Updated: Sep 16
Back in 1989 when she was still a lesbian and a young PhD student at the University of Washington, about to begin her teaching career at the University of Victoria, Holly Devor picked up a contract to teach inmates at a men’s prison. Most of them were convicted sex offenders. She enjoyed the experience, and described how she “made it a priority that they understand how feminist propositions offer them both increased adaptability in a changing world and increased freedom from the restrictions of their own gender roles” (Abbotsford News, Sept. 13, 1989).
She told the newspaper that “We raise men in our society to be ignorant of the lives of women” and “men have few legitimately masculine ways to learn to understand women and sexual offences are one result of that state of affairs. I believe that much masculine hatred and fear of women comes from men’s need of feminine acceptance and their concomitant vulnerability to rejection by women.” She concluded that men had to learn to be more responsible for their own emotional lives.
Jump forward to 2003 and Devor (now renamed Aaron) is described by Victoria Times Colonist columnist and Globe and Mail correspondent Vivian Smith as “ happy to conform to a conservative image more typical of men who run $3-million enterprises: Striding into his spare, elegant office, Mr. Devor projects confidence and control. He wears a dark grey suit and black tie with a blue shirt just over-large enough to hide any shape that might suggest he was once a woman... In the manner of men used to commanding space, even at 5-feet-6, his hand gestures are expansive, the right leg crosses the left widely when he sits, he shrugs his shoulders loosely. Aaron Devor is a man in full, if not in anatomy.
This description is stunningly sexist – so much so that we have to wonder what cave Smith was sleeping in through the 80s and 90s, those decades in which women thundered into Canadian universities to occupy as many seats as men, led men in starting up businesses, and entered all the professions. But maybe Devor herself was projecting this sexist image for all she was worth. Afterall she was claiming to be a man based on masculine stereotypes like these. Maybe Smith was just overwhelmed by the Devor’s ‘will to power’.
Leaving aside the sexism, we have to wonder what changed for Devor in the intervening 14 years – aside from getting married (to another woman) and converting to Judaism.
In 1995 she expressed approval of cross-dressing, calling it “healthy”. When it is suppressed, “the result is male shame”. By this time, she would rather see “masculine” and “feminine” as innate genders, with cross dressers expressing both genders together, rather than look for at cross-dressing as a symptom of a psychological disorder (Van Sun, Aug 19, 1995).
In 1996 Devor described pedophiles as “ideal teachers” because they are people who “understand children, who know what children want, who know how to relate to them on their own level” (Victoria Times Colonist Sept. 7, 1996). She comes close to blaming their victims when she says they are often needy children who may give in to some adult demands to get the love and attention they crave.
By 1997 Devor was weighing in on the medical treatment of people born with ambiguous genitalia. She deplored the practice of surgically altering such children based on the size of the phallus, to make them more clearly male or female. She was already claiming that scientists were confronting the idea that “there can be more than two sexes, more than two genders.” “What we should celebrate,” she said “is that there is a whole spectrum of human diversity – a splendor of genders, a rainbow of genders” (Vancouver Sun, April 7, 1997).
In these comments over a span of a few years, Devor is following what is becoming a discernable and predictable path for gender ideologists. It involves approving of (male) sexual kink, sympathizing with pedophiles, and extrapolating from people with disorders of sexual development to the general population.
She’s also on record that year  for not wanting to eliminate masculine and feminine gender roles, but only to add a lot of other options (Times Colonist Jan 10, 1997) .“I have become convinced that not only can men and women live in bodies of any sex but that we go against reality when we insist there are only two sexes and two genders,” she said in a public lecture at the University of Victoria.
Perhaps her change of position is best exemplified by the two books she wrote prior to “becoming a man”. In 1989 Gender Blending: Confronting the Limits of Duality compiled the experiences of 25 women who were regularly mistaken for men. Then In 1997 FTM –Female to Male Transsexuals in Society consisted of interviews with 45 trans men – women who had mistaken themselves for men. Only the latter has been reprinted (in 2014).
felicia rembrant is a canadian feminist, activist and writer. Her twitter handle is: felicia rembrandt @ripsintolabels
This piece was originally featured in Sledge And Crowbar.