Tuesday 14 December 2010

'There's so much projection it's in cinemascope...'

Still alive. No thanks to the Scum publishing transphobic crap about trans people being treated with respect in prison. But in a way I should thank Britain's favourite semi-pornographic chip-wrapper, because thinking about the ridiculous, chip-on-the-shoulder way this story has been reported threw something into relief for me about privilege, and how easy it is to tell what the privileged secretly think about themselves.

To sum the story up: new prison search guidelines mean that trans women - like cis women - will now be exempt from humiliating 'squat' searches, and trans men and women will have the right to request a search be carried out by a warden of their experiential gender, rather than that assigned to them at birth. Sensible, fair, and wholly in line with the progressive view of trans equality: treat trans people as members of the gender they feel themselves to be. Not a big ask, not a hard position to live up to. You'd think.

So what the hell are the Sun getting at with this attack? I was musing on this this morning, half-awake and without the benefit of my first coffee, and somehow the whole issue got mixed-up in my head with the general tone of reporting on prison issues - something much in the press lately, as one of the few Tories I like, beer-drinking jazz-afficionado Ken Clarke, has dared to suggest that maybe, just maybe, locking up increasing swathes of our population might not be the way to go. And something about the way the right-wing press report on prisons occurred to me: they always, always, go on about how 'soft' and 'easy' it is in prison. Endless articles, editorials and columns sermonize on what a cushy life lags have inside, how they get Nintendo consoles and food and colour TV in their cells etc, and how prisons are like holiday camps these days and what's the deterrent eh, I ask you...

But it seems perfectly obvious to me what the deterrent is. The deterrent is being in prison. Being deprived of liberty. Anyone with a modicum of nous can get this. Look: I'm sitting at a computer right now typing this blog. But, if I wished, right now, I could leave the table, switch off the computer (and the radio on the sideboard), and go haring off to the local pub, where I could sit skolling back neat bourbon until my fucking face fell off. I'm not going to, but I could.

Whereas if I were in prison, I couldn't do this. I probably couldn't even type this right now - access to computers is restricted in prisons. Sure, maybe I would have a Wii in my cell, but if I'm cooped up in that cell twenty-something hours a day, that doesn't look like as much of a home comfort (though on the plus side I could probably get enough practice in that I might finally be able to beat that ginger bitch Kathryn who keeps whupping my ass at Wii Boxing. But I digress).

Prison sucks because you lose your freedom, and no amount of trinkets can make up for that. Now multiply that suckage by being trans, and you can see how horrific being trans and in prison could be. Imagine you're a cis woman and the law says you have to squat down and submit to being searched, humiliatingly, by a man. Now imagine you're a trans woman in the same situation. There's no difference - except that as a trans woman you have to deal with this crap on top of all the other prejudice and systemic failure you deal with every day. Insults. Violence. Threatened or actual sexual assault. And on top of this the systemically sanctioned violation of being examined by someone not of your gender. It's a horrific situation, and fair play to the prison authorities for recognising that in at least this small way.

The Sun doesn't see it like that, though. Because to the Sun, the trans women are getting away with something. They're getting special treatment.

We see this a lot in right-wing scare stories, don't we? This idea that minorities receive 'special treatment'. It lies behind the never-ending 'Winterval' bollocks, clinicaly dissected by Kevin Arscott, that Christmas is being 'banned' because it offends Muslims - who get special treatment because we don't try to ban their festivals, do we? It's the idea behind the war on benefit claimants - disabled people get special treatment because they don't have to work (even though many can't), single mothers get special treatment because they get housing (when what would we rather do? Throw women with children on the street?). And it's the idea behind the similar war on trans people - the idea that being able to use a shower or washroom that minimises your chance of being raped or beaten is somehow a special privilege.

In reality the only special privileges are those of the white, able-bodied, cis majority. But the mindset of the privileged can never accept that this is privilege, and bought unfairly. So any attempt to put things right - affirmative action programmes, diversity policies, new search guidelines - is sneered at as being an attempt to grant privileges to groups rather than an attempt to redress the effects of an already-extant privilege which disadvantages said groups. And the reason for this is that the privileged person knows on some level that they are privileged, and they fear the removal of this privilege. So they project it onto the Other. The Others are the privileged ones. And us? We're the real victims mate, yerrr, victims of all this 'politically correct' bollocks, innit...

In Freudian psychology (which is mostly just a load of old shite but did bequeath one or two useful ideas) this is called projection. You dissociate from something distasteful about yourself and project it onto someone else. They're doing it. Not you. Them.

You see this with a lot of other things privileged people say about marginalised folks too.

To hear many able-bodied people say it, you'd think disabled people are dishonest and lazy. But what's lazier - battling every day against a condition which makes it near-impossible to function, or not bothering to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people because you can't be arsed? What's more dishonest - hoping that you'll look disabled enough to convince some ignorant, vile little ATOS inquisitor that you deserve the benefits that keep you alive, or deliberately lying about how disabled someone is to get them off benefits and into low-paid 'workfare' schemes which deprive genuinely able-bodied people of minimum-wage employment?

To hear many cis people say it, trans people are 'confused' or 'dishonest' about their gender. But what's more confused - knowing that you're a girl, and dressing, looking and acting in a way that fits with that identity - or releasing ridiculous 'surveys' which equate 'manliness' with the consumption of grilled-cheese snackage  (trigger warning: I think Mark Simpson's article, linked to there, veers dangerously close to body-policing at points, but I still think he makes an excellent general observation that manliness has became equated too much with consumption in our society)? What's more dishonest - accepting who you are in spite of pain and prejudice, or creating a bully culture in which young men (and women) learn to repress their emotions and any expression of gender-variance is policed with violence, because you don't feel comfortable with who you are?

And of course, to hear a lot of white people say it, black people are criminals - but what's a bigger crime, possession of marijuana or...well, you could take your pick, really. Slave trade? Imperialist colonisation of indigenous peoples throughout the world? The British 'famine relief' camps in India which served a smaller calorific ration to inmates than Dachau? Or my personal favourite, the absolutely criminal punishment which Haiti has had to suffer - and continues to suffer - for being the only country to demonstrate what Noam Chomsky calls 'successful defiance' against the European (and later American) colonising powers through history's most successful slave revolt?

It's all projection, pure and simple. The next time you hear some privileged person telling you exactly what's wrong with 'scroungers', 'muzzies', 'trannies', 'queers', 'darkies', or whatever, take a moment - before you rip their face off and shove it down their arrogant throats - to listen between the lines of what they say. They aren't telling you what other people are like. They're telling you their deepest darkest secrets. They're telling you what keeps them awake, sweating with guilt, through the night.

They're telling you about themselves.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Under Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow

Not a lot of posts this week but worry not, Virtual Amherst has not been deluged under the white stuff, I've just been busy with other things.

I wrote a new poem this week, which you can read on my Write Out Loud blog. It's yet more political shoutiness but hey, these are the times we live in.

I have also started a Tumblr as a companion piece to this blog. Photos have been much on my mind lately, and so I've been paging through my Facebook albums, and noticed something quite amusing about how I looked during my short-haired days, and why I shouldn't have been so surprised that having to wear a box-fresh dress shirt and braces for a party last week ironically made me look more femme than my normal androgynous wardrobe.

That's yer lot now, I'm enjoying a weekend off after the travails of trying to get into (and home from) work in this arctic weather, putting my feet up, drinking a pinotage, watching TNA for the first time in a while, and not being entirely surprised that, nine years after the Monday Night Wars, Vince Russo still believes that a run-in is the default ending for a wrestling match. In booking terms, this is the equivalent of me still ending every poem I wrote

with a dangling line as a kind of incredibly wanky coda.

He'll never get anywhere as a writer if he keeps repeating himself like that.