There have been numerous posts about the issue of consent on DDP. This is not surprising given how horrifyingly common sexual assault is and how pervasive rape culture can be. Hopefully by now many people have been exposed to the idea of positive consent: it’s not enough to just stop if you hear a “no,” it’s also necessary to check in and receive a clear, preferably verbal “yes.” However, being committed to a culture of consent requires another responsibility: recognizing the implicit power dynamics that are present in all relationships.
This post contains text below the jump that may not be safe for work.
For the most part, dating a transgender person is no different from dating a cisgender person (someone who identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth). But if you are a cis person dating a trans person, there are some things you should keep in mind that may not have come up in your previous relationships with other cis people.
I am a polyamorous queer cisgender woman, and nearly half of all the lovers I’ve had have been transgender. I take this as a compliment: like everyone I make mistakes, but I figure I’m doing something right if so many trans* people have chosen to welcome me into their hearts. Keeping in mind that I’ve by no means covered every topic, here’s what I’ve learned about being a good cis partner to trans people I date.
1. Recognize that your partner’s identity may change over time
This is important to keep in mind even if you’re dating a cis person, because anyone can discover something new about their gender identity. I’m dating a cis woman whose partner of nearly a year identified as a cis man for most of their relationship. Recently, though, they have started to identify as transgender. My girlfriend has struggled to adapt – in fact, I have been more consistent about her partner’s preferred gender-neutral pronouns than she has, because I met them after they came out as trans, while my girlfriend has known them as male for the majority of their relationship. But respecting your partner’s changing identity is key to maintaining a healthy relationship, and my girlfriend has been learning to embrace her partner’s feminine identity as it develops alongside their masculine identity.
2. Correct people who misgender your partner
I run into this issue a lot, because my partner uses they/their/them pronouns, and many people are not familiar with using the singular they as a gender-neutral pronoun for people they know. It can be awkward sometimes. I talk about my partner with the correct pronouns, but most everyone knows I’m queer and automatically uses “she” to refer to them because they think I only date female-identified people. Sometimes this happens with people I’ve only just met. Even so, no matter how awkward I feel, I always step up and tell people to use the correct pronouns to talk about them. If it’s awkward for me, I imagine how much worse it is for my partner to have to correct people about themself. As someone with the protection of cisgender privilege, it is my responsibility to help my partner be respected as the gender they are.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Disrupting Dinner Parties is intended as a space where discussion, even disagreement, lead to a fuller understanding of issues. Like all our posts, this article represents the opinion of its author, not of “DDP” as a monolithic entity. In fact, this post generated heated discussion among the editors, which you can see in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Long ago, when I first started dancing, my local scene was full of non-consensual touch*. Friends told me terrible stories of how they had been groped, grinded, ass-smacked, neck-nuzzled, or even licked non-consensually on the dance floor. I was shocked, but believed wholeheartedly. I had seen a fair share of these behaviors with my own two eyes; however, from outside the dance-partnership, I had no way of knowing whether it was consensual or not.
Here’s a question: why the fuck can’t I complain about my period to anyone and everyone? In the filing cabinet of the subtle ways in which sexism shapes our lives, I feel the unofficial ban on talking about your period deserves a folder. Women do talk about their periods, of course; but it seems to me that this only happens with freedom and nonchalance when in the company of exclusively other women. Or at least this has been my experience ever since I first got my period, at the ripe age of 16; every time I mentioned it in front of other people, my sister – always the guardian of what is appropriate and polite – would shoot me a look and sometimes even growl silently at me through her teeth. To this day, when I whine about it on facebook, she leaves messages to the extent of “what am I going to do with you?”
But of course, there is no reason why we ought not to talk about our periods. They can play a major role in our day when they are at their height, especially when they are painful or otherwise inconvenient. Yet for some reason we are supposed to remain discreet about them in certain company; you’re not supposed to mention to anyone other than a relatively good friend that you are having awful cramps, for example – yet such rules do not apply to other comparable debilitations, such as headaches. Indeed, it feels sometimes as though we are supposed to pattern our behavior during our menstrual cycles on the lighthearted and “feminine” packaging of tampons and pads – nothing but sunshine and flowers here!, don’t worry!
The written and spoken word are the essence of power. This week, I have been especially inspired by the awe-some and complex worlds that artists of the word have created. I do not want to talk about why the word is amazing or how beautiful, wrenching or clarifying it is; I believe that to be self-evident. I also need not go on about how such texts should be read on the daily, in order to return to us our humanity and point of perspective. Instead I humbly put forth three poems, by three master women poets, which have moved me. They are “It was not Death, for I stood up” by Emily Dickinson, “Mock Orange” by Louise Gluck, and “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. I encourage you to take this Friday to reflect. Read the poems once, or twice or read one of the poems five times. I hope they inspire you as much as they have me. If you know of any more poems that should be read, please feel free to add them. Without further ado…
It may be an understatement that white cis-hetero bros, en masse, haven’t always been the best allies of feminism. So when this comic from College Humor (also not particularly a bastion of social justice advocacy) started showing up EVERYWHERE on my dash I was…cautious. Continue reading
We’ve demonstrated quite a few times here at DDP that we’re particularly adamant in the belief that words matter. Language can shape how we feel about ourselves, how others perceive us, and even the tone and course of societal ideas. Language can be used to uplift individuals and communities, organize and inspire entire social movements, devastate our emotions, and yes, even as a tool for dehumanization.
Language is particularly important to social justice movements because it’s often used as one of the most insidious forms of oppression. Hurtful and oppressive language has been and is used by explicit racists, misogynists, and LGBTQIA-antagonists to assert superiority and to actively erode the will, mental health, and perceived humanity of the groups they antagonize. Thankfully the number of those people is shrinking (though can still absolutely be found, and are still a danger in our society), as is our general tolerance of the hate that they profess.
But oppressive and offensive language is commonly used by implicit oppressors as well, meaning people that say “lighten up” or “that’s just the way it is”. People who cling to biological determinism or who “don’t see race”. Everyday sexism, benevolent sexism, and microaggressions of all kinds can fall under this category. Implicit oppressors usually “don’t mean to offend or oppress” but that plausible deniability is what makes it so insidious. By not challenging the norms of an unequal society AND using language that apes or reinforces explicit oppressors we are only allowing that oppressive society to persist.
I’d like to talk now about one particular linguistic tweak that we can all make that will help us on the path to not being implicit oppressors, and that’s “people-first language”. Now, if you’re already familiar with this concept and are about to close this browser tab please stick around because I hope to also provide some nuance and complexity to the subject that you’ll appreciate! Continue reading
“There’s no positive feminist alternative to the Disney model of romance,” an old friend told me late one night.
As is not unusual in conversations with me, the topic of feminism had come up, and I’d asked him whether he thought gender roles were a good thing. He responded by sharing a story of his own heartbreak: a relationship that ended after moving in together and falling into a pattern of contentious discussions about who should be responsible for which chore.
My friend seemed to be implying that gender roles make things easier, that the feminist model of each couple negotiating for themselves was more work. “We spent all our time in negotiations about living together, instead of just enjoying living together.”
I pointed out that it was more work for him to talk about it, but probably less work for her because the continuing inequality in household chore breakdowns means that, statistically speaking, women who don’t specifically negotiate otherwise tend to end up with an unfairly large chore burden. And of course, relying on gender roles for divvying up household chores only works for couples with one man and one woman.
Nevertheless, I think there was value in my friend’s observation about a feminist alternative to the typical romance narrative. It was a revelation to me, perhaps because I live in a bit of a feminist bubble: I think there is a feminist story of love, and perhaps we just have to do a better job of spreading it.
This is a guest post by Page Gramsci.
During a family vacation a few weeks ago, my brother-in-law was having a conversation with my father about a Bill Bryson book. He was extolling the virtues of Bryson’s ability to explain a complex subject when my father, apparently bored with discussion, changed topics suddenly.
“You know what someone should explain in a book which would make them tons of money?” he asked, pausing for dramatic effect while my sister and I, seated a few feet away at the kitchen counter and furtively trying to derail this interruption by remaining silent and refusing to provide the expected “What?” waited warily for his reply – “Someone should write a book explaining women to men.”
Silence and irritated blinking followed. In one of those split second decisions we make every day – those gambles about whether to intervene and speak up about something problematic we’ve heard, and thus risk exploding the space and soiling everyone’s mood or, instead, to just grumble deeply in one’s throat and let it slide for the sake of not having to deal with said explosion – I decided to try to register dissent in a frame that my father would find difficult to immediately dismiss; by pointing out that not all men think like he does.
“You should just ask Tim [my boyfriend,]” I replied. “He understands women perfectly.”
“I highly doubt that,” was my father’s initial response.
“Well it is not that difficult, you know.” I continued. “You just start with understanding people and then you’re pretty much done.”
Perhaps irritated by the snark that had creeped into my tone – “it’s only a matter of time before she starts talking like that,” I imagine most of my conservative family members think to themselves – Dad quickened his retort and heightened his own tone of derision.
“Just because he agrees with you does not mean that he understandings you” – a comment which is only made explicable by the back history of Tim and I spending endless hours in political conversation with my father, each of us alternatively trying different strategies to push him along to perspectives we share. Still, the assertion was still baffling, and my brain rapidly tried to untangle the logic that could have produced such a reply. Was he suggesting that my political positions are merely products of the logic of Tim, and although I concur with him on most major points of politics, the process by which I do so is still somehow mysterious? And why was he focusing on my political views as what I was referring to when I claimed Tim understands me? Was the concept of Tim also understanding my emotional needs and states so preposterous to father that he assumed, somewhere in his head, that I simply meant Tim understands my intellectual positions? Or was he simply feeling backed into a corner, an experience that reminded him of many two-against-one conversations with the pair of us that was his most immediate reference for our mutual understanding?
Unable to solve the riddle in a matter of mere seconds, I simply said, “I have no idea what that even means,” and went on to clarify, “there has never been a time when Tim was not understanding about my feelings or experiences and did not listen to me closely to make sure he was understanding me correctly.”
At this point, my father’s defensiveness somehow melted – perhaps because, aware as he is of the very happy state of my relationship, his pleasure at seeing his daughter well-treated overcame his desire to win an argument about gender normativity – and as he nodded sincerely he said, “That must be really nice, it really must be.”
“Indeed, it is,” I grinned, and, mercifully, the conversation came to an end. But although it was brief, the exchange was so packed with absurdity and mutual bewilderment that it highlighted, like perhaps few short exchanges ever do, the vast ocean that separates the way someone like my father – a conservative white male baby boomer – and someone like me – a thirty year old white feminist leftist – think about relationships between men and women.
Ok, so you’ve worked on your refusal skills: you’ve practiced saying “No” or “Stop” –with a supportive friend or to random objects in your house like a pillow or the siracha bottle.
Nevertheless, you are still worried about your ability to stand your ground and say “No” to a real person, in a real situation, where you really want to lay down your boundaries. Why?
Perhaps you are afraid that this real person (I’ll call them the “seeker”) won’t respect your ‘No’. They may hassle you, call you names, or behave in some other stupid, cowardly, hurtful manner.
“Ok,” you tell yourself, “that’s gonna be unpleasant, but I can handle it. That hypothetical ‘seeker’ is obviously a freakin’ asshole. I would obviously have the high ground. I’d be able to hold and defend my ‘No’.”
But what if instead, upon hearing your refusal, the seeker says something like, “Y’know… you aren’t being reasonable here”?
Maybe it’s the fear that our “reasoning” or “fairness” will be challenged that really keeps us silent. We’re afraid we may have to defend not only our boundaries, but our very selves as sane and rational.
Sometimes it goes even deeper. Sometimes we ourselves have internalized the idea that it IS unreasonable to expect our boundaries to be respected in certain situations.
This questioning of whether our boundaries are “reasonable” or “appropriate” is far more complex and insidious than simple disrespect. Rationality, the very ground on which you stand, is being attacked. This is what I like to call a patronizing argument.