All my life I have never fit any molds. You could call me a hippie given I am very Pagan, vegetarian, and way out in left field politically…yet I do not fit any of those boxes perfectly as a stereotype. After all the whole past year of my life I dated a military man and was keeping an open mind about a world contrary to the cultural background I came from. Yes I am vegetarian, but no I am not evangelical about other people eating meat…nor am I vegan. I am a gay man and there are many stereotypes about that (defined both by straight people and fellow gay people as depending on which group is defining the stereotype of what it is to be a “gay man” changes depending on the perspective) that I fit, but still not completely. Straight people see me as like Kurt from Glee or Jack from Will and Grace (essentially the ever so objectified GBF “gay best friend”). Other gay people however have tried to pigeon hole me into thousands of different molds: the slut, the twink that dabbles in drag, the geek, the rad queer. These concepts represent surface aspects to a very shallow degree…but none of these truly fit a holistic view of my personhood. I have lived a life on the outskirts of how every social group defines itself, never truly fitting in fully anywhere. But I do have to say the majority of friends that have always understood me the most are Feminist that have those tools of language to deconstruct oppressive social molds.
I am not saying feminism is perfect, nor that all feminist are the same in this regard. Indeed some feminist are so locked in a small box of thinking they create their own self-referential bubble where the only perspective or issues that matter are their own. But that’s not what feminism is at its core. Atleast not for me and the feminists I know. It’s really just an attempt to deconstruct cultural issues and lift up those that are marginalized so they have equal opportunity and respect in society. Yes, that does require having a conversation about privilege. Yes, those conversations sometimes can feel a lot like oppression Olympics. “You think you had it tough?! I was poor and my parents both died OD’ing on drugs when I was 16! Yet I am still successful because I worked hard to rise above that!” “Well that may be so but society still has given you more opportunities to rise above that as a white-heterosexual-cis-gendered male!” Yes, we’ve all had these conversations. They are difficult, frustrating, and often do go in unproductive circles. At times in conversations like this, I just get to a place where I feel like you have to choose your battles and battles like that are just not worth it sometimes (and sometimes they are, only you can decide what is and isn’t a useful expenditure of your energy and time).
I do have privileges in many aspects of my life. I was fortunate enough to have a middle-income background with a supportive mother who joined PFLAG when I came out. The rest of my family was not so supportive, and some of them have been cut out of my life. But atleast I have her, and yes I realize many other queers didn’t even have that. Yet don’t let that make you think my life was adversity-free. I was severely bullied and made fun of long before I came out because people thought I was gay before even getting to know me. Beaten up, called “Fag,” and tortured by hyper masculine men. To this day there are still times just the fact my voice doesn’t sound masculine enough is reason enough for someone to put me down or deny me equal respect and opportunity. Some of the things hyper masculine men have done to me are just horrific, no need to discuss the details, point being it wasn’t good. Also, I was severely dyslexic to an extreme degree (and had several other learning disabilities) and couldn’t read, write, or keep up with math until I was in middle school. Even then, that only came with lots of continuous tutoring and education with specialists that could help me get there and scrap by when I couldn’t function optimally. No I am not using that as an excuse, I had psychologists that put me through extensive tests, I was certifiably severely dyslexic, not just saying that because I was lazy. I still to this day struggle with it and people tend to measure my intelligence based off basic learning skills they took for granted and had the privilege to just come naturally to them. Luckily, I had access to enough resources to at least by-pass those things and find large amounts of academic success in more abstract fields of the humanities (social sciences, philosophy/religion) in college in spite of that (using writing centers to proof read my writing, getting access to extended test time, etc.) Yes, to have access to those things is a privilege as many with dyslexia never do…that still doesn’t mean my status as dyslexic doesn’t often create a barrier to opportunity and equal social respect though.
To this day I just have a quality that makes people make assumptions about me long before getting to know me. Maybe because it’s because I naturally have an androgynous quality that doesn’t fit a masculine mold. I am deeply in touch with my emotions. I refuse to let my dyslexic tendencies hold me back from a hard hitting and deep intellectual discussion (or typing them for that matter). I own my sexuality in a healthy unapologetic way (that is not in an objectifying others way, just talking about the date I had last night, or discussing sex as a reality, or seeing non-monogamy as ethical and respectable). I’ve grown accustomed to not wasting my time with people that put me down because of these things. I cut them out because they’d only become a toxic influence in my life anyway and would likely never change, or would take too much emotional energy on my part to try to change. So, if I appear to live in a feminist, liberal, gay bubble, that’s only because those are the only communities that accept me and give me opportunities to find success and happiness. Other communities don’t…they often reject me right off the bat and make my life a miserable living hell. They do not value people with my perspective and unique experiences. My point being that everybody has aspects of who they are that gives them some form of social mobility, but that doesn’t mean there are no other things about them that create unfair barriers to opportunity in specific ways and contexts that aren’t worth discussing.
So this is why feminism has become a core value for me. At its core, it’s created sub-cultures and a larger cultural movement that deconstructs the details of these issues and provides solutions through empathy, compassion, and understanding where it’s often severely lacked. I have found more compassion, understanding, and human decency from people that consider feminism to be a value they hold…then I ever had from people that dismiss it as a “man-hating, little special snowflake, cry-baby” philosophy. I think this is because as feminism began it deconstructed an oppressive hierarchy called “patriarchy.” Women were denied career opportunities, opportunities to pursue a life of autonomy and independence, and the right to demand basic respects and decency from men that saw them as objects to adore and use. Women know exactly what it’s like to be told to stay in their place and just be grateful they have what they have when it’s not fair or morally right. As their movement evolved, they began to have increasingly more common discussions with others who are marginalized and oppressed by the same basic pattern of behavior: Someone with power and privilege exploits, and/or is blind to empathizing with, someone without it. So, the movement has evolved today to have that same basic conversation from many, MANY perspectives. Cis-gendered heterosexual women AND everyone else put in a marginalized and oppressed social position, included.
Feminism is really at the end of the day about having compassion for the little person and lifting them up. Trying to make a culture a better place for those that it leaves behind. Often by focusing on those perspectives and giving them a focus when they are otherwise often dismissed or ignored. I value feminism at my core because I’ve learned from trial and error and life experience that someone who does not empathize with the marginalized and oppressed will never provide a relationship where others around them are truly respected and acknowledged, unless of course they too have lots of privilege and power. The world needs feminism because there are far more that are left behind to support the luxury of the privileged then there are those that enjoy those privileges and abusive power. We need that in a world where a man can “grab ‘em by the pussy” and be successful enough to become president of the United States without any consequences.