Bad Feminist by Debra Watson



I remember them well

The two lesbians who ran the door

Of the club I used to go to.

Lee, was almost 6 ft tall. Her hair cropped short and wearing a black leather jacket.  Hazel was the more approachable. Lee was shy in a gruff sort of way, but when she got on the dance floor, in her stovepipe  jeans and androgynous vests, her limbs flew across the space. She was freest person I had ever seen.

I fell in love with a boy who wore skirts.  I fell in love with him because of the way he danced. It took weeks of us dancing by ourselves, on opposite sides of the room, before we finally went home together. His friends arrived the next morning and said, “We heard you went home with ‘a girl’!”

I was a girl. 5ft 10, straight up and down, skinny as a bean.  He cut my hair in the style of the Human League. Post-punk 1981.  I wore a vintage black leather pilot’s jacket. A dog chain around my neck.  A boy at the bus-stop said, “I don’t know if you are a boy or a girl.”

It felt like I’d achieved an ambition.

Not that I wanted to be a boy, I just wanted the same freedom that boys had to move, to be active, to do things. To walk in the city at night. To get stoned and light marijuana pipes. I was attracted to wild girls. Bunking school to smoke joints on the beach with Lisa and her cat-green eyes. Partying all night, at the gay disco with the motorcycle leather clad moustached men who introduced me to poppers and took me home and made sure I was safe. I walked from their place to school the next morning and wrote my biology exam.

My friend Gabrielle, with her long red hair, walking with me in the hot, dark, Cape Town night– heavy with the scent of honeysuckle, the sky a bucket full of stars. Breaking into the hostel when everyone was asleep because we liked bouncing on the trampoline or jumping over the fence of the local high school to have a swim in their pool at 2am.

We claimed the city. We claimed the night.

My hands are manly.

When I get dressed up, I feel as I am performing femininity.  

My feet are large. I love wearing men’s shoes. And men’s trousers.

Much later, I have a child. My flat chest explodes with milkiness and never quite recovers its sleekness. I mourn the loss of my flat, braless chest, with the stubborn hair that grows right at the ring of the Areola. For the first time, my body feels utilitarian. Breastfeeding makes me bovine. I fantasise that in some horrible dystopian future, they will have breastmilk farms with women all linked up to milking machines, like they do with cows now.  My brain disappears for a bit.

I am surprised to find I love being a mum. Not everyone’s mum. Just this little being.

Over time, my brain comes back, but my body has been altered. My heart is smashed open. What was once singular now lives in proximity to another’s orbit. I hear his thoughts.

He calls me Debra, Mum and later, “Mother” when he wants to piss me off. 

When he was little, he used to insert himself between me and his dad. Our apostrophe.

For the first time in my life, I wear an underwired bra.

I am a bad feminist.


Gabrielle and I are still best friends.  She tells me her daughter has had a baby. “Is it a boy or a girl?”, I ask.

“What a useless question!” she retorts.

When my son was little, he loved his shiny pink glittery wellingtons.  In his first year of school, he had a beautiful pink shirt full of flowers. All the kids told him that pink was for girls. He hid the shirt away. I would have liked to punch his teacher. I should have fought harder.


I find a lover whom I would like to peg. He says he thinks my pelvic floor is very strong, and I should get a dildo that inserts inside my vagina. By the time my purple "Bend Over Boyfriend" arrives, we are no longer speaking. I try in on anyway. Stroke its shaft lovingly. I've wanted a penis ever since reading one of Maxine Hong Kingstone’s books.  She describes her father being pulleyed up the side of a mountain in some basket like thing and peeing over the side. Into the valleys void. It appeals to me. I used to never wear underpants so that I could pull up my dress, stand straddled and pee without wetting myself. It wasn't the only reason. It seemed like a waste when all you ever did was take them off again.

The purple penis is longer than I expected and more comfortable. I run to the mirror and admire myself. From all angles. I still don't want to be a boy.

I have an almost irresistible urge to send unsolicited dic pics.

Photo by Winter James

Debra Watson is a poet and performer interested in participative, intimate and multi-sensory work. She is co-director of The Crimson Word and performs regularly with The Poetry Brothel London and The Bloody Poets.

Check out Debra's website

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