response to gender spectrum as a new prison

July 29, 2017 at 7:44 pm (community, gender, queer)

I know this article did the rounds ages ago and half the world has probably had a stab at responding to it, but I’ve been asked my opinion of it by a couple of people, now, and I finally got around to actually reading it properly. Five hours later I had 3000 words hammered out, in response to a 4000 word article. After all that, I think I’d like some friendly feedback if anyone can be bothered to engage!

If you do read it, let alone comment, please keep in mind that it’s opinion, probably rife with assumptions and it’s not impossible that there are points in there that I would state differently or even change my mind on, with some input. it was intended as personal correspondence with someone I know and you probably don’t, and it’s completely unedited – I punched my thoughts into messenger as I read the article, so I couldn’t even arrange or consolidate my paragraphs or change the tone as I discovered more of where the article was going.


firstly, i think ‘queer feminist view of gender’ is a bad label, quite misleading. people propounding it do talk about queerness, but it has nothing to do with queer theory or queer approaches to gender. it fits better with binary trans stuff, but i think ‘identity feminism’ might possibly be better.

secondly, she seems to be making lots of assumptions based on the idea that the identity view is completely rejecting and negating what comes before. some people act that way, but the theories aren’t actually disagreeing with eachother so much as they’re not addressing the same things. it can look like they are, because they’re both using the same terminology, but they’re meaning different things by the word ‘gender’, and they aren’t necessarily saying that eachother’s main construct doesn’t exist – just that it’s not their priority. everyone thinks their opponents are neglecting something important, but that doesn’t mean their opponents are mistaken. just, maybe, mis-focused.

second section starts “…describe their own gender identity as ‘non-binary’, and present this in opposition to the vast majority of people whose gender identity is presumed to be binary”. yes, people describe themselves in all sorts of ways, and lots of people want to find ways to differentiate themselves from others, but self-descriptions of teenagers aren’t going to faithfully reflect any theory at all. my understanding of the theory of non-binary gender identification is that it /does/ accept that we are all non-binary. noone is saying that the external pressures radfem identified have gone away, or even that they can necessarily be completely dodged by not identifying with them. but identification is what it’s primarily talking about, and it doesn’t really make pronouncements about other people’s gender identities at all. people who call themselves non-binary are /rejecting/ the binary for themselves. they acknowledge that there’s binary stuff going on, that society is saturated in binary ideas, and that some people are happy to go along with it and identify with lots of it – much in the same way the rad feminists see it. but they feel particularly troubled by it all, and they want to /identify themselves/ with the part that’s explicitly bucking the system.

and if that’s the case, that whole raft of theoretical problems go away, because they were never there to start with. people aren’t that oblivious, just because they’re largely located in a younger generation

not so sure why she’s so bothered by the thought of a set of related concepts having both binary and spectrum. radfem does it itself. while seeing the external pressures as binary, the more nuanced and theoretical side of radical feminism sees that the biological aspects don’t exist as a binary – at the very least, no radfem with a bit of knowledge behind them disputes intersex conditions

last line of that section digs it all deeper: even if she was right about people creating a new binary right there, is she really complaining about people wanting to acknowledge complexity, misunderstanding and oppression? every decent movement does that – including hers. that’s both hypocricy and a straw dog fallacy.

and in the same line, she either misunderstands, misuses or misrepresents the term ‘cisgender’. it is in no way at all the opposite of non binary. cisgender is the term for someone whose gender identity – their self concept – matches up functionally enough with what the doctor assigned them at birth.

she’s also completely missing the point that nonbinary people aren’t all obsessed with othering themselves from cis people – the term nonbinary arose around trans politics, as a way to differentiate people who were transitioning in order to be/manifest/become/pass/whatever on the other side of the binary from what they had been expected to be, from people who were aiming somewhere else – any variety of people who may or may not have been considered trans, or ‘trans enough’, but were making some kind of change in themselves, their self-concept, their presentation, their biology or maybe even just their philosophy – in a way that they understand as not conforming with or moving towards one end of any gender binary. And probably not motivated by some sense of their gender being innate and essential.

next section. pangender? whatever. people reach for new terms to try to express things. if she’s really going to make her own definitions based on greek and latin roots, she may want to check out the dictionary definition of misogyny and start whingeing at our ex-PM for being wrong.

agender? again with the assumptions. agender is, funnily enough, not about binaries. there is no assumption that there must be an opposite, that’s only clear to her because she made it up. but most people still do identify with a gender, so probably aren’t identifying as agender. not can’t, but aren’t. still, if everyone stopped doing that, wouldn’t that work towards her radfem gender abolition goal? if her answer is that identities don’t have a bearing on that, then she has no business caring enough to attack people’s identities in the first place. one or the other, surely.

if everyone became agender, then agender would be as redundant as humans calling eachother human. a description that is shared does not become meaningless. we are bipedal not because some people don’t walk on their legs and the rest of us do, but because it describes something about walking. if you’re that attached to binaries that you see everything as binary all the time, then you have a few more problems in your life. you probably get lots of speeding tickets because you don’t acknowledge the rather useful existence of the amber light at intersections. wow, half way through and i’m descending to her level of snark…

this paragraph is really bringing out the rant, and i don’t even identify as agender! i’m not sure it’s even a misconception, it looks flat out disingenuous to conflate identity and definition. those two words don’t mean remotely the same thing. on a less grumpy note, i recently spent a week at Queer Collaborations, the annual queer student conference. there were lots of people who identify as nonbinary, lots of people of all sorts who feel their gender is a very very important part of them, and no doubt a hundred shades between. it really threw into focus how differently people feel these things, and reinforced to me how i mostly feel gender as an external pressure on me – though not necessarily in the linear way radfem seems to propose. society and its variety of gendered ideas have shaped me in many ways, i have accepted some (critique is an ongoing process), dodged others and reacted in a wide variety of ways to more. i have some gender feelings that seem to come from my body, especially when it changes shape or is subjected to more public judgement than otherwise, but i understand these feelings as still, at the very least, mediated by the gendered societies i live within. if it weren’t for knowing all these people who feel gender stuff so much more intimately than me, i could assume that the whole thing is a ruse or a fantasy.

but it can’t be. my perspective is not unique, but clearly not universal, either. even if i doubt the adults i know, who have also spent their lives amongst strong societal forces, we have trans toddlers clearly articulating their own gender, even when gender and gender roles are decoupled in their small world. people use babies to make all sorts of pronouncements about gender, and i’m always skeptical, but i can’t deny that there are people who feel gender far more intimately than me. surely this is something of what nonbinary and agender identities are expressing.


  1. non-oppressive gender recognition. we seem to be getting into some genuine concerns, after paragraph after paragraph of fairly lightweight snark. of course, if i ever attempt a treatise like this has become, i would usually write it in a format i could edit, instead of issuing point after grumpy point in messenger! i’d probably turn it all upside down and consolidate the themes, but then again i’d also probably never get it done, let alone published.

“Gender is the value system that ties desirable (and sometimes undesirable?) behaviours and characteristics to reproductive function. Once we’ve decoupled those behaviours and characteristics from reproductive function – which we should – and once we’ve rejected the idea that there are just two types of personality and that one is superior to the other – which we should – what can it possibly mean to continue to call this stuff ‘gender’? What meaning does the word ‘gender’ have here, that the word ‘personality’ cannot capture?”

she has finally let us in on what she really means by gender. i’m not nearly enough of an expert on radfem to know if it’s the standard line, but it rings somewhat true. for her, gender is something that only exists when a heirarchy of value is ascribed, and if we can get rid of that (as, frankly, both sides want to), then it’ll go away completely.

presumably there is something else – maybe called sex – that will remain even if we ever completely break the system of value. maybe it will embrace the joy that some people get in playing with gendered clothes, gendered bodies, gendered histories. maybe it’ll have some value-free way of understanding strong gender feelings, stable or changing. maybe. if this other thing is part of her theory, she’s not letting us in on it just yet – and noone has ever told me about such a model that goes beyond physical difference. so i’m skeptical, and so is everyone else she’s taken aim at.


now, with two semi-coherent understandings of the meaning of gender under our belt, i think we can probably agree that whingeing at people wanting to define their gender as ‘pizza’ or ‘darkness’ is about as relevant as a theological discussion of jedi and pastafarianism when you’re wanting to figure out if proponents are theists or atheists. it tells us a lot about what people think about the topic and how they want things to change, but you can still get understandable data about your topic without limiting what words one is allowed to put in the box. to take that analogy further, i want to see our census asking separately about beliefs and religious tradition. as an atheist from a jewish tradition, i want both aspects of me to be counted, i don’t want to have to choose which group is more important to bolster, i don’t want to come out of the experience feeling that, one way or another, i’ve lied. Similarly, if we decouple ideas like maybe ‘how i experience gender’ and ‘how i relate to and am affected by gendered value systems’, then suddenly we’re getting somewhere!


once we understand that difference, we can answer the question of non-oppressive recognition much better. i’d hazard a guess that in a survey about women in STEM disciplines, we need to recognise the ways people are positioned in the gendered value system (M, F and Other will get you better information than only M and F; recognising more options is likely better again, but you really don’t need to recognise Pizza). If you’re talking about experiences of bullying in school, you probably want to know about people’s feelings of gender – or maybe both. If you recognise Pizza there you may find out more about gender confusion or ambivalence, if you recognise Darkness you might just be finding out about depression – but hey, if you give people a chance to explain, you might find out something you didn’t know. And if you’re the bureaucrats gatekeeping marriage or passports, I’d assert that you don’t need to recognise or ask about any genders at all.


Now we’ve made it to the last paragraph of the second last section, and her hard-hitting quote about the pain of patriarchal society… which melts away completely if you accept the position i’ve put. Whether one should, or even can slip through the bars of the cage is a terrible dilemma faced by people in warzones who have a chance to get out but know their family or group will be less able to fight, win, survive if they do. It is a pain i have faced several times in much more prosaic situations as I fight for a cause, group or project I find important and find an opposition rising to oppose what I’m doing by attacking me and mine until my life is miserable and my mental health is in a perilous condition. do i accept my project being driven in a (relatively) conservative direction and twisted out of recognition? do i accept its complete demise? if i’ve become associated with that cause, am i even able to leave, or will i be hounded out of other communities that sustain me, too, because my continued existence in the radar of that community stands for something and, for someone else’s gain, must be abolished? yeah. it’s rough. but it doesn’t bear any relation to the topic at hand. the current generation of people fighting patriarchy aren’t slipping out of any cage – there is no one cage with an inside and an outside, and even if there were, noone is going to be liberated from societal oppression into the right to societally oppress by presenting and identifying as less gender-conforming. becoming masculine enough to get much privilege is hard work if you weren’t raised to it (and often enough, if you were) – and of all people, those who identify as nonbinary are almost by definition proud to fail on that count.

and the conclusion? backpedalling on all that dripping derision is a good thing, but doesn’t save the article. ‘i’m not going to stop you doing things i don’t agree with’ isn’t actually very supportive, and it certainly doesn’t actually disguise the clunker of “Have fun with it. A problem emerges only when you start making political claims”. it sounds like the last stand of someone who’s been backed into a corner by her own conscience, but it’s incredibly significant in itself. in one little line, she’s trying to tell a whole multifaceted, political, feminist movement – and in a way a whole generation – that they shouldn’t be fighting. we are being told, again, to stay silent and passive and to let our superiors handle it. it’s not our life, it’s not our world. keep your funny little ideas to the bedroom, they don’t belong in the public sphere. she has taken up the master’s tools – i can’t believe she’s never been told to pipe down for being a feminist – and tried to teach another lesson in domination.

yes, some people take new ideas and run with them to the detriment of others. yes people tell other people their ideas are wrong, /they/ are wrong (and they should feel bad). some people extrapolate their own experience to untenable and hurtful conclusions for others or the whole. there’s often someone i want to yell at, or whose mind i’d love to change, whether for being wrong on the internet or, say, for using a position of power within a group for their own interests. all this, however, has nothing to do with spectra, identities or anything about the group of people and ideas this author has panned, let alone the generation they represent. all groups have problems and the spread of new ideas is never as smooth or as nuanced as we’d prefer.

ironically, one thing that can help with that is if movements collaborate with others that have different priorities within the same broad aims… how revolutionary!

as i’ve mentioned, i’m no stranger to worrying that my causes are being turned in dangerous directions. it’s a risk for anyone active in trying to make change. still, overall, i /want/ others to carry the fight on, beyond me. in fact i don’t think i’ve succeeded if i end up being the last word and the final change. this author, though, doesn’t seem to want that. she’s finally judged us all as not /bad/, not a real threat, just not good enough to succeed /her/. i can only think that she doesn’t understand that anything in the new theories, movements and communities is actually /productive/.


none of us can necessarily identify exactly what changes will be made in society as a result of this movement, because it’s still in progress. i can guarantee, though, that what she thinks is just setting up more boxes will not end up with Pizza Gender listed on anyone’s passport. Early indications suggest that other things are happening: it’s becoming easier to change your official gender in all sorts of places that matter, which not only provides comfort for those who need it but reduces the power of those institutions to divide and discriminate. people with functional uteruses may for a long time remain relied on to carry babies, but as the category of ‘woman’ shifts away from that criteria it becomes harder for your boss to make assumptions about the state of your internal organs and what you’re going to do with them. gender neutral parenting is blossoming and even schools are starting to respond to the desire to accommodate diverse genders, going further than many radfems could ever imagine to remove gender role programming from kids’ formative environments and instead instil a desire for justice and equality. western societies, at least, have already sorted out legal rights and protections for women (though not for trans or nonbinary people, of course). surely the cultural changes being wrought by this playful approach to gender are the next step, and worth relinquishing the attitude and the prescriptivist linguistics. change is not necessarily easy, we know, but it happens. and if on balance, you still can’t see any good? well, there’s always another change round the corner. maybe if you work with one of them, you’ll like where it goes.



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same sex marriage passed

October 23, 2013 at 12:29 am (community, gender, musings, poly, queer)

so a small chunk of this country has achieved same sex marriage. but. it really is historic and significant, but. but it still isn’t for everyone. but the only peole who are excluded are people with a ‘legal gender’ of ‘x’, because even if it’s thoroughly problematic that everyone else is slapped with a ‘m’ or ‘f’, they are. is there even more than one person in this country who has achieved an ‘x’ so far? but even if only one person is excluded, it’s both unjust and insulting, the exclusion having been slapped on a previously inclusive bill at the last minute. hmm.
i wonder how many people will now run off to canberra to get married away from their family and friends. i’d think marriage was about celebrating with them, not getting a certificate, but at least three friends have announced their intentions on facebook already.  hmm.
on the other hand, my concerns about success making the movement disappear have not eventuated. the progress towards obviousness is going to be so piecemeal, and so contested, that they’ll keep us fighting for years and years.
i’m glad that my friends who care about this development are happy. whatever happens, whatever it means for the rest of us and the country, if legal recognition makes you feel accepted or vindicated, or you plan to take up the opportunity to get legally married, then i wish you well.
this is my late night contemplation after the emotionally exhausting experience of a long day of election campaigning and an agm.
in other news, it’s raining. hopefully this extends to where it’s really needed.


update: i hear that same sex marriage has been established as something completely separate to ‘normal’ marriage – and if a married person transitions, their marriage is no longer valid and they’ll need a new one of the other sort. ‘different but equal’? ouch.

also, that there are indeed more people who already have a legal gender of ‘x’: some intersex people got shunted onto it by default. so despite all these changes, it seems that the concept of autonomy over one’s own identification is moving much slower than the details.

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October 9, 2013 at 12:36 am (gender, simple pleasures)

wow, looking at the comments on , there is an awful lot of people out there who are completely unnecessarily terrified of their own bodies.

i can’t say i wasn’t one of them. when i first found my cervix, i was worried it was something that wasn’t supposed to be there, and i had nobody useful to ask. that was pretty scary.

what’s inside looks and feels nothing like those cross-section diagrams you get shown once in highschool, then are apparently supposed to remember throughout your life. the ones that show the vagina as something narrow and the cervix as a the end of the womb – nothing but another label, certainly nothing with a distinctive shape or behaviour.

from a quick look at this website, it seems that my embarrassing misunderstanding is very, very common.

at least i never suffered from the other thing that so many are panicking about – cervical fluid. i know i was told about periods, so i didn’t think i was dying when blood first came out. some people aren’t that lucky. maybe my mother mentioned the white stuff too, or maybe i just associated it with the right things myself.

think of the difference it makes to your life whether you had sex ed and that very basic knowledge that blood happens and is natural, or whether you didn’t get that and for years and decades you didn’t know what was happening to you and were afraid to ask.

now think of the difference it would make to your life if you had a useful education where you knew what your insides actually look and feel like – what’s healthy and what’s not, what comes out and when, and you never had to feel ashamed or terrified or ignorant of your own body, relying on (probably male) experts to tell you about it.

i remember talking with a friend about how we should make a zine of vaginas, because very few people who have their own ever see anyone else’s, to understand, to compare, to even know there are differences. it never happened, but something similar recently has.

honi soit, sydney uni’s student publication published a cover with pictures of vaginas on it. there was a big fuss and it was censored, but the cover went out, though there is a black rectangle covering the middle of each picture. the censored version can be found at  and is discussed by a participant at . the uncensored version can be found at . yay for internet archives!

since then, there’s been more: vulvas on display at galleries and in a book: and

unashamed depictions of menstrual blood in

and even more amazingly, in the mainstream:

and the site that prompted this post:

edit: and there’s more! performance art on the theme: , coffee table book: , sculpture:

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October 8, 2013 at 7:28 pm (gender, words)

niephling, nibling, niefling. no consensus yet, but people are working on it: a gender-neutral word for nieces and nephews.

we have parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents. children and kids and offspring are not perfect but will do. now we need one for aunts and uncles – aurents has been suggested.

these words will not only make me more comfortable, but have the potential to lessen the gendering of the newest people in our gendered society, the ones people people still argue over, swearing that preferences for pink dolls or blue trucks are inherent because they start so early. of course they don’t start nearly as early as people start using the words niece and nephew for their niephlings.

of course good words will also make plurals much easier – and who wouldn’t want plural niephlings and aurents? they’re all potential and no responsibility (well maybe not, but it’s much less of an issue than whether you want to breed yourself). so everyone should get behind them!

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stitch and bitch

July 18, 2013 at 9:09 pm (community, crafty, gender, words)

stitch and bitch. sewing group. knitting circle. i’ve run them on and off for years. at first i was wary of the most popular name for such things, but over the years i was won over by its recognisability and openness – i don’t care if you knit or sew or crochet or tat or do something obscure like making friendship bracelets.

at QC 2012, i scheduled a stitch and bitch, and it was so popular that we ended up having three of them, and our crafting spilled joyously onto conference floor. however the women’s caucus took issue with the name and reprimanded me, with no right of reply.

this year we scheduled four sessions straight up. it wasn’t as novel as the year before, but there was still an impressive number of knitters on conference floor. i didn’t change the name, and there were no complaints. i thought about addressing the issue with the new caucus, but refrained.

over the year i’ve thought about the term, and i can’t find any reason i can credit, to not use it. surely ‘bitch’ is a sterling example of a word ready for reclamation. we can’t just get rid of it because it actually is a legitimate word in the english language, and even though it refers to dogs, it is very specifically gendered. the concrete implications of its initial meaning will not fade away, even if we try to exile it. all that does is make yet another feminine word bad and taboo.

if we embrace it, however, by accepting this positive usage that has evolved organically, we are associating a feminine word with something good, changing it from a word which attaches an unequivocably negative connotation to femaleness, to a word with mixed usage. after all, what could be more positive than the informal political learning and exchange of ideas encouraged when we come together as a group to share our communal love of fibre arts?

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non-cis males

July 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm (gender, queer, words)

i know why we use this term, i understand it’s important to support groups of people who are discriminated against and put at a disadvantage. i understand that it’s just as important to catch all the various people who have experienced these things, and not just aim our support at the people who fit into groups big and obvious enough that we can name them. i understand that trying to list them all doesn’t work, even if we keep going, from women to trans women and trans men to genderqueer people and intersex people and sex and gender diverse people (let’s not get started on what it would mean for an individual to be diverse).

still, i’m anxious for the next change in terminology. a non-cis male is, gramatically, a male person who is not cisgendered. that’s about as good as arguing that the term ‘men’ includes everyone. you can insist… or you can look for something better.

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October 20, 2012 at 10:41 am (gender, simple pleasures, words)

i’ve been thoroughly enjoying the recent upswell of new words. mansplaining is one of the wonderful ones, an evocative package for a behaviour that has been allowed precisely because we didn’t have such a nice, concise, powerful word to call it out with.

it’s a valuable addition to the feminist arsenal, without the essentialism which makes so much of feminism difficult. it defines a behaviour attached to a performance of masculinity as a cultural category, rather than defining the actor themself.

however the first time i heard it, what i thought i heard was manspleening. and maybe i should’ve. for i’m much less likely to be subjected to a man telling me why i’m wrong about feminism than i am to hear one going on and on about how they have body image problems too and women rape too and why should unis have women’s officers and women’s rooms and affirmative action in general.

these rants bear no resemblance to explanations at all, and are a concrete step up from mansplaining in terms of aggression, selfish incoherent venting and, frankly, bullying.

and with all the usefulness of a spleen.

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fear and safety

April 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm (gender, out and about, travel)

today i had another conversation about fear and safety. there have been quite a few recently, though mostly me just explaining my ideas without getting too much back in return. i began thinking about it when i started attending the usyd feminist discussion group, but it hasn’t come up as a topic yet. hopefully one day it will and i can hear others’ considered thoughts on the matter, too.

usually i only engage with feminism as an intersectionality. women and gender in queer. women and queer in atheism. but gendered narratives of fear and safety is a topic that is troubling me for myself. i started noticing it whenever i went hitchhiking. hitching is not a common practice these days and the default reply from anyone i tell is ‘oh you’re brave, i could never do that’. it comes from almost everyone, but especially women.

that’s case one: people accepting that there are limits to what they can do, and that these are forever fixed. more important, however, is case two: very few women ever stopped to pick me up. several have, but over the twenty thousand kms i’ve hitched, it’s a shockingly small number. of those who did, several expressed uncertainty over the decision, and some mentioned that they only stopped because i looked harmless and female – and even then they were conflicted and didn’t stop immediately, but stopped half way up the road or doubled back. rides with families were even rarer.

in the hitchhiking community itself, a gender divide is not so noticeable. i met more male than female hitchhikers, but not by much. only male hitchhikers have traveled a leg with me and only male travellers have agreed to try hitching with me, despite how interested everyone in a youth hostel tends to be. however hitchhikers are few and far between on the road and i can’t say i’ve met enough to be able to make judgements. maybe i’ll start talking to the people on hitching websites one day to get some answers. yet it stands to reason that the pattern would differ from the mainstream: hitchhikers are seen by many as extraordinary and outside the norm, and in some ways they are. surely a hitchhiker can’t possibly subscribe to the same normative concept as someone who feels the need of the trappings of modern security culture – walls and locks and laws.

when i was an undergraduate at my suburban university, living on campus was wonderful. i lived with five others in a little terrace, and while we locked our bedroom doors when we went out, we tended to leave the outside doors wide open. i could wander in and out, my friends could wander in and out, my housemate’s friends could wander in and out. it was idyllic.

however once we got intruders – two young guys with a big carving knife that may or may not have come from our own drying rack. 12.30am on a hot summer night, they broke into my room and demanded money.

we had been trying to build the place into independent cooperative student housing, since the uni wanted to be rid of its obligations, and i still believe that the outcome would’ve been better if we had.

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going back

July 4, 2008 at 6:21 pm (brain, education, gender, mechanical engineering, musings)

back at tafe again

back at my parents’ again

feeling more female again

discovering old friends again

hearing my voice lifting again

talking to people who knew me as a child again

getting close to an old partner again

sorting through forgotten belongings and memories again

letting my hair get longer again

falling into old habits again

but it’s all as an adult, walking around in my old life with recontextualising adult feet. reconciling more aspects of myself, again.

it’s much better than it used to be.

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what is to be done about homophobic pro feminists?

November 23, 2007 at 10:53 pm (gender)

when someone in the wider, straight world is homophobic, there’s a chance that they’ll eventually meet with a shock when their friend or family member comes out, and they’ll think and change their attitudes.

our own nice little enlightened communities are not always so much better than the rest – there are plenty of men who call themselves pro feminist but still act misogynistically or homophobically. not only men of course, but the category certainly makes a case in point. some of these people think they know everything, and are not about to rethink their attitudes and behaviours, because they’ve already pondered the world, and placed themselves above the rest. they have the correct vocabulary, and the argument skills to tell you they’re right, whatever the content.

they’re always around people who would make others think, but it’s like they’re immune. how does one impress on someone, who thinks themself perfect, that they actually aren’t?

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