Sunday, 17 October 2010

Planet of the Arseholes (Part the Second)

One of the classic defences used by privileged people when called out on the ways they abuse that privilege is the 'reverse prejudice' move. This basically attempts to argue that, by criticising a privileged group, you are actually discriminating against that privileged group. Criticise white people and you'll find yourself accused of reverse racism; criticise men and you'll get accused of reverse sexism - and so on and so on, world without end, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. You're doing nothing of the kind, of course: racism and sexism are large-scale structural systems which privilege one gender or race over all others, and as such cannot be 'reversed' in any meaningful way. But this doesn't stop people in privileged groups from inventing new ways in which they're discriminated against.

I've seen some Christians - who are, as any fule kno, the real victims - claim, with their bare faces hanging out, that they are the victims of 'Christophobia', presumably because they're jealous that those naughty Islamics get to have a special word, and they want to muscle in on the action. Of course, any intelligent examination of the evidence reveals that this 'Christophobia' stuff is nonsense: in Britain, Christianity is the state religion, and the only religion whose Bishops get to vote in the House of Lords; in America, these supposedly-persecuted Christians have wealthy mega-churches and a vast, active and millitant political lobby; and the Vatican, which increasingly loves to pose as the victim of gangs of anti-Catholic bullies, is usually on the receiving end of criticism not for its belief in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the miracle of transsubstantiation, but for its policies on birth control in the developing world, and the footling matter of covering up an institutionalised culture of child-rape for half a century.

Recently, m'colleague Helen from Bird of Paradox had a bit of trouble over her (entirely justified) response to having her identity erased in an article about the death of American trans woman Stacy Blahnik Lee. The upshot of all this was that despite protesting about something which she had every right to be angry about, she was accused of, and I quote 'spread[ing] cisphobia in trans spaces'.

Because yes, that's right: now there's apparently a thing called cisphobia! And all us naughty, naughty activists who remember what the 'T' in LGBT stands for are apparently to blame for spreading this nasty contagion. Oh, who will defend them, these poor cis people? Who will stand up and protect these disadvantaged, embattled, beleaguered mites who make up a mere ninety-odd percent of the population?

As you can probably tell, I think 'cisphobia', as a concept, is as nonsensical as 'Christophobia', 'reverse racism' and all the other 'you're just as bad in the other direction!' bollocks which the perennial 'real victims' are forever trotting out. Speaking as a genderqueer person I have to say that I don't hate cis people - and even Helen, who, God knows, has reason enough to do so, doesn't either (she says she doesn't trust cis people - but it's worth remembering that, when trusting cis people can, and often does, get trans people killed, this is a healthy and realistic attitude, not a product of bigotry).

If I hated every cis person I met because they were cis, I would be dead by now, because my blood pressure would have gone through the roof from the rage a long, long time ago. For any trans person, cis people will be the vast majority of the people you deal with all day, every day. There will be some you will hate, yes; but most of those people you will feel at best indifferent about; perhaps a few of them, you'll even like. The idea that trans people feel prejudiced toward and discriminate against cis people is laughable, and is a complete failure to understand the issues confronting trans people who, too often, have to deal with a world full of people who at best ignore us, and at worst feel they have a right to kill us just for existing.

In her fine book Whipping Girl, Julia Serrano repeats the point made by bell hooks that privileged people only truly understand what it's like to be privileged, and can't understand the world of a marginalised person; whereas people on the margins understand both what it means to be marginalised and what it means to be privileged, because every day they see the ways in which the lives of the privileged are safer, more accepted and better off than their own. And there is no more telling illustration of the difference between the privileged and the marginalised than the insulting attempt,  by those who have privilege, to claim that having their failings pointed out from time to time is exactly the same as the prejudice marginalised people face all their lives.

Transphobia means that, if you're a trans person, you have a higher risk of unemployment, a higher risk of being homeless, a higher risk of being subject to domestic abuse, sexual assault and murder.

Cisphobia? 'Cisphobia' means that if you're cis you might be made to feel a little bit bad about all the privileges you enjoy for having an experiential gender identity which matches the gender you were assigned at birth.

Exactly the same. Obviously.

(Edit, 20/10/10: Blog corrected to remove a couple of ableist words/phrases that had slipped past my internal quality control process [curtsy to Lilith von Fraumench for that] and also to correct Stacy Blahnik Lee's name, the third part of which - along with the rest of her identity - seems to have been lost in the MSM reports of her death [and thanks to @metalmujer on Twitter for alerting me to this error]. My excuse for the name thing, crappy as it is, is that I don't check out TransGriot, whose author was the only person who did get the name right, as often as I should because the browser on my mobile phone tends to mangle the crap out of it in a way that makes it unreadable, and so I missed the post giving Stacy's full name (hey, I did say it was a rubbish excuse). My excuse for the original ableism in this piece is simpler: I didn't consider the words in question to be ableist, as a result of my own abled privilege, and so I'm glad Lilith pointed them out. Although in doing so, I am sure I am giving in, in my cowardly liberal way, to reverse ableism, because of course it's the abled people who are the real victims, innit, guv?)

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