Do you miss me?

Because blogging has felt increasingly uncomfortable for me for personal writing, I am going to attempt TinyLetter instead. It’s an e-newsletter platform and you can subscribe here. It will deliver my ‘personal writing’ posts directly to your email rather than on this blog.

This blog was always supposed to be a place for very honest writing.


I am hoping with TinyLetter I can feel a little more free again, because I will know exactly who is in the room with me when I am talking. I will always keep this blue milk blog going, but the e-newsletter might be the place where I do more of my ‘thinking out loud’ style writing; the way I used to do on this blog.

Trapped in binaries, we get confusing messages about how social change happens, both from the larger culture and from our own lefty culture. It only takes a few vs. it takes millionsIt’s all about policy or it’s all about culture shiftWe only need civil disobedience or we only need to win elections. No one knows exactly what formula will ward off the authoritarianism looming over our country and the world, but that formula probably doesn’t include the word “only.” There should and will be many tactical experiments in this period of political, cultural, and spiritual churn. Critique is easy. Actually running such an experiment is hard.

On Sunday night, Alicia Garza asked on her Facebook timeline what we think is required to build a movement in the millions. In my humble 33-year view of social change, I believe that it takes everything. Everything we’ve got. Every member, every leader, every ally, every platform, every tactic and every dime—all directed toward specific goals at specific moments. The moments when your big ideas have the potential to become reality don’t come around that often. When they do, we have to move. We can’t predict what will come out of each tactic, but we move fast and big and on faith.


After these big cultural moments, I always hear two refrains: “That’s just symbolic, not real change,” and “This is nice, but the question is, what actions are they really going to take?” Hell, I’ve said these things myself before I knew better. But symbols matter, and there are better questions to ask. Our affinity for symbols is the main thing that makes us human. If the left can’t deal symbolically, we are truly sunk. And of course “What actions are they going to take?” is the next question after an NFL protest/women’s march/Golden Globes moment. Duh. I’ve pledged to work harder, bypass that obvious question, and go straight to this one: How are we going to make the next thing happen?

I keep hearing that celebrities are too shallow to do much beyond sartorial protest, and to that I say, so what? Most people are too shallow to do more than the bare minimum on anything. I’ll take that shallow action over nothing any day. In fact, let’s go even further and lower our bars for participation on everything, so people can do something shallow and then do the next thing.

From “The Lefty Critique of #TimesUp is Tired and Self-Defeating” by Rinku Sen in The Nation. 

As I’ve talked about before, I believe the pursuit of perfection stifles social change.



This is to say two things. First, the radical feminism of the Sixties and Seventies was as mixed a bag as any political movement, from Occupy to the Bernie Sanders campaign. Second, at least in this case, feminist transphobia was not so much an expression of anti-trans animus as it was an indirect, even peripheral repercussion of a much larger crisis in the women’s liberation movement over how people should go about feeling political. In expanding the scope of feminist critique to the terrain of everyday life—a move which produced a characteristically muscular brand of theory that rivaled any Marxist’s notes on capitalism—the second wave had inadvertently painted itself into a corner. If, as radical feminist theories claimed, patriarchy had infested not just legal, cultural, and economic spheres but the psychic lives of women themselves, then feminist revolution could only be achieved by combing constantly through the fibrils of one’s consciousness for every last trace of male supremacy—a kind of political nitpicking, as it were. And nowhere was this more urgent, or more difficult, than the bedroom. Fighting tirelessly for the notion that sex was fair game for political critique, radical feminists were now faced with the prospect of putting their mouths where their money had been. Hence Atkinson’s famous slogan: “Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” This was the political climate in which both Elliott and Morgan, as a transsexual woman and a suspected heterosexual woman, respectively, could find their statuses as legitimate subjects of feminist politics threatened by the incipient enshrining, among some radical feminists, of something called lesbianism as the preferred aesthetic form for mediating between individual subjects and the history they were supposed to be making—call these the personal and the political.

So while radical feminism as a whole saw its fair share of trans-loving lesbians and trans-hating heterosexuals alike, there is a historical line to be traced from political lesbianism, as a specific, by no means dominant tendency within radical feminism, to the contemporary phenomenon we’ve taken to calling trans-exclusionary radical feminism. Take Sheila Jeffreys, an English lesbian feminist recently retired from a professorship at the University of Melbourne in Australia. In her salad days, Jeffreys was a member of the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group, remembered for its fiery conference paper “Political Lesbianism: The Case Against Heterosexuality,” published in 1979. The paper defined a political lesbian as “a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men” but stopped short of mandating homosexual sex. The paper also shared the SCUM Manifesto’s dead-serious sense of humor: “Being a heterosexual feminist is like being in the resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe where in the daytime you blow up a bridge, in the evening you rush to repair it.” These days, Jeffreys has made a business of abominating trans women, earning herself top billing on the TERF speaking circuit. Like many TERFs, she believes that trans women’s cheap imitations of femininity (as she imagines them) reproduce the same harmful stereotypes through which women are subordinated in the first place. “Transgenderism on the part of men,” Jeffreys writes in her 2014 book Gender Hurts, “can be seen as a ruthless appropriation of women’s experience and existence.” She is also fond of citing sexological literature that classifies transgenderism as a paraphilia. It is a favorite claim among TERFs like Jeffreys that transgender women are gropey interlopers, sick voyeurs conspiring to infiltrate women-only spaces and conduct the greatest panty raid in military history.

I happily consent to this description. Had I ever been so fortunate as to attend the legendarily clothing-optional Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival before its demise at the hands of trans activists in 2015, you can bet your Birkenstocks it wouldn’t have been for the music. Indeed, at least among lesbians, trans-exclusionary radical feminism might best be understood as gay panic, girl-on-girl edition. The point here is not that all TERFs are secretly attracted to trans women—though so delicious an irony undoubtedly happens more often than anyone would like to admit—but rather that trans-exclusionary feminism has inherited political lesbianism’s dread of desire’s ungovernability. The traditional subject of gay panic, be he a US senator or just a member of the House, is a subject menaced by his own politically compromising desires: to preserve himself, he projects these desires onto another, whom he may now legislate or gay-bash out of existence. The political lesbian, too, is a subject stuck between the rock of politics and desire’s hard place. As Jeffreys put it in 2015, speaking to the Lesbian History Group in London, political lesbianism was intended as a solution to the all-too-real cognitive dissonance produced by heterosexual feminism: “Why go to all these meetings where you’re creating all this wonderful theory and politics, and then you go home to, in my case, Dave, and you’re sitting there, you know, in front of the telly, and thinking, ‘It’s weird. This feels weird.’” But true separatism doesn’t stop at leaving your husband. It proceeds, with paranoid rigor, to purge the apartments of the mind of anything remotely connected to patriarchy. Desire is no exception. Political lesbianism is founded on the belief that even desire becomes pliable at high enough temperatures. For Jeffreys and her comrades, lesbianism was not an innate identity, but an act of political will. This was a world in which biology was not destiny, a world where being a lesbian was about what got you woke, not wet.

From “On Liking Women” by Andrea Long Chu in n+1.

As soon as we moved in together, we were faced with the urgent task of setting up a home for your son that would feel abundant and containing — good enough — rather than broken or falling. (These poeticisms come from that classic of genderqueer kinship, *Mom’s House, Dad’s House*) But that’s not quite right — we knew about this task beforehand; it was, in fact, one of the reasons we moved so quickly. What became apparent was the urgent task specifically before me: that of learning how to be a stepparent. Talk about a potentially fraught identity! My stepfather had his faults, but every word I have ever uttered against him has come back to haunt me, now that I understand what it is to hold the position, to be held by it.


When you are a stepparent, no matter how wonderful you are, no matter how much love you have to give, no matter how mature or wise or successful or smart or responsible you are, you are structurally vulnerable to being hated or resented, and there is precious little you can do about it, save endure, and commit to planting seeds of sanity and good spirit in the face of whatever shitstorms may come your way. And don’t expect to get any kudos from the culture, either: parents are Hallmark-sacrosanct, but stepparents are interlopers, self-servers, poachers, pollutants, and child molesters.

Every time I see the word stepchild in an obituary, as in ‘X is survived by three children and two stepchildren,’ or whenever an adult acquaintance says something like, ‘Oh, sorry, I can’t make it — I’m visiting my stepdad this weekend,’ or when, during the Olympics, the camera pans the audience and the voiceover says, ‘there’s X’s stepmother, cheering him on,’ my heart skips a beat, just to hear the sound of the bond made public, made positive.

When I try to discover what I resent my stepfather for most, it is never ‘he gave me too much love.’ No — I resent him for not reliably giving the impression that he was glad he lived with my sister and me (he may not have been), for not telling me often that he loved me (again, he may not have — as one of the stepparenting self-help books I ordered during our early days put it, love is preferred, but not required), for not being my father, and for leaving after over twenty years of marriage to our mother without saying a proper good-bye.

‘I think you overestimate the maturity of adults,’ he wrote me in his final letter, a letter he sent only after I’d broken down and written him first, after a year of silence.

Angry and hurt as I may have been by his departure, his observation was undeniably correct. This slice of truth, offered in the final hour, ended up beginning a new chapter of my adulthood, the one in which I realized that age doesn’t necessarily bring anything with it, save itself. The rest is optional.

My son at eight


My daughter at 12


On female anger

There’s a reckoning taking place now, we’re told. Female anger is at last finding its mark and its moment. I hope this is my primitive anger-shame speaking, or jadedness, or simple exhaustion – but I can’t trust it. The speed of the avalanche, its force, feels too dangerous. It feels like a runaway train that’s going to crash off the rails, and soon. My own cheering at the sight of the bastards going down feels too much like the delinquent ecstasy of a classroom run amok, and beneath this lurks the fear that when the frenzy’s over, that will be that. And then we’ll all cop it worse than before.

Is the woman who was too afraid to read my book rejoicing as she watches retribution raining down on affluent men across the western world? Is this cathartic, curative, for her? I hope so. I hope the pain is flooding away from her spirit like a fast-running tide. But I wonder.

This is a wonderful piece from Charlotte Wood in The Guardian, “We’re told female anger is having its moment. But I can’t trust it”.