The “F-word”

My queer, class struggle, politics stem from my relationship with feminism and the radical challenging of power through confronting patriarchy. It is through a developing Black, Marxist, Feminist lens that I understand the material conditions of, not only my particular oppression, but the history of the various people who have existed in the world and confronted oppression and exploitation. Recently it has become very obvious to me that I am a bit of an oddity, in the sense that it is not common to hear of male feminist, even in the political Left. Often times my political position has been met with raised eyebrows, uneasiness, or dismissal of my opinions as being my own. Other men sometimes attribute my feminism to my relationships with womyn and while it is true that the source of my feminism comes from my upbringing/ close relationships with womyn, it is a bit inaccurate to speak of those connections as if I have been brainwashed by angry, butch, white womyn who refuse to shave.

Feminism came to me long before I was able to articulate, understand, or accept it. It was not something taught to me by a member of the intelligentsia, but instead by the womyn who surrounded me as I grew up. Looking back to my childhood, I can see feminist thought and action as something ever-present in my mother’s smile, her hands, her roar, her laugh, and her back. When she was a young womyn she ventured out into the world, and went to college in Michigan. This was forever and a day away from Washington DC, where she was born and raised. My grandfather, unhappy about one of his daughters venturing out so far attempted to raise all of hell to the surface. She lived, became a Black Nationalist, womanyst, dancer, poet, and finally a social worker upon graduation. I remember going through her old photos in my youth and seeing images of righteous afros, smiling men, homemade dashikis, glorious fists, forever cloths, and a life so wondrous and far away from mine.  All of this joy and eccentricity made it harder for me to understand how and why I found myself poor and unhappy in the ghettos of DC with the same womyn who’s smile emanated from those pictures. I didn’t know then that the world is a cruel place for Black people and especially Black womyn.  My mother, full of light, saw that for herself. Somewhere between the crack infested 80’s, Ronald Regan’s love letter to the Black ghetto, and ailing parents my mother found herself in a less sun filled position.

My youth is filled with memories of violent men, drugs, dignity destroying welfare, tear-stained food stamps and thunder screams. These were the realities that I observed my mother navigate. I saw firsthand the incredible power that lies in Black womyn and the strength that is necessary to re-enter, everyday, a world that chips away at your very life force. I also witnessed the power of community and the laying of hands that is womyn holding each other warmly and creating informal networks of support and trust. All of my mother’s friends were womyn that I looked at as aunts. They watched me, played with me, applauded me, and scolded me. Most importantly, they all imbued me with the strength, courage, and wisdom of a generation of Black womyn who had come of age in the post 60’s nightmare of America and lived to tell the tales of rape, joy, power, and loss.

They relied on one another so fiercely and loved one another fiercely, even in times of disagreement or betrayal. Many of the patriarchal, Black Nationalists, I’ve met, take issue with the fact that the racist capitalist system has exploited male/female difference, combined it with institutional racism and made it near impossible for the mythical “Black nuclear family” to exist. I have a serious problem with a generation of Black men falling by the waist-side due to White Supremacist, Patriarchal Capitalism and state sponsored terror.

However, I see Black womyn’s role as mothers to Black men as essential and I am not an advocate for the lessening of that by some reactionary “return of the Black male to his rightful place”. Often times that slogan has been code for female and child subordination through patriarchal oppression.

I see Black womyn’s oppression as my primary teacher and shaper. I see it as the roots of my radicalization and worldview. Queer or not, men are socialized through the patriarchal society and are people who have lived with those values as central parts of their lives. However, I found that that was something derailed by my upbringing in this community of Black womyn and seeing something powerful in radical womyn raising men. In addition to my developing queer identity, I began to analyze the society from the position of someone who was oppressed based my gender expression.

It is important to state, however, that my upbringing didn’t make me a feminist. It made me more understanding and receptive of and to feminism.

It wasn’t until college, when I entered a larger more radical community of my peers that I embraced the “f-word”. Being in struggle and solidarity with female comrades contributed to my understanding of patriarchy, under capitalism, and how the two beast feed off of one another’s destructive energy. As a queer person, my oppression is based in patriarchal thought. It is the thought that socializes men to see their needs as the most important, that breeds their violent culture, that reprimands their tears, that tells them everything that is masculine is so out of a negation of the feminine characteristics within all of us. So when we talk about battling patriarchy, we are talking, in part, about breaking down the socialization that contributes to the development of men and womyn semi-self realized human beings. We are talking about abolishing gender as such and that is essential not only to womyn and queers, but to the whole of the world. We are talking about ending a world that creates such a power dissonance between humans. We are not merely talking about getting people who wear dresses to join picket lines and call it feminist realization in class struggle.

As I am writing this, I think of the male organizers I know. I recently decided to celebrate my birthday with a drag party. I originally thought that the men would react very negatively to this, that they would outright protest. And indeed some of them did. Some had a problem with my minimum requirement of lipstick. It is incredible to think of the reasons and thought behind the aversion to men wearing dresses. What does it say about the culture when men who claim to be about revolution cannot bring themselves to wear a dress for one night? Many of my male comrades did come in dresses and that small act, while not a feminist revolution, made me smile a bit.

I hear the radio on in the distance and the discussion is of whether or not men should be able to have “man bags”. People are outraged and disgusted that the DJ would even propose something so horrific, that he would propose men degrade themselves by performing some act attributed to the opposite gender. It is heart breaking to think of the generation of men who cannot be themselves without the violent reinforcement of our culture’s hatred of womyn. I think I’m going to call in.

10 thoughts on “The “F-word”

  1. i heart you!:)
    i wish i coulda been at this drag partay!!!!
    lets talk soon, keep writing so i get your powerful vibes

  2. Hey J, I really respect how your politics are rooted in the struggle and experience of working class black women, and I appreciate you putting that story out here for folks to learn from.

    I was surprised though at your seeming dismissal, or implied criticism and rejection of the men who were uncomfortable with altering their gender performance for your birthday party. Is it really that difficult to fathom why that might be hard, or very uncomfortable for people? Gender performance and sexuality seems to be one of the most emotionally saturated parts of people’s lives, so to me it makes sense that you’d get people, such as myself, for whom that was pretty difficult. “What does it say about the culture when men who claim to be about revolution cannot bring themselves to wear a dress for one night. ” Do you have thoughts on what it says about the culture? Does being about revolution (instead of claiming to be) for you centrally mean that one is immediately able and willing to do everything necessary on the road to revolution?

    To me, it says that we’re not free from gender roles, socialization, underdeveloped emotional intelligence, homophobia, sex/gender systems. Because we’re socialized so harshly into our gender roles, as you eloquently point out above, we need compassion support from our comrades to work through them……luckily I’ve gotten this a lot of times, including from you ! (and given it at least a little)

    Anyway, I think the project of subverting gender roles is a really worthwhile one, and crucially important to integrate with any revolutionary project. Here’s to doing that more, and better, in the future!

    1. Was I dismissing the men at my party? If it came across like that, then it wasn’t my intention perhaps my thoughts weren’t written out fully. My thinking was along the lines of how patriarchal thought and socialization are so dominant and how they reach through to every sector of the society. It’s apart of the narrative I was building with previous post and discussions about why feminist thought is so crucial to class struggle and people’s liberation and how without building that the struggle for revolution is doomed.

      I know that we cannot shake off our bags as easily as they were put on us and in that sense I completely understand why it would be hard for men to do something as seemingly small as put on a dress or some lipstick, which many actually went far beyond in doing. As aspiring revolutionaries, I don’t think we are obligated to be fully formed militants from jump but I do think that we need to be in constant analysis and in a constant mode of pushing ourselves. I see that in all areas except gender recently and maybe the anger I have around this observation spilled over into this post when it shouldn’t have. I’m happy that many of my male comrades are aware and pushing themselves and that’s why it made me smile to see many of them show up in drag (and not in a paternalistic “I am queer and you are straight identified so i’m superior in this moment” kinda way)

      1. Word, appreciate the clarification! Sorry if I came off too critical, I was detecting some anger that I was surprised/curious and a little defensive about….at least I wasn’t crazy to detect the anger.

        I’m curious about what spaces you’ve been in where folks have been in constant analysis/pushing themselves mode with everything but gender…what are these folks focusing on, and why are they ignoring gender? In the political spaces I’m in, for a while it’s been gender that has been the primary thing people are talking about and pushing themselves to change or understand………including myself, in my own opinion which I guess is always a dubious source. But then again comrade/friend, we’re not in the same spaces like we used to be! Let’s cross-pollinate and sometime soon, 🙂

  3. hi. i dont read or comment on the blogs much, but i was reading this post and had similar feelings as Fish. i’m glad the discussion has opened up cuz i think it’s important.

    the main thing for me in this is that people can struggle to subvert sexist roles in many ways, not just by what they wear or how they walk. i think that ultimately, in an egalitarian society, there would be no sexes or genders as such–there would just be difference, bodies and desire. but the movement towards that society is composed of much more than people immediately altering their appearance-performance.

    given the society we live in today, it can really bother me when people criticize other people for staying in their sex-gender comfort zone! even when that criticism is against the dominant civilization/culture. it was my feeling that the original post participated in this to some extent when it referred to the thought behind men’s aversion to dresses in addition to the system behind the thought. that’s not really intended as an attack or anything; i just think that the tone and style came at folks a certain way and that that’s important to think about and process.

    i think folks in struggle should (and often do) challenge themselves. i also think that the system which perpetrates sexual violence and sexism-patriarchy at large includes the ways that people daily perform narrow and dichotomous genders. so it’s not really legit to say that we should struggle against rape but not against heteronormative lifestyles. in many ways that’s the same struggle. and some folks choose to alter their gender-appearance as part of how they subvert the dominant paradigm. others don’t fight heterosexist patriarchy at all and others (importantly) do it in a different way.

    but would a fully formed militant necessarily be open to drag? would it be impossible for a straight person or a man to be a fully formed militant without them breaking down their normative personal preferences and becoming open to other sexualities? (insofar as those people remain caught in narrow, dominant sexes and sexualities…)

    because of the difficulty involved in questions like the one above, i think this conversation is super important. because i don’t think people have to stop being straight (or queer for that matter) or dressing a certain way in order to be revolutionary. however, i do think that people need to stop being insensitive and domineering, abusive and sexually violent–and these are gendered performances as well. so it’s important to note that everyone needs to challenge themselves and change their gender performance in some way or other as they develop as revolutionaries–and step out of their comfort zones to some degree. self-growth is a necessary counter-part to the growth of our movements towards liberation.

    so where do we “draw the line” between gender-related productions that are anti-revolutionary (DV, domineering aggressiveness etc.) and those that are “safe, legitimate modes of self-expression?”

    well, i’m usually suspicious of this kind of drawing the line type question, so i guess i’ll leave the rest up to conversation.

    1. I believe that the intent and content of my orginal post is being lost to a particular kind of defensiveness or reaction right now. I disagree with being told to change the tone or intensity of my arguement because it will be unpleasant for others. It has often been my experience that people (womyn, gender queers, and people of color) are told to hold their anger at bay because it may not be recieved well by the people who are on the other side of the exchange. I for one do not feel the need to tone down my anger because it is what fuels my passion. At the same time I know the limitations of moving on pure anger.

      Why is the substance behind the critique being looked at? Why is there just reaction to the suggestion that even revolutionary men are tainted with patriarchal socialization? What about the fact that this is something very true for many people and must be dealt with? All I am reading is reaction.

      Of course, this blog is written with the purpose of forcing queerness or cross dressing on people, however in a society where the gendered categroies have been destroyed, then we will probably see larger amounnts of people playing with their expression as they please and not reacting to the threat of violence and shame from their peers.

  4. I appreciate this debate as well. I don’t think that Crunch is trying to diss anyone not willing to dress in drag. I think that’s a kind of vulgar reading of this text. No offense!

    I see Crunch making the following points
    – “It is the thought that socializes men to see their needs as the most important, that breeds their violent culture, that reprimands their tears, that tells them everything that is masculine is so out of a negation of the feminine characteristics within all of us.”
    – There is often a violent response by society when men take on certain female-associated characteristics. There is a high degree of discomfort. I think we cannot say this discomfort is not politicized discomfort within our current context. I agree with you that in a different society we would want a full spectrum of gendered expressions (including masculine ones) to be represented and celebrated. But in today’s society, symbols and practices have associations that are valued. A dress is just a cloth but when worn by a man, it is violently attacked, by nature of what it represents, who is supposed to wear it, and the power relations involved.

    I see crunch making a very relevant connection between the discomfort many of us have in challenging our own gendered norms and ways of dressing, and the violent and oppressive policing of gender that goes on in much of the world around us, which has a specifically misogynistic character.

    In the interest of moving this conversation away from being one about individuals and how feminist they are, it would be useful to reframe the question as to ask what does challenging gender and patriarchy look like in practice? Is it just making sure you are not sexist, or does it also mean an active gender-traitor’ism of sorts? Does it mean that we focus on redefining class to include women, or does it mean reconsidering the political aspects of non-market relations, i.e. personal relations between people? How do we challenge the power relations involved in personal relations in the interest of fighting patriarchy? How do we work towards erasing the gendered division of labor in our society? Do we do this in theory only or in practice? Is class struggle against patriarchy simply about organizing women to go on strike? Or should that be part of a larger project? I think that in all areas of these kinds of oppressions we need to be challenging ourselves in ways that make us uncomfortable. For example, in certain political milieus we are all in, there is an emphasis on valorizing working-class cultures. That is part of what makes the political milieu we are all part of, more open and inclusive and welcoming to people of color, and working class folks who sometimes feel alienated from ‘activist spaces’ proper. How do we do this with gender? Does this necessarily mean we do not critique or push people within our own milieus to challenge some of their more normative practices? How does the normative heterosexual relations in our world challenge those who are gender queer? How does heterosexist culture make our queer brothers and sisters feel uncomfortable? These are all questions I am interested in. I think we should all be proud of ourselves for having the courage to engage in these questions, and recognize them as healthy and positive.

    – Sycorax

  5. I believe that the intent and content of my orginal post is being lost to a particular kind of defensiveness or reaction right now. I disagree with being told to change the tone or intensity of my arguement because it will be unpleasant for others. It has often been my experience that people (womyn, gender queers, and people of color) are told to hold their anger at bay because it may not be recieved well by the people who are on the other side of the exchange. I for one do not feel the need to tone down my anger because it is what fuels my passion. At the same time I know the limitations of moving on pure anger.

    Why is the substance behind the critique being looked at? Why is there just reaction to the suggestion that even revolutionary men are tainted with patriarchal socialization? What about the fact that this is something very true for many people and must be dealt with? All I am reading is reaction.

    Of course, this blog is written with the purpose of forcing queerness or cross dressing on people, however in a society where the gendered categroies have been destroyed, then we will probably see larger amounnts of people playing with their expression as they please and not reacting to the threat of violence and shame from their peers.

  6. crunch –

    i totally hear you. actually. that may seem contradictory or insincere, but i hope i can address that below.

    i’m not really great at communicating in blog though. so ima just try my best.

    it needs to be recognized that queer folks and gender-queer people have to LIVE IN A WORLD DOMINATED BY HETERONORMATIVITY all day everyday.

    queer people always have to deal with that–also, therefore, when for instance, attending parties. the privilege that hetero-acceptable folks experience in this context is largely invisible (to themselves), they fail to recognize it and tend to get defensive when that possibility (of recognizing that privilege) is raised.

    when a party is thrown that is specifically drag, and straight, cisgendered people are not willing to participate in that and want to show up not in drag, they are asserting their privilege and not recognizing that. that should be taken seriously. they should participate or not show up–that’s what i think.

    but either way, i don’t think a drag request should be considered an “unfair” or “extra” burden for folks–because that wouldn’t recognize the conditions of heterosexism that pervade our society.

    the intent of the original post is important and well-taken i hope. i do not want to attack either the post or the intent. i do nonetheless want to comment and challenge!! i was hoping that in challenging i could also engage in the substance of the post. i was hoping that a challenge wouldn’t be taken as a one-sided attack.

    that it was taken as a one-sided and non-sympathetic attack is a good sign to me that i’m not communicating very well. largely this is due to my privilege, my lack of critical engagement with my privilege and my lack of a community in which i could do that kind of work. i want to do that work, and so i am commenting on this post. i am going to keep trying, learning from the response, and hopefully improving with further engagement.

    it must be recognized how pervasive patriarchy, sexism and heterosexism are–so much so that they even pervade the so-called revolutionary left. this is where i hope to comment and challenge, because this is a space that is particularly important to me as i hope to be a part of building a revolutionary left that isn’t afraid to declare itself and to fight for freedom systematically and for reals.

    so, this is why this blog is important to me and why i wanted to comment: because the revolutionary left needs to have strong feminist and queer politics and b/c queer and feminist political struggles have a strong ‘interest’ in being revolutionary in a systematic way.

    this is where it gets hard for me to communicate. as a straight man, it’s very hard for me to make supportive contribution to queer and feminist struggles. at times i have been better at this, at times worse. i still feel basically compelled to try my best and to be honest. so here goes:

    one point i wanted to make in my original post is that i, specifically as a revolutionary, want to be supportive to people who are working through their gendered reality. sometimes this does include straight cisgendered folks. and sometimes i want to be sympathetic to their comforts and argue that cisgendered people can be revolutionary too! even when they don’t feel comfortable bending their gender.

    and specifically as a revolutionary, i want to take up the challenge of relating to the psychology of straight cisgendered people who are not prepared to bend their genders.

    i understand when queer folks do not want to take responsibility to be sympathetic to that privileged position. and i do not want to compel anyone to do that. i want to do that–i want to be able to take responsibility for that. and the reason i’m trying to write here is because i think that, as hard as this is, that revolutionary-minded people should step to that challenge as well. because in being revolutionary (which isn’t easy!!) we should be able to help revolutionize people by relating to their condition, their limitations and showing/teaching/supporting them in challenging those limitations.

    all that being said, from my position of privilege i hope to take responsibility for challenging people’s privilege and the ways they react against recognizing it. and my own. i want to do that from a place of sympathy (cuz im sympathetic to folks with privilege and i think that can be revolutionary–and also effective in teaching privileged people, something i want to take responsibility for doing and even convince other revolutionaries to do).

    i know my original comment and this comment are problematic and incomplete. i hope to put this out there as a way to start a conversation so that we can all get better at doing what is called for us to do in our struggles. to the extent that i’m not doing that, i hope to get better.

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