Friday, September 2, 2011

Oh, Facebook, Part 1000

Once again, a Facebook war keeps me up all night and makes me nearly incoherent with rage. A friend's wife posted a relatively innocuous story about her strange neighbors who sit in their garage all day long and apparently do nothing, and asked for others to bring up their strange neighbor stories. A couple of people made some comments about neighbors' OCD tendencies about grass on the driveway and such, and then comes this (trigger warning for trans misogyny):

here I come taking the cake... 70 year old tranny w/lip plug, ear plugs, and a nice pair of implants. Has 30+ cats, likes to wear granny jammies and sports some thick stubble on most days. Oh yeah, that's right, in yo face weird garage people! :)
And then she followed up with:
try explaining THAT to your four year old! lol
"That." Try explaining "that" to your four year old. Well, I'm going to try to explain a couple of things to you, assumed-adult.

1. "Tranny" isn't nice, especially in this context. It gets thrown around as a joking word by people in the community sometimes, and that is sometimes okay and sometimes not okay, depending on who's involved. But this straight-identified cis woman doesn't get to use it to talk about the fact that she thinks her neighbor is a freak. I pointed this out, and she asked me what would be better language to talk about this person she finds confusing. I brought up the word "trans," and also pronouns:
Honestly, we should always ask people how they'd like to be identified. But "trans" works well. And if your neighbor has implants and wears women's clothing, they might be trying to present as female, so regardless of facial hair and bone structure, you might do better to use female pronouns. Or you could always use the plural, which I encourage people to do when they are unclear of another person's gender (and, really, we should never make assumptions about anyone's gender). Leslie Feinberg, who wrote Stone Butch Blues and Drag King Dreams - both of which I highly recommend - prefers people use plural pronouns for them. There's also the gender-neutral "zhe" and "hir," which are more practical when writing than speaking.
The person on FB continued to refer to her neighbor as "he" for awhile, apologized for offending me, as though that was the point of all of this, and said that she was just trying to be funny. She also got sarcastic on me and said that she's surprised I'm not standing up for the "mental challenged" [sic] as well, since this person also has so many cats and has hoarder-like tendencies. This just pissed me off more - I'll stand up for anyone society marginalizes, shouldn't we all?

2. Weird piercings are pretty de rigeur amongst my friends, so if that's something that freaks her out, she really ought to expand her horizons a bit. Oh, we also have tattoos. SCARY. She later described her neighbor's piercings as "kind of hard to take sometimes," as though her feelings about their body modifications is all that matters.

3. She became very concerned that I think she's a bad person. I told her that's not the point:
It's about whether we're all going to stick to our rigidly-defined ideas about gender and what people should look/dress like and therefore consider some people more real or human than others, or whether we'll treat everyone with dignity and recognize everyone's basic humanity. You know? Gender's tough to understand, so I get it, but ridicule is hard to read when you could be talking about one of my BFFs (the only reason I'm sure you aren't is because I don't have any BFFs who have that many cats!).
Anyway. She sent me a message to tell me she has gay friends and relatives, as though I haven't heard that a hundred thousand times, and that she prefers love and not anger, which explains why she went straight to ridicule. She said that at one time she cared so much about women's rights that she got angry about it and now she realizes that isn't the right way to go. I'm not sure what got her there, but as you know, I really believe in anger. So this is what I told her:
What I've learned is that we're all responsible for our own feelings, and that it's incumbent on all of us to tell our own truths. My truth is this: Gender is an oppressive system for the people who are most important to me in my life, and for me, and so it feels like being stabbed when my people are ridiculed on Facebook or anywhere else based on a gender identity that might not be intelligible to the mainstream. If I let it go by I'd have been complicit, in my mind, because if someone were talking about one of my trans siblings like that on someone else's wall, I'd want someone to stand up for then. You feel me?
She never really got the point, saying she's sorry she hurt my feelings and telling me not to get too wrapped up in my queer family - which, fuck that, I couldn't live without them - or I might miss some of the beautiful people in the world. I think she's missing some of the beautiful people in the world by freaking out about her neighbor's stubble, implants, and lip rings, but whatevsies, y'all.

The whole conversation reminded me of this piece, called "Heaps of Woe," about racism at football [soccer] games. It's excellent, read the whole thing. The point is this: if we let racists act racist and don't do anything about it, we're making the world less safe for the targets of their racism. This is also true for queers, we can't let people - no matter how good they consider themselves to be - say shit about us without standing up for them. Just because I'm not transphobic doesn't mean that I get a pass on saying things to someone who is normalizing the idea that it's okay to snicker at one's unconventional neighbor.

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