Calling All Call-Outs
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?