When she was around 13, Eliana Bookbinder began questioning her gender after reading a lot online. But in time, she came to realize she was a woman—and now she’s fighting for feminism. She joins the podcast to share her journey. Read the lightly edited transcript below, or listen to the interview:
We also cover these stories:
• President Donald Trump is disputing that he ever tried to get a subordinate to fire Robert Mueller.
• North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, but left without any promise of getting economic assistance from Russia.
• California teachers may soon be facing new restrictions when it comes to disciplining kids who are misbehaving.
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Katrina Trinko: Joining us today is Eliana Bookbinder, a young woman who is a member of the Women’s Liberation Front and who had her own gender identity struggle as a young adult. Eliana, thanks for joining us today.
Eliana Bookbinder: Thanks for having me.
Trinko: When did you first start to think that you were a man, and what made you think that?
Bookbinder: Probably, I started thinking that around when I was 12 or 13. I’d had a lot of issues. I had very masculine interests.
I wasn’t super comfortable with my body. I was very, very uncomfortable with feminine clothing and makeup, things like that. I sort of started to think, ‘OK, maybe I’m not actually a girl. Maybe I’m actually a boy.’
Trinko: Did you talk to anyone about feeling that? Like, tell your friends or your parents or anything?
Bookbinder: I didn’t. I kept it mostly to myself; like, entirely to myself, until a few years later. I did read a lot about it online, although I never actually mustered up the nerve to post and receive feedback.
Daniel Davis: When did you begin to actually identify as a man, and how did that process come about?
Bookbinder: What happened was, I was reading a lot. I was on Tumblr and Facebook and also a blogging community that I followed, and I was seeing a lot of stuff about how being trans is about not fitting in with the gender roles you’re assigned, not being a very feminine woman or a very masculine man, and it’s all about how you feel about your gender identity.
I remember thinking in all of it, I don’t feel like a woman, and I’m not very comfortable with femininity, and I’m much more comfortable with traditionally masculine activities and clothing, so I guess I’m a boy.
I was definitely influenced a lot by the blogs I was reading and the people I followed on Tumblr and Facebook.
Trinko: When you decided you were a boy, did that affect what your name was? Did it affect how you dressed? What did that actually mean?
Bookbinder: I never quite got to coming out. I picked out a name. I was just going to go by, I think, Eli, because it’s a shortening of Eliana, but I always dressed [in] T-shirt, jeans, shorts, things like that, so it didn’t really change how I dressed, because I already dressed in a very masculine way.
I never got to the point of actually getting a binder, but I was looking around online for where to find one. There are, disturbingly, places where you can actually get used binders from older trans-identified women or donated if you’re a young woman who can’t get one herself, which is kind of disturbing.
Davis: How did your family and friends take to the transition that you had?
Bookbinder: I came to my senses before I really told many of them. I think I maybe told my brother, who was more confused about it than anything else.
Hearing about it later, my parents were really, like, “How could this have happened to our kid?” because they thought I was pretty well insulated from it. I was home-schooled.
I didn’t have any in-real-life friends who were transitioning or anything like that, but I had enough friends and contact with people who were transitioning online that I heard about it.
Trinko: You now identify as female. Correct?
Bookbinder: I now accept that I am a female human being.
Davis: OK, so what changed you to that? Or, not changed you to that, because you are biologically that, but what made you accept it?
Bookbinder: It was actually two things. One was the blogging community I followed, that had some trans people and some non-trans people in it, had a major schism around someone saying well, trans women aren’t just women, full stop.
That’s not what those words mean … . I was, like, yeah, if you’re transitioning from A to B, that means you’re not B. That doesn’t make sense. I, from there, started to see a lot of the logical fallacies in the trans ideology.
I also started working at Boy Scout camp, which doesn’t sound like it’d be a great place for someone who thinks their trans, little trans-identified girl, but for me it was the first place where I’d been really valued for my masculine interests.
I was very interested in science. I was really good at starting fires. I was physically strong. I was valued for all of those things. Those were valuable skills in this community at Boy Scout camp, but I was also definitely female.
I was in the girls’ campsite. There were other girls and women who were very masculine. We were valued, but we weren’t men.
Trinko: That’s so interesting, because I think, having been a teenage girl myself, it is such a turbulent, weird period, where you feel so much pressure to conform to a certain image, and it does seem that, increasingly, it’s a very narrow image.
Like, you must be interested in all these things, and I remember that I wasn’t very interested in makeup. It’s funny how you can be under so much pressure for something like that.
Bookbinder: Yeah, it’s really weird. Among other things, makeup just makes my eyes water a lot, so I don’t like wearing it.
Trinko: Yeah, it’s tough if you have allergies.
Bookbinder: Yeah, so I wasn’t interested in it. I like being able to run around and move freely. Got in a lot of trouble when I was little because I had a dress for going to my parents’ friends’ wedding, and I was, like, OK, I guess I’m going bicycle-riding in this. It did not end well.
Davis: What about after that? In college, did you join a feminist group on campus?
Bookbinder: No. I went to Earlham College, which is a little liberal arts school in rural Indiana run by Quakers, and there wasn’t really a feminist group on campus.
There was the Action Against Sexual Violence Coalition, Action Against Sexual Violence something. They had a mission, working on sexual violence. Our women’s center actually got renamed my junior year the Center for Inclusive Gender Identities, so it was not a very radical feminist-friendly place.
Trinko: What was your college experience like? Did you share your prior gender identity struggle? Did you talk about how you felt that trans women were not women in exactly the same way that women are? How did those conversations go?
Bookbinder: Not well. I kept mostly quiet, but even just posting on Facebook that I think that people who are obviously men wearing dresses aren’t women, I had people ask mutual acquaintances if I was dangerous.
Like, if I was physically dangerous, which was really funny because I was walking around with a cane. I still have the cane.
I had hate mail slipped under my door. It was not a good time. I got excluded from a lot of on campus social stuff because I was considered dangerous.
Trinko: This was just because of your views on gender?
Trinko: One of the things that I’ve noticed is this huge pressure from society that if you’re a certain way, if you’re a boy who likes musicals, you’re probably gay or maybe trans. If you’re a girl who likes wearing shorts and T-shirts and doesn’t want to wear dresses, you might be a trans guy.
I’m just curious, what do you think can be done to our culture? How do we make it so we don’t make these boxes so narrow? I just find it so interesting that you talked about at Boy Scouts camp that you were able to do all these things, and you felt valued for doing all these things, but you felt valued as a woman.
I just feel like our society right now, they act like they’re all “woke,” but we have such narrow boxes.
Bookbinder: I don’t fully know. I think, definitely, working on decoupling femininity from what it means to be female. I don’t fully know. It’s something that I think about a lot, but it’s not something I have any good answers for.
I think honestly a lot of it is accepting, working on showing young girls and boys that, yes, there are adult men who like musicals, and there are adult women who chop wood and make fires and build stuff, and showing them gender-nonconforming adults who are still OK in their bodies.
Trinko: Right, because I would just say, at the end of the day, what makes you your gender, it’s not liking to wear dresses or something. It’s much deeper and much more innate than that.
Bookbinder: Yeah, it’s like, what makes me a woman is the fact that I am an adult human female.
Davis: It’s also about the Women’s Liberation Front and how it fits into the larger, I guess, LGBT movement.
Bookbinder: The Women’s Liberation Front, or WoLF, is a radical feminist organization. We work to basically liberate women from the patriarchy.
Our view is that sex-role stereotypes, or gender, are fundamentally the … Oh, what’s the phrasing here? Part of the hierarchy that puts men over women, the patriarchy, and that we should abolish them.
We shouldn’t have sex-role stereotypes. I wouldn’t say that they’re necessarily part of the LGBT movement. A lot of the LGBT movement actually doesn’t really like us very much.
We’re more part of the feminism movement, but we’re our own little thing.
Trinko: Why does the LGBT movement reject groups like yours?
Bookbinder: Because we are against transgender ideology. We don’t think that a man can become a woman in any sort of very meaningful way.
Particularly, we don’t think that what makes a woman is the makeup and the hair and plastic surgery and things like that.
Davis: Well, I wanted to ask you about a bill that’s getting a lot of traction … among House Democrats. [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi is pushing a bill called the Equality Act.
It would advance the transgender theory across the country in so many ways, including in education, and it would basically make gender defined by your own mental state, rather than anything objective that people can just observe.
Do you have any thoughts about that bill?
Bookbinder: The Equality [Act] was kind of a train wreck, honestly.
It poses a direct danger to women and girls, because of how it takes sex, which we all know to mean male and female, and replaces it with gender identity, which is this intangible spirit that people “just know” in themselves.
There’s no external way of validating it. There’s no reality check, whereas 99% of people, we can tell if they’re male or female.
It also makes it so that you could just say, “I’m a man” [or] “I’m a woman.” There wouldn’t be any sort of requirement that you at least have had a diagnosis from a medical professional.
This bill really, really would negatively impact the safety of women and girls. It would make it so that I couldn’t request a female doctor, because if I requested a female doctor, I could also get a male doctor who says he’s female.
Same for chaperones, handling intimate care at a hospital, supervising drug tests. That’s actually happened a few times.
Also for supervising children on overnight trips. I would not be able to say, if I had children, I want my female children supervised by a female caregiver, because I could request that, but the person they consider a female caregiver could be a man who just says he’s a woman.
It would also desegregate, based on sex, hospital rooms, locker rooms, and group showers, where people are naked. Prisons, juvenile detention facilities, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers. All these places where women and children are vulnerable would be open to any male, any man, who says that they’re a woman.
Davis: Does the Women’s Liberation Front share your view officially? Have they come out against the bill?
Bookbinder: I’m holding our U.S. Equality Act gender identity impact summary; so, yes. They are officially against the U.S. Equality Act.
Trinko: Circling back, we see, anecdotally, more and more teens are struggling with their gender identity nowadays.
Schools are reporting unprecedented numbers of kids wondering if they’re trans, etc. What would you say if a girl around 13 [or] 14 came to you and said, ‘I’m struggling with my gender identity’?
Bookbinder: I would say that, “Yes, being a woman in a patriarchal society can suck. It can feel like you’re trapped in a box, like there are no good options, and like you are a freak for not wanting to be feminine.”
It can feel like, maybe if you were a boy, people would take you seriously. Maybe if you were a boy, you could do what you wanted to do. That is just another form of the patriarchy.
What it’s trying to do is, trying to get you to mutilate your body and reject your body, which is the embodiment of who you are, instead of rejecting sexist ideology.
It’s OK to be uncomfortable with your body. I am still uncomfortable with my body often. Just because you’re uncomfortable with your body, doesn’t mean that your body is the problem. The problem is sexism and misogyny.
You can work on accepting your body and having your interests. You don’t have to either change your interests or your body to fit into sexist ideology.
Davis: All right. Well, Eliana, we really appreciate you coming in and being on and sharing your story.
Bookbinder: Thank you, guys, for having me.