And—in my wildest dreams—to boys and men as well.
What I did not consider—and this is totally a result of my socialization—is that the world is made up of more than women and men, boys and girls. In writing Cunt, I completely overlooked the realities of gender-variant people.
This was brought to my attention a year after Cunt came out.
At the 1999 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, issues of transgender inclusion exploded within the queer community. As the story goes, some trannyladies attended the festival that year, thus defying the festivals Womyn Born Womyn policy. While one of the trans-gressors was taking a shower, other festival attendees saw her dick and people freaked out and started running around screaming “There are PENISES on The Land!!!”
(I am not making this up.)
A few months after this brouhaha, I started being questioned about what my position on trans-inclusion was. In particular, some readers had problems with the sentence, All women have cunts, which appeared in the introduction to the first edition and led many trans-folks to feel expressly (and rightfully) excluded from Cunt.
The events in Michigan set off a firestorm, and I was pressured to defend my book in ways Id never anticipated. I was confused—kicking myself for inadvertently alienating an entire sector of humanity, and at the same time, being patient because learning never ends.
Learning is endless.
A woman named Zabrina Aleguire from the wonderful land of North Carolina wrote me a long, incredibly intelligent email about gender and trans-inclusion.
Here is an excerpt:
Tearing through your book Cunt was incredible for me—an experience Ive wanted to share with many other gals. Id like to thank you for helping me get back in touch with my body, my passion, my silliness and my fighting feminism. Your book helped inspire me and some other cunt-lovin women to resurrect womens health and art collectives, in the tradition of groups like Magical Pussy from Chapel Hill
In addition to letting you know how much your words have inspired, ignited and entertained me and my friends, I want to share some thoughts about an omission from Cunt. What Im talking about is transgender identity and gender nonconformity. In the intro to the book I was stopped short by the words womankind is varied and vast. But we all have cunts. (6).
Do we? I thought. Arent there women without cunts? Or, what about the tranny boys in my life who have cunts but dont consider themselves women—despite years of assigned female gender? I wanted their inclusion in this declaration of independence, this feminist manifesto. And yet, the anatomical jewel which unites us all (6) and the only common denominator that all women irrefutably share (11) didnt seem to imply that room for inclusion.
Ill tell you about my experience being a bridesmaid in my friends huge country-club, limousine-princess, you dont want to know how much I paid for this gown wedding. It was the first wedding Id been to since coming out the year before and subsisting on a really small salary doing queer activist work. By the time we reached the reception, I was feeling so strange amongst the wealth and heterosexism that I was almost physically ill. But I burst into a smile when I saw our waitress Joy. Noticeably a male-to-female trans-woman, Joy had short hair, a bunch of earrings, long press-on nails and a long, pleated black skirt. She was our headwaiter for the wedding party table, and I felt relieved and a little less isolated to know I wasnt the only queer in the ballroom.
Then other guests noticed her. Little cousins and the groomsmen began whispering, pointing and asking, Is it a boy? Is it a girl? Then she became a snicker, a joke, a snide remark. Some were weirded out. Some were appalled. Some were disgusted. Toward the end of the evening the intoxicated matron of honor, Cynthia, exploded, I dont know what the hell hes doing! Im gonna call him George. Why does he call himself Joy? It must give him joy to wear a skirt. She spat her words: Hes sick!That man/woman whatever. I stood by stunned and pissed off by such a venomous diatribe against Joy, who was quite lovelyand a helluva good waiter at that. Looking back I wish I had asked Cynthia what made her so angry. Instead, I have just been wondering the question on my own since.
My guess is that Cynthia was feeling it that weekend—the pressure of conformity. Compared to the bride, nothing about herself must have felt good enough—not her house, her car, her job, her husband, her family, her appearance. Damn, I was feeling it too—inadequacy, comparison, even shame. And there was Joy, intentionally, blatantly not conforming in an environment where Cynthia required it of herself and doubted her own worth among the wealth, beauty and (perceived) acceptance of those around her. This experience illustrated to me how we stick to gender conformity as strongly as, if not stronger than, any other norms. We get hell when we—as women or men or trans or androgynous people—diverge from those norms. Its in these moments that I see how tightly feminism, queer and trans liberation are connected.
Our cultures stringent male/female gender codes are inextricably linked to our oppression as women, our materialistic capitalist culture, and the rigidity and denial of self-expression that is characteristic of white people (particularly those holding on to significant power). We are culturally accepted and even celebrated if we stay within established power differentiation. Thats how Cynthia gets hers—being a seasoned hetero beauty. That makes her better than people like Joy. How dare Joy challenge the system that Cynthia knows deep down has gotten her at least somewhere, with a husband, a sorority membership for life and a home of her own away from that crowded middle-class house of her childhood in the Midwest.
In my mind it makes sense for feminists and progressive transgender folks to be united—and in many of our communities this is the case. But there is still such serious division, as we see from the Michigan Womens Festival. I think its work like yours that can help bridge this division. Clearly there needs to be more challenge put to feminist communities who dont acknowledge trans-identity as authentic, as well as to transgender communities who dont engage with gender privilege and oppression. From what I have observed, your ability to inspire cuntlove in so many people makes me think that you can really help this effort. I look forward to hearing back from you.
I feel really blessed that such an incredibly smart person would take time out of her life to write me such a beautifully articulated letter.
Thank you, Zabrina.
This multifaceted issue raised a lot of questions in my heart.
I called my friend Lynnee Breedlove, a woman who—as lead singer for the band Tribe 8—has had her dick sucked on stage by hundreds of people. This surely merits an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records by anyones standards except for, evidently, the people at Guinness.
Anyway, I needed answers and Lynnee is a person who often has good ones.
And she did, but not like how I thought her answers might go.
Its question time, pal.
Its not a time for answers.
Its a time for questions.
This was one of those moments where gold lam banners unfurl from the sky in my mind and trumpets blare in the dawns early light of my consciousness and I say, Oh. But of course.
What if someone who was born a boy feels like a girl almost always?
If s/he dates girls, is s/he heterosexual or homosexual?
What if someone who was born a girl feels like a boy five months out of the year like clockwork?
If s/he dates girls is s/he bisexual?
What if someone who grew up to be a man felt like being more than a woman every Friday night at the local cabaret?
What if this man was happily married to a woman and had three kids?
What if this man was happily married to a man and had three kids?
What if someone who grew up to be a woman felt like being a man when she went out for solo nights on the town?
What if, as this man, she developed an endearingly cantankerous personality? And what if she loved this personality and loved having two completely different sides of herself that she manifested through changes in dress, thinking, environment and comportment?
What if a kid felt completely NOT the specific gender that society assigned him/her throughout life, and so decided to get an operation or take hormones when s/he grew up so that his/her physical appearance would mirror the self-image s/he holds dearest to his/her heart?
What is wrong with any of this?
What, exactly, does it mean to be a woman?
What, exactly, does it mean to be a man?
Why shouldnt ones gender be as fluid as ones life should be, if its a happy life, I mean.
If its a life where freedom happens.
I wrote Cunt from my experience as a white woman who grew up on the west coast of the U.S.A. in a working-class single-parent home. I grew up in a culture that hates cunts, hates women, hates everybody who isnt white and/or white-identified and hates all of us over here in what Eddie Murphy and I lovingly refer to as the faggot section.
When I found out that the word cunt once held emphatically non-derogatory meanings in cultures all over the world, I saw this huge link in the way both women and this word have been denigrated over time. It took thousands of years to get women to believe we were such silly things as the weaker sex. I was seeking freedom from this history for myself and for everyone who is afflicted with it. My experience of being a woman was, and is, greatly influenced by my cunt: a maligned part of my body that bleeds, that can be raped, that was the focal point of two harrowing vacuum abortions; a cunt that produces grand, smashing orgasms.
I never thought my cunt was what made me a woman, but I knew that many of my experiences as a woman were (and continue to be) centered around my cunt.
I considered defying societys prescription for how we treat our bodies to be a revolutionary act of nonconformity. It is political resistance to learn self-protection, to masturbate, to fuck whomever you want, to take control of your body’s functions and fluids. All of these things are in direct opposition to how society deems we should act and feel. I still believe this with all my heart, but in the last few years, I’ve been inspired to think about gender variance in a broader context. This has really shaken up my whole notion of how I perceive the world-and my book.