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Posts Tagged ‘transphobia’

Last year (or to be more precise, three days ago), I wrote a thing making fun of the Archbishop of Chicago’s concerns that the gay rights movement might be starting to resemble the KKK.

Elly commented:

i think some gay rights organisations/individuals are fascistic to be honest. Many of them tend to serve the interests of middle class white man. They are often prejudiced against less ‘powerful’ minorities and individuals, e.g. bisexual people and trans people.

The incidents around East London Pride and those anti gay stickers involved a lot of racism and Islamaphobia.

AND there are even one or two gay groups calling for a gay nation, a gay only state.

The “gay state” thing is a new one to me, at least outside the realm of obvious satire. It’s certainly not representative of the gay rights movement as a whole, but a book of that name does exist, and from a cursory inspection (which, frankly, is all I have the energy for) it doesn’t seem to be wholly metaphorical. The kind of segregation implied, if you take the title literally, is a terrible idea.

It’s not an opaque or unsympathetic thought process by which some gay people might tire of constantly being belittled and bullied, and eventually become frustrated to the point of abandoning any hope that non-revolutionary acceptance and integration can ever be achieved. There are problems with the gay rights movement that can’t so easily be shunted to the fringe, though.

When I typed “transphobia” into Google just now, the first suffix suggested by autocomplete was “in the gay community”. Do the search yourself, and it’s not hard to find many examples of people battling for rights and acceptance, while seemingly denying the same to other groups of people who you’d think were in a similar boat.

I can’t speak to the nature of the slogans people might have stuck to things during a Pride march, or of the experiences of any gay folk from a minority race, or bisexuals, or trans people, or anyone else who might not have found the gay community to be the refuge they were hoping for. It’s always worth being careful about whether any particular group or subgroup is being systematically edged out, othered, ignored, or discriminated against, even if the movement in question is primarily focused around fostering broader acceptance and tolerance. Perhaps especially then.

However, I didn’t quote the Archbishop in full in my last post, and I think letting him finish his sentence might help with the point I was making (emphasis mine):

You know, you don’t want the Gay Liberation Movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.

And another quote from the Illinois Family Institute:

Cardinal George’s analogy is fair and apt. Many homosexual activists harbor unconcealed hatred for not only the Catholic Church but also for all Protestant denominations that hold orthodox views of homosexuality.

The idea, not just that the Catholic Church as a whole are in danger of being oppressed by a sexual activist group campaigning for greater tolerance and liberty, but that the gay activists are the main problem with this scenario, is what I was aiming to ridicule, and I stand by that.

But, while I’m certainly not condemning or demeaning any movement or organisation based on these concerns at the moment, QRG has a point. The very notion of gay activism becoming oppressive, unwelcoming, or even “fascistic” is not a comically unrealistic one, and is worth watching out for and guarding against.

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There are some words you only really see in newspapers.

You’ve probably just thought of a couple. Things like “romp” for a bout of sexual activity, or “tot” for a child, along with plenty of others. People don’t really talk like that, but the massive headline fonts put limitations on the lengths of words that can fit on the page.

One word not appearing on that list is “tranny”, in the sense of a newspaper-friendly abbreviation of either “transvestite” or “transsexual”. (There’s a colossal difference between the two, which I’ve seen newspapers entirely fail to make before.) [Edit: “Transgender” may also be distinct from “transsexual”, in ways not obviously appreciable to everyone but which might well matter to those people who actually use them.]

Transvestites, transsexuals, and often anyone who crosses the strict gender lines in an unfamiliar way, can still fall under the category of “acceptable targets”. It’s tacitly recognised that it doesn’t really matter how you treat them, or what disparaging terms you use, because it’s all weird and scary and doesn’t deserve compassion or understanding. They’re just weird. Eugh.

Kinda like what was generally accepted about gay people not that long ago. And black people not that long before that.

Incidentally, I wonder whether it’s odd that deviating from the strict, heteronormative gender roles in perhaps the most significant way – having sex with people you wouldn’t traditionally be expected to – has gained such ground in terms of widespread tolerance, while relatively minor aberrations like being a bloke in a dress still attract such publicly acceptable ridicule.

The point is, it’s easy to look at stuff like this and think that it’s a bit of a non-story. She’s being a bit petty, and it’s really not worth getting this bothered about, and she should just let it go, and it’s not that big a deal, and it’s just a silly word.

It’s very easy to dismiss it like that. As easy as it was for previous generations to take the same attitude to fags and negroes, I imagine.

I’m not sure the exact nature of the parallel I should be drawing there. I’m the privileged white guy, and I don’t want to demean the history of black oppression by assuming I understand it well enough to use it as an appropriate comparison. Just how offensive is the word “tranny”? Is it as bad as “faggot”? Or “nigger”?

My guess is, it’s as bad as the people who have it hurled against as a term of abuse are made to feel.

I don’t think I need to recap the fact of violence and abuse toward people whose gender identity is anything other than perfectly straightforward and conventional and in line with the physical form they were born with. It needs active opposition and engagement, and will do for as long as we live in a culture where things like this happen:

A Long Island man fatally beat a 17-month-old infant he was babysitting because the child was acting like a girl, and not like a boy.

Authorities say Jones also told them, ‘I was trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl. I never struck that kid that hard before.’

A kid less than two years old got beaten to death because of some guy’s idea of how boys and girls “should” behave.

Now, this is an extreme case. If things really occurred as alleged in that article, then this guy’s extensive list of personal problems neither begins nor ends with some old-fashioned ideas about gender.

And I’m certainly not saying that this is where all instances of mild transphobia will inevitably lead. People who scoff at other people’s unfamiliar and unconventional decisions about gender identity are not as bad as child murderers.

But they’re also not helping.

The same attitude lies at the root of much of these problems. And every dismissive “tranny” headline does a little bit to just slightly reinforce the message: “It’s okay, everyone’s taking the piss out of them for being different and weird, they’re not really people, not like us normals, not like you and me – so there’s no need to remember all those things like courtesy and respect and decency and compassion that you have to grit your teeth and go along with for other people.”

I can sympathise with anyone for whom particular care and delicacy on this subject may not come naturally. Nobody was really noticing it until recently, and it might seem unsettling if you’re suddenly being told off for just having a bit of harmless fun with some weirdo. But your grandma might be equally bemused by the way black people don’t do what they’re told any more, and seem to have no respect for their betters these days, not like they used to, when they knew their place.

Whatever’s going on inside someone else’s head that you can’t relate to, they’re still people. And if they don’t mean anyone harm, they deserve better than to be made to feel bad because of careless abuses of language from the rest of us.

Hat-tip to The F-Word Blog for the links.

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