“i’m not a feminist…”

there’s a deeply problematic trend right now amongst young women in the West: the trend of identifying in explicit opposition to feminism in spite of the fact that we take for granted the rights, privileges, and realities created by the work of the feminist movement. the “anti-feminist movement” is a force which grabs a lot of note in the media and which has a decent thrall over the blogosphere, too. it’s not exactly a bunch of extremists advocating anti-feminism but instead this has become something that seems to be worthy of debate, and i’m really curious when the basic humanity and equality of women became a matter that people believe should be subject to debate. yet this is what’s happening, from the modern American uterus police and their obsessive war on reproductive rights to the media’s portrayal of feminist women, there’s a war afoot against feminism in Western culture.

i know feminism is imperfect, especially when it comes to the fact that it’s a movement which has centered the experiences of white women for most of its history. the problem, however, is that the anti-feminist movement has nothing to do with criticisms of feminism’s troubled history when it comes to queers, trans women, disabled women, and women of color, especially Latinas; these criticisms are certainly something feminism must be accountable to and accountable for. a good example of a movement in response to the failings of feminism is Womanism, which centers the Black female experience in Western society; it’s a fine example of a movement which isn’t defined as feminist but is dedicated to uplifting women. the thing is that Womanism isn’t anti-feminism.  anti-feminism is literally being against the goals and desires of feminism…anti-feminism is targeted at the very idea that women deserve to be independent entities with the same right to our own things, rights,  desires, and feelings that men take for granted. the message of anti-feminism is quite plain: women deserve to be lesser.

i am a feminist because i believe that my gender doesn’t change my value as a person. i don’t believe that anyone’s gender should change their value as a person, so i don’t think anyone deserves to be lesser because of their gender. yes, there are deeply transphobic ideologues in the feminist movement, people like Cathy Brennan and Janice Raymond, both of whom center a very patriarchally defined Caucasian version of feminism to start with. now, as much as allegory may be overused, i want to ask you a question…what’s so different about feminism that lets it be judged by a few loud, hateful ideologues? there are deeply transphobic Black folk and LGB types out there, but nobody expects me to stop being Black or gay because of those transphobes, and yet i see feminism used, repeatedly, get bashed by other trans women. why not form rational criticisms of transphobic feminisms and speak to the problems of those transphobes rather than unloading on how you’re not a feminist? i don’t understand what causes this extreme discomfort within a certain group of trans women, especially when i always find it ironic to see a woman complaining about feminism when she does things like own stuff and vote. guess what brought you that right? um, you got it, feminism.

but the problem goes much farther than just trans women. the problem seems to affect a cross-section of women and i agree with the assertion that this is a creation of the increasingly conservative Western media attempting to position feminism as a relic of the past and that feminist women are somehow deficient and that feminism failed when the ERA wasn’t ratified in the US. this is full of fertilizer for a number of reasons, from that there’s a big, big world that isn’t the US on down to the reality that there is no one feminist archetype…didn’t Third Wave feminism address this? i don’t think there’s much question that media shapes perception, whether it’s the perception of trans women or the perception of Black working-class families, and given the nature of social shame aimed at women for speaking up and asserting our independence, it’s very easy to play games with how women are depicted in the media. when was the last time you saw a media story that positively portrayed a disabled single woman? i’ll sit here and wait while you look…you’re gonna be busy for a while.

this rewards a system where women who parrot the current social mentality are rewarded, especially if they espouse values which reassure the kyriarchy. think about who you see demonized when the media wants you to look unfavorably upon the poor: the racist, sexist myth of the “welfare queen”, a myth that has been expanded lately in the UK and the US to demonize disabled people. generally, the people you see portrayed as scroungers are people of color and women. one of the reasons media portrayal becomes so odious goes beyond that: the once-a-week story you see in American media of a woman going into a male-dominated field and succeeding. it often correctly identifies what it’s like to be in that position, but it looks upon this woman as an oddity and not a woman doing her damn job. it treats the success of a woman as an oddity and not as something that’s supposed to be everyday.

i will be the first person to admit to you that feminism isn’t perfect, but plenty of things aren’t perfect; this does not mean they should be disregarded over a few bad apples. i am unabashedly and unashamedly a feminist and i don’t really want to ponder what my life would be like (or if i’d even exist) without the advances the feminist movement has made for women in the United States. i will criticize when feminism fails women of color, and i will speak up when disabled women and trans women are demonized by certain fringe elements of the movement, but i will never, ever accept the idea that the kyriarchy thinks it knows what’s best for me.

rachel gold’s “being emily”: a book review

warning: this review contains spoilers. if you don’t like it, don’t read it. i’m not Kirkus Reviews…but you get my pithy observations for free. oh, also, i’m back. hi!

sometimes you have really low expectations for something, and i confess that before i read Autumn’s review of this book i wasn’t exactly thinking it was going to be great. see, cis people write about trans people all the time with pretty disastrous results, especially when writing about trans women, and doubly so when writing about trans teenagers and/or children.  thus, i approached Being Emily with less trepidation than i would have because someone i respect signed off on its quality. as literature goes, i’m probably going to be especially sensitive when it comes to a book about a trans teenage girl, given that i’ve lived through that experience, and i’m probably most likely to view it in a harsh, critical light. in other words, i approach this kind of thing loaded for bear and expect to be disappointed. that said,  i loved, loved, loved this book no matter what expectation i brought to it, and i strongly recommend it. 

sometimes, you see, even a harsh, critical light can find few flaws…which feels like something Claire, the titular Emily’s girlfriend, would have said in the book. Emily, who at least starts the book out as a so-called Chris, lives in a fictitious suburban wasteland that could be anywhere but is in this case Minnesota (though i’m not sure when the less fictitious Annandale sprouted a mall…), along with her rather proper nuclear family and a high school life that at first seems straight out of the American Dream. naturally, because there’s a book, you know things didn’t turn out quite as expected, because stories about boring lives don’t get published, as much as it seems like there’s a lot of YA that tries to be as boring as possible these days.

as you might expect if you read the book, the character i identified with most strongly was Claire (that line about an inkblot in a sea of color was very much me outside of school and Claire’s sense and idea of gender nonconformity is a lot like mine) and  Ms. Gold’s level of detail is just amazing, including a perfect précis of what it feels like to have a therapist ask you what name you really wanted to be called. i also remember with disturbing clarity trying to introduce to some strange woman the idea that i wanted to be a girl and how ridiculous and terrifying that felt inside my head, and this book gets that just perfect.

what else was awesome? i adored the way that Dr. Mendel works not just as a compassionate character but as a plot device for introducing a lot of technical nuts and bolts in a manner that feels credible. it takes a good storyteller to nail introducing important details like this, and Ms. Gold is darn good.  i also liked the job she did with a supporting character, Natalie…not just keeping Natalie in balance to the rest of the story but the portrayal of her experience.  i know a girl a lot like Natalie whose father’s acceptance largely comes through avoidance and that the things Natalie says and does impart subtly a lot of what you need to know about the mechanics of passing for the new-at-this and perplexed plus the weirdness of trying to cover for someone’s gender with the tables turned…i’ve been there, and Claire does something pretty hilarious in response.

i ended up feeling a touch sorry for Emily, which is probably not the reaction that you’d expect but the reality of differential experiences always ends up controlling how i see trans characters in books. her gender enforcement experiences were much more in reaction to deviance than what i lived through, but that’s okay because this is a story and we look to stories for escape and to look at lives different from our own…that’s the purpose of fiction, and the reality that Emily ends up happy and well-adjusted  makes it kind of awesome. i won’t tell you how she gets to that place in her life because you should read the book, but if you have Annie On My Mind-itis like me you won’t get a crappy ending that makes you feel hopeless for being queer. in fact, i’m going to lay it down that Ms. Gold has written the first fiction book i’ve read about a trans female protagonist with what would commonly be considered a happy ending, and it’s a damn good book to boot.

Ms. Gold covers a lot of ground in a relatively short novel, in fact short enough that i read it in the better part of three hours, and outside the first chapter (more on that later) i had nary a complaint about the writing and the narrative, easy to follow and economical with verbiage. it’s always nice to read well-written YA from a new author regardless of the content because let me be honest with you, there’s a new Twilight wannabe every week and a half and it’s dumbing down the genre, so i’ll give you a completely non-trans-related reason to buy the book: Gold is a really, really good writer and YA needs more good writers, so i hope to see a lot more from her no matter the subject matter. i haven’t enjoyed another YA book (and i read a lot of YA) quite as much since Malinda Lo’s Ash. 

the largest complaint i had was indeed the first chapter, amusingly exactly what Autumn warned me about in recommending the book: its editing makes it choppy and throws a lot of story detail out really fast, and if you don’t watch the details carefully you end up going back and referring to it, but the degree to which it was edited makes it feel disjointed and like you want to power through it. don’t do it, you have to pay attention for some of the details to make sense later. don’t say i didn’t warn you!

i strongly recommend Being Emily and really hope you’ll read it. i was disappointed to find none of my local libraries had copies yet, but i managed to convince a couple of friends who have a few bucks to remedy that problem. if you’re looking for a good way to benefit your local trans youth and don’t know a better way to do so, i suggest you consider buying a copy (or four) and donating them to your local library system. no matter what, though, i greatly suggest you read this book. just in case you need a reminder in the conclusion sentence of a review.