I am told off – and deservedly so – for my role in a slight altercation, a disturbance of trans harmony taking place recently on a discussion board. Serendipitous, since the episode touches on vibes that i was planning to pick up on anyway: ironic, in that i am guilty, however much my mind backflips “yes-but, yes-but, yes-but” behind the scenes of the selfsame thing i would wish others not to do.
Enough. I hold my wrist up for a good slapping – and move on to the serious.
At a conference some while back, i took to heart some very wise words uttered by one of the speakers. Sadly, i can’t quite place whether twas Bidisha, or Catherine Refern, of “Reclaiming the FWord” fame. Or maybe it was both, in different ways, making the same strong point: that women have enough oppression to deal with anyway, without piling it upon one another through in-fighting and bickering.
Not that that stops those things from happening anyway. Drop the topic of sex work – or even formula milk – into certain gatherings: and then stand back! I guarantee some quite unsisterly fireworks. At the heart of those explosiove debates, often, are issues over agency and autonomy: effectively, one side claiming that a choice, however unpalatable, is a choice; t’other claiming that the choice was false choice/false consciousness. Essentially, women being conned into accepting patriarchal values.
So, too, i think, with many trans debates – with a dash of theories around “privilege” tossed in to spice the mix.
Let’s start with privilege, cause while i think it a useful tool for analysis, it can also be used quite perniciously to silence and hijack debate. It has two incarnations: the pure sense, used often by writers such as Julie Serrano, that certain narratives are privileged, so far the norm that language and society have difficulty expressing other narratives as anything other than deviation from that norm.
Thus, white, male, heterosex, patriarchal values are privileged: everything else needs to kick its way into the debate.
Secondly, privilege is used to identify benefits that appear to accrue to individuals by virtue of their membership of a privileged class.
I like the first idea…have issues with the second. because if we are not careful, we end up with hierarchies of privilege and a constant undertone to debate by which groups seek to prove themselves more victim than one another. As antidote, i prefer to think about kyriarchy, which is a counter-theory dealing with the idea that in different circumstances, different forms of privilege intersect and no one group is constantly top – or bottom – of the heap.
Ok. Prelude over. I am deeply opposed to debates within minorities descending into slagging off (even though i am not immune from that tendency). The trigger, for me, tend to be narratives that question agency – and therefore deny autonomy to individuals. Here’s a few common memes that i’ve twitched my nose at in disdain over the last month or so:
- the “I’m-trannier-than-thou” verb form, which conjugates: “I’m post-op: she’s on hormones; you cross-dress”. Ugh! Unless its specifically relevant, its not relevant.
- the “i-know-your-agenda” niggle, which has as sub-forms the accusation that so-and-so is a “professional tranny” and/or a dig at anyone who dares to make headway (or even, just waves) within the establishment on trans issues.
- and last – and particularly triggering for me – the (direct) accusation of latent privilege. Maybe. Maybe not. I’d say that particular is between the individual and their conscience. yes: i get that growing up a bloke in a patriarchal world may be considered “privileged”, but growing up a bloke who doesn’t speak the bloke lingo? More questionable.
Let’s not get personal
The thing we need to avoid is the use of these tropes to silence or dismiss. Also key to setting off flaming exchanges is the personalisation of debate. Though avoiding that is very difficult.
Large org’s nowadays train their operators to put down the phone whenever someone starts to be abusive. mostly swearing or name calling. “You f-ing clot”…or words to that effect. So clever folk have learned how to do the put-down: how to make the call handler feel shit, without ever using a bad word. They personalise abuse in a depersonalised way.
Which suggests, in the end, that the only way one can or should approach debate is to talk about the issues – and to lay off, inside specific debates, on speculation about motives…whether such speculation is directly or indirectly personal.
It is also beholden on bods like myself not to rise to the bait. I do read posts that make me cross. Mostly i don’t give crossness back…or if i do, it tends to be terse tight-lipped crossness. But i don’t always succeed. None of us do.
Which is not to say we shouldn’t all try harder.