Monday, 25 August 2014

Why 'living on Twitter' is no insult, and what it reveals about those who think it is

That there have been developments in the case of Tamikka Brents should come as little surprise to anyone. Reading this and this will get you up to speed, and the photo below ought to dispel any doubt as to whether or not Brents' claim to be an 'advocate for the LGBT' is dead in the water:

Yep - that's Cathy Brennan, Queen of all the TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, aka those lovely women who want people like me 'morally mandated out of existence' and openly say that they 'wish [trans people] would ALL be dead'), thanking Tamikka Brents for being the Great Transphobic Hope. If you thought that this would be a watershed moment for Brents, that she might realise the extent of her fall from the lofty position she took back in 2012, then I regret to inform you that you would be wrong. I have asked Brents, on Twitter, whether she will publicly disavow the transphobia of many of her fans (some of whom have, inter alia, called Fallon Fox 'a man' and 'a dude', thrown around the t-slur like it was punctuation, spread the usual tedious misinformation about the supposed 'physical advantage' Fox has as a trans fighter and, in one delightful case, tried to insinuate that Fox is on a par with a rapist for accepting a fight which Brents' people offered to her), and answer came there none. I asked the same question again after Brennan came out as Brents' cornerwoman, and - once again - I received no reply. 

And we know that Brents is not unaware of these calls for her to step up to the plate as an LGBT advocate and say something in public about all of this. We know this for a couple of reasons: firstly, because Brents, or whoever handles her social media, deliberately went out of her way to delete all criticism of her from her Facebook fan page (but left the transphobia intact), and, second, because, in 'thanking' her fans for their transphobia, Brents said something revealing about how she regards 'the haters' (an inaccurate description, as it happens: I've said, numerous times, that if Brents comes out and publicly condemns transphobia from her supporters then I'll be happy to give her props for it):

'Seems as though all the haters live on Twitter...' Well, that's easy enough to disprove: by the time I started looking into the Brents story, I'd barely been back a week from doing a run of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe for Other Voices, Jibba Jabba, Out:Spoken and Talking Heids; the weekend before that I'd been down in Norwich leading a poetry workshop for a trans youth group at the MAP project; this Tuesday I'm back up in Edinburgh again, performing at a conference on 'Reading and Identity' at the National Library of Scotland with Jo Clifford, author of Fringe Hit 'The Gospel of Jesus, Queen of Heaven'; I'm reading at Conway Hall in London at an LGBT Humanists fundraiser in October, and it looks as if I'll be going North of the Border again in November for another gig. I've performed at Newcastle Pride three years running, even ending up as an accidental headliner this year when a traffic disaster meant Bethany Black couldn't make it. My poetry film, Letter to a Minnesota Prison, has been seen internationally, and I regularly criss-cross the country gigging in venues large and small. Sure, I have a smartphone, and a short attention span, which means I tend to check Twitter probably a lot more than the average person: but it ought to be fairly obvious that I have a life beyond it. 

That's the refutation of the criticism dealt with. But to be honest, I don't think it's a valid criticism anyway: because the fact is I know a lot of people who essentially do live on Twitter, at least in as much as it's their only or primary outlet, their way of interacting with the world: and I don't think there's anything wrong in that.

One of the reasons there are so many trans people on Twitter, I think, is to do with something about the site which sci-fi novelist William Gibson identified: it makes extroverts of introverts, or, rather, it gives introverted people a space in which they can be extrovert. And boy, do trans people have lots of reasons to be introverted - or, at least, to appear to be introverted, safe within four walls. Paris Lees has written about what I call the 'pint of milk problem' - the fact that when you're trans, just going out to the corner shop for a pint of milk can be a terrifying prospect, with the risk of verbal and physical abuse, humiliation and sexual violence a reality. I've experienced that: the shouts, the snide comments, the microaggressions, the people who consider it acceptable to feel you up while you're waiting to use a cash machine. I know what it can be like out there for a trans woman, and it's scary. I would never blame any trans person for wanting to withdraw behind a wall, safe from the world, and send out bulletins only through Twitter.

For some trans people, that's a lifeline: and not just trans people. Twitter has introduced me to so many fantastic disabled bloggers and activists precisely because they, too, enjoy that freedom to interact with the world safely and freely, without having to worry about whether they'll be denied access to a building, or just called a freak when they're sat outside a newsagents. And then there are people who 'live on Twitter' because they refuse to collaborate with a mainstream media which is - even (some would say especially) on the Left - all too often misogynist, racist and whorephobic.

To dismiss criticism on Twitter as a sign that your critics live on Twitter is to throw your privilege in peoples' faces and think that absolves you of responsibility. It mocks the lives and experiences of people who are unable to be as active as they'd like to be outside of social media, whether out of disability, or fear, or social exclusion, or any combination thereof. When you wave your hand and dismiss all those people, it doesn't tell me what a great life you have - if anything, it makes me wonder how sad your life must be, that you feel the need to be so dismissive, to engage in one-upwomanship with people whose voices you really ought to be amplifying. It's a horrible thing to say: and while, in my case, I don't feel that it applies, I would never dismiss someone that it did apply to. In fact, it would make me only more inclined to listen to what they had to say. 

So it isn't really all that surprising that Brents dismisses people in this way. After all, claiming to be an advocate for others while dismissing whole groups of those very people is kind of her thing. In the end, Brents is an advocate only for herself; or, as my friend Adam Lowe, editor of Vada magazine, puts it: 'she's an advocate for the enemy.' 

Again, one can only say: take that flag off, Ms Brents. You do not deserve to wear it.

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