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 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.