My Gender History as a Feminist Consciousness Raising Experience

Posted: July 14, 2013 in feminist history

I was born into the cultural ferment that began in America in the Fall of 1967. The Student Movement was turning towards Marxist-Leninist insurrection. The liberal Civil Rights movement had given way to the armed revolutionary message of Huey Newton and Oakland’s Black Panther Party. And, in New York City, the early Women’s Liberation Movement was reinterpreting Marx and Engels’ analysis of the bourgeoisie and proletariat into the Patriarchy Theory of male as the oppressor class and female as the oppressed class. The New York Women’s Liberation Movement adopted Black Liberation’s Consciousness Raising (CR) as their primary means of organizing. CR-groups are sort of a cross between the Gestalt encounter groups that were mushrooming across California and Mao’s 1930s, ‘Bitterness Speaking’ method of empowering Chinese peasant women to organize against and depose the corrupt patriarchs who had traditionally ruled chinese villages. This form of early Radical Feminism has been called CR-Feminism, and it came up with the slogan ‘The Personal is The Political’ which meant that every aspect of your life and relationships is subject to feminist analysis. CR-Group Feminism hit my household in a big way around 1977, when my three year older sister and my mother converted to feminism. I converted to male feminist identity, which partly meant that I learned to hate myself for being male and to feel superior to other males who did not share my self hatred.
Male Feminism was my creed for decades, until 2009 when I began a personal journey of gender exploration. My gender identity first destabilized in a series of encounter groups up in a California, hippie hotsprings which had begun life as as a Gestalt encounter group commune in the early seventies. These groups eventually led me to question my own male identity and to take on a series of gender-variant identities, culminating in a new identity as a transgender lesbian and radical feminist. I lived for a year in queer women’s separatist space and avoided all contact with ‘cisgender’ straight males. Looking back, I see my trans-lesbian identity as a both continuation and a radicalization of my earlier Male Feminist identity.
One point of continuity between my Male Feminist and Trans-Feminist identities was my dedication to revolutionary cultural change. I was raised to think of myself as growing up in a very barbaric time and place. I became ‘political’ around 1978 in Salt Lake City, Utah. I grew up in a Mormon theocracy, during the Reagan Revolution. I clung to atheism and feminism to give me self worth in a society where I was seen as ‘lesser.’ I learned to be prejudiced against men and I wanted to destroy the patriarchal society. I wanted the whole theocracy to come tumbling down, in a kind of millenarian, feminist-secularist apocalypse. Similarly, when I transitioned gender, I embraced programs of radical social reconstruction. I first explored a transsexual, lesbian feminism that became popular after Oakland’s Julia Serano published ‘The Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity’ in 2007. I held a transsexual identity for three, very artistically active, but brutal months. In this identity, I extended my earlier hatred of men to include my own male body. The feelings of anger and oppression were the similar but I interpreted them through the lens of my body image. My mindset was remarkably similar. It was a bourgeois, sense of victimhood that Nietzsche correctly analyzed as ressentiment or ‘slave morality,’ an identification with your own marginalization and ‘wounded attachment’ to the oppressor who you dream of destroying.
My childhood male feminism, was limited by my male identification, I did not see myself as ‘the revolutionary subject,’ in contrast to my later transsexual feminism. Back in Utah, my Mormon oppressors fought for traditional gender roles, the girls played with dolls and the boys played sports. I embraced radical feminist ideas of gender as socially constructed in order to feel ok about myself. At home, I was socialized by my mother and sister not to be a ‘typical’ boy. This become part of my identity toolkit, a boy who was not like other boys. The problem with this is that it is not a positive identity. I was still a boy, but a boy who failed all tests of masculinity. I identified with what I was not and I was depoliticized. Fast forward 30 years to Bay Area, and I am myself experiencing oppression first hand as a trans* person. This experience of fighting against my own oppression was radically different from the depoliticized position of being a non-conforming male. I myself became the marxist ‘Revolutionary Subject,’ rather than simply being a self-hating male. This brought about a period of intense artistic creativity and political activism. For me the Personal had also become the Political. Now the Male oppressor was catcalling me on the street and I was no longer safe walking alone when dressing how I wanted to dress. My revolutionary consciousness was intensified when I learned that transwoman-hating lesbian feminists ruled the roost in Bay Area radical feminism, and they were willing to resort to violence to keep control. This experience of the hypocrisy of other feminist activists burned away my residual guilt. Basically, in the end I learned to revalue myself with my own mix of gender-variance and maleness, which was a radical break from my childhood prejudices and internalized hatreds.
The continuity in this gender journey comes from the radical nature of the dream, the vision of millennial transformation, which I have never lost. The difference is how I learned to recognize and act on my own oppression, rather than feeling shame and guilt for the actions of others.

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