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Love and Afrofeminism: Queer Bois and the Gendered Politics of Partner Dancing

One night my friends and I went salsa dancing at a straight club. It doesn't get any more gendered than that. My girl had been asking me to go dancing with her for months. I had finally acquiesced, and was really looking forward to it. But the minute we got to the club, my confidence made for the door, leaving me stranded, feeling weird and freakish. I became very aware of myself as a woman in men's clothing, not short, not tall, black girl, poor girl, what are you doing here?

In my mind, I knew it was silly. I'm a great dancer. But something about that hall filled with really straight-looking people triggered my discomfort in a major way. I felt my girl pull my hand as she began leading the way, her straight friends following closely behind us, taking off their coats as they glided through the busy dance floor in that way some women do when they know they have eyes on them. I felt awkward shuffling along behind them, straining to keep my shoulders back and my face blank to feign disinterest, a cover for how insecure I felt in my ill-fitting clothing (at least compared to what everyone else was wearing). We hung our coats, and began looking for our friends. A song came on that everyone seemed to like, and I dug it. I was beginning to relax and settle into myself as we approached our friend's table. I figured I'd dance with my girl and soon forget about where we were. She always had that effect on me, so our dance was something to look forward to.

silhouettes of people salsa dancing

But before I knew it, I felt her drop my hand. I turned to my left, and saw that a slick haired older Latino guy had taken her other hand and pulled her unto the dance floor for the current number. She'd innocently obliged, 1-2-stepping away and swaying her hips to let her know that she was down, and twirling away from me as I stood there feeling more awkward than ever, abandoned, and embarrassed. My eyes darted around in search of familiarity, a safe harbor to crawl into. But I realized that our party had dispersed into the night and I was the only one not dancing. All three ladies had found male partners, so what did that mean for me? I wasn't nearly comfortable going up to any of the straight women to ask for a dance and face high school humiliation. I wasn't "pretty" enough to fare as competition, nor was I macho enough to warrant any other kind of attention. So they completely ignored me (but for the few that blatantly stared in pity or disdain).

Eventually, I found the friends we'd intended to meet. Relieved, I grabbed a beer, and found my station in the corner, where I planned to remain for the rest of the night. Eventually, my girl came back to me, sweat beads all along her forehead from at least three rounds of salsa, and the familiar glow of being around her people that I recognized. She was smiling when she approached me, but my face held stern. She gestured to me to dance with her and I abruptly refused, taking another sip from my beer so that she couldn't read me. Yet, even I couldn't understand the way I felt at that point.

It wasn't jealousy. My girl and I were in love and I didn't have any insecurities about her dancing with straight men. It wasn't even that Slick had gotten the first dance—I wasn't that kind of macho. No, it was something more. And it took me several hours, long after we'd left the club and were safely in bad, to articulate, even to myself.

I had felt unsafe in that space. The night had represented every micro aggression I'd ever experienced from straight people: cab drivers that kicked me out in the middle of the night because they wouldn't tolerate "that" at the back of their cabs, store managers who kept insisting I'd find better clothing in the women's section, every gay boy that looked me up and down with disdain because I wasn't conforming to their inherited fucked up view on what a woman should look like or wear to be "fabulous," straight women who blatantly ignored me because I didn't fit in the coop, and femme girls that ranted on and on about masculine privilege, but hardly ever acknowledged that their pretty privilege made their worlds so much bigger than mine. That my girl could mindlessly shimmy onto a dance floor even as a gay woman and enjoy the simple pleasure of a dance, go out with her straight friends to bars and not be stared at or called names, etc., while everything about the landscape, from the "Ladies free before 11PM" sign to the man-woman dance partner pairings made me so angry all of a sudden. And, I didn't know how to handle it.

All the memories I'd retained of my life as a straight girl, or even as a heteronormative queer femme (as I explored my gender shortly after coming out) came rushing back to me. I remember when people smiled brightly at me when I walked into restaurants—"How can I help you, miss?"—and I would smile back, knowing that I could get whatever I wanted simply because I was pretty. I remember being able to play up the damsel in distress card whenever I arrived late at the airport, scuttling along in heels and designer hand luggage, and the two or three guards would help me cut the line to make my flight, with an upgrade just because. I'd given all that up for the sake of being authentically me. I didn't regret it, or take it back. But becoming so aware of my lack of privilege, now, in those spaces, made me upset that it didn't occur to anyone else to be more considerate of how I felt.

What I'd like to share with you isn't about who has more privilege or who can pass, etc. I'm not interested in setting up an hierarchy of oppression. Life is fucked for a lot of us in more ways than we can calibrate, so instead, I'd like to share something else with you all, a few tips about how to be more supportive of people like me.

As a gender non-conforming (most of the time) boi who is dating a femme-identified woman, I have my responsibilities to her that I take seriously. I don't tolerate stupid misogynist jokes at her expense, I don't belittle her in front of anyone to validate my masculinity, when people assume that we stick to gendered roles in our household, I let her respond / answer honestly. I treat her with respect, always—as we should each other, regardless of how we identify—and I celebrate how powerful, how protected I feel in spite of how scary the world can be sometimes, and I ask that she does the same. What we discovered that night is that there is more that she could do to make sure I feel seen, respected, and advocated for in gendered spaces.

So, here are a few tips we've discussed as a couple that I'd like to share with you, in case it resonates, and most especially, if you ever go salsa dancing:

1) Recognize you have "pretty privilege": As a cisgender, female-bodied person, you are able to move in and out of spaces because of your perceived heteronormativity—i.e., you are "a girl who still looks like a girl" to regular folk, you have passing privilege, and not everyone's gender presentation grants them that much ease of access to straight spaces. So please don't talk badly about those "queers who only hang out with queers" especially as a femme woman. It hurts. I have so many kinds of friends, that know and trust me. But I can't be dumped in the middle of blond highlight, Aldo stilettos Boston without warning. It's ME they'll stare and jeer at, not you.

2) Check the temperature of a space to ensure safety of your gender non-conforming friends: Similarly, as you can move in and out of spaces, check the pulse of a room before you invite your partner to enter it. If you are both invited to a straight friend's gathering, give them warning. If you are frolicking downtown and just want to choose a bar to go to, it may be good for you to walk in and assess the environment, rather than go through the humiliation of entering a place and then having to leave because people are assholes / staring / your partner is not comfortable.

3) Please do NOT use emasculation as a way to put me down, make fun of me, or belittle me. I can't tell you how much it infuriates me to hear femmes go, "Oh I can be a butch / stud / insertwhatevermasculinelabelhere, all I need to do is put on some baggy jeans and wear a hat." My identity isn't reduced to what I wear. I would never trivialize who you are by reducing your femininity down to some lipstick and earrings. This is not to say that I donít appreciate people who play with fashion / gender expression—I do. So I'm specifically referring to situations in which it's used to belittle / emasculate someone / put them down by suggesting that their gender / how they feel about themselves is a cheap performance, and doesn't go any deeper. As I'm sure you can imagine, for gender non-conforming / transgender people who choose not to / don't have the funds to be able to transition (via surgery / hormone therapy), this is extremely hurtful.

4) Don't use boilerplate rhetoric about sexism against me. If I don't mistreat you or put you down, please don't automatically pathologize me as such. I've always advocated for women; I'm a staunch feminist. Let's not inherit stereotypes about masculinity from straight people and naturally assume that I'm a misogynist asshole simply because I present more masculine. Innocent until proven guilty, okay? Then I definitely want you to call me out on it. In fact, please do. The last thing I want is to turn into the kind of person whose masculinity can only be affirmed by putting down other women.

These suggestions have obviously been very personalized to fit my own relationship. My partner identifies as femme, and I'm more masculine presenting; the dynamic between us in public spaces may be slightly different (or even perceived as such) based on gender roles and societal expectations. However, even if this doesn't apply to you—you're a straight, cis couple, two butches dating each other, two femmes, multiple partners, etc.—I do think keeping this in mind as a way to be more considerate and caring of gender non-conforming people can't hurt.

Have you had similar experiences? How did you handle it? What other suggestions/tips would you add for supporting people who don't conform to society's dogmatic gender norms when out in public (and other typically gendered) spaces?

Oh, and for the record, my partner and I have been practicing our salsa (I've gotten so much better), and we are determined to learn how to dance like this. Who's with us?

Previously: The Curious Case of Gender Roles, Introducing a New Series on Love and Afrofeminism!

Image: onlinsalsa via Flickr

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Comments

49 comments have been made. Post a comment.

This is incredibly

This is incredibly misogynistic. There are women out there without 'pretty' privilege. Both cis and not. And 'pretty' privilege is highly subjective depending on where you are. I certainly don't have it because I don't conform to certain body standards.

You seem to be upset because at one point, you had the privilege that I don't. Even though I'm a cis female. And now you don't have the privilege that 'femme' women enjoy.

I found this incredibly offensive.

As spectra says in her post...

As spectra says in her post...

What I'd like to share with you isn't about who has more privilege or who can pass, etc. I'm not interested in setting up an hierarchy of oppression. Life is fucked for a lot of us in more ways than we can calibrate, so instead, I'd like to share something else with you all, a few tips about how to be more supportive of people like me.

Of course not everyone has pretty privilege, but not everyone has to deal with random people questioning their gender presentation either. It's not about valuing one over the other or putting anyone down, she's just speaking about her experiences.

I'm sorry this offended you; I'm sure that wasn't spectra's intention.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

"Pretty Privilege" is a poor term as used here

1) Recognize you have "pretty privilege": As a cisgender, female-bodied person, you are able to move in and out of spaces because of your perceived heteronormativity—i.e., you are "a girl who still looks like a girl" to regular folk, you have passing privilege, and not everyone's gender presentation grants them that much ease of access to straight spaces.

Hold up - I agree with what I think is the intended point here, but I don't think we should dismiss questioning the use of "pretty privilege" to refer to all cis women.

As a cisgender, female-bodied person who is able to move in and out of spaces because of my perceived heteronormativity and the relative ease with which I am placed by others as "she" (which is not the same thing as heteronormativity) I have passing privilege, cis privilege and hetero privilege. But I do not believe I can have "pretty privilege" when I am not pretty, although it's not clear whether this is about prettiness or not. It reads like the author is using a tongue-in-cheek term to refer to all cis women. If that is what's happening, then I ask: Who does it benefit to reify the connection between femininity and prettiness? I have trouble believing that will help anyone on the gender spectrum.

Please pick a better term, or at least let's engage in more useful dialog about this than "sorry this offended you". I can't speak for the above commenter, but I'm personally not trying to engage in some kind of oppression olympics here, let me be clear about that. I AM concerned about casually discursively defininity femininity under the term 'pretty', 'cause in that case: I guess I'm not a woman afterall?

Thanks, Yes Let's Have a Convo

Hi, I appreciate the thoughtfulness you put into your objection of the use of "pretty privilege." It's an idea I've toyed with for a very long time. "Pretty" to me has been used to describe a woman as determined by what society thinks a "woman" should be; so for me, yes, it's subjective (and ridiculous), but the power is there, just the same, for women who conform in some way. I'd rather have a discussion about the larger issue in the piece, that get boggled down by semantics. Language is important, but it's not my practice to engage in vernacular/niche vocab wars because they don't get us anywhere. I appreciate your willingness to engage; how did you feel about the idea of masculine presenting / gender non-conforming women being invisible in the kinds of spaces I described? Do you have experience with this?

I certainly didn't intend for the argument to become that "pretty" privilege be ascribed to be descriptive of all cis women I was simply describing the kind of privilege that comes with comes with enacting a certain kind of femininity that's normalized in our society. I'd hope we can move beyond semantics to get to the root of the issue; empathy, care, and love for marginalized people in our community, as that's the entire reason I'm writing this Love and Afrofeminism series.

I have to say that my

I have to say that my immediate reaction to "Pretty Privilege" was the same as that of the two commenters above, and I'm not sure if I can get over that after reading your response. As a fat femme woman, I experience invisibility, too--in fact, I've been dragged by a group of conventionally "pretty" straight femme friends to a salsa night and had an experience almost identical to the one you describe! I'm sure you can understand that for femme women who have always been told we should work hard to make our appearance conform to mainstream standards for women--that instead of being who we are, we should be more "pretty"--the P word is a bit of a sore spot.

I absolutely understand that I have a lot of passing privilege, and I also understand your preference not to get involved with arguments over semantics, but I think that there's actually a really useful common place here where "non-pretty" cisgender femmes and gender-nonconforming folks can understand each other. My soft butch girlfriend and I have had very similar experiences when it comes to invisibility in straight social places where appearance is a big deal. While the experiences of being non-gender-conforming and of being femme-but-not-pretty are overall very different, in the specific kind of scenarios you've discussed in this post, they can sometimes be much the same, so how can we use our similar experiences productively?

I really appreciated your items 2 through 4, and apart from that WORD I can't get over, I appreciated your point on item 1, too. Looking forward to reading the rest of your series!

Sorry, I Missed This Earlier! I Clarified

Hey, sorry I missed responding to this comment earlier.

"I absolutely understand that I have a lot of passing privilege, and I also understand your preference not to get involved with arguments over semantics, but I think that there's actually a really useful common place here where "non-pretty" cisgender femmes and gender-nonconforming folks can understand each other. My soft butch girlfriend and I have had very similar experiences when it comes to invisibility in straight social places where appearance is a big deal. "

I absolutely agree with your idea above; I clarified that "pretty" (which was intended to be used in quotes) refers to women who fit within narrow societal view of what a woman should look like; that certainly often leaves out fat women, gender non-conforming peeps (per the scenario I offered in my writing), and other people who don't conform: trans women, disabled, etc. I share similar experiences with women in those groups.

Lastly, "pretty" may be a sore spot (I get it, I promise) but it's actually been a very useful tool for me when explaining cisgender privilege to my straight friends. I tend to stay away from feminist niche language (honestly, I don't find I'm ever really comfortable in feminist spaces because I find the call out culture and militancy around language silencing and alienating), so using every day language feels more natural to me (and felt more authentic in this piece). You certainly don't have to love it / adopt it, but I hope you can respect and affirm my own need to use it. For me, as long as I clarify it's meaning (which, by the way, you are welcome to still assert isn't as exciting for you), I prefer to focus on the larger themes in the piece around advocating for gender non-conforming people; so thanks a lot for the thoughtfulness you put into your comment, despite the language disagreement. I value that in this space and hope you chime in for the rest of the series.

Thanks for your response!

I really appreciate your clarification here! It's good that the word "pretty" has been useful to you with a specific group of femmes, and yeah, I absolutely respect your need/right to use it. (It is a nice alliteration, too, so even though it still gives me pause, and I really felt a need to say something about it, I get the appeal.) It's great to be able to engage in and learn from these conversations, even when they do begin from language quibbles.

trans women too, surely?

I just want to point out that while pretty privilege is often denied to trans women, that's not always the case. Likewise fat women, women of color, disabled women, and other types of women who are often excluded by straight beauty norms.

It feels a little uncomfortable to even bring this up. “But trans women can totally live up to arbitrary external beauty standards!” or even “But trans women aren't all ugly! That's a terrible stereotype!” Wanting to be seen as pretty definitely validates the social systems that try want to tell us what “pretty” means, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want it at least a little. I'm sure a lot of women, cis and trans, feel similarly.

(Also, as a practical matter, your advice is equally valuable for trans women who have pretty/passing privilege and want to support their butch / genderqueer / masculine partners.)

Absolutely

Thank you for your comment. Yes, it needs to be said, that not ALL trans women don't have passing privilege, and that those that do and conform to societal standards of beauty can certainly have pretty privilege. I like the idea of my advice being applicable to all kinds of relationships. Thanks for this.

Thanks for this!

"Pretty" to me has been used to describe a woman as determined by what society thinks a "woman" should be; so for me, yes, it's subjective (and ridiculous), but the power is there, just the same, for women who conform in some way.

I was simply describing the kind of privilege that comes with comes with enacting a certain kind of femininity that's normalized in our society.

This is super clarifying for me, because I genuinely wasn't sure what you meant. I don't accept that it's a good term, still, but I think I understand much better what you mean. And that thing that you are talking about when you use this term, I'm 100% on board with critiquing (and, I think, I do hold that privilege in many contexts while in mnay others I don't, because it's subjective).

To answer your questions: I feel like masculine presenting / gender non-conforming women are invisible in many spaces and I'm uncomfortable with those spaces continuing to exist that way. I personally don't feel like I can enter most dance/club type spaces comfortably or safely. I agree with the other commenter in this thread, Alyssa K, when she suggests there is a " a really useful common place here where 'non-pretty' cisgender femmes and gender-nonconforming folks can understand each other". I especially liked tips #1 & #2 despite my concern, and I think the idea of taking the "temperature" of a space is great advice for allies.

Two things:

1) I am super aware that this is not the intended focus of your article and that my objection to "pretty privilege" is distracting. I'm sorry for this! It's a big enough concern for me that I needed to bring it up - and I hope you don't dismiss that as invalid, because that WOULD kinda be saying that one kind of oppression is worse than another - but I read and digested the whole. This will be my last comment on this thread about the use of "pretty" because I don't want it to take up any more space with it... but I can't feel bad about taking up ANY space with this concern, because it's a problematic thing for you to have said.

2) You know, I don't usually like engaging in semantic gripes either, so it's interesting for me to reflect on whether or not that's what this is since you're interpreting it that way. I had a visceral reaction to "pretty privilege" that hurt. I agree with you that "language is important" but your opinion that this is a vernacular/niche vocab war is subjective. If you really don't want to engage about a term, maybe don't use it? Or define it to begin with?

I've bookmarked your site.

Agree to Disagree

Thanks, love, for your comment above, and sharing! Curious to see what others feel in regards to similar experiences.

This: "I hope you don't dismiss that as invalid, because that WOULD kinda be saying that one kind of oppression is worse than another" I completely disagree with. Pointing out that someone's comment removes the focus of the original pieces from the oppressed to the oppressor (in this context, i.e. "feminine women who conform to societal norms of femininity") is in NO way instigating oppression olympics; it's calling out derailing behavior, period. If you'd digested the WHOLE, I do believe that "pretty privilege" would have been more of a side comment that the focal point of your general response to the piece. We can agree to disagree here.

I do appreciate your engagement regardless. I also, in the context of afrofeminism (which prioritizes lives experiences and connecting vs. rhetoric and semantics) take issue with being told by a self-identified feminist to drop language that comes more natural to me, especially after I've explained it. We can go back and forth on it, but again, I don't think that's useful. That others got what I was trying to say without hinging on language indicates that my use of pretty privilege may be subjective (as was intended), so I don't concede that it was a "problematic" term. Again, we can agree to disagree.

Clarification

I don't believe that ugly, fat and/or disabled women - some of the many things cis women can be that would be unfair to group under a blanket category of "pretty privilege" - are "the oppressor". The intention of my comments was to clarify whether or not you intended to erase these folks, and as you have clarified, that's NOT what you meant. So we're on the same page here! Awesome!

I get that you must be responding to some stuff that isn't what I said, too, because I just re-read my previous comments and I don't see anyplace where I self-identified as a feminist (although I am one). So that's OK! Peace out.

This isn't an argument about

This isn't an argument about semantics. This is a criticism of a central point in your post. Which is to say that because you are genderqueer that you don't have 'pretty' privilege anymore and that embitters you. And not to mention the tone that being femme, or a woman, means we have to conform to ridiculous and outdated gender roles. Which is confusing given you are genderqueer.

You have an all or nothing thing here. Either you go masculine and behave in a masculine way, or you stay feminine and pretty. What is internalized misogyny.

Don't Agree That "Pretty Privilege" Debate is Central

I shared a personal story, including my experiences when I was perceived as femme, and now as more masculine. Those are both real, lived, experiences and I don't apologize for the polarity/duality; no, not even as someone who is "genderqueer."

That you surmized from my piece that being femme or a woman means "having to conform" to "ridiculous and outdated" gender roles is hard to understand, given that I spend most of it talking about occupying the space in between society's narrow views of gender while in a very gendered space.

Moreover, your assessment of the "central point" (i.e. point number one in tips that came in the last third o the piece) trivializes the personal context in which this post was written. In fact, I'm wondering if your not reading the piece as a personal reflection is part of why you're asserting that there is some "argument" being made about the way people SHOULD "behave" (i.e. masculine or feminine). So confused by that statement. So, leading into how people who conform to society's narrow view of gender can support people who don't is internalized misogyny? Unnecessary.

Important point

I think this is an important point that you make in the discussion: this was a personal experience and you shared with us how you felt. You shared what you (and perhaps, hopefully, we) can take away from that experience.

I, like commenter Alyssa K, am a fat femme who often feels invisible for my sexual orientation and my not-pretty-ness. But instead of feeling dissed, I left your article feeling empowered that a lot of us feel this way for various reasons and that we can make efforts to have healthy relationships that acknowledge what we need feel to feel safe/comfortable. Your article made me feel, for different reasons, understood, and helped me identify why I feel the same way in similar situations.

You put it better than I

You put it better than I could. There seems to be a suggestion in the above that women who don't conform to the femme aren't actually women. Which is pretty damned offensive to trans women as well who may not pass, or may not have 'pretty' privilege.

"sorry this offended you" is also a ridiculous faux-pology. I'd rather they not try.

There's also a totally offensive suggestion that women all do the designer hand luggage/prancing around through the airport thing. Sorry but no and I never will.

Way Off Base

"There seems to be a suggestion ... that women who don't conform to femme aren't actually women."

I am floored by this -- not sure where you got this "suggestion" but I'd like to see it; especially since there are several parts of the post (and several comments -- not just mine) that talk about a "specific" and "very narrowly-defined" view of what society thinks a "woman" should be/ look like. And yes, that does not always include dark-skinned black women, trans women, fat etc. I'm all for being challenged, but to engage I need context.

And as for the other "suggestion" that ALL women do designer hand luggage (yes, let's admonish other expressions of femininity shall we), that's just inaccurate. The piece was written from a very personal place, written in the "I" that much of this is from my personal experience. If you don't relate to it, that's fine. But for the benefit of others who may be reading, referencing my "old self" as a cisgender ultra-feminine woman was intended to contextualize my awareness of cisgender privilege.

It's the central point of

It's the central point of your piece. That women are femme. You focus othering on your own personal issues and class women as totally stereotypical.

Yeah, No

I was in a pretty "gendered" space already contextualizes my very specific setting from the very beginning. The women in that space mainly conformed to gender roles and expectations (including my own partner). If that truth makes you uncomfortable, there's nothing I can do about that.

"That my girl could mindlessly shimmy onto a dance floor even as a gay woman and enjoy the simple pleasure of a dance, go out with her straight friends to bars and not be stared at or called names, etc., while everything about the landscape, from the "Ladies free before 11PM" sign to the man-woman dance partner pairings made me so angry all of a sudden. And, I didn't know how to handle it."

If you can read that paragraph and completely miss that I'm talking about cisgender privilege (inc. being able to 'pass' and fit into society's narrow view of "woman") is beyond me. There ARE women who conform to the stereotypes that bother you so much; I happened to have been surrounded by many of them that evening, and used to be one myself. That in no way suggests ALL woman are the same.

As for focusing "othering" on personal issues, if I'd mentioned feeling othered as a black woman in a predominantly white space, would that have been classified as a "personal issue" as well?

Not sure there's anywhere else to go from here. Thanks for your comment.

What Gender Conforming Is...

Here's the thing, I'm a DFAB genderfluid high femme, and although I'm "pretty" in so much as I have a face and body socially regarded as pretty, I don't really get this. My presentation is very dramatic, very drag queen, very freaky, because that's how I feel comfortable. I scare cis het folks when I look the way I'm truly comfortable with. Cashiers ask me if I'm in a theater production the first time they meet me, look at me in discomfort every time after. The thing is if you're too loudly, flamboyantly femme, one isn't conforming to gender standards either.

Otherwise

wholeheartedly, yes. Invisibility can be painful, but it certainly can protect one from nastiness at times. I think more traditional femmes do get treated badly in other ways (femme/femme relationships are regarded as unimportant, or non-existant) and even my relationships with femme men are treated as somehow invalid because there's no "masculine one" in the relationship.

It's about Empathy

With all due respect, and consideration for any hurt or triggering that prompted this comment, I'm completely surprised by your comment.

You seemingly zeroed in on one section of the writer's piece and missed the overall point she was trying to make, that we ALL contribute to "othering" people in different spaces, and would all benefit from opening our eyes to how we make others feel.

As a femme, I see so many woman, and feminists, forget the bigger picture and constantly talk about how we are being oppressed. Yes. We are. And yes it sucks. But Spectra's talking about a way we as feminine presenting women sometimes inadvertently, but legitimately, make bois feel like shit. You just demonstrated what she was talking about with your comment.

It is human nature to focus on OUR experiences, OUR hurts, and how people react to US. We don't always have people in our lives who bravely (which is exacty what this writer did) open up enough to let us catch a glimpse of the world through their eyes. When it happens, we're given the greatest gift: a chance to expand our little world and "see" someone. We're given the gift of empathy, the very seed that creates the true and lasting social change so many of us fight for by allowing us to feel and see another human being, to experience their hurt and recognize our part in it.

Thank you Spectra for this beautiful, very carefully written, honest and hopeful piece. I loved every it part of it!

To many more of these learning moments :)

Oops! I meant this last

Oops! I meant this last comment to be in rely to "Anonymous" at the top who started off with "This is incredibly misogynistic!

Um sorry but how she feels

Um sorry but how she feels about me calling out her internalized (and externalized) misogyny isn't really my problem. She shoves how she feels maligned into the hands of a group of people she thinks have privilege because men pay attention to them. Which is apparently how you get worth? It makes utterly no sense. I guess I'm sorry she doesn't have to deal with the male gaze? Or implied helplessness like she used to?

I'm sorry she deals with othering when she doesn't fit into female stereotypes like wait..... othered females!

She's essentially angry because women she thinks are pretty get more benefits in society and she doesn't like it.

It's like blaming the salmon for being appealing to bears.

The pretty privilege thing is the focal point of her piece.

Cue Feminist Call Out Culture

"Anonymous", you win.

Signed, internally and externally misogynist, angry black woman who's pissed she doesn't appeal to men and dares to suggest that cisgender women who conform to society's view of what a woman is have any kind of privilege (or use it).

We won't see eye to eye on this. I'm totally okay with that.

It not about how she feels,

It not about how she feels, it's about you cherry picking and focusing on one aspect of her piece while ignoring the whole, and only seeing the problems inherent in it/and the problems you associate with her as a result, without looking at yourself and seeing how YOU contribute to the problem. Is there a problem with more attractive women inherently having more privilege in today's society? Yes. Was Spectra's overall point about that? Not at all.

How about we focus on the fact that she is another woman who is part of our community and being open about a time when she felt uncomfortable and not supported by a fellow woman who happens to be feminine presenting and could have done more to support her.

How about we focus on the ways we can support each other by listening to the ways we all fuck up and open ourselves to the ways in which we can do better.

How about when someone is talking about how they've been hurt, marginalized, made to feel invisible because of how they express their gender (they're own version of womanhood), we actually stand by them instead of immediately pathologize them as THE PROBLEM because we can't see past our own experience?

She's essentially angry

"She's essentially angry because women she thinks are pretty get more benefits in society and she doesn't like it."
Well, women who are considered "pretty" according to a mainstream ideal--women who are conventionally attractive, who look and act "feminine," and who are thin and non-disabled--DO "get more benefits in society." That doesn't mean that they do not also experience misogyny, or that they don't experience homophobia if they aren't straight or racism if they aren't white, but they do have access to a combination of privileges that, taken together, Spectra has termed "pretty privilege." It does mean that they are accepted in many spaces where someone who is gender-non-conforming, "ugly," disabled, etc. would be overwhelmingly made to feel like an outsider and may be attacked for her appearance and presentation. I think that's what Spectra was describing, and it's not inaccurate or silencing to point it out.

Thank you!

I just wanted to express my appreciation at your honesty, your willingness to share your vulnerability- and your choice to speak compassionately and lovingly about your partner even when her behavior was hurtful to you. Too often, these conversations become about oppression olympic "call-outs" as opposed to creating space to reach across differences and have each others' backs as Queer people of color. So thank you for giving this Queer cis-femme a space to reflect and some tools to check my motha-effin self ;)

P.S. One small note though... that video with the incredible dancing at the end is Bachata, which has a different national origin (Dominican) and musical history than Salsa (largely credited to Cuban music but really a mixture of Cuban and Puerto Rican music spiced with merengue and cumbia mixed up by Latino immigrants in the US.) Bachata has a really deep history of being marginalized as backwards, poor Black folk music, and was basically banned for decades until popular demand got stronger than censorship. Anyways, Happy Dancing!!!

Yes, Salsa and Bachata Aren't the Same

Hey there, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, and for clarifying for the readers that the video isn't actually salsa (though it does have salsa, tango, and some other dance styles mixed); it is performed to a Bachata song. I know this. My talking about improving my Salsa and then excitedly presenting the video was careless given that I know so many people aren't as educated as we'd (and my partner who is both Puerto Rican and Dominican) would like. Thank you, again!

I've been in that place...

So much of your post resonated with me. I've been in those spaces where I've been pushed to the corner on the dance floor, literally and figuratively. I just didn't fit there, and all I wanted to do was to leave. This may be due to my neurological differences rather than my gender identity; because I was the asocial "retard kid" for so long, being in public spaces where people perform in front of each other makes me uncomfortable.

I've only recently came out as a bisexual to my family. I didn't spend much time exploring my identity, since in the town I grew up in having a short haircut was enough to be "pushing it" and I didn't have any knowledge of alternative lifestyles. I don't think I gravitate toward either butch or femme (or maybe I do? Maybe neither or something in-between?), but I need to do more soul-searching (if any of you can give me advice on this, it would be appreciated). I've been cowardly for the simple reason that it IS easier for biological females to look like how women are mandated to look like in this society. And because of my other disadvantages (my immigrant background, my disability), I tend to use whatever cards I have; "prettiness" is one of them. Now, I'm worried that I've permanently erased who I really am.

Here's to the Crazy Kids

You are not alone, hon. Dance floors are generally a very weird place; the social constructions under which many of us live are heightened, and it's (in my opinion) so much easier to become aware of all the ways we're marginalized or "different" on a typical dance floor. But, it's also a place where a lot of liberation can take place! I say this as someone who's been on both sides -- popular kid in high school in Nigeria, then awkward, immigrant kid with an accent when I arrived in the US. You shouldn't be hard on yourself for leveraging parts of who you are just to survive; and I want you to know that this post isn't about admonishing people who do have "pretty privilege" -- just wanted to gently remind people to care / consider those of us who don't (in various ways). So even as someone who hasn't quite figured it ALL out yet (and really, who does), you can be an advocate to someone else, someone like me. And as for permanently erasing who you are, you hold those cards too. I recently watched (and reviewed) a film called Pariah, about a young woman of color who was gender non-conforming, trying to figure out who she is. I won't give it away (if you haven't seen it), but I love the message that life is a journey, and that unknowing of it all is freeing. Many hugs to you.

evaluating public spaces

"being in public spaces where people perform in front of each other makes me uncomfortable"

thank you so much for that sentence!

i've really been struggling lately with trying to describe, to myself, why sometimes i'm ok in public and sometimes i'm not

thinking about it this way, taking note of what type of/whether or not performance is expected, is so very helpful for me

geeksdoitbetter

Ageism, as well!

I would like to address spectra's question: What other suggestions/tips would you add for supporting people who don't conform to society's dogmatic gender norms when out in public (and other typically gendered) spaces?

Not sure if this goes off topic or not, and I'm sorry if it does. But the incident I'm referring to is so fresh- it happened today. And where else do I go but to the warm basking autumn-colored comforting glow of Bitch for mental support? I'm femme and my girlfriend is too, but... she's 22 years my senior. And I knew it would happen one day. I've prepared myself for it all through this delicate courtship of ours. And today it did. During her birthday (goddamit!!) lunch, we bumped into another mom from my daughter's preschool and she asked the dreaded question: "Oh, is this your mother?" I froze, and am sorry to say we both just ignored the incident. She went back to her life, and I to mine, without addressing what happened.

So when I read spectra's 3rd point, my interpretation of it made me realize that my girlfriend and I are probably doing harm to one another by trivializing our generation gap, and that the little ways we make fun of each other's ages meant to be cute and endearing, really represents our failure to address the issue. Our relationship is in our own little world, but today someone from the outside highlighted the age gap and we weren't prepared.

So, I would suggest, in addition to being aware of gender issues, we must also address ageism. We're hard enough on ourselves at it is, although we are madly in love. Keep your assumptions in check and when in doubt- shut the fuck up! Thank you spectra- i feel a bit more enlightened today :)

YES!

Thank you SO much for bringing this up! No, it doesn't stray. Yes, we're talking about gender and caring for people who don't conform, but this applies to ageism too (or race, or anything really). The core message is about being considerate of your differences, and navigating them together. I can only imagine the awkwardness that comes with dating someone much older (or younger). I'm glad this highlighted for you that you both can tackle comments head on. So awesome. :)

Thank you so much for your kind words. I was really nervous writing this piece cause I was obviously sharing a lot, so I appreciate that you took the time to leave your thoughts (and encouragement).

How about just accepting that

How about just accepting that the othering you're feeling has nothing to do with women and everything to do with why there's feminism in the first place. I refuse to be put in a position where there's some kind of ridiculous oppression olympics about how you're more othered than I am. The bigger problem here is gender expectations and guess what? Women don't control that.

I Clearly State I'm Not Interested in Oppression Olympics

Thanks for your comment. Your comment suggests you missed this paragraph:

"What I'd like to share with you isn't about who has more privilege or who can pass, etc. I'm not interested in setting up an hierarchy of oppression. Life is fucked for a lot of us in more ways than we can calibrate, so instead, I'd like to share something else with you all, a few tips about how to be more supportive of people like me."

I agree that THE problem is gender stereotyping and expectations. It affects everyone, especially people who don't conform, hence my list offering tips to support people who don't conform to these stereotypes. There's no way in my text that suggests women are to blame for this; but it does point out ways some of us can benefit, and how some of us that do can advocate for those who can't.

Hope this makes more sense. Thanks for engaging.

Thank You

I identified as straight until I started a relationship with my now boyfriend who is trans. I'm not really sure what to call myself anymore since even though he identifies as a male our sex isn't necessarily hetero-normative. For now I think I've decided just to identify as queer. (The point of this ramble is that I do appear to be a straight woman when we're not holding hands though.)

Anyway, it may seem stupid but when we're out in public I don't think about him being trans; in my eyes he's a man, period, end of story. He teases me sometimes asking if it bothers me that my boyfriend has bigger boobs then me but I know it's really him it bothers. We walk around in public and we get looked at all the time but I don't even realize it. He's always the one who points it out and if he/we are being stared at for too long he will actually go so far as to call them out on it.

We've only been dating a few months and he just started hormone therapy about two weeks ago so there haven't been enough changes for the general public to start catching onto "he" rather than "she". I've been trying to figure out the best ways to support him, because I know he often gets uncomfortable when I drag him places and I simply haven't known what to do. This list gives me a really good place to start.

Seriously, thank you.

Awwww, Thank You for Sharing!

Elle, seriously, your comment just made my day. That this is a 'place to start' is exactly why I wrote this post. I ultimately wanted it to be helpful to everyone. Good for your boyfriend for standing up for himself when people gawk unnecessarily. Yet. I'm sure he's grateful so far (though I know you say it's still early in the relationship) that you're being thoughtful and considerate in how you can support him, even though it seems he can take care of himself. So glad to get this comment! Thank you so much.

I think that is worth

I think that is worth pointing out that all comments posted here are coming from folks who see themselves as a part of the same community of solidarity, love and empathy. The comments that point out flaws in the article are necessary to allow us all to make the arguments better in the future, but both the author and the editor seem to be responding to them dismissively and defensively. This will have the effect of silencing dissenting opinions and of pushing people out of this community.

Too Many Feminists Convos Focus on Flaws

Hello there! Thanks for your comment. I actually don't think the editor was being dismissive. Kelsey responded to a blanket judgment of the piece (that it was "misogynist" wow) by sharing an excerpt that suggested it wasn't about oppression olympics (since it accused the writing of ignoring oppression faced by femme/feminine women). Not sure adding context can/should be categorized as defensive. As for my own response to the zero-ing in on "pretty privilege" given the larger context of the piece, it's just not in my principles to engage feminist nitpicking based on language/semantics, and I expressed this while also clarifying that the article was referring to a certain kind of femininity (narrowly defined by society, which often leaves out fat women, darker skinned women of color, disabled women etc) in order to address concerns raised. To me, once there is that understanding, we can move forward. So any more hinging on language comes across as derailing.

I think it's worth considering that too many feminist convos focus on flaws and problems, and that is very alienating in itself. If we want to talk about silencing, there are so many people who feel silenced by the feminist community because they're not using the right "unproblematic" language; I have felt that way, hence I concepted afrofeminism for my own sanity. I want to avoid that kind of commenting in this series. I'd rather people respond from the desire to connect vs. correct. If that means discouraging people from immediately pouncing on language (at least before they've taken the time to respond to larger ideas/themes). I think I'm okay with that. I absolutely believe discussion and debate are valuable, both for expanding our collective consciousness and as a professional writer. Concessions and compromise don't always happen, and that is just as valuable (to me) as when they do.

Please do feel free to ask me to clarify a point I've made, challenge me when I'm not making sense, agree or disagree with me plain and simple. All of that is absolutely welcome.

By maligning women who have

By maligning women who have pretty privilege (seriously, can I never see that again in any context?) and essentially blaming them for feeling othered, you're being misogynistic.

Privilege Isn't an Accusation, It's an Observation

Not interested in debating over what's "misogynistic" and what isn't. Again, this is why I feel language (and the unhealthy behavior of feminists to quickly reduce discussions into back and forths over language) gets in the way.

Pointing out privilege isn't an accusation; it's an observation. If women remain reluctant to look at (and address -- as I did via my tips) the inequities that exist in our community, and don't accept that we can better advocate for each other, we're all doomed.

If you don't want to see "pretty privilege" being used again, you certainly don't have to read the series. It's something I use often as I've found it useful in a number of ways. Hope to see you back here. But all the best in any case.

Pointing out that some women

Pointing out that some women have access to certain kinds of acceptance and can move freely in certain spaces where others are shunned, made into a spectacle, or actually attacked isn't "misogynistic." It's just accurate. Straight women, for example, don't experience homophobia, and are accepted and celebrated in certain cultural spaces where LGBT women are marginalized, erased, or outright attacked. And even if they experience misogyny or sexism, straight women can also be complicit in perpetuating homophobia. It is absolutely possible to be both oppressed and oppressor; in fact, that description applies to pretty much everybody.

So, yes, there are absolutely spaces where "pretty" women--women who present as "feminine," and are thin and conventionally attractive--have a much easier time than women who are considered unattractive and/or unfeminine, and they can be complicit in making those spaces hostile.

Exactly! Everyone Can Hold Both Power & Privilege Simultaneously

YES! Thank you, Caroline for re-iterating this. The idea that we - as women - hold certain kinds of privilege and can be complicit in our fellow sisters' oppression may be uncomfortable but certainly true. Thank you for affirming the experiences of so many women who do not conform and are thus shunned by society (and our women's community at times e.g. trans women) in some way.

Yes and Yes

I love this. I am very upset how a lot of these comments revolve around the use of "pretty". Come on people the word is fluid. Pretty is subjective to the location, and in certain spaces privileged is had. I also like how upset some are for the idea of "pretty" being a a privilege. It is! She isn't condemning the pretty, but rather asking for the privilege to be acknowledged (you know something feminism demands in order to have an honest conversation).

The main concept of this article was one that really touched me. Our partners and friends do deserve the consideration of their comfort on a night out, and vice versa. I have a friend who has become more masculine in her expression over the past few years, and I think in this time I have not been sensitive to the change. This article made me think back to the times that I have possibly been less than empathetic and selfish. Since I have no problem with it, it makes it easy to forget that the world isn't a comfortable place for everyone. This article articulates exactly what I have been trying to figure out on my own. Beautiful.

Just a reminder...

Just stepping in to remind folks to please read the comments policy (linked to below or in the nav bar) and the comment thread before chiming in. Some of the comments here are starting to get off-topic and a little repetitive—please be respectful, refrain from personal attacks, and keep your comments relevant to the conversation.

Thanks so much!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

I just wanted to say, as a

I just wanted to say, as a non-binary person who will continue to use feminine pronouns, I'm soon going to be living with my femme girlfriend. Half the time I present in a more masculine manner, and I have worried about being in situations like the dancing one described above, especially since I'm shy and not that good at handling myself in public or at clubs like my girlfriend likes to go to. It felt good to read that I'm not alone in that worry and not alone in having felt invisible when going out with her while dressed more masculine.

I think this will help me explain to my girlfriend why I often feel uncomfortable in places like dance floors. I've had trouble articulating that before without feeling confused and going "I guess because I'm shy?", so this will help me talk about it more. Thank you.

Love and Afrofeminism: Queer Bois and the Gendered Politics of

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Where do you draw your limits?

Hi!
I thought this was a very thought-provoking article on something I hadn't considered much before as a cis, straight woman who switches back and forth between salsa heels and hoodies. I wanted to get your take on something related to the idea of rewarding gendered behaviors - would you have asked a man to dance with you, as either leader or follower?

I myself struggle with the difficulty of asking women in these spaces to follow me, because I feel like they want a "man" to lead them, but I struggle even more with the fact that men presenting masculine find following to be "emasculating", and might even be offended if I went to ask them to dance. This is a really damaging norm, in my opinion, and you might actually be contributing quite well to that norm if you enter a space displaying "masculine" behaviour and dress, and then refusing to follow or lead with certain people. I understand it's an extra weight to burden, but I don't think that's always a good answer to the question "why not". Curious on your take, and if you would consider, in the interest of making these spaces more friendly for us cis women who don't care to be endlessly dis-empowered, taking the next step to creating truly open and accepting dance spaces. If we met each other at a Salsa club, it saddens me that you might not let me lead you!