Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Must-reads: George Godwyn

I don't know George Godwyn. I don't follow him online. However, his post on the trans rights crisis in the US has gone viral, and it sums up my feelings, and my fears, very well.

I'm in the UK, of course, but that doesn't mean that I'm not concerned about what happening in the States, or that I'm not worried about what will follow elsewhere. The UK hangs off the USA's coat tails and the rise in hate politics is spreading everywhere.

Content warning for trans rights and assault.

George Godwyn
Something happened on Facebook awhile ago that I’ve never written about and only shared with a few people. I kept it to myself, mostly, because I didn’t want to upset the people in question, but I guess it’s time. (And for probably the first time I am going to put a content warning on a post, because this post probably requires one. So, here's a CW for violence against trans people.)
For a long time I wondered about the understanding of gender on the far right, the Trump right. The bathroom controversy, in particular I thought bizarre. I can understand the basic conservatism and fear of new ideas, but the bathroom conflict seemed odd to me. It was extremely important in the minds of Trump supporters, even though it can’t possibly be a common problem in most of the areas these people live. The position on the right seemed precisely the opposite of what it should be. Why do you want someone presenting as a woman in every respect using the damn men’s room, or vice versa? Isn’t that going to be more socially outrageous, in most situations? I didn’t get it. So I decided to ask the Trump supporters.
I posted a picture of Buck Angel, a transgender adult film actor, in a few of large, sometimes huge (nearly half a million), Trump groups. The picture showed a very buff, ripped Mr. Angel from the waist up, shirtless, with a shaved head and sporting a Fu Manchu mustache. He is an extremely masculine looking guy. With the picture I included the question “This person has a vagina. Which bathroom should they use?”
I thought at least some of these people will realize how silly it would be to want this man to use the ladies room. How socially awkward and alarming that would be, in so many situations. Putting aside how dangerous it would be for the man, simply on the basis of the the immediate, practical effect on the other diners in the given Applebee’s or wherever it was happening.
The post got hundreds of comments, finally thousands. Immediately. The Trump supporters had a very clear answer and they were adamant about it. Almost no one answered with “the men’s room”. A few said things like “if they’ve got a vagina, they use a woman’s room, if they have a penis, they use the men’s room.” But the majority of the of the commenters had an answer I hadn’t considered at all. These people had worked out a very simple solution to the problem of transgender people and the norms revolving public restrooms.
They wanted transgender people to die.
They were quite explicit about it, very blunt. “They should die.” That simple. That concise. “They should die.”
Let me be entirely clear about this – they knew what they were saying, they knew exactly what they wanted. They didn't want a trans man in the men's room and they didn't want a trans man in the woman's room. They wanted the trans man to be dead.
Of course some of them were more loquacious than that. They had reasons they should die, preferred methods, they expressed their feelings about the fantasized the deaths, but death or something similar was the most common answer. "Stop being", essentially. A lot of other people answered “they should stay home”, maintaining the status quo without having to deal with the problem while still allowing transgender people to, you know, live, but mostly death or some sort of violence was the preferred option. Comment after comment, they should die, fuck them, stay-at-home, don’t use the bathroom, I’ll kill them if I catch them in the bathroom with my daughter, they should die, they should die, they should die.
Oh, and in case That's not plain enough, it wasn’t just death they were threatening. They were threatening anything they could think of. Torture, castration, humiliation, at adults and children alike. Any brutal, vicious insult or threat imaginable. I’ve watched these groups for years, dozens of them. Anyone who watches the news, who’s seen our president make a speech, knows how mean, how grotesque, how petty and ugly these people can be. The things they say about Mexicans, Muslims, about women, gay people, immigrant children. Even if you haven’t been in one of these groups, it’s not hard to imagine. Jesus, our president publicly mocked a disabled man. But I still wasn’t prepared for the comments in this thread. Just sheer, stark, gut level hatred, unencumbered by the slightest empathy. Loathing. Disgust. Raw hate.
As much time as I’ve spent in these groups, examining these people, I didn’t think anything could shock me. I was wrong. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it did.
There is not one single issue that brings the evil out in Trump supporters the way trans-people do, there is no class of people more loathed. More than anything else, gender self-determination symbolizes precisely the social progress that animates the Trump right. They despise it and the people who embody it. Understand this. This issue is central to these people on the right, there is nothing they feel more deeply about. The Trump right does not want a solution to the social problem of trans people and restroom use. They simply do not want trans people to exist. That is what they want. What they demand. Nonexistence.
Today the New York Times reported that the Trump administration is now in the process of redefining the administrative understanding of gender as simply a matter of biology and nothing more. Gender would be determined solely and entirely by birth assignment – as male or female, immutable and unchangeable, a fact. They are already rolling back numerous civil rights guarantees instantiated in the Obama years, policies that allowed a significant portion of our nation to live their lives with some basic dignity and safety. Essentially the Department of Health and Human Services intends to define transgender people out of existence.
This is happening now. Right now.
Like I said at the beginning, I never really talked about that little test I did in the Trump groups with Buck Angel’s picture much before this. I know so many trans people and I know how difficult it can be for them, sometimes, just to live their lives, what a scary place the world can be. I felt like it was all too awful, I didn’t want to scare people even more. I guess it probably wouldn’t come as a shock to most of my trans friends, it’s a reality they live every day, but I just didn’t want to pile on. But it's too late for all that now.
I haven’t heard people talking about the Health and Human Services attack on trans rights all that much, so far, and I’m a little surprised, because we should all be clear about something. The changes they are making don’t mean a little inconvenience for a few trans people.
They mean death. It’s that simple. It’s going to mean withdrawal, seclusion, humiliation, violence and death.
Think about the Trump supporters I described, think about the thousands of comments I just told you about. Now think about the reinforcement this sort of decision makes for their worst instincts, think about a trans man, presenting as a man, being forced to use the ladies room in some Podunk, red state, Trump voting shithole.
Now how do you suppose that goes down with the rest of the folks in the having dinner? And how do you suppose the teenage trans boy using the ladies room goes down with the parents of the teenage girls at the high school? And how does that make the teenage trans boy feel? Or the teenage trans girl having to share a bathroom with the testosterone jacked 17-year-old jocks at the high school? And what do you suppose happens to the trans girl forced to onto a man’s prison block?
Humiliation, violence, rape, suicide, and murder. Death. Trans rights are a matter of life and death, in a very real, very palpable way. The definitions change, and people die. The rules change, and people die. The laws change, and people die. Immediately.
This is happening because the people in the White House get it. They know their base, and they know exactly what their base wants. They got it 100% right this time. They are defining transgender people out of existence because they know their base wants transgender people to be gone. Disappeared. Non-existent.
Trans rights, opposition to gender self-determination, hatred for trans people, as I’ve already described, are at the heart of the Trump phenomena. There is nothing that evokes the hatred and fear and violence on the right the way the simple existence of trans people does. It is stomach turning to see, horrible in its blind ferocity, and I don’t know how the fuck my trans friends have the strength and poise to live every day in the face of that horror, that hatred, but they do. I suppose they have to, and that’s where the fight is now.
I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you are in the political spectrum, I don’t care how fucking liberal or leftist you are, I don’t care how feminist you are, if you don’t support trans-rights, you are not on my fucking side. I don’t give a fuck about your bio–essentialist arguments, I don’t give a fuck about your history with men, I don't care about your pissing eight year old or your bigot grandmother. Frankly, I don’t give a fuck about your traumatic sexual assault if it means you’re going to take it out on some fucking teenage girl who doesn’t want to have to use a bathroom with a bunch of frat boys and have the same fucking thing happen to her. Fuck you.
If you want to know where the battle lines are drawn most clearly and unmistakably, between decency and the dark, right now, in the United States, in 2018, it’s here. Trans rights are the battlefield and trans people, like it or not, are in the vanguard of that battle. They are the front-line in a fight they never asked for, every fucking day, every hour, every time they leave the fucking house.
There is no fight more important as this, now, today. There are no people so vulnerable, so marginalized and there should be no fucking doubt among anyone on the left, any liberal, any libertarian, about this.
The fight is here now, it’s happening. An entire marginalized community, federally defined out of existence and set up to be victimized by a segment of the population too fucking backwards and just plain, willfully dumb to bother to try and understand what the hell is going on in the world, or empathize with another fucking human being.
If we don’t stop this, people are going to die, killed for something they can’t change, for who they are in the deepest part of themselves. Not somewhere down the road, not in five years, but now. They’re going to start dying now.
We can’t let that happen. Those of us who still live in the modern world still own this culture and we need to do what we can to make sure it doesn't. We cannot go back to the 1950s, we cannot watch more people die for their gender. We cannot let that happen. We can't lose this battle.
This isn't temporary, this isn't going to go away tomorrow, the last two years is only the beginning. Gender self-determination will be the civil rights battle of the 21st century. If we have to fight this for the rest of our lives, we cannot allow these fuckers, this raw hate, to win.
So be shocked for a second, cry about it for a minute, and while you're at it, maybe today is a good day to hug your trans friends, tell them you got their back. Because we do, a lot of us. America isn’t just Trump supporters. Remember that. For what it’s worth, some of us got your back.
Then get over it and get ready, because this is a fight and you're in it. We all are, all of us, left, liberal, libertarian, right, if you're a decent human being and you care about basic human rights, you're in it up to your ass and the water is rising fast.
Hatred is a powerful emotion and it is temporarily ascendant, but hate can't beat the future, and that future is an America, a world, where every single trans person lives their life safely and with the same dignity any other human being enjoys, because ultimately, as badly as they want to, they just can't turn back the clock. Not when so many of us stand in their way, not with so many lives on the line. They just can't.
And that really is immutable, unchangeable. That really is a fact.

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