Now I am an old woman…
A self described old hippie dyke with fond memories of a very special time, a magical period when songs of liberation and freedom rang forth.
We were going to change the world, eradicate oppression, end racism, sexism, homophobia so that we could in the words of Sly Stone be “Every Day People.”
Our enemies may have been Goliath but we were all Davids with our slings, brave and crazy, gonna save the world.
I remember reading about beatniks in the late 1950s and later the folksingers of Greenwich Village. After the Cuban Missile Crisis I started listening to Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs. I started taking a stand for the civil rights of others.
It was the 1960s and Betty Friedan had a book called The Feminine Mystique, my mother knowingly told me to read it, hoping to discourage me from walking my path in search of my truth. I saw it as speaking to her generation, not mine, after all we were involved and going to change the world.
I was so naive at that point, filled with desire, driven by a hunger for life, by my need to be true to myself.
When I left home and went to first the Haight Ashbury and then to Berkeley. Well, as Bob Dylan sang I didn’t need a Weatherman to see which way the wind blew. It was easy to see that women were relegated to a secondary role within the movement and within the “liberated” hippie movement.
Still I needed to come out and be true to myself and being true to myself meant being honest about the oppression of women rather than embracing that role decreed by gender indoctrination.
Oh, Hard is the Fortune of all Womankind
She is always controlled and always confined
Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife
A slave to her husband the rest of her life
We forget how true those words were. How the social constructs of gender limited women and kept us in our places. And yes, if you were transsexual and seeking treatment to be yourself the Doctors expected you to embrace those gender role stereotypes. Some Doctors expected a lot more conformity than others. Being a cute hippie girl/woman in the Bay Area where the Doctors were more enlightened than they are reported to have been in other parts of the country, meant I got cut a whole lot slack.
One of the secrets about that period is that hippie women were able to clean up a lot easier than the guys and often supported the communes and collectives by working straight jobs. (It was a better country then, we didn’t have employer mandated drug testing.) I was able to present the image the Doctors wanted.
I had a set of hippie ethics I tried to live by even during the times of chaos and at times when I was surrounded by friends whom I view in retrospect as having at best questionable ethics and integrity.
When I gave myself to movements I gave completely, that doesn’t mean I didn’t question the motivations of people who surrounded me.
Being a Token meant being silent, even when you saw behavior that was clearly hateful and unethical. Sometimes it meant silently standing by while other women you knew and admired were accused of all sorts of horrible offenses. See: The Dark Side of Sisterhood by Joreen Freeman.
Robin Morgan edited a book titled ‘Sisterhood is Powerful” like many powerful feminist books of that era it is long out of print and copies now cost a lot more than they did when they were new. Rereading them now 50 years later, after 50 years of war upon the 1960s and everything they stood for, books like “Sisterhood is Powerful” and “Sexual Politics” seem both dense and naive. It is hard to imagine the excitement they caused when they were new.
In 1969 I was part of the Weatherman faction of SDS. Our name came from a line in Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”: “You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows..” I had started hormones and had gone full time. I didn’t need a consciousness raising group to see how the abuse I had received as a kid for being transsexual and the oppression of women were threads in the same blanket of oppression Simone de Beauvoir had written about in “The Second Sex”.
It was hard to be transsexual, even post-transsexual and be part of the feminist movement. It meant ignoring some grossly bigoted actions and writings by women such as Robin Morgan, whom I otherwise highly admired. But rationalizing those bigoted actions meant internalizing and swallowing hatred directed at people who were members of a class which included me.
We had a word back then… Token. The Token Black, The Token Woman, The Token Gay, The Token Transsexual. For that was the role many of us played for acceptance within the Feminist/Lesbian Feminist Movement. This meant being silent, even when you saw behavior that was clearly hateful and unethical. Sometimes it meant silently standing by while other women you knew and admired were accused of all sorts of horrible offenses. See: The Dark Side of Sisterhood by Joreen Freeman.
We had TERFs back then too. Women who took pleasure from causing women who were born trans great emotional pain. They did this in a manner which invalidated all the morally up lifting rhetoric about Sisterhood Being Powerful.
Since the mid 1990s the internet has become a source of information, an on line community of support for many. It is hard for people to understand just how lonely it was for trans-kids back in the late 1950s and throughout much of the 1960s. Some of us knew that a few of us existed, mostly in far away European cities. A few of us even knew that SRS was available in Casablanca and that women like ourselves had gotten surgery there. Even with that knowledge we were still alone. Our learning of gender was from popular culture.
By the 1970s popular culture included Women’s Liberation, just as it had the Hippies. Some of us who had transitioned and had SRS wanted to be part of that movement. We wanted that sisterhood, that belonging. Many of us were damaged, had very low self esteem, many of us saw that traditional roles for women were closed off to us and that feminism opened doors for women in non-traditional positions.
One of the accusations against us was that we hadn’t been socialized as girls. There was an element of truth to that one as pop culture really hadn’t prepared us for some of the social games played by mean girls who had grown up to play the same sorts of mean games as adults. The cliques, the gossip, the back stabbing and all the other aspects of the darker side of sisterhood. (see Phyllis Chesler’s Women’s Inhumanity to Women.)
As I write this I can’t help but reflect back on a period that was at once so sweet and yet left me with such mixed feelings and sadness. The price I paid to be part of something where others like me were being abused, how I had to keep my mouth shut least I suffer the same fate
Over the last 30 years a number of women have written somewhat bittersweet memoirs of their time in the Second Wave. Both Shulamith Firestone and Kate Millett suffered mental breakdowns as a result of trashings, others like Susan Brownmiller retreated from prominence.
Now I am old. I write. I have the joy of being married to my partner of many years.
The Rabbi Hillel left us the phrase: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
I took from the Second Wave what worked for me, a feminism of the individual. Years later I discovered a wonderfully diverse community of trans-women and trans-men. We often fight. Most of us are parts of yet smaller tribes or families within this community that has a hard time agreeing on anything other than a shared hunger in our lives.
I grew up with a strong attachment to ethical behavior, a strong sense of justice and a hunger for dignity. Life has been one of struggle. Way too many friends, indeed almost all the people I knew in the 1970s have passed away. Memories written on the wind.
The struggle continues and the torches are passed. I will continue doing what I can as long as I can.