Becoming a Feminist Killjoy
An acquaintance of mine crafts. Recently, she started to make triangle banners. The triangles are deliberately pastel, each containing a stark, black letter: K-I-L-L-J-O-Y. This acquaintance seems to reject the pressure to temper her politics, everywhere, and her crafting reflects that, which I admire.
But I’m not a very good feminist killjoy. Confrontation worries me and makes me worry, not always, but I still catch myself devising ways to avoid it. As one example: I was procrastinating on Facebook and noticed that someone had shared a link to a Daily Xtra article (Daily Xtra’s the online presence of Xtra, a Canadian LGBT weekly paper). Written by Andrea Houston, it was about Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird. Baird is known to be gay; he’s reportedly out, though he’s never talked to the media about his “alleged” gayness. Canadian reporters tend not to ask such questions – here, there’s this idea about what’s private, and Canadians don’t care much to know about politicians’ “private” lives. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the CBC) had asked Houston to appear on The Current as part of a panel that would discuss the politics of outing politicians. She told a producer she would talk about Baird’s “glass closet” and she was told not to do so, so she declined the CBC’s offer. Then, Houston wrote an article for the Daily Xtra, wondering whether the CBC is “censoring Canadians to protect John Baird.”
The linked Facebook article had been commented on by a few gay men. They argued that Houston ought to remain silent because Baird, having not spoken to the media, wasn’t “officially” out. They were all against outing in every case, even anti-gay politicians. I disagree – I support the queer ethics of exposing hypocrisy – but what compelled me to respond was one comment that praised Baird for not only remaining silent but also for not being obviously gay (i.e., not “gender nonconforming”). This commenter wrote that Baird’s “normality” was good for gay men…because effeminacy, being like a woman, is bad, I guess, pathological. Disordered.
I think that’s misogynistic.
I wrote an impassioned response, but when I was editing it, I started to feel embarrassed – it really was long, probably too long, I thought. You’re being pushy, pedantic. Leaving my laptop open, I left my desk to run a few errands, giving myself some time to think about it before submitting it.
Later that day, I came back and closed my browser.
Why the embarrassment? I suppose I had imagined these gay men reading my response and rolling their eyes, “oh here she goes.” And on Facebook!
In retrospect, I regret minimizing my Facebook comment to the point of deletion. I’m a graduate student who hasn’t engaged in much direct action. I’ve remained in classrooms and laboratories. I like to think my research has been, and hope my academic future will be, my own form of activism. My research, my writing. Language matters, in all its forms – Facebook comments included. That is what I believe.
The director of a new Centre for Feminist Research at Goldsmiths, Dr. Sara Ahmed, is working on a new book, Living a Feminist Life, and I gather it’s related to her research blog. It’s called feministkilljoys. It’s about how Dr. Ahmed thinks, and she thinks about women’s eye rolling, nagging, complaining, moaning, whinging grumpiness as feminist pedagogy. In response to “oh here she goes,” keep going. I’m learning to recognize my fear of being judged as the “feminist grump”; I want to disrupt that fear like I’ve come to recognize, as a queer cisgender man, the value in making visible and celebrating that which she shaming, heteronormative majority considers shameful.
Right now, one of my crafting acquaintance’s friends, a mutual friend, has as her Facebook banner a photo of herself holding the feminist killjoy triangle banner, which she had been given as a gift. She looks grumpy, like she could and might complain. I hope next time to follow her lead.
- Written by Alexander Vasilovsky