When I See Pink I See Red

why-i-hate-pinkI have an aversion to groups of girls. It is deep seated. The girls at P.S. 40 Manhattan were a mean bunch, a nasty clique. When I see a group of girls together, I flinch. I don’t see them as adorable or playful. I don’t trust them. I can’t remember back to when girls were just girls.

I went to school, from kindergarten through sixth grade, with the same twenty or so girls. Line up, recess, lunch, dismissal. Outside the classroom I was a target. Push, elbow, poke. Eww, keep away from me, you’ve got cooties. 

Teased and shunned. For being fat, for wearing ugly clothes, for being a misfit. Eww what’s that smell? Get away. There were two ringleaders who kept the other girls in line. They weren’t girly girls, they weren’t rich girls, they weren’t smart girls, but they were good at what they did. I had no friends at school. Wendy and Julie saw to it.

Don’t let her touch the ball, we’ll have to decontaminate it. I did not want to play their games. I did not want to sit at their table. I see London, I see France, What is in your underpants? I did not want them to police my behavior or my gender (if I’d only had the terms to describe it then).

Before I started kindergarten, before I knew the jargon, before some of the jargon existed, before I could formulate the words, I knew I was not like them. I was a boy and I was attracted to women. If I didn’t have the thoughts concurrently, I intertwined them quickly.

Besides thinking I was a boy, I started hating being a girl, and hating all things associated with girls, especially the ones at P.S. 40. This included all things pink or frilly, girl’s games, girl’s books, and girl’s behavior. I have no tolerance for cattiness, name-calling, cliques, or ostracism. I know that these are not genetic traits. I know that boys are just as vicious and petty, but my tormentors were girls.

I’d like to be less judgmental of girls who are girly. I ‘m comfortable being butch, being masculine, and being transgender. I’d like to distance myself from girls and femininity without scorning them. I don’t want to begrudge any child a pink tutu or a sparkly wand. I don’t want to be a hater.

I clomp around in construction boots. I assiduously avoid anything feminine (unless it is from the men’s department). No one is trying to dress me in pink tulle or make me attend ballet class. I don’t experience any pressure to be more feminine or female appearing than I am except when I am in a “women’s only space” e.g. a bathroom, a locker room, or a dressing room.

Who gets to decide if I am a woman or a man, both or neither? I do. Neither the Macy’s sales associate counting the number of shirts I want to try on, the receptionist handing out towels at the gym, nor the women on line to use the toilets get to decide. Nor do Wendy and Julie. Nor do the RadFems. 

In the August 4, 2014 edition of The New Yorker there is an article titled “What is a Woman?” When I read the title, I was hoping for an article about sex and gender, chromosomes and hormones, fluidity versus the binary, or how we conceptualize our identity. I was not expecting a biased and reactionary article about Radfems and their insistence that trans women are really still men. Or an article that conflates being transgender with having erotic compulsions.

The article did not discuss legal identity versus social identity. Or who gets to decide if we are men or women (medical doctors, psychologists, judges, or government agencies), or what happens when policies are personalized, vary by county and state, and are inconsistently applied. We will have to continue writing those articles ourselves.

Note: Autostraddle ran a critique of the article here and Julia Serrano wrote a scathing Op-Ed piece about her experiences being interviewed by The New Yorker in The Advocate here. 

16 thoughts on “When I See Pink I See Red

  1. urbanmythcafe

    So, I read through all of this stuff. It really is shamefull.
    Reading through comments, I think most people have recognized the original article for what it is. But, I am sure there are plenty of people on the outside of these issues who were misinformed by the New Yorker article.

    Everyone who works in schools should be informed about what kids endure from other kids. Most of this bullying goes on way beneath the awarness of adults. But, we know that it has always been there, is still there now, and that it takes real action from the adults in the situation to create a situation where it does not thrive.
    I mostly snuck between the cracks as a child, but I witnessed some things that have left lifelong marks on me.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      What struck me is the meanness of the TERFs, and their similarities to the girls who picked on me as a child. They need a kid to pick on, and they feel completely virtuous in their actions.

      Also, although TERFs focus on trans women, any critique of trans* that relies on biological determinism also denies the reality of our existence.

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  2. Charlie Nicholas

    I was placed in a women’s shelter for a week. I’m still scratching my head as to why and how I didn’t manage to break down. But the dysphoria was most definitely there. They did know I identified as male…when the ppl running the place found out, they kicked me out. Why? The state violated my rights by putting me there instead of a men’s shelter, by refusing to accept my gender identity at the time. My ID still lists me as “female” though. The summer story of a lifetime 😀

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      RIght, we need to get out of the mindset of relying on legal sex or genitals. It should be OK to ask someone seeking services if they prefer to be placed in a facility for men or for women (understanding that not all people would give the same answer).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’ve read a lot on the effects of childhood bullying. I was told to ignore it, or that it would make me stronger, but it just made it hard for me to trust people and to make friends. And it could have been stopped if the adults intervened.

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  3. genderneutral

    Thanks for your post and all the links. All I can say is WOW and I feel a little sick/pissed. I hope all who read the article read the Op-ed and the critique to get a well rounded picture of the situation.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad you read the links and the original article. I hope the New Yorker gets a lot of flak for printing it. The TERFs are just grown up versions of Wendy and Julie, but they should know better.

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  4. anexactinglife

    I had to think about this post (that’s a good thing!) I jokingly call cliques of girls or women “The Ashleys,” with apologies to any of your readers by that name. I’ve met my share of mean girls, but my trans child (FTM) fared much worse. I find high school girl culture despicable with its gender stereotyping and rigid social rules. What I dislike even more is that it follows us into the workplace when we should be old enough to know better. Then it contributes to the stereotype of women being catty and not supporting each other. I don’t feel any affinity with women as a result of being a (cisgender) woman – I prefer to find likeminded people of any gender.

    It’s hard for me to understand any component of feminism that says you need to be “womyn-born” – isn’t that going back to “You must live out your biological destiny”? I find it sad that younger women feel they have to have to distance themselves from feminism lest they be accused of having these types of beliefs.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad the post got you going. The TERFs are the far fringe of the feminist movement, but a lot of people believe that trans women are really men, trans men are really women, and all trans* people in-between are just confused, fetishists, or gay. And similar to old articles about homosexuals by featuring people who had been “cured” and theories about the pathological causes of transgenderism. The whole article made me angry.

      That said, I understand the desire of a minority to meet and talk amongst themselves. I don’t begrudge “women only” space, I have an issue with who gets to decide what a woman is, and how someone can feel so threatened by a trans woman that they would make excluding them the focus of their activism.

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  5. SARA

    Wonderful post Jamie. Those girls who teased you are really very bad but not all girls are same some are really good. Remember that. Well, Do you have friends now?

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Things definitely got better as I got older. I attented an academic high school (entry by passing a special exam) and was the only kid from my neighborhood that got into it. So I got a fresh start there, and made friends. Since that point I’ve always had a few good friends.

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  6. fotoladysince9

    It sad about what you went through. As many have already stated a lot of bullying goes on and the adults are blind by it. Some teachers deliberately turn their heads because they don’t want to get involved. Meanwhile a child is silently dying inside from ridicule. More should be done to bring awareness to bullying. The deaths caused by bullying are in vain until someone take a real stand. Each little remark or subtle gesture made should be taken in account.

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  7. MainelyButch

    this is a great blog. I appreciated your links, I read and saved the NY Times article…amazing and very informative piece. But I am surprised the Times published it…although I think the topic does need to be hashed out. I am always fighting the TERF and RF culture…I think it does a serious disservice to feminism myself. I wish we could all just be who we wish to be and not have others telling us what is right and what is wrong with the ways we each think individually. Rock on.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I was outraged when I read the original piece in The New Yorker (which I subcribe to) and although there was a lot of blow back from trans women, I didn’t see much from lesbians (except on Autostraddle) or from trans men.

      It may not have gotten a lot of notice because The New Yorker is nor read by many in the community – it is viewed as a middle aged, elite, and upper class magazine (all true) but it is still influential and read by many policy makers.

      TERFs and RFs play down their anti-butch sentiments, but when you look at their so-called theory, it is pretty damning of the butch and trans-masculine spectrums. I know it is divisive, but mainstream feminism has to deal with it.

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