Tuesday, 16 September 2014

After the dust has cleared, after the wounds are stitched: reflections on Fox, Brents, TERFs and poetry

I'll tell you another secret about poets: we're mercenaries, but we're also soft fucking shites. Or at least I know I am. It's at the core of my practice: I have to make myself vulnerable, expose myself, take risks, say things about myself that may sometimes put me in danger, sometimes social, sometimes psychological, sometimes physical. It's one of the reasons I'm surprised I've done so well in slams, because I associate slam poetry with confident, braggadocious delivery, and with me - well, if it isn't hurting me somehow, I don't think it's working.

Sometimes, the danger is that people might laugh at you. Sometimes, the danger is that they might pelt you with rocks, or come and try to find you in the toilets after the gig. And sometimes, the danger is that a trans woman who you consider a coward, a Quisling, and a sycophant towards TERFs will misgender you on Facebook, and engage in a deliberate, bad-faith misreading of one of your poems:

I'm going to pass over the allegation of butchphobia, as anyone aware of the kind of women to whom I tend to be attracted will find it as ludicrous as I do. In fact, on that note, it really ought to be said that as far as it goes Tamikka Brents is more my 'type' than Fallon, physically (the dog-whistle transphobia and refusal to repudiate transphobic fans were a turn-off, though). As to the charge of racism - well, this, this and this, basically.

The 'comparing Brents to a rapist' thing? Well, that is technically correct, I suppose, in that I compared her to Mike Tyson and Tyson is a rapist. But that doesn't necessarily imply that that's the equivalence I was making. One could, for example, say that Janice Raymond is like Adolf Hitler in that both wrote books identifying an enemy (trans people in Raymond's case, Jews in the case of the Little Colonel) who they felt ought to be 'mandated out of existence'; but if I made that comparison, it wouldn't necessarily follow that I was also saying Janice Raymond would undertake a land invasion of Russia in winter.

Similarly, to say that I consider Brents and Tyson to have similar fighting styles, and are similarly driven, doesn't necessarily mean I want to imply that they have similar views on rape. Goodness knows, I should hope they don't: a lesbian with dodgy views about rape would be much, much worse than one with dodgy views on trans people...

...and as it happens, there are lesbians out there with decidedly dodgy views about rape. They happen to be members of Gender Identity Watch (a group which vocally supported Brents when they hoped she was going to beat the shit out of Fallon Fox) and their views on rape are extremely depressing. See, in the world of Gender Identity Watch, only men rape. Which is, to put it bluntly, a load. As CN Lester points out, sexual violence by women against people of every gender is possible; Rape Crisis includes the idea that 'women cannot rape' as a myth which they debunk on their website; Our Bodies, Our Selves take the same view. None of these are exactly Men's Rights Activist sources: but as far as GIDWatch are concerned, they may as well be, because in their world only men rape. If you catch them on a good day, they might admit that women can be guilty of 'sexual assault', but they will scream blue murder to defend a nice, legalistic division between the two crimes. I wonder why, sometimes. I've always been suspicious of people of whatever gender who try to minimise the crime of rape. I tend to agree with Stavvers about it: you have to wonder, with some people, about why they're so desperate to say that rape is always X and never Y. I've noticed that when people draw such nice distinctions, it's because it helps them sleep at night.

Maybe that was why the TERFs were so offended by 'You remind me of Tyson, Tamikka'. I wrote it as a kind of free-associating riff on something which had occurred to me that morning, and it zoomed out pretty swiftly from being a poem about Brents to being a poem about the way her fans reacted to Fox, about some of the most icky, nudge-nudge-wink-wink he-oh, sorry, she comments that they'd made, it included what I thought was a fucking brilliant line about Joel Grey and Roy 'Chubby' Brown, and I even managed to cram in a Joyce Carol Oates reference. But all the TERFs saw was a simplistic, 1:1 mapping of everything about Brents, MMA fighter and poor lesbian advocate, onto everything about Mike Tyson, phenomenally succesful boxer, convicted rapist and, in my view, a horrible human being. And - because this was a heresy on an unimaginable level in their dogma - it made them livid.

Well, much good their lividity did them. Last time I checked, the video of me reading that poem had passed 400 views on my YouTube channel, making it my third most-viewed video ever. It had easily surpassed the previous third most-viewed vid, 'Specially Formulated for Sensitive Skin', and was gaining rapidly on the second most-viewed video, 'Resume', my screed about Caleb Hannan, who I decried for publishing a report which led to the suicide of a trans woman in a quest to drive eyeballs to the online sports magazine, Grantland: 

In a funny way, the TERFs had been good for my viewing figures. In less than a week, that one poem had racked up a quite amazing amount of views compared to the other videos on my channel. Some of which I actually thought much better poems. It appears, for example, that the number of people impressed with my use of the word 'enormity' in its correct dictionary sense to mean 'outrage', in the title of this poem,

amounts to a twentieth of the people energised by me ranting about a cage-fighter I considered to be complicit with transphobia. It's depressing, really. And this brings me back to my point, at the start of this piece, about being a soft shite.

See, Brents lost her fight to Fallon Fox this past Saturday, pretty decisively as it happens. And the usual, tedious Fox-is-a-monster backlash has begun, once again illustrating the classic double-bind I wrote about here: if Fallon doesn't win, she's a no-mark who only gets publicity because she's trans; if she does win, she's an unstoppable beast who can't be beaten because she's trans. Much has been made of the injuries that Brents suffered during the fight: as far as it goes, I agree with MMA Jam that the responsibility for those injuries lies with the frankly appalling refereeing. The match should have been ended much earlier than it was: in my view the ref was intimidated by the vocally pro-Brents crowd, and didn't want to be seen to give up on their fighter too quickly. That was a poor, and dangerous, decision: a ref who's afraid of the crowd shouldn't be officiating.

Much has been said, including by big strong MMA men who really ought to know better, about Brents' injuries being 'career-ending'. And when you list them, they do sound severe. 'An orbital fracture, a concussion, and seven head staples' sounds pretty grim - but orbital fractures have a high rate of recovery, with no long-term complications, concussion is similarly an eminently survivable injury if treated fast (I should know - I've had concussion in the past, from banging my head against the steel edge of a reinforced concrete step, and I'm okay), and while 'seven head staples' sounds severe, here's a dude with eight: 

None of which is intended to make light of Brents' injuries: as I say, I've had concussion before, and it fucking sucked. But you do get better. Brents will get better: she's announced her intention to come back from the injury on her Facebook page, and she has form for making comebacks, having fought her way back into competition following a severe knee injury back in 2013.

The people who are all over Brents' Facebook page now saying she'll never recover from her injuries are doing her a disservice, and doing so deliberately, because the fact is there is nothing those people would like more than to see her forced to walk away from MMA for good because she lost a fight to Fallon Fox. Because then they would have - in their eyes - incontrovertible proof for the Fox-is-a-monster hypothesis. It's the same reason why many of the same people who were urging Brents to 'show Fallon who's boss' before the fight are now bleating that she never had a chance.

Well, of course she had a fucking chance. I'm not in the habit of comparing people who can't punch their way out of a paper bag to Mike Tyson. I genuinely thought that Brents stood a good chance of beating Fox, and that was why I was so exercised about her refusal to call out transphobia from her fans: I really didn't want to see someone who, in my view, had failed to act as a true advocate for the trans community having her hand raised in the arena last Saturday. But the fact is that is that I did see Brents' hand raised...

...because Brents herself raised Fallon Fox's hand. The hand of the woman she had said only got publicity for being trans; of whom Brents said she would 'derail that shit quickly' if they ever fought; and who. she said, distracted attention from 'the female fighters who deserve it'. Tamikka Brents said all those things about Fallon Fox, and, after they fought on Saturday night, she raised Fallon Fox's hand.

Tamikka Brents styled herself an LGBT advocate while at the same time saying those things, and I objected to that: but that gesture, one cis, lesbian fighter raising another trans, lesbian fighter's hand, is a more powerful act of advocacy than anything I could do.

And that's worthy of respect: and telling a fighter that they never had a chance, and that they can never come back from their injuries, is far from respectful. But equally, I feel bad about leaving 'You remind me of Tyson, Tamikka' up online while Brents is recuperating from serious injuries. Hey, I told you I was a soft shite.

So, I've decided to take the video down. I realise nothing I can say can stop the TERFs seeing this as a victory: if so, it's a pyrrhic one for them, because that video wouldn't have had half the views it got if it hadn't been for them working themselves into a good frothy lather over the sight of me being so, dammit, so, ooooooh, so disrespectful, oooooh, someone really ought to teach me a lesson...(you see what I'm getting at here, but hey, if a hate-fap helps someone make it through the day, who am I to judge? God knows the TERFs don't seem to lead very full lives...). If I were all about the viewcount, I'd have left the video up and basked in the disgust generated by my perceived enormity (do you see? Do you see how much cooler it sounds when you use it to describe an outrage?), but I am not all about the clickbait. That's the very thing for which I castigated Caleb Hannan, and I stand by everything I said back then. Including the long riff on comic-book journalists.

While I've actually been writing this piece, I've fielded a number of attacks on Twitter from TERF accounts, and part of me thought, y'know what? Sod it. Leave the fucking video up there. Piss them right off. And if this were just about the TERFs? Yeah, I'd leave it up. Fuck those people. But it isn't.

This is about Tamikka Brents, who I really wanted to respect, and who said things, and tolerated things, that caused me to lose that respect. And Tamikka Brents has, after Saturday night, regained my respect, to some extent.  And she doesn't need a bunch of people telling her she never had a chance, and she doesn't need a bunch of people telling her she can't come back from her injuries, and, in my opinion, while she's recovering, she doesn't need to see a video of me dissing her. So, she won't. The video will go down. And the third most-viewed video on my channel will once again be me ranting about a popular hair-removal product.

I hope Tamikka Brents recovers quickly from her injuries. I hope she gets back to fighting soon. And - now that all this is over, and she and Fox have left it all in the cage - I think, frankly, that next time she fights, she should wear the damn flag.

No comments:

Post a Comment