I expected us to be a voice on the margins of the gay rights folks' movement, and I expected us to be engaging with the feminist women, but most of all identifying what our own social issues were and developing a platform, creating a voice of our own in this society.
I never found that.
I did eventually find other male people who had a positive response to feminism. Not in person, not in groups where we sat on chairs in the same room and discussed such things, unfortunately, but once I got into graduate school, in the early 1990s, I discovered communities over the internet. "Internet" at that time was mostly not something you encountered using a web browser, but instead was centered on the phenomenon of electronic mail -- email -- and the opportunity to subscribe to LISTSERV lists. Every day, my mailbox on the university account would have a digest of all the posts that the group participants had made, and we'd reply to each other or post new manifestos and screeds and discuss men and gender and feminism.
I was told early and often that we should not refer to ourselves as "feminists". That had been decided. Some (although not all) feminist women felt that men cannot be feminists, and therefore some (although not all) of the males in these groups embraced that notion and ran with it. There were dissenters, but in general anyone who participated was at risk of being treated as an insufficiently reformed part of the patriarchal problem if they persisted. Our role, I was told, was to be supportive of feminism, to be "pro-feminist", and to examine our own behavior as males and to challenge the behavior of other males when we saw it as problematic. Let the women lead -- it's their movement, and men have led enough things on this planet, do us good to be followers for a change.
I wrote often about the different sexual situation of a feminine sissy femme male whose sexual orientation is towards female people -- how it subverts the patriarchal heterosexual institution, on the one hand, but at the same time how our lives at the individual level are complicated by a world with rigidly gendered sex roles for heterosexual flirting, dating, courting, and coupling.
Sometimes those posts were celebrated and embraced and discussed. More often, they were derailed and sidetracked into discussions about whether or not a person can be a pro-feminist male if they still have sexual fantasies of power, dominance, and interests in the female body that could be considered objectification.
To be fair, the PROFEM list was the one most explicitly geared to male people embracing feminism. I had joined some others that were less narrowly focused, where people were endorsing John Bly and Sam Keen, and talking about going to weekend retreats to beat drums and get in touch with essential masculinity. But I wanted to get in touch with essential femininity.
I was looking for the self-defined political concerns of the heterosexual feminine male. The non-feminist groups were focused on our needs and our growth as males, but for the most part I wasn't encountering males who thought of themselves the way I did, and although there wasn't a universal hostility towards feminism and feminist beliefs, there were a lot of recurrent arguments about it.
The pro-feminist group, meanwhile, wasn't focused on our needs and growth. It was focused on repentance.
I grew up in the south, surrounded by Protestant Christians ranging from establishment to charismatic born-again, so I was quite familiar with competitive self-immolation and ostentatious wallowing in the despair of our sinfulness.
In the midst of one of the perennial discussions of whether this or that aspect of sexual nature is tolerable and permissible for pro-feminist men, one person began a reply with, "Let me be the first to acknowledge that feminists are right when they say..." and I imagined someone interrupting, "Oh no, let me be the first!"
I wryly acknowledged to myself that I wasn't immune to this. You call together a congregation of males whose personal self-identity is based on not being like the other males, I suppose it is inevitable that we still want to push off from other males. To find fault with them. To find our validation from once again seeing ourself as different from the other males.
But the biggest problem that I saw was that most of the participants were not at all sure that it was okay to be in this in search of our own interests. If the problem is patriarchy, if the problem is male oppression, then shouldn't we be practicing self-abnegation? That attitude meant that for the most part, we were not examining and critiquing the quality of our lives, coming at this from our own experience the way that women in consciousness-raising groups do.
One person made this telling observation:
>Trivializing is a big problem. We are not supposed to complain. I continually
trivialize, downplay, demean anything that happens to me. My problems aren't
But to complain was to be perceived as selfish:
"I have my own concerns that bring me here", I wrote, "I'm not here to be a chivalrous white knight on behalf of women".
"Oh", someone responded, "so you have to make it all about YOU, got it".
For a book club that I'm in, I'm reading a book about the Combahee River Collective and the Black feminists' statement thereof that made waves in the 1970s. The Black feminists recognized that Black men are allies, even if also sometimes direct behavioral participants in the oppression of women, and they categorically refused separatism. Likewise, they recognized that white women are allies, even if also at times overt participants in racist oppression, and they refused to be polarized against their sisters either. They felt that they could reach and teach, and also that they needed these alliances if they were going to have the necessary impact on the world.
Similarly, gay men have often been acknowledged by feminists as allies, even though they still have male privilege and do sometimes participate in oppressing women; feminists see that the gay male has a different vantage point and brings some useful insights and perspectives to the table, and has an understandable personal interest in overturning patriarchy.
The goal was to establish that the same is true for sissy femme males who don't happen to be gay. We have male privilege and we have hetero privilege and we even may have cis privilege (those of us who do not present to the world as transgender) and yet we are marginalized by patriarchy, damaged by it, and I wanted us to have our own voice, our own movement.
Do you counsel young people trying to sort out their gender identity? You should read my book! It's going to add a new entry to your map of possibilities when you interact with your clients!
My book, GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet, has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.
My second book, That Guy in Our Women's Studies Class, is also being published by Sunstone Press. It's a sequel to GenderQueer. It's expected to be released in late 2021. Stay tuned for further details.
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