Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Some thoughts on feminism and faggotry

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | October 24, 2007 3:52 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Faggots book, feminism, gay sex, parental violence, playground

I'm fond of saying that most faggots wouldn't know feminism if you hit them over the head with it, but usually this isn't as funny as it sounds. So often it means that my sex life stays separate from my politics, the gestures of passion don't grow impassioned. I’m trying to create a space where the rigor of politics builds desire into something I can finally imagine. Unfortunately, I can't necessarily say that I've seen politicized people treat one another better, but I want to know what it would mean to build a culture of possibility.

I'm trying to talk about faggotry and feminism, how they intersect so clearly in my life but elsewhere they’re rings around one another. Feminism taught me to politicize every choice, including the ways in which I claim desire. I want to say that faggotry taught me to claim desire, including the ways in which I politicize every choice. Just because that sounds symmetrical. It would make things easier.

Kids on the playground called me faggot way before I knew that I had choices. I mean boys -- it's boys who called me faggot. Years before I knew what it meant, at least the cocksucking part, and then years more before I realized they didn't know about the cocksucking part they just knew I wasn't going to become a man if I didn't play by their rules. I hated them, and I hated their rules.

When I realized that it was gender they were seeing not desire, that little boys are monsters because of their parents and the cultures that makes them enact violence in order to access power -- when I realized these things, that's when I realized I needed to be a faggot because it was the only way they wouldn't win.

This was feminism: I was claiming a space outside in order to break apart their rules. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I claimed freak, right? Because I wanted to scare people into giving me my own space. I wanted to inspire kids beaten down still showing a spark not to care about everyone else. I would never have used the word kids -- we were already 14, 15, right? Anyway, that was after I decided to cook my own meals, do my own dishes because I saw the way this was required of my mother.

No need to track whether I was a feminist before a freak, a freak before queer, queer before faggot. I know this all took a while, that each layer makes the other, that none of this prepared me for the relentless dehumanization in gay male sexual spaces. Gay was never an identity I embraced, someone on the street would say are you gay? No, darling, I would say -- I'm a faggot.

The problem with gay male sexual spaces is that they’re almost like some homophobe on the street, demanding your adherence to the worst norms of masculinity unless you want your head bashed in I mean a blowjob. And feminist spaces, where the energy is so high the possibilities bright and glowing but I look around for faggots and I can count them on my fingers, sometimes just one hand.

Mattilda blogs at

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Carrie Wooten Carrie Wooten | October 24, 2007 9:48 AM

I love your theory in the morning, we need more of it. =)

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 24, 2007 4:20 PM

This is a brilliant post!!

I've just come from reading the comment thread on Bill's post about "Would I want to change being queer?" and was realizing how different my experience of being a queer man is from non-FtM queer men. Especially Alex's comment, about not having to stress over how another man's body works. That is SO not the case for me. And so I was feeling "illegitimate" somehow, because my experience of queerness doesn't involve common body knowledge. Unless I'm sexually involved with another FtM, I never really share the inner identity and outer parts with a lover. So a gulf opened up for me...then I came here, saw how your experience of being queer--if I'm reading you correctly--is much more centered on alienation from exploitative norms. Rules-breaking. Pushing back hard against a culture that wanted to crush you for as long as you can remember. And how your desire is something related to but also other than this.

And I can identify.

Thank you.

Like you, I really really wish there were more feminist gay men.

Carrie, thanks for such sweetness and understanding!

And Brynn, your analysis is so rigorous and beautiful:

"how your experience of being queer--if I'm reading you correctly--is much more centered on alienation from exploitative norms. Rules-breaking. Pushing back hard against a culture that wanted to crush you for as long as you can remember. And how your desire is something related to but also other than this."

Indeed, you are absolutely reading me correctly -- and more!

Love --


Thanks for this comment. I wasn't thinking along those lines at all when I was writing my comment on that other post. In fact, I was mostly excited that I got to use another Seinfeld quotation in a comment, but that's another story.

My sexual experiences have been limited to a small (isn't that what they all say?) number of cis men who have identified somehow as not straight. That being said, I think that saying that "we all have the same bodies" is a gross oversimplification. The last guy I was with was fifteen years older, 2/3 my weight, several inches shorter, with mild cerebral palsy. To say that we had the same bodies would be incorrect, and, considering how many people have sex with people with different bodies in this world, it seems like people are willing to cross those boundaries all the time.

I actually think that I feel similar alienation (to a much, much less degree, I understand, and I'm not trying to trivialize your experiences) from an abstract idea of a community of people with similar bodies because of my ethnicity (a little bit) and my weight issues (a lotta bit). Add to that certain ways in which my junk works differently than others', which I won't go into here, it kinda opens up a whole lot of anxiety. I'm definitely not going to say that it's the same as your experiences at all, but I'm hoping it's a starting point for some understanding. Please correct me if I'm just not getting it.


Dehumanization in gay male spaces? Um, yeah, and it's even funnier because that's something I think we should know about.

I must be surrounded by a great group of people who identify as gay men, because I definitely wouldn't say that this is a problem that they are all or systemically unaware of feminism (as if everything that gets labeled as feminism can be rolled into one concept). Like some are, some aren't. But then I exit that group of people and I enter those public gay male spaces, like the bars and clubs, and maybe that's why I just don't go to them anymore, because people are actually willing to be openly rude to others there. But I'm trying to take that as a cue to not be so judgmental - I mean, people congregate at those spaces based on one thing and so many other things about them are so different, so me being like, you're rude, you aren't giving me a chance, why don't you stop and think about the broader implications of what you're doing, seems like it's just me trying to impose some abstract concept of awareness on others. Like a total lack of humility. Like I'm more enlightened or something.

But then again, my apparent decision has been to just stop seeking out those spaces. I'm still trying not to be so essentializing and judgmental, but just from a distance.

Great post!

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | October 25, 2007 2:15 PM

Hey, Alex, yeah it’s true that all of us can only understand others’ experiences to a limited degree. Then again, all of us being human, maybe the bodily differences aren’t as significant as we might think. In the end, maybe my bodily experience as a trans guy isn’t that different than a cis-guy’s.

The rub is, I'll never know. And that's one of the big reasons it's so hard to let it go.

Mattilda, I'm glad I was reading it right! And thanks again for the brilliant post.

Tony Kariotis | October 25, 2007 5:28 PM

I think your generalizations of faggotry are really dangerous. Because of rejection due to non-conforming identity by some jerks really doens't justify the generalization...

I'm glad Alex acknowledged that not all "gay" men are absent of a feminist consciousness...but back to the bars...Generalizing a group of people by who goes to the bars is kind of silly. That's like going to McDonalds and wondering why everyone around you is eating unhealthy food.

Because I indentify as queer doesn't make me better than men who identify as gay...As you've clearly shown through your own shared experienced, you're far more enlightened than many people out there. I think that's a true gift that is crucial to have as a leader in our community. Alienating people because they don't have your shared experience is counterproductive, and frankly kind of offensive.

Think about what your reaction would have been if someone who identifies as gay would have made a post that was people on here would have ate him alive...and I really don't think it's fair that you don't hold yourselves to the same standard...

Check yourselves before you wreck yourselves...

peace and love
Tony Kariotis