Book got me thinkin’: ‘Sissy’ by Jacob Tobia and intersectional feminism

I have a confession to make.

[awkward silence]

I was afraid I might be trans-phobic. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t it want to be true. I mean, me? A firm believe in intersectional feminism? But, I couldn’t buy into the traditional trans narrative. It felt to me that (1) we are letting trans-women define what ‘women’ is for the rest of us, and (2) we were reducing what a woman is to clothes and make up. What I was hearing was: “I always wanted to wear dresses and play with barbies; I wore my mother’s make up behind her back, so I knew I was a girl… When I came of age, I took hormones, had THE surgery and now I am a woman.” Or “woman is not about vaginas and having babies”. Well, that is not the center of our identity, but surely, many many women (including some trans-women) do have vaginas. So, when the discourse around gender and feminism, in my opinion, should have been driven by shattering the shackles of gender-policing and gender-conforming, it was actually diluting our identity as women to… just the ‘feeling’ of being a woman. I felt that “I feel like a woman, thus I am a woman” did not take into account the fights and struggles that come with being a woman. I felt that trans-women were not owning their privilege; that privilege comes with society assigning them a gender that is indeed favored and dominant, even if it is against their own will. Plus, I felt that the whole transqueer narrative was ignoring trans-men. Media focuses on gay men to show its inclusiveness, while lesbian women continue to be used as sexual objects. Media was focusing on trans-women and their path, while the stories of trans-men were ignored; not glamorous enough to make headlines. So, patriarchy was still working against women and those considered by society to be women in denial of their identity.

“Sissy”, Jacob Tobia’s memoir about growing up queer and their struggle to become this powerful, glamorous, inspiring person, changed my mind. It opened my eyes. I don’t say this often, or ever, but it made me feel redeemed. It changed my life.

Tobia showed me that the media’s focus on the traditional narrative also hurts the whole movement. The traditional narrative may be true for part of the community, but it does not encompass the whole spirit. It is not only about trans-women and their journey, but the essence is gender non-conformity. Gender roles and gender-norms are patriarchal in nature and the spectrum of non-conformity is wide. It is wide enough for the stories of transwomen who are uber-feminine, trans-men who are androgynous and everything in between. The genderqueer community’s struggle to be free to define themselves, to be themselves in private and public, is not antagonistic to intersectional feminism; it is not about defining what makes a woman a woman, but in essence part of the same fight for equality and against the oppression of patriarchy. 

Tobias won me over when they recognized that when society considers you male, it comes with privilege. But it comes a very high cost. It comes at the cost of completely denying who you are, hiding yourself. It is true that women face an obvious disadvantage and discrimination, and that the gender-pay-gap is real, but we can go onto an interview being who we are (even if toned down). We don’t have to pretend to conform with a gender that we find oppressing. So, is it really privilege? I think the cost they pay greatly exceeds any possible benefits.

So, I am converted. It was truly an enlightening read that I cannot recommend enough.



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