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About a year ago, a former friend of mine said something in a group conversation that has still shaken me. She said that she was having trouble accepting her young son’s decision to use male pronouns and to identify as a boy.
We’re of course accustomed to hearing these kinds of statements and shaking our heads. Especially on the left, the idea that a parent might have any emotions around their children’s sex or gender expression is seen as a bit of primitive throwback.
But this story is a little different. Her son had always been a boy, was raised as a boy, had a penis and a boy’s name and all those things that we generally associate with boys. The problem wasn’t that he was expressing a different gender than what everyone had assumed he was, but that he wanted to continue being a boy.
My former friend’s family could be described either as ‘non-traditional’ or ‘revolutionary,’ depending on how you would like it. She married a trans man after her divorce from her children’s father, and her two other children, at the time I believe 5 and 7 years old, soon afterward came out as trans and nonbinary.
I have trouble relating to him and loving him, she had said (forgive the paraphrase, I’ve since blocked her out of my social media feed). She then expressed confusion that he would decide it was actually okay to be a boy and grow up as a man, and confessed to even feeling some hatred and anger towards him for this.
I’ve encountered other statements similar to this, though this was by far the most disturbing to me. And I should add a caveat here, because she and her partner no longer are allowed to go near their children by court order, so it’s not quite clear she was necessarily the best mother anyway.
Still, though her statement may be an outlier in the way queer and alternative parents react to their boys’ approach to puberty and their sense of themselves, this statement terrified me for several reasons.
First, I had encountered people who had been trans and then de-transitioned and reported they had felt pressured to adopt a different gender identity much earlier than they felt they had been ready. But I had dismissed these accounts, mostly because I was assured such things were just lies from TERFs or the right wing or other nefarious groups. My former friend’s statement about her anger towards her son’s gender forced me to reconsider those other stories—and I really didn’t want to.
And I was terrified for her son. It’s hard enough trying to figure out who the hell you are during puberty as it is. To have your own mother push you to become something you’re not in order to conform to current (and ephemeral) social justice ideologies is really brutal. But fortunately, he (and his two younger siblings) are now with their biological father.
But most of all, I was terrified because I realised that all the talk of liberation and radical gender and intersectional feminism from “our side” wasn’t as liberating as I let myself think it was. How could it liberate if it did the very same thing to children who didn’t conform to their standards as those they fought did to theirs?
Whether a child expresses a gender that matches his birth sex or expresses a gender that doesn’t, that child should at least get the basic acceptance and protection that parenthood is supposed to give. They aren’t our ideological playthings, they’re fucking people.
The left, by the way, has a rather awful and well-documented history of failed attempts to liberate children and families from backward ideas, especially in the United States. Alternative cures, for instance, or forced veganism on infants (I actually met an anarchist mother who not only would not feed her child dairy or meat products, but also refused to breast feed him in case that made him later inclined to drink cow’s milk), and other “experiments” meant to create a liberated generation have only resulted in the creation of adults who run the opposite direction of their parents’ politics.1
But in the case of my former friend, a leftist and former co-organizer, I suspect her anger towards her son’s maleness wasn’t just ideological for her. She was one of those people who’d share Everyday Feminism articles so often that Facebook would throttle her account, and write almost daily screeds about misogyny and how the world would be better off without cis-men.
That is, she hated men. Not trans men, of course, because she married one. Just the vast majority of them, the non-trans men. For her, such men were the root of all the troubles in her life, as well as all the troubles in the world. And she had the unfortunate problem of having birthed one of them out her uterus, and he kept insisting on being called “he” and a “boy.”
This is the exact parallel, of course, of the conservative father who thinks homosexuals are sinners and then finds out his only son likes cock. That father blames all the troubles of the world on gays, that mother blamed all the trouble of the world on men, and both ended up staring face to face with a child who represents everything they hate.
Of course the smart decision for anyone here is to drop the ideological framework. I know of quite a few conservative parents who have done this because they loved their children more than they loved their religion or politics or ideology. There are of course just as many who don’t, just as my former friend seemed unable to do for her own son.
To even suggest that there might be something akin to hatred towards men in the ideological positions of intersectional or woke feminists will get you some pretty angry reactions (go read my Facebook wall over the last two days for a taste). But that anger doesn’t change the truth of it, and actually points even more to its truth. 2 If someone tells me that I hate trans people, or black people, or Jews, or Irish people, or whatever, I merely shrug and say “no, I don’t.” Being false, such accusations have no reason to elicit any emotional response from me. But if you accuse me of hating something I actually hate but don’t want to admit, I’ll probably get really agitated with you.
And of course, there I was last year staring at the words of someone who was once a close friend talking about her anger and hatred towards non-trans men, and how she was having trouble loving her own son because he didn’t want to be trans or non-binary.
That changed me, maybe more than any other single event over the last year. That forced me to look at stuff I didn’t want to look at, including how so many of the people I’d considered friends and peers had some really incoherent and contradictory ideas about what equality and liberation and justice actually meant.
And I’ll admit something that maybe you’ll find funny. That novel I just published two weeks ago? It was actually pretty much done a long time ago, but I was afraid of publishing it. It’s full of men, and man-sex, and the glorification of the male body. But at no point was I worried my cis-het-male peers, friends, and readers would be disgusted or angry about it, but rather my “woke” peers. Because from what I have come to finally understand, to many of them the male body and masculinity are the most intolerable, offensive, and “oppressive” things of all, much more than the police state or global capitalism will ever be.
But that’s published now, as is a new essay, “The Elements of Man: A Mythic Framework For Masculinity.” That essay, at 8000 words, is exactly the sort of essay I wish I had read when I was a teenager trying to figure out if it was okay to be a man and what that even met. I wrote it for me, I guess. But I also wrote it for the many women I know who have expressed fear for their sons growing up in a world where their only choices are shame for being a man or the embrace of consumerist and capitalist hyper-caricatures of masculinity.
I’m sure it will help a lot of people. Looking back at how incredible the response has been to my recent writing once I started directly confronting some of these delusional and unhelpful positions (as well as some of the ridiculous anger from people upset that I’d even dare), it seems like this work is desperately needed
Alley Valkyrie and I just recorded a new episode of our podcast, Empires Crumble. It will be released later this week once I have time to edit the audio files. If you haven’t heard any of these episodes (we’ve been on hiatus the last 7 months), you can listen to our archives here.
My upcoming course, Being Pagan, is almost at capacity. It starts at the end of June, and there are just a few slots left, so if you’ve been intending to join I really suggest not waiting. I will instruct it again late autumn.
1 Of course the worst documented experiment was the leftist sexualization of children in Germany during the late 60’s. I won’t describe any of this, but if you really need to know, start with this tame article.
2 But of course there are actually people in those comments calling for the end of men and masculinity, so you don’t really have to look too deeply there.
3 If you’re a paid subscriber to my newsletter and don’t have access to either of those sites, please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll happily send you the PDF version of it.