Faggot, pussy, and sissy are all words I’m too familiar with. They have been present in my life for as long as I can remember, and not only because people have applied them to me. Unfortunately, I used these slurs throughout the majority of my life.
I was raised, like many other people, in a cisheteronormative household. Boys were supposed to be tough so they could grow up into men, and girls were supposed to be polite so they could grow up into women; when they grew up, they were supposed to marry each other.
When I broke from the many gender stereotypes that were applied to me – an occurrence that happened more often than not – those slurs were the consequence. I wish I could say that I used them only in an effort to fit in, but that wouldn’t be entirely truthful. I had internalized the cisheteronormative standards I was raised with, and those slurs became a part of my vocabulary.
My ignorance has never been bliss. Throughout my journey to discover that I am genderqueer, trans feminine, and queer, I often felt as if I was doing more damage – to myself and those around me – than I was growth. Looking back, the person that I used to be is not someone I would feel comfortable around today. My behavior was hateful, my words were violent, and my thought process was oppressive.
A lot of people seem to think that transgender people can’t be transphobic, or that gay people can’t be homophobic. This is simply not true. People internalize their oppression, and they replicate the hatred that these ideologies teach. This was a large part of my journey, and I’m willing to bet the same is true for a lot of other people too.
I want to share three important reflections from my journey: how misogyny is the root of the problem, the ways internalized oppression affected myself and others, and how I became the genderqueer activist I am today.
The Root: Shaming Femininity
The most important truth I’ve learned is that the root of homophobia and transphobia is misogyny. Homophobia and transphobia are symptoms of a central cultural practice: the shaming of femininity, and the glorification of masculinity. While there are a ridiculous amount of examples I could talk about, I’ll demonstrate how misogyny became a part of my life.
I first came out of the closet in high school; well, sort of. I was an awkward Mormon kid trying to figure out my sexuality and still make sure that I grew up into the “man” I was supposed to be. When I couldn’t reconcile being gay and being a man, I went back in the closet. I broke up with my effeminate boyfriend as a way to distance myself from femininity and homosexuality. Then, I turned deeper to my faith, went through ex-gay counseling, and joined the Army. I immersed myself in hypermasculine, anti-queer cultures, hoping that they would “fix” me.
Thankfully, I didn’t buy into the self-hate crap they were encouraging. When I came out the second time, I had been in the military for a year and a half. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was still in place, but I was done being ashamed of who I was. I started to slowly come out to friends and family, and I lived out and proud after the repeal of DADT. I wish I could say that everything changed there, but it didn’t.
My internalization of of cisheteronormativity, and my desire to be accepted as a “gay man” in the hypermasculine, anti-queer world in which I lived led me to shame femininity. This coping mechanism, this internalized oppression, helped ward off some of the homophobia I experienced in the military. More important to my younger self’s journey to acceptance was the discovery that the shaming of femininity was a normal, even encouraged, part of the mainstream LGBT movement. I learned that misogyny is not exempt from communities of gender and sexual deviants; it is a powerful norm.
The Symptom: Internalized Oppression
My journey, like many others, was largely about acceptance. I wanted society to look at me as a “successful man” first, and as a “gay man” second. In essence, I wanted to assimilate.
How do you assimilate into a hypermasculine, anti-queer society? Simple: you shame femininity; you celebrate hypermasculinity; you mock queerness for the benefit of cisgender, heterosexual people; you invite “friends” and “potential friends” to degrade your identity; and you take what you can get.
I became a symptom of misogyny, an unnecessary replicator of hatred. When I internalized my oppression as a “gay man,” I sought acceptance by identifying with the ideology that was facilitating that oppression, adding to the oppression of others.
With this thought process, I began to make fun of effeminate men and transgender people, and I reduced women to stereotypes. My words became a form of violence against all that was not hypermasculine, all that did not imitate heterosexuality, all that could not be confined by gender categories. In short, I was a hateful hypocrite who desperately wanted acceptance, but denied it to others who did not adhere to the standard I was struggling to reach myself.
This time in my life can be embodied by one idea: groupthink. As a “gay man” (and a queer, non-binary transgender person who was not yet aware of my identity), I played multiple roles in the groupthink scenario. I was often the offender, perpetuating homophobia and transphobia through my misogynistic jokes and behaviors. Many times I was the bystander, complicit in these actions by remaining silent. I also hoped that my silence would further assimilate me so that I could be accepted. Most often, however, I was a victim of these thoughts and actions. My growth was inhibited by my beliefs about masculinity and femininity, and I brought harm to my identity in all of these roles.
As a genderqueer, trans feminine, queer person, my homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny affected me deeply for years. However much I suffered though, I was not the ultimate victim. Other LGBTQIA+ people, as well as cisgender women, were negatively affected by my actions. Being the main, if not only, queer person in a lot of my colleagues’ lives, I encouraged misogyny as somewhat of a “queer authority.” I became the justification for other peoples’ transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny.
“Acceptance,” Education, and Accountability
If you’ve read this far, you may very well dislike, or even hate, the person I used to be. I may have hurt you directly, or I may have led to you being hurt. This leads me to the reason I decided to share this part of my story – accountability. I certainly don’t want your hatred, but I won’t pretend like I have always been the intersectional, queer feminist that I am today. I want to be honest, and to encourage other people to be honest as well.
The biggest symptom of misogyny is the shaming of femininity. We need to overcome this. We need to get past the shame so that we can have honest conversations about the root problems that cause much of the pain and oppression in our society.
One of the main reasons I perpetuated misogyny was to seek acceptance. My ignorance led me to be a symptom, hoping that I would fit in and be accepted. That search for acceptance by misogynists, transphobes, and homophobes fueled my self-hate. It also prevented me from expressing myself how I felt most comfortable, and from challenging societal ideas about sex, sexuality, and gender.
This shift away from my old self came largely through the the body positivity movement, among other positivity movements. I learned about reclaiming what had been degraded by society, and the importance of self-care and self-love. Most of these ideas have their roots in Black Feminist Theory and the women of color feminist movements of the mid- to late-twentieth century. Learning from their struggles with societal standards, I began to accept myself for who I was, rather than search for acceptance from a society that wanted to shame those parts of me that I loved.
These positivity movements sparked a change in me. I wanted to learn more about stigmas, which led me to learn about norms, which led me to learn about oppression. The more educated I became about these issues, and the more experiences I had to draw from, the more I changed. The tipping point happened after I had started college, but while I was still in the military. I started to see the discrepancies between what I was learning and the ideologies perpetuated in the military. This led me to make a commitment to unlearn the oppression that had saturated my life.
Upholding a commitment like that is more difficult than it sounds. Overall, it means keeping yourself accountable. This is perhaps the most difficult thing to do. You have to reevaluate all of your words, phrases, and actions. You have to think more carefully before you speak to develop good habits. You have to correct yourself when you use oppressive language, make a negative remark, and do something that adds to the ideological problems in society.
Another important aspect of accountability is addressing the past. Once I realized how harmful my behavior was, I reached out to those I knew were affected by my past self to make amends for past wrongs. Perhaps equally important, I actively praised those who helped me to change, simultaneously acknowledging their contributions and the mistakes I had corrected.
The Constant Struggle
There is a difference between dwelling on the past and reflecting on the past. We must constantly reflect on the past, look for mistakes, figure out if we have changed, and make a plan if we haven’t. While this won’t erase the damage that has been done, it is necessary to create a better future.
One thing we must recognize, despite all of the hatred we encounter, is that we are strong. No matter where you are in your journey, you have emerged through many experiences of (self) hatred, and you deserve to celebrate that. However, there is always room for growth. I urge you to reflect on your past and present. As you learn more, you will be able to better articulate problematic thought patterns and behavior; we all will.
Above all, I have learned to be compassionate. It’s easy to hate the person who is transphobic, homophobic, and misogynistic. I have had that very reaction on multiple occasions. While that hatred is a valid feeling and reaction to the oppression they are perpetuating, it is important to recognize that they are the symptom, not the cause. This is not meant to inspire pity or disregard – they are still very wrong, and they need to be held accountable. But this understanding must be factored into the accountability process, no matter how difficult that is.
I won’t pretend that I changed overnight, or that it was an easy change. I didn’t, and it wasn’t. But it was a necessary change. Not only for my own sake, but for the safety, comfort, and happiness of others. That is the power of activism. There is beauty in seeing yourself change. There is power in knowing that you can control that change. There is peace knowing that your change can help other people.