I wanted to “be a woman”. But I never listened to them.

January 19, 2015


“Often, I wanted to be a girl.

I’d wanted that, off and on, since I was about nine years old. I was often mistaken for a girl as a child, and once puberty, which wasn’t pretty, more or less ended, I could sometimes pass for a girl again. One school journey as a sixth former, staying in a French hotel and having consumed a glass of wine or two, I happily let the girls dress me in their make-up and clothes. (I stuck a photo of that evening in a diary and labelled it “the feminine mystique.” My dad saw it and said, “What the hell do you think you’re playing at.”)

I found different ways of making sense of these feelings from childhood onwards, framing them through whatever I found available. At age nine, I fantasized that I could have a switch like the one on my Telstar Pong game that flipped between GAME and TV, except mine would read BOY and GIRL. In my early twenties, when the feelings either didn’t go away or returned again, I had much more freedom to dress up how I liked, and a circle of friends who accepted it. I read comic books like Neil Gaiman’s gender-playful Sandman, the sex-shifting Shade The Changing Man, Doom Patrol, with a hermaphrodite superhero, and Enigma, which concluded with a chapter simply titled “Queer.” One Christmas my grandma gave me a £10 check and, subversively, I used it to pay for a mail-order pamphlet called The Transvestite’s Guide to London. That was the vocabulary of the time. Those were the discourses of the time, the early 1990s. Twenty years later, when I did have Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, I found different words that also made sense of my feelings and experiences.

So by the 2010s I thought I was pretty set. I thought I knew a lot. I thought I knew about feminism. I thought I knew about gender. I had a lot to learn.

I’m sure everything about my account above is steaming with privilege, with confidence, with complacency. Books, travel, toys, cool parents, even famous family friends. It’s hard to quantify how much of that is due to factors like class and ethnicity, but I think I willfully ignored how much of it was to do with being born and raised as male. Whenever I imagined myself as a girl or woman, I saw myself as a high school Supergirl, as Elle Woods from Legally Blonde or Cher from Clueless: popular, smart, sharp, a perfect balance of charmingly charismatic and self-effacingly adorable. I imagined it happening like magic. I imagined, but I didn’t really think. I didn’t think about what it would really mean to grow up that way, under those conditions, and to become a woman within our society: a warzone, effectively, with women as the constant target.

Just as I was self-centered enough to never have considered my own mother as someone with a richer and more fascinating life than my own, I’d denied the fact that, despite my research, despite my reading, despite my good intentions, I had been successfully trained up as a boy, and then a man, within patriarchy. Yes, as a white middle-class man; but it was patriarchy that did the most work on me. Yes, I often felt so uncomfortable within the frameworks of masculinity that I dodged desperately to escape and become something different, but still, patriarchy did its work, and when it suited me, I embraced it and I accepted its benefits.

I’m still glad social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager. But it was social media that put me in contact—initially, in conflict—with women who pointed out what I should have seen years ago. I made demands of women online that I wouldn’t make of men. I challenged them, expecting answers, in a way I wouldn’t challenge men. Some ingrained, entitled part of me expected them to provide me with information on demand. I expected women to shush when I spoke. I expected to hold the floor. I expected to be thanked and praised for gestures in their direction. I expected to be the hero.

Then I talked to women who didn’t let that happen, and it briefly shocked me. Maybe social media, with its anonymity, enables more direct, no-nonsense responses to strangers than I was used to in real life, where women might be more inclined to raise their eyebrows and keep their peace: but I was told to hold my tongue, to butt out of conversations, to go away and read.

And, surprising myself a little, I did what I was told. I went away and read. I read a lot. I read blogs written that morning, and books anthologizing feminist pamphlets from the 1960s. I read pieces that contradicted each other, and I followed debates, and thought about them. But more importantly, I genuinely backed off, for one of the first times in my life. I accepted the role of a minor, almost-insignificant supporting character, rather than the hero, for once. I sometimes asked to join conversations between women and I was ignored, and it smarted but I swallowed it. So instead, I read: and online, of course, that’s a form of listening. Social media has many flaws, but one of its strengths is that through reading, you can listen and learn without bothering anyone: You can read and absorb, without feeling the need to interrupt and give your opinion. That’s an important instinct, I think, for a man to overcome: the feeling that everyone is waiting for your opinion. And because I was given no choice, I managed it. And then after a while, I sometimes spoke up, and when they had time, the women listened and responded, sometimes cautiously, but for the most part generously and encouragingly.

Perhaps with hindsight, my long-term, helpless yearning to be a girl, or later a woman, has always been more about not-wanting to be a boy or man. But it took me a long time to understand what not-being a man, on a social level, has to involve.”

Excerpted from here: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120788/men-who-want-be-feminists-should-shut-and-listen-women


14 Responses to “I wanted to “be a woman”. But I never listened to them.”

  1. Unperson Says:

    mm ‘tell them what they want to hear, then you can do what you want. AVOID controversial issues like bathrooms ok, (leave that to the stormtroopers) just present as sane, harmless, calm, well-intentioned.’

    It’s like trannyborg central sends out these types to proselytise, more particularly at left/libertarian venues. They have different categories of tranny they use for different purposes and situations.

  2. And still, male privilege allowed him this platform…

  3. I’ll give him points for working on understanding. Yeah, he probably still doesn’t really “get it”, but I feel he’s sincere in his attempt at understanding. (many male trangenders hate women for various reasons too much to even pretend at this kind of understanding.)

  4. CD Says:

    Hmm, I wish he’d gone into a bit more detail about why he stopped wanting to be a woman. Seemed like he switched topics mid-article from “wanting to be a woman” to “wanting to discuss women’s issues online”, which plenty of men do. Or was it just because women on the internet told him off?

    On another note, can I ask a gay male reader to chime in? Would you say there is any support in the gay community for gender non-conforming or effeminate men to accept themselves as men? Any resources, websites, sub-communities? (Obviously, any such resources for straight men have been co-opted by MRAs.)

    I’m wondering because this article reminded me greatly of a co-worker of mine, who is an effeminate gay man. I don’t think he gets much support from other gay men, and so he tries to live vicariously through the women around him, which is degrading and inappropriate. He used to try and ask me intrusive questions about what it’s like to have breasts and female genitals, and when I shut that down, he switched over to discussing how much our (thin, gorgeous) mutual friend weighs, encouraging her to diet, shopping for her, making her a wedding Pinterest board, etc. He also thinks that women aren’t really oppressed, because he thinks femininity is so much fun.

    Ugh, anyway. These men remind me of Marie Antoinette, who apparently felt under a great deal of pressure as the queen of France, and had a luxury hobby farm built so that she could play at being a peasant. This, of course, did not go over well with real peasants.

  5. Aaron Says:

    When you speak of peasants and nobility … we know what ultimately happened to French nobility. I have two toddler boys. Sweetest creatures. What do you want to happen to them? Is there any future for them in a world where “male privilege” is gone? Because absent “male privilege” do they really have a chance at having children, accomplishing anything in life? It seems like as a male, everything you have is as a result of male privilege. So what is left for males? Other than completely being eliminated, early in gestation or being selected out pre-fertilization? Should I just snuff out my sweet boys now, with a pillow, to prevent their ultimate ascent into female-oporessors?

    • Teal Deer Says:

      No one’s suggesting all males be marched to a guillotine here. Eliminating male privilege doesn’t mean trampling men into the dirt and making them into some sort of slave class. It’s about all human beings, no matter their sex, being on equal footing.

    • janetwo Says:

      you cannot imagine a human being having a fulfilling life without heterosexual sex and ultimately reproduction? There are millions of people who do not have children and live full and meaningful life. Its telling that you cannot envision any other type of social arrangement outside of oppressed versus oppressors. I guess you are too small minded to imagine egalitarian relationships based on cooperation.

    • morag99 Says:

      Aaron’s comment sounds way off. Quite disturbing, in fact. Talking about his children in that way is not just not normal.

      • Teal Deer Says:

        I can’t tell if he’s a troll, thinks feminists want all males subjugated or dead, or is simply unbalanced. His post was very disturbing.

      • morag99 Says:

        Teal Deer, perhaps all of those at once?

        I certainly hope he’s “just” an anti-feminist troll talking nonsense and shit. But what a way to talk. He leaves us with a picture of him murdering small children. Christ. That’s one of the ways that extremely violent men control and imprison their female partners — by threatening to harm her, himself, children or pets. And by making it her fault: “look what you made me do.”

      • neme Says:

        He sounds like a narcissistic autogynephile troll. He probably has adult sons that he ignored when they were children, and who can’t stand him now.

      • Teal Deer Says:

        Yeah, morag. If I knew who this guy was IRL, I’d definitely be putting in a call to CPS. The logical line of reasoning in response to ideology one finds discomforting shouldn’t conclude with pillowing the children.

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