Men's Sock Drawer

Where Compromise Comes at the Expense of Women


“Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words to express it.”

—George Orwell, 1984

One of the primary books that set the foundation for queer theory is Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Between Men (1985) wherein she analyses homosocial desire in English literature across several centuries. Her argument fundamentally is this: that English literature is often structured around a triangulation of desire (sexually or not) between men who transmit that desire through a woman. For Sedgwick, woman is the stand-in for men’s inability to express desire amongst themselves across English literature spanning several centuries. Skip to Jacques Demy’s employment of wallpaper in relation to Catherine Deneuve in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and it is easy to see how women are merely aesthetic pawns for men to position amidst their inability to address their desire for other men, sexual or not.

Sedgwick writes of our strange cultural performances that allow for men to hug and grab each others’ asses on the football pitch but which conterminously abhors the notion that any of these men might have salacious desires to even penetrate the other, hence she notes the “double bind” of masculinity that produces cultural schizophrenia which, on the one hand, shows up male desire as verboten and on the other, as men collaborating towards an end goal—no matter how homosocial that end goal is—as perfectly fine, writing:

For a man to be a man’s man is separated only by an invisible, carefully blurred, always-already-crossed line from being ‘interested in men.’ Those terms, those congruences are by now endemic and perhaps ineradicable in our culture. The question of who is to be free to define, manipulate, and profit from the resultant double bind is no less a site of struggle today than in the eighteenth century.

This “double bind” that Sedgwick describes takes many hostages from the men who fail to express desire without using women’s lives and bodies to do so, but also the women who, again like Demy’s wallpaper, are there poised as aesthetic scenery within a larger scenario of song and narrative. Sedgwick acknowledges this double bind in her book even though she fails to take on this underbelly of hegemonic misogyny where women are merely parts to be styled and fit into the framework of desire by and for men

Where one might even imagine that this kind of mechanism to have vanished or dissipated with the last thirty years of gay rights activism and the many legal triumphs made by gay men and lesbians to marry, create families and inherit, the rights of women were never advanced with such celerity. Alongside the advancement of gay rights, we have witnessed the increasing allowances for heterosexual men to perform femininity and to have gay male friends without it being assumed that they too must be on the path to Oz. 

Where Sedgwick acknowledges the problems of homosocial desire rampant within our culture and literature, she fails to understand that the basis for homophobia is entirely brewed within the larger backdrop of misogyny where men are never seen to be feminine in either behaviour or compromise to include compromising penetration. Andrew Sullivan’s recent article, “A Truce Proposal In The Trans Wars: There is a compromise available. Here's one version,” perfectly demonstrates how the game has not shifted in the least and how women’s humanity is not even an afterthought—not even for gay men like Sullivan. Life must be lofty for men who view women as pawns on a chessboard to be shifted about to accommodate men’s needs to put women into their framework of desire—or abjection. 

Why should Sullivan care about the voices of women when he pens a piece effectively pretending to have invented the wheel? For starters, many women long before Sullivan added his thoughts on this subject have written on the subject of gender compromises of separate prisons, sporting teams, and shelters. Not ironically, Sullivan fails to link to any of the women’s articles on this subject who, like myself, have been addressing this issue for close to a decade to include: Victoria SmithSarah DitumRebecca Reilly-Cooper, Delilah Campbell, Stephanie Davies-Arai, Hadley FreemanJanice TurnerHolly Lawford-SmithMichelle GoldbergMeghan Murphy, and Cécilia Lépine. While there have been men sounding off on this subject like Robert Jensen and Miranda Yardley, women’s voices are invariably absent from Sullivan’s “compromise.” It’s almost as if sex were real or—in an alternative, totally fucked-up universe where the dead people in the Sixth Sense are akin to women today—cervix-havers are completely invisible to Sullivan. 

I wonder why.

Sullivan’s “compromise” initially addressees the heart of many of the issues that go undiscussed by the media (eg. “The proportion of people in this debate who seem psychologically unstable, emotionally volatile and personally vicious seems larger than usual.”) yet he invariably ends up meeting the demands of the very “emotionally volatile and personally vicious” demographic who have hijacked the conversation and the rights of women and girls. What journalist writing on this issue is not worried about the vitriol for stating that medicalising the “gender” of children is child abuse? In short, Sullivan carefully avoids stating this right out while barely mentioning women (9 times) and focusing, of course, on trans-identified men (39 mentions) in exploring a “what if” scenario given this lobby’s proclivity to trans the gay away. Sullivan knows that were he an adolescent today, he too might be sporting a non-binary blue haircut and a dozen pronouns under his Twitter bio. 

Sullivan writes of his empathy towards those who identify as “transgender” in part because, “being gay helps you see how a subjective feeling can be so deep as to be an integral part (but never the whole) of your identity.” Where Sullivan understands same-sex attraction as a gay man, he brackets his “reservations” in terms of the “biology on the core binary sexual reproductive strategy of our species.” That’s shorthand for cervix-havers are impregnated and give birth to human life. It’s also shorthand for a gay writer taking the get-out-of-jail card from Gray’s Anatomy—not the show of a similar spelling, but the anatomical textbook historically used as the reference for clinical medical practice. 

So much for us with a “front hole” whom Sullivan considers only in terms of female adolescents being put on the pathway to medicalisation and men being put into women’s prisons. He doesn’t even consider the need for women to be housed separately from men in shelters as he prompts us to compromise here: “Some shelters can include both trans women and women, but some shelters solely for women should absolutely have a right to exist.” Under what ethos should some men get the pathway to women’s spaces? He then goes on to concede that women “who have been abused by men” need separate spaces without understanding that the women who haven’t (yet) been abused by men have every right to the same protections and we have the rights to these protections because language has a meaning. So, where Sullivan offers compromises, it is clear that the class to which he belongs need not bend its elbow one bit. Women are an afterthought to Sullivan’s compromise—it’s “bros before hoes” and women on the frontlines not only know it best, but we are the class expected to take the hits and to make the concessions.

On men in women’s prisons, Sullivan tries to throw women a bone while also coating his plea with sympathy for men who identify as transgender. He underscores that he’s “not talking about regular trans people here”—he means criminals pointing to a UK prison case. However, there are many more cases of attacks against women in a prison near him—the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, the Logan Correctional Center in Illinois where a female inmate claims to have been raped by a man who identifies as transgender and in the state of California where female correctional officers are pushing back against being forced to participate in autogynephilic affirmation whereby trans-identified men insist that female officers perform intimate searches of their bodies. Sullivan seems to be far out of the loop on this issue since what is at stake in women’s prisons, although inclusive of sexual assault and rape, goes far beyond this scope. Much of the vitriol around this topic is due to feminists having accurately framed the discussion like this: transgender activists push for legal and medical capitulation in order to fulfil their fantasy of transgressing women’s sexual boundaries. The question Sullivan never even comes close to asking is this: What if women don’t want any part—symbolically or physically—in men’s fantasies?

Even Richard Dawkins sees what is going on as he noted with surgical precision yesterday the similarity between the trans lobby’s push of its ideology through the erasure of the language to describe women and that of the Roman Catholic where the subject is “required to believe that communion wine actually is literally the blood of Christ, and the wafer literally is his body. Not symbolically but literally. Not a metaphor but literally. That way madness lies. At very least it’s a pernicious abuse of language.” Or as one man tweeted me this morning with a lovely GIF of an anime pointing a gun at the viewer, me: “no i’m trying to erase you specifically.” It’s “Ceci n'est pas une pipe” once more since we all know erasure is the end goal. 

Sullivan inserts himself into this argument as a do-gooder yet his compromise involves zero labour from himself or his fellow men. It’s no coincidence that the women who identify as trans are not currently sending Sullivan death and rape threats. Those will surely come from men. As in men-men, men in dresses, men who do or do not identify with the men on Brawny paper towels. It’s also not happenstance that the trans lobby is not pushing medical organisations or insurance companies to refer to men as “prostate havers.” Both I and my fellow chestfeeders know it’s never going to happen.

So, when Sullivan writes, “I further believe that no-one should be excluded from this or any debate; and that “lived experience” cannot replace “objective reality”, although it can often help complicate and explain it,” I can’t help but eye roll at Sullivan’s pulling an “I didn’t inhale” here. He covers his bases because he knows—and we know—that Sullivan’s base has zero vajajay and a lot of cash to spend.

While I do appreciate a fellow “friend of Dorothy’s” trying to lend a hand, Sullivan merely offers a hand job where the endgame is to appease a very well-funded, ballsy lobby and to retain the status quo of brocialism. Goodness forbid anyone chiming in on this issue dare wonder why men aren’t being asked to carry the water for their own teams or even ask why they advance the mass delusion that men in dresses are anything other than men in dresses.

In her response to Sullivan, Kara Dansky asks: “The question I keep arriving at is this: ‘Why on earth should women be required to compromise when it comes to our own humanity?’” I wish to take Dansky’s question a demi-step further and ask Sullivan this: Why are men asking women to compromise for men’s failure to compromise?

At the heart of the matter is what I call men’s sock drawer. Feminism of the 1970s set into motion the idea that women are not the domestic housekeepers of men where men should start to learn how to clean the domestic sphere, do the laundry, cook, shop for food and partake in childcare. The message of popular feminism then was fundamental: that women are not men’s mothers or caretakers. Today it is high time that men learn that women are not men’s emotional support systems and that they need to sort out their emotional sock drawer while figuring out why they are handing us their metaphorical socks to sort in the first place. Men in dresses—autogynephilic or closeted, emotionally crippled or just pure bro-dude, macho, old school Archie Bunker-esque narcissists—are not for women to sort out for men. We need to pass this task back to men and their sympathisers. We must reject what is a socialised form of misogyny that assumes that women must necessarily run interference for and between men.

The real issue here is that women’s lives, bodies, safety and sanity are not for Sullivan to negotiate in his “compromise.” So, here’s my challenge for Sullivan and other men: come up with a compromise that actually involves your having to put some skin in the game. Don’t tell women, “We good,” because you can’t seem to work out that women are not your emotional support dogs as you position us precisely between you and gender non-conforming men. Start with these axioms: Stop bullying, beating up, raping and killing gender non-conforming men.  Stop putting women between yourselves and those men with whom you disagree or whom you want to be. 

Men, work out your issues with a therapist if need be, but do the work amongst yourselves and sort out your own sock drawers!