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Posts Tagged ‘transphobia’

Zip it

March 17, 2011 1 comment

So, I had an interesting run-in with privacy issues recently. People seem to think that “out” is an all-or-nothing deal, like you come out and everybody gets to know right away. This could not be further from being the case. I am out to a handful of people at my university, a group that I have been around for a while, gotten to know, and is generally accepting. Some people have mistaken this “out” for a variety of “out” where they can tell people I barely know about my identity. This, obviously, is a problem. So I’ve devised a few rules for people on how to deal with people they know who are “out”.

1) This is someone’s life, not juicy gossip, not a conversation piece, not a route to boast about how open-minded you are for knowing someone who is X. If the topic doesn’t come up on it’s own, no matter how “out” the person is, just don’t bring it up. It’s not your place to talk about it. Even if you feel that it is “awkward” to avoid the specifics of discussing someone, just don’t. If whoever you are talking to doesn’t already know, then they don’t need to.

2) It doesn’t matter how well you know the people you’re telling. You can think that they are the most open-minded and accepting people on the planet, and know in your hear that they won’t have a problem with whomever you’re outing. Doesn’t matter. It’s not your place to make that determination. One of the big struggles with coming out is that you have no idea how people will react, even one’s you’ve known for a while. Some issues, like being trans, don’t come up in conversation enough to gauge people’s opinions, and sometimes otherwise accepting people freak out when they have to come face-to-face with an issue they claim to be “OK” with. People come out when they feel that the potential benefits outweigh the negative consequences, or when the balance of those two things is acceptable to them. You are not in any position to know what the boundaries of this balance are for anyone but yourself.

3) It doesn’t matter if you think they already know. Some people are perceptive, that’s fine. We don’t confirm their suspicions until we damn well want to.

4) If you don’t know how “out” someone is, ask. It’s hard to know what assumptions people are making when they give out information, so if someone doesn’t explicitly tell you who you can tell, ask them rather than assuming it’s everyone. Take a minute to learn what level of risk they are willing to take.

5) If someone says not to tell a group or a particular individual, for fuck’s sake don’t go and do it anyway. You’d think this would be a no brainer, but this is the situation I happen to be in, and I can’t possibly be the only one. Seriously.

6) If you found out about something in some way other than the person actually telling you (e.g. someone outed them to you, or you for some reason were researching your friend or S.O.), then tell them you know and don’t tell anybody else. If they don’t know that you know, then they’re going to be very surprised when the town gossip finds out.

The reason for all this is that being out is a dangerous business. Once you tell people, the knowledge could get to someone who doesn’t like X, someone who would do you harm. People are attacked, people are ostracized, people are blackmailed. Coming out is a calculated risk, we tell the people we think will be fine with it and who we think will keep their mouths shut about it if need be. The only person capable of taking that risk is the person to whom the risk actually applies. This does not extend to acquaintances, friends, relatives, S.O.s, or anyone else. You do not have the right to distribute anyone else’s information unless they give that right to you specifically. Otherwise? Keep your lips zipped.

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Stop being so offended

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment

So, normally I don’t pay bathroom graffiti much mind. There’s a lot of weird graffiti in bathrooms, heck, I’ve written some weird graffiti in bathrooms. But I saw something today that I think is worth commenting on, because it reflects an idea I’ve seen around a lot. Here’s how it went:

Someone wrote “faggot” on the stall door. Given the amount of failed washing and general fading that occurs in conjunction with bathroom graffiti, I’m not sure if the individual was directing this at another graffiti author or just writing it in general. It spawned a minor graffiti conversation; someone else wrote next to it “stop being so ignorant”, to which someone else responded “stop being so offended” (the actual end of the conversation was “GAY!”, but I don’t think that deserves much comment). The issue here is of course with the third piece of graffiti, much more so than with the original bit of writing that eventually led to it. This is a message sent out to many who take offense at, well, anything.

What’s going on here is this: The third person here is under the assumption that if you’re offended by something, it’s your fault. You are too uptight/”PC”/whiny/whatever. The thought process is that their right to free speech trumps everything, including your right to be treated with respect as a human being. Of course, the flip side of this is not permissible, you can’t exercise your right of free speech to ask someone to be nicer, or call them an asshole. You are required to just shut up and take it. Now, I’m all for free speech, I love it. It’s what allows us to criticize our leaders and society in general, allows us to have conversations that might be controversial or go against standard ideas/doctrine/tropes. Free speech allows places like this to exist. But I am of the opinion that free speech is not absolute. There’s a very good reason you’re not allowed to yell “fire” in a crowded mall. Safety is a very good reason to curb free speech (and, let’s face it, not being an asshole is a very good reason to self-censor as well).

Because slurs of every sort, when publicly displayed and unchallenged, are very dangerous. You may have heard of the recent rash of suicides by gay men that have been heavily publicized. You also may (or may not) have heard about the appalling statistics for trans suicides. And while seeing a single slur in a bathroom won’t do much damage, the fact is that they’re everywhere, and they exist as part of and overarching theme of dehumanization and oppression that expresses itself in ways large (harassment-induced suicide) and small (twits writing graffiti in mens rooms). The fact of the matter is that having a word that describes a group you are part of that also functions as a catch-all insult sucks. Being treated as a lesser human being, something that needs fixing or a good clock-cleaning*.

I’ve gone off on a tangent here, but my point is this: If you’ve said something that offends somebody, chances are that it was offensive. Someone offended by something you say is not being “whiny” or “oversensitive”, and downplaying their reaction is actually making you more of an asshole. Neither are they being “the PC police” (guess what, playing the victim when you’ve hurt someone also makes you more of an asshole). What’s actually happening here is someone is trying to take advantage of their privilege to silence someone without that privilege. What’s happening is also victim-blaming, in it’s most obtuse form: you wouldn’t be offended by things if you weren’t so easily offended. This particular instance may seem pretty minor, but when it crops up elsewhere it becomes clear that it’s not: encouraging queer people not to talk about our lives (“stop shoving it in my face”) or even keeping us from situations where they could discuss their experiences (“think of the children”) and actively blaming us for our own harassment (“if you didn’t insist on being different….”). That’s the mindset behind this graffiti. This is the mindset every time someone says “you’re just oversensitive” to someone who was just offended by something. “We don’t want to hear it, you don’t deserve a voice, the problem is with you not us.”

I don’t advocate legal restriction of using certain words. But I do advocate having serious conversations about them and their meanings and impacts. I advocate not being an asshole.

The unknown writer of this graffiti may not appreciate being called an asshole. My response would be that they should stop being so offended.

*for those who may not have encountered this term: it is slang for getting beaten up. I believe the “clock” is one’s face, and “cleaning” for some reason involves getting covered in mud, bruises and blood.

I am Angry

August 13, 2010 2 comments

Read this, and you’ll be angry too.

I was going to just edit this in to the end of my previous post on hate violence, but this fuckery deserves its own little area. The jist of the article is that Rob Jones, a 17 month (you read that right, month) old boy was brutally beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend for being “too feminine”.

“I was trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl,” Jones explained. “I never struck that kid that hard before. A one-time mistake, and I am going to do 20 years.”

I have a message for Pedro Jones: go to fucking hell. I hope you do way more than 20 years. You killed a toddler, a FUCKING TODDLER, for not being manly enough for you. Later in the article there are quotes that expound upon how much he loved the kid. Fuck you. Your “one time” mistake just took a child’s life, that’s not “one time” for him, it’s forever.

This is a symptom of a sick society that prescribes which behaviors are “masculine” and which are “feminine”, allowing no mixing, who is allowed to perform which set of behaviors, “men” and “women”, again allowing no mixing, modification, or other options. And the penalty for breaking these rules? Death. I’d like to take the opportunity to repost this link that I shared in the last post. We are at war, and our children are the casualties.

The article itself is very well written, and expounds on the signs of our misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic society. It includes a number of other examples of such hatred, such as a “feminine” boy being “cured” through aversion “therapy” and later attempting suicide. I encourage everyone to read it, and I’m just going to share this one quote, which is basically a summary of the central idea of the article:

The attack, and the apparent impulse behind it–that a violent man was made uncomfortable by a even a perceived variation on gender-normative behavior–is exactly what makes transgender and gender-variant Americans among the most vulnerable segment of the population, and children who even appear gender-variant are the most vulnerable of all.

I’m going to go do something soothing for a while now. And I was having a good day until I read this fuckery.