The Advocate thinks ovarian cancer is about men

I know this is a painfully difficult thing for men to accept (even those men who feel like ladies), but sometimes women (you know, female human beings) get sick, endure shit, have feelings, and live through events that do not have anything to do with males. Sometimes, in the course of our little lives, women face choices that pertain only to their own lives, and not to the lives of men.

Sometimes, our experiences are not about men.

I know this is hard for men to grasp. As men, you have been conditioned to believe you have jurisdiction over women’s bodies. As men, you have been taught that the state of being female is little more than a flight of fancy that can be appropriated as one might appropriate a line from a poem. As men, y’all have been raised in a society that assures you EVERYTHING is about you.

I mean, this is why a man can murder, in a horrific, hellish fashion, hundreds of human beings (babies, children included) and have his actions explained away by fucking psyhcobabble “he was depressed” and “he was troubled.” Men are never on the hook for anything. Not even massacres.

Women are murdered and raped all the time, and their deaths, their suffering is often eclipsed by speculations around “What made man do that thing? Was he sad?” Women are sold off as so much chattel, and the practice is called “sex-positive” and “empowering” because men “need sex from women.” Men commiserate over legislation about how best to control women’s decisions about their bodies, because it makes men uncomfortable when women can make choices without their permission.  Men tell women how to speak, how to frame reality because it makes men unhappy when women have clarity of thought and command of language.

Everything is about men. Everything. Shit, the dominant culture has even managed to make feminism – the one ideology that once upon a time was about women – about men.

So I’m not surprised when I see a piece in The Advocate where some fucking guy (who identifies as a lady – fuck, I’m sick of typing that caveat) posits that a woman’s decision to have her breasts and ovaries removed, as a precautionary measure against cancer, proves that “female is a feeling in a man’s head.” I’m not surprised, but I’m fucking outraged.

As regular readers of this blog know, I had cancer at a young age. This topic hits close to home for me, and I know a good deal about it.

I had a “lady cancer” – breast cancer (yes, yes, I know. Men can get breast cancer, but this post isn’t about men, isn’t about “exceptions to the rule”). I wear this reality on my body: there’s a sizeable chemoport scar beneath my collarbone, a good portion of my left breast is gone. I think about it every day. It has touched every corner of my life.

When I found out I had cancer, I had to make a series of decisions in short order. Would I opt for a mastectomy? Did I want the hardcore chemo? Or none at all? Was I open to radiation therapy? Would I work through all of this or take some leave? I went through a form of early menopause. I take estrogen blockers that fuck up my hormones, could cause uterine cancer, do cause me to have hot flashes at weird times, but might keep the breast cancer from returning. I have made, and continue to make, some tough ass choices about my body, and my health, and it is difficult, and it has nothing to do with men or men’s feelings.

Nor does it, as the writer of The Advocate article suggests, have anything to do with gender. See, I didn’t “identify into” cancer. If you want a little science (which, lately, is also deeply uncomfortably for men, particularly those with ladybrain), I got breast cancer because my body produced a touch too much estrogen when I was in my mid-twenties, and fucked shit up on the cellular level. More science still: I went through a growth spurt in my early twenties because my puberty had been a bit delayed/messed up by a serious illness as a teenager. My hormones were all fucked up. SCIENCE!

So nothing about the disease itself was my choice – it had to do with physiology, DNA, hormones, cells and shit. It had to do with my owning a female body that did female things like bleed, grow breasts, produce estrogen. This is reality. This is fact. Sorry if that’s upsetting to anyone.

Anyway, back to that infuriating, shitty Advocate article. The writer, a male, basically argues that because Jolie said she “still felt feminine” after having her ovaries removed, that “proves” that female is a feeling in a man’s head. Seriously. Here, have a read:

In her first article, after having the double mastectomy, Jolie wrote, “On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.” After undergoing a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy — removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries — Jolie wrote, “I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family.”

It struck me that her sense of self and her gender identity weren’t tied to her breasts, or to her reproductive organs. This small observation holds true for everyone, including transgender people.

Of course it “struck” this writer that Jolie’s breasts weren’t “tied to her gender identity.” He’s a man. He thinks boobs = female. This is why when people raise money for breast cancer research, they call the events “Save the Ta-Tas” – because there’s no fucking difference, in men’s eyes, between the glands on our chest and the complete human beings that we are. This is why men believe they can buy a set of tits, take some estrogen and BE female – because to men, we are nothing more than some boobs and smooth skin. That’s it. In the eyes of men, that’s the sum total of the female experience.

What women, like myself, like Jolie, like every other female on the planet understand is that while breasts and ovaries are organically, naturally occurring parts of us, they do not define us – they do not shape our every thought, our every preference, our every feeling. Did I like my breast, my nipple? Sure. Was I willing to have that shit tossed into a landfill in order that I might live? Yep. Am I any less female because I’m missing a few parts? No. Does it then follow that because I am still female, despite a fucked up breast, the state of being female is nothing more than a hunch, a suspicion? No.

Gender identity isn’t a delusion, regardless of chromosomes or what body parts a person has, or used to have; it is an intrinsic, deeply held sense of self. Jolie hints at this.

Actually, sir, the fact that absence of ovaries doesn’t change Jolie’s precious “gender identity,” is, on the contrary, proof that gender IS a delusion. Jolie has been conditioned into her gender, independent of her anatomy. Jolie is female, and as such, has female organs, and secondary sex characteristics of the female human being, but her sense of self is not woven into her fallopian tubes. This is where the trans/queer lot always get it wrong, and I would hazard that the mental health issues that seem to plague the trans/queer lot has a lot to do with how wrong they get this piece: your outward presentation will never, ever, never change who you actually are. You can be a lesbian, and have an unnecessary double mastectomy in order to call yourself a “straight man” but the loss of your breasts won’t actually, magically, make you a man – because that’s not possible. You can buy hormones from the good doctor and grow a pair of your very own ladyboobs, but those boobs will never actually, miraculously, make you female – because this is not possible, because this defies very fundamental, very simple biological realities. I mean, hell. I’d fucking LOVE IT if I could identify myself away from having had cancer. Like, what can I do to change myself on the cellular level so that I no longer have a propensity for malignant cells? Nothing. There’s nothing I can do other than accept my reality.

I mean, I really don’t fucking FEEL LIKE A CANCER SURVIVOR. What if I just start saying, “Nope. Never had cancer. Lucky me” – does that make it true? Again, I don’t feel, in this moment, on this day, like someone who had cancer. So . . . did it not happen?

This insane conflation of the philosophical with the physiological has made people – young people in particular – straight up crazy and miserable. I see these articles on sites like Everydaymisogyny where baby dykes (who have been told they are men) are carrying on about the agony of body dysmporphia – body dysmorphia that’s stemming from the lie the culture has told them about how they are men. Body dysmorphia that could dissipate (never really goes away for any woman – we all have body dysmorphia, because we’ve been raised in a woman-hating society that instructs us to feel disgust about our physical realities) if these perfectly healthy and good young women embraced their female reality and understood that that reality – breasts, vagina, uterus and all – doesn’t have to define how you live your life. In fact, you can be your special, unique self AND have functioning female reproductive organs and those two things can co-exist and it’s totally okay. Just like I believe that a boy child can wear a dress AND be accepting of his male reality, and that’s totally okay.

When we lie and lie and lie to ourselves that, as the writer says, “we are who we say we are” then we make ourselves desperately unhappy – because while the outside world may affirm our delusions, when we are inside, alone, with ourselves, we know it’s not true. We know it’s all a giant fucking lie.

Of course Angelina Jolie is still Angelina Jolie even without her ovaries. Why does that come as a surprise? What really does that “affirm” other than the fact that our individuality has precious little to do with our various body parts? I am no more informed, as an individual with unique preferences and tastes, by my uterus than I am by my kidneys.  I don’t wake up in the morning scrambling to feel for my breasts or my vagina in order to make sure I still am myself. Also, I’m sexually and romantically attracted to women. Also, I tend to shop for shirts in the men’s department and wear my hair really short. Also, just last weekend a woman at a sandwich place called me “sir.” Also, none of this makes me male.

And you know what? I think I’m a far happier person – I’m not, like, sliding down the wall clutching a bottle of vodka because I’m feeling “dysphoric” about my breasts, even though they gave me cancer – because I haven’t drunk this batshit lunacy about gender and sex being one-and-the-same. I think I’m far happier as a female human being because I am able to engage in an actual feminist analysis of gender, and I know it’s all an act, and I know it’s a bit of scaffolding designed not to support me, but to hurt me.

But whatever. I’m not, fortunately, part of the miserable masses who believe gender identity is the end all be all. I’m not part of this movement that bases their entire existence on their fetishes, their kinks, their illnesses, their daily hair-and-makeup rituals. I feel sorry for people like that, really. Moreover, I feel sorry for women who have come to believe that feminism is about allowing men to take the helm of women’s liberation, who have come to believe the most pernicious aspects of patriarchy are empowering, who have blithely accepted that being female is nothing more than a conceit, who refuse to engage in class analysis because it might not account for all the intricate particulars of a male’s experience. I feel sorry for everyone who believes the trope “we are who we say we are” because eventually, that lie will catch up to you, and when it does, it’s going to suck and all the new body parts, all the pretty clothes, all the lipstick in the world isn’t going to change the fact that, at the day’s end, you are NOT who you “say you are” – you are simply “what you are.”

And in this regard, maybe the writer of The Advocate piece also gets it a little right:

We are not defined by the sum of our body parts or their history, though. What defines us as individuals, what makes us unique as individual human beings, is the grey matter between our ears.

This is largely true. Also, you are male.

And finally, dudes – even y’all fancy lady-dudes – stop framing women’s bodies, our biological realities, as nothing more than anecdotes to further the bullshit delusions that allow you to run roughshod over everything that once was for, once belonged to female human beings. You’ve won. You own the language. You’ve eviscerated our colleges. You’ve made feminism about your needs. Let us have our fucking hysterectomies, our bilateral salpingo-oophorectomies, our medically necessary lumpectomies and mastectomies and cancer histories, without those also being about you.

Jazz Jennings, teen boy, shows women how to “woman”

*This post was written in conjunction with the brilliant Phonaesthetica

Hey, gals, guess what? This fourteen-year-old boy is a role model for YOU. Yep, you, full-grown-ass women. Meet Jazz Jennings, YOUR ROLE MODEL.

This weekend, we sat a spell to watch an OWN documentary all about our role model. We wanted to know more about this person that we (dykes aged thirty-eight and forty) should look to and strive to emulate.

What we learned is that Jazz Jennings is a kid who likes pink, dresses, makeup and flipping his shiny hair. Jazz is also a kid who refers to himself in third person. “I like being Jazz,” he says, as he reclines in a pink bed awash with plush animals.

Most of what Jazz says sounds forced, coached, even as he spouts off the ubiquitous tropes surrounding transgenderism: “I’m a girl trapped in a boy’s body” and “I have a girl brain.”

Jazz, again, is fourteen. His parents began transing him when he was in preschool, after discovering that he preferred the company of girls and enjoyed wearing his sister’s swimsuit. Jazz himself never speaks of an inner torment, a period of struggle – his transition has been relatively easy, thanks to parents who immediately recognized his effervescence, his fondness for crimson hues as evidence of ladybrain.

What we swiftly deduced: Jazz’s parents, a relatively conservative duo, could not bear the thought of a homosexual son (much less the screamingly flamboyant, Fire-Island-style homosexual Jazz was on the road to becoming), and preferred instead a more “normal” straight daughter.

“Jazz has a girl brain,” the child’s father insists (he also frequently kisses his girlbrained child on the lips – make of that what you will).

“Jazz plays like a girl,” the child’s soccer coach affirms. “She runs daintily.” (No, really. One of the interviewed subjects in the film actually fucking said this.)

And then there’s the nauseatingly emphatic refrain that the kid is a “perfectly normal girl – no different than any other girl.” EXCEPT, of course, for small differences like how Jazz has to go to an endocrinologist to have his measured to determine if he’s yet reached puberty. (I mean, that’s a rite of passage for all girls. I’ll never forget the day my parents took me to the doctor to have my testicles measured.)

At the above doctor’s appointment, it is determined that Jazz has begun puberty. The child is then asked if he would like to start taking puberty blockers. “You don’t want to grow facial hair, do you?” His mother (who also refers to herself as a “transgender mom”) coyly queries her son.

“No,” Jazz says. “I don’t want that.” And so, a child is encouraged to make a permanently life-altering, fertility-destroying, medically unnecessary decision.

Despite the incessant claims that Jazz is “no different from any other girl,” Jazz is acutely aware of his specialness. In fact, his specialness seems to dominate life in this family, practically eclipsing the existence of his three other siblings. Jazz is constantly consulted regarding what he thinks; what he wants – because Jazz’ every word comes from the Burning Gender Bush.

But, the thing is, Jazz isn’t special. Jazz is a kid whose parents, like so many others, believe the lie that conflates biological reality with outward presentation; the lie that posits an individual’s preferences and tastes are intrinsically representative of the preferences and tastes of an entire category of people: female.  They also believe the lie that females’ brains are structurally different from male brains – the lie from whence legally-codified misogyny has sprung since the beginning of time.

And this is where we get down to brass tacks. Jazz Jennings, himself, doesn’t really matter. Jazz is just another kid whose parents hock his “specialness” for reality-TV money and some skin care product commercials (he does have great skin, probably from the hormone blockers). What matters is what we can learn from this kid who’s been shoved into public view – and it’s not a lesson about bravery, or being “the real me” – rather, it’s a lesson in how hopelessly steeped in misogyny our culture still is.

As we watched the trainwreck of Jazz, we speculated about what might be a truly progressive way to work with and nurture a kid like him. Let him wear dresses and makeup, we decided. Let him grow his hair long, and hang out with girls and have crushes on boys. Be a good, vigilant parent and make sure no one is bullying your son for wearing his dresses and makeup and long hair to school.

And while you’re doing that, afford that kid a modicum of reality – let him be okay as a male, let him be okay with his body and his biology. Help him be part of a world where a boy can wear dresses if he wants, where a boy can drench his bedroom in pink if he likes, and still be what he is – a boy. A perfectly healthy, loveable little boy who likes things that our fucked up, narrow-minded, patriarchal society has deemed “abnormal” for him to like. And, when he grows from a boy into a man, let him fall in love with normal gay men who might love him back – not people who will simply fetishize him.

The progressive response to a kid like Jazz is NOT to conclude he has a “girl brain” but to accept that as individual human beings our inclinations do in fact vary, and that those variances have precious little to do with our biology. That approach might create a real cultural shift. That approach might take a sledgehammer to regressive notions of gender. Because if a male – a perfectly normal male – can pursue interests that have previously been deemed exclusively “female,” then we really have scrambled gender, really turned it on its head.

People like Jazz’s parents, people who believe in and perpetuate the tenets of transgenderism are the same people who – albeit inadvertently – cause problems for women like us. In a gendered sense, we don’t “do woman” very well. When we’re in rural areas, buying gas, we get stares because we’re not women “doing woman” the way we ought to. The butch-er one of us would probably make folks in some areas more comfortable if she’d just transition. A little facial hair might ward off some looks.

Because that’s gender – it’s not a spectrum, it’s a dichotomy.

Gender isn’t designed to be a playground of special identities – it’s a system that categorizes males and a female based on social/cultural conventions; then subjugates women while exalting men. The system that facilitates rape and honor killings is the same system that says a little boy can’t enjoy wearing a colorful swimsuit without requiring extreme medical intervention. This system says it’s better to medicate and mutilate your male child than have him be a homosexual boy who likes stereotypically “feminine” behaviors and interests. That’s how Iran does it, right? Better he be a girl than challenge repressive gender norms in a way that could, potentially, upend patriarchy. Better he appear on TV and condescend to girls (and full-grown-ass women) how to “be themselves.”

Masculinity and femininity are both bullshit notions. What is deemed masculine, what is deemed feminine – these are nothing but human behaviors. Males can be highly emotional but we’ve filed “emotional” underneath “feminine” so as to trivialize it. Males can like sparkly pink skirts and lipstick, but because we’ve relegated this aesthetic to the realm of the feminine, it is deemed “silly” and “prissy.” We equate femininity, and its coded behaviors and preferences, with weakness and frivolity – and yet, women (and only women) are supposed to be subsumed by these matters. When they show themselves subsumed (because how else to garner male approval in the hierarchical structure of gender?) we delude ourselves into believing that this is a natural state: Women are silly, trivial, frivolous, petty.

Conversely, females can be physically strong (watch any female Olympic lifter, martial artist, or gymnast) but we’ve relegated physical prowess and powerful musculature to the realm of the masculine. Females can be interested in auto mechanics. Females can be highly logical, a quality gender ascribes to the realm of the masculine. Females can also be serious and stoic. And none of these characteristics have jack shit to do with our DNA; our physical, biological reality.

What we do, as a society, when females and males blur these lines, employ behaviors, or follow interests that do not “fit” with the category their biological sex has socially placed them in, is we label them “anomalies” or “transgender.” We claim we can “fix” the male child who wants to grow out his hair and wear his sister’s sundress. We claim the butch dyke who likes tinkering with cars probably has a male brain. We work really hard, and the medical community is fully on board, to preserve gender norms. And transgenderism is a way of preserving gender norms and calling the oppressive mandate “subversive.”

Do we believe that some folks feel better, more comfortable, more “at home” in their bodies by presenting as women when they were born male? Yes, of course. And we support individuals’ decisions to present in a way that feels most “right” to them – but we do not, and will not, buy into a belief in “girl brains.” The very idea of “girl brains” is nothing more than a form of eugenics that’s been used against women (and racial/ethnic minorities) for many centuries in order to deprive us of bodily autonomy, education, votes, and anything else a human needs and wants to enjoy full humanity.

Nor do we believe that it is moral, ethical, or in the best interests of a child to medically alter his or her perfectly healthy body in order to make our sexist, misogynist society feel more comfortable with who that child is. Nor do we believe that swallowing large amounts of synthetic hormones MAKES one female or male, and we think selling that lie to a child is most pernicious because it denies a developing human being the opportunity to weigh her/his options as an adult with adult reasoning/critical thinking skills. It denies a developing human being the opportunity to know reality – i.e. biology.

And, at the end of the day, it hurts girls – you know, actual female children. In the documentary about Jazz, the child’s father laments that his daughter (son) cannot play on the girls’ soccer team at school. The child’s father CRIES (seriously) when discussing the grave injustice of a male-bodied person not being able to play on a girls’ sports team. (Especially when he runs so daintily!)

We encounter real problems when we sacrifice basic biological knowledge at the altar of special identities/feelings/and gender – e.g., biologically, boys and girls develop differently. Like, our bodies are actually different. And, particularly in adolescence, boys have a distinct physical advantage over girls. And athletics have, historically, been a great way for girls to gain access to college scholarships, as well as to develop healthy relationships with their bodies. Now, of course, in order to placate the feelings (delusions) of boy children, girls will be made to compete with male-bodied persons in the field of athletics, placing them at a disadvantage.

But this is what gender always does; this is what gender is meant to do – put females at a disadvantage in all things. Our needs, our feelings as females do not really matter. What matters is that we do what girl-brained people are supposed to do, shut up and suck it up, and accept the version of reality that’s being sold to us – even when it doesn’t make any fucking sense.

In the documentary about Jazz, no hard questions were asked of the child’s parents. Like, “what does it mean to have a girl brain?” Or, “Do you have any qualms about delaying your child’s normal growth when we don’t understand what the long-term ramifications of that decision might be?” Instead, the entire scenario was presented as “adorable” and “inspiring.” It’s adorable to delude your male child into believing he’s female. It’s adorable to pump a healthy, pre-pubescent body full of chemicals. It’s adorable to interpret meaningless penchants as biological imperatives. It’s inspiring when a child’s every whim is indulged. It’s inspiring when children emulate the repressive gender stereotypes laid out for them by the society in which they live.

But no one challenges the transgender line of thinking, because transgenderism is comfortable; transgenderism challenges nothing about the dominant gender paradigm, or the hierarchical structure that positions women on the bottom of everything. And those of us who dare ask meaningful questions about where all of this leads are slurred, villified, de-platformed.

The adults encouraging Jazz’ transition, though, are all presented as white gender knights. In one scene toward the end of the documentary, Jazz’ mother brings him to speak on a university panel. The only minor in attendance, Jazz is surrounded by grown-ass trans people who, frankly, look and sound pretty miserable. They all tell Jazz how lucky he is, and how happy he’ll be that he began transitioning early. This is the only time Jazz drops his confident, shiny-haired posing and looks like what he actually is – a scared little boy. He cowers toward his mother, and doesn’t have much to say except, “I want boobs.”

At the end of the panel, one of the transwomen wraps Jazz in a long hug and says, “I’ll trade you my boobs for your hair.”

How is this anything but skin-crawlingly weird?

So we hope, for Jazz’s sake, that the kid turns out all right, that the world is kind to him, and that he doesn’t grow to resent the bullshit line he’s been sold about “girl brains” and “boy brains,” that he doesn’t have to shoulder the profound burden of regret created by what his parents, the medical community, and the adults around him did to his perfectly normal body when he was still a child.

Sadly, however, we’re positioned as a society to only see more stories like Jazz’s – where parents apply gender dogma to their children’s behavior, and allow their firm (albeit erroneous) convictions about what “girls do” and what “boys do” to justify wreaking havoc on their children’s minds and bodies.

As for females, the consequences of continuing to perpetuate the lie of ladybrain will be increasingly devastating – as we make room for males who believe our lives are nothing more than a hunch; a feeling in a man’s head; we can say goodbye to women’s colleges, women’s sports, women’s clinics. As an understanding of reality becomes synonymous with bigotry, we will part with all language and art that allowed us to address, deconstruct, express and celebrate our lived female experience. Our feminist folk heroes will be grown men, our role models adolescent boys.