Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Apologies and a Cock in a Box


For many years now I have been trying to unpack my het/cis privilege.  Even though I originally thought that I did not have any biases, because I believe that all people were created equal, decolonizing my mind has been an incredibly difficult task. I thought that since I am  far more liberal than my social group, that clearly I have my shit together.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post in entitled, "What Kind of Gay Man is Obsessed with Pussy?"  I meant the title to reflect what I felt was the incongruity of someone like Perez Hilton using sexism to shame het/cis females.  It was inspired by the sexism that I have faced from gay men -- and the fact that I feel that it too often goes unacknowledged.  In the process, what I absolutely did not even consider was the fact that trans men have vaginas.  I got my back up and was totally resistant when someone said that this was cissexist; however, after some consideration, I can see that I was absolutely in the wrong and I want to apologize to all who were rightfully offended by words.  I was a terrible ally in that moment, and I totally erased people to focus on a form of oppression that I have experienced.

As I continue to unpack my cis/het privilege, what I have learned is that I don't know anything, at least not enough to speak with any kind of authority or write the nuanced pieces that I do regarding things like race, gender, sexism, class or disability.  This is solidly based in the fact that all of my learning is from reading and it is not experiential.  This is something that should have come to me as no surprise, because I have often seen failure when people outside of my labels make mistakes; however, it is a sign of own arrogance that I did not  believe this applied to me.
This lesson was driven home even further when I read a post on Slog (no I didn't go there intentionally, I followed a link on a trans blog that I was reading).  Dan Savage was giving advice to a gay man regarding his trans male lover.  He referred to the trans man's vagina as a "cock in a box".

Maybe it would help if you didn't think of his pussy as pussy. All fetuses start out as girls—you were a girl once, SFTSLAFI—until the process of sex differentiation kicks in and "masculinizing hormones," if they're present, turn little girl fetuses into little boy fetuses, and little fetal pussies into little fetal cocks. So you know what your FTM boyfriend has down there? Pretty much all the same stuff you do. His clit is analogous to the head of your cock, and his clit has a shaft just like your cock does. He has ovaries for balls and a clitoral hood for a foreskin, and he's got a piss slit down there somewhere, too.

Think of his pussy as a cock that's still in the box it came in. It's like a cock you got at Ikea—there's some assembly required, SFTSLAFI, but you can assemble it only in your imagination.

My initial reaction was no the fuck you didn't.  I did not think about how this made trans men feel. My reaction was solely based on how I felt as a cis woman with a vagina.  The last thing I want to associate with my vagina is a penis (i.e outside of sexual intercourse)  I know that this is natural for me, but now I realize that this may not be the case for everyone.

This was clearly a TLBG conversation and though I didn't comment on Slog, or the trans blog that I was reading, I still thought about me, rather than following my own advice: if it ain't about you, don't make it about you.  I suppose you could say that arrogance and privilege are good friends of mine.

I have long said that intersectionality is a buzz word and does not really exist.  It was my aim to make Womanist Musings as intersectional as possible to make up for some of the everyday erasure -- and now I must wonder if intersectionally does not exist because we are all still learning?  No matter how progressive we are, no one wants to fuck up.  No one wants angry people on their blog screaming names at them while they attempt to learn publicly, and perhaps this is why so few blogs ever move beyond being single issue blogs, even when they claim to be intersectional.

I discussed this issue with two trans friends of mine while I worked through my mental block.  To their credit, they displayed much more patience than I might have in the same situation, as I openly wondered whether Savage's comments were offensive because they focused on genitalia? I was determined to find some reason why this was offensive because "cock in a box" did not sit right with me.  

Since this conversation occured privately (that is to say off blog), no one would ever have known about my discomfort or my cis-sexist understanding of this issue.  I decided to write about it today with the apology to point out that we are always learning and even when we understand something new to us, that does not mean the very next day we won't turn around and make another HUGE mistake.  This is not to discourage anyone from trying to learn, only to point out that the process of learning does not stop.  Until you live with a particular oppression, you will never get to the point where you know or understand everything.  Your privilege will always be with you -- and it will reflect how you examine every single situation. 

The reality is, I don't want to be called cis-sexist or homophobic, but despite my good intentions, sometimes I am.  It hurts me to say that, because I always believed that I was better than that -- but sometimes the hardest truth to face, is the best truth to hear.

Thank you for your patience with me everyone, as I work through the quagmire of my privilege.  Thank you for calling me out and forcing me to face hard truths that I would otherwise ignore.  I may not see my mistake right away, and in fact I may never quite "get" the lessons that you have taught me, but I thank you for always being willing to set me on the right path.  Not only will this help me be a better person and an ally, but a better mother to my children.

Renee