Gender, Privilege, and Complicity

There’s a massive blog discussion going on right now about transphobia in “radical feminism.” I’m having trouble keeping up with it, and I spend a huge amount of time online. I’m sure I’ll miss some points, but these are the ones I am thinking of right now.

First off, how can a movement committed to equality for both genders ignore the fact that there are other people being oppressed due to gender issues. In my logic, it would follow that feminism would align itself with trans liberation. I guess that’s not true. But as a feminist, and as a trans person, I see a very clear link between the two.

I think a further issue is the inability of certain people to acknowledge their own privilege, as Jack at Angry Brown Butch pointed out. I recently noticed this with a friend of mine when I realized she had no clue as to my lived experience compared to her own highly privileged lived experience. It’s probably hard for some people to extend themselves into understanding someone else and the intersecting oppressions which colour their lives, but at the same time I think it’s essential for personal growth to become empathetic and conscious of others. I’m lucky in that most people I’m close to are open enough to try expanding their understanding, but at the same time it’s frustrating to have to point it out.

Another point about the trans bashing on that thread was that the site owner failed miserably at moderating. Maybe it doesn’t seem (to some) that eliminating hateful comments from a post isn’t a priority, it’s the internet, la la la, the site owner wasn’t making the comments, etc. But take it into a real life situation. If the site owner was out having coffee with her faithful commenters and they saw a transwoman go into the bathroom and followed her to beat her up and then yell hateful invectives as she ran away, what responsibility does the site owner have if she wasn’t involved directly in the attack? You’re just as responsible for someone else’s oppression if you stand back as a spectator doing nothing. Pretty much all hate fuelled atrocities in the world have been enabled by people standing by and doing NOTHING. There is nothing that makes me feel more betrayed than having a close friend let someone get away with a racist/homophobic/transphobic/crazyphobic/fatphobic/etc. comment and then apologizing about it to me later. I can’t fight on my own all the time, and nobody should.

I did let someone get away with something really ignorant and stupid. I was having beers with two white women and a friend who’s a mix of Chinese and Japanese. We were having an okay conversation until the white women got excited about wanting my friend to teach them to make an Asian dish that was completely unrelated to her background, and which she didn’t know how to make either being born and raised in North America. She and I talked about it later, but I still felt like an ass for not calling those women out.

I also have trouble calling people out on their shit when they used the “Retarded” word. Okay, people, honestly SHUT THE FUCK UP!!! Retard is a fucked up word, and even though it perfectly describes my sister’s condition, I can’t use it because people attached so much goddamn bullshit to it. I don’t care if you think someone is severely developmentally delayed and disabled because they were an asshole or said something you don’t like. Do you even know what retarded means? And furthermore, have you ever clued into the fact that my sister who I love is severely retarded and that in effect using that word as a pejorative means you’re telling me her life is worth less than others?

So we all have a responsibility to stand up against hate and oppression even, especially, when it does not directly effect our lives. One thing which did make me feel good about this brouhaha was that a diverse group of people backed trans rights against a rabid group of phobes. And some really interesting discussions have been happening between more enlightened people about the complex issues raised in that thread. I’m going to link to some of my favorite posts, but I have to go get tattooed so it’s not going to happen now.

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