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Calling All Call-Outs

Calling All Call-Outs
Savannah Garmon

It bothers me that language developed by trans women to describe our own experiences of oppression is not widely accepted in the queer community at large, or even the trans community in fact.  In my mind this point is connected with the feeling many trans women have expressed in recent years that trans activism tends to be dominated by trans men.

And no, ‘trans-misogyny’ is no more of an elitist term than ‘transphobia’ was when it first began making the rounds.  It’s true I do know trans women with greater oppressions than my own who wouldn’t know the term if I used it with them, but then again I know trans women with greater oppressions than my own that use the word more often than I do.

Further, I think that a real conversation needs to happen around bringing more trans women (especially youth) into leadership roles in our communities.  And more than a few trans women that I know have told me that they stepped away entirely, specifically because they felt unwanted by the present leadership.  That situation leaves many of us feeling left behind or ignored as the movement goes forward.

I think it is within that context that the use of the phrase “trans people” (when discussing oppressions that fall disproportionately on trans women) is particularly grating (to be fair, Tom, the interviewer, uses similar language).  I think this language also stands out because Dean is very careful to acknowledge that trans people of color are disproportionately targeted— as he should.  But if he’s so careful around the race issue, why not be similarly careful around the issues that trans women experience?

From my perspective, I think “trans people” would probably be fine if it was at least at appropriate times followed by, “although noting that this issue disproportionately affects trans women” or similar (perhaps, “trans feminine spectrum individuals” could be used if part of the concern is around those with more fluid identities).  That is a significant piece of what seems to be missing from my perspective, and it doesn’t seem so difficult to correct.

That having been said, I also want to acknowledge that when this and related issues have been discussed at times here on PQ, and especially on twitter, there seems to be an unfortunate tendency for productive critique and debates to give way to endless, grating and almost pointless blowhard-ism.  Personally I’m getting a bit frustrated with this.

A good example would be the whole ‘argument’ over Lucas Silveira’s recent use of the word ‘tranny’ on twitter.  For those who don’t know, he used the word in reference to himself and a couple other trans guys on twitter (like “#TrannyThursdays” or similar).  He also said some pretty inappropriate things defending himself when he was called out on the issue.  Personally I’m not enthusiastic about trans men using the word (there’s definitely a difference in how the word impacts trans women and trans men; and also I’m sick of queer cis women who seem to pick up on it and think it’s okay to direct thoughtful comments at me along the lines of “omg you’re a tranny?? no I don’t want to go out with you anymore, you’re kind of freaking me out haha”) but Lucas’s original usage was not particularly problematic.  Calling him out for saying the word would have been appropriate, but unfortunately the form that the call-out took was just grossly disproportionate to what actually had occurred (and ultimately self-destructive).  And I’m not the only trans woman who views it that way.

I don’t think many people outside of Toronto are aware of the extent to which the campaign against Lucas has caused major problems in the local trans community.  I mean, the critique didn’t end with the massive, bloated flame war and tumblr posts; someone actually started a ‘NOT Lucas Silveira’ (hereafter simply referred to as ‘Fake Lucas’) account on twitter that began saying things and claiming things about Lucas that are simply not fucking true.  Seriously, when did publicly defaming someone become some clever campaign against trans-misogyny?  I don’t want to be represented as a trans woman by that kind of thing.

While I’m not at liberty to go into all the details, I can tell you that the Fake Lucas thing caused a lot of problems here in Toronto, not just for Lucas but for several trans women as well.  At one point, the thing had basically everyone turning against one another, and there are trans women I know that were very personally and deeply hurt by this campaign.  Somehow I’d like to think that the relatively abstract point of getting on trans men for saying the T-word would at least be a bit qualified when it comes to the point of actually directly hurting trans women with the campaign itself.

I mean, my goddess, at one point Fake Lucas went as far as ‘ironically’ promoting Cathy Brennan’s hate campaign against myself and other trans women.  Fake Lucas was actually promoting a website that targets specific trans women, which was created for the purpose of trying to make us look bad in search engine results (e.g. to degrade my ability to find a job).  How is promoting a hate campaign against trans women and thereby increasing its web presence clever or cute?  (And I can’t help but notice that none of those who retweeted this particular gem are actually among those targeted on the site… because of course, scoring some cheap political laughs should always take priority over supporting your sisters in real life!).

And I have found that when I plead with people to calm the fuck down and at least stop encouraging whoever is behind the Fake Lucas account, certain self-righteous activists seem largely unwilling to listen and understand that the real-world results of this kind of campaign are just totally destructive.

Look, I get it that many of us on the trans woman side of things are living through the tangled web of trans-misogyny that seems to follow us no matter where we go, even in our own communities.  Oftentimes it seems like trans guy activists get highest accolades while no one seems to feel obligated to acknowledge the rather obvious fact that trans women’s lives tend to be significantly more complicated and that the community nevertheless tends to provide us with fewer support structures.  I think it is in this context that something like Fake Lucas provides some people with an outlet for very real pain and frustration.

But that having been said, the fact is that Fake Lucas and similar gimmicks do not help our cause and never will.  It’s self-indulgent; it’s the kind of thing that only forces the people whose minds you ostensibly wish to change into a deeper defensive position.  And those who are undecided or unfamiliar with the issue would see the Fake Lucas thing and most likely be put off by it, tending therefore to side with the target of the campaign rather than the shrill, barely comprehensible blather coming from the fake account itself (including almost endless repetitions of the word no one supposedly wants to hear!).

And personally, I would rather leave the ridiculous, self-defeating attacks to Brennan herself and our other opponents (although it’s interesting to note, Fake Lucas has made several attempts to bait Brennan into a response, but it seems even she has enough commonsense to ignore the trash).

Oh, and while I’m already playing the role of Granny Tranny Call-Out Queen here, I’m gonna take the opportunity to point out that this article about CeCe that many people have been praising is really bad and sensationalistic.  “Death and the Maiden”??  I suspect that if Law & Order: SVU decided to write an exploitative episode based on CeCe’s story, this would be the exact title.  The author goes so far as to actually assume she knows what CeCe was thinking and experiencing throughout the attack.  Unless, the author actually is CeCe or knows her very well, that seems pretty inappropriate.  Not to mention that the author states that society coerces trans women into “doing the dirtiest and most menial of jobs…”  I can only guess that the author (with white privilege and apparently, like myself, a PhD) is referring to work that she herself has never been ‘compelled by society’ to do, and therefore she has little business referring to another trans woman’s work as ‘dirty’ or ‘menial.’

So that’s primarily what I wanted to say.  I think I have critiqued all sides of these little arguments and I hope that I have been fair.  I intended for my original question on the interview itself to be a constructive critique, which is just not where the resulting conversation went.

And in conclusion, I would like to ask all of us to just reflect a bit on where we are, and how our tactics and arguments relate to the social change that we would like to achieve.  Let’s ask ourselves how our tactics actually impact trans people’s lives in the real world.  And in that spirit, I would like to make a sincere personal request that anyone following the Fake Lucas account on twitter, please, go and unfollow it right now.  We don’t need to encourage that shit cause it doesn’t help anyone with anything.  And next time we get sucked into a flame war on twitter/PQ/wherever, let’s ask ourselves: do I really have the interests of the real-world trans community as a whole in mind?

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  1. Thank you for posting these refreshingly down-to-earth insights, Savannah. This has given me a lot to think about.

  2. There is an important link should have appeared in the first paragraph on the second page:

    While I’m at it I’ll also include:

  3. Katharsis

    Thanks for this! I got so tired from doing and thinking about trans-activism so much when I was younger and constantly encountering this kind of “invisibilizing of transwomen meets totally belligerent call out culture,” and I think it’s a big part of why I pretty much stay away from anything and everything trans-related. It feels really good to see a push for more reasonable dialogue; if we can get past the petty shit that divides us maybe we can be dangerous together.

  4. Samantha

    If you don’t like whats allready on offer, then sisters its time to make your own activist group focussing on trans feminine aims. Sadly trans means “ahem cough cough mastly trans guy with the occaisional bit on trans women” so why not focus on ourselves.

    We get theb biggest lump of social oppression so we need more sisters educating the masses. The feminists did wonders for womens rights (short of the rad fem minorities) and trans women and the few trans men and non binaries who are with us should focus on trans feminine social issues (including the untouchable to cis lesbian issue as well)

  5. Golly Holightly

    Thanks for writing this. I especially appreciated your recap of what many people engaging this kind of issue online don’t see: the ripple effects that happen in real life as people who glean incomplete, vaguely decontextualized accusations and analyses online carry those into the rest of the world.

    Brief background: I’m a trans woman of color who’s been active in online communities for twenty years, trying to organize politically around trans & queer issues for a decade, and who spent several several years in the mid-2000s blogging on feminist issues & racism & trans women’s issues. This piece helps to capture some crucial elements of why I basically quit putting my energy towards the kind of “online activism” that are at play here — why my voice is no longer in those conversations. Lots of furor and talk (much of it from me, many times!) and not a whole lot of accountability or memory. An illusion that the big, important online conversations we’re having about CeCe, or about saying “trans women” instead of “trans people” are actually the same conversations that are happening in the real world — or that they’re even as relevant. Do communities of trans women of color all over the place, not to mention our handful of thoughtful and truly committed allies know that saying “trans people” instead of “trans women” is a form of erasure? Or that there should be a space between “trans” and whatever noun it’s modifying? Maybe they should; a lot of them don’t, because these are conversations I’ve mostly just seen festering and throbbing online. And not everyone’s online — I’m not just talking about class & access issues, but about how people spend their time. A lot of people don’t find it fruitful or even important to get caught up in blogosphere and online controversy — in fact, some of the best activist minds I know actively avoid it because of how fruitless, pointless, decontextualized and removed from on-the-ground lived experience it often feels.

    The internet is full of contextless communication that at best provide a filtered insight into the actual conditions of real lives; it’s a poor substitute for work with individuals and communities in the real world, and I think a lot of online advocates realize that — but there’s a spectrum between direct action that has measurable real-world action and an angry private blog post to yourself and two friends, and I suspect a lot of the distinction along that spectrum has to do with accountability. With putting your chips down, and backing up your words with something more than just the (often considerable) time it takes to type them.

    I divested from the online conversations, discourse-shifting, education, and vague movement-building that I had spent years trying to build. I did so because the signal-to-noise ratio was terrible, that it’s not any particular person’s fault, but that it was a mistake to get too enamored, put too much stock in, or even assume that people who have a stake in or are committed to working on an issue should even pay attention to the kind of controversies and speechifying that multiply online. Not much to date has made me feel like rejoining those conversations. In fact, when I see how much energy seems to be going towards getting ignorant people to stop saying “tranny” as opposed to harder-hitting issues (among which I’d include all of the support for and outcry over CeCe’s situation) I tend to just hit CLOSE and make plans to help building local organizations, with other trans women of color – and, yes other trans people too! — where I live and work and love. Where we can look each other in the eye and struggle through awful bullshit that’s happening to us right now, and cry together, and confront racism and transphobia and classism as they surface in our own lives and our interactions with each other — instead of just flinging words around at screen names that mostly function as labels for more piles of more words.

    • I totally get where you’re coming from. It’s really frustrating how we tend to get sucked into these debates that seem inevitably to become decontextualized from whatever larger or more pressing issue set off the discussion, and then even that sometimes gives way to a more personalized kind of dispute that is somehow really just about claiming who the better “activist” is or something like that.

      I think you bring up a really important point, which is the issue of accountability. It’s a funny thing online because there are so many voices out there that there’s a real question as to what accountability even means in that context (accountability to who? Which pseudo-anonymous voices on the internet “count” in this sense?). And in that context, how do we effectively demand accountability from trans guys who want to speak to issues that primarily affect trans women? (some of whom are well-meaning, perhaps some less so). Or for that matter, accountability from white trans women who want to speak to issues that primarily affect trans women of color? (and here I have to say I’ve also seen some pretty gross stuff in my years as a trans activist).

      Personally, as a white trans woman who speaks both on trans-feminism and race issues, I try to volunteer myself for critique to the trans women of color I know and with whom I work (both irl and online). I definitely fuck up sometimes, but I do *try* to be accountable.

      From that perspective, I would like to think that I could demand the same kind of accountability from the trans guys who speak on issues that primarily affect trans women. Like I would like to be able to just say, “hey dude, let’s chat a bit about that thing you wrote” and their automatic response would just be, “sure, let’s find a time to talk about that.” The sad truth is, I just don’t know that many trans men who offer themselves up for that kind of thing. There are a few, to be sure, but not a lot… despite the fact that they serve as leadership in many ways.

      It’s in that context that I do think the conversation about saying “trans women” versus saying “trans people” is really important to have. Because I think if a trans guy is sitting on a panel, or giving a talk or whatever, and says “trans women” over and over again, acknowledging that is who is mostly deep affected by some of these issues, it becomes a natural question: where is she? why can’t speak for herself? Which is a non-trivial question that needs to be addressed. And it is in that context that use of the phrase “trans people” over and over will likely serve (intentionally or unintentionally) to erase that question in the mind of the audience. That is very unfortunate.

      As for the online versus real world conversation… well, I do think it should be acknowledged that probably some people are more so active online than in real life simply because I suspect that in many places there just isn’t much room or institutional support for a lot of trans activism, and I do think we should keep that in mind. Here in Toronto there are a handful of leadership positions and they are more or less filled. And in fact, personally I got my real start on trans activism in Toronto not by working on trans issues directly, but by working on the Palestine solidarity campaign simply *as* a trans woman, and gradually being called on to speak directly to trans issues more and more often.

      So my point here is that some people probably don’t have a lot of obvious activist outlets other than online, and that’s probably worth keeping in mind when having the conversation about calling-out all the call-outs (you can probably tell by this point, I like nuance! lol). I guess then part of the question is how do we better integrate the more real world stuff with the online stuff? How do we build accountability to one another into those structures? These are all very real questions… I don’t have all the answers, but I definitely think it is something we should be talking about.

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