Author Archives: Undercover Punk

Sonia’s report on Janice Raymond’s “The Transsexual Empire” (1979)

This a book report on (the first half of) “The Transsexual Empire” by Janice Raymond. My opinion is still that transsexual (male) invasion of all feminist space should be patently ignored, however- I think these feminist Cliff notes might come in handy for those who want a reference as to why. I also think it’s significant that many of the things I’ve been saying, UP has been saying, and FCM has been saying over the last year or so (both of the latter much more than myself), are echoed here in Raymond’s words, despite the fact that none of the three of us read the book before I started it yesterday.

I find it auspicious and indicative of the fact that there is an objective truth inside women that some of us are getting at, and that when women-identified-women search within in response to the patriarchal culture around them, the same truths re-emerge. This should give us a confidence and a comfort. I also want to thank UP and FCM and all the gals who are writing about this issue for bringing it to the forefront of the online dialogue for us all. It is crucial at this point for feminism as a whole. Although I’m not a lesbian (yet), the book is written from that perspective and so I wrote my thoughts from a perspective of solidarity with my lesbian sisters.

Hope you gals enjoy. I admit it is disorganized, but if you’ve been following the dialogue, will pick it right up. Mostly just wanted to share a bunch of these quotes because they beat ass.

Janice Raymond on transsexual politics:

“If the stereotypes themselves are not confronted but are only frowned upon when acted out by persons of the ‘wrong’ sex, then the origins of transsexualism will be individualized and psychologized. What will go unexamined is patriarchy’s norms of masculinity and femininity and how these norms, if allowed to contain persons within such rigid boundaries, may generate such a phenomenon as transsexualism.”

In “The Transsexual Empire,” Raymond comments on the definitive work of her era on transsexualism, by Money (male) and Ehrhardt (female) which reinforced the obscuration of the primacy of females with statements such as “the antithesis of androgen is not estrogen, but nothing,”’ (p. 57) articulating the cognitive basis for the rationalization of post-operative transsexual males as female. The relevant patriarchal belief at play in transsexual theory, is that females are deficient males. Raymond reminds women of the underlying belief (fundamental to transsexual male rationale) of western, perhaps all, patriarchy, given original and most clear voice by Plato (the foundation thinker behind all occidental belief systems) that:

‘“…woman is defective and misbegotten..the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence, such as that of a south wind which is moist.”’ (p.57).

In other words, your definition and value is that you lack a penis. Aside from the obvious implications for the credibility of male culture and logic suggested by the belief on the part of the man that Western patriarchy regards as time’s most brilliant believing that femaleness is a birth defect possibly engendered by humid Southern breezes, it remains that the belief that women are men who lack, for whatever reason, penises, underlies culture/patriarchy. Though at this end-game stage of female subjugation it may be in the majority of individuals a subconscious or inarticulatable belief, it is ubiquitous in the western psyche, and it forms the foundation for the rationale in transsexual male culture.

Raymond on gender socialization:

‘Erik inner-and-outer-space analogy, where the “inner” sexual apparatus of the female and the “outer” sexual apparatus of the male were seen to be the prime determinants of feminine “inner” directed and masculine “outer” directed behavior.’ (p.63)

We are all familiar with this. I personally correlate many elementary school heartaches and experiences to this dynamic of socializing young children, as I’m sure any female reader can. We remember when this normative conditioning slid closed around us and we grew to live with the yearning for freedom that it engendered. This perspective is so pervasive in cultural thought as to be omnipresent. It is probably the basis for the personal belief on the part of some individuals within patriarchy that their very selves, their souls, are a mismatch to their bodies. Patriarchy is so normative as to make people believe that their characters are flawed, instead of the reality- which is that the system of male dominance based gender conditioning is so relentless and so unnatural that it literally puts people, female and male, at odds with our very essence. Undoubtedly, something is amiss in people who desire transsexual operations. But it’s amiss in all of us, and it’s amiss in the world around us. Patriarchy lacks representation of the truth of human yearning and experience, for females. And for males.

The reasons the transsexuals Raymond interviewing for “Empire” included “absolute knowledge” that they were enclosed in the “wrong body,” or simply an occupational preference for traditionally feminine behavior and occupations. Raymond states- “very little of the transsexual literature has highlighted the stereotyping problem as either causally or therapeutically important.” (p.71)

As Undercover Punk has stated;

“Gender and sex are presumed to MATCH, with gender naturally arising from one’s sexual organs. Simple as that! Authenticity is assumed and the assigned gender is socially accepted without question. If someone isn’t feeling or performing her “gender” properly, there is obviously something wrong with HER, not with the traditional concept of “Gender #2.”

The cultural blindness to the base assumption that the feminine gender matches a female genitalia and the masculine gender matches the male gender is at fault for “gender dysphoria,” not the individuals themselves or their parents, or individual experiences. Patriarchal culture denies the detrimental effects of sex-role behavior mandates even when “treating” those effects in people who request “sex reassignment”. To examine the effects for what they are would reveal the ridiculous predeterminist beliefs about female subjugation that underlie and justify all male abuse of women. It is necessary for patriarchy to relegate “gender dysphoria” theorizing to an individualist basis, a recurring patriarchal tactic for isolating problematic results that develop outside the cultural model/mandate. In other words, if the brainwash doesn’t stick, there must be something wrong with you. You know, individually.

Raymond states:

“A person experiences role strain only if she or he has a self that is separate from the role.” (p.81)

A person with no gender identification would be incapable of social survival, so a prerequisite for success in life is some sort of sex role conformity (or a full time losing battle against it), We are under sex-role strain more or less constantly, but most people resign themselves to it and subsume their experiences under a role heading, in order to continue having “experiences” instead of problems, failures, or excessive traumas. We unconsciously understand that there is no social or material benefit to sex role deviance. Feminism has pushed and slightly changed the parameters of traditional womanhood for some women, but the role remains, and is mandatory. To break out of and completely redefine it without an examination of male social dominance is not possible.

Undercover Punk:

“For example, I’ve tried to do this by identifying certain DISEMBODIED aspects of “femininity” that I enjoy practicing. Examples include my affinity for bright colors, giggling, and being mindful of other people’s situational comfort levels. I’m not sure that I want to describe femininity itself as a/my “gender,” but it *is* associated with the gender traditionally assigned (#2) to and expected of female bodied people.”

Genitalia is too arbitrary a signifier to dictate desired social behavior from. We are all, female and male, too complex as people to have our affect, behavior and preferences dictated by our sex organs. Extrapolating multiple classes of characteristics and actions from physical qualities is unrealistic. As UP states, we all want pieces of both genders, even men, and even the new era’s Self Defined Gender is still too binary and sex-role identified to really be representative of who people are. Patriarchy’s extreme identification with certain emotional characteristics is what drives people to feel displaced within their very bodies, and addressing the binary issue in terms of clothing and hair and job choices doesn’t do very much to address the emotional sense of self or sense of ostracization from our own selves that binary gender mandates creates.

Note: transsexual surgery is an attempt to cure an advanced level of genderized wounds. Compassion, from a woman, for the plight of men is misplaced pity. However, to be unable to see the extreme level at which patriarchy wounds men into abusers by removing their humanity first is to be unable to understand what is at the heart of male-to-female transsexualism. Many men do not want to behave in the ways society dictates for them. Men are different from women, but not in the ways patriarchy thinks they are, and the masculine gender role is not a natural one. It is not based on the nature of men. The extreme brutal socialization that males go through works all of the time. The grinding self negation, self hate of masculinity with no authority or impending judgment drives the cycle ahead- however, not all men want to be a part of it. Who cares why. In the binary construct, the only other option is to be women.

Note: it’s not that radical feminists don’t understand this. We get it. Terming our struggle against transsexual identification as hate is not accurate. We’re working for women alone, and that’s always unacceptable. Radical feminists are for women, struggling against what threatens us. While we are compassionate people, 45 years of evidence suggests that including male interests in our struggle turns out badly for us, and we are most definitely.. for us. No radical feminist is suggesting that someone doesn’t have the right to do whatever they want to their own body. But quite simply, we reference an already existing line between our experience and the transsexual experience.

Raymond spends a great and valuable amount of time characterizing the tone of early transpolitics. She imparts that the teams of treating doctors, evaluating psychologists and others involved in the early surgery and socialization of male-to-female transsexuals were almost exclusively male. That the men who first attained the sex conversion surgery were qualifying their desire to be female and new personas as such through other men. As young women go through a mandatory feminization before being allowed to live as females in patriarchy, these men also had to pass muster with the fathers. Raymond paints a picture of post operative transsexual “females” as the daughters born of the patriarchs. She quotes Kando as referring to trans “females” as the “Uncle Toms of the sexual revolution,” but in truth they are the Athenas of the new age:

“’Blaming the mother’ also functions to identify transsexuals with men….”

“The syndrome of ‘blaming the mother’ in each of these theories raises some fundamental critical responses. Most is indicative of a fundamental reversal. The biological and psychological theorists blame the mother for both female and male transsexualism. Neither asks who is actually transforming transsexual bodies into the desired sex and instructing them in the rudiments of cultural femininity and masculinity..” (she is writing about early formalized socialization processes for post op transsexuals) “…the irony is that mothers are blamed, yet it is transsexual “father figures” (the fathers of the psychiatric and medical domains) who are performing the operations and coaching into roles. One way of perceiving this reversal is to view such “fathers” as “male mothers” who see themselves redeeming the biological mothers’ defective handiwork, whether that defective process is regarded as biological (failing to give enough of the  right hormone or giving too much of the wrong hormone in utero) or as psychological (failing to rear the child correctly).” (p. 74-75)

In a predictably patterned state of affairs, Raymond shows that transsexual operations are seen as a corrective of femaleness, whether perceived to be engendered in the male biologically or socially (since apparently in this case the fathers accept nurture as causal, but don’t you dare try to extrapolate that one- it’s as-needed valid) even though it is the male genitalia that is being removed. Even though the penis is being cut off in a transsexual “sex reassignment,” it is not the masculinity that is being corrected- always, in the patriarchal eye, the femaleness is errant and in need of correction- emotionally or physically. The operation seeks to correct an errant femaleness. (Maybe to create a fuckability for the perceived emotional vulnerability that is present? That part is worth thinking more about, but)

For me the above concept is the most significant aspect of the dynamic, being the reversal-thinking that creates both the problem and the therapy to “fix” it. We know that all life including humans is primarily female, and that maleness is a variation (not errant-that kind of thinking is strictly patriarchal because women know that nature makes no mistakes, but variant). The suffering from gender based conditioning is a result of this thought-reversal and stigmatization of the female.

Raymond on the roots of transsexualism, and more on Blaming The Mother:

“We consider the psychological hypothesis of Henry Guze…Guze thinks that as a rule, boys will psychologically develop in a feminine direction unless a male model is present in some way.”

(p.78) (i.e., the dominant male role model is necessary to prevent the feminization of boys which causes “gender dysphoria”, read=too much Mommy)

In this sense, then, a patriarch allows that masculinity itself is a castration. The transsexual operation seeks to castrate where an emotional castration has failed. Although the emotional castration of masculinization is seen to remove the perceived female aspect of a male, and the physical castration is an alignment with that perceived aspect, we see that some type of castration is necessary for males to feel complete in their culture. I will tie this in to further writing on the necessity of sacrifice, castration, and circumcision to patriarchal male sense of self and reality, but for the time being, the point is supportive of the reality that masculinity is a wounding, abusive construct at its core. On a meta/mythic level, this necessitated bloodletting/castration, whether symbolic/emotional or physical, is an example of the constant dis-identification-with-and-concurrent-emulation of females by patriarchal males.

In a sense, the transsexual identity is a confirmation of the fact that gender has conquered sex, and that gender categories have superceded natural sex, an affirmation, again, of patriarchy’s dominance over nature. Which is obviously the entire purpose and point of patriarchy. Male-to-female transsexuals are simply required to be good examples of the feminine role for other sex-class members. Patriarchy is now confident enough in the sex-class category to allow greater numbers of voluntary admission to males.

Raymond discusses transsexual presence in lesbian-feminist space, first giving us the history of the eunuch role in patriarchal gender dynamics:

“There is a long tradition of eunuchs who were used by rulers, heads of state, and magistrates as keepers of women. Eunuchs were supervisors of the harem in Islam and wardens of women’s apartments in many royal households. In fact, the word eunuch, from the Greek eunouchos, literally means “keeper of the bed.” Eunuchs were men that other more powerful men used to keep their women in place. By fulfilling this role, eunuchs also succeeded in winning the confidence of the ruler and securing important and influential positions…the earliest mentions of eunuchs is in connection with the Minoan civilization of Crete, which was a transitional period fro an earlier gynocentric society. It thus appears that eunuchs, to some extent, always attached themselves to women’s spaces and, most frequently, were used to supervise woemn’s freedom of movement and to harness women’s self-centeredness and self-government. ‘It is stated that entrée into every political circle was possible for eunuchs even if barred to other men.’” (p.105)

She continues:

“Men, of course, invented the feminine, and in this sense it could be said that all women who conform to this invention are transsexuals, fashioned according to man’s image. Lesbain-feminists exist apart from man’s inventiveness, and the political and personal ideas of lesbian-feminism have constituted a complete rebellion against the man-made invention of women..” (p. 106) (boldness mine, as usual 🙂 )

“What men really envy is women’s biological ability to procreate. Transsexuals illustrate one way in which men do this, by acquiring the artifacts of female biology. Even though they cannot give birth, they aquire the organs that are representative of ths female power. However, it is the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist who illustrates that much more is at stake that literal womb envy. He shows that female biology, whether exercised in giving birth or simply by virtue of its existence, is representative of female creativity on a profound mythic level.” (p.107)

Finally, Raymond answers, 30 years ahead of her time, the transpolitical character assassination on radical feminist response to intrusion:

“ (transsexuals) would encourage us to set no boundaries by employing the analogy of how boundaries have been used oppressively against lesbians in the past/present. “There are so many painful parallels between how the world has treated strong women and lesbians and how Raymond and others categorize and discount transsexuals,” she quotes a critic, “but the analogy is false. The boundaries that have been used against lesbians are the boundaries of the fathers…(they) would have us believe that all boundaries are oppressive. Yet if feminists cannot agree on the boundaries of what constitutes females, then what can we hope to agree on?” Raymond tells us that transpolitical invasion in feminist space  “encourages the leveling of genuine boundaries of self-preservation and self-centering.” (p.110)

Raymond quotes Robin Morgan in Los Angeles, 1973: “If transvestite or transsexual males are oppressed, let them band together and organize against that oppression, instead of leeching off women who have spent entire lives as women in women’s bodies.” (85).

With trans politics, anger at an experience is misplaced on women as per usual, instead of on the dominant patriarchal order where it belongs.



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Feminism and the Politics of Appearance by Amy Winter

Published in off our backs, November-December 2004

Text courtesy of Dirt. No pdf.


It’s no secret that mainstream media are obsessed with women’s looks. For years we’ve been bombarded with advertising for all kinds of products, from skin cream to diet pills, and titillated with news of Cher’s latest surgical enhancement. Lately, however, the products and procedures advertised have become more invasive, more dangerous and, significantly, more expensive—Botox injections, chemical peels, liposuction, stomach stapling. And whereas Cher and other famous women used to be considered slightly odd for their excessive concern with appearance, or it was understood that for them cosmetic surgery was an occupational hazard, these days, with shows like ABC’s “Extreme Makeover,” MTV’s “I Want a Famous Face,” and Fox’s “The Swan,” there’s no excuse left for any of us to remain tuck-less and nip-free. As more and more cosmetic procedures are presented as “empowering choices” that we’d be silly not to at least consider—breast implants which can cause chronic pain and disease, injections to deaden the nerves in our feet so we can keep wearing those high-heeled shoes, surgery to make our vulvas resemble that of a famous porn star, permanent makeup tattooed onto our faces, liposuction or stripping of varicose veins which can lead to chronic nerve pain—the greater is the pressure on us to conform, and the smaller the space in which we get to be content with ourselves the way we are.

In the last decade, it’s also become very difficult to discuss issues of personal appearance, in fact, any issue of “personal choice” at all, within feminist and lesbian communities. The second-wave feminist emphasis on a woman’s right to body autonomy and sexual self-determination has been widely misinterpreted to mean that any choice a woman makes about sexual behavior and appearance is automatically feminist. This has led to the acceptance and even glorification of profoundly woman-hating behaviors and institutions, such as pornography, prostitution, cosmetic surgery, dieting, weight loss surgery, and various types of “body modification” including transsexual surgery. What we are left with is a practically incoherent public discourse, wherein mainstream journalists, “queer” activists and “third-wave” writers all champion an amoral liberal attitude toward women’s body-related choices, demand celebration of misogynist institutions and endeavors, and call that celebration “feminism.”

The merging of the rhetoric of the equal rights movements for African-Americans, women, and lesbians and gays with liberal political philosophy has resulted in progressives embracing the liberal concept of “tolerance.” The Declaration of Tolerance at reads:

“Tolerance is a personal decision that comes from a belief that every person is a treasure. I believe that America’s diversity is its strength. I also recognize that ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry can turn that diversity into a source of prejudice and discrimination.

To help keep diversity a wellspring of strength and make America a better place for all, I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.”

This statement exemplifies the liberal focus on individual actions, rather than an analysis of how the power structure in the US privileges and empowers some groups while stigmatizing and marginalizing others. Emphasis on tolerance, rather than equalizing access to power and resources, deflects attention from systems that concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few, and locates oppression solely in individual acts of unkindness or discrimination.

When “tolerance of diversity” is the highest value, analyzing the political implications of any “personal choice” usually elicits a reflexic, defensive, even enraged response, which stifles discussion. It’s now considered rude, judgmental and intolerant in many lesbian and feminist circles to question the “choice” to be a stripper or a prostitute, or to practice sadomasochistic sex, for example. It’s out of fashion these days, with so many lesbians “transitioning,” i.e., taking testosterone and undergoing transsexual surgery, to critique the social construction of masculinity and the way it encourages and perpetuates men’s violence against women. But accusations of intolerance and judgmentalness impede our ability to have meaningful discussions about the communities and the world we want to live in, and how as feminists we can move toward those goals. We are encouraged to “respect difference” rather than work for justice. Emphasis on tolerance over feminist critique thus maintains the status quo.

Another factor that contributes to the stifling of political analysis of personal choice in feminist communities is an emphasis on feelings. The focus of discourse these days, the reason given for almost any choice, is “I just feel that way” or “I feel better that way.” The assumption behind this is that feelings are immutable and that they are an appropriate basis on which to make decisions that have political implications. Where appearance is concerned, appealing to feelings denies the fact that feeling better about ourselves has been shown to have almost no correlation with how we actually look to others (Freedman); body image, energy level, and self-esteem can fluctuate by the day, or even by the hour, depending on factors like nutrition, sleep, physical exercise, and positive interactions with others. This emphasis on feelings stems from the influence of the therapy and recovery movements in our communities, fostered in part by women’s very real need to heal from the damage patriarchy inflicts upon us. However, while healing and recovery would not seem to preclude political organizing, in practice the two very rarely go together. Thus, emphasis on feelings as justification for our choices “…has encouraged us to do what “feels right” to the exclusion of political analysis. As a result our community is tolerating behaviors we used to find abhorrent.” (Ward) We’ve forgotten that resisting patriarchy is often difficult and uncomfortable—but also satisfying in a way that conforming is not.

No matter how much we would like to use feminism to justify our choices, feminism cannot be interpreted to encompass any risky, self-hating, violent thing a woman does to herself, or takes money for doing, or pays someone to do to her. Feminism does not value women’s subordination and women’s pain. It doesn’t value healthy women’s lifetime dependence on the medical system for nutritional supplements or hormones—inevitable outcomes of weight-loss surgery or transsexualism. Feminism doesn’t value a standard of beauty for women comprised of extreme thinness, regular Caucasian features, smooth hair, young-looking skin without wrinkles or blemishes, and lack of visible body hair. Feminists know this standard purposely excludes most women and is designed to keep us feeling anxious about our appearance and dependent on surgeons and cosmetic companies for expensive reassurance. Feminism values women as the subjects of our own lives, not objects to attract and hold another’s gaze. It values cooperation between women, not the competition and comparison fostered by presenting us with image after image of women we’ll never look like—women who, in fact, don’t exist, given the extensive and now-infamous use of airbrushing and retouching in fashion photography. Fat women have been very damaged by the beauty standard under which we’re the ugliest of the ugly—but the feminist response to that is not to dress our fat selves up in lingerie and pose for the NOLOSE newsletter or Dimensions magazine. Feminism does not value expanding the categories of women available for male sexual exploitation; it values ending the sexual exploitation of all women. Feminists understand that physical ability can change with age, accident or illness; valuing ourselves based on physical ability denies self-esteem and body love to women who are aging, ill, or disabled. Feminism values the diversity of women; it recognizes that we don’t all look the same and says that there is beauty in each of us. Feminism seeks to foster self-esteem and confidence in women, not to encourage us to shore ourselves up through positive attention from others for our appearance. Feminists know that insults like “fat cow” or “dog” are attempts to manipulate us into conformity in the same way that accusations of “dyke” or “slut” serve to break our bonds with other women and direct our sexual attentions toward men. Feminists know that our separation from our bodies mirrors patriarchy’s attempt to separate human society from the natural world; as multinational corporations view the earth as an inert source of raw materials, so we are taught to view our bodies as matter that we can shape and change at will. Our bodies have a beauty and an integrity all their own, regardless of how poorly they conform to patriarchal aesthetic standards. They have their own balance that is intimately connected to the balance of nature, neither of which patriarchal science comes close to understanding. In the last few decades we’ve become increasingly aware of the devastating effects humans are having on the natural world through our attempts to interfere with processes we don’t comprehend. In the same way that, for example, building a jetty can change the profile of an entire coastline and affect everything that lives there, altering our healthy bodies by smearing chemicals on our skin, ingesting hormones, or fundamentally altering the progress of food through our digestive systems cannot fail to impact every level of our being. This is not new age romanticism; the biological processes of our bodies are the physical basis for life on this planet, and feminists would do well to remember what Western culture has made it our business to forget—that our bodies are ourselves. We are our bodies, and our bodies are not wrong, they are not ugly, they are not dirty, they are not too fat or too hairy or too tall or too masculine. Our consciousness doesn’t hover somewhere a foot above our heads; it’s embedded in every cell. We can’t damage our bodies without damaging ourselves; we can’t love ourselves and other women if we don’t love our own women’s bodies. And we can’t be honest in our feminism if we pretend that making choices to harm our bodies and conform to the dictates of a system that hates us is liberating and empowering. We collude with woman-hating when we etch it into or carve it out of our flesh, when we starve ourselves to look the way the media says we should, when we refuse to give heart to the resistance of the women around us by proudly living in our bodies as they are. Though our survival may at times depend on this collusion, we can never forget that these “choices” are made in a context in which we fear the consequences of not conforming to the appearance standards set for women, or we’re weary of the consequences we’ve already suffered—and that context, those consequences, have inevitable effects on our decisions. Deciding to collude may be necessary, but it is not feminist; resistance is the ultimate feminist choice.


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Virtue of Feeling and the Feeling of Virtue, by Elizabeth V. Spelman


PDF here.


Virtue of Feeling and the Feeling of Virtue, by Elizabeth V. Spelman

Published in Feminist Ethics, edited by Claudia Card. 1991, University of Kansas Press


The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their place. -Lillian Smith 1

We cannot be said to have taken women seriously until we explore how women have treated each other. But that means, too, how we have mistreated each other. The history of women, including the history of feminism and feminists, is hardly free of some women doing violence to others, of some women miserably failing other women in need.

Most feminists would insist that the history of women cannot be well told unless its tellers are not embarrassed to investigate and describe women’s emotional lives: our joys, our griefs, our hopes, our fears, our loves, our hates. But such insistence on the importance of feeling amounts simply to a ringing, one-sided celebration of women’s virtues- in having emotions and recounting them-unless we are willing, as Lillian Smith was, to look at the expression of emotions among women that reveal the less glorious side of our lives together.

As is well documented, nineteenth-century white, middle-class suffragists were ready and willing to use racist arguments in the name advancing what they called “women’s interests.”2 Some white women routinely beat black women who were their slaves.3 Nazi women gave their all in the effort to eliminate the Jewish population of Europe-which included, of course, Jewish women.4 At an international conference on women’s history not long ago in Amsterdam, the organizers were asked why what in the conference brochure was


referred to as “women’s history” still really amounted to “white women’s history.” One of the white women responded: “We have enough of a burden trying to get a feminist viewpoint across, why do we have to take on this extra burden?”5 At a recent feminist gathering in Minnesota, an able-bodied woman expressed her deep disappointment at the complaints by women in wheelchairs that all the papers presumed that women are able-bodied: in effect she said, “Here we finally have some time and space to talk about just ‘us,’ and you insist that we talk about something else.” Can we be confident that women who demand the strictest scrutiny of the conditions under which they work and of the fairness of their salaries show the same concern for the working conditions of the women who take care of their children or clean their condos?

I do not wish to suggest here that white, middle-class, able-bodied, heterosexual Christian women have a monopoly on the mistreatment of other women. And by using these examples rather than others, I run the risk of making the sins of some women more important than those of others and thereby simply reasserting the privileged position of certain women in Western feminism. But it is startling that something as basic as some women’s inhumanity to other women has not been a central concern for the variety of inquiries included under the rubric “feminist ethics.” We give lots of attention to men’s oppression of women but far too few sustained examinations of women’s oppression or exploitation of other women.” As Berenice Fisher put it, when commenting on the growing use of “guilt” at feminist conferences: “Although we frequently employed the language of “guilt,” virtually no one paid attention to guilt as a moral issue, that is, to the realities of wrongdoing and the responsibilities and consequences entailed by it.”7 I want to offer a few reasons in brief for this virtual silence and then suggest a way we might explore the moral dimensions of women’s treatment and mis-treatment of one another as at least a necessary part of whatever we include under the rubric “feminist ethics.”

Why has the question of women’s treatment of each other not been a burning issue for much of feminism? First of all, one of the bad raps about themselves that many women have had to battle is the image that they are catty and callous toward each other, really interested


Only in men and their money or their prestige or their bodies or in some cases all of those. So perhaps it has seemed hard to make a publicly understandable feminist case about the oppression of women without simultaneously remaining mute on the topic of some women’s oppression of or plain meanness toward other women. According to this way of thinking, it is, to begin with, too difficult psychologically to talk about oneself or other women as both victim and victimizer. For example, perhaps it is not easy to feel sympathy for the abused wives of white slave-owners and at the same time be critical of some of their actions toward their female (and male) slaves. Moreover, under such circumstances it is awfully inviting to lay the blame for our own or others’ shortcomings at the feet of those who have victimized us or them. But however we might explain the reluctance or caution about discussing women’s bad treatment of other women, taking those groups of women seriously requires that we do so.

There aren’t only psychological motives for shying away from examining women’s mistreatment of one another. Many of the tools of feminist thinking work against the possibility of our taking to be of

much theoretical or practical concern the absence of care or the presence of hostility, hatred, and contempt among women.

First of all, many of us feminists have done little to shake a habit we share with many of our fellow citizens: talking loosely about “men and women” as if these men and women had no racial, class, or cultural identity; talking about “women and blacks” or “women and minorities” as if there were no black women or no women in the groups called “minorities”; comparing relations between “men and “women” to those between “whites and blacks” or “rich and poor” or “colonizer and colonized,” which precludes us from talking about differences among women-between white and black, or Anglo and Latina, or rich and poor, or colonizer and colonized. In addition, much feminist theory and history is filled with incessant comparisons between “women” on the one hand and “blacks,” the “poor,” “Jews,” and so on, on the other. Think for example of talk about “women” being treated like “slaves.” Whenever we talk that way we are not only making clear that the “women” we’re referring to aren’t themselves slaves; we’re making it impossible to talk about how the women who weren’t slaves treated those who were.

If we aren’t encouraged to talk about differences among women,


indeed prohibited from doing so by the very terms we use or the allegedly crucial comparisons we make, then it becomes very hard, or apparently only peripheral to our central concerns, to talk about how women treat each other. But that, it seems to me, is what feminist ethics ought to be about, whatever else it might be about: how women treat each other. For again we must ask whether we can be said to have taken women seriously if we have not explored how women have treated each other.

Moreover the effort by some feminists to delineate an “ethics of care” 8 as well as the struggle to get the role of emotions in human life taken seriously, paradoxically (but perhaps not so accidentally) has diverted our attention from the history of the lack of care of women for women and has almost precluded the possibility of our looking at anything but love and friendship in women’s emotional responses to one another. Some passages from Jane Austen’s Emma illustrate what I have in mind.

Emma our lively young protagonist, is deep in a debate with Mr. George Knightley about the behavior of Frank Churchill. Young Churchill did not grow up with his father and stepmother, who are part of Emma and Knightley’s social circle. A visit by Churchill to his father and stepmother has been long awaited: Emma and Knightley disagree in their assessment of Churchill’s delay in making the trip:

KNIGHTLEY: “I cannot believe that he has not the power of coming, if he made a point of it. It is too unlikely for me to believe without proof. … If Frank Churchill had wanted to see his father, he would have contrived it between September and January. A man at his age-what is he? three or four and twenty– cannot be without the means of doing as much as that. It is impossible.”

EMMA: “You are the worst judge in the world, Mr. Knightley, of the difficulties of dependence. You do not know what it is to have tempers to manage…. It is very unfair to judge of anybody’s conduct without an intimate knowledge of their situation. Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be.”

KNIGHTLEY: “There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chooses, and that is, his duty…. It is Frank Churchill’s duty to pay this attention to his father.”

EMMA: “…you have not an idea of what is requisite in situations directly opposite to your own…. I can imagine that if you, as you are … were to be transported and placed all at once in Mr. Frank Churchill’s situation, you would be able to say and do just what you have been recommending for him; and it might have a very good effect … but then you would have no habits of early obedience and long observance to break through. To him who has, it might not be so easy to burst forth at once into perfect independence….oh, the difference of situation and habit! I wish you would try to understand what an amiable young man may be likely to feel in directly opposing [the other adults who had brought him up].”

KNIGHTLEY: “Your amiable young man is a very weak young man, if this be the first occasion of his carrying through a resolution to do right against the will of others. It ought to have been a habit with him, by this time, of following his duty, instead of consulting expediency.”

EMMA: “We are both prejudiced! you against, I for him; and we have no chance of agreeing till he is really here.”

KNIGHTLEY: “Prejudiced! I am not prejudiced.”

EMMA: “But I am very much, and without being at all ashamed of it. My love for [his father and stepmother] gives me a decided prejudice in his favour.”9

I think anyone interested in the work of Carol Gilligan and those influenced by her work would find the contrasts between Knightley’s and Emma’s judgments about Frank Churchill to be at least on the face of it illustrative of two conceptions of morality that seem to be quite distinct.10

Knightley’s concern for principled behavior, impartial judgment, and everyone’s getting their due seems to exemplify an “ethics of justice” (said to be more likely held by men than women). For Knightley, there are at least two principles that ought to be brought to bear: the duty Churchill has to his father and the importance of Knightley himself remaining unbiased in his judgment of Churchill. Whatever relationship Churchill has to his more immediate family, that can’t be as important as his duty to his own father; whatever the particular facts of the circumstances Churchill finds himself in, such


facts cannot be used by Churchill, or by anyone else, to mitigate the full weight of his duty.

Emma’s insistence on the contextual details of the situation and her concern for the importance of the many relationships involved (Churchill and his immediate family, Churchill and his father and stepmother, Emma and Churchill, Emma and Knightley) seem characteristic of an “ethics of care” (said to be more likely held by women than men). For Emma, Churchill’s formal “duty” here is irrelevant. And Emma’s relationship to both Churchill and his father cannot be erased by some formal obligation she might be said to have to remain “unprejudiced.” Knightley’s principled judgment of Churchill is not well grounded: He doesn’t know enough about what Churchill is capable of or about the crucial details of Churchill’s relationship to his immediate family.

I do not here wish to enter into the ongoing and very rich conversation about such apparently contrasting ethical orientations. 11 Instead, I feel obliged to point out what my readers may miss about Emma if they are interested in her only to the degree that her words and actions illustrate an “ethics of care” in contrast to an “ethics of justice.”

In the chapter immediately following the one in which we overhear the animated discussion between Emma and Knightley, Emma and her friend Harriet are out for a walk. Jane Austen invites us to eavesdrop again, this time on Emma’s private thoughts:

They were just approaching the house where lived Mrs. And Miss Bates…There was always sufficient reason for [calling upon them]; Mrs. And Miss Bates loved to be called on; and [Emma] knew she was considered by the very few who presumed ever to see imperfection in her, as rather negligent in that respect, and as not contributing what she ought to the stock of their scanty comforts. She had had many a hint from Mr. Knightley, and some from her own heart, as to her deficiency, but none were equal to counteract the persuasion of its being very disagreeable—a waste of time—tiresome women—and all the horror of being in danger of falling in with the second and third rate Highbury, who were calling on them for ever, and therefore she seldom went near them.


If we get thoroughly caught up in comparing Emma’s unapologetically biased, very particularized caring for Frank Churchill with Knightley’s rather stem, impersonal principled response, we may fail to ask a very important question: But for whom does Emma care? What kind of treatment does she give those she regards as her social and economic inferiors? The fact, if it is one, that some women in reflecting on their moral problems show care and a fine sense of complexity appreciative of context tells us nothing about who they think worthy of their care nor whose situation demands attention to details and whose does not.

Moreover, there are forms of care that are not only compatible with but in some contexts crucial to the maintenance of systematic inequalities among women. Judith Rollins describes in some detail the “maternalism” expressed by white female employers towards their black female domestic employees: The maternalism dynamic is based on the assumption of a superordinate-subordinate relationship. While maternalism may protect and nurture, it also degrades and insults. The”caring” that is expressed in maternalism might range from an adult-to-child to a human-to-pet kind of caring but, bydefinition (and by the evidence presented by my data), it is not human-to-equal-human caring. The female employer, with her motherliness and protectiveness and generosity, is expressing in a distinctly feminine way her lack of respect for the domestic as an autonomous, adult employee. While the female employer typically creates a more intimate relationship with a domestic than her male counterpart does, this should not be interpreted as meaning she values the human worth of the domestic any more highly than does the more impersonal male employer.”

I have said in effect that by my lights one of the most fruitful understandings of “feminist ethics” is the investigation of how women treat each other-how well or badly we do in relation to one another. I have also said that feminist interest in exploring an “ethics of care” and in emphasizing the importance of emotions in our lives paradoxically has encouraged us to ignore the absence of care by women for other women, to disregard the presence of “negative”


emotional reactions by women to other women. I now want to make my remarks much more specific by focusing on the ways in which our emotions reveal the moral dimensions of our relationships-in particular, how our emotions reveal how seriously we take the concerns of others, what we take to be our responsibility for others’ plight, and the extent to which we regard others as even having points of view we need to take seriously.

Our emotions, or at least some of them, can be highly revelatory of whom and what we care or don’t care about. They provide powerful clues to the ways in which we take ourselves to be implicated in the lives of others and they in ours. As this example from Aristotle reveals, many of our emotions locate us in moral relation to one another: One who doesn’t get angry when the occasion calls for it “is thought not to feel things nor to be pained by them, and since he does not get angry, he is thought unlikely to defend himself; and to endure being insulted, and put up with insult to one’s friends, is slavish.” Aristotle is insisting that if under certain conditions we don’t feel anger, we may have failed to show proper respect for ourselves or proper concern for our friends.

Here is another example of what I have in mind when speaking of our emotions as revelatory of ways in which we take ourselves to be implicated in the lives of others and they in ours. At my own educational institution and many others, there have been blatant displays of racism-for example, messages left by cowards in protective anonymity-telling black, Latina, and Chinese-American students in no uncertain terms that they don’t belong at Smith College and that if they don’t like the way they’re treated, they should “go home.” (These represent only the obvious tip of an iceberg that is melting with what the Supreme Court in a related context called “all deliberate speed.”) I do not wish to go into details of how my institution or yours actually has responded to what, in a revealing phrase, typically are called “incidents” (a term that suggests, perhaps insists, that such events are infrequent and anomalous). But by way of beginning to show what our emotions tell us about our moral relations to each other and the contours and quality of our care for one another, I’d like to run through some possible responses.


1. Ivylawn College regrets the occurrence of racist incidents on its campus.

2. Ivylawn College is embarrassed by the occurrence of racist incidents on its campus.

3· Ivylawn College feels guilty about the occurrence of racist incidents on its campus.

4· Ivylawn College feels shame for the occurrence of racist incidents on its campus.15

Surely you already notice some significant difference-yet to be explored in detail-between regret, embarrassment, guilt, and shame.

Think also of the difference between

5· Ivylawn College regrets the occurrence of racist incidents on its campus.

6. Ivylawn College regrets the harm done to those hurt by the recent events on its campus.

In the first set of contrasts reminds us that different emotions imply different notions of responsibility and depth of concern, the second reminds us that the same emotion can have different objects-what the emotions are about. In going into all these differences in more detail, I turn to Gabriele Taylor’s Pride, Shame, and Guilt: Emotions of Self-Assessment. 16

Gabriele Taylor is one of a number of contemporary philosophers who hold or operate on the basis of what has been dubbed the “cognitive theory” of the emotions. Though cognitivists differ among each other on certain details, they share the conviction that emotions cannot simply be feelings, like churnings in our stomachs, flutterings of our hearts, chokings in our throats. Though such feelings may accompany my regretting having hurt you or my sense of shame in having hurt you, the difference between my regret and my shame cannot be accounted for by reference to such feelings; nor can the difference between my regret in having hurt you and my regret in having hurt my father. There is a kind of logic to our emotions that has nothing to do with whatever dumb feelings may accompany them (in many cases there don’t even seem to be such feelings anyway).

It is the central tenet of what is currently known as the “cognitive


theory” of emotions that our emotions are not a clue to or sign of poppings and firings and other gyrations-mental or physical-within us but rather indicate how we see the world. For emotions typically have identificatory cognitive states. For example, what identifies my emotion as anger is among other things a belief that some unjust harm has been done; what makes my emotion a matter of fear is among other things my belief that danger is imminent. I shall not go into more detail about the cognitive theory here-you shall see more of it in reflective practice below-but it is perhaps worth making explicit that we could not regard our emotions as very interesting facts about us-in particular, as deeply connected to ourselves as moral agents-if emotions were simply events, things happening in us like headaches or bleeding gums.17

That said, let us return to our earlier examples of regret, embarrassment, guilt, and shame. As Gabriele Taylor reminds us, if I regret that something happened, then I must regard what happened as in some sense undesirable. But I need not regard what happened as anything morally troubling-for example, I may now regret not taking a few more days of vacation. Or I can feel regret for something for which I was in no way responsible–Gabriele Taylor’s example is the passing of summer.18 Moreover, even though regretting that something happened means I must take it to be in some sense undesirable, it is still possible for me to think that nevertheless all things considered it is not something I think should not have happened. And it is perfectly possible for me to regret it without being at all inclined to take any actions in consequence. This is why we can perfectly sincerely send our regrets-indeed, even our “deepest regrets”—that a party occurs on a night we’re out of town. It might have been fun to go to the party, and I might be a bit apprehensive about hurting the feelings of or disappointing a good friend, but it is more important to do what takes me out of town and I don’t want my friend to change the date of the party. In all these ways, Gabriele Taylor points out; regret is quite different from remorse. You can’t feel remorse about: something for which you do not believe yourself responsible, or about something that doesn’t appear to you to be morally wrong, or about something you don’t wish to undo or attend to in some way.

So if Ivylawn College or any other institution expresses regret that a “racist incident” happened on its campus, all it is doing so far is acknowledging that such an event took place and allowing that it was


in some unspecified sense undesirable. But it is not in any way assuming responsibility for the “incident” or indicating that there is anything morally troubling about it (as opposed to its just being undesirable for its nuisance value in terms of college publicity); nor is it indicating that any action is in consequence required. Note, by the way, that precisely because regret has these features, there are certain built-in limitations on the description of what is regretted: Though it is perfectly possible to “regret” something described as a “racist incident,” I’m sure no institution would publicly say that it “regretted” the murder of one student by another.

Having sketched out what the presence of regret means, we can keep on the back burner what the absence of it means-that is, not acknowledging that anything of note happened at all, let alone that it was in some way undesirable.

I shall then, without regret, move on to embarrassment. My guess is that most institutions are embarrassed by the occurrence of racism on their campuses, but they would not describe themselves in just that way. The reasons for this will become clear as we look at the logic of embarrassment (here again with Gabriele Taylor’s help). Unlike regret, embarrassment necessarily involves a sense that one has been exposed and in consequence is subject to an adverse judgment of oneself in some respect. Suppose a man is embarrassed about beating his wife. His being embarrassed is fully compatible with his finding nothing wrong in the fact that he beats his wife. He judges himself adversely not because he thinks he has done something Wrong but because he does not yet know how to respond to the audience to whom he is or imagines himself exposed. If all he feels is embarrassed, he doesn’t need to do any basic repair work on himself, only figure out a way to deal with the audience-perhaps tell them it is none of their business, or insist that women need to be pushed around, or laugh it off. Perhaps he’ll express regret that it is necessary to beat his wife in order to keep her in her place (so the expression of regret might cancel embarrassment). His concern is not about what he is doing to his wife but about the kind of impression he is making on others.

What then does it mean if Ivylawn College is embarrassed by the racist incidents on its campus-and why might it or any other institution be unlikely to publicly describe itself in this way? If an institution is embarrassed by the occurrence of racist remarks and


other behavior, then what it finds troubling is not the behavior itself but the exposure of the behavior. If there is anything wrong with the institution, it is that it does not know how to prevent adverse publicity or deal well with it once public notice is taken. When an institution is embarrassed, and only embarrassed, it puts its public relations department to work; it works not on changing the institution but on changing the perception of the institution. Admitting to embarrassment is usually not a good way of dealing with embarrassment, for it simply brings attention to the situation that the embarrassed party does not want others to see.

You can feel embarrassed without thinking that you have done anything wrong or anything you shouldn’t do but in general 19 you can’t feel guilty without believing that you have failed to live up to some kind of standard or that you have done something that is forbidden according to an accepted authority (including your conscience). (Of course you can be guilty without feeling guilty, but here we are talking only about feeling guilty). There is something I have done or failed to do. According to Gabriele Taylor, in feeling guilt I certainly am judging myself adversely, but my situation is not hopeless-I am not less of a person than I thought I was. I simply did something I think I shouldn’t have done or failed to do something I think I ought to have done. There is a blot on my record-but then blots only are blots against the background of an otherwise still morally intact person. That is connected to the fact that there are things I can do to repair the damage I’ve done. Indeed, the action I take is geared to restoring the blot-free picture of myself-so, Gabriele Taylor insists, if I feel guilty about harming someone else, the thought is not so much that “I have harmed her” but rather “I have harmed her” 20 and hence disfigured myself to some extent. In response, I may want to do something about the harm I did to her but-to the extent that my concern is more about myself than about her-as a means of restoring my status in my own eyes.

Gabriele Taylor’s analysis, then, implies that the man who beats his wife and feels guilty about it, unlike the man who merely feels embarrassed, does believe that he has done something he ought not to do, and feeling this way he is inclined to take action to alleviate the feeling of guilt. But his concern is not directly for his wife but for himself. If her pain is the occasion for his thinking he has violated something he stands for, his ceasing to beat her or his otherwise atoning for what he has done is the means to his self-rehabilitation.


Could Ivylawn College feel guilty about the racism on its campus? Of course this sounds odd-in a way that ascribing regret to the institution does not. This seems related to the fact that feeling guilty involves a sense of direct responsibility for the deed, so that to ascribe feelings of guilt to an institution really amounts to ascribing it to particular individuals within the institution. Institutions can have regret precisely because regrets don’t entail responsibility and where there is responsibility we look for particular agents. The president of Ivylawn; for example, could talk about the college’s having regrets without implying that she herself has them, but it would take a lot of work for her to say that the college feels guilty about something without giving the impression that she was talking about herself or other highly placed officials. It certainly is possible that there might be reports of various officials feeling “very bad” about what went on-not simply embarrassed, much more than regretful. Insofar as this means something like “feeling guilty,” then if Gabriele Taylor is right such officials believe that while nothing is basically wrong with the institution or with them, they or the institution bear responsibility for the racist events. The emphasis in any action will be on redeeming the good name of the institution and attending to the hurt done the injured parties as the means to redeeming the good name of the institution.

Let us go on to shame. Suppose the man who beats his wife feels shame for doing so. How is that different from his feeling embarrassed or guilty? According to Gabriele Taylor, 21 the identificatory belief in shame is that I am not the person I thought I was or hoped I might be. It is not simply, as in embarrassment, that I wish I hadn’t been seen doing something [even though I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong] or, as in guilt, simply that I have failed to live up to a standard I adhere to. If I thought the latter, I could still entertain the possibility that I can set the record straight, for in such a case what troubles me about what I’ve done is quite local: I’ve done something I don’t approve of, but I’m not someone I don’t approve of. As Gabriele Taylor puts it: “When feeling guilty … the view I take of myself is entirely different from the view I take of myself when feeling shame: in the latter case I see myself as being all of a piece, what I have just done, I now see, fits only too well what I really am. But when feeling guilty I think of myself as having brought about a forbidden state of affairs and thereby in this respect disfigured a self which otherwise remains the same.”22 So if Mr. Husband feels shame about beating his wife, he must think that his


action is revelatory of the person he in fact is even though he had thought or hoped that he was someone else, someone better than he turns out to be.

And thus if Ivylawn College should feel shame about the racism existing on its campus 23 it would indicate that the college or the people identified as its representatives thought it wasn’t the institution it hoped it was. The racism on the campus is revelatory of what the institution really is and not simply a sign that the college can’t always live up to what it says it stands for.

Perhaps that is why an institution is unlikely to feel or admit to shame: It maybe unable to countenance the possibility that at root it is not what it purports, even to itself, to be.

So, then, our emotions, or at least some of them, can be highly revelatory of who and what we care or don’t care about. They provide powerful clues to the ways in which we take ourselves to be implicated in the lives of others and they in ours. And their absence provides such clues as much as their presence does. For example, the conference organizers referred to at the beginning of this chapter who were asked why no women of color were included in a gathering on “women’s history” seemed to have no regrets about their decision, let alone embarrassment, guilt, or shame. From their vantage point, there was nothing undesirable about the focus of the conference, and though not in any way disclaiming responsibility for that focus, they made no room for the implication that they had done anything wrong or that the conference or they weren’t what they understood it or themselves to be. Indeed, from the remarks quoted earlier, it appears that they began to argue that the complaints and demands of the women of color were groundless: The conference was about “women,” not about race. And if anything, there is a strong note of annoyance in the remarks of the woman who insisted that talking about race was an “extra burden” for feminism and that the women of color were both missing the point and adding to the load already carried by the conveners.

Let us suppose that as a convener I come to feel regret as a result of listening to the comments of the women of color. What would that show about what I care about and how I take myself to be implicated in the lives of others and others in mine? Well, that depends of course


on what I regret. Do I regret having hurt the women of color? Having been made uncomfortable myself? That my theory turns out not to be adequate? In this connection Maria Lugones recently noted that in her experience many feminists, when asked to explain how their accounts of “women’s experiences” apply to women of color, express considerable concern about the inadequacy of their theories-but the focus of concern, Maria Lugones reluctantly concludes, is not how they have hurt women of color but rather that they need to tidy up their theories. 24

It is not news that white feminist conferences and conversations have been peppered, sometimes even smothered, with expressions of guilt-sometimes in reaction to the very lack of regret (or perhaps some other emotion) for the exclusionary practices and policies I have described. 25 Indeed, a great deal has been made of white women’s feelings of guilt in the face of charges by black women, Latinas, Japanese-American women, and others that our theories have been heavily tilted in the direction and to the exclusive benefit of white, middle-class women. Reflection on Gabriele Taylor’s work leads me to make three comments about the discussions about this guilt. First, if Gabriele Taylor is right about the point of action taken to get rid of the feeling of guilt, then guilt is not an emotion that makes us attend well to the situation of those whose treatment at our hands we feel guilty about. We’re too anxious trying to keep our moral slate clean. Second, I think it worth asking whether in any given case people are feeling guilt or simply embarrassment. If the latter, then there is no sense that one has failed in any way to act in accordance with what one stands for. There are no amends to make, only appearances to create.

Third, I think that there is a very neat fit between feeling guilty and a particular way of conceiving the relation between one’s gender and one’s racial identity. This friendly cohabitation throws some very interesting light on the concept of “white guilt.” According to Gabriele Taylor, in feeling guilt rather than shame, it is possible for me to think of a part of myself as not living up to what the rest of me stands for. Insofar as I see myself as a “doer of a wicked deed,” I see the hint of an alien self; in order to make sure such a self does not emerge, I need to do whatever it takes to “purge” myself of this alien self. 26 If I have a metaphysical position according to which my gender identity is thoroughly distinct from my racial identity (what I elsewhere call a form


of “Tootsie Roll metaphysics”)27 I very handily can rely on a neat distinction between myself as woman and myself as white person. The woman part of me is perfectly okay; it’s being white that is the source of my wrong doing. I assert my privilege over women of color not insofar as I am a woman but insofar as I am white. Note then that unless I am prepared to think of my womanness and my whiteness as folded inextricably into the person I am, I can think of myself and my responsibility for my acts in the following way: What really counts about me is that I am a woman, and my deeds do not show that I am not any less of a woman than I thought I was; it’s only insofar as I am white which isn’t nearly as important a part of me, that I have failed other women. It’s not the woman in me that failed the woman in you; it’s the white in me that failed (for example) the black no you. I, woman, feel nothing in particular; but I, white person, do feel guilt. If feminism focuses on the “woman” part of me and the “woman” part of you, conceived of as thoroughly distinct from my white part and your black part, feminism doesn’t have to pay attention to our relations as white and black. We never have to confront each other woman to woman, then, only white to black or Anglo to Latina.

Feminist ethics, I have been insisting, must at least address the history of woman’s inhumanity to woman. This part of the history of women is shameful. However, I am not proposing a daily regimen of shame-inducing exercises. Nor do I think that the deep self-doubt that is part of shame can serve as the immediate ground of a vibrant feminist politics, a politics that expresses and promotes real care and concern for all women’s lives. But I do not see how women who enjoy privileged status over other women (whether it be based on race, class, religion, age, sexual orientation, or physical mobility) can come to think it desirable to lose that privilege (by force or consent) unless they see it not only as producing harm to other women but also as being deeply disfiguring to themselves. It is not simply, as it would be in the case of guilt, that the point of ceasing to harm others is to remove a disquieting blot from one’s picture of oneself. The deeper privilege goes, the less self-conscious people are of the extent to which their being who they are, in their own eyes as well as in the eyes of others, is dependent upon the exploitation or degradation or disadvantage of others. Seeing myself as deeply disfigured by privilege


and desiring to do something about it may be impossible without my feeling shame. The degree to which I am moved to undermine systems of privilege is closely tied to the degree to which I feel shame at the sort of person such privilege makes me or allows me to be.

In sum, then, I have been urging these considerations to keep those of us who are feminist from hastening to quickly to feel virtuous about attending to the virtues of feeling, the marvel of care. Whatever we mean by “feminist ethics,” it ought not to make it difficult for us to examine and evaluate how women treat or mistreat each other. However, there are elements in feminism that make such examination difficult. For example, there is a tendency to focus on the contrast between an “ethics of care” and ethical systems that seem not to take care seriously. So far the contrast tells us nothing about who cares or does not care for whom. Moreover, since it has been claimed that an ethics of care is associated strongly though not exclusively with the way “women” think and act in the moral domain, it makes it very hard even to suggest that some women have failed to care for others, let alone that they have done violence to others. There is also a reliance on an understanding of care that obscures the fact that some forms of care are not only compatible with but crucial to the maintenance of systematic inequalities among women. In this connection, Judith Rollins’s book about relations between white female employers and their black domestic employees is very insightful.28 Among other things, Judith Rollins describes ways in which the employers insist on the privilege of “caring” for their employees in ‘ways that reflect and sustain their power over them. Finally, there is a rampant terminology of contrasts between “women” on the one hand and “slaves” or “minorities” or “the poor” or “Jews” or whatever on the other. Such contrasts land for that matter similarities) obscure differences between free women and slave women, gentile women and Jewish women and so on, making it hard to talk about how one group of women treated others. This is reinforced by theories within feminism according to which women are the same as women and are oppressed the same as women and so if white women mistreat, say, black women, it is seen as how whites treat blacks, not how some women treat other women.

I have proposed one way of looking at some of the moral dimen-


sions of women’s treatment of one another. Some emotions are called “moral emotions” because having them involves or can involve moral assessment of oneself and others. In Gabriele Taylor’s words, a moral emotion “requires a sense of value on the part of the agent, an awareness, more or less developed, of moral distinctions, of what is right or wrong, honorable or disgraceful.” 29 Our having such emotions toward others can reveal whether, how, and to what extent we have treated them or think we have treated them well or poorly-so does our not having them. Moreover, our political and metaphysical theories give shape and structure to our emotional lives. For example, our assumptions about what feminism is about will influence our beliefs about what is appropriate and inappropriate to bring up at feminist conferences, which will in turn influence the possibility of our feeling anger, regret, remorse, embarrassment, guilt, or shame. (As Arnold Isenberg says: “When you lack what you do not want, there is no shame.”30) And as I stated earlier, assumptions about the relation between our gender identity and other aspects of our identity such as our race, class, and religion can influence how we describe our responsibility for the way we treat other women.


1. Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream (New York: Norton, 1949, 1961), 27.

2. See for example, Eleanor Flexner, Century Of Struggle (New York: Atheneum, 1972), especially chap. 13; Ellen Carol DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 19781; Angela Davis, Women, Race, and Class (New York: Random, 19811;Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: Morrow, 1984).

3. See, for example, Linda Brent, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, ed, L. Maria Child (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 19731; Solomon Northrop, Narrative Of Solomon Northrop, Twelve Years a Slave (Auburn, N.Y.: Derby and Miller, 18531, quoted in Gerda Lerner, ed., Black Women in America (New York: Vintage, 1972), 51.

4. See, for example, Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987).

5. off our backs (feminist newspaper], July 1986, 3.

6. See notes 1-5 above, also, for example, bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Boston: South End Press, 19841, Audre Lorde, Sister/Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg, N.Y.: Crossing Press, 1984), Helen Longino and Valerie Miner, eds., Competition: A Taboo? (New York: Feminist Press, 1987), Elly Bulkin, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith, Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism, (Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 19841. Simone de Beauvoir, by the way, had quite a lot to say about women with race and class privilege undermining or failing to support other women in order to maintain their race and class privilege, but that part of her work is rarely highlighted-even by herself (see Spelman, Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988), chap. 31.

7. Berenice Fisher, “Guilt and Shame in the Women’s Movement: The Radical Ideal of Action and Its Meaning for Feminist Intellectuals,” Feminist Studies 10, no. 2 (Summer 1984): 186.

8. See Carol Gilligan, In a Different voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982); Eva Feder Kittay and Diana T. Meyers, eds., Women and Moral Theory (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1987).

9. Jane Austen, Emma (New York: Bantam, 1981, first edition, 1816), 133-139.

10.These are not incompatible conceptions, according to Gilligan and others. See Eva Kittay and Diana Meyers, eds., Women and Moral Theory.

11. See, for example, ibid., Lawrence A. Blum, “Gilligan and Kohlberg: Implications for Moral Theory,” Ethics 98 (April 19881: 472-491.

12. Jane Austen, Emma, 139-140.

13. Judith Rollins, Between Women: Domestics and Their Employers (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985), 186.

14. Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, tr. Sir David Ross (London: Oxford University Press, 1925), 97.

15.Two problems emerge here, even in the presentation of 1-4: One is

what it means for institutions, as opposed to individuals, to have such reactions, and the other is that as long as we focus on institutions, we don’t have to think about what our own reactions are. But we’ll get to these below.

16. Gabriele Taylor, Pride, Shame, and Guilt: Emotions Df Self-Assessment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985).

17. See Elizabeth V. Spelman, “Anger and Insubordination,” in Women, Knowledge, and Reality, ed. Ann Garry and Marilyn Pearsall (Winchester, Mass.: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 263-273.

18. Although regretting that something happened differs in some important ways from regretting having done something-since the latter, not the former, entails responsibility for having done the thing in question-I can fully regret that something happened without in any way implicating myself in having brought it about.

19. In “Cognitive Emotions?” Chesire Calhoun discusses the repair work necessary for certain versions of the cognitive theory in light of the fact that sometimes “one’s doxic life and one’s emotional life part company” (in What is an Emotion? Classic Readings in Philosophical Psychology, ed. Chesire Calhoun and Robert C. Solomon [New York: Oxford University Press, 1984], 333).

20. Gabriele Taylor, Pride, Shame, and Guilt, 92.

21. Ibid., 68.

22. Ibid., 92. fib

23. Note how odd it would be to refer to that about which one feels shame as merely an “incident.”

24. See chapter 2 of this volume.

25. It may seem as if this is at odds with my claim at the beginning of the chapter that the history of hostile or uncaring relationships among women has not gotten the sustained attention it deserves. But passing, even frequent, expressions of regret, embarrassment, guilt, or shame. Are hardly the same as a thorough examination of the meanings of those emotions in the history of the

social and political relationships among women.

26. Gabriele Taylor, Pride, Shame, and Guilt, 134, 13S.

27. See Elizabeth Spelman, Inessential Woman, passim.

28. Judith Rollins, Between Women, passim.

29 Gabriele Taylor, Pride, Shame, and Guilt, 107.

30: Arnold Isenberg, “Natural Shame and Natural Pride, in Explaining Emotions, ed. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (Berkeley: University of Press, 1981), 370.


Filed under Uncategorized

Outercourse: Introduction, by Mary Daly

“It was Mary’s wish that if women or people want to memorialize her in any way they should stay in their own locality and have a get-together where they read or discuss her work,” said Linda Barufaldi of San Diego, one of several former graduate students of Dr. Daly’s who cared for her as her health declined.

In memory of her greatness.





The Voyage of Outercourse is Metapatriarchal Time/Space Travel, which takes the shape of quadruple Spiraling. Its parts (Spirals) describe clusters of Moments, each involving/requiring gigantic qualitative leaps into Other dimensions of the Background.

As I Re-member my own intellectual voyage as a Radical Feminist Philosopher, I am intensely aware of the struggle to stay on my True Course, despite undermining by demons of distraction that have seemed always to be attempting to pull me off course. These I eventually Dis-covered and Named as agents and institutions of patriarchy, whose intent was to keep me-and indeed all living be-ing-within the stranglehold of the foreground,* that is, fatherland. My True Course was and is Outercourse-moving beyond the imprisoning mental, physical, emotional, spiritual walls of patriarchy, the State of Possession. Insofar as I am focused on Outercoursing, naturally I am surrounded and aided by the benevolent forces of the Background. t

Since this has been my own experience of Outercourse, I have thought it Crone-logical that the philosophical/theoretical dimensions of this work be woven together with Recollections from an imaginary-though factually accurate-volume, which I have entitled Logbookofa Radical Feminist Philosopher. I believe that these Recollections shed much light on the major theoretical subjects under consideration, since they contain Revoltingly Intellectual Bio-graphic information that is deeply intertwined with the philosophical quest/questions of this book. **


*foreground is defined as as “male-centered and monodimensional arena where fabrication, objectification and alienation take place; zone of fixed feelings, perceptions, the elementary world: FLATLAND” (Wickedary). For an explanation of the of the moon symbols used throughout this book, see the Prefatory Notes.

t Background as used here means “the Realm of Wild Reality; the Homeland of women’s Selves and of all other Others; the Time/Space where auras of plants, planets, stars, animals, and all Other animate beings connect” (Wickedary).

**For a brief history of the genesis of this intertwining, see Chapter Sixteen. _________________________________________________

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The noun course is multileveled in meaning. Among the definitions in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English. Languages** is “the act or action of moviog in a particular path from point to point (the planets in their courses).” An “obsolete” meaning is “RUN, GALLOP: It has as an “archaic” definition “a charge by opposing knights.” It also means “a life regarded as a race: LIFE HISTORY, CAREER.” Course means “a progressing or proceeding along a straight line without change of direction (the ship made many courses sailing through the islands).” A final relevant definition is “the track or way taken by a ship or the direction of flight of an airplane: the way projected and assigned usu. measured as a clockwise angle from north.”

The meaning of course in Outercourse envelops and transforms all of these dimensions. Thus my Voyage as a Radical Feminist Philosopher has involved multidimensional courses, It moves in particular paths-not “from point to point,” but from Moment to Moment, and, beyond that, from Spiral Galaxy to Spiral Galaxy. It often feels like running, galloping (like a Nag or a Night Mare). It involves a warrior aspect-not as “a charge by opposing knights” but as an A-mazing Amazonian battle against the necrophiliac nothing-lovers who manufacture, spread, and control the dead zone-the foreground. It is life regarded as a Race, that is, participation in the Wild onward rushing movement of all Lusty Life.

The course of Outercourse is far from a “straight line” in the usual sense; it is not “linear,” but Spiraling. Its Moments are usually unpredictable. However, there is implied in Outercourse a Sense of Direction. Thus, despite seeming deviations and sidetracks and peripheral excursions, seeming inconsistencies and changes of direction, there is a kind of Metastraight Line. That is, in a wide view, there is a Fierce Focus to this Course. Implied in Outercourse is a Ferocious Refusal to be sidetracked from the Final Cause of the Voyager, that is, her indwelling, always unfolding goal or purpose, perceived as Good and attracting her to Act, to Realize her own participation in Be-ing.

While Webster’s describes course as the way “usually measured as a clockwise angle from north” the Course of the Voyage of Radical Feminist Philosophy moves Counterclockwise, that is, in a direction contrary to the clocks and watches of father time. It is the Time Travel of those who are learning to become Counterclock-Wise, that is, knowing how to Live, Move, Act in Fairy Tiroe/Tidal Tiroe. It is the Direction of Sibyls and Crones who persist in asking Counterclock Whys, Questions which whirl the Ques-


*I am indebted to Nancy Kelly for the word Outercourse (Conversation, Fall 1987).

**Hereafter, this dictionary is referred to simply as Websters.


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tioners beyond the boundaries of clockocracy and into the flow of Tidal Time. Those moving in this Direction Sense that we are on our True Course. The path/paths of our True Course, as seen from some perspectives, could be called an Innercourse, since it involves delving deeply into the process of communication with the Self and with Others-a process which requires deep E-motion, deep Re-membering, deep Understanding. Since it involves Amazonian Acts of Courageous Battling, it could also be called Countercourse. However, its primary/primal configuration is accurately Named Outercourse, for this is a Voyage of Spiraling Paths, Moving Out from the State of Bondage. It is a continual expansion of thinking, imagining, acting, be-ing. Outercoursing is Spiraling which has its Source in Background experience-in intuitive knowledge that it is by Moving on that Voyagers Dis-cover the Answers as well as the Questions. As Linda Barufaldi observed, it is not by wallowing in the “issues” and pseudoproblems manufactured by therapy and other re-sources that we progress, but rather we “bump into” solutions by moving on in our own lives, following the Final Cause.

As I explain in this book, the ship/vessel/craft of my own Voyage as a Radical Feminist Philosopher and Theologian has been my Craft-as theoretician, writer, teacher. The practice of this Craft is Voyaging, which is a form of Witchcraft. My Craft is a kind of Mediumship, coursing between/ among worlds.

This Voyaging is becoming, and it is the Seeking/Seeing of Seers. Philosophy,etymologically speaking, is not wisdom, but love of wisdom. Wisdom itself is not a thing to be possessed, but a process/Voyage. Radical Feminist Philosophy, then, is a Questing/Questioning that never stops and never is satisfied with the attainment of dead “bodies of knowledge.” It is participation ever Unfolding Be-ing.


I was looking at the flower bed by the front door; “That is the whole,” I said. I was looking at a plant with a spread of leaves; and it seemed suddenly plain that the flower itself was a part of the earth; that a ring enclosed what was the flower; and that was the real flower; part earth; part flower. It was a thought I as being likely to be very useful to me later.

-Virginia Woolf4

The word moment is derived from the Latin momentum, meaning “movement, motion, moment, influence.” It is believed to be rooted in the verb movere, meaning “to move” (Webster’s.). Virginia Woolf suggests that “moments of being” are experiences of seeing beyond the “cotton wool of

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everyday life” and understanding context. As she said of the flower in the flower bed: ”That is the whole.”

The Spiraling Voyage of Outercourse is comprised of Metapolitical Moments, which make up Spiral Galaxies. These are Moments/Movements of participation in Be-ing which carry Voyagers beyond foreground limitations. They are Acts of Hope, Faith, and Biophilic Bounding. They are Acts of Qualitative Leaping.

Even our seemingly “little” Moments are like leaps into/in a Great Moment. Thus they partake in the truly Momentous. When women Realize the Momentous potential of our “ordinary” Moments we find ourSelves Spiraling. Such experiences are not “merely momentary:’ They carry us into an Other kind of Duration/Time.

The Spiraling Moments of Outercourse, then, are utterly unlike mere instants. Instant means “an infinitesimal space of time … ” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary).* The definitions of infinitesimal are enlightening. It is said to mean “taking on values arbitrarily close to zero … immeasurably or incalculably small.” The adjective instant gives the show away. Thus we have “premixed or precooked for easy final preparation (instant mashed potatoes)” (Webster’s Collegiate).

Instants, then, are units of foreground time. They are incalculably small. They are mere points in time. They do not imply Motion, Movement, Momentousness, Momentum. They are elementary, foreground imitations of Moments. They do not open into the Background. They do not imply Qualitative Leaping. They do not participate in Spiraling Movement and therefore do not imply ever deepening experiences of Future, Past, and Present which overlap and which are in dialogue with each other. Like “instant coffee” and “instant success” instants resemble the “real thing” only to those whose senses have been dulled by imprisonment in the dim cells of the foreground.

In contrast to mere instants, Moments are incalculably large. They can be viewed as windows and doors through which we leap and race into the Background. They influence us; they are of great consequence, for they point us in the direction of Elemental Time/Tidal Time. Moving in Spiraling Paths, they hurl us on an Intergalactic Voyage. This leads us to the subject of the Intergalactic Movement of the Moments of Outercourse.


The Spiral Paths formed by Moments/Movements of participation in Be-ing constitute the four Spiral Galaxies of Outercourse. These Spiral Galaxies


*Hereafter, this dictionary is referred to simply as Webster’s Collegiate.


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are, like the galaxies of the universe, in perpetual motion.* Like stars, the Moments of Outercourse are born. They happen in the Twinkle of an Eye/I.’ They come into be-ing through Gynergetic Acts of women whose Focus and Force have their Source in the Background.

One Moment leads to an Other. This is because it has consequences in the world and thus Moves a woman to take the Leap to the next Moment. A comparison with the relations among stars in a galaxy is thought-provoking. An astronomer writes:

In a galaxy, the stars are separated by vast distances. But the stars do interact because of gravity. Stars feel each other’s gravitational fields…. In a galaxy, the force of gravity controls the interactions between stars.6

In a Galaxy of Outercourse the Moments are sometimes separated by vast distances. But the Moments do interact because of their subjective reality and connectedness in the consciousness of the Voyager and because of their interconnecting consequences in the world. The Focus of the Voyager directs the interactions among the Moments.

The accumulated Gynergy of Moments extends the curved arms of a Galaxy in Outercourse. At a certain point in this whirling progression, the accumulated Gynergy of Moments enables the Voyager to take a Qualitative Leap and thus begin a New Galaxy. Since the Focus and Momentum are from the same Source/Force, the New Galaxy Moves in harmony with the preceding one.

This book describes the Paths of four such Spiral Galaxies of Moments. Perhaps we should bear in mind that The American Heritage Dictionary describes a galaxy as “any of numerous large-scale aggregates of stars, gas, and dust . . . ” The Voyager of Outercourse has to confront a great deal of “gas and dust;’ not all of which is beautiful cosmic material. Much of the gas and dust between Moments is thrown in our way by the demons who attempt to block our Voyage. Thus Exorcism remains an essential and demanding task in the Intergalactic Voyage which is Outercourse.

This process of Exorcism, in combination with its inseparable companionate activity/experience, Ecstasy, provides essential Force and Focus for Outercoursing.’ These combustible components fuel our Crafts. They make the voyage Be-Dazzling, that is

eclipsing the foreground/elementary world by the brilliance of be-ing (Wickedary).


*A spiral galaxy is defined as “a galaxy exhibiting a central nucleus or barred structure from which extend concentrations of matter forming curved arms giving the overall appearance of a gigantic pinwheel” (Webster’s).

Hereafter, this dictionary is referred to simply as American Heritage.


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As the Voyager Moves farther and farther Out, the Light becomes brighter. The foreground fades and its demon inhabitants/rulers are overcome by the Powers of the Background. They are eclipsed by the brilliance of be-ing-which is participation in Be-ing.

Be-Dazzling is the Outrageous Challenge and Hope that moves the Craft/Crafts of Outercourse. In this Age of Extremity, we can settle for nothing less. The alternative to Be-Dazzling is precisely Nothing.

The following sections briefly summarize The Four Spiral Galaxies of The Be-Dazzling Voyage which is Outercourse.




In my own history, the early Moments involved Be-Speaking, that is, foretelling, speaking of what will be. Be-Speaking brings about psychic and/or material change by means of words. As I have experienced such Acts of BeSpeaking, they were and are* Moments of Exorcism of patriarchally inflicted aphasia, that is, inability to Name Background reality as well as foreground fabrications and the connections among these. One of my own early Acts of Be-Speaking was a letter published in Commonweal in 1964, responding positively to an article in that magazine by Rosemary Lauer entitled “Women and the Church.” I announced that I was ashamed that I had not written the article myself and foretold a barrage of such Feminist writings, proclaiming: “This is both a prophecy and a promise-they will come.”

So I was Be-Spoken into Be-Speaking by another woman’s writing. That letter-published when I was still a student in Fribourg, Switzerland-had a chain of breathtaking consequences. It led to the writing of my first Feminist book, The Church and the Second Sex, to my subsequent harassment and firing from Boston College, and to the months of student demonstrations, activism, and publicity resulting in my promotion and tenure. It led also, and most significantly, to my own radicalization. In other words, Moment after Moment of prophetic Be-Speaking caused the world to speak back. As this dialogue gathered Momentum I was hurled beyond man-made, fictitious, foreground illusions about “the future” and came into Touch with


*There is a problem of tense here. Since the Spirals are not linear-since I have come to the same yet different place of Spiraling at later periods-the past tense is not adequate. Many of these Moments recur in different ways. Thus they were, but they also are, and will continue to be.

I am indebted to Louky Bersianik for the idea of a Feminist interpretation of the word aphasia, as well as amnesia and apraxia. Responsibility for further expansion and development of these concepts is my own. See Louky Berslanik, Les agenesies du vieux monde (Outremont, Quebec: Lllntegrale, editrice, 1982), especially pp. 5-9.


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the Background Future. When I went back to teaching in the fall of 1969 I had already begun to change drastically. I had begun to see through the particularities of my experience with Boston College to the universal condition of women in all universities and in all institutions of patriarchy. I had experienced my first explicit encounters with the demons of assimilation-especially taking the form of tokenism-and won. I made the Leap into The Second Spiral Galaxy of my Outercourse.





By Seeing and Naming the connections that had been largely subliminal in the earlier stage of Voyaging, I Moved into The Second Spiral Galaxy of my Outercourse. This involved Acts of Exorcism of the amnesia inflicted by patriarchal institutions, religion in particular, and by the -ologies which they engender and which in tum serve to legitimate them. Exorcism of amnesia required Acts of Unforgetting-Seeing through the foreground “past” into the Background Past-beyond the androcratic lies about women’s history. I found that Breaking through to knowledge of a Prepatriarchal Pagan Past opened the possibility for Radical Naming. It became clear that Re-Calling was the clue to real Momentum. As Orwell had written in 1984:

“Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,” . . . All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory.

My Unforgetting sometimes took active political form, for example in 1971, when-in cahoots with Cronies-I instigated the Harvard Memorial Church Exodus. I had been invited to be the first woman to preach at a Sunday service at Memorial Church in its three-hundred-and-thirty-six-year history. After plotting with a few friends at Harvard I accepted and turned the occasion into a Call for an historic Exodus from patriarchal religion. The hundreds of us who walked out experienced the action on different levels. For some of us it was an Act of Be-Falling.* It involved Moving into Archaic Memory. It was also a Memory of the Future– an action which affects/effects the Future. By participating in this event, some of us experienced an ancient, woman-centered spiritual consciousness.

Beyond God the Father belongs to this Galaxy. The writing of that book, followed by the writing of my “Feminist Postchristian Introduction” to the


*Be-Falling is “the Original Ontological Sinning of Fallen Women who follow the Call of the Fates” (Wickedary).


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1975 edition of The Church and the Second Sex, moved me into further Acts of Be-Falling. I encountered and repelled demonic forces of elimination, who/which erase women’s histories and our very lives.* I was hurled, then, in the direction of The Third Spiral Galaxy.




Moments of Spinning Move us into the Background Present. As I have experienced these, they have been Moments of Exorcism of the apraxia (inability to Act) inflicted upon women. I do not mean by this that I became more “activist” in the usual sense of the word (although I have continued to work in that way also) but that I have become more Active in my creative intellectual work. This has meant that I have Moved beyond “following” or simply reacting to patriarchally defined methods of thinking, writing, public speaking, and teaching. My activity in this sense has become more approximate to my ideal of Be-Dazzling-eclipsing the foreground world with the brilliance of be-ing.

The year 1975 was a Watershed year. By the time the “Feminist Postchristian Introduction” was actually published in 1975 I had moved on to writing and delivering a paper entitled ”Radical Feminism: The Qualitative Leap Beyond Patriarchal Religion.” This paper was delivered at a conference of sociologists and theologians held in Vienna, under the auspices of the infamous Cardinal Konig, archbishop of Vienna.

In rereading that paper I am struck by the fact that such words as Postchristian had become unimportant to me. Such a term had focused attention on where I had been and not where I had arrived. To keep stressing it would be comparable to a woman’s harping on her divorce and identifying herself as a “divorcee” years after the event had occurred. Qualitative Leaping is not merely beyond christianity but beyond all patriarchal religion and identification. Moreover, it is not merely “beyond,” but toward and into something else, which I have Named Spinning.

In the Course of this Galaxy I wrote and published Gyn/Ecology (1978), Pure Lust (1984), and (in Cahoots with Jane Caputi) Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (1987). The process of writing those books and confronting their consequences involved encounters with the demonic forces of fragmentation, which cut women off from our true Present and from our Presence to our Selves and to each Other.

My conflicts with these forces and with other personifications of “the Deadly Sins of the Fathers” occurred throughout the Metapatriarchal Jour-


*These would, of course, attempt to re-turn, but this was a significant victory.


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ney of Exorcism and Ecstasy, which. is a basic experience and theme of this Galaxy, first Named and explained in Gyn/Ecology. Uncovering and vanquishing the demons requires a mode of creativity which is Spinning. It involves finding threads of connectedness among seemingly disparate phenomena.

A vast shift in my mode of writing is evident in Gyn/Ecology, which is Metapatriarchally Metaphorical. This Shape-shifting continued/continues throughout Pure Lust, which is a work of Elemental Feminist Philosophy. Re-Weaving Webs of connectedness between women and the Elements is an essential theme of this book, which Fiercely Focuses upon the demonic destruction of nature as well as women and upon Metamorphic means of Weaving the Way Out.

The Wickedary also is a work of overcoming fragmentation, bringing together the insights of this Galaxy through the Weaving of Wild Words. It follows in the Wake of Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust, fighting against the ever worsening conditions of the foreground, and Moving toward the expansion of women’s Powers of Sensing cosmic connections-Powers which enable us to Presentiate/Realize a True Present.

Thus the works of this Galaxy Move more and more into the Be-Dazzling Light. In this Light, the Voyager readies her Self for her Leap into The Fourth Spiral Galaxy, which takes her Off the Calendar, Off the Clock, into Moments of Momentous Re-membering.





In order to Name the most advanced stages of the demonic dis-ease of fragmentation I employ the word dis-memberment. The encroachment of the Age of Dis-memberment-a condition which manifests itself in the multiplication of divisions within and among women-involves also the breakdown of nature by phallotechnocrats and the splitting of women from nature.

In this age, Sisterhood can seem like a lost and impossible dream. The knowledge and and memories that were reclaimed in the so-called “Second Wave” of feminism re-turn to a subliminal level in our consciousness. As I see our situation of the 1990s, women are challenged to Spin and Weave the broken connections in our Knowing, Sensing, and Feeling, becoming Alive again in our relationships to our Selves and to each Other. This will require the practice of psychic politics and it will require Time Travel-Remembering our Future and our Past. What is needed is a Spiraling series of victories over the dis-memberers of women’s Present and of our Memoires, including Memories of the Future.

Such a series of Victories, that is, the Spiraling Moments of Momentous Re-membering, cannot be viewed as a linear progression. When the Voyager

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comes into The Fourth Spiral Galaxy she experiences an Overlapping of the Moments of her earlier Travels-a conversation Now with those Moments. The repetitious aspect of Spiraling enriches the experience of Movement, especially when The Fourth Spiral Galaxy has been reached. Yet the most crucial Moments are always Now, and that is why Now is always the special target of the dis-memberers of women’s lives.

It is essential to know that all of the Spiral Galaxies are interconnected, that all of the Moments implicate each other. Herein lies the hope for resolving miscommunication arising from “generation gaps” and time warps experienced by women in the Age of Dis-memberment. Implicate has as an archaic definition “to fold or twist together: INTERWEAVE, ENTWINE.” It also means “ to involve as a consequence, corollary, or natural inference: IMPLY.” (Webster’s).

I am suggesting that there is an organic interdependence/interwovenness among the Spiral Galaxies of Outercourse. There is a task before us, then: the task of actively explicating the connections. One definition of the verb explicate is “to unfold the meaning or sense of: INTERPRET, CLARIFY.” It alsomeans “In develop what is involved or implied in” (Websters).

The question is: Who can and will do this? Clearly a woman at her first Moment of Be-Speaking could not be expected to do this. Explication is the task of those who have Moved for some Time on the Be-Dazzling Voyage and who therefore can have an overview of its Spiraling Paths. These women are the Memory-Bearing Group-those who have “been around” and can Re-Call earlier Moments, and who can bear the memories and knowledge of destruction.

The Hope that such women can be Heard lies in the fact that participation in the Background Present is the underpinning of all of the Moments of Outercourse, even the earliest. Insofar as a woman is Alive and Spiraling at all she must have some glimpse of the Background Present. Therefore any potentially Radical Feminist has the capacity to Hear-if not always to understand all-the messages of the Memory-Bearing Group.

Re-Calling my own Voyage, I know that my ability to begin Be-Speaking was rooted in my capacity fur Living in the Present, unmasking the foreground present at least to the extent of experiencing desperation, of Fiercely struggling for Focus, and of daring Outrageous Acts in order In break free and live my own Life. This capacity for be-ing in the Present is the core requirement of Outercourse.

In The Fourth Spiral Galaxy, Voyagers Move into the Age of the Cronehood of Feminism. It is probably the case that the so-called “First Wave” of Feminism, in the nineteenth century, did not enter the Age of Cronehood, even though there lived individual Crones, such as Sojourner Truth and Matilda Joslyn Gage. As a collective Movement, Feminism was derailed and diminished by the forces of patriarchy. The sadosociety had effectively blocked the possibility of fully seeing the multiracial, multiclass, and indeed

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planetary dimensions of the Feminist movement. Phallocracy had muted the Sense of intensity/urgency/desperation to Move on to Moments of Momentous Re-membering.

In the “Second Wave,” although there has been a dreary amount of expenditure of energy in reinventing the wheel and fighting fragmentation, we are faced with the fact that a Qualitative Leap into Cronehood is necessary. This is the age of seemingly irreversible contamination-the time of the (foreground) triumph of phallotechnology. It is a desperate time of biocide, genocide, gynocide. Desperation combined with Furious Focus can hurl a significant New Cognitive Minority of women into The Fourth Spiral Galaxy.

While Feminists within the patriarchal era have always been a cognitive minority, the New Cognitive Minority includes the Memory-Bearing Group of women who have Lived through earlier Moments. It includes our Foresisters/Cronies from the Past who are Presentiating their Selves Now to those whose Sense of Cosmic Connectedness is awakening, The Fourth Spiral Galaxy, then, implies entering Other-dimensions of Awareness and Movement, evoking Radical changes at the very core of consciousness.

The Moments of The Fourth Spiral Galaxy began when I began working on Outercourse. I have written all of Outercourse from the perspective of this Galaxy of Time Traveling. From the vantage point of this Megagalaxy/Metagalaxy I have retraced my earlier Moments, which assume richer meanings as I revisit them. Although the events described Originally happened “back then,” in the earlier Galaxies, the Re-Calling of them is occurring Now, and the result is utterly Other than a simple collection of memoirs. It is participating in New Spiraling Movement. This is not quite like any writing that I have done before. It is a series of Acts of Momentous Re-membering of my own Voyage.


Log [short for logbook]: “a daily record of a ship’s speed or progress or the full record of a ship’s voyage including notes on the ship’s position at various’ times and including notes on the weather and on important incidents occurring during the voyage.”

-Webster’s ThirdNew International Dictionary of the English Language

Logbook: “A Daly record . . et cetera.”

-Webster’s Second New Intergalactic Wickedory of the English Language

It is clear from the preceding material in this Introduction that this book autobiographical and philosophical. The Logbook exists largely in my own Memories and in my collection of published and unpublished writings. I do not keep written journals, except those Written in Memory.

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Recollections from my Logbook do not constitute a clearly distinct entity or separate part within this book. The information from my Logbook is interwoven with philosophical analysis in the Course of this Voyage, in which Intellectual/Spiritual/E-motional/Physical/Sensory Travels are inseparable.

The purpose of Recollections from my Logbook is to Re-Call the Ideas, Experiences, Passions which constitute the Moments of my Voyage. These can Now be seen and understood from the Be-Dazzling perspective. It is my Hope that these Re-Callings will be helpful to women-mySelf included-in overcoming the time warps that mark the Age of Dis-memberment-the foreground “present” that impedes our Living a true Present/Presence. It is my Hope also that this Re-membering will generate more Gynergy for further Be-Dazzling Voyaging.


Syn-Crone-icities: “coincidences” experienced and recognized by Crones as Strangely significant (Wickedary).

The philosophical and biographical dimensions of this book intertwine through multiple “coincidences.” That is, they are coincident, which according to Webster’s means “occurring or operating at the same time: CONCOMITANT, ATTENDING.” Coincident also means “occupying the same space: having the same position, direction, or setting:’ It means “having accordant characteristics or nature: HARMONIOUS:’ The philosophical and biographical dimensions or aspects of Outercourse participate in the same Time. They share the same position and move in the same directioo or setting-the BeDazzling Voyage. Thus they have accordant characteristics: they are Harmonious. The philosophical theory and the biographical events recorded here are parts of the same Quest.

Recollections from my Logbook are the major source for the philosophical theorizing in this book. One key example is my Realization–through Re-Calling my early experiences–of the enormous and complex role of subliminal knowledge in myself and in other women. Indeed it was my subliminal knowledge of the extent of patriarchal oppression and of the existence or at least the possibility of an Other Reality that guided me and gave me the Courage to keep going through the early stages. When it would have appeared that I was a cognitive minority of one, I was-I Now Realize-strengthened by my subliminal knowledge of similar subliminal knowledge buried in other women.

Looking at the Logbook material, I Now understand that all of my Voyaging as a Radical Feminist Philosopher has been over and through a Sea of

Page 13

subliminal knowledge-which I have Named “the Subliminal Sea:’ As the Voyage has progressed, such knowledge has become more and more overt.

As I Now See it, my Life, my Craft in early stages of consciousness moved on the surface of the Sea of subliminal knowledge that is shared by women under patriarchy. Repeatedly I had experiences of being pushed by a Great Wind, and I could feel the stirrings from the depths of the Subliminal Sea. Eventually there were eruptions from volcanoes in the Sea in my mind. I came to Name this knowledge “Background” knowledge. I found also that as I Moved more daringly; as I made Qualitative Leaps from Moment to Moment, I was Realizing connections not only within myself and within Other women, but with the Elements of this planet, and with the sun, moon, and stars. I Sensed a cosmic connection.

From my Logbook Recollections I have learned that an important part of my task has been and is retrieving the subliminal knowledge of women and Dis-covering ways of communicating this. One reality to he confronted is the fact that the Subliminal Sea-like the oceans of the earth-has been contaminated. It has been polluted by man-made subliminal messages (of the media, of myths, of religion, of all the -ologies, et cetera). Yet, since these messages are reversed derivatives of deep Background knowledge, even these are doorways/viewers into the Background. Part of my task is to devise means of using them in this way.

If women continue to lose our Deep Memories, then the images propagated by the pornographers, the obscene experiments of the reproductive technologists, the mutilation and murder of women’s bodies by the sons of Jack the Ripper, and the mutilation and murder of women’s minds by omni-present woman-hating propagandists will go unprotested. Unprotested also will be the rape and murder of the planet.

My Logbook (together with other sources, of course) has supplied me with Information about the almost ineffable need for transformation of consciousness, and it has given me clues about ways to go about making such changes.

Outercourse is not sterile cerebration any more than it is a mindless and distracted collection of”interesting experiences.” A unifying Focus accounts “coincidence” between the philosophical and biographical dimensions of this book. An Outercoursing Voyager experiences participation in a complex Chorus of Be-ing. She is aware of a Background Harmony, of a Telepathic/Telegraphic Connection which is nothing less than an Intergalactic concert of Be-Dazzling Intelligences. This book is an attempt to convey the Sense of this Concert, this behind-the-scenes Eccentric and Outlandish Reality that is Present in everyday occurrences and that can enable us to Re-Weave the Integrity of our Lives.


Here is an uncharacteristically terrible pdf of the above text (the scanner does NOT like fat books!). Also, please excuse all formatting errors. Thank you.


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EXCERPT: Whipping Girl (chapter 10): Experiential Gender


I was prepared to post the entire text of the chapter because I thought it might be unfair to take this section out of context…but then I thought that it was unfair to post such large sections of the book. So, I don’t know. Here’s the full pdf. Please let me know if you’d like the full text.




Of course, body feelings are not the only facet of my being that has contributed to my identity as a woman. As I alluded to earlier, the changes in my social gender-how other people relate to and interact with me-were at least as dramatic as (if not more so than) the physical changes to my body. While being treated as a woman felt foreign to me at first, over time it simply became my everyday life. My identity as a woman grew out of positive experiences, such as feeling comfortable with my own female body. Yet it also arose out of negative ones, such as the regularity with which other people placed unsolicited attention upon my body, whether it was the catcalls and sexual innuendos strangers would sometimes hurl at me or the occasional comments people started to make insinuating that I could stand to lose a little weight (even though I weighed the same as I did before my transition, and nobody saw my weight as a problem back then). My identity as a woman grew out of my frustration over being called a “bitch” any time I stood up for myself, or having others make remarks about my hormone levels any time I became legitimately upset or angry about something. My identity as a woman grew out of my experiences at parties and other social occasions when I would come across a group of men talking and laughing, and witness them suddenly fall silent when I approached. My identity evolved out of a million tiny social exchanges where others made it very clear to me that my status in the world—my class, if you will-was that of a woman and not a man.


Not surprisingly, no aspect of my social transition has been more difficult for me to adjust to than the way I am treated by some (but certainly not all) men. Granted, this was not entirely unexpected. Before my transition, I had often asked my female friends about their experiences living as women in a male-centered world. On an intellectual level, I knew that I would sometimes be dismissed or harassed once I started living as female, but I underestimated just how frustrating and hurtful each one of those instances would be. Words cannot express how condescending and infuriating it feels to have men speak down to me, talk over me, and sometimes even practically put on baby-talk voices when addressing me. Or how intimidating it feels to have strangers make lewd comments about having their way with me as I’m walking alone at night down dark city streets. And while I had numerous run-ins and arguments with strange men back when I was male-bodied, I’d never before experienced the enraged venom in their voices and fury in their faces that I sometimes do now-an extreme wrath that some men seem to reserve specifically for women who they believe threaten their fragile male egos. It became more and more difficult for me to see the point in identifying outside of the male/female binary when I was so regularly being targeted for discrimination and harassment because I was a woman, when I so frequently had to stand up for myself as a woman in order to make sure that other people did not get away with it.




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Whipping Girl (chapter 12)- Bending Over Backwards: Traditional Sexism and Trans-Woman-Exclusion Policies

An excerpt from Julia Serano’s book, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Published in 2007 by Seal Press.

PDF here.



Bending Over Backwards: Traditional Sexism and Trans-Woman-Exclusion Policies

Prejudice usually can’t survive close contact with the people who are supposed to be so despicable, which is why the propagandists for hate always preach separation.

-Patrick Califia

OVER THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS, a major focus of my trans activism and writing has been the issue of trans-woman-inclusion in lesbian and women-only spaces. I first heard of the issue back in 1999, around the time that I was beginning to call myself transgendered-about two years before I began my physical transition. At the time, I was voraciously reading everything I could get my hands on related to trans experiences and issues. As I read, I kept stumbling upon past instances of anti-trans-woman discrimination from within the lesbian and feminist communities. These included derogatory antitrans- woman remarks by influential feminist thinkers such as Mary Daly, Germaine Greer, Andrea Dworkin, Robin Morgan, and of


course Janice Raymond (who, in addition to writing the anti-trans screed The Transsexual Empire, tried to convince the National Center for Health Care Technology to deny transsexuals the right to hormones and surgery); stories about transsexual “witch hunts,” in which committed lesbian-feminists like Sandy Stone and Beth Elliot were publicly outed, debased, and exiled from the lesbian community solely for being transsexual; and of course, transwoman- exclusion policies, such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s euphemistically named “womyn-born-womyn-only” policy, which was retroactively instated in the early 19905 after an incident in which a woman named Nancy Burkholder was expelled from the festival when it was discovered that she was trans.2

While I found it disappointing that people who identified as lesbians and as feminists would come down so harshly on another sexual minority, I cannot say that I was really surprised. After all, practically every facet of our society seemed to hate or fear trans people back then, and these incidents seemed more like a symptom of society-wide transphobia rather than something unique or specific to the lesbian community. And as I was giving thought to becoming involved in trans activism myself, there seemed to be plenty of other, more practical and relevant issues for me to take on.

But in the years that followed, I experienced a number of changes in my life that would considerably reshape my views on this matter. For one thing, there was my physical transition and the countless social changes I experienced as a result of being perceived as female. But for me, being trans didn’t merely involve learning how to navigate my way through the world as a woman. I have the privilege of being appropriately gendered as female, so in my day-to-day life, when I am forced to come out to someone,


nine times out of ten it is not as a transsexual, but as a lesbian. It happens every time somebody asks me if I am seeing someone and I reply, “Actually, I have a wife.” It happens every time Dani and I dare to hold hands or kiss in public. It happens when Dani is not around, but someone assumes that I am a dyke anyway because of the way that I dress, speak, or carry myself.

After my transition, I began to write not only about being transgendered, but about my experiences living in the world as a woman and a dyke after years of being perceived as a straight man. Not surprisingly, most of what I wrote had a definite feminist bent. It seemed impossible for me, as a trans woman, to discuss my journey from male to female without placing it in the context of the differing values our society places on maleness and femaleness, on masculinity and femininity.

Unfortunately, many people tend to artificially separate feminism from transgender activism, as if they are distinct issues that are in no way related. However, I have found that much of the anti-trans discrimination that trans women come across is clearly rooted in traditional sexism. This can be seen in how the media Powers That Be systematically sensationalize, sexualize, and ridicule trans women while allowing trans men to remain largely invisible. It’s why the tranny sex and porn industries catering to straight-identified men do not fetishize folks on the FTM spectrum for their XX chromosomes or their socialization as girls. No, they objectify trans women, because our bodies and our persons are female. I have found that many female-assigned genderqueers and

FTM spectrum trans people go on and on about the gender binary system, as if trans people are only ever discriminated against for breaking gender norms. That might be how it seems when the


gender transgression in question is an expression of masculinity. But as someone on the MTF spectrum, I am not dismissed for merely failing to live up to binary gender norms, but for expressing my own femaleness and femininity, And personally, I don’t feel like I’m the victim of “transphohia” as much as I am the victim of trans-misogyny.

This idea-that much of what is commonly called transphobia is merely traditional sexism in disguise-moved to the forefront of my mind as I began to be invited to do spoken word performances at various queer women’s events around the San Francisco Bay Area. While I was welcomed very warmly by most of the women who attended these events, I would sometimes come across certain women who would act dismissively toward me, who seemed bothered by me being there, who acted as if they were granting me a special favor by tolerating my presence, who would make offhand and inappropriate comments about my trans status as if to remind me that I was not a real woman like they were. This sense of ownership and entitlement about being a woman or being lesbian seemed hypocritical to me. After all, as soon as we would walk out the door, all of us would face similar discrimination for being women and for being dykes. But what was most frustrating about the way that many of these women dismissed me was the fact that they seemed to have no problems at all with female-bodied folks expressing masculinity and with trans people on the FTM spectrum attending their events. In other words, they didn’t have much of a problem with transgender people per se, just so long as they were male- or masculine- identified rather than female- or feminine-identified. This privileging of trans men over trans women is not merely a bias held by certain individuals, but rather one that is often


institutionalized within queer women’s culture and organizations. These days, it is not uncommon to see the word “trans” used to welcome trans men (but not trans women) on everything from lesbian events to sex surveys and play parties. And even at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, women are no longer defined based on their legal sex, appearance, or self-identification, but on whether or not they were born and raised a girl. And while-some performers who identify as transgender and answer to male pronouns are invited to take the festival stage each year, someone like myself-who identifies 100 percent as female-isn’t even allowed to stand in the audience.3

As with most forms of prejudice, trans-woman-specific discrimination within the queer women’s community seems to proliferate even more in the absence of trans women than in our presence; this is no surprise, as bigots are typically too cowardly to dare have their views openly discussed or debated with the very people they despise. While anti-trans-woman sentiments are generally expressed outside of my view, I still hear about them all the time from my trans male and queer female friends, who often tell me about self-identified dykes in their community who openly discuss lusting after trannybois and trans men one minute, then in the next, deride trans women for being “creepy” and “effeminate.”

The popular spin given to this preferential treatment of trans men over trans women states that trans men have been raised female and therefore should have a place in women’s and lesbian communities, whereas trans women have experienced male privilege and remain physically male on some level, and therefore should be excluded. However, this argument makes little sense when examined more closely. After all, how can someone who identifies as


female and currently lives as a woman have less in common with women than a male-identified person who has male physical attributes and currently benefits from male privilege? The premise that trans women should be singled out because we “used to be men” is highly suspect. Rather, I believe that this preference for trans men over trans women simply reflects the society-wide inclination to view masculinity as being strong and natural, and femininity as being weak and artificial. In other words, it is a product of traditional sexism.

My appreciation for the ways in which traditional sexism shapes popular assumptions about trans women started to really take shape during 2003 and 2004, as I became involved in Camp Trans, an organization that works to end the exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces, most notably the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. In my work on this issue, I learned firsthand how the occasional anti-trans-woman sentiment I would come across in the relatively trans-friendly Bay Area was just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the women who travel from all over the country to attend Michigan think nothing of wearing their suspicion or hatred of trans women on their sleeves, and they will often make extraordinarily ignorant and insensitive comments about trans women in their attempts to justify our exclusion. I am sure these women believe that they are protecting the values of lesbian and women’s space by opposing our inclusion at all costs, but in reality the specific points they make generally undermine feminist goals and beliefs rather than support them. After all, at its core, feminism is based on the conviction that women are far more than the sex of the bodies that we are born into, and our identities and abilities are capable of transcending the restrictive nature of the


gender socialization we endure during our childhoods. I have yet to meet the person who can explain to me how refusing trans women the right to participate in women’s spaces and events is consistent with this most central tenet of feminism.

Indeed, some of the most common arguments used to deny trans women the right to participate in women-only spaces also happen to be the most antifeminist. For example, many argue that trans women should be barred from women’s spaces because we supposedly still have “male energy.” But by suggesting that trans women possess some mystical “male energy” as a result of having been born and raised male, these women are essentially making the case that men have abilities and aptitudes that women are not capable of.

Another popular excuse for our exclusion is the fact that some trans women have male genitals (as many of us either cannot afford or choose not to have sex reassignment surgery). This “penis” argument not only objectifies trans women by reducing us to our genitals, but propagates the male myth that men’s power and domination somehow arise from the phallus. The truth is, our penises are made of flesh and blood, nothing more. And the very idea that the femaleness of my mind, personality, lived experiences, and the rest of my body can somehow be trumped by the mere presence of a penis can only be described as phallocentric.

It’s distressing that such phallocentric arguments, along with related arguments that harp on the idea that trans women “physically resemble” or “look like” men in other ways, are so regularly made by lesbian-feminists, considering that they are based in the society-wide privileging of male attributes over female ones. In what is now considered classic research, sociologists Suzanne Kessler and


Wendy McKenna showed that in our culture, when people (both women and men) gender others, we tend to weigh male visual cues as far more significant than female ones, and almost invariably consider the penis as being the single most important gender cue of all [i.e., its presence trumps all other gender cues; the presence of a vagina does not elicit a similar effect].4 In their words, “There seem to be no cues that are definitely female, while there are many that are definitely male. To be male is to ‘have’ something and to be female is to ‘not have’ it.” 5 Kessler and McKenna view this privileging of male cues as resulting from male-centrism (similar to how people often favor using the pronoun “he” when speaking generically). Taking this into account, it becomes rather obvious that when cissexual women deny trans women the right to participate in women only spaces because of their own tendency to privilege any “mannish” or “masculine” traits we may have over our many female attributes, they are fostering and promoting male-centrism.

Of course, trans-woman-exclusion cannot be justified solely on the basis that some of us look or act “mannish” or “masculine”- otherwise, butch women would have to be excluded as well. Indeed, in recent years, as feminism itself has shifted away from gender essentialist theories and toward more social constructionist ones, the basis for trans-woman-exclusion is more frequently our male socialization rather than our male biology. This approach also provides convenient intellectual cover for those who wish to include FTM spectrum folies (who were socialized female) in women’s spaces. But once again, such an approach runs counter to the precepts of feminism. After all, feminists regularly insist that women are capable of doing anything men can despite having been raised as girls and encouraged to take a subordinate position


to men. Thus, women Can (and often do) transcend their female socialization. It remains unclear why these same feminists would paradoxically insist that trans women are unable to similarly transcend our male socialization.

The fact that socialization is a specious argument became obvious to me during an exchange I had with a trans-woman exclusionist who insisted that my being raised male was the sale reason in her mind for me to be disqualified from entering women only spaces. So I asked her if she was open to allowing trans women who are anatomically male but who have been socialized female– something that’s not all that uncommon for MTF children these days.” She admitted to having Concerns about their attending. Then, I asked how she would feel about a person who was born female yet raised male against her will, and who, after a lifetime of pretending to be male in order to survive, finally reclaimed her female identity upon reaching adulthood. After being confronted with this scenario, the woman conceded that she would be inclined to let this person enter women-only space, thus demonstrating that her argument about male socialization was really an argument about biology after all. In fact, after being pressed a bit further, she admitted that the scenario of a young girl who was forced against her will into boyhood made her realize how traumatic and dehumanizing male socialization could be for someone who was female-identified. This, of course, is exactly how many trans women experience their own childhoods.

Another popular reason used to justify trans-woman-exclusion is cissexual women’s fears that we will somehow make women only spaces unsafe. For example, it’s common for trans-woman exclusionists to express concerns over the possibility that we might


assault other women-an accusation that is entirely unfounded, as there is no credible evidence to suggest that trans women are any more violent or abusive than women as a whole. Even in San Francisco (the U.S. city most likely to have the highest percentage of trans women per capita), there has never been a single police report of a trans woman harassing another woman in a bathroom.’ Others argue that trans women could potentially trigger those who have survived physical or sexual violence at the hands of men-a suggestion that is offensive not only because it is rooted in the male-centric tendency to view trans women as “men” (which is the result of privileging male attributes over female ones), but because it denies the fact that many trans women ate physically violated and sexually assaulted for being women, too. But what I find most dumbfounding about lesbian-feminist arguments that trans women might somehow threaten cissexual women’s safety is how eerily similar they are to the arguments some heterosexual women have made in the past in their attempts to exclude lesbians from women’s spaces and organizations.8

This is why it’s so disappointing for me to see members of my own dyke community practically bending over backwards, embracing hypocrisy, in a last-ditch effort to prevent trans women from entering lesbian and women-only spaces. Women who are appalled by the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuality seem to find no fault with Michigan for enforcing a similar policy regarding gender. Women who have struggled against patriarchal ideals of what makes a “real” woman think nothing of turning around and using the word “real” against trans women. Women who would be outraged if an all-male panel were to discuss women’s or lesbian issues in Newsweek or Time magazine see


nothing wrong with the fact that, in the last few years, several of the largest lesbian and feminist magazines have run articles and roundtable discussions on the issue of Michigan and trans-woman-inclusion without inviting any trans women to participate.” It’s sad to see women so desperate to prevent trans women from attending Michigan that they will actually try to make the ridiculous case that this “womyn’s” festival was never actually meant to be an event for women, but rather for those who were born and raised as girls.

I am sure that a lot of the same people who support Michigan’s trans-woman-exclusion policy, or who sit on the fence on this issue, would have a very different opinion if it were their own inclusion that was being debated. Can you imagine how angry these very same women would be if the largest annual women-only event in the world was run by straight women who decided to exclude queer women from attending? Can you imagine how insulted they would feel if they were told that they were not allowed to enter women-only space because they were not “real” women, or that their attraction to women might threaten the safety of other women? Can you imagine how condescending they would find it if straight women talked to them about being queer-positive one minute, then turned around and purchased a $400 ticket to a “queerfree” women’s event the next?

As much as I am bothered by the long history of trans women being expelled from the lesbian community during the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s, I am willing to chalk that up to the fact that the transgender movement hadn’t fully come into its own yet, and there were few people who were able to articulate a clear message for transgender rights and inclusion at the time. But now, in 2007, there is no legitimate excuse for trans-woman-exclusion in lesbian


and women-only spaces. Most LGB groups have long since added Ts to the ends of their acronyms. And while there was a time when trans-inclusion debates only took place on the outskirts of the queer community, they now take place in workplaces and courthouses all across the United States. In the last twenty years, nine states (Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Mexico, California, Maine, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, and New Jersey) and scores of cities and counties across the country have extended their nondiscrimination laws to explicitly include transgender people.” It’s downright embarrassing that so many folks within the queer women’s community, who generally pride themselves on their progressive politics, have managed to fall behind Peoria, Illinois, and El Paso, Texas, in recognizing and respecting trans people’s gender identities.

But trans-woman-exclusion in lesbian and women-only spaces is not merely a trans rights issue-if it were, I would consider it to be important, but I probably would not have devoted so much of my time and energy to it. The main reason why trans-woman-exclusion evokes such passion and frustration in me is precisely because it is both anti-trans and antifeminist. And as a feminist, it gravely disturbs me that other self-described feminists are so willing to overlook or purposefully ignore how inherently sexist trans-woman-exclusion policies and politics are: They favor trans men over trans women, they rampantly objectify trans female bodies, and they privilege trans women’s appearances, socialization, and the sex others assigned to us at birth over our persons, our minds, and our identities. And what saddens me even more than the irrational transmisogynistic fear and hatred displayed by the vocal minority who most adamantly oppose our inclusion is the apathy of the silent majority of queer women and feminists who enable that prejudice: those


who continue to attend women’s events that exclude trans women; those who excuse or choose not to confront antifeminist/anti-transwoman comments and actions made by members of their own community; those who tacitly give credence to antifeminist/anti-transwoman rhetoric by referring to the issue of trans-woman-exclusion as a “controversy” or a “debate.” I would submit to them that there has never been a legitimate debate regarding this issue, as the overwhelming majority of dialogues and discourses on this subject have taken place among cissexual women in the absence of any trans women.

Perhaps the most naive and condescending refrain apologists for the trans-woman-exclusionists make is that these apologists are working hard to change these women-only organizations and spaces from within. This is a seriously flawed notion. If you look back at history, there has not been a single instance where people have overcome a deeply entrenched prejudice without first being forced to interact with the people they detest. Mere words cannot dispel bigoted stereotypes and fears; only personal experiences can. The queer rights movement would not have made the progress that it has if activists merely relied on queer-positive straight people to lobby on our behalf, to speak as our proxies. Social progress was only made through both the frontline work of outspoken activists shouting, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” and that of committed straight allies who absolutely refused to tolerate antiqueer remarks and discrimination from members of their own communities. Similarly, I entreat all feminists and all queer women to recognize that the divisive issue of trans-woman-exclusion will continue to be with us as long as we fail to directly confront and repudiate antifeminist/anti-trans-woman policies and rhetoric wherever they exist.




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Female Chauvinist Pigs: (chapter 4) Womyn to Bois

Female Chauvinist Pigs, by Ariel Levy.

Chapter Four; PDF here. Text supplied here for ease of reading only, any formatting or other errors are not in the oringial. Please refer to the PDF version for actual published material.




If you were to put the last five or so years in a time capsule, womanwise, it would look like a period of ex­plosive sexual exhibitionism, opportunism, and role re­definition. These were the years of Sex and the City, Brazilian bikini waxes, burlesque revival, thongs-the years when women learned how to score, or at least the years when popular culture spotlighted that behavior as empowering and cool. Lesbians are women too, and this trend has hit the young gay women’s world-lithe scene”-with discernible impact. In the scene, the New York to San Francisco back-and-forth migratory ladies’ pipeline, sex is taken so lightly there is a new term for it: “playing.” In the scene, people say things like, “I played with her,” and they go on “playdates.”

This freewheeling nonchalance about sex is evi­dent on the Internet. Craig’s List, a site that started in 1995 as an e-mail newsletter founder Craig Newmark sent to his friends in the San Francisco Bay area about local happenings, is now a Web site used by millions of people looking to buy things, sell things, and meet each other across the country, and the women-seeking-women section of Craig’s List is the scene’s favored cyber pickup joint. A typical posting reads: “Looking for something noncommittal? Hi! I am a fun, cute girl, white, with short red-blond hair. Looking for someone who wants to exchange pictures and hook up … right away!” It was listed under the heading, “Playdate?”

The sense of purient sexual opportunism doesn’t abate offline. You can feel it at the girl bars in San Francisco; at the Lexington Club, someone has written “SF rocks. I get more pussy than I know what to do with,” on the bathroom wall. You can feel it in New York, where on a cold fall night at a lesbian bar called Meow Mix, a girl in a newsboy cap and a white T-shirt with rolled-up sleeves said to her friend, “Some femme … just some fucking femme. I met her at a party three weeks ago and I fucked her and that was cool. But now she’s like, e-mailing me and I’m just like, chill out, bitch!” Her chest was smooth and flat: She’d either had top surgery-a double mas­tectomy-or, more likely, she bound her breasts down to achieve the look. She thrust her forearm in front of her face as if she were rapping as she spoke: “Some of these chicks, it’s like you top them once and then they’re all up in your face. It’s like, did I get you off? Yes. Am I your new best friend? No. You know what I’m saying, bro?”

Her friend nodded and kept her eyes on the blonde go-go dancer in tiny white shorts undulating on a tabletop near the bar. “Bois like us,” she replied, “we’ve got to stick together.”

There was a point at which lesbianism seemed as much like a fringe political party as it did a sexual identity. What better way to declare “a woman with­out a man is like a fish without a bicycle” than to be a woman without a man, a woman with other women? “Lesbianism is a women’s liberation plot,” was how the group Radicalesbians put it when they comman­deered the mike at NOW’s Second Congress to Unite Women in 1970. The first installment of The Furies, a publication put out by a lesbian feminist collective of the same name in 1972, proclaimed, “Lesbianism is not a matter of sexual preference, but rather one of political choice which every woman must make if she is to become woman-identified and thereby end male supremacy.” Lesbianism was the ultimate in disman­tling the dominant paradigm, resisting the heteropa­triarchy, and all the rest of it, and sex seemed kind of secondary.

But in the scene, what you like and what you do and who you do it to are ‘Who you are. Sexual prefer­ences and practices are labeled with a great deal of precision. Within the scene, “lesbian” is an almost empty term and “identifying” requires considerably more specificity and reduction, as in: “I’m a femme” (a traditionally feminine-looking gay woman), or “I’m a butch top” (a masculine-identified, sexually domi­nant gay woman), or most recently and frequently, “I’m a boi.”

It is tempting to pronounce the syllable “bwah,” as in “framboise,” but actually you just say it “boy,” the way in years past you pronounced womyn “woman.” Throwing a y in woman was a linguistic attempt, how­ever goofy, to overthrow the patriarchy, to identify the female gender as something independent, self­-sustaining, and reformed. Being a boi is not about that. Boihood has nothing to do with goddesses or sister­hood or herbal tea, and everything to do with being young, hip, sex positive, a little masculine, and ready to rock. Even in an entirely female universe, there are plenty of women who want to be like a man.

But bois want to be like a very young man. It’s no coincidence that the word is “boi” and not some version of “man.” Men have to deal with responsibili­ties, wives, careers, car insurance. Bois just get to have fun and, if they’re lucky, sex. “I never really wanted to grow up, which is what a lot of the boi identity is about,” said Lissa Doty, who is thirty-seven but looked more like twenty-four when we met for a beer in San Francisco at the Lexington Club, which everyone calls the Lex. She wore a baggy T-shirt and jeans and had gelled her bleached hair into a stiff fin, like the raised spine of a Komodo dragon. “I want to go out and have a good time! I want to be able to go out to the bar at night and go to parties and go to the amusement park and play. That sense of play-that’s a big difference from being a butch. To me, butch is like adult. If you’re a butch, you’re a grown-up: You’re the man of the house.” Doty is smart, well read, and well educated, and was working as a courier for FedEx because, she said, “I want to have a job where at the end of the day I walk away and I don’t have to think about it.”

Doty liked to play, and she also liked to play. “It used to be if you flirted with somebody, that was it: You were set for life; U-Haul’s waiting out back,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s the whole boi thing or if it’s a little sexual revolution that’s happened where you can go home and have a one-night stand, just like the gay boys. Before, things were more serious: If you flirted with somebody, you better be getting her number and buying that house and getting those dogs. Otherwise, lesbian community is coming down on you. Now, it’s more … playful.”

That sense of play, of youthful irreverence, in­forms the boi approach to sex and to life. “I think non-monogamy is a part of it,” said Sienna, a grace­ful boi in her mid-twenties with close-cropped kinky hair and a face that flashed back and forth between beautiful and handsome depending on her expres­sion. “To me, a boi is someone who doesn’t have so much to prove. Bois are kind of dirty. Sexually dirty, but also we’re not in the clean, pressed, buttoned-up world . . . we’re like little urchins. A lot of us are artists.” Sienna lived at the dUMBA Queer Performing Arts collective in Brooklyn, a place they described on the Internet as “run by a loose-knit collective, usually made up of visual artists, media artists, writers, song­sters, dance fanatics, flirty bohemians, political and cultural activists, and otherwise socially boisterous girls and boys.” They had sex parties and art shows, and above the bathroom door, instead of GIRLS or BOYS, it said TRANNIES.

When I met her, Sienna was working as a some­time runway model for Hermes and Miguel Adrover and making big, bright collages at the collective. She had recently moved to Brooklyn from San Francisco, where she’d dated “black women who drove Harleys and were college-educated and loved punk rock. Girls who were maybe butch … my whole vision about butch got shattered, though. When I first came out, I felt comfortable wearing a skirt and I had a really big afro, so I looked sort of girly. Because of that, I had all these butch girls after me and they were always pushing me to be more girly and I’m not into that; I’m not into all that princess shit. I’m from Alaska, where women are all just pretty tough, and I grew up hunt­ing with these sixty-or seventy-year-old women. So to see all these women who are identifying as butch and acting with all this bravado doesn’t mean jack shit to me,” Sienna said in her low, quiet voice. “I think of a boi as someone who’s not trying to put on airs about being masculine … someone a little smarter. Basi­cally we threw the term around in San Francisco, and the last couple years I’ve heard it more here. It’s new.”

So new that most people-most lesbians-over the age of thirty have no idea what a boi is. Deb Schwartz, a thirty-eight-year-old New York City butch who had been out for fifteen years and had, at vari­ous points, worked as an activist for groups like Fed­Up Queers and ACT UP and as an editor at Out magazine, said, “It’s just wild to me that there’s this whole phenomenon out there that is completely news to me. Here I am, a bulldagger of a certain age, and when I first heard the term-recently-I had a con­versation with an equally butch friend of mine and she was completely in the dark, too. What’s new is seeing these kids who really seem to be striving for a certain kind of juvenilia, not just masculinity. They really want to be kids. This hit me when I saw this girl-this boi, I guess-barreling out of a store in Chelsea in huge, oversize jeans, a backpack, and a baseball cap pulled down low. And she was running as if she were late for the school bus … her whole aura was so completely rough-and-tumble eight-year­old that I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had a slingshot in one pocket and a frog in the other.”

“When you think about teenage boys, [that’s] who bois are modeled after,” said Lissa Doty. “Teenage boys are sort of androgynous themselves and playing with identity and the world is open to them.” When Doty came out in the eighties, militant feminism and lesbian separatism were still at the forefront of dyke culture. “There was this whole movement of womyn s land and womyn building houses on womyn s land and insulating themselves from the rest of the world,” Doty said, smirking. “I felt like I should be a separatist if I was going to be a good lesbian, but I liked guys as people; they were my friends. It was a whole different world from where we are now.”

Where lesbian separatists of years past tried to cleave away from men, bois like Doty are more inter­ested in dissolving fixed ideas of man and woman in the first place. “Bois are a little more open and fluid. I don’t want to try and speak for the trans[sexual] community, but I think there are a lot of trannybois who are not going all the way, who are not thinking I need to {it into this gender mold. They’re saying Its ok if I don’t take hormones, or Its ok if I don’t have surgery. I can still call myself a boi. That’s great. I think it’s cool that a label can be so flexible. I like it as a spectrum instead of one specific model.”

Being a boi means different things to different people-it’s a fluid identity, and that’s the whole point. Some of the people who identify as bois simply think it means that they are young and cool and probably promiscuous. Some, like Doty, date other bois and think of themselves as “fags,” whereas oth­ers date only femmes. Others are female-to-male transsexuals-also referred to as trans or FTMs or trannies-who are in various stages of the gender transition process, ranging from undergoing top surgery and taking testosterone (“T”) to simply adopt­ing the pronoun he. Consider this posting from Live­Journal, a Web site on which members keep running diaries of their lives for other members to peruse: “So my story reads that I’m a butch (or whatever) living in Minnesota. Mostly I claim the trans label, but it’s not my intention to transition to male from wherever I’m at now. I’m surprisingly comfortable in this gray muck . .. it makes life easier when I live it instead of trying to box it up like take-out.” Next to the post there is a close-up picture of a young, shirtless person’s head and shoulders. The person has freckles and short, messy strawberry blonde hair and could be a male or a female, anywhere between the ages of eighteen and thirty. The person looks happy.

Many bois, including many FTMs, consider themselves part of a “genderqueer” movement in­vested in dissolving the “gender binary.” They don’t feel that dividing the world up into men and women or, for that matter, butches and femmes is a particu­larly sophisticated way to conceive of gender roles. “I’m so against the whole butch-femme dichotomy,” said Julien (nee Julie) Rosskam, a good-looking twenty-four-year-old documentary filmmaker and the associate producer of Brooklyn-based Dyke TV.

Rosskam, who had been taking testosterone for sev­eral months, will correct you if you say “she,” which creates an interesting reality: One of the three people in charge of Dyke TV is a “he.” Rosskam was getting the money together to have a double mastectomy.

Despite the hormones and the impending surgery and the mandatory “he,” Rosskam found the idea that there are two distinct genders and nothing in between constricting and close-minded. “I just feel really defensive; I don’t like when people feel the need to put people into categories like that. If you had a line of women we could put them on a spectrum from the most femme to the most butch, but every­thing in our world is set up as a dichotomy and I just feel like that’s so limiting.”

The confusing thing, of course, is why somebody would need serious surgery and testosterone to mod­ify their gender if gender is supposed to be so fluid in the first place. But “transitioning” is very popular. The transformation of women to men is so prevalent within the scene they have a name for it: “butch flight.” This is to say that women who don’t feel the traditional definition of femininity fits them, who in another lesbian era would have considered them­selves butch, are more and more frequently thinking of themselves as transsexual, and doing whatever they can to actualize that self-conception medically.

“I’ve noticed a lot of different levels of trans, and frankly think there are A LOT of confused lesbians out there,” an FTM named Ian wrote to me in an e-mail. When I went to meet Ian in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, I had difficulty picking him out of the crowd. I was expecting him to look like the other FTMs I’d met: like butch women with something somehow off. But Ian looked and sounded utterly and seamlessly male . . . a real boy, as Pinocchio would say. He had been taking testosterone for eight months, and had undergone top surgery a year before our meeting. “I went to this guy named Reardon up on Park Avenue” for the operation, Ian said. “It’s.kind of like a hobby for him, doing sex changes. You walk in and there’s all these really, really rich women in there for implants, and then there’s me.”

For a transsexual twenty-two-year-old-for any twenty-two-year-old-Ian was remarkably uncon­flicted about his identity. “I’ve felt like this since I was three,” he said. “I’ve never felt like a lesbian; I always felt male.” Ian’s sense of unambiguous manliness is anomalous within the scene. He discovered this when he first arrived in New York City and started attend­ing meetings for FTMs at the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender Community Center in the West Village. “I only did that group on and off because I really had a hard time identifying with a lot of the people in there,” Ian said. “Because some people, you’re just looking at them and you’re like, Your issues are not in this area … you’ve got issues all over the place. I mean, the spectrum is broad and gender is fluid or whatever,” Ian said, rolling his eyes, “but there are some people who I think are latching onto this term-this ‘trans’ term and this ‘boi’ term-and you have to wonder. Like I go on all these Yahoo groups for trans men? And the other day I was reading it and the thing that was being discussed was Is trans be­coming the new vogue thing? And you have to wonder if it might be.”

A butch friend of mine told me recently that for a while, she had been seriously contemplating getting top surgery, as many of her other friends already had. She said, “If you’re hanging out with a bunch of trannies it’s going to influence you .. . it’s like if you’re hanging out with people who all have tattoos, you know?” Then she pointed to her tattoo.

Because there are so many people identifying as trans or bois or FtMs, and because these terms can mean so many things, when Ian used Craig’s List or other Web sites to meet women, he felt the need to be extremely precise about his identity and his body. “It seems like I have to put it up front, like, Listen: This is what I am and this is what I’ve done. Rather than just saying I’m trans, which people could think means Ok, yeah, you identify as male and you probably look like a prepubescent boy and you’re running around hooking up. Part of why the boi lifestyle is so appealing to some people is the non-monogamy. There’s less attachment, a lot of NSA”-Internet shorthand for a playdate with No Strings Attached. “Alot of NSA. There isn’t really a commitment issue when you’re so fluid.”

Despite all the talk of fluidity and the investment people like Lissa Doty and Julien Rosskam have in reimagining gender, there is another camp of bois who date femmes exclusively and follow a locker­room code of ethics referenced by the phrase “bros before hos” or “bros before bitches,” which means they put the similarly masculine-identified women they hang out with in a different, higher category than the feminine women they have sex with. This school of bois tends to adhere to almost comically unreconstructed fifties gender roles. They just reposi­tion themselves as the ones who wear the pants-they take Female Chauvinist Piggery to a whole different level.

Alix, a boi from Brooklyn, said we could meet at an East Village gay bar called Starlight for an inter­view on a Sunday night. After she didn’t show up, Alix sent an e-mail explaining her reasoning: “I didn’t see you, but I’d be lying if I said I was there. It was raining and I need to know what I’m getting if I’m going out in the rain for some chick and she better be slammin’. And anyway, I should be the one calling the shots.”

During an interview, Sarah, a twenty-eight-year­ old market analyst, showed me an e-mail she’d re­ceived from an Internet acquaintance named Kelli regarding a femme they both knew from the scene. It read: “I hope she’s not a big deal, that you’re just rid­ing her or whatever. Do you want me to keep an eye on her? Bros up bitches down.” Kelli’s peroration was a play on a catchphrase borrowed from sex traffick­ers: pimps up, hos down.

Sarah told me she had met “maybe thirty” femmes over the Internet-on Craig’s List and and through the personals on the Web site PlanetOut-and occasionally she’d used the heading “boi seeks girl” instead of “butch seeks femme” just to mix it up, and because it’s the cooler term. But she wasn’t crazy about all of its implications. “I’m not en­tirely comfortable because so many people I’ve met consider boi to mean transgendered or faggot,” by which she meant butch-with-butch or boi-with-boi. “I definitely do not want my name attached to those de­finitions. I don’t understand the faggot culture . .. I think it’s disgusting,” she said, and her face crumpled with distaste. “What I like about women is feminin­ity,” she said. “I’m interested in women who look like women, who have womanly gestures and smell and feel, and I don’t understand the appeal or the sense of two faggot dykes riding each other.”

Sarah had smooth, icy pale skin and very short black hair shot with little patches of silver. She was wearing big jeans and a pinstripe shirt with rolled-up sleeves under a navy-blue vest, and sat with her legs wide apart and her big arms crossed over her chest, making her body a sculpture of toughness. “Femme-­on-femme is stupid to me, too. It’s air. It’s air on air. It just seems like Cinemax fluff … long nails, you know. In a butch-femme dynamic, it’s not mirror images. One thing I hear a lot of people say about lesbianism and gayness in general is that it’s narcissistic. I’ve heard so many people say that, and not just my mother.”

Though Sarah’s dating MO was fairly lupine, her ultimate aspirations were quite a bit more conven­tional: One day she planned to give up her swinging bachelor’s life and settle down. “I’ve got this model of a household that’s probably sick to a lot of people that makes perfect sense to me,” she said. “What I want is to have a job, and have a life, and I want a partner with a job and a life to come home to, and a high standard of living, and I want us to have kids that go to school and do their homework and go on trips with their par­ents.” She smiled for a minute with the self­ satisfaction of an athlete about to cream his opponent. “And, you know, at the end of a hard day, I would like to come home from work and have my wife suck my cock.”

San Francisco is a good town for bicycles and les­bians. Both roam the streets as if they own the place, as if it were built just for them. Cars and het­erosexuals are tolerated. In the area around Dolores Park, there are lesbians with baseball caps, with atti­tude, with their noses pierced like a bull’s, with ba­bies, with Subarus, with motorcycles, with money. As one local put it, “It doesn’t matter if you’re pink with purple polka dots: If you’re gay and you come to San Francisco, you’ll find community.”

On a warm fall night, Diana Cage, the editor of the lesbian magazine On Our Backs (a sexed-up play  on the title of the longest-running feminist journal in  the United States, off our backs), and her friend Kim  were waiting to be seated at an Italian restaurant  about a block away from the Lex. They ran into Gib­son, Diana’s ex-girlfriend, and their other friend Shelly, who had just come from football practice for  their team, the Bruisers.

“How’d it go?” Diana asked. She had long hair and long eyelashes and wore a skirt and lipstick and toenail polish.

“Football! Hoo-ah!” Gibson said, half kidding. Shelly, a big girl in a sleeveless ‘t-shirt, offered a dou­ble-armed flex to emphasize the point. On one bicep she had a tattoo of a heart with the word “mom” spelled over it. Diana pulled out a Galois and Shelly lit it almost instantaneously. “We’ll see you later at the Lex,” Gibson said and walked off with Shelly.

Diana watched the butches strut away and said, “I only date cliches.”

When they sat down to eat, Kim was feeling anx­ious about the evening ahead. Clara, the boi she was seeing, was supposed to meet up with them later, and things had been very touch-and-go. “Clara’s biggest fear when we started dating was that I was going to try and fuck her,” said Kim, a pretty, punky twenty ­four-year-old who resembled the actress Rachel Grif­fiths. She defined herself as “femme of center” but didn’t wear much makeup or jewelry except for a tigers-eye stud in her chin. “I find bois the most attractive. I like the young, andro[gynous] look, but I’ve dated across the board: butches, femmes, trannies. And that really bothers Clara. All her girlfriends in the past have been pretty much straight.” Kim offered a rueful little laugh. “It also threatens her that I’m not totally vapid and vain .. . her big relief was when she found out I wear a thong.”

“I sort of orchestrated Kim and Clara dating,” said Diana. “Clara is someone who I would definitely call a boi, totally, although she wouldn’t claim it for herself because she’s too cool. See now it’s like retro cool to be butch, because there are so many bois and because of the whole butch flight thing.”

“Clara’s got this intense thing, her and her friends have a really strong distaste for this whole trans trendy explosion that’s going on,” said Kim. “But the more I hang out with her the more I’m com­pletely convinced she’s a closet trans case: She’s ob­sessed with operating sexually as a male. Completely obsessed. She doesn’t make any reference to being queer or lesbian at all. And she sees all of her lesbian traits-either emotional or physical-as completely negative. I’ve never met anyone who wishes that she was a guy so much.” Kim thought about it for a minute and concluded, “Whereas a butch is some­body who is, I guess, a little more comfortable with the fact that she actually is female.”

“I don’t have the patience for any kind of a bros­ before-hos mentality,” Diana said, “and I associate that with bois. For bois it’s like in high school; they’re all worried about how they look, and maybe if they have a girlfriend that’s not cool, and will their friends  approve?”

Kim was looking increasingly forlorn and push­ing her pasta around her plate. “This all ties into their kind of approach to women in general-they are so very predatory about it. Clara won’t just touch on it like That girl’s hot. She will talk and talk and talk about how she wants to get them home and fuck them.” She looked at Diana. “I’m nervous to see her now because I’m not dressed up. And then all of a sudden it’s like I’m trying to please a guy. It’s like I’ve come full circle.”

Later, at the Lex, a woman in a trucker hat with greasy gray hair and a long, gray Fu Manchu beard was trying to give her dog a sip of her beer. There were a lot of Mohawks and a confusing amount of fa­cial hair on several of the women, and there was a pool table.

Gibson and Shelly were sitting in back, drinking beer and looking at their football playbook, and Diana was on her cell phone with Clara. She snapped it shut and said, “She’s being an asshole. She’s not coming.”

“What did she say?” Kim was crestfallen.

“She’s just being an asshole.”

Kim went home.

“What did she say?” Shelly asked after Kim was gone.

“She said she wasn’t coming here unless she knew she could get laid.” Diana’s phone rang again. “That was her. Now she’s coming.”

“I worry about that one,” said Gibson, rolling her eyes. “Then again I worry with every twenty-one-year ­old I meet that they’re gonna get their tits lopped off.”

When Clara arrived at the Lex, she looked too young to be in a bar and too small to be allowed on a roller coaster. Diana pulled Clara onto her lap and said, “See, she’s nice to me because we’re not going out, but if I were your girlfriend I’d think you were a dick!”

The next night was chilly but sweet-smelling and Gibson was riding her motorcycle, whipping around the curves and up the hills. At around ten she went to Club Galia to see “In Bed with Fairy Butch,” the bur­lesque cabaret show a woman named Karlyn Lotney has been putting on since 1995.  Lotney is a short, hefty butch who uses Yiddish phrases and has a sort of les­bian Nathan Lane vibe. She gives regular seminars like “Femme/Butch Sex Intensives” and “Dyke Sex: Nuts & Bolts,” but she is best known for these shows. She called an audience member up onstage and asked her, “What kind of girl or boi are you into?”

“That one,” the woman said, pointing at her date.

“What, have you moved into some weird, monogamous, non-San Franciscan zone?” Lotney asked. She called the date up onstage and the couple made out for several minutes in front of the hooting audience. “Okay! Enough with the processing! Who wants to get laid?” Lotney shrieked.

A gay guy in his twenties came up onstage and agreed to get his first kiss from a woman. “A real dominant one,” he said.

Lotney smiled. “Why don’t you show him what we’re doing these days, ladies?” A muscular girl with a shaved head leapt onstage, grabbed the man, and kissed him with a truly impressive show of ferocity. “Yeah!” Lotney yelled. “This is San Francisco! This is what we do!”

When they were finished, a dancer, chunky and lipsticked, stripped down to her underpants on stage before going into the audience and shaking a dildo at them, which she ultimately put in her mouth.

Gibson headed out into the night.

She pulled her Honda Nighthawk in line with a row of other bikes and went into the backyard garden of her favorite bar, the Eagle, a place that shows gay men’s S&M porn on television monitors. She pointed to a dark area behind the cement fire pit. “I had mad sex with this girl there one night,” she said. “The next morning I was like, What did I do? How old was she? I ran into her a few weeks later on the street and we went for beers. She was one of these arty types who won’t give you a direct answer, but I kept asking her until finally she told me she was twenty-eight. So we had mad sex again. But this time inside.”

Gibson said that she would have nothing against settling down. “I keep trying to grow up,” she said. “But it never seems to happen.”

There are aspects of life in the lesbian community that are distinct and not really comparable to life in the heterosexual mainstream, and of course the young New York/San Francisco scene is only one small slice of lesbian America. But despite the differ­ences between the scene and, say, spring break in South Beach, there are also meaningful similarities in the ways young women across this country, gay and straight, are conceiving of themselves, their bod­ies, sex, and each other. Women are invested in being “like a man,” and in the case of FTMs, women are ac­tually becoming men. There is contempt and conde­scension for “girly-girls” or “bitches” or “hos,” confusingly coupled with a fixation on stereotypically feminine women (especially if they are stripping or dancing on tabletops). Elective cosmetic surgery­implants for straight women, mastectomies for FTMs-is popular to the point of being faddish. Non­committal sex is widespread, and frequently prefig­ured by a public spectacle: a coed group pumping their fists at the strippers onstage at a CAKE mixer in New York; a drunk girl heeding the call of Girls Gone Wild to show her tits in Miami; a room full of les­bians hooting at a dildo-wielding dancer at “Fairy Butch” in San Francisco.

This isn’t about being a lesbian, it’s about being a woman. Or a girl.


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