For the first entry on the Identity Crisis Forum, I present to you a Q&A with a young woman we will refer to as Zoe. I received an email from Zoe, who told me that she was about to turn eighteen. She wrote that she is secretly a gender critical lesbian, but that if her peers knew what she was really thinking, they would label her a TERF and cancel her. Zoe wanted to tell her story and share her views on feminism, but wasn’t comfortable revealing her name, face, or voice for an interview.
That is how terrible this debate has become‒‒intelligent young women silence themselves about their experiences and their opinions out of the very rational fear of backlash from gender identity idealogues. After corresponding for a couple of weeks, Zoe and I did this interview over email. Her raw and honest answers paint a picture of an intellectually nonconforming and pensive young woman. Zoe’s range of experience will defy any attempts to put her into a box.
In her first email to me, Zoe wrote: “I would be interested in an interview with you so long as it is done anonymously… You can call me the lesbian black rad fem Gen Z-er or something like that.”
Sasha: Where did your interest in feminism come from?
Zoe: I was definitely raised by a feminist mother. My mom, who grew up with a single Jewish mother of three, paved her way through academia. She received a scholarship to go to an Ivy League University and did research abroad, where she met my dad (who is black—that will matter later on). All throughout my childhood, my mother has been the breadwinner in our family, and has worked her way up the ladder from being a professor and getting tenure, to being an assistant dean, and now a department head.
My childhood was very typical of what other people who grew up with liberal academic parents describe. PBS and MSNBC were God. Farmers markets were frequented and we had a 2008 Obama sticker on our car. Castro was seen as an important figure in black and Hispanic history, and feminism was never a bad word. I grew up surrounded by so many examples of powerful (albeit type A) women. There are a lot of lesbian women in my mother’s department and friend circle, so I was raised around them as well.
I think that the brand of feminism I was raised with is very much reflective of my mother’s generation (for reference she was born in 1964). It was very much: work like a man or harder, but look pretty doing it and have lots of sex to be empowered. I remember watching Sex and the City reruns with my mom growing up. I know many women in her generation who claim to be feminist and have gotten lip injections, fat redistributions, and other unnecessary forms of plastic surgery. The birth control pill was seen as the key to women’s liberation, and when I learned about its adverse effects on our health, I was quickly shut down and chided for daring to criticize it. Sex was empowering and amazing and women who wished to wait for marriage weren’t feminist at all. Sex work was work and sleeping around was to be expected.
In 2019, at the age of 15, I saw the flaws in this, and went as far away from feminism as I could. I did a secret deep dive into the online world of the Men’s Rights Movement, “trad” wives, and conservative alt right media. What started as an honest idea to simply look at the other side’s beliefs without bias, quickly spiraled into something darker. I gradually began to view feminism as the reason for the downfall of American society, and labeled every woman I knew in my head as “feminine” or “unfeminine”. I was heavily invested in the Blexit movement and listened to the podcasts of Candace Owens and Ally B. Stuckey. I came across deeply anti Semetic posts online, such as videos about saving Europe from Muslim immigrants, and people who opposed race mixing. As a black Jew it was terrifying to say the least, but I truly believed at that point that feminism and the Left were the true evils.
Sasha: Do you remember the first thing you ever heard/read about radical feminism? What impact did it have on you?
Zoe: I think the first time I learned about radical feminism, or at least gender criticism, was when J.K. Rowling was first cancelled for her beliefs. That was the first time I heard about radical feminism, because Rowling was called the slur “TERF”. It was during the world when I was still entrenched in alt right beliefs, so I told myself that I agreed with Rowling simply because, according to neo conservatism, the LGBT movement was evil and went against family values (Keep in mind that I’m a lesbian, but couldn’t come to terms with it then. My obsession with alt right media was definitely a way that I attempted to ‘make myself straight’).
However, during quarantine in the spring of 2020, I was able to break free from my alt right obsession and reconnect with feminism and my same sex attraction. I also realized that I agreed with Rowling not because her gender critical beliefs so happened to align with those of the alt right, but because I knew deep down that she was telling the truth. It was from that place that I began my search for a true and authentic feminism, one that wasn’t saying hooking up and watching porn was empowering.
It was this summer, when some people that I follow started posting gender critical content, that I heard the term radical feminism, and explored it for what it truly was. My radical feminist education has been through them, through your work and the writing of M.K. Fain, listening to the Women’s Liberation Radio News podcasts and interviews with Abigail Shrier, and watching Radical Ramblings on YouTube. All of these resources helped me learn about rapid onset gender dysphoria, the history of the trans rights movement; and why the languaging of women’s reproductive health and lesbian spaces is being heavily policed by TRA’s.
Sasha: What did it feel like when you went through the process of shifting from your interest in right wing ideas toward radical feminism? What were some of the feelings that accompanied that process?
Zoe: It definitely took a lot of shifting out of the right ring brainwashing. I think it was when George Floyd died and I saw how the right was painting him as a drug dealer/bad person, etc. I had to let go of my ego and acknowledge that I was following the wrong side of history. With a sense of shame and humility, I returned back to my democratic roots. It feels better here again. When I was deep in conservatism, I was always scared that someone was going to see what I was looking at, and worry that I was in some kind of trad wife cult.
I still have the neo-conservative voice in my head screaming at me (for being a “liberal lesbian SJW femanazi”), but I am actually grateful for it in some ways because it helps me tap into the conservative mindset. Radical feminism is the perfect in-between of liberal feminism and conservatism. It’s truth telling and doesn’t require me compromising my values. It just feels like sisterhood. A movement made in heaven.
Sasha: What is the general culture like among your peers around LGBTQ issues?
Zoe: I go to a mostly white high school that is fairly liberal, for a red state. We are definitely influenced by the fact that we live in a college town. However, our small school is quite clique-y and segregated. There is very much an Asian table, and all the LGBTQ kids hang out together and almost keep to themselves. We had a girl and her girlfriend be homecoming queens a few years ago. Also, one time, a gay teacher got catfished by a gay student at our school onTinder. Not realizing that he was talking to a minor, the teacher apparently spoke to the kid online. That was a pretty big scandal and the teacher left school for about a month but still works at our school and no one talks about it anymore.
Over the last two years, I have seen a clear shift in my school’s LGBTQ circle to being more about trans issues than homeosexuality. There are two boys who identify as girls. One even got breast implants. There are several girls who go by they/them or he/him pronouns and consider themselves ‘non binary’. I have noticed that these girls were deeply insecure and uncomfortable in their bodies before this, and becoming non binary or trans boys does not seem to have helped with this. I am not sure if those girls are wearing binders or taking Testosterone. What is interesting is that these previously shy girls seemed to have gained popularity with their new gender fluid identities. I also feel that my liberal teachers who are women seem very excited about having non binary students, as if it gives them woke points or something. The whole thing is very strange. We also have gender neutral bathrooms on every floor of the school. To add to it all, I have a female adult cousin who now identifies as non binary, and several female grad students in my mothers department who do as well, so the issue is unavoidable.
I also feel that the male experience is centered in my generation when it comes to LGBTQ isssues. Straight girls my age have called lesbianism and bisexuality “gross”, but simper and fawn over gay men in real life and in the media. Lesbians are often overshadowed by gay men online, or worse, accused of being transphobic for refusing to date or sleep with a (especially, intact) trans women.
Sasha: Do you find you are able to speak openly about this with your peers?
Zoe: Not necessarily. Since I’m in such liberal circles, I tread carefully and closely monitor who sees what I post or who I follow. No one at school knows my social media handles (I did that on purpose), so they don’t know my gender critical views. So I am probably assumed to be very pro trans rights because I am so liberal.
I do have one friend who is truly non-judgemental and just as curious as I am, and we speak about these topics occasionally. I discuss some things with her, but don’t get too in depth about the history and politics (the rabbit hole things that are only interesting for the avid researchers), but more so generally about female erasure and rapid onset gender dysphoria in teen girls. No one else knows that we talk about this. There is an unspoken agreement that we would never out the other as “being a TERF”, for fear of being cancelled by our community and peers.
Sasha: Are there topics or views you feel like you can’t bring up around gender and feminism?
Zoe: Oh yes! For one, the flaws in the sex positivity movement, which I discussed earlier, and the whole idea that porn can be feminist and empowering. And of course, gender criticism and the sexism in the trans rights movement. Also, I am currently unpacking how patriarchy has influenced my desire to be feminine, and why I even am a “femme lesbian”. The questions I’m asking myself, such as why wearing vintage clothing and makeup (something many lesbian and bisexual women do on tiktok and certain online spaces), or makeup in general is seen as ‘queer’, feminist and empowering. Or why clothing companies advertise sexy, revealing clothing to women, and the whole thing about feminine energy that is preached in spiritual spaces. And how the term queer erases lesbians (and gay men for that matter). These would all be deeply taboo things to talk about.
For example, there was a time in tenth grade when my friends were obsessed with shaving their vulvas. When I tried to explain to them how that practice was heavily influenced by porn, and how bad it is for the skin, I was quickly shot down and called a sexist prude.
Sasha: What is the atmosphere like when there are conversations around trans issues, in your experience?
Zoe: It definitely feels like the general woke consensus is that trans people have it worse then anyone else, and to say anything negative about them or the trans rights movement, is the most bigoted and awful thing you could do. I tend to not bring the topic up, or say anything remotely gender critical, because I know my viewpoint would not be supported. Also, even with all the research I have done on gender criticism, I am often unable to explain in words why I feel the way I do. It just feels like a deep knowing in the core of my being, like of course only women give birth and trans women are men that I don’t want in my bathroom. Of course.
As I write this, I’m reminded of a time when I was called out as both transphobic and sexist. My friends and I were discussing the trans girls who compete with females in sports. When I explained the physical differences between men and women, and how hormonal treatment cannot change the advantage that males have over females; I was met with outrage. How dare I call women physically weaker than men? How dare I not say that women can do anything that a man can do? These girls, many of whom were taking anatomy classes, seemed to truly believe that women could be as strong as men. At the same time, they had a deep seated jealousy in regards to the teen boy athletes at school, complaining about how those boys got ripped so quickly doing the same workouts they were doing, and in a shorter amount of time.
I have never felt low self worth for knowing that women are physically weaker than men. Growing up with a dad and two brothers who are all well above six feet and extremely muscular did not make me insecure. I draw my strength from knowing that my body is capable of producing an egg, growing a human and a placenta, birthing them, and creating its own milk to nourish that baby. But I sense that many girls my age, and women of all ages, find it deeply degrading to draw their strength from their inner biology and reproductive capabilities.
This event occurred before I was introduced to radical feminism, but I already had the foundation for gender criticism. I intuitively knew the truth.
Sasha: What do you wish people would understand about what it’s like for teenage girls?
Zoe: I wish people would know that we are largely unsupported. Female puberty is a huge thing to go through, physically, emotionally, and also spiritually. I feel that it deserves midwifing by wise older women, something designed to empower and educate teen girls not just in their first period, but in the whole messy process of becoming a woman. I just turned 18 and I know that I’m very much still in the process of becoming an adult, but I already feel a lot better and more stable in my body and mind then I have in years.
Since the age of 11 (the onset of puberty), I struggled with bad body image and started subtly restricting my eating, even becoming vegan for a few years because of it. I had built up so much ego all my life for being skinny and tall “like a string bean”, so the necessary weight gain during puberty felt like I was losing my value and worth in our patriarchal society. Growing up with an overweight mother, and a grandmother who most definitely has an undiagnosed eating disorder, has deeply fueled my fear of gaining weight. Let’s just say, seeing your grandmother skip breakfast before her Weight Watcher’s meetings is not the best thing to go through as a teen girl.
I also think that teen girls need midwifing in regards to relationships and sexuality. I am very lucky in that all throughout my tween and teen years, I established mentor-like friendships with women in their thirties to fifties, who informed me about women’s issues. It definitely felt more comfortable to go to them then the mom, because there wasn’t the relational attachment.
I remember one time I went with one of those women to lunch when I was thirteen, and we talked about female masturbation. Openly. In the middle of a restaurant. Something I’m not so keen on now is how she validated my porn viewing and painted it as something normal, empowering and feminist to do. I have deep issues about that now, and her telling those lies to an impressionable teenage girl. However, I acknowledge the fact that she, as we all did, grew up in a patriarchal society with only liberal feminism as her guide book. She knew what she knew and I cannot change that.
Sasha: What has your experience online been like?
Zoe: I’ve never been doxxed or harassed, because I am careful about where I am seen following certain people that might offend some, and whom I follow in general. Some might say that I participate in cancel culture, but I would prefer to refer to it as “calling in”. I never hesitate to point out white Women’s racism, and always have plenty of evidence (or receipts) to prove it. I don’t do it to be nasty, or to pick on them. Very often, I have bit my tongue and not said anything even when their subtle racism became blatantly obvious. I think that white women and their companies should absolutely be able to handle being lovingly and seriously called out for their biases, because it will only serve to make them better and more compassionate people.
After we finished the Q&A, Zoe sent me another quote:
Zoe: I struggle very much with the fear that I’m a bigot when it comes to being a radical feminist and that I’m in the wrong. For example, this week at school one of my teachers made us put our pronouns in our google meet name icons. There is a TIF in that class, so I didn’t want to make a scene about it and have the whole class/teacher turn against me. So I put “she/her” regretfully.