The Tale of a Backwoods Male Feminist
I am a male feminist.
Cue the eye-brow raise and cautious cynicism.
Now, before I go on, let’s get my privilege in check.
By birth, my sex, race, and, to a degree, gender expression have afforded me a particular level of privilege. My views have never been under the glare and enclosure of a glass ceiling. When I walk into a room I am not first seen for the amount of melanin in my skin or the texture of my hair. I do not walk down the street having to worry if I am going to be harassed because the clothes I am wearing do not match the sexual organ people believe to be between my legs. I am not feared because I choose to wear a certain headdress as a symbol of my culture.
As a white, cisgender man, I possess privilege. It was the hand I was given, but thankfully, by the grace of all the gay deities, it wasn’t a straight flush.
I grew up in a small oilfield town on the boreal parkland of northern Alberta – not exactly an episode of Queer as Folk. Our most “famous” tourist attraction was a 20-foot fibreglass beaver with a smile right out of a Colgate commercial. The trucks were lifted, hunting was a celebrated past time, gender roles were largely traditional and my sexual orientation was firmly in the closet, though oft-speculated upon. Although it may seem like I would harbour resentment towards my quaint hometown, quite the contrary is true. Rather, it was a place of self-affirmation and somewhere that broadened my perspective of the marginalizing nature of masculinity and patriarchy. It taught me the crucial importance of gender equity and formed why I consider myself a feminist.
I remember seeing a home video of myself at a dreaded swimming lesson when I was 6 years old. Standing on the edge of a diving board was a boy – sporting a tie dye t-shirt, a blonde mullet only Billy Ray Cyrus could be proud of, and a flashy neon pink speedo. Tears streamed down my freckled cheeks, while I pleaded with my camcorder-wielding mother to save me. “You can do it bud!” It wasn’t only the precipice to the deep end that frightened me, but the fear of being a ‘sissy,’ or worse a ‘pussy,’ in front of the other boys in my level. You might think that with my flamboyant penchant for pink, I would find it easy to be ‘one of the boys’, well — spoiler alert — I was water and they were oil.
Often, I would make myself physically ill or fake a diarrheic drama in order to be excused from being naked in an unsupervised room of boys wanting to demonstrate their masculinity. Was it too much to ask to stay home and swoon over Austin Peck in the melodrama of Days of Our Lives, or recreate the choreography to one of the Spice Girls’ music videos in the privacy of my own bedroom?! ‘What I really, really want’-ed was to know what made me different.
It wasn’t the prospect of having to engage in physical activity that sent adrenaline surging through every vein and capillary in my body, but the fear of being called a ‘girl.’ The word would cause my palms to go damp, my heart to race, and I would pray to god, in my case Princess Diana, to make me invisible. Ok, the prayer thing was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point. I didn’t consciously dislike girls, in fact quite the opposite was true. I loved girls; my mom, my sister, grandma, my best friend forever, Marita. Hell, I even liked their barbies, their jewellery, their ability to wear pink, and their nurturing kindness. Still, being called a "girl" was humiliating because it implied that I didn’t belong to my own gender. The teasing may seem innocent and typical to some, but it is a direct illustration of how pervasive misogyny is in society.
I busied myself with painting and reading atlases for fun (I’m assuming you realized I was not on my way to becoming a secondary school socialite). Years later, puberty unfortunately brought acne and awkwardness, though also a defined jawline and growing facial hair. Was I finally going to be a "boy" or even a "man"?! Unfortunately, no. It was out with “girl” and in with “gay.” Different words, but both weaponized with the exact same intent: to emasculate, to devalue, to otherize.
Not long ago, I returned to my hometown for Christmas. I had moved away for university and it had been nearly 6 years since I made my grand, possibly flamboyant, escape. I had tagged along with a friend to the one and only lounge in town for the annual Festivus celebration. My friend, a true socialite darling, worked the room in an effortless dance of lipstick, tattoos, and feistiness. On the other end of the social spectrum you have yours truly, sipping back a double whiskey-coke and wondering why all small town taverns have a blasphemous infatuation with carpet flooring. To my surprise it was casual and not as nerve-wracking as I initially thought. However, in the washroom I relived history with a showering of colourful language and slur-laden threats simply by being in the same space as some former classmates wanting to assert their masculinity. There was definitely some airing of grievances.
While my ‘grand’ return wasn’t welcomed by the restroom evangelists, my evening at Festivus does not represent the moral integrity of my hometown and all of its people. I promise, many of them are wonderful, generous, open-minded folks. Yes, sometimes it can be as charming and sweet as Stars Hollow. However, it does demonstrate that bigotry is a timeless tradition, particularly in rural, conservative areas (Middle America I’m looking at you). The LGBTQ2S community may have made great strides in the eyes of the law, but social prejudice runs deep. For all the ‘progress’ that people see in the media, there are social mores that don’t evaporate overnight just because a bunch of queers are granted the right to marry one another. Sure, visibility is increased, but that doesn’t mean the marginalization and social alienation do not still exist.
I mention the personal anecdotes because homophobia is an inextricable product of misogyny. They are two sides of the very same coin. Men and women are expected to fit into oppositional binaries of gender performance based on their assumed reproductive organs. Enter patriarchy: a club of male supremacy where penises are put on a pedestal (unless on the bodies of those who express their gender on the feminine side of the spectrum) and misogyny serves as the manifesto. Women, and everything ‘feminine’, are held in contempt.
The foundation of masculinity is situated upon its opposition to femininity. Male gender identity is based on being not female, producing a state of constant insecurity and the need to constantly prove oneself worthy of being part of the macho club; “you throw like a girl,” “take it like a man,” “boys don’t cry.” Expressions like these are so common and normalized that nearly every one of us has heard one or another at some point in our life. Gay men are stereotyped to be emotional, gentle, well-groomed, and domestic. Often assumed to be stylish fashion trend queens, with an interest in interior design, and to know all the words to every Broadway showtune. These are all ridiculous stereotypes, but there is the perception that gay men engage in behaviours that we are socialized to perceive as feminine, and such behaviours are epitomised in the act of having sexual relations with masculine, assumed cisgender, men.
God forbid you wear a pink speedo to swimming lessons or start a fan website dedicated to your favourite flame-haired Spice Girl! C’mon what’s wrong with girl power?
“Girl,” “gay,” and “faggot” carried so much meaning when they fell upon my ears because they were meant to disempower. To strip me of what I had been conditioned to think was the basis of my self-worth in society. As an openly gay and sometimes effeminate male, I do not meet all of the qualifications of what it takes to be a ‘man’s man.’
My frankness may arouse the infamous male fragility and, to be perfectly honest, I truly hope it does. Men (largely heteronormative men and the women who align with them) need to acknowledge the uneven distribution of power in society based on sex and associated gender performance. To recognize patriarchy as a system of male supremacy. Until then we will have shy, little gay boys growing up, silently taking abuse and wondering if there is a way out. We will have little girls thinking they don’t possess the strength and skill to reach the highest political office. We will have transgender individuals fighting to use a public washroom. We will have sexual assault survivors thinking it’s their fault that they were raped.
Every time I hear a dude-bro taunt a friend with a sexist jab or someone casually sling around a homophobic slur it makes me thankful to be a feminist and support others who are. I feel indebted to the women who, every day of their life, are presented with messages, both subliminal and blatant, that their femininity is not held in the same regard as masculinity expressed by cisgender men in particular. These messages reinforce that, by virtue of their physical being and gender expression, they are not equal to men, or deserving of the same political, economic, and social power.
While I could probably channel my inner Dolly and write a woeful country ballad about growing up in the backwoods of Alberta, I truly feel empowered by my experience. Fighting through the self-hatred, the fear of abuse, and the feeling of displacement during my adolescence (and even now), opened my eyes to a fight extending beyond my own naïve selfishness. The immense insignificance I feel as I look at the strong women in my life, their global counterparts and the feminist allies who fight every god damn day for basic humanity and equality. The, immense stamina, strength, and courage of these women is not only motivating, but nothing short of heroic.
There is often a false assumption that feminism is about hatred and/or discrimination targeting cisgender, masculine identifying men. Feminism is about equity for all people, regardless of gender identity, gender expression, and sex. It is about ridding ourselves of the limited masculine-feminine dichotomy. It is about equal co-existence.
I am a feminist … because I know that out there somewhere is a shy, awkward little gay boy growing up in a backwoods small town who is frightened and confused by the world around him. A feminist, so he can understand there is no shame, no self-hatred, and nothing wrong with being a so-called "faggot."