Commentary: Am I included in the Movement?
A woman hold up a sign as members of Congress and representatives of women’s groups hold a rally to mark the 40th anniversary of congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) outside the U.S. Capitol March 22, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
I’ve never quite known if I fit in or have a place in the women’s movement. As a masculine presenting gay woman, there are quite a few spaces where I don’t always feel safe or welcome. And yes, sometimes that includes within the Democratic Party as well as within the women’s movement.
For the record, there is nothing about the Republican Party that is safe for me.
You see, the goddess label doesn’t fit. I’m not a femme. And the cartoonish image after image that I’m inundated with around women’s rights and female power are images of women with long flowy hair who are wearing dresses. Those images tell me that as a masculine presenting gay woman who has short hair and wears a tie, that I am on the outside.
Let’s also not pretend that the women’s movement has been inclusive to all other marginalized communities. After all, it’s Women’s History Month and it’s important that we don’t white-wash history. At the 1913 Women’s March on Washington, Black suffragists were told to march in the back to not offend southern suffragists. And Women’s History Month mostly celebrates white women for their achievements. In February during Black History Month, it’s mostly Black men. During which month are Black women celebrated?
Building a progressive movement means we should never tell anyone to march in the back and we should stop using language and images that aren’t inclusive.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, the Tennessee Republican Party is working to pass laws that will allow permitless carry and ban trans women in high school from playing sports with other women. Bills that will make it easier for domestic abusers to kill women and ban a woman from playing sports. Happy Women’s History Month from the TN GOP.
In case you wanted to know why I identify as a Democrat, that’s a brief explanation.
But that doesn’t mean my party and movements I’m a part of don’t have their own issues. Those spaces need to become more inclusive.
When I was running for Chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party earlier this year, there were three incidents of blatant discrimination from voting members of the TNDP that as a candidate I took without comment. I don’t share these incidents to call them out but to tell my story.
One voting member asked how I would approach donors presenting as I do. Of course, the question was couched within the phrase, “I don’t mean to offend, but…” I told him I navigate every part of my daily life as a masculine presenting gay woman. Why would approaching a donor be any different?
As part of my interview with the TNDP Executive Committee, I’d answered the question on if I’d ever experienced walking into a room or a situation and realizing I was a minority. And I told them this was a daily occurrence. That as a masculine presenting gay woman there’s a rainbow flag that flies over my head when I enter a room. Most people in the room, most women, aren’t wearing a suit and tie. And to illustrate this, I described my safety strategy when I use a public women’s restroom.
I join the line/enter the room, look another woman in the eye, smile, and say hello so she can hear the tone of my voice. Why? Because I’ve been followed into public restrooms and harassed by women. I’ve been made to feel unsafe in women’s spaces.
As such, the second incident of discrimination involved a voting member of the Tennessee Democratic Party who called to yell at me for sharing this story and how I experience discrimination due to how I present. He asserted that I don’t experience discrimination and that I should just accept the fact that I simply dress like a man.
The third incident occurred when I learned that a voting member of the Tennessee Democratic Party had suggested that I could be paid less because I’d been “unemployed.” She suggested the Party could get the Chair who wouldn’t leave his job for lesser pay and me for that lesser pay in a different position. It surprised me that she would suggest this as a solution.
I was unemployed due to a motorcycle accident but had dedicated 50-plus hours a week for five years to the Washington County Democratic Party, Tennessee Democratic County Chairs Association, and the Tennessee Democratic Party. Did that not count? Why did I deserve to be paid less?
This month, as I’m celebrating Women’s History Month, I’m intentionally looking for the marginalized voices, the marginalized women who have made the world a little safer for me today. I’m looking for the women who were told to march in the back to protect another’s comfort and who’s stories of discrimination were openly dismissed.
These women are my heroes. These are the women who remind me I have a place in the women’s movement.
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