For three decades, E.J. Graff has been writing about topics that are near and dear to our hearts here at Femininsting. Covering subjects like the social history of marriage to the harassment of teenage girls at the workplace, Graff’s writing is clear, approachable, and impressively informative.
Lining up with the second month anniversary of DOMA’s repeal, Graff recently published her newest piece with Newsweek, “What’s Next for the Gay Rights Movement,” where she encourages her audience to envision the next arena for social justice–expanding our national understanding of gender beyond the binary. Especially in light of the outrageous transphobic coverage of Chelsea Manning’s announcement, articulate and informative articles like Graff’s give us hope that well-crafted journalism still has (frankly, always ought to) have the capacity to improve our world.
Along with being a skillful writer, Graff is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute, a teacher with the OpEd Project, and is available for lectures at college campuses.
Suzanna Bobadilla: You call for a national re-examination on how this country interacts with gender, or what you brilliantly call “breaking the nation out of its gender straitjacket.” Can you point to what specifically motivated you to write this piece?
E.J. Graff: That’s an excellent question. I would say this has been my preoccupation for at least a decade. As a feminist, I grappled with the trans issues for myself on a profound level, investigated and wrote about those in the early 2000′s, in places like the Village Voice. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve been calling “the masculinity patrol,” the way male behavior is constricted, watched, and enforced constantly. So when my editor called and asked if I had a direction I thought that the LGBT movement needed to call for after we won marriage equality, I was ready to go. SB: Here at Feministing, we wear both feminist and writer hats. I very much enjoyed reading this article as you skillfully interwove complicated gender theory, historical moments, and contemporary examples of how such strict gender policing impacts us all. What strategies do you use when trying to convey topics like gender identity/expression to a comparatively mainstream audience like Newsweek?
EJG: Oh, well do we have time for a semester’s worth of classes? I’m going to have give you an inadequate answer: this is what I’ve spent my life doing. I’m totally devoted to translating complex gender and feminist concepts to a mainstream audience. I think about it, I practice it, I write about these things all the time. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 112 years.
This is essentially the audience I have chosen for myself or that chose me. Somewhere in the early 90′s I realized that my particular skill was talking to people who didn’t yet understand me, as a lesbian and as a feminist .That I really had a passion to trying make our lives clear and direct without ever being condescending or angry. To have a real conversation with my mother’s America about the world that I saw ahead. In this particular instance, I’ve been thinking a lot about how did the LGB, but particularly the L and G side of that movement get so far, so fast. I made a very conscious effort to try and use examples that I knew would touch mainstream straight people. They have had their conception of us change dramatically in the past 10 years, and especially in the past five. I wanted to help them compare how they felt about lesbians and gay men then and now, and point them toward the same path on gender, suggesting, “Here’s how you, dear Reader, felt or thought years ago. Here’s how you feel now. Let’s look at some of this trans stuff–the same language is being used, your heart can change here too.”
A friend of mine from high school, which is a long damn time ago, posted the article on her Facebook page. And another friend I went to high school with who was, perhaps, a little more to the reactionary side, wrote a long, moving post about how I had shown her a completely different way of thinking about something that she had never considered before. And I thought, Thank God, I had succeeded. That was what I was trying to do. To reach her.
SB: What was a recent news story that made you want to scream?
EJG: Any shooting. A story about any shooting. Ever.
SB: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
Getting both women and men involved in transforming the situation for working families: passing family leave insurance, requiring every business to have sick pay, funding early childhood education, expanding school hours and summer educational offerings, getting women’s pay to equal, and all the rest–so that it’s possible to both raise a family and have a meaningful work life. For a number of reasons, feminism has focused on the sexuality issues that are of particular interest to young women, who have the energy to make change. The issues that involve work and the balance of power within families are even more challenging.
SB: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you choose?
EJG: Haha and one feminist? That’s very funny! Cherries would be the food, drink would be proseco, and the feminist would be my dear friend Laura Zimmerman who is one of the backbones of Boston-area grassroots feminism.