Feminism can be a very heteronormative space. I often feel left out when straight feminists discuss issues which only pertain to them, but that's not anyone's fault and that's not what I'm talking about. Feminism can often be a very outright hostile place for queers and although I've discussed it briefly here and there and while I've been asked, I've never really laid out exactly why in much detail.
First of all, I love the feminist spaces I hang out in. In spite of the hostility I sometimes feel. I have a lot of friends I often speak to that I've met through feminism and I truly love them all. To properly discuss the way this affects me, I need to truly explain it. This means referencing certain conversations/scenarios. Some people may remember certain discussions I may reference but I will do my very best to be unspecific. I love you all.
As best as I can see it, feminism has a real issue understanding queer people. I know people try very hard and when overt homophobic or transphobic comments are made, most feminists are very quick to quash it. The problem is, what a straight cis feminist and a queer feminist consider 'overt' can be quite different at times. The problem is a really weirdly binary (from a queer perspective) view of gender and sexuality that cishet feminists seem to adhere to.
For instance, let's start by discussing homophobia and transphobia. What does it mean to be homophobic? What does it mean to be transphobic? People seem very caught up in the two being different. If a person is making negative comments about a known trans celebrity's ability to pass, everyone knows that's transphobic. If someone begins a tirade about how men who sleep with men spread disease, everyone knows that's homophobic. But what if someone makes fun of a lesbian's manly haircut? Is that homophobic? It's about her gender presentation and her sexuality was not mentioned, though, so maybe not. Is it transphobic if she isn't trans? Or if we didn't know her, could turn out to be straight all along. So is it okay to make fun of a woman's haircut or not?
I have created a flowchart to describe the conversations I have had on this topic with feminists. This has come up enough times that I can predict where the conversation is going. I'm sorry to say that but it's true. Let's start by looking at the part above the red dotted line. Imagine the line as the water line. Everything above it is out in the open to see. People make these arguments out loud and wonder and converse about it. Everything below the line I'll talk about afterwards.
So the end point here seems to be if you don't idenitfy as trans or if people don't already know you're trans, everything is fair game when it comes to gender critique. Feminists have argued with me personally about this topic numerous times and there is a healthy portion of feminists right now who believe that homophobia and transphobia are so separate as concepts that one must identify as trans in order to be allowed the barest minimum of leeway in your presentation in the gender binary. The minimum leeway is basically not to be made fun of, marginalized or othered. Lets think about that for a second though. Here is a short list of groups of people for whom that logic permits making fun of, marginalizing, othering, etc. (people who do not perform traditional gender but are not trans) as long as you don't mention gay sex while you're doing it:
- cis feminine gay men
- cis butch lesbians
- cis drag queens and kings
- cis men who wear dresses or skirts gay or straight
- cis women who fail to perform femininity or actively perform masculinity, gay or straight
- literally anyone who is not trans yet does not perform the appropriate gender well enough according patriarchal norms.
Sexuality and gender presentation overlap way too much to think of them them separately like that. I almost went on testosterone when I was younger. I'm one who is very close to the trans end of the spectrum. If I decided to identify as trans tomorrow, what would that mean? Would feminism accept me as trans if I was the same person I am today? Would I need to go on T and 'prove' it? Would feminism finally accept me as a trans man and immediately throw me out for being a man? Feminism is too attached to the gender binary.
There are even some queers who find themselves in heteronormative situations who will even argue this point alongside the cishet women in feminism. The argument is such that you cannot tell someone is queer by looking at them (this is true), therefore any logic which speaks to/about the appearance of gay people (those who cannot 'pass' as straight) is inherently erasure of or marginalizing of those who prefer traditional gender presentations (this is false and also dangerously marginalizing to the members of the community most effected by homo and transphobia today). This too is problematic and I have encountered this line of reasoning far too many times in feminism as well.
Everything below the waterline is implied by arguments or sometimes hidden in long comments that obscure their true meaning. This is not always the way feminism speaks but it's the way it behaves. After finding out trans status, some still don't act later like they get it. Feminism still ignores or marginalizes trans men and butch lesbians. It has no time for what it deems masculine. It associates masculinity with men. Yet at the same time, it spends an inordinate amount of time asking whether short hair or shaved pubes is more or less feminist. What it really means is "should feminine cishet women groom themselves just a tiny bit more masculine? Would that be more feminist by virtue pissing off cishet men?". It doesn't actually embrace any expression of female masculinity in practice.
Feminism rides for beautiful celebrity trans women who pass with ease, but has all manner of excuses for making fun of 'a man in a dress'.
A little while ago I was commiserating with some friends about my relationship. I was having an awful day and I wasn't coping very well. I had mentioned that I wished my girlfriend was there for me about my work issues because I felt really sad and alone and she gets angry sometimes when I talk about it so I just keep it inside. It made me sad because we've been together for a very long time, but sometimes I wonder if we'll break up. Some people were really helpful but I was also immediately reminded that my girlfriend is not a 'slot machine' that I could put money and time into and get a result. You may remember the 'slot machine' phrase from any rebuttal to a nice guy MRA type argument you've ever seen, ever. I'm out as a masculine woman, so obviously I'm the man in my relationship or something. I'm not sure, but I have never seen someone remind a straight woman that her boyfriend is not a slot machine. Ever. Feminism assumes and polices patriarchal gender roles just as it claims to want to smash them.
Have you considered how difficult it is for a lesbian or bisexual woman to discuss sexual and domestic violence among women in feminist spaces? Have you ever in your life seen an article or post about it? It's very, very hard. All because even feminists are absolutely entrenched in patriarchal ways of looking at gender and sexuality.
Is it not homophobic when someone yells slurs at a gay person from their car window? Of course it is, but what they are doing is yelling the equivalent of "You are supposed to look like a man/woman, but you aren't adhering to the patriarchy so fuck you/you're disgusting!". That's the same thing they say when they call each other gay as an insult. The point is to get across how badly you are adhering to the patriarchy - which is a bad thing to the people who say it. It's commentary on the appearance of gay people who do not perform gender appropriately. It's transphobia directed at queers and transphobia is the equivalent of the highest possible policing of the patriarchy.
Patriarchy IS a strict adherence to gender roles. It is specifically heteronormative by design. Feminists need to understand that gender and gender presentation is irrelevant. I once had a conversation which upset me greatly about Tina Fey and Jezebel's author laughing at a joke she had made. I found that joke to be offensive. She was denigrating the character Tootsie (If you are unfamiliar, Tootsie was a wonderful Dustin Hoffman movie in which he portrays a man who attempts to pass as a woman for various reasons. I quite liked it.). I seemed to have a hard time getting some people to understand why it wasn't okay. A lot of people argued about whether Tootsie was supposed to be a trans character or not. Some people complained that of course no one wants to look like a man in a dress, so it's fair game. The thing is, no it's not. Some people do actually want to be men wearing dresses and that's okay. Even if they aren't trans. People have to stop policing gender. Period. It's homophobic, it's transphobic and it's contrary to feminism's goals.
No, this does not mean you have to start dressing any different or that your ultra feminine ways are somehow patriarchal just by existing. Femme lesbians seem to be able to be super feminine and yet not demand that in others. You don't have to start being attracted to super femmy guys either if your thing has always been super masculine men. Butch/femme lesbian dynamics model a masculine/feminine gender dichotomy itself and still manages to be anti-patriarchal. It doesn't have to be patriarchal simply because it's a dichotomy. It's the idea that is has to be a dichotomy that's patriarchal.
It's never okay to screw with or otherwise police peoples gender identity or presentation. Whether their trans, whether your not sure, or even when they're fictional. Never. It's always going to be homophobic and or transphobic when you police gender in any way shape or form. It's always going to be patriarchal. Free gender. I mean, really free it. That's how you smash the patriarchy.