Thursday, June 5, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times Runs, Then Apologizes for "Provocative" Anti-Trans Piece

[Content note: anti-trans bigotry]

Earlier this week, the mainstream Chicago Sun-Times published a revolting anti-trans piece about Laverne Cox and transgender individuals in general. The piece was originally published at the conservative National Review Online and was written by Kevin Williamson.

Williams has no apparent expertise in gender, sex, or biology (he's listed as a "roving correspondent" for National Review and a theater critic and adjunct professor at King's College, on Wikipedia). Yet, someone at the Sun-Times thought it would be cool to nonetheless amplify Williamson's thoughts on transgender issues, anyway, implying that he has particular authority on the matter.

In the piece, Williamson misgenders Cox throughout and in the title ("Laverne Cox is Not a Woman"), assuming an air of the "cis white man who's just tellin' it like it is" because some truths, he maybe supposes, are so self-evident they are true just because he says so.  A snippet:
"The infinite malleability of the postmodern idea of  'gender,' as opposed to the stubborn concreteness of sex, is precisely the reason the concept was invented. For all of the high-academic theory attached to the question, it is simply a mystical exercise in rearranging words to rearrange reality. Facebook now has a few score options for describing one’s gender or sex, and no doubt they will soon match the number of names for the Almighty in one of the old mystery cults. 
Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman. Sex is a biological reality, and it is not subordinate to subjective impressions, no matter how intense those impressions are, how sincerely they are held, or how painful they make facing the biological facts of life. No hormone injection or surgical mutilation is sufficient to change that."
It's a common way conservative, bigoted mansplainers talk about transgender people. They don't truly understand what being trans is, nor do they even try to understand, really. Indeed, their gender worldview, and the illusions of superiority in the world it grants them, often depend on them not understanding. When talking about gender issues, they often appeal to the lowest common denominator of insular self-centeredness: I only know my experience, and my experience is the sun around which all other experiences revolve, therefore experiences that differ from mine are delusional academic elitism.

In an apology, the Chicago Sun-Times acknowledges its purported reasons for elevating Williamson's voice on the matter of transgender identity. Via GLAAD, Sun-Times Editorial Page Editor Tom McNamee claimed:
"We try to present a range of views on an issue, not only those views we may agree with, but also those we don’t agree with. A recent op-ed piece we ran online that was produced by another publication initially struck as provocative."
And what ideas, exactly, did the editors think it would be great to provoke? It's not exactly rare, super insightful, or embiggening to the discourse for a cis man to tell the world that trans people are delusional and that people should stop playing along.

This idea, that we must present "all sides" of a "debate," no matter how ignorant, harmful, and uninformed, has long been repugnant to me as the worst, most general application of "tolerance." To pile on the hatred and ignorance of a marginalized group for the sake of amplifying a viewpoint that's already quite common? Like, how lucky for the Sun-Times decision-makers that what they perceive as "provocative" is, to many trans people, an incredibly dehumanizing narrative they encounter on probably a near-daily basis.

And, as far as presenting a "range of views" on the issue, where then was the comment section?  The piece has since been deleted at the Sun-Times, but it seemed like an especially craven decision on the part of the Sun-Times to publish this oh-so-provocative piece online and to not allow comments, where yes, many people would likely agree with Williamson, but some trans people and allies could also at least chime in and present their own "provocative" "range of views" on the issue.

As traditional media wrestle with changes in discourse brought about by Internet, those who get to pick which voices are amplified in major media sources, are increasingly going to find themselves held accountable by the blogosphere and social media.  Especially when those decisions are seemingly made by insular, clueless members of privileged classes who think the plebians need to be more exposed to bigotry or, say, "a range of views."

Where 25 years ago, readers would have to endure an article like Williamson's and physically write a letter to the editor in response and hope that it was picked to be published, people on Internet and social media created an almost immediate shitstorm about the Sun-Time's decision to promote Williamson's piece.

In a matter of days, the Sun-Times issued an apology for promoting content that omitted facts and that was purportedly inconsistent with their publication standards. Which, seems like something of a win. although it seems Ms. Cox is still owed an explicit apology.

So, you know, cue Team Bigotry's cry of persecution in 3-2-1....

Indeed, Kevin Williamson's response to having the Sun-Times remove his piece is just as childish and awful as you would expect, beginning with his title: "Speaking of Men Who Have Had Their Testicles Removed." His point is basically that the guy at the Sun-Times who issued the apology is a faggy dick-less/ball-less being.

So yeah, whoever made the call to elevate Williamson's voice at the Sun-Times sure did a heckuva job. It's actually kind of impressive that the Sun-Times has pissed off both bigots and progressives in one fell swoop. I hope being "provocative" was worth it.

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