Daniel. 23. Birthplace: Itagüí, Colombia. Currently: South Bronx, New York. Spiritual, Not Religious. Drawing Bodies. Preschool Teacher/Runner.
What does the concept/word “feminism” mean to you? What does the concept of equality mean to you?
I think it’s a word that overlaps with things I’ve had to come up with as a queer person of color. It all comes back to respect. It funnels into a specific respect that correlates with female bodies and feminine attributes but it’s all the same thing of: “I’m a person that’s not like other people and I just want to be respected”.
What do you think is the most pressing struggle for women today? What is the most crucial aspect in your eyes?
Having a female body seems really difficult. The world as it stands is kind of made to assume that you’re a walking man and everything outside of that seems to be really difficult. I had an altercation on the train where a man forced himself on me and it was super crazy and happened really fast and I had to go to work after that so I didn’t have enough time to think about it. Later I thought: this is what a lot of my friends experience on a day-to-day basis just because they’re a walking female body. It’s nuts. So the physical fact of walking around with a female body or a feminine-assuming body and having people treat that properly.
Is feminism a subject you think about? Have you ever read a book or seen a documentary about feminist issues?
It is a subject I think about in relation to the grander scheme of trying to treat people respectfully. I went to Parsons at The New School, so feminism was an issue that came up often – I’d say I’m well versed but of course there’s more room to grow. I don’t think I’ve seen specifically anything that had feminism in the title.
Why do you identify as a feminist and how/when did you learn about it? What were you taught about women growing up?
I think it’d be silly not to identify as a feminist so for that reason alone I happily identify as a feminist. Growing up as a Colombian boy, there’s a weird Hispanic thing where we respect women a lot but they can also be really shitty to women. I only saw the positive side of it, where throughout my life to this day women play a huge role. I’ve been blessed with a ton of really powerful strong women like my Mom and ladies who just have their stuff together.
I moved to the United States when I was six but I have enough connection to Colombia and so many ladies in my family that it seems like the easiest thing to do; to just identify as a feminist and go with what that definition asks of a person. So I grew up with feminism. I have a half-sister who is 11 years old. She’s too little now but it is weird seeing her starting to have body issues. I remember she got in trouble at school in New Jersey – I think she was saying something like her chest was itchy and she was talking with a boy about how her chest was itchy and he was itchy too or something like that. Ultimately she got in trouble and the principal told her: “Girls don’t talk about their body like that”. I got really really upset because the kid got off fine, no one said anything to him about his body. It’s like: “OK you’re already starting this conversation of not-OK-ness with your body”. It was weird, I was really upset. I wanted to call in and pretend I was her Dad.
Is feminism empowering for men? If so, how? How does feminism differ for you?
Yes. It’s checking your privilege immediately. We all have levels of it. I get certain things given to me because I’m a man, people assume that I’m a man and I live my life as a man. It’s just a simple fact of saying that I’m a feminist, I’ve checked some of those things and I acknowledge that I get treated differently because of it.
Why do you think the word “feminist” is associated with a negative stigma? What do you think it connotes? How do you think it could change?
Because people are dumb. People are really dumb. A lot of problems just boil down to that. I mean, the way the vernacular is built – early 1980’s or 1990’s feminism and even before that was associated with issues. What’s that one famous quote from the commercial? “Feminism will turn your wives into lesbians”. From very early on, the word was downgraded and people are scared of femininity, to begin with. If it was a different word people wouldn’t be so afraid of it, but femininity is a word that has negative connotations, to begin with. I don’t know how it could change. I don’t think that it should change. I don’t think that it’s supposed to. I think you just deal with it. I don’t think the intention is to make people feel better about feminism. I think the intent is to make people better. Period. The goal shouldn’t be to make the word more comfortable for people, it should just be to make the change happen regardless of what people think of the word or not.
What issues/reservations do you have with feminism today? What do you personally think needs change?
There’s kind of a gap, at least that I’ve seen and experienced myself with queer women and gay men – queer women who identify as feminists. It’s something the LGBTQ community does in general where we kind of denounce allies because they don’t meet all the criteria. I’ve had personal experiences with very powerful queer women who identify as feminists who assume that my hub won’t be enough or isn’t good enough. More so on the issues of queer theory and stuff like that, but I’ve had it be a clear physical thing of: “I don’t want you here. I don’t need your help” and it sucks because you need all the allies you can get. That would something specifically that I would love to see changed. You may not agree with all of the things but some things are really important to agree on and I think this is one of them.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? Are there any other questions you think I should be asking?
I would be interested to know about feminism within the trans* community. Just coming out, in general, is difficult, but coming out as trans* is really difficult. With men specifically; with male-to-female transitions, it’s such a huge transition and it’s so shocking for men specifically. I think we’re built to have our foundation be masculinity and to say: “No, that’s not what I want to build myself on, in fact, I’m going to choose femininity as a base”, that’s courageous. I think that would be an interesting thing to explore.
I’ve set the parameters for this project to be binary so it can focus only on people who identify as men. Trans* issues are complicated and maybe have to be answered by gender politics, not just feminism. I want to start working on another project for trans* and gender-nonconforming people because it definitely needs to be more of a conversation and I have no answers to any of those questions.
I also think those answers are just now being formed. Those questions are only just arising. At least for our generation, they’re just popping up and being super visible. My Mom, for example, is very feminine; she wears makeup, she likes her hair done a certain way, she likes to present herself a certain way but no other woman in my life has ever been as powerful. If anything, it’s just presenting yourself the way that you want to be perceived. Somehow she uses this stuff to such a great extent, to such a great effect where it’s never been that she’s been patronized or anything like that but I’ve always seen her look her best and act accordingly and both just scream “boss”.
Even when she didn’t work because we came here as immigrants and they struggled – never once did I see her not exude this “I own everything” feeling and that was powerful. That was super powerful. She had me when she was really young and they came to the U.S. for the promise of better life, but they had some good stuff going on there: my Mom was really excited about being an accountant. I mean she was really excited about being an accountant but then coming here was a total step backwards; not knowing the language and not knowing her way around things. Even right now I don’t think she’s completely happy with where she’s at but still, she’s just killing everything. She’s always this source of wisdom and it’s been good. I’m excited for my sister because she gets to have her as “Mom” whereas I had a penis and she didn’t and she didn’t know what to do about that.
This post was originally published on the author’s Tumblr and is republished here with her permission.
Photo credit: Deryne Keretic