Friday, 24 February 2012

In which I destroy civilisation: transphobia in the tabloids

You know, I normally do Mail smackdowns for fun. Their preposterous articles and fantastically flimsy foci make for a hilarious demonstration of the fact that Sexism: It Still Exists. It's at a particular point on the sexism spectrum that means it's extreme, yet not hurtful (because it's in the fucking Daily Mail, I really don't care what they think of me and my gender).

But the transphobic stream of bile that has grown from a trickle to a never-ending spunk spurt in the last couple of weeks... I really can't find the hilarity any more.

It started with the delightful headline "I'm a liberal - but a man giving birth is freakish and beyond the pale". Mad props to the sub; rarely does a headline so perfectly sum up the content, tone, and utterly stomach-turning quantities of hate in an article in one short sentence. And the article itself pretty much does what it says on the tin: rather than going the usual mainstream route of just implying that trans people are "freaks", it just straight up says so; instead of hinting that "I find this icky therefore it's wrong", this prejudice is presented as a valid line of argument.

The whataboutthechildrenning is a common thread. Kids are mean. Kids pick on people they perceive to be different. Therefore gay and/or trans people should not have children? Because we all know that the best way to deal with bigotry is: more bigotry!

As for "I'm a liberal, but..." - the whole article reads like a petulant rant that there are just so many people we have to be nice to these days. I mean, GOD, we let women vote, we try not to use racist slurs at dinner parties, we let the gays have Will & Grace, and now some OTHER group starts demanding that we treat them like actual human beings rather than revolting, pitiable peculiarities? Don't they understand it is just so hard not to vomit prejudice all over humanity? Where will it all end? And will extending a modicum of respect to people of all genders, sexualities, races, religions, ability statuses, classes, gender histories and the rest, in fact... DESTROY SOCIETY ITSELF?
Sometimes, removing stigma and taboo can seem to represent an advance in tolerance as well as human rights. Yet we also know (to our cost) how the pushing back of boundaries leaves us with little to shore up the very fabric of our civilisation.
Yeah. Not being a dick: will end civilisation.

We have misgendering galore, we have delightful phrases like "no one said what I’ll wager most thought: if it had a baby, it’s not a man - it’s a woman with a moustache" (oh, you brave soldier, fighting against political correctness with your "it"! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, you're a fuckwit.) We have birth names, we have detailed descriptions of medical procedures (seriously, what's this obsession with the contents of other people's knickers?), we have The Sun exhorting its readers to to EXPOSE the identity of a dude who gave birth; we have "it's just a phase, get over it", and finally, we have an equivalency drawn between being trans and pretending to be a monkey.

Part of why this sudden eruption in brazen transphobia is sickening me so much is that it feels enormously close to home: it's not so long ago I would have subscribed wholeheartedly to a lot of this shit. Being brought face to face with the logical end-point of some of the worst aspects of your own nature is quite a sobering experience, especially when it's printed in a national newspaper.

And part of it is just the luxury of being appalled. As I go "oh my GOD, racism, IT HAPPENS"; as dude friends go "HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS TERRIBLE OPPRESSION CALLED 'SEXISM'??"; so cis people trying to get their ally on read god-awful stuff like this and have the privilege of seeing it as something shocking, something new, something other than the latest manifestation of the deep-rooted hatred and disgust of trans people in this society.

NB The phrase "the luxury of being appalled" - or definitely the concept - is from something I've read.. on some blog.. somewhere. (Maybe Womanist Musings?) I did bookmark it for future reference but Firefox decided to delete my entire history. Strenuous googling has failed to give me the post I have in mind but if it rings any bells please let me know so I can add an attribution.


  1. I don't recognise the exact wording, but Liss over at Shakesville has definitely written about shock as a privilege. This is a difficult one to process: on the one hand, I do think that shock is actually a very valuable emotion, in that it reinforces that racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic - unfortunately the list seems endless - behaviour should not be the norm. On the other, only today I listened to my usually extremely vocally progressive partner describe how he was so shocked to hear a particularly racist comment from a shop assistant attending him that he was literally left speechless, something which is hardly helpful in the circumstances.

    By the way, as a UK feminist, I think you and this blog are awesome.

  2. Definitely - especially regarding oppressions you don't experience yourself, it's important to keep being horrified. I suppose the tricky bit is how you talk about it to people who DO experience that oppression.

    And thank you, you made my day!