In Transition/Under Construction Part 3

Autostraddle is running a multipart series about perspectives on queer feminism, so I figured it would be a good time to present mine. I'm also going to throw my hat in the ring to join in for the next part if they're interested in adding a trans perspective to the mix.

Looking back on it now with my spiffy hindsight goggles, I think I was being steered towards becoming a feminist since around the time I was born. Stretched out along a timeline it really feels like part a long and difficult process that went from taking women as a whole off of a lofty pedestal to figuring out just what a woman- especially a strong one- really was and finally realizing that she is what I’d been striving my whole life to become despite that pesky penis of mine. Because of that it feels a little bit wrong to place the emphasis on the tipping point that pushed me into taking up the mantle of feminism, but I’ll get over it because I’m sure that as I continue to sort through the tangle of my identity as a transwoman and my feminist ideology I’ll get around to writing about all those little fits and starts at some point.

Growing up, my impression of feminism as an institution was split very decisively between past and present. What I didn’t understand until later was that it’s the line between first and second wave feminism. Women who fought for the vote and put lead weights in their parasols to defend themselves against the vile minions of the patriarchy were the epitome of cool because they didn’t take shit from anyone. They were never in short supply either because Canadian broadcasting has this really weird fetish for producing period dramas that take place in the Maritimes between the turn of the century and the Great Depression. They also produced “Heritage Minutes” that lionized pioneering feminists in Canadian history like the first female doctors and educators, which lead me to the naive conclusion that oppressing women went out with chamber pots and the bubonic plague.

My mother graduated from UVM and moved up to Canada to pursue a career as a dental hygienist. She enjoys her work and went back to it once my sister and I were school age and could be left with a babysitter for a couple hours a day. What I didn’t know until years later was that my mother had strongly considered joining the airforce, but changed her mind based on the terrifyingly high incidences of rape that women were subjected to by their fellow airmen.

I was raised to respect women, use a condom, and understand that abortion is not a difficult issue at all; it’s the woman’s body so it’s ultimately her decision. It was pretty much just baseline behaviors with no real stance one way or another on proactive feminism. Contemporary feminism had a really bad rep where I’m from- Calgary- at the time somewhat owing to none other than K.D. Lang, the barefoot vegan lesbian who kind of looked like a dude and was harshing the local cattle industry. I was mostly bewildered and vaguely hostile to the idea of her at the time because it seemed to be the prevailing attitude at the time and I wasn’t old enough yet to really understand. Somewhere around a decade later I’m kind of out as a transgendered vegetarian, so it turned out okay.

I was very geeky and ostracized as a teen, so every chance I got was spent escaping into comics and video games where more often than not I was following or controlling the exploits of a badass chick with big guns both real and metaphorical. There was always a definite sexual attraction there in the case of someone like Lara Croft, but I’m convinced now that I was also acting out my fantasies of leaving my boring awkward male body behind for a curvy and far superior female vessel. I drew reams of fan art of Lara back then, posting what I thought were the best bits in my locker and protesting vehemently when my classmates called it out as fap material. “It’s not that! Lara’s more than just hot, she’s awesome!” I would shout down the halls at them.

But it all came crashing down one night in 2004 when the curtain was pulled back and I finally understood the horrible truth. My gun toting heroines were a humbug, and a cruel one at that. I was directed to Gail Simone’s notorious Women in the Refrigerator polemic by a wise friend who understood very well that my notions of equal opportunity Nazi bashing were a far cry from an accurate indicator of female progress inside or outside of comics and the like.

The site, and the well known trope by the same name gets it’s name from an incident in Green Lantern where the eponymous hero- civilian name Kyle Rayner- came home from heroing to find a note from an enemy saying “I left you something in the fridge.” That something was the dismembered corpse of his girlfriend. A true fridging in the parlance of the scene occurs when a female character- usually a love interest- is maimed or killed solely to advance or add pathos to a male protagonist. It’s a widely used plot device in all manner of other media, but the combination of it’s startling ubiquity and Gail’s passion have for better or worse tied it to comics.

I thought I had done well by steering clear of the testosterone overloaded 90s antiheroes that made me dry heave at the sight of their inexplicably glowing eyes and proliferation of useless pouches and yet I was almost worse off. But despondency soon turned to hope as I discovered that female and queer comic fans- almost as a consequence of their marginalization- seem to have the best taste. Or at least the tight circle who took me in and rehabilitated me with a steady diet of provocative and intelligent material, did. Those comics in turn awakened a growing curiosity and passion for feminist and queer theory that exploded out of comics and into my entire worldview with the power of a thousand exploding suns. It was either that or the time that I was at the drug store as a kid trying to reach a copy of Mad Magazine and was bitten by the radioactive copy of Bitch that was lying in wait behind it.


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