TW: transphobia, rape, violence, murder
Edit: in the time between starting to write this post and finishing it, a transwoman was murdered right here in my own hometown. I do not have words for how angry this makes me. It just reinforces for me why we absolutely cannot sit by and let people spout transphobic bullshit unchallenged. Because this is not a bloodless academic exercise. This is not theoretical. There are people dying, today, here in our own cities, because of narratives that reinforce the idea that transgender people aren’t really people, aren’t really worthy of respect or even basic human dignity. Behind all the posturing and the Twitter flame wars and the wheedling insistence of “I don’t hate trans* people, I just don’t think their safety or ability to live a normal life is worth my temporary and occasional discomfort,” the price is being paid by people like Ashley.
I guarantee you, whatever waste of breath murdered her, he didn’t think he was killing a woman. He thought he was killing a freak. And whether you agree with him or not, if you say or write or do the things I’m talking about in this post, you told him it was ok to think this way.
So I’m noticing a trend.
It goes like this:
Step 1: Say and/or do something hideously, terribly transphobic. Something that completely disregards and walks over people’s entire identities. Something that shows a horrible lack of regard for people’s physical and psychological safety, if that safety causes you to be mildly inconvenienced or made uncomfortable or to lose even a little bit of your own privilege. Something that clearly (whether you “intended” it or not) sends the message of “you are not worth as much as me. You are not fully a person.” Make sure it’s in a public place, where everyone can see it!
Step 2: Whine about how terribly, horribly mean those awful transgender people and their allies are when they call you out on your bigotry. Deflect attention away from what you did to incite their anger; just point to how angry they are. Call their response an attack. Talk about how oppressed you feel, and how everyone’s ganging up on poor little ol’ you. Retroactively use the outrage of transgender people to justify your attack on them – after all, since they’re such awful angry people who are being so mean, surely they deserved what you said and did, amirite?
Step 3: …profit? *shrug* I dunno, I can only assume it’s profit, because otherwise I don’t know why this gambit would be so popular.
It’s sorta like trolling, except that trolling stops at step 1: trolls just want to rile you up for the fun of watching you be riled, and then laugh at you. No, for it to fall under this trend, you have to evince outrage (real or faked) that GASP! people got inflamed by your inflammatory statement! Shame on them for feeling the exact correct emotion for what just happened.
Now, for added fun, you can play this little trick on pretty much any marginalized group. It’s easily adaptable to attack race, sex, sexuality, religion… any group, really, that has a decently vocal presence online and has collectively decided that they have put up with about all of this shit they’re willing to put up with. I’m noticing it more with transphobia, however, because the people engaging in the transphobic version of this nonsense all seem to self-identify as – survey says! – feminists.
And as a feminist who does not find this dickery to be cute, that angers me.
This happened with Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill. And I recently had the dubious “pleasure” of seeing it happen with Cathy Brennan, and with UK Feminist.
And it really, really irritates the piss out of me.
So let’s look at the UK Feminist example first, as that example is less likely to start me hyperventilating and frothing at the mouth, and really, I’d like to put that off as long as possible, mmkay?
The short version: UK Feminist, who had already made a point on several occasions of calling transwomen “men” and taking offense at the term “ciswoman” (because fuck you, Latin!), wrote a smarmy little post about how it’s totes ok to prevent a transwoman from using the changing room at a women’s clothing store.
Because it would make her uncomfortable, y’see, to think of sharing a changing room with “men.” And what they should really do, if they have to buy clothes (how selfish!), is buy the clothes, take them home, and try them on there, then take them back if they didn’t fit or didn’t look good.
Deny it though she might (and she has, defensively and vehemently), the privilege is strong with this one.
Where to start?
1) TRANSWOMEN ARE NOT MEN OMFGWTFBBQ
Seriously. Let’s… let’s take this a step at a time, shall we? First of all, if you really and truly believe that the sum total of someone’s identity is their physical characteristics and not their mind or soul, turn in your goddamn feminist card. While you’re at it, turn in your Decent Human Being card. You have lost the right to call yourself either of those things.
With that out of the way. I can’t believe I have to explain this to a full-grown goddamn adult, but let’s take a look at the difference between sex and gender. Sex is determined by two things: your chromosomes, and to a lesser extent, by your genitalia. (And even then it is hardly the cut-and-dry binary that you apparently believe it is.) Someone’s chromosomes should only matter to you if you are their doctor and need that information for a medical reason. Someone’s genitalia should only matter to you if you are intending to interact with said genitalia at some point.
So. Unless you’re their geneticist or their lover, you have absolutely zero reason to care about or even to know someone else’s sex. None. Zero. Nil. It is absolutely, positively, none of your goddamn business, and I’d personally consider you a little creepy for even asking about it.
Everything else? Everything else is gender. Gender is mental, it’s emotional, it’s social. It’s how we define ourselves, how we think about ourselves, how we present to and interact with the people around us. Mental/emotional/social things are NOT determined by physical traits such as whether your naughty bit is an innie or an outie.
A transwoman and a ciswoman are both women in the only real sense that ought to matter to the people they interact with on a daily basis. When you, UK Feminist, present yourself as a woman, you do not need to drop trou to prove it, nor do you need to display proof of your XX chromosome. That’s because nobody gives a good goddamn about your sex. They consider you a woman based on your gender. And your gender is the same as that of a transwoman.
2) I don’t know what kind of changing rooms they have where you’re from, but round these parts we have these things called doors. Look into ’em. They will revolutionize the whole changing room experience.
And seriously, if it bothers you that much that someone on the other side of a closed door MIGHT possess a penis, you… you might have some bigger issues going on. If you do, I don’t want to belittle that and you should probably seek professional help, but you also shouldn’t ask the world to change for your psychological issue.
3) “Why can you not take the clothes home to try them on there?” *boggles*
*takes a deep breath*
So, ok. Unless you won the genetic lottery and happen to fall into the specific size and shape range that most clothing designers make clothes for, clothes shopping is kind of a nightmare. Women’s clothes sizes are determined, I’m pretty sure, by a Magic 8 ball or some other kind of random number generator – that’s the only reason I can think of why one of my pairs of jeans is so loose I have to wear a belt or they fall off me, while another pair, two sizes bigger, is uncomfortably tight. They’re cut funky – something that’s cute on the hanger may be gross on you, while I have several dresses that look stunning on me but were shapeless and ugly hanging up. Sometimes they pinch, or itch, or fit around your belly just fine but threaten to let your boobs pop out at any moment. Sometimes the color looks amazing by itself, but as soon as you see it actually on you, it turns incredibly unflattering. When I go clothes shopping (which is rare, and I’ll get to that in a moment), I have to plan to be in the store for a few hours. Because it’s just damn hard to find anything I actually want to buy.
Imagine for a moment that every time I wanted to try something on, I had to buy all the clothes, take them all home, unpack them, try them on, repack them, drive back to the store, wait to exchange them, find more clothes to try on, drive home again…
Not to mention: the reason I don’t buy clothes often is that I don’t have a lot of money. Buying one $16 skirt is a splurge for me. And I usually have to try on quite a few clothes to find the one skirt or one shirt I want. So… am I supposed to do this “buy, take home, try on, take back” think one item at a time? Or am I expected to buy EVERYTHING I might want to buy at once? With what, my good looks? Oh, wait, perhaps I should just put it on my credit card. That I don’t have. And can’t get. (And ooh, don’t forget gas prices, with all this driving around we’re doing now!)
But, y’know, perhaps I’m overreacting. Perhaps transgender women have scads of money and they can afford to do this. Y’know, what with the systematic discrimination they face that makes it very difficult for them to find jobs. I’m sure that disproportionate unemployment rate they deal with makes it just a breeze to waste lots of money trying to find a damn dress that fits.
If what you were talking about really was “a man buying women’s clothes,” like for a lark or a costume party or something, sure. I could see it. It’s a one-time thing, it’s a luxury, sure. Buy ’em and try ’em on at home. But for a transgender woman, this is not a special, one-time-only occurrence. This is her life. This is every time she buys clothes. You’re asking her to put up with a ridiculous imposition, one that would make her life immeasurably harder, one that you or I would not put up with for an instant… because the thought that she might exist near you gives you the vapors? Oh hell no.
Other gems from this post: “HE might identify as a woman; that doesn’t mean I have to accept this or be damned.” Yep. Sorry. It does. You don’t get to tell other people who they are.
And the frustrating thing is, pretty much all of feminism is that same message! You define yourself. Your identity is your own. You have agency, you own yourself, no one else is allowed to tell you who you are. You create your own identity. You are more than the definitions other people want to put on you; you can reject them, you can insist that other people accept you on your own terms, as who YOU say you are, not as who they think you should be. Feminists – radical feminists like UK Feminist over here – accept that fully when it comes to themselves. But somehow the idea of extending that same right to someone else is foreign to them. It’s rank hypocrisy.
“You feel like you are a woman? Why don’t you educate yourself, then, on how women have been oppressed and suppressed and raped and assaulted and attacked and murdered for the simple fact of being female? Why, instead of doing the male thing of trying to take control over us, do you not take a step back, engage with us, attempt to understand our feelings, our fears, our experiences?”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. What’s worse: the mistaken idea that anyone who has chosen the hard step of becoming a woman, giving up both cis-privilege and male privilege because it’s more important to be their own true self than to hang on to that privilege, hasn’t educated herself on all of this already? Or how painfully obvious it is that UK Feminist has no idea of the threats, violence, and discrimination both overt and subtle transwomen face for being trans, on top of what they face for being female?
I need some coffee before I can go on.
Ok, I’m back. (Because what I really need to be, while writing this post, is highly caffeinated.)
Anyway. After posting this little gem of transphobic douchebaggery, she gets called out on Twitter for her, well, transphobic douchbaggery. Like ya do. I’m not picking through her Twitter responses, because I like myself. You’ll just have to take my word for it that they were bad, bad enough that I (as a ciswoman!) don’t have the spoons to read through them again. And then she posted this: I Faced A Trans Twitter Attack (And I’m Not Even Suzanne Moore). Ahh, the sweet smell of martyrdom.
She opens by explaining that
some of her best friends are Black she knew a couple “transvestites” once and she wasn’t a creep to them, so she’s totally not transphobic, yo. (Also, Republicans who introduce bills threatening women’s bodily autonomy totally aren’t sexist, because of that one time someone was harassing a female friend of theirs and they protected her.) She finished up this section by giving a happy-feely statement about how, when everyone is nice and respectful to everyone else, the world is all shiny and good. (And if those uppity women/uppity Blacks would just know their place and stay there cheerfully, we’d have peace and harmony once again!)
Then, she posts some examples of the reactions she got.
Because some Twits didn’t like what I’d written in my blogpost, I received numerous tweets, including: ‘Your existence is an insult’ (@Pisscress); ‘you’re one of those who wants to keep their cis privilege, therefore transphobic, therefore scum’ (@B1uEYE); ‘you are misgendering me, asserting that women are not safe around me’ (@B1uEYE again); ‘you absolute hateful shit’ (@Pisscress again); ‘transphobic piss of shit’ (@flightrisker); ‘you are a disgrace to women’ (@isawfireworks); ‘pre-emptively blocking you for quite disgusting transphobia #offyoufuck’ (@jonanamary); and the laughable ‘[you have] P E N I S E N V Y!’ (@Notorious_QRG). It didn’t help that @sazza_jay (a.k.a. Sarah McAlpine, currently a volunteer news editor at Liberal Conspiracy) waded in with criticism and ‘sent’ me to the ‘var’*, as did the Guardian’s @AllyFogg, who said: ‘thankfully, [radical feminists] are not only tired, reactionary and poisonous, they’re also a dying breed’.
Yeah, pretty much.
When you post hate and bigotry (whether you want to admit to yourself or not that that’s what it is), you’re going to get treated like a hateful bigot.
(A note: she did mention one example which was very ambiguous, but which she chose to interpret as a threat against her children. I will note that that interpretation seems a bit of a stretch to me. However, I do want to point out that no matter how angry you are at someone, or how richly they may deserve the vitriol you’re sending their way, threats of any kind are unacceptable, and threats against someone’s family are absolutely horrible. Remember: just because someone is being horrible to you does not mean it’s ok to be horrible back. The moral high ground, keep it.)
She whines a bit about the conspiracy theory that they must have known she was new to Twitter, and were trying to gang up on her and scare her off. (Newsflash: when you’re being a bigot, most people don’t care whether you’re new or not. They’re just going to call out your bigotry.) And ends with: “Even supposing they had read it: if it is transphobic not to want transwomen (i.e. men) in female dressing rooms then yes, I am guilty.”
Well, ok, as long as you’re ok with being a hateful bigot, carry on then, I suppose. *shrug* But you do realize that by admitting that, you’ve lost your martyrdom privileges.
…And then there’s Cathy Brennan.
I’m not sure there’s enough coffee in the world.
At the risk of poisoning the well, Cathy Brennan is one of the vilest human beings I’ve ever had the displeasure to come across online. She’s just gleefully, deliberately mean for the sake of being cruel. She quotes lofty ideals, but then acts in ways that are petty and spiteful, intentionally mocking other people’s pain. I’ve run across her a few times, always in relation to transphobia, and pretty much everything she writes leaves me feeling queasy. I prefer to be an optimist, and believe that despite ignorance, psychological issues, privilege-blinders, weakness, uncontrolled emotions, etc., most people are pretty decent, deep down. The existence of someone like her shakes that belief.
(…ok, that was poisoning the well, and I should feel bad, because I do like to avoid logical fallacies whenever possible. But this isn’t a formal debate, this is my blog, and I’m angry. I’m not arguing with her; I’m calling her bullshit out. So I’m letting it stand.)
Sigh. Anyway. I’m not here to talk about her failings as a human being. I’m here to talk about this post: Just Report Abuse, That Will Shut
Women Transphobic Bigots Up. (There I fixed it for you!)
In it, she talks about an article from the Transgender Law Center which gives tips for commenting online. The tips are pretty commonplace. Respond calmly. Give evidence. Be compassionate. Things like that.
Articles like this are often needed. It’s a sad fact that when a marginalized group responds with anger or other strong emotions, their enemies will often take this as an excuse to ignore or belittle them based on their tone rather than the content of what they say. It’s also a sad fact that sometimes righteous anger can give way to something nastier. We’ve all been guilty of wishing someone harm who seems to wish us harm. Entertaining those thoughts and actually telling the person we’d like to see them harmed, however, are two different things, and it’s not ok to engage in the latter. It’s very easy to do, though, when your ire is up, so groups like the Transgender Law Center are right to encourage taking a deep breath and deciding that you’re going to be the adult, even when the other person isn’t, before commenting.
It’s the last line, though, that really seems to bother Cathy. “7. In extreme cases, report or flag transphobic comments to the social network or news outlet for removal.” She doesn’t like this. She doesn’t like it, because she’s been reported for transphobic comments, and has been banned for it at least once.
Cathy whines, “Apparently, supporting Gay People and Women is an “extreme case” that justifies being banned from commenting.” No. Saying things like “Transwomen are, in fact, men” and “I am sorry you are male. That is not my fault” is what justifies you being banned. That shit is invisibling, condescending, and belittling, and if you said shit like that on any space I had mod privileges on, I’d ban your ass too.
If you are being transphobic in a space that does not allow bigotry, you will be banned. If A, then B. We can’t stop you from being a hateful hypocrite, but we can certainly stop you from spreading that poison around.
The comments are pretty amusing too.
“And yeah sure, all we want to do when we radfems get together is plot to attack trans women. LOL. They really can’t imagine what else women would be talking about when we get together. It HAS to be about them, right? Sounds so typically male.”
Well, let’s see. Given that, on Cathy’s blog, there are currently SEVENTY topics tagged “transgender” (for comparison, there are only 55 tagged “lesbian” and 41 tagged “feminism”), I can’t imagine how anyone could get the idea that radical feminists spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to shit on transgender folk.
Or the comment-convo discussing whether Cathy has ever physically attacked a trans* person. No, Cathy, no one’s saying you’ve physically assaulted anyone. Verbally assaulted, yes. Assaulted their identity and their right to define themselves, yes. Spouted rhetoric, contributed to public mindsets, and supported bills that make it much more likely that someone will physically assault them, yes.
Fred Clark wrote a beautiful post a while back. In it, he define Rule #1 as: “Try not to be an asshole.”
Rule No. 1 is not, cannot and should not be legally enforceable. It should always be a rule, but it should never be a law. No state should ever attempt to compel or coerce us to obey Rule No. 1.
If we break this rule, then, we should never be imprisoned or fined. There should never be legal consequences for violating Rule No. 1. But there will always be consequences — consequences that are far more immediate and, in some ways, even worse than any legal sanction. The price we will pay if we break Rule No. 1 is that we will become assholes.
That’s a fitting punishment. Probably some kind of tautology, actually. But it’s also a brutally harsh and inescapable punishment. Don’t let this happen to you. Rule No. 1 is important.
UK Feminist, Cathy Brennan: you have broken Rule #1. You have become assholes. The rest of the world will, therefore, treat you like assholes. Stop being surprised when it happens.
And if it really bothers you that much, y’know… consider not being assholes.