The Feministing Five: Jos Truitt

JTruitt.pngRegular readers will have noticed that in recent months, Feministing has brought in a number of new contributors: Ariel, Jos, Lori, Rose and myself. No doubt you’re getting to know them by reading their posts and engaging with their ideas in the comments section, but I also suspect that you might want to know a little more about these wonderful women (I know I do!). Over the next few weeks, I’ll be interviewing my fellow new contributors so that you and I can get to know them a little better. This week I interviewed Jos Truitt.
Jos joined Feministing as a contributor this July, and in the past few months has been blogging up a storm (those of you who love Mad Men Mondays, you can thank Jos for that!). Jos grew up in Boston and graduated from Hampshire College, where she studied philosophy of race, feminist organizing and sequential art, which, she informed me, is the academic term for comics.
Jos now lives in DC, where she is pursuing her passion for reproductive justice. She recently started working part-time at the National Abortion Federation hotline and she serves as a clinic escort with the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force. She has also worked and blogged for Choice USA. In her spare time, she likes to bake and spend time in the printmaking studio, and when I asked her which feminist she’d take with her to a desert island, she gave by far the sweetest answer I’ve heard yet.
And now, without further ado, The Feministing Five, with Jos Truitt.

Chloe Angyal: How did you become involved with feminist activism and writing, and with Feministing specifically?

Jos Truitt:
I really wasn’t exposed to feminist thought in any sort of overt way for most of my life, and certainly not through high school. I read one essay by an early twentieth century feminist that was about a page long at the end of senior year of high school. And I don’t even remember what essay it was or who it was by. I just remember reading it and thinking that the ideas made sense to me. And it clicked. But I think that because I was raised in a very Christian fundamentalist family and in a Christian fundamentalist community, feminism was just really, really far off my radar. But at the same time, the way I understood the world and the things I cared about would have fit within feminism.
In college I came to feminism through critical race theory, through folks like Kimberle Crenshaw, and I was really intrigued by that kind of intersectionality. I was in this really amazing class on critical race theory with Falguni Sheth and Margaret Cerullo, and Falguni Sheth was going to be teaching a class on feminist legal theory the next semester, and I thought, “Oh sure, I’ll check that out.” I didn’t really identify as a feminist, and I didn’t really know that much about it, but the more feminist thought I looked at and the more I hung out with feminist organizers and the people doing this work, the more I realized how much these were the beliefs that were important to me and the issues that were important to me, and how much this was what I wanted to be doing.
As for Feministing, I was connected to Miriam in a few different ways. At Hampshire I worked for the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program, and Miriam was part of the organization’s New Leadership Networking Initiative, so I’d seen her speak at a conference and I’d read her work a little bit. And then last November I was an intern at Choice USA and Miriam was working out of their offices while she was working for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. So we met there, and started to get to know each other a little bit, and that’s also when I started blogging for Choice USA’s blog Choice Words. When I moved back to DC, Miriam had already seen some of my writing and had encouraged me a few times to join the Feministing community. When there was a big explosion of trans issues within the community, I decided to start writing, and I got to know the community a little more. That was about the time the editors were looking to bring in some new writers and they wanted to bring in another voice on gender identity and expression from a trans perspective. So Miriam came to me about joining the blog. It’s such an exciting opportunity; I get to keep writing about the issues I care about, and I have the potential to reach a broader audience.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine?
JT: Buffy. I didn’t in any overt way have a feminist analysis in high school, but I just have a really nostalgic memory of Buffy because that show helped me survive being a closeted, queer, trans kid in a very Christian household. Because of its representation of difference and exclusion, and of not fitting in and finding strength in that. So even though the show had some problematic elements and definitely failed on race a lot, and lacked a gender analysis outside of the binary, Buffy was the first feminist role model I was exposed to, before even realizing that she was a feminist or that I was a feminist. The fact that she could be femme – which I didn’t completely understand I wanted to be but had some relationship to – yet strong, and powerful, and stand up for herself while also being a complicated person with weaknesses and struggle to fit into a world that she didn’t really fit into, it spoke to me. And I think it really primed my brain for feminism.
CA: Who are your heroines in real life?
JT: The Black feminist thinkers who brought me to feminism in the first place, like Kim Crenshaw and Angela Davis. Their intersectional analysis is what showed me that feminism could be a politics and a worldview that made sense for me, because something that always stood out for me as I started to engage with issues of oppression and social justice were the intersections and complications of identity. And then Kate Bornstein gave me language and words and ways of expressing feelings and concepts that I had inside of me and never, ever knew how to articulate when it comes to trans identity and gender. So she’s been a major influence.
And then, some of the really amazing role models I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning feminism from. I first read feminist thinkers in classes with Falguni Sheth and Margaret Cerullo, who both have incredible analysis and taught me how to think. And Marlene Fried, who runs the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program and who really gave me the opportunity to learn how to do reproductive justice organizing.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
JT: It’s been really hard to watch movement on some of the issues that have been touted as the current queer agenda or current LGBT agenda or current gay agenda, and have people saying they speak for my community when I really disagree with them. For example, hearing a trans organization talk about the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill as a victory, when I see it as a really big step back because of its support of the prison-industrial complex and because of the extra policing it’s going to create in our communities. It’s always really hard in these moments: it’s the first real legal recognition of trans people at the federal level should be a gift, and instead, I see it as supporting these systems that I struggle against. So I wanted to feel really proud, but at the same time, the fact that it happened by increasing policing and sentencing and potentially putting trans folks at greater risk, is a real struggle for me. And I feel similarly about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and gay marriage, the other two major pushes. The focus on the military-industrial complex and the focus on marriage, instead of trying to get civil rights and basic human rights for all queer people, is just not an agenda I can support.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge facing feminism today?
JT: I think it’s the struggle to incorporate a gender analysis into feminism. I think a lot of feminist work, unfortunately but understandably, starts by accepting the world we live in in terms of gender as just fact, that the world that we live in is divided by gender in a binary way, and that within that reality we have to fight for women’s rights, women’s equality, women’s liberation. I understand the gender binary, or the forcing of all people into boxes of “male” and “female,” as a crucial tool of patriarchy. That binary itself is used to oppress everyone who doesn’t fit into one box or the other. It’s a way to keep the people who fit into the most limited and the most racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, classist and otherwise privileged definition of men in power at the expense of everyone else. And the work is happening, but it needs to be understood as a vital part of feminism that we have to critique and understand and dismantle the compulsion to force everyone into the gender binary. Until we do that, feminism’s always going to hit up against that wall and only get so far. And as long as we accept that gender binary, it’s going to keep us from reaching liberation because it’s just going to hold us back that little bit more.
CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you get to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?
JT: I have to keep a feminist from the world? I would feel so bad about that! Well, I guess if I had to deprive the world of a feminist, it would probably have to be Kate Bornstein. Her ideas apply to my own personal life experience in such a powerful, intense way. They’ve just been so meaningful to understanding myself. My drink will be a dirty vodka martini with blue cheese olives, and for food I’m going to have to take pear pie with a gruyère crust.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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