Tag Archives: gender

Gendered from birth: our obsession with baby junk


I’m 33 weeks pregnant on Sunday and there’s one question I’d be pleased to never hear again.

Is it a boy or a girl?

A variation of this question includes what is it? And my personal favourite: do you know what you’re having?

I’ve begun laughingly answering to those with whom I feel comfortable enough oh, we’re having a whale shark. A puppy. A wombat. It’s a semi gracious way to sideline the question and convey that I’m uncomfortable with it, with levity for good measure.

With those I don’t feel comfortable I usually say oh we just want a surprise. I loathe saying this because it is untrue – we actually aren’t telling anybody what junk our baby has, much less allowing others to make that the basis of gender delusions – yet this is the only socially acceptable way I can squirm out of the question without getting into a huge treatise on sex and gender politics. Which I’m not always up for – sometimes the person asking me is a midwife, or a co-worker, or a neighbour, and I’m tired and sore and hungry and just don’t want to get into it right then and there.

This question means a lot though. It tells me so much about how far we have to go when the list of questions about a baby’s identity begins with gender interrogation. It shows how little we know collectively about gender and how it works. How we effortlessly conflate sex and gender, and how sex and gender really still matter. Even though we try to convince ourselves that we’ve evolved, I’m not sure we have.

This mattering, this essential base need to know what a baby’s genitals are before we can respond meaningfully to them or connect with them, is so troubling to me. It is rife with projection and reproduction of stereotypes and roles and bio-essential notions and it is the ground zero of all of that. It is where it begins.

Just as a baby’s life begins as cells divide (disclaimer: I am pro choice! Don’t get distracted, I’m being figurative here), I feel their gender journey begins with people putting them into pink and blue boxes. And encouraging parents to with that relentless bloody question, what is it?

It is a useful question from a social function perspective, in that it is a tool for constructing identity from birth, but time and again evidence is showing us how gender stereotypes are toxic and punishing to children. Yes, you can gender your child at birth based on their physical sex characteristics and still work against stereotypes and rigidity and there are many ways to parent in a gender neutral, or gender questioning way. But as parents we should never forget that gender is assigned. It is not, at birth, who children are. We grow into gender, work it out, or don’t. Gender is a mess and nobody decides but us.

Our choice to not assign gender at birth or disclose our child’s physical sex characteristics to anyone beyond those who may need to know for physical care reasons (such as doctors) is a very personal one, and I don’t think it is more “right” than people who assign gender at birth and work on challenge gender notions along the way. There’s a lot of different ways to go about this stuff, and gender is a mysterious muddle we all blunder through together. For us, it feels weird to announce what our baby’s junk is, and all that it would invite to do that feels even weirder.

Cordelia Fine blew my mind when she talked about (in her book Delusions of Gender) how we speak to boy and girl assigned children differently. How we provide for them differently, nurture them differently, teach them differently. I don’t know if I can disrupt all of these things in myself but I can certainly deprive everyone else, for a while, of the main lens through which they may interpret my child. I want them to have a chance for a while at least to just be a child. To just be a human. A person.

I’ll respect, also, whatever my child indicates about themselves. And I acknowledge that some gendering will inevitably happen along the way because we are all subject to and swept into this gender “stuff”. However, I won’t accept rigidity around gender as a fait accompli. I know agency is a myth (thanks Foucault) but you still have to have a crack at things. Do what you can with what you have. And hope for the best.

I resolve, first and foremost, to never ask my pregnant friends what they’re having. It’d be nice if every one else could stop caring about this too – because it shouldn’t matter what’s between a baby’s legs. If it does matter to you, enough to continually hound an expectant parent, that’s on you, not them.


Snarling #12wbt: veganism, eating disorders, orthorexia and the culture of food policing

This post involves discussions of eating disorders and veganism, which may be triggering for you depending on your circumstances. Please read it in a safe space and access support people if you think it will trigger disordered thinking or behaviours for you. Negative comments on this issue from friends aren’t welcome and are actively triggering of ED, so please refrain from that if you know me personally.

This is not an easy post to make because it discusses aspects of my life and identity that have underpinned some of the most important bonds I’ve made in my communities, and who I see myself as. It is a complicated, long post, but I think some of the things I’m going to discuss are important to talk about.

As I’ve been embarking on building a realistic, settled and balanced relationship with my body and food, I’ve discussed a bit about my history with disordered eating here. I’ve posted here about my how my relationship with food has been fractured and dissonant from a very young age.

I remember having compulsive eating behaviours from the age of about eight. I was a compulsive emotional eater, and engaged in covert or “sneak” eating – a mountain of mugs built up under my bed from quiet gorging on icing (frosting) that I would make and eat with a closed door. Sneak eating is still something I do, though I try to minimise it. I can’t remember if I ever saw covert eating modeled for me, though I think all of us have seen compulsive overeating in our communities.

Disordered eating, even if it doesn’t develop into a diagnosable disorder, is really common and was very observable in the interactions of the microsystem I grew up in, particularly with my parents and siblings (holler ecological systems theory and Bronfenbrenner) – and I think that’s influenced by and tied up in lots of non-medical social stuff, particularly around gender from our macrosystems. Hiding food is something I think lots of women do, or at least, I’ve known lots of women to do it. And fixation on food and dissonance around how we think and behave is not the fault of the individual in a wider sense, because our culture encourages it in everyone, especially women.

So, my baseline throughout my life has been to have a very quirky relationship with food – I have reflexively used it to service every emotional state. Celebration, sadness, shame, self hatred, joy, feeling ill. My thinking around food has tended to be historically very extreme – food has been good vs bad, and eating certain foods has by extension made me good or bad.

Food is interwoven fairly inextricably in how I process my feelings and identity. Untangling that is not totally possible, though taking steps to minimise the entanglement is positive for me.

When I was 20, I discovered a lot of things about animal testing and the way that animals are treated in food production that disturbed me (and still disturb me) and my response to this information was to exclude animal products from my diet, very strictly. I went vegan. This conversion happened over a period of a week. It was pretty sudden and pretty dramatic (like a lot of things I’ve done in life!) I think that my response was a rational and positive one.

Veganism can be a rational response to cruelty. It is. I believe that. I believe everyone has the right to choose to distance themselves from systems that they observe as harmful. I think veganism is pretty rad as a way to disengage and also engage with systems that are often unspeakably awful.

I became more involved in the vegan community online, and made lots of friends in the Sydney vegan community, who now remain some of my deepest, most meaningful friendships. I love these people. They are honestly some of the kindest, most gentle and caring folks I’ve ever known, and they’ve been there for me through thick and thin. I don’t think it is their veganism that makes them awesome, but I think their general disposition towards being concerned about justice and kindness informs their veganism. They want the world to be fairer and kinder, and this is how they go about it.

I wanted (and still want) that too. Unfortunately my disordered eating – cycles of binging and restriction and very polar thinking about food that has distinct mental health outcomes of depression, anxiety and physical health symptoms (starvation, overeating, swings in weight and blood sugar) – was worsened by veganism. It’s really easy to develop an even more extreme set of rules (and ways to rebel from these rules) about food when you’re following an ethical framework that sets out, very clearly, “good” and “bad” foods. The labels are a bit different – “ethical” vs “unethical” but the thinking is so close as to be the same. For a person with ED, separating disordered eating from veganism is close to impossible. I’m very proud of people who through therapy and lots of personal work are able to do this.

The problem for me became that my ED both caused ‘lapses’ from veganism because of it’s nature and my veganism caused behaviours with my ED, because of culture of the framework.

When you’re vegan, you feel the weight of the suffering of all animals on every meal, on every bite (and many vegans would argue you should, and that this constant gnawing guilt is positive. I personally think that’s a bit fucked up.) Every choice you make takes on global, massive, heavy significance. And let’s be honest here: many (not all) vegans scrutinise each other and everyone else. They just do. They scrutinise others in the same way people do on thinspiration/pro-ED forums. They do in the way hardcore paleo people do. The organic crew. The no-sugar people. They do in the way any group others people outside the club. And I know what vegans say about other people when they’re 100% sure no other non-vegans are in the room because of how long I flew stealth because of shame, before awkwardly admitting in a few calculated safe-risk situations that I wasn’t as pure as my friends.

I went away for the weekend with a girlfriend/partner back in the day, who was vegetarian but pretty accepting/non judgemental of most folks, and at the time I was pretty seriously vegan. I remember sitting down for a buffet breakfast at this fancy, lovely hotel and agonising over eating the mushrooms (which may have been fried in butter, but I didn’t know either way and it was killing me). Her gentle, kind words (which I’m kind of paraphrasing here because it was a long time ago!) have always stuck with me: it’s just a plate of mushrooms. You eating these mushrooms doesn’t make you a good or bad person.

If there’s one thing you know how to do as a person with fucked up eating, it’s hide things and worry about what everyone will think. The thing that is sad about veganism and some other frameworks for eating, is that the fear of social exclusion is not ill-founded, and being on the receiving end of abuse and hostility is a real thing that happens (especially online – like many other folk, vegans are some of the worst keyboard warriors I’ve met). I think it’s a bit more intense with veganism though than say, organic eating, because it can go to the core of how people see themselves in their world. I was intensely worried about what eating those mushrooms would mean for my friendships, and my whole sense of self. Who was I, if I ate the mushrooms? Was I bad or good? Was I worse or better? It was deep ED land, compliments of veganism.

I know that’s not a nice thing to hear, but it is true. Vegans need to stop and think about how what they do and say may be actively triggering and harming people in their ranks (and outside of them. And I’d argue that distinction is heaps more murky than people like to acknowledge). And while veganism doesn’t cause eating disorders, it can make them worse without heaps of support and critical reflection, and I’m not sure that kind of support and reflection goes on in these communities enough. I really do believe people with ED are attracted to things like veganism and say, paleo or low carb eating as well, because of their strict rules. I know I was.

It’s all very muddy and hard to pick apart when you really sit down and look at how it all interacts. I would engage in sneak eating of forbidden cheese because it was “bad” and doing bad things felt good (and then bad again very quickly) and I would then renounce cheese and engage in ritually shaming myself (mostly in my head). I would also engage in shaming and criticising others (sometimes on this blog!) for eating non vegan foods, mostly online (because hiding behind a keyboard and sneering at vegetarians/omnivores is a lot easier than doing it in person at a dinner party, where you have to deal with the social consequences of the actual rudeness of saying these things to another person’s face). Shaming others for food choices is a pretty classic ED behaviour which I don’t do any more because I am aware of it, and check it. It makes me sound like a dick and it ruins connections with others. There are other ways to talk about veganism that are more positive and helpful for everyone (who doesn’t love a vegan cupcake stall, or vegan cooking blog, am I right?)

And I am not vegan at the moment. That’s really hard to type. HARD, PEOPLE. I hide my non vegan things (see how I say “things?” rather than naming the actual items? Yep) in the opaque vegetable crisper drawer of my fridge because I am just so fucking ashamed and terrified of my non vegan friends seeing my dirty shameful food. In my head, no matter what I do, I can’t separate the eating of an egg (though a painstakingly researched free range, low concentration of hens per hectare egg) with being an evil person. This may sound bonkers to you, but it isn’t wild thinking in the context of the vegan community. The answer isn’t as simple as not eating the egg either, because the underpinning psychological tic just lays dormant, waiting for another object to affix itself to. And I need complex conditions under which I can stop feeling the guilt and shame (such as being abroad, where making vegan choices is way way harder, therefore being vegetarian is less of a transgression. Welcome to the merry-go-round, guys!).

All of my instagram photos obscure or hide elements of my shop or cooking that involve non vegan products. Is this positive behaviour? No. Is this culturally influenced? Yes.

All of my instagram photos obscure or hide elements of my shop or cooking that involve non vegan products. Is this positive behaviour? No. Is this culturally influenced? Yes.

There’s a name for this manifestation of ED, and while it isn’t a diagnosable condition, it’s pretty spot on (and I didn’t know about it until a friend mentioned it in passing to me today and I was pretty much like WOAH and that prompted this post). It’s called ‘orthorexia’ and you can read more about it here, and here, but basically it is “righteous” eating. To quote:

Orthorexia is a term coined by Steven Bratman, MD to describe his own experience with food and eating.  It is not an officially recognized disorder in the DSM-5, but is similar to other eating disorders – those with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa obsess about calories and weight while orthorexics obsess about healthy eating (not about being “thin” and losing weight).”

I believe that orthorexic thinking is, at least for me, something that can crop up for people who are trying to overcome restriction and binging. It’s a nifty little side step in which ED can hide. I’m not counting calories! I’m eating healthy! I’m not logging my food, I’m just NEVER EVER EATING SUGAR. I’m not obsessively exercising, I’m just religiously having a green smoothie every day and excluding gluten (even though I’m not gluten intolerant or coealiac). I’m not weighing myself, I’m just feeling like a saint because I’m only eating organic food. I’m better. I’m healthier. I’m good. You might not be pathologically orthorexic, but I bet a lot of us “good feminists” (hello, more purity politics) recognise these thoughts!

There’s been some famous cases of orthorexia and people being honest about their food habits, such that of Jordan Younger – and some heavily oppressive flack they’ve copped for that honesty. I get grumpy at the coverage of this – you’ll notice a distinctly anti-vegan, pro-meat tone in some of the articles (hooray, this silly person now eats meat again just as they should! Down with vegans!) or a pro-vegan subtle weight loss message (do we really need to include before and after photos of the person who had dramatic weight loss due to their restrictive veganism? Who is that useful for? So basically we’re still ogling and approving of the skinny, right? Fuck off.) Personally I think Jordan Younger is really fucking brave to do what she did. 

I should be really clear in writing this post that I think our politics around food need to start functionally omitting discussions of blame, “total” behaviours, or polarity. If I could encourage myself and others to have one personal affirmation, it would be “I am not my food, and my food and habits do not determine my worth.”

That is super challenging as an affirmation because many vegans and healthy eating gurus (including, let’s face it, me still) just Do. Not. Believe that. Or preach it. The subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) message is: your food DOES make you good or bad.

My friend Cassie, who is vegan, is probably one of the most legit excellent vegans I know because when I nervously talked to her about this, she just didn’t judge me (or if she did, she didn’t do it out loud, even if that was super hard for her). I think she saw my anxiety and decided somehow that being a good human was more important than being the vegan police. That giving me a space in which I could be my whole integrated self, and not triggering my ED, was more important that insisting I meet a standard. For that I’m grateful, and even if she doesn’t realise it, I felt closer to her and less fucked up in that moment.

I am facing a new health challenge at the moment that I’m still mulling over, and trying to be critical of when fitting it into my knowledge of myself as a person with “food issews”. My fertility doctor just told me I have the compound heterozygous MTHFR gene mutation, which has implications for how I absorb folate (I don’t do it well, and need to supplement with folenic acid), and has links to recurrent pregnancy loss as well as other health concerns.

There’s a raft of information about eating and living with MTHFR, but my friend flagged with me that it could prompt orthorexic thinking and eating, which is a legit concern. Some of the advice given to people with MTHFR (particularly compound heterozygous MTHFR and single or compound homozygous MTHFR genes) is pretty extreme and I’m not sure yet how scientific some of it is. Some doctors with information online about MTHFR genes recommend excluding dairy and gluten, but the rationale for that I’ve yet to discover.

I’m not feeling triggered by the (so far small) changes I need to make to diet and supplementation because of MTHFR so far. I know I’ll need to monitor that, though. There is always within me the potential to find just another new way to limit or alter my behaviours for piousness. And the potential for that around making babies? Huge, because of how huge the stakes are emotionally. There’s few things I want more than to take home a healthy baby at this point, so I need to be reeeeally careful I don’t unthinkingly use that to support making wild choices. 

The #12wbt probably does provide a holding space for people with orthorexic thinking and behaviours, I don’t doubt. Loads of it is triggering of those thoughts in me. There are messages around altering your social ties, avoiding or altering social situations and creating defence mechanisms for eating “unhealthy” foods that definitely cater to orthorexia.

But on the other hand, Michelle Bridges does preach balance. She talks about the whole journey being important, not the destination. There’s lots of contradictions in the message, but she does try to encourage people to be real about their eating and not judge themselves for what they eat, instead being consistent and generally nutritious, not perfect. There’s so many competing ideas in the #12wbt but I think an effort is made to navigate away from extreme eating, and to include a range of foods. There’s no eschewing of sugar or carbs or fat. There’s a little bit of everything, and I like that.

This post is not designed to say that veganism is bad, because I don’t think it is. I would love to somehow find my way back to being vegan and not feeling fucked up by it, I’m just not sure that will happen any time soon – and I carry daily guilt around about that. I would like to get rid of that guilt (even as some people think I should feel it even more keenly, I’m sure) and reclaim my humanity from the intrusive “not good enough” feeling that always comes from somewhere. Veganism is not bad because ways of eating can’t be inherently bad – but it is complex, and it is made up of flawed humans who sometimes make not very kind choices in how they treat people. In the end, there will always be the vegan who doesn’t give a shit about how people feel because they’re a warrior for animal rights, and then there will be the ones who make you soup and celebrate the efforts you do/can make. The ones who remember that veganism was originally designed to be about what is “practical and possible”. 

At the moment my focus is just on eating balanced meals that have a bit of everything (and by everything I do mean sometimes chips, chocolate and beer) and becoming a person who is generally thoughtful about food but not compelled to act by an internal script of goodnes/badness.

I really want to be able to display chilled out, balanced behaviours around food for my children and minimise purity politics in my home. This probably means they won’t grow up in a home that is 100% vegan and with a Dad that sometimes eats meat (and a Mum who doesn’t feel totally comfy with that choice, but tries not to be a dick about it). I mourn that a bit. I don’t want them growing up thinking veganism is bad though and I want that to be a choice they can make if it is made feeling whole, and empowered, and happy. I recognise that will probably be complicated for them, just as it is for me.

Most of all, I want my kids to know that I will love them no matter what they do or don’t put in their mouths. That their worth isn’t defined by what they eat. While that seems to have skipped my brain, I want to work hard on it being installed in theirs from the beginning.

Femmes are friends, not food.

*pre-amble note: in my view of the world, the identity of femme is not conflated with cisgendered women. Femme is a gender identity that is embodied by people who ID in every which way. I also believe it is not our job, as queers, to police who may identify as femme or not.

For a while I’ve been contemplating what it means to have femme friendships.

I’ve never really had a lot of success with this. Without mincing words, I’ve found a lot of femmes really competitive, often snarky, and often hard to get to know. A bunch of them already have their friendship circle carved out, and if you’re not totally suave and up on the lay of the land they can eat you alive – or have a little gnaw on you and spit you out. And yeah, the stereotype of the ice queen alpha femme who bitches out your shoes and politics in the same breath isn’t prevalent without reason. They aren’t fauns. They do exist, and people do worship them (not my scene).

This trait – of fierceness – can be totally useful when turned against those who intrude uninvited and damage our loved ones, but it can be terrifying to come up against as a fellow femme. Especially when you just want to play nice and have tea. Oftentimes it is so damn intimidating that you don’t even approach.

Around the time of Camp Betty, I said to a Melbourne femme that I didn’t think I had any good femme friends. This was probably exaggeration – who doesn’t amplify self pity when talking to someone in a sibling community? – but it wasn’t so far off the mark.

But since Camp Betty I’ve been doing two things. I’ve been ever so slowly making tiiiiny advances into friendships with some of the femmes I regard as People to Know. Not because they are well placed (fuck social climbing) and not because they are the cleverest, the shiniest, the most well groomed. They are people I’ve sought out because they are kind, witty, and welcoming. They seem to get that you can be fierce and be accessible as well.

The second thing I’ve done is get over myself, stop being a blinkered git, and realised that there’s a bunch of femmes and femme-curious people within my reach. I’ve started giving them a lot more love. It’s a little rich to complain about a lack of connection, when you’re not even reaching out to what’s within your grasp.

I’d like to see a lot more femmehood among us, though. We have the capacity to link across our community instead of becoming these distorted symbols who are fetishised and worshiped and ultimately isolated from each other. I know it feels nice to be the centre of mystery – I mean damn, can you even really define femme? I know I can’t – but mystery can get kind of lonely.

And everyone knows loneliness is for suckers. Leopard print hugs are so much better. Scented leopard print hugs.

Sex Laws: why neo second wavers get all in mah grill.

“In a patriarchal society, all heterosexual intercourse is rape because women, as a group, are not strong enough to give meaningful consent.”
Catharine MacKinnon, quoted in Professing Feminism: Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women’s Studies.

“I want to see a man beaten to a bloody pulp with a high-heel shoved in his mouth, like an apple in the mouth of a pig.”
Andrea Dworkin; from her book Ice and Fire .

“When a woman reaches orgasm with a man she is only collaborating with the patriarchal system, eroticizing her own oppression…”
Sheila Jeffreys.

My friends and I exist in an extremely rarified little cosy of a network we call ‘the bubble’. The bubble is full of people who question their privilege actively, try not to be racist, classist, sexist, queerphobic, sex worker phobic or transphobic* – among other things. Most of us would probably describe ourselves as third wave or post modern feminists, if we really thought about it.

The result of living daily in a group of beautiful people like this – in which I can breathe easy and forget the world – is that I’m startled when I run across really gross politics again.

The thing that I find most appalling is when it comes from people I’d really expect better from. And of late, I’ve had the startling experience of running smack bang into not-so-subtle transphobia and sex negativity from neo second-wavers in my peripheral network.

‘Neo second-wavers’ is the clumsy term I use in Bettie Land to describe people who support ideas around sex and gender posited by notable radical feminists of the 60s, 70s and 80s like Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, Germaine Greer and a host of others.

In the contemporary context, self described ‘eco feminists’ such as Carol Adams support questionable interpretations of the body, sex and gender. Greer continues to produce problematic tracts and soundbites in this area, and Sheila Jeffreys…well. Other people have unpacked Jeffreys far more eloquently than I, so I’m just going to save time and say she’s a heck of an arsehole.

From where I sit, it seems that what most of these thinkers have in common is that they’re discussing sex in ways that configure it as a bad, scary thing owned by patriarchy and only ever wielded as a tool to hurt and oppress (by ‘men’ against ‘women’ – forget gender pirates, they don’t exist here).

Gender, see, is innate and manifest only in a binary, and they seem to have a decided on a set of ways of loving, fucking and embodying self that they deem healthy. Anything else is submission to patriarchy. Trans women are not ‘real’ or they’re really just men butchering their bodies to steal femininity, trans men are traitors to womanhood, women who like fucking men are brainwashed slaves, porn is violent and coercive both in construction and consumption, and sex work is done by women who are victims of child abuse and current male exploitation.

The second wave feminist interpretation of Lacan’s ‘male gaze theory’ is a good example of how fucked and completely disempowering a lot of their sex and gender talk is. In this reading of male gaze theory, the response of women to the male gaze is irrelevant, because they’re only able to respond from within the unequal hegemonic frame of their existence. In other words, if you’re a (biological) woman you’ve no mind of your own. Don’t start getting ideas that you do, because that’ll just be a product of the patriarchy, too. Somehow.

Sex negativity and disempowerment, second wave can has. Some of this is so twisted and constricting that I just. Don’t. Even.

I could deal with these viewpoints if they’d evolved into something more constructive in the early 80s, and hey, largely we’ve moved beyond this – right? We all know better now – right?

Wrong. Lately I’m coming across way too many people my age, in my community, who still think along these lines.

I used to be pretty good friends, a couple of years back, with someone who supported ideas like this. She was anti porn in a big way and mounted an argument with such gusto that my partner and I deleted all the porn on our computer. So much smut, lost! Armed with woeful stories from blogs ‘revealing’ the abject and all consuming horrors of porn, she told me how most porn performers were victims of sexual assault as children (not true) and how most porn was coercively made (also not true).

Along with this came the idea that all men were potential rapists. Oh, fail harder. I find this statement to be one of the more divisive nonsenses I’ve heard spouted by rad-fems in the 20 – 35 age bracket. Add to this the statements made recently by an acquaintance that the desire of a trans chick to have perky tits was a “male” view of the body she “despised” and that same trans chick should just “love the body they were born in” and I’m wondering just what the hell caused so many young feminists to take on board so much nonsense that was best left to die out with their predecessors.

I mean, fuck. It isn’t like there’s a shortage of alternative ideas, so what gives?

Personally, I think these ideas spread through a kind of cyclical cultural transmission in grassroots organisations that isn’t interrupted enough and grown through discourse with other groups. There are always pockets of well meaning rad-fems springing up and expressing themselves in Women’s Collectives and it can get kind of intra-connected. From what I’ve seen, they’re not conversing openly enough with diverse groups who can bring perspective beyond the second wave bloc they’re keenly reading. You get groups of rad fems who go on reading jags of old shit from the 70s and they’re not reading anything new.

I mean, I remember having Dworkin quoted at me a lot when participating in a Women’s Collective in a regional area in 2008/9. At the time I blithely swallowed it too, because like them, I didn’t have anyone saying HEY, WHAT ABOUT READING THIS TOO? and I wasn’t seeking out ways to get that perspective. And so the snake swallows it’s tail.

To be honest, I find Women’s Collectives an unsafe space for many ‘oh crap, you read Carol Adams uncritically and you exclude some of my sisters’ reasons, but also because I fucking love makeup, heels, shaving, submitting consensually to cis-men for kicks and from genuine desire, acting out consensual violence on women’s bodies for kicks and from genuine desire, and strongly believe it is my right to alter my body however I want, if I want to. If I want to get a boob job, I’ll get a fucking boob job – because it is my body, not yours. If I want to do a pin up shoot, wax my cunt (I would, but actually, OW…) or skate a track in booty shorts, I will. My body. Not yours. And my motives – and the motives of my trans sisters – are not yours to examine or question, either.

That’s actually the crux of my beef with neo second wavers right there, actually. Autonomy and agency. Just where is it? In the second wave rendering of the universe, ‘bio women’ (I hugely dislike this term, so much that typing it makes my fingers angry) are pitiless creatures flailing in a mire of unreconcilable oppressions. There’s just no place to be much more than exploited, and if anything I find this removal of a sense of agency way more objectifying than a dude looking at my tits while I wait in line to buy bread and soy milk.

So shoot me, I kinda like the dude looking at my tits. And the gal in aisle 9. I just also like the right to not like it, too. Consent – the right to give it and the right to remove it – is this handy thing that supports relationships among genders rather than deepening the trenches.

I’m not saying that oppression born of gendering and the fact of patriarchy doesn’t exist. I’m just not buying that it totally makes us helpless and I don’t think it serves us to constantly harp on the idea that EVERYTHING we do is a meme of patriarchy – for one thing, there’s a bunch of other stuff to think about too, and obsessing about patriarchy glosses wildly over the experiences of people of colour, those experiencing class difference and so on. In my life so far, I’ve seen a lot of not-helpless women of different races, classes and cultural backgrounds do breath-taking things. I’ve seen myself do really powerful things.

Those things aren’t glitches or lucky breaks. Maybe we’re not helpless, though the system tries to make us so. Maybe we’re capable and we’re complex and maybe we’re doing a bang-up job of resisting and living, creatively and with pride. Maybe womanhood is something bigger and more alive than the second-wave imagination, which is why their negative circuits just overload trying to think about it.

I really hope that more neo second-wavers get out there and mix and mingle in our rich (particularly queer) community, opening their ears and hearts to all the great people out there who are living realities aloud that confound a limited philosophy that serves only to cage and confine and deny.

After all, isn’t that what life is all about? Big, open hearts, acting boldly. Saccharine though that sentiment may be, I buy it.

The first step to it, is letting other people have the right to exist within their own definition and shutting the fuck up except to cheer them on.


*I’m speaking in this post as a queer, gender variant, white woman. I am not a trans* person and am not speaking for that very diverse community – I’m merely speaking as a (grumpy) ally observing stupid shit.

Our Lovely Bucket: hangin’ with the square pegs.

Claiming the identity ‘Queer’ for myself is among some of the smarter things I’ve done. I didn’t know that at the time though.

When I first came out to my parents at 19 – not that this is some universal marker of claiming a realised sexuality – it was as a lesbian. They were pretty calm about it, really. I’m thankful for that. I wholeheartedly dived into the world of being a dyke, and maybe I was one for that short time. Sexuality, I’ve learned, is pretty fluid and can change.

I know there’s a lot of people who find that idea confronting, unacceptable. Essentialism – that belief that we must be ‘one thing’, at our core, that we must reduce to basic parts that don’t continue to dissolve – caters to the vigorous yearning we all have that the world be stable. A need for stable boundaries around our own sexualities, and that of other people, can manifest as a destructive force. I think that wish for surety, though, comes from an understandable insecurity and fear.

Understandable until you try to fuck with me and legislate my existence. Right up until then.

Later, as I grew into a twenty something, I decided to march under the banner of bisexuality. I still wanted to have sex and relationships with male-identifying people. At that time, my understanding of the world was that ‘male identifying’ and a traditionally male-bodied person were the same thing. Now I know better. Now I know that gender is a complex, personal, political, beautiful, painful, dynamic playground that has no rules.

Again, fluidity. Learning.

When I started participating in student life at the University of Newcastle I ran across the term Queer for the first time. I’d had some inkling of it; it had tripped my radar when I was really young. But I had never investigated it.

At first, I thought Queer was a word for other people. I was still happy to call myself bisexual. Then as time trickled on I thought I could maybe claim it for myself. I wasn’t sure why, I wasn’t sure what it would mean for me, but I tentatively tried it on like a new and fabulous hat that seems different to every other hat you’ve come by so far. I thought at the time that you couldn’t be both bisexual AND Queer. Yeah, I know better now.

It felt ok.

At that time, I still though the word ‘Queer’ applied only to sexuality – who we fuck. But as the saying goes, Queer is not about who we fuck, at all – it is about how we fuck. And how we fuck with the world. And how it fucks with us.

I’ve now spent a little more than a year participating in an active, thriving Queer community in Sydney. It isn’t perfect; like every community, it has major flaws. But oh, the strengths too! I’ve learned more than I thought I could about gender, sexuality, love, consent, kink, relationships, etiquette, work, money, equality, dissent, resistance and mobilised anger.

I’ve learned that sex workers are fierce and amazing and mundane people, not cliches and punchlines. I’ve learned about rope and saying yes and saying no and standing firm and giving way. I’ve learned that personal pronouns are sometimes everything. I’ve learned to admire the muscles of a friend taking a scary, amazing journey with T and to stand with support and love beside those who don’t want to go there. I’ve learned about privilege, hugging, chai dates, strapping, packing, piercing, snuggling, melting, laughing, bad fashion, why bows and beards belong together, flirting, and dragging pretty girls into public restrooms. I’ve learned what pansexual means, and what genderqueer means, and why they are who I am.

I’ve learned that lipstick does not a lipstick lesbian make. And sometimes it does. And you can’t tell by looking, sorry, you just can’t.

I’ve learned that for me, being Queer means being fuck-you different, in some way, and how you deal with that. It isn’t always fun. Sometimes it is ugly and hard but sometimes it is glorious and hilarious.

I have so much left to absorb and internalise and work out. I don’t know the fullness of what it means to be a square peg in our round hole world, but I do know that I’m in good company.

The best, actually.


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