Thursday, August 28, 2008

taking some excellent advice

I watched this amazing video the other day, via a Safe Schools blog, which got it from Bilerico, who got it, I guess from the originator, Jay Smooth.

Here is a technique to put at the top of one's toolkit. It's talking about racism, and the excellent advice that it offers is directly applicable to other situations in which someone says something offensive or uncomfortable, and I want to call them out on saying it without inspiring a huge, defensive, "I'm not transphobic/sexist/racist!!!!" reaction on their part.

This is for two reasons. On the one hand, sometimes such things will be said by people who haven't fully processed their own privilege, or had their consciousness raised- well meaning folks who just don't realize that whatever they just said was messed-up. Or even folks who HAVE done a lot of work around their privilege (whatever kind of privilege that is) can still make a mistake, or speak without thinking, or say something that they just hadn't considered from all angles yet. To use a trans example, this would be my friends who have worked hard (to varying degrees, but all to a certain extent) to understand what it means to be trans, to understand why I need to transition, to recognize my (everyone's) right to articulate and access my own gender identity....yet still say things like "Wow, Eli, you look just like a boy!"

Prompting me, in my braver moments, to say "Thanks for the sentiment, but I want you to know, that's offensive; telling me I look "like" a boy automatically sets up a situation in which I can never "be" a boy, only an illegitimate facsimile. Which hurts my feelings and invalidates trans folks everywhere."

So it's nice to have this video as a reminder of the importance of focusing on someone's words/deeds, since their other actions and intentions are great, and NOT racist, sexist, etc.

Then there's the other situation, the less comfortable one: dealing with people who actually ARE racist, sexist, transphobic. The trick is, a bigot will pretty much never self-identify as such. And who am I kidding- as Avenue Q tells us, we're ALL a "little racist." So I guess here, I mean people who have never tried to understand their privilege, who refuse to acknowledge that systematic oppressions like racism and misogyny even exist, let alone flourish, in our society, the folks who cling to their behavior and declare "I'm not a homophobe! I have gay friends!" even as they vote against marriage equality and hate crimes bills. Since they will (almost) never acknowledge (for example) that they are, in fact, homophobic in their little unexamined hearts, often the best and easiest way to thwart their behavior is, as this video tells us, not to get into a big philosophical debate about whether they're homophobic or not. They will invariably get off track and out of proportion and probably not get anywhere, since for them to lose that argument, they have to say "Uh, yeah, I guess I'm a homophobe." Which most folks will never feel comfortable doing. Even in the unlikely event that they realize that you are right, that they ARE homophobic, they'll probably be too embarrassed/defensive to admit it.

But! as Jay Smooth so rightly points out, by focusing on concrete, undeniable evidence- aka "that fucked up thing you just said"- it's possible to NOT let offensive words slide by and spend the rest of the day kicking yourself for not having stood up and said anything; an activity that I am totally sick of. There's no grey area of having to decide whether someone's really transphobic in their heart or not. One can just straight up address the behavior, stick to the facts when explaining why it's offensive, and (hopefully!) get the person to acknowledge that the thing they said was messed up, and agree not to say it anymore, thus winning the battle and taking a tiny step towards winning the war without attempting to actually win in one skirmish the whole big "you're a racist" war.

Thanks for the excellent advice, Jay Smooth!


Ellen G said...

Dear Eli,
I like your blog so much and really enjoy reading it when I remember to. Thank you for this entry.
With love,

Steph A said...

Dear Eli,
Thank you for this wonderful blog and also, since I felt a little voyeuristic learning so much about you, felt I should at least comment to acknowledge that I have been here.
I have been reading all I can about things ftm so as to try to provide the best support I can to a friend and this is one of the most informative sites I have found. Thank you in particular for the list of books and the guidance on appropriate comments and so on. I had worked out for myself that telling a transman they look “like a man“ is obviously insulting (and on even the most basic understanding of what trans means, plain wrong). However the more delicate nuances are much harder for a nontrans person to untangle. I know I’ll stuff up along the way but I’m sure what I’ve read of your experiences here will enable me to be a better and more supportive friend.
You have the rare double gift of insight into yourself and others, and the eloquence to express it. I hope you are archiving all these material somewhere so you do write those memoirs one day!
Finally I want to tell you that it would be a pleasure to read you whatever the subject of your blog because you just seem like a delightful person. In the spirit of the task I have set myself of thinking through such things, I did ask myself if I would say that to a nontrans man (even though it seems to me that sometimes it should be OK to acknowledge that certain people do have far more and higher hurdles on the way to becoming a good and likeable adult and hence their arrival is more of an achievement). I decided that, perhaps because I am a 30+ woman, I would in fact compliment any young man on coming across as so positive and well adjusted. Maybe that makes me sexist or patronising but there you go!
So thanks Eli, and good luck. I hope, and am confident, that you will have the wonderful life you deserve.

Correct Knowledge said...

Sorry man, but if your cells contain an X and an X chromosome you 'look' like a boy.