does include some content that might be considered graphic, so consider yourself warned before you click beyond the break.

Continue reading

Valentine’s Day and college applications

Posted in Current Events, Feminism, Orientation, Real Life, Romance on February 14, 2008 by alterisego

I hate Valentine’s Day. Loathe it. Detest it. Revile it. Abhor it. Et cetera. This vitriol has been born of several years of external pressure to “have a valentine”, I suppose. Even if you aren’t “together” with someone on February 14, it seems like you’re expected to express your affection in other ways. My school ran a “Valentine Gram” thing and we were presented with various opportunities to send messages to our secret crushes. Folks ask other folks out. And of course all the established couples have to do the whole roses/chocolates/dinner ew stereotypical clichéd expensive sexist materialist version of romance thing. And I can’t stand the industry, and I resent the pressure that I need to be with someone or pursuing someone. It’s sort of like how in junior high and early high school, the reason I completely stopped hanging out with girls for a time was because they were always asking me, “Who do you like?” and I usually felt ashamed of my crushes, either because they were other girls or because they were unpopular or conventionally unattractive (male or female) kids, and I hated the invasion of privacy. It’s just the same on Valentine’s Day. We’re asked to publicly declare our love, make a holiday and an occasion out of it — that’s not so much my style.

I mentioned the materialism, and I guess that’s the easiest element of Valentine’s Day to pinpoint as unpleasant. One of my major annoyances in life, that I’m not nearly as vocal about as I’d like to be, is the popular assumption that maintaining a romantic and/or sexual relationship with someone entails buying them off: with dinners, movies and other entertainment, tokens of affection like flowers or jewelry or other presents. I have never been able to understand the way that to so many of my peers, the people who they say “I love you” to become prostitutes: folks date people they don’t even like personally, trying to win them over with these material gifts just because they’re attractive, good in bed, etc. I know that it works this way slightly less in the real world, but in the world of not-quite-adults, this is what I see. This is how Valentine’s Day looks to my eyes: a passing period that’s an unusual sea of red and pink, heart-shaped balloons floating above the seething mass of teenagers and your risk of bumping into someone carrying a tray of cupcakes increased exponentially.

And don’t even get me started on the subjugation, theory terms. Sexism, of course, and heteronormativity. Valentine’s Day promotes everything that is “acceptable” to the mainstream. And I know that loads of “unacceptable” folks are expressing their love on Valentine’s Day — the event was touched on at the lesbian parenting blog Mombian, for example, and Valentine’s Day productions of The Vagina Monologues have happened across the country. But ask the proverbial, er, person on the street, and they’re hardly going to call Valentine’s Day a celebration of sex-positivism and love having no boundaries and all that good stuff. No, it’s candy hearts and pink paper decorations and mainstream, mainstream, mainstream.

So enough of that, and now we’ll transition neatly into another rant, also having to do with heteronormativity. In the process of figuring out what corner of North America I’ll be in come September, I also have to find some funds to get me there. Doing so requires filling out quite a few forms, such as the Federal Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Board company’s CSS/Profile, in addition to various schools’ individual forms. Now, my family is of the one-mom, one-dad, still-married variety, but I’ve paid close attention to the wordings on the forms asking for copious details on every aspect of yours and your parents’ finances. Of everything I’ve filled out to date, only one form — the CSS/Profile — contains spaces for “Parent 1” and “Parent 2”, then asking you to further specify whether each parent is a mother, father, stepfather, stepmother, legal guardian, etc. You could conceivably complete the form with two mothers, two fathers, a mother and a stepmother, etc. However, no other form is so forgiving, restricting your options to just one mother and one father. It’s mind-boggling: I mean, I expect this sort of thing from the government, so wasn’t too surprised to see it on the FAFSA. But then you have these private universities who are supposedly so enlightened as to have gender identity listed in their non-discrimination statements, and can’t manage to account for families with LGBT parents. I wrote an email to one school, since they asked for feedback on their online financial aid application, protesting this set-up. Somewhat predictably, I didn’t receive a reply.

I also have to wonder how parents with any more complicated family configuration deal with the intricacies of the financial aid forms. I have friends whose parents (of the one mother-one father configuration) are divorced, and these require that the non-custodial parent fill out an independent form, in addition to the standard form being filed by the custodial parent and the child. But what about families where the parents live together, but one was unable to secure second-parent adoption? What about families where one parent is not the biological mother or father? There are also, I am sure, even less traditional parenting arrangements, not limited to sets of parents less than or equal to two, that sort of thing, though I don’t suppose anyone can expect them to be accounted for anytime soon.

Anyway. So I know we can pretty much expect discrimination everywhere, but I was honestly surprised by the situation of financial aid.

And that was your set of rants for this evening.

Blogging for choice!

Posted in Current Events, Feminism on January 22, 2008 by alterisego

Blog for Choice Day

Today is the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the American Supreme Court’s decision that legalized abortion in this country. NARAL has declared today “Blog For Choice Day”: they want bloggers to discuss why it’s important to vote pro-choice.

The answer to that is reasonably simple: the word choice. The pro-choice movement should not be characterized as a “pro-abortion” movement, and should not be cast in contrast to anti-abortion agitators. By definition, “pro-choice” means that every woman should have the right to choose what happens to her body. If a woman becomes pregnant, she could choose to have an abortion or carry the fetus to term, and then she could choose whether she would like to keep it or give it up for abortion. It is her body, and her final right to decide.

I’ve been reading quite a bit of late about these movements of men who are claiming to suffer post-traumatic stress because their wives or girlfriends chose to have abortions. I have a couple questions for these men. What post-traumatic stress would you suffer if you were suddenly drafted into the role of fatherhood? And what post-traumatic stress would your partner suffer if you pressured her into keeping a fetus for nine months and then raising a child for life? Yes, abortion is an important decision — there’s no reason to leave out the man to whom the sperm belonged, or other parties for whom the decision is important. But ultimately it is the pregnant woman who would carry the fetus for nine months, give birth to an infant, and most likely (because that’s how these things tend to go) care for it for the duration of childhood. Who else could such a life-changing decision possibly rest with but the woman herself? She deserves to make such a decision free of outside influences, and determine whether to abort the fetus or carry it to term regardless of what others might think best for her body and her life.

I live in America in the 21st century, that mythical time and place of the future when our bodies are our own. We have no more slavery or indentured servitude; in 2008 America no one owns our bodies but us. And yet, 35 years after Roe v. Wade, the right of a woman to choose what happens to her own body is as perilously under threat as it has ever been. I ask my 15-person readership to vote pro-choice because, regardless of one’s own beliefs about abortion, and what one would do in an individual situation, a pro-choice person stands for freedom and self-empowerment.

Now that’s what I mean by rights for women.