Educating Suzanne

Published January 13, 2013 by Sarah Thomasin

There has been a spike in the ongoing stream of ignorant and transphobic sentiments from various people lucky enough to have a platform to express their views to a large audience over the last few days. A casual transphobic slur from Suzanne Moore seems to have sparked off a wave of apologism and defence of a worldview in which, somehow, cisgender feminists are threatened and oppressed by transgender people. In which the existence of gender reassignment surgery is bad for feminism, and in which it’s OK to make disparaging and vitriolic comments about the trans community in order to get your point across because, well, reasons. FEMINIST REASONS, YO

I’m not going to waste my time or yours pointing out that this is bullshit, that I’m angry or that people have been hurt by this. If you’re one of the half dozen readers of this blog, you know all that.

What I want to talk about is what we do about it.

Because Suzanne Moore didn’t mean any harm.

She didn’t.

She CAUSED harm, she exacerbated the harm she had done by refusing to accept that it was harm and reiterating the original harm done.

But she didn’t wake up one morning and think ‘Ho ho ho, I’m off to dehumanise a community I’m not altogether comfortable or informed about, and tomorrow I’ll drown some kittens and kick a pensioner!’

She did harm out of ignorance.

Which does not make it OK, but is important to factor into our response.

When someone is called out on transphobia, or any other breed of bigotry, they very rarely understand that they have learning to do. Because of the reactions to their comments, both negative and positive, they see themselves as courageous, controversial figures being attacked and rallied round by their detractors and allies respectively. This does not lead to a teachable frame of mind.

And the thing that always gets said about now is ‘but people can easily educate themselves about (in this case, trans issues). It’s not the responsibility of an oppressed minority to educate their oppressors.’

And I have a massive problem with that.

Because if you CAN educate, I think you should.

And if it’s never the job of the oppressed to educate, then it’s always the job of the privileged. By that argument, outside of official educational establishments, (which, as you know are packed to the RAFTERS with oppressed people in positions of authority, right?) only cis people should educate on trans issues. Only white people on race, only men on feminism.

If you are oppressed, but at the same time privileged enough to have a voice, a level of education/intelligence sufficient that you can express yourself effectively, and an audience, then you can be part of the solution.
No. You don’t have to, of course you don’t have to. And nobody wants to constantly be an educator on behalf of their minority. It’s a massive pain in the arse, sometimes.

But people who are ignorant, and, crucially, ignorant OF their ignorance – unconscious incompetence, I think it’s called, AKA ‘thinking you know it all’ – those people don’t seek to educate themselves. They don’t sign up to ‘awareness sessions’, they don’t read improving books, they don’t come humbly to the most appropriate person and respectfully beg for wisdom and insight any more than I, as a frustrated undiagnosed dyscalculic 12 year old, looked forward to maths lessons or sought out alternative learning styles. Instead, I ‘hated maths’. I resented my teachers, resisted their efforts and generally felt hounded. I didn’t think I needed maths, and I wanted nothing to do with it. As such I was not easy to teach, but thankfully, the school system managed to get past my resistance to impart just enough understanding for me to, in some small way, ‘get it’.

But people who ‘don’t get the trans thing’ aren’t forced to learn about it at school. If anything, their prejudices and misconceptions are strengthened and corroborated by those around them. There is no compulsory formal education about gender variance. The study of such is often viewed as a frivolous, newfangled subject for people to get meaningless PHDs in. In order to seek out this kind of learning, you have to be passionate about it.

In other words, the people who need the most education are the people who resist it the most.

That’s why being a teacher is hard. It’s not filling the vessel with knowledge that’s a challenge, it’s getting the lid off the jar.

And if you can’t do it, if it’s too painful, triggering, or something you simply don’t have time for, then don’t.

But if you can, teach.

Teach with patience, perseverance, in the face of resistance and resentment. Teach if you’re trans, teach if you’re cis. Teach if you can.

Fight discrimination with education.

It’s the only hope.

6 comments on “Educating Suzanne

  • See this is the only thing I am enjoying about all the hate and vitriol… people who have the attitude to try and bring something positive out of it all.
    I would love people to ask me about things rather than assume, but I guess that’s people for you they’d rather not try and learn new things and would prefer you weren’t here challenging their perceived reality.
    peace and stuff, yours, Jess.

  • k. respectfully, i need to tell you that, as a trans* person, this post makes me uncomfortable. i get that you’re coming from a good place, but i think you’re overstepping your bounds as a trans* ally. you’re telling trans* people how to handle our own oppression and that is never the role of the ally.

    this post makes you look like just another cis person telling trans* folks how to deal with our shit. believe me, we get enough of that from people already. we have cis gatekeepers inventing hoops for us to jump through, cis folks telling us how to “further our cause,” and cis folks telling us that cissexism would vanish if only we’d be NICE.

    that said, i know (from the rest of your blog) that you’re not “just another cis person.” but really, this post is…um, well, not the greatest idea you’ve ever had. not that i think education isn’t important; it really is the only solution. i just don’t think it’s your place to write an article like this, with all due respect. lots of trans* people have written articles about education and who should do it when etc.; i feel like you’re speaking over them.

    and you know, it really ISN’T the job of the oppressed to educate. if it were, we’d need to provide doctor’s notes etc. whenever we wanted to get out of doing our “job.” we’d have to answer to some outside force (cis people?) every time we choose to remain silent. if some of us just plain don’t want to educate our oppressors, that’s allowed. just living and thriving in spite of oppression can be a feat and a righteous “fuck you” to our oppressors.

    it doesn’t have to be our “job” to educate folks in order for lots of us to actually educate folks. there isn’t any shortage of trans* educators/writers/bloggers etc. no, real grues won’t seek out trans* bloggers, for example, but maybe their cis buddies will be like, “wow. you’re a grue. go read x article written by a trans* person.”

    thanks for reading. please know that i respect your efforts to be an ally to my community. thoughts?

    • Thanks for expressing your misgivings in such a constructive way. I will do my best to respond to all your points
      I’m sorry if I have overstepped my bounds. My intention is in no way to invalidate trans* people’s anger or to place the blame for their oppression on them. If that has come across, then I need to improve my communication skills. I am not writing from a trans perspective. I am, though, writing with experience of the “oppressed position” as a queer, feminist woman. These are my thoughts from that place, relating to this context. This post is not intended to speak over trans voices, but with them. In harmony, if you like.
      I’m not telling trans people how to act. I’m making suggestions about how we could work together.

      I have tried, and perhaps failed, to draw a distinction between “it’s your job” and “it’s an option for all of us”. I don’t think all trans people make great advocates, and some Cis allies (myself included?) sometimes AREN’T HELPING.
      Nonetheless, I believe a constructive response is a Good Thing, when it happens. As I’ve said, it’s never compulsory. It would become both meaningless and another form of oppression if that were the case.
      As an LGBT sexual health worker, i am deeply aware of the “you are a lesbian therefore you’re a lesbian EXPERT!” assumption. Sometimes the constructive response can be signposting, and pointing out that youre not some kind of queer “Ask
      Jeeves” for people to call on at will.

      If I’ve ever given the impression that my voice I’d intended as an alternative to the many inspirational trans voices out there, I can only apologize. The intent is solidarity and another perspective

      I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the way you’ve approached me. I hope my comments clarify my position. If we still disagree, please know that it is, for my part, respectfully.
      Xxx

  • thanks for your response! i think that clears it up a bit. i agree that it can be constructive to tell folks that you’re not required to answer their questions; i think that’s pretty educational, come to think of it.

    also, i think the best way to avoid talking over other people is to link to them. that’s how i try to avoid it, anyway.

    take care!

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