Identity Crisis: How Did You Become “Gender Critical”?
This week on Identity Crisis, Sasha and M. K. discuss their “peak trans” moments
"Identity Crisis" is a new weekly column and podcast for young people struggling with the modern orthodoxy of gender identity ideology—developed in collaboration between Plebity and 4W by women who have been there. Each week, we will answer one or two of your questions, both as a running column here on 4W, and in the form of a video on YouTube.
To submit a question, email us at: [email protected]. We may publish your question in full, so be sure to leave out or change any identifying details if you would like to remain anonymous. Or, specify that your question is private and you would rather we discuss it in a general way.
For a twenty-something leftist living in a vegan activist house in South Philly, the worst thing you can be is “unwoke.” When I realized I had developed a belief that conflicted with my community, it felt like my whole world was falling apart. My friends, my comrades, the people I loved, and work I had dedicated my life to were all slipping away from me. Who was I if not the anarchist, feminist, animal rights activist who stormed slaughterhouses and jumped on stage to pour fake blood on celebrities?
I spent the first years of my early twenties working for feminist nonprofits like the YWCA and Clery Center before being radicalized in the animal rights movement. After my mom died by suicide when I was 22, I was desperately looking for a way to make my life meaningful. The day-to-day logistics of nonprofit life were wearing on me—I became impatient for change to occur bigger and faster. Working inside the system seemed like a bureaucratic trap. After going vegan the year prior, I discovered animal rights groups that were taking direct action, working outside of the system to end suffering on a mass scale.
I quit my day job at the YWCA and threw myself into animal rights activism. I left my apartment in the suburbs and moved to Philadelphia with a group of five other activists—my boyfriend and four other women. Together, we spent the next few years building the largest animal rights movement that the city had ever seen. At the peak of our activism, we took two hundred activists into a local slaughterhouse, occupied it, and rescued animals who had been moments away from death.
To say that this was a “leftist’ community is an understatement. We were anarchists, operating without formal hierarchy, and often marching in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests. We were feminists, or, what I then thought were feminists. I bonded with the other women in the house about our past experiences of sexual assault and our day-to-day experiences of male violence. When one of our roommates was in an abusive relationship, we helped her leave. When another was fighting a Title IX battle with her college after being assaulted on campus, I helped her write letters advocating on her behalf and called every women’s law firm in the book seeking representation for her case.
Most of the other women in the house were bisexual, like me (or, what we then called “queer”). To absolutely no one’s surprise, hormones ran high in a house full of teens and twenty-somethings. There were relationships, affairs, hookups, and heartbreaks all around. Being “queer” became an integral part of the collective identity of the house. At a certain point my boyfriend, Alex, was the only straight person—for which he certainly took his good share of flack. Gender identity ideology was all around us. There were many members of our group who identified as “trans” or “nonbinary,” and over the years I led the community the prevalence of these identities and their influence in our work sharply increased.
I didn’t have much of an identity outside of this group. I was “Mary Kate, organizer for Liberation Philly.” For the most part, I was okay with that. In fact, I loved it. I loved having a higher purpose, a cause that I would lay my life down for. I loved having a community that looked up to me, animals who needed rescuing, and work that was never ending. I felt a sense of belonging that I have never felt before and, if I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ll ever feel again.
But that sort of belonging came with strings attached. We were a hive-mind, operating with a strict set of social rules and expectations. Anyone who wasn’t “woke” enough for us was cast out nearly instantly. We judged how worthy other activists were based on their adherence to this “woke” dogma, and how far they were willing to go for the cause. I was a part of doing that, caught up in the group-think. Until I was on the other side of it, the one being judged and shunned for my heterodox opinions, I didn’t see anything wrong with the tight-knit culture we had built around us like a bubble.
I first started questioning gender ideology after a conversation with Alex about Rachel Dolezal, who was infamously outed for masquerading as a black woman.
“If transgender is a thing,” Alex asked, “Why can’t transracial be a thing?”
I didn’t know the answer to this, but I knew that the question was considered highly-offensive and racist. I sought help online from Kat Blaque, a black “trans” Youtuber who created videos on race and gender identity. Blaque explained how race and gender were different, and that conflating the two concepts wasn’t accurate.
“Gender is not a biological concept passed from parent to child, race is,” explained Blaque. “Gender does not hold the same biological basis that race does, so saying that race is a social construct and therefore it’s okay for [Dolezal] to be ‘transracial’ is just kind of silly.”
Blaque went on to critique Dolezal for benefiting from passing as black because she was able to “teach classes” on race, and argued that he felt disturbed that a white woman could claim to be black in a country with a “history of racism.”
The more Blaque talked about how there were “absolutely no parallels” between Rachel Dolezal and a “transgender women,” the more parallels I saw.
Sure, gender is a social construct. Feminists have recognized this for generations—but what about sex? Wasn’t sex a much more strict biological concept than race, which is largely social? Wasn’t a man “choosing” to identify as a woman and using that identity to build a platform to teach us about gender in a country with a history of sexism actually a pretty exact parallel to what Blaque was accusing Dolezal of doing?
I left the video with more questions than answers and began a months-long journey towards finally deciding that I did not buy it.
This realization was terrifying to me. Since I was deeply entrenched in a very “leftist” community, I knew what a “TERF” was and that I absolutely did not want to be one. There was suddenly a gap between how I saw myself and how my community saw me—as a “queer” leftist leader with all the correct “woke” politics—and what I actually believed. I talked to my boyfriend about my realization and, after a few weeks of researching himself, he eventually came to the same conclusion.
The potential consequences of “coming out” with our belief that men could not become women and that human sexual dimorphism exists and matters to a feminist analysis were immediately clear to me. I knew we would be forced out of the community, and that I would lose everything I had spent years building. I tried to keep our gender-critical beliefs under wraps for as long as I could, but, eventually, it all came out. My fears were quickly realized.
The community fell apart when we were pushed out. Most of our friends stopped talking to us, including all of our roommates. We were forced out of the house, forced to leave the organization we had founded and dedicated our lives to, and forced to rebuild our entire lives and identities.
I didn’t know who I was without animal rights activism. For a while, I tried just being “normal”—getting a corporate job and doing the nine-to-five. I didn’t last long there, either.
Through a period of cancellation, isolation, and loss we turned to creation and building new things to pull us through. Spinster and 4W came out of this identity crisis, and have proven to be some of the best things I’ve ever done.
I ended up returning to my roots and what I had always wanted to do all along, before being radicalized by the animal rights movement—working with feminist non-profits. I don’t feel that toxic pressure pushing down on me to martyr myself for a cause anymore. I’ve formed opinions and beliefs on issues that are complex, nuanced, and not dictated by my social circle. I can’t be put into a box anymore. My identity isn’t just a list of labels: “queer, anarchist, feminist, vegan.” I’m a more whole, unique, and individual person now than I’ve ever been, and I’ve found friends who appreciate that and are open to personal growth and change.
Becoming gender-critical was a shock to my system. It forced me to question everything I believed and thought I knew. It forced me to leave a community I loved, and to grow up and out of a group-think mindset I didn’t even realize I was in. It made me a more independent, thoughtful, creative, and empathetic person. It may have been the best thing that ever happened to me.
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