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Author Jacob Tobia Explains Why Some Queers Have Reclaimed the Term "Sissy"

Author Jacob Tobia and Trevor Noah

Jacob Tobia is on a mission to reclaim the word “sissy.” 

Writer and producer Tobia appeared on the Daily Show on Thursday to explain their journey toward understanding their own gender, the dynamics of gender for the world at large.  

“In some ways the word ‘sissy’ was the first word I had to name my difference,” Tobia said. 

Tobia told host Trevor Noah their memoir, Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story, “is about reclaiming my childhood for myself and learning to snatch back the power from people who say ‘oh you shouldn’t be like that.’ So if you think you’re going to tease me with that name, it’s the title of my damn book now, sorry!”

If anything, Tobia says, the folks who have such a problem with the way trans or gender nonconforming folks express their gender says a lot more about the bully than it does about the queer people being targeted. 

“I have a lot of empathy, actually, for people who are really uncomfortable around me, or who stigmatize trans folks, or straight-up hate gender nonconforming people,” Tobia said. “And the reason I have so much empathy is that when someone cat-calls me on the street, when someone is violent toward trans folks, I’m like ‘Darling your trauma is showing.’ The only reason you’d lash out against a trans person is because you’ve been traumatized on the basis of your gender too. Something about your gender went wrong, or someone told you you couldn’t cry as a child, or someone told you this is how you had to be, and you see someone like moi, with such freedom, and you don’t know how to handle it.” 

Tobia, who has worked on the Amazon show Transparent, said that in working on the book and promoting it, they’ve come to embrace the idea of identifying as “gender-chill.” If anything, maybe everyone can benefit from being a little more chill about relaxing the confines of gender. 

“What is the future we want to build for trans folks? What is the future that I want to live in?” Tobia asks. “And the future I want to live in isn’t like, there’s no gender and everyone lives in grey hoodies and sweatshirts and like, shaves their heads. That’s none of the things that make gender suck. I want to live in a world where there’s no patriarchy, no misogyny, none of the things that make gender suck. I want it to be what makes gender great. I want it to be like a dress-up bin.”

In that spirit, Tobia gifted Noah a set of dangly clip-on earrings, which Noah immediately put on, noting, “In South Africa and many African cultures, men will wear earrings like this, and to your point, no one would be like, “Oh no that one is not a man” or anything like that. I just look at myself and say, “Oh, I look traditional right now. Like if my grandma saw me right now she would say, ‘Finally, he’s connecting with his roots!’”

 

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