by Claudia Vitarelli
We got dangerous, invited a group of kickass women to gather around a table… and the Feminism in Flux dinner was born. Here, we’re featuring personal stories from our attendees.
Cléo Kim of The Medici Group, Korean-American trans-woman.
When is the first time you realized that you were a feminist?
The inherent values were always there, but learning that word, the power of that title, the first time exposure was in high school. And I don't think I still fully comprehended what it meant — the multi-dimensions of it, the intersectionality component of it. That was a journey, and it still is a journey, to fully understand what ‘feminism’ means for myself. But in terms of the first memory I think it's definitely high school English class.
It was unusual, because this English teacher, Cindy, was so liberated in her sexuality even though we were in a very conservative town — she had the very interesting paradox of conservative Christian values and thinking, but when it came to sexuality and women's openness with their bodies, she was out there, on the forefront. When she first talked about femininity and feminism I said, "That's fascinating." And that's when the thinking and the questions came — why can't women be more open or why are my friends being slut shamed at such an early age? These questions started to percolate and that’s when feminism began to crystallize for me.
What are some of the nuances within that movement that you have come to understand more deeply in the past year?
We say “intersectionality,” but what are the components that go into intersectionality? What are the lenses or views? The first that comes to mind is the black or African-American lens. Understanding people of color and how their relationship to feminism has such a different lived experience, but then there's also even more of a minority perspective. Like the differently-abled community and how feminism is intersected there is such an interesting question to me. I’m digging into how/where are all these points of intersection — there are so many people who live at intersection points. Reading and meeting of people in the context of this discourse really keeps expanding my mind.
Then obviously in the LGBTQ spectrum, there is my journey as a trans woman. It's such a critical question to identity. Especially for trans people, and me speaking as a trans woman, what is even this identity of “woman”? Or femininity?
So far it’s been a journey of really understanding the identity or visual representation of the ‘woman.’ There are so many symbols attributed to it, things that we've imbued of meaning that, ‘This is for women, this is for men.’ But what happens when we strip those symbols away? It becomes much more basic and down to our roots and our foundation — which is just human. You and I and everyone else, we are all human. This is what grounds us.
In my navigation of trans identity and my identity as a woman or how this all even fits under feminism, I am coming to accept that I will always be different, but I can still be part of this movement. It’s powerful for me, and something I'm still learning.
At the table we talked about the importance of sharing stories. Can you recall a moment in the past year when you shared a story that helped someone became more aware or expand their understanding of feminism?
It has come up with dating. There are just a lot of men who don't know about how to even engage with trans people. It's the conversation, "What do I say, how do I ask things?" And so there are a couple of questions pertaining to body, in terms of genitalia, which I'm actually very comfortable to speak about.
One time, the guy I was out with was crude. I don't fault him for it (now), and I don't think it was malicious intent whatsoever, but I always seek to take these moments as learning opportunities. So I told him, "Can I actually give you feedback about the way you asked that question?" And I say, "Let me just offer a couple of different ways that you can ask trans people that same kind of question. Maybe next time you can ask them, do you mind if I ask you where you are in your journey on transition?" And then it gives autonomy to the other person to answer based on what they’re comfortable sharing, or they can opt out.
On the topic of giving feedback or educating, if you could tell one group one thing about feminism, who would that group be and what would you say?
The first group that comes to mind is Asian-American mothers. Speaking to my experience of growing up as a male with an older sister who was the middle child, between my eldest twin brothers and myself. In our household, I saw the explicit inequalities towards my sister — however little, they had deep ramifications into her development.
I would want to say to these Asian moms, or aunties or sisters or whoever you are, that yes, I know this probably comes from a place of love, of deep caring, of wanting to protect and nurture and instill the best in girls. And it's probably informed by a lot of the challenges that they had to overcome themselves. So, first, thank you for that love and care. However also let us grapple with the challenges of life, so that we can internalize and expand and make this world a better place. When it comes to feminism, we hold positive momentum back if we try to insulate and inoculate women who are hurt, who are passionate, who are angry, who want change. You should support them and allow them more chances to go out, to interface, to be vocal, to be seen.
So, to the women who came before us who nurture and raise us: thank you for your love, your concern and for whatever you did to address the challenges of the world. Let us now do that as well.
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