Friday, September 16, 2011

Not Getting It

[TW: Homobigotry, gender policing, violence]

Our friend, Playful Walrus, has kinda responded to my recent criticism of his post about Lawrence King, the teen who was murdered by one of his classmates.

If you remember, my criticism of Walrus' post was that it was incredibly empty, indeed devoid of any understanding as to the larger social context in which King's murder occurred. The furthest Walrus would go was to say that he agreed that gay people don't deserve to die for being gay. Which, you know, is a noble sentiment but also a no-brainer. You shouldn't think gay people deserve to die for being gay.

Yet, on top of the emptiness, Walrus' post about the murder engaged in victim-blaming and gender policing, explicitly saying that it's evidence of mental illness for people to be gay and transgender, ironically the very statements that often make transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people feel unsafe. Such statements diminish the human dignity of gay and transgender people and are part of larger cultural attitudes, often having the sanction of major religious groups, that contribute verbal, spiritual, and physical violence against transgender, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. As one psychologist has noted, when gay people are consistently denigrated by society, “offenders perceive that they have societal permission to engage in violence against homosexuals.”

But, let's see how Walrus interprets my criticism. In an "update" at the bottom of his post (which can be found by following the link at my original post, above), he writes:

"One of my critics has taken issue with this entry, because I don't endorse crossdressing, homosexual behavior, and catering to obnoxious behavior on the part of teens in school, where the teens are supposed to be learning things, not showboating. Also, it is a problem for my critic that I didn't blame the Illuminati nor the Stonecutters nor the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy for the murder."

Now that first claim is an interesting way for Walrus to frame things. Far from merely, and passively, just "not endorsing" "crossdressing" and "homosexual behavior," Walrus is a contributor to at least two blogs that explicitly, regularly, and actively denigrate "crossdressing" and "homosexual behavior." Indeed, judging by the frequency with which he writes about LGBT issues compared to all other issues in the world, some might say he has a monomanic devotion to this denigration, which he uses the most dominant religion in the United States to justify.

As for the second claim, his imagination has truly gotten the best of him. I do not believe that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people is orchestrated by secret cabals of haters twirling their mustaches in basements. That was not at all my argument. Rather, I believe that violent perpetrators take cues from the society in which they live in determining which sorts of people are "worthy of death."

Far from being single, isolated events that Just Happen For No Reason At All, acts of violence against LGBT people are part of larger cultural narratives that tell us that being LGBT is something Really Bad to be. On a daily basis, we are exposed to messages that tell us how men and women are supposed to act and supposed to dress and supposed to love and suppose to have sex. These messages emanate from powerful sources like religious groups, parents, TV shows, advertisements, and schools and they tell us that people who violate these gender rules are sick, wrong, dangerous, and bad.

Walrus is not, to my knowledge, an evil man. Nor is he, to my knowledge, a product of the Illuminati. He is, like all of us, a product of living in a culture that overvalues gender conformity and heterosexuality and denigrates gender non-conformity, trans* people, homosexuality, and bisexuality. And, he consistently engages in that very denigration on a near-daily basis on the Internet.

Accordingly, the only plausible explanation for "cross-dressing," to Walrus, is that it is evidences mental illness. And yet, if he thinks about it, what exactly is inherently feminine about, say, a dress? Why is it only suitable for women, but not men? And why do we see cultural variation in the items of clothing that are "for women" and "for men"? I encourage Walrus to think about these questions with a more open mind, stopping his tendency to react with uninsightful "gotchas" and strawarguments that only lead to further division.

Like his ending. Totally failing to get it, he asks:

"If I should be assaulted or worse, should my critic be held accountable?"

His Socratic Question Master routine is valuable only insofar as it reveals the depths of his misunderstanding. My argument is not, as he believes, that "anyone who criticizes anyone is accountable for violence inflicted upon the criticized person."

It is, rather, that we live in a culture that assumes the supremacy of heterosexual and cisgender people and that, therefore, condones the use of verbal, physical, and spiritual violence to enforce heterosexuality and gender conformity. When one has a basic awareness of the fact that sexual and gender prejudice against LGBT people are real things that really exist in the real world, one is better able to understand that to call a boy crazy or immoral for merely wearing "girls' clothes" is not only unkind, but it gives further permission to others to inflict violence, ridicule, and harassment upon such boys.

(And let's at this point also let the record reflect that I'm a feminist, Walrus is an anti-feminist, and yet I'm the one in favor of boys' rights to wear "girls'" clothes without being shamed and called "crazy" for it. Ho hum, just some more conservative misandry that critics of feminism will ignore in favor of screeching that it's feminists who hate men).

But I digress.

Let's answer Walrus' question. Is my criticism that Walrus engages in problematic gender policing morally equivalent to Walrus' gender policing? Walrus is a heterosexual, cisgender man. Knowing that, allow me to take a turn at playing Socratic Question Master:

Do I devote my blog to using a religion that is dominant in the US to spread the message that being a heterosexual, cisgender man is evidence of mental illness and immorality? Do I use my blog to argue that heterosexuals should not be able to marry their chosen partners? Do I use my blog to shame men who do not want to "cross dress"? Do I engage in the shaming of heterosexual, cisgender men, knowing that heterosexual, cisgender men are so very often bullied to death by LGBT people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity?

On a larger scale, do religions regularly tell heterosexual, cisgender men that they are, solely because of their gender identity and sexual orientation, immoral and mentally ill? Or, do dominant religions encourage heterosexual, cisgender men to marry their chosen partners? Did psychologists once put heterosexuality into its diagnostic manual, relying mostly on religious and pseudoscientific claims about the nature of heterosexuality?

Do people devote blogs to telling the world that it is Just God's Truth that heterosexual, cisgender men are immoral and mentally unwell compared to LGBT people? How many heterosexual, cisgender men are targeted for violence solely for because people think it's gross, immoral, and wrong for men to be heterosexual and cisgender?

See, unlike Walrus, who undoubtedly sees my civil union license to my female partner as evidence that I am unhealthy, mentally unwell, and immoral, I am agnostic as to whether Walrus is any of those things. Indeed, because I don't personally know him, I have no way of knowing his health statuses and I wouldn't presume to know them based solely on his sexual orientation or gender identity. And, it would be nice if he extended the courtesy of not pre-judging people's mental health statuses just because he happens to know their sexual orientations and gender identities.

So, to answer his question. No.

Criticism of someone's prejudice, and his is a very literal one, is not an incitement to violence and does not make that critic "accountable" to violence that may occur to the prejudiced person.

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