The F Word by Shalyn Norrish

I grew up hearing my Mum talk about the ‘F’ word. It wasn’t a popular or well thought of idea. People burning bras and acting radical. She of course grew up in the second-wave of feminism, after suffragists, and into the era of protests, sit-in’s and patriarchal pushback in the 70’s and 80’s. I grew up fairly privileged by what had come before and as a child, I didn’t really realise that it had ever been different than it was for me as a white girl in small town suburbia. I didn’t feel any kind of connection to the feminist movement during this time because I didn’t really understand how it affected me.

For most of my adult life, what I knew about feminism was academic and part of history. Feminism was what other white women did to get us where we are now so that I had the opportunity to go to university, be whatever and whomever I wanted to be, have a say when it came to voting, and could move relatively freely throughout my life. It never occurred to me that I still needed feminism. I suppose it always bothered me that embedded within the first-wave feminist movement, there was a great deal of racism, in the second-wave, there was homophobia and racism. I felt disconnected from it.

The problem with historical feminism has always been the lack of representation and the way that feminism of old, championed by white straight women, excluded women of colour, lesbians, and indigenous peoples. They crusaded for feminist causes, such as being able to vote, on the backs of those they should have been including. It is an ugly and insidious part of feminist history, but one we so badly need to acknowledge if we are to move forward.

It wasn’t until I came out as a gay, genderfluid person in my early 30’s while doing my Master’s degree that I realized not only that I needed feminism as my previously understood self (a straight, cisgender white woman), but feminism was my way forward in accepting my authentic identity and self. As I was embracing each stage of myself for being gay and genderfluid, the next step was to realise that my passion for equality, human rights and intersectionality made me a feminist. In the same way that we realize we are attracted to one person or another, I came to realize I was a feminist in the same way. I found that I believed in feminism because my understanding of it had evolved, just as the movement itself had evolved. I understood not only myself, but where I stood within the movement toward equality too. I suppose it took that long, not only because I was learning about myself and learning to accept who I was, but my understanding of feminism had to change in order for me to feel like I had a place within it.

Is it odd then that I embraced feminism just as I was coming to my own understanding of someone who would have previously been excluded from it by virtue of my gender and sexual identity? No. In reality, believing in equality, in a new kind of feminism based on intersectionality, and the raising up of minorities whose voices have been historically silenced is what makes feminism of the now and of the future so beautiful and so needed.

The truth is, being genderfluid does separate me in some ways from the notion of ‘woman’ if we only consider gender in the equation. Some also consider you only a woman based on biology, chromosomes, and other limiting notions. I believe there is space within the feminist framework for transwomen, nonbinary people, cisgender people, intersex individuals, etc. I am still subjected to the same discrimination that cisgender women are subjected to because the world is binary, and it conflates gender with sex and so I am assumed to be in the category of woman based on my biology and therefore I struggle with the pay gap, with sexual harassment, with the assumption that my right to say no is worth less than a man’s right to me, to objectify me, to tell me who to be and how to dress. I am also subjected to violence and discrimination because I am not straight, because I present in a way that is not seen as normal for a perceived woman to present as. When I fill out forms for the government, I am rendered invisible because I have to identify in one of two categories that does not tell anyone who I actually am. Like all trans people, like intersex people, or anyone identifying in between male and female or outside of it, I do not exist. So why would I embrace a movement that has historically told me I am not worthy, I don’t exist, and that I cannot ‘sit at the table’? Because the way forward is together.

I believe that feminism today represents equality, intersectionality, and a bringing together, a celebration, of what makes us different. For me, I feel empowered by feminism as a genderfluid person. Feminism isn’t about my gender, it is about the ways in which I am marginalized, and how feminism seeks to unite us together to fight oppression. Feminism means that if I am a single person working and living on my own, I will get paid the same as every other single working person of my education and skills. It means that I have the right to love and marry who I choose. It means that if my future partner/wife and I choose to have children, we can. In that way, feminism empowers me, because it means that I will have the same rights as everyone else if we keep working together to give everyone equal rights.

I had the privilege of marching this January in the Women’s March, of being a part of a worldwide movement that was unprecedented and unparalleled in our history of humankind. I stood shoulder to shoulder with young and old, cisgender and transgender, people of all races and all religions, self-identified men, women, fluid, nonconforming and other gender identities. We were blessed by First Nations women who sang for us and shared their wisdom. We chanted slogans like “pussy power”, “love trumps hate”, and “the future is female”. The future is also, gay, straight, bi, pan, asexual, cis, trans, fluid, nonconforming, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Indigenous, and every single colour of the rainbow. The future is intersectional, and I am right at the center, at its very core, and so is every single one of us who believes that in spite of our differences, we can hold space together, we can let all voices be heard, and we do not have to fight for our rights by subjugating someone else.

I find inspiration in a vast array of people of varying ages, ethnic origins, and orientations. Like many feminists, I am constantly inspired by women like Gloria Steinem, Judith Butler, and bell hooks. Their impact on us and the trails that they have blazed are essential to our understanding of the intersectionality of feminism, the performative nature of gender and gender roles, as well as the way that we value women of colour in our society. I am also inspired by a younger generation of feminists who have reconceptualised what it means to be a feminist in radical and inclusive ways. I admire women like Emma Watson who leaves books on feminism and gender all over the London subway system, to encourage people to educate themselves. I am inspired by women like Julia Parsley and Emma McIlroy, the founders of Wildfang, a brand of clothing centered on women who identify outside of strict feminine confines, embracing the idea of tomboy as an expression of self. Their brand has become a movement, sparked in part by their brand of ‘Wild Feminist’ t-shirts aimed at getting women to wear their feminist ideology with pride and to push for women’s rights in all spheres. Their company is staffed almost exclusively by women, proving that women can change the narrative by allowing their feminist ideas to permeate all aspects of their lives, driving their business goals, and placing authenticity before profits.

I am also inspired by the feminists around me, the friend who has chosen bravely to embrace her body as it is, giving up conforming to societal norms of gender by refusing to shave to be ‘acceptable’ to the male gaze. To the friend who fights for reproductive rights in a country that is supposed to be first world, but places no value on the bodies of women. I am honoured to stand shoulder to shoulder with these individuals, and am inspired every day by their passion for feminism and for what this movement can do if we fully support each other.

As a genderfluid, LGBTQ person, I believe in feminism because I need it. I believe that being equal does not mean because I am white I deserve more than someone else. I believe it means I am more than the colour of my skin, my gender identity and my sexuality and so is everyone else, but it is our differences that make us beautiful, that teach us about each other and we do not have to fight for space, we can share it, equally. It means that in the future, I have a better chance of living without fear of violence or harassment because regardless of the reason for the harassment, nearly every person who considers themselves a feminist, regardless of their sex, gender, race, etc., has experienced this and believes that no one should live in fear. I believe that equality is for everyone and being a feminist, being LGBTQ and genderfluid are not mutually exclusive. I can be all those things so long as feminism is about all of us, not just some of us.

Shalyn has set up QueerSpaces which is an amazing project setting up safe spaces for LGBTQ in Summerland, Canada. Please support her pages:

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