K.M. Valentine on Gender Inclusion: What I Want

This essay is part of our “What is a woman?” series in tandem with our podcast. This season, our community is exploring the question “What is gender inclusion?”

Written by K.M. Valentine.


Note that this essay contains some strong language and mature content. Trigger warning: rape, death, sexism, porn, abuse.

I tried to think of moments where I experienced gender inclusion.

I really haven’t.

I’ve had tiny moments of it. Usually they are disrupted. Almost always by a cishet [cisgendered heterosexual] man. Not always, but usually.

Last year, I volunteered at an LGBTQIA+ safe space for youth. And it was amazing. We would all introduce ourselves with our pronouns. We used our preferred names. We changed our pronouns sometimes – the adult volunteers and the youth. We got surgeries that made us feel more at home in our bodies. No one was treated like they were particularly strange for doing it. Or for not doing it. Everyone validated everyone. And there were no gender roles to be seen. Those few sweet months I spent there were the most liberating and comfortable I’ve ever experienced.

There were no gender roles to be seen.

It gave me a tiny glimpse into how the world should be. It was like finding a super cool secret garden. The whole world should be modeled on that secret garden. It’s become something I can’t stop reaching for. I want to be able to introduce myself to people with my pronouns and everyone treats it like it’s totally normal. I want cishet folks to just nod and accept it when other cishets include their pronouns in their email signatures – not smirk and giggle at those “unnecessary dang liberals.” I want to hear people exchanging pronouns on every TV show. I want to read articles about people and see their pronouns right there next to their name. I want to find my friends’ social media accounts and see their pronouns in the bios.

I want to walk into a room and nobody makes ten thousand assumptions about me because I look like a woman. I want people to totally nod when I call myself a boy even though my hair is pink and everything I’m wearing is either covered in frills or glitter. I love frills! I love glitter! And I want to be taken seriously even though I’m covered in goddamn frills and goddamn glitter. (#Altmasc!) I want men to listen to me when I talk and not talk over me towards the end of my sentences. I want customers to listen to my expertise and not slowly look to the dude next to me while I’m still talking.

I want to be taken seriously even though I’m covered in goddamn frills and goddamn glitter.

I want people to stop thinking things are only “men” and “women.” Pink or blue. Penis or vagina. As if intersex doesn’t exist. As if an entire spectrum of genders doesn’t exist. As if there are only two colors on the color wheel.

Fuck that.

I took an art history class in college called Feminism in Art History. I needed an art history credit and I couldn’t sit through another class that started at Neolithic and ended in the Renaissance, going over the same artists I had learned over and over since high school.

I was resistant when I first walked in. I smirked at “feminists” back then. I knew better back then. Things were fine. I totally wasn’t being abused by my then-boyfriend.

But there was something about the class that drew me in and made me excited.

We only learned about artists who were not men. It was amazing. There was an entire legion of people who painted, drew, sculpted, and resisted the patriarchy before me. Artemisia Gentileschi sawed the head off of Holofernes and changed how religious art depicted women of the Bible. Maria Sibylla Merian was way into bugs before it became a pastime only acceptable for 10-year-old boys. Rosa Bonheur dressed like a dude, dated women, painted horses, and didn’t give a fuck. Lili Elbe posed for her wife, Gerda Wegener, and got the second known sex reassignment surgery. Frida Kahlo changed surrealism from her hospital bed and dated whoever the hell she wanted.

I was amazed. I was blown away! Women did this? Women did all of this?? That class filled in a lot of gaps from my usual art history classes. Women were everywhere. Women weren’t sitting down, doing nothing all throughout history. They were right there that whole time. Having credit taken away from them. Being beaten. Being raped. Dying for the right to be themselves.

Women were everywhere. Women weren’t sitting down, doing nothing all throughout history. They were right there that whole time.

It changed the way I thought about feminism. It isn’t about whining and hating men. I don’t know who taught me that it was; I can’t pinpoint a moment in time where I learned that. It was just an underlying assumption I had always thought I had known, but was just a flimsy lie masquerading as truth.

I started noticing things around me. I saw the way men treated other people. I noticed things that were wrong. Inherently wrong. So wrong that I hope one day people look back at this time and cringe.

But for now, I’m going to focus on what I want. Specifically, the things I want to change.

Firstly, I want to see my dad get off his ass, put down his phone, and put in as much effort as my mom does. I want to see him go to the grocery and get more than just a bag of oranges and the stuff to make hamburgers for one night. I want him to have to think ahead and get groceries (that everyone will like) for the entire week. I want him to pitch in when my mom scrubs the kitchen before going to bed. I want him to help her when she asks instead of asking my sisters to do it. I want him to teach me to use the riding mower instead of only letting my little brother do it. And then I want him to stop putting down marriage equality and comparing it to beastiality and pedophilia. I want him to stop sullenly toting his AR-15 around the house whenever there’s another school shooting. I want him to take my pain seriously when I’m on my period. I want him to respect my decisions and stop punishing me for not wanting to be a Catholic like him.

I want men to take the time to find the good porn.

And I want my sister to go to work and not have to deal with her coworker air humping at her. I want her to be able to report him to management without fear of them not believing her or even taking her seriously. I want her to know that they will not side with him because they like him, and he’s been around a long time and they are just like him “at that age.” I just want her to go to work and be as comfortable as the men are.

I want my brother to stop leaving things for my sisters and mother to do when he is entirely capable of doing them. But it’s what he’s been taught. It’s what he’s seen his entire life.

I want my mom to stop glaring at me when I call out my dad’s behavior. I want her to stop making excuses for him. I want her to feel like she doesn’t have to do that. I want her to feel like she can hold him accountable.

I want men to be embarrassed by those little female silhouette stickers they put on their toolboxes and mud flaps. I want them to cry when they watch porn. You know the porn I mean. The bad porn. The kind where you’re just worrying about the woman the whole time. She seems really out of it and maybe in pain. I want men to take the time to find the good porn. The kind with lust and desire and consensual partners and smiles. Real smiles. Real anticipation. Real nervousness. Real moans. The moans that happen completely by accident because both partners are actually enjoying it. The moaning that isn’t completely staged.

I want men to be more open and honest about their emotions. The emotions that aren’t just rage, horniness, and humor. I want boys and men to cry at work because it’s way too stressful. I want them to eat yogurt without being weirdly embarrassed about it. You can have key lime pie yogurt and keep your masculinity. It’s just a tasty food. I want them to squeeze teddy bears when they need comfort and lean on other men when they actually need support.

You can have key lime pie yogurt and keep your masculinity.

I want cis men to stop grimacing at the mention of periods. I want them to help me track down tampons (enthusiastically!) if I’m running short. I want them to give me that sympathetic look when I have cramps and dig around in their desk to find me some acetaminophen. I want them to clap me on the shoulder and tell me how brave I am when I come out as bisexual. Or nonbinary. I want them to acknowledge the courage and strength it takes. I want them to clap and be excited for me instead of awkwardly looking away.

I want to go to parties and not get nervous because the room is divided into two major groups. I don’t want to be sucked into the women’s group or feel weird about getting too close to the men’s side.

I want to go to the bathroom in a department store and not have that terrible little moment of dysphoria because I have to go into the women’s. I’m so scared a conservative will chase me out of the men’s! Or think I just got confused and mixed up them up. So embarrassing. I want to waltz right into a bathroom and waltz right out like it’s no big deal.

I want men to go to the gym without assuming it’s only their space. I want them to stop prowling around and staring at women (and then blaming them when they don’t focus on actually working out). I want them to stop blatantly showing off and leering about like this is a pickup zone. Women and nonbinary folk don’t come here for you to stare at our asses in yoga pants. Stop whining when we want to get away from you.

We won’t have gender inclusion until we get a break from these behaviors. I’ve really only listed a few.

I want them to learn how to give a compliment. A real compliment. About something a person is doing on purpose (like amazing makeup!) and not always going on about how they happen to look (like someone’s huge boobs or beautiful face). I want them to pay attention when a woman or nonbinary person is getting uncomfortable with what they are doing. (Do you really think you’re getting away with ignoring it? You are creepy.) I want them to ask if touching is okay first before they grab my shoulder and weirdly massage it and make me super aware that their hand is on my damn bra strap. I want them to keep their fingers out of my hair. I don’t care how cute you think it is. Keep. Your hands. Out. Of. My. Hair.

They’re scaring us out of the workplace. And every place. They’re trapping us at home.

We won’t have gender inclusion until we get a break from these behaviors. I’ve really only listed a few. It goes on forever: the way men harass, assault, and intimidate women and nonbinary folk into not demanding our rights.

I think, if we really want gender inclusion, we need to refuse to shut up about it and men will have to actually listen.

To the men reading this: Pay attention to women. To everything they’re communicating. With their words and actions and body language. PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LISTEN TO OUR BODY LANGUAGE.

To the women and nonbinary folk reading this: Please stay with me. Don’t shut up. Don’t stop talking. Even if you’re scared or unsafe and you have to stop, promise me you’ll start again some day.