Earlier today I wrote a post about the newspapers claiming that trans kids are identifying as cats, horses and the moon, a classic piece of demonisation straight out of the classic text Folk Devils and Moral Panics.
This morning, Elon Musk – whose trans daughter has cut all ties with him, and whose wife apparently left him for a trans woman – claimed that the word cis or cisgender, which is to transgender what heterosexual is to homosexual, is a slur that will get people who use it banned from Twitter. Twitter has no such concerns about actual slurs or threats of violence against trans people or their allies. While Musk was preening to his blue-tick sycophants, I received some Twitter report updates letting me know that actual death threats I’d reported on the service were not in breach of the Twitter rules.
This afternoon, it leaked that the long-delayed UK ban on conversion therapy – aka torture – will have a consent clause, so if you’re coerced or bullied into being tortured then that will remain perfectly legal.
The US evangelical right’s colonisation of our politicians and press is more evident than ever, and their strategies couldn’t be any more obvious.
One of the bigot brigade’s favourite strategies is what far-right goon and Trump strategist Steve Bannon called “flooding the zone with shit”: you put out so much misinformation that your enemy simply can’t fight back against it. It takes much more effort to clean up bullshit than to spread it.
Elon Musk knows “cis” isn’t a slur; he doesn’t care, either. He’s doing exactly what Sartre described 1940s anti-semites as doing.
Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.
Toni Morrison famously wrote that the purpose of white racism was to wear Black people out.
The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.
It’s the same with the demonisation of other minorities. Trans people (and the wider communities we’re being used as a wedge to attack) are under constant assault on multiple fronts: in the courts, in the infiltration of school and health boards, in the pages of the press, over the airwaves and on social media. Endless airtime is given to people asking “what is a woman?” and discussing the fever dreams of bigots, a constant discussion about us by people who know nothing about us – and who care even less.
When the moral panic against folk devils like you is stripping trans kids and adults of their healthcare, when people feel emboldened to call you predators and paedophiles simply for existing, when hate crimes are rocketing and you’re more scared of the outside world than ever before, how do you feel anything other than despair?
Writing in Slate, Evan Urquhart says what many of us think: “Just a few years ago, it felt as though the lives of queer Americans were steadily improving… it’s different now.”
It’s a provocative piece, and deliberately so. And it’s very much where my head is too, because while I’m not directly affected by what’s happening in places such as Florida I can see the tide crossing the Atlantic, as it has been doing for the whole time since I came out as me. Interviewee Ryan Campbell puts it very well:
“I try to hold on to the idea that hate burns hot, but it burns out,” Campbell said. “I think things will probably continue to get worse for a bit. This is a thing that will rise and fall, but in the meantime, people are getting hurt now.”
There’s a lot here that resonates strongly with me.
When I was a child, in the late ’80s, I remember first learning that being gay was something bad, and understanding what gay meant well afterward. “Transgender” didn’t exist in my world growing up as that type of human being, but I saw the crude stereotype of a man in a dress as something to laugh at and as something frightening, a predator. As a trans person, my understanding of myself was crippled, distorted by confusion, doubt, shame, and self-hatred. As I came to accept myself, first as a queer woman and then later as transgender, I came to hope that children wouldn’t need to grow up like I had.
…The loss of that promise comes hard.
The shock for me wasn’t that some people hate us, or that some of the most hateful will incite violence against us and campaign against our rights. No. What shocked me was that nobody cares. We told our peers what was happening. We showed them the bad actors – the religious extremists, the fascists, the grifters – telegraphing their plans like movie villains. We predicted every step of the process, from the reasonable concerns to the refocusing on the wider LGBT+ community and women’s reproductive freedom. And the response was… nothing.
We raised the alarm and nobody came.
For many in the queer community, we’ve moved well past the point of fearing something might happen, and on to figuring out how we’re going live through this. Our despair is grounded in grim acceptance and practicality. We are learning that life goes on after you accept the fact that no help is coming, and you’ve been left alone to defy or defend or escape, or just bear witness.