Trigger Warning: transphobia, hate speech
Welcome to the conversation. So, recently, I got into an internet debate with someone. Wait, actually, it wasn’t a debate. It was an argument in which hate speech was leveraged against me.
Here’s the situation: I responded to an article written for my college newspaper’s opinion section, in which a self-identified middle class, white, straight, Christian girl (I’m assuming cisgender) tried to use the whole “intolerant of intolerance” argument to claim that she had been unjustly attacked for her views on same-sex marriage. When she spoke up in class to defend her view that same sex couples should not be allowed to get married, there was a slew of responses from the rest of the class (which contained many queer people and allies) that critiqued her opinion.
Simply, clearly, and without apology, I tried to explain why some people might not be “tolerant” of this girl’s viewpoints. Here is my initial response:
“I think it’s important here to recognize the difference between feeling uncomfortable being challenged as a person who has privilege (which is you, since middle-classness, whiteness, and being part of a major religion are all privileged identities, not to mention you are probably cisgender, although I don’t want to assume) and actually experiencing oppression (which is what your viewpoint is promoting towards same-sex couples). As a transgender, queer, lower class, atheist and polyamorous person, a lot of the views that Christianity promotes directly contribute to my oppression. The thing is that when my voice is silenced (by anything that doesn’t support me having equal rights as any other human being) that contributes to my oppression. Transgender and queer people aren’t validated under the safety net of Christianity (after all, this country is supposed to have religious freedom, but yet we still have God on our money, in our pledge, in our legal oaths, etc.). When you speak up about promoting oppression and are silenced, you are merely made uncomfortable. When I am silenced while trying to fight my oppression, I experience more oppression. Being tolerant of “intolerance” isn’t tolerance. It’s giving a pass for privileged people to oppress others.”
I also included a follow-up comment acknowledging some of my own privileges and possible solutions for this girl to rectify the harm she had caused:
“And I want to take a moment to acknowledge some of my own privilege. I’m not saying I don’t have privilege, because I definitely do in certain respects in my identity (whiteness, education, etc.). What that means is that I step back and stop talking in conversations where I could harm people because of my privilege. Until I know how to talk about things in a non-harmful matter, my voice should not be in the conversation. Also, step one to being a good ally: apologize when you’ve harmed a group of people. Then ask what you can do to fix it. Which is what I’m going to recommend in this situation. :)”
Unsurprisingly, I got a little bit of backlash from other white, straight, cisgender Christians defending this girl’s “bravery.” I had a person tell me that oppression doesn’t exist in the United States, “as if anyone who has lived their entire lives in the US actually knows what oppression is,” to which I replied:
“There are millions of people in the U.S. that experience real oppression on a daily basis. For a quick proof, look at the statistics for homeless transgender youth, murder statistics for trans women of colour (which are the highest targeted members within the LGBTQ+ community), incarceration rates for any of those people above, etc. I am less likely to be hired for a job or given a lease because I’m trans*. I’m less likely to be provided necessary health care or to have an insurance company that will cover my health care. And I’m white and able-bodied. When you add in the intersections of everyone else’s identities that are part of the trans* community alone, it’s disgusting and frightening how at risk a lot of us are. There’s nothing I can say to you if you don’t believe oppression exists, and honestly, the fact that you say that makes me feel very unsafe within this conversation, because it makes you much more likely to promote attitudes that harm me and a lot of the people in my community who have less privilege than I do. And actually, Christianity has begun a lot of movements that directly oppress and harm people. The Crusades, anyone? Colonization? The passages from the Bible people cited to sanction hate against people of colour? Homosexuals? Trans* people? I could go on forever. Christianity doesn’t HAVE to be an oppressive force, but the fact of the matter is that in the past, it definitely HAS been, and I won’t apologize for retaliating when you just tried to silence my voice when I spoke up about behaviours that harm me. You might want to read my initial post more thoroughly.”
And the kind person’s response:
“See? Even my dissent is labeled an attempt to “silence your voice”. Have you even considered that maybe we just don’t agree? Have you ever actually had to interact with people who don’t share all your political views?’
I have no doubt that discrimination and prejudice exist in society. You’d be hard pressed to find a single society where they do not. That is not the same thing as oppression. The fact that you can post your opinions on this forum means that you are not oppressed. Try doing that in North Korea, China, or Russia.”
To which I replied (and don’t worry, there’s not going to be much more back and forth in this blog post):
“#1. This is not a “political view.” This is who I am as a human being, and who my friends, partners, and other loved ones are as human beings. There is no “political disagreement.” There are people who think we deserve equal rights and people who don’t. #2. I grew up in a very conservative, heteronormative, Christian, white, small town. I have dealt with people who invalidate my personhood on a daily basis. #3. Oppression is discrimination against a group of people that exists on social, institutional, and systematic levels. Which definitely exists in the United States, and definitely exists for transgender people in the United States. The examples of other countries indicate that oppression is not limited to one country only, and that there are levels of oppression and intricate ways in which different identities are treated under various systems. #4. I am telling you to A. Stop silencing my voice. B. Check your privilege. C. Don’t you dare ever try to tell me that you know more about my own experiences than I do. D. Apologize to all of the people you have harmed within this conversation. #5. I am leaving this conversation now, because you are causing me emotional harm. I recommend you do some research before you ever try to have another conversation with someone whom you show such clear disrespect for as a human being.”
ALRIGHT, FOLKS, HERE WE GO. There’s a lot to unpack here alone (the way my voice wasn’t deemed relevant even though I experience oppression from this girl’s viewpoint, the way the responder resorted to attacking my personal character, the way false assumptions were leveraged against me, etc.). But we haven’t even gotten to the real meat of this yet. More people jumped on the hate train! And here’s where the conversation turns into flat-out hate speech.
“Those who scream the loudest for tolerance are without exception the most intolerant. Ms. Jasper you don’t owe anyone an apology nor do you have any reasons to doubt your own beliefs and opinions. Those people who attacked you are what we would call “the weak”. The weak are usually inferior, lazy, and riddled with low self esteem. Now in your home and my home these problems would have been solved by our parents or family by requiring us to take responsibility for our lives and actions from our early youth and as such we would have a reason to see ourselves in a better light. The weak, take Ollie the poet there for instance, will list as many things as possible they can claim offends them and therefore grants them victim status. In Ollie’s case he/she wears 5 different medals of offense in transgender, atheist, queer, poor, and polyamorous. So anything that doesn’t go his/her way or any instance where someone else is favored over him/her for a job, promotion, date, whatever… can all be blamed on one or all of these traits. Ollie never has to take responsibility for his/her actions and can instruct you to apologize to a group for your beliefs. Ollie honestly believes you owe the world an apology and why? Because your beliefs aren’t the same as his/hers. Let that digest for a moment. See? See the arrogance in that request? You had a class full of people who are going to learn a hard cruel lesson the first year they’re out of school, trying to make you the bad guy because you’re white and you’re a Christian. Whatever problems they have are theirs not yours. Before you adopt their beliefs because you’re bullied…. look around you at all of them and see what kind of people they are. They’re loud, hateful, vindictive, intolerant and contribute nothing to the world except for the endless array of whining about what a victim of society they are. We’re all responsible for ourselves and frankly the world doesn’t owe you anything and doesn’t give a fk if you think it does. Stay strong and never apologize for your beliefs. The Bible said in the end we’ll be the bad guys so take that as an award and thank God that the weak and ineffective call you privileged as though you should be ashamed of it. Catch up to them in 15 years and see what they’ve become.”
I decided not to respond to this comment for the best of my emotional health, and I had a whole slew of really great friends and allies who performed that work for me, pointing out many of the flaws within this argument and giving me emotional support. Here are a few sentences of my favourite responses:
“Its necessary to flag what you are saying. You are calling Ollie inferior and weak. This is hate speech and transphobic.
There are many systems in place on social, institutional and systematic levels that deny and negate Ollie’s identity. Lets use your example. You said not being “favored” for job a is something trans people would blame on being trans and “not take responsibility for.” In 33 states you can be fired for your gender identity. To deny someone a right you would give someone else because of their identity is oppression. You cannot equate this with not taking responsibility for your actions.
It is different to be angry that you are denied rights because of your identity than to be be upset that people don’t share your beliefs.”
“”Those people who attacked you are what we would call “the weak”. The weak are usually inferior, lazy, and riddled with low self esteem.” I thought that was privileged people? Because honestly, privileged people might be the most easily offended, babied group in the entire country (read: they most definitely are). They seem to constantly go onto random articles that address systemic discrimination and go “You know, if you just w0o0o0o0orked harder, and stopped playing the victim card, you could be like me!” Way to eat the neoliberal BS cookie. It seems privileged people also have an ego issue, because everything needs to be centered around them. How… typical.”
Alright, so you all have been very patient through reading this whole conversation, and if you’re still curious about more of the specifics, feel free to read the article and the comments thereafter. But to wrap up this blog post, I’m going to give you a few closing thoughts on why what Responder #2 said that was 100% not okay. Some of these points have already been articulated by my partner Ashley in her response to the thread, but they bear repeating.
#1. Calling a trans* person “weak and inferior” is straight-up hate speech.
#2. “Now in your home and my home these problems would have been solved by our parents or family by requiring us to take responsibility for our lives and actions . . .” I don’t know if you noticed, everybody, but I DID take responsibility for my actions, my privilege, and how my actions should follow based off of that privilege. I even included handy suggestions (see my second comment) for other people with privilege.
#3. The use of “his/hers.” This is an age-old way to disrespect me as a non-binary trans* person. I do not exist in terms of man/woman. This “he/she/whatever” bullshit is getting really old. I didn’t assume anyone’s pronouns throughout the conversation: neither should you.
#4. ” . . . because you are bullied.” Alright, Michelle Bachmann. I forgot that white, cis, straight, Christian people have such a hard time being bullied while they get all of their holidays off, are more likely to be hired for jobs, accepted for housing, and instantly given respect, not to mention the fact that they don’t have to explain themselves to every person they meet. They also have bathrooms they are safe in, medical staff who are educated about them, and literally still have their God acknowledged in most of the President’s speeches.
#5. “We are all responsible for ourselves.” You’re right. We are. So I’ll be waiting over here for the apology you owe to me and to the rest of the queer and transgender community.
In closing, I’ve been asked by various people whether or not hate speech bothers me. I’ve also reached out to others to learn how to deal with it and how to protect myself against it. Of course hate speech bothers me. Of course it hurts to be called “inferior, lazy, and riddled with low self esteem.” I remember back when my rapist would call me those things, and it took me years to build my confidence back from being emotionally and sexually abused. Hate speech is a form of abuse. So yes, hate speech hurts me. Especially because the people using it don’t know or don’t care about how much harm they are causing.
So please, never allow your religion to be an excuse for hating other human beings. We are human beings, and we deserve respect.