Simon Williamson

Deciding for others

2014-05-30 07:48

Simon Williamson

Although my people, the LGBTQIA (LGBT for short) crowd, fight furiously against discrimination of any kind we don't do as good a job within our own community. You might remember the disgusting fracas that erupted in Joburg's Pride parade in 2012, where pale organisers shouted “This is my route!” at One in Nine protesters who lay in the street, calling for a minutes' silence for slaughtered black queer victims. That's a good example into some of the frailties of a movement that deems to be inclusive.  We're bad when it comes to race.

The other place we fall down badly is the "T" in our ever-expanding abbreviation. That stands for transgender, and implies we are united with those whose gender does not match their sex. Well, we aren't. In fact we let down the transgender part of our community quite badly, and at the moment in the US a debate is raging about just what language is acceptable when talking about transgender people. As we tend, here in America, to read the riot act to people that are offensive to mainstream gays and lesbians, one would think there would be a natural inclination to defend a more marginalised group, but, one would be wrong.

Like any demographic, the transgender community is no uniform bloc and has a spread of opinion on just about everything, including about how to deal with discrimination, and whether dealing with it is justified.

Venomous abuse

But in arguments about language, including whether "she-male", "tranny" and such are acceptable parts of our lexicon, venomous abuse has been directed at those who disagree with casual use of such terms, from high-profile people with major platforms.

Admittedly, when this debate began, I was surprised at how strongly people felt about words I thought were innocuous, and that rage was directed at a veteran of gay pop life who has done, and is doing, bucket loads for the whole community. And while I initially disagreed with the premise, I was even more surprised at how quickly the majority LGBT opinion coalesced in one direction, against those who felt they were being marginalised (which, just to be clear, is not the whole transgender community).

High profile people in LGBT society have, for example, told one of those complaining about discrimination to, "take what's left of her dick and stick it in her mouth and shut the f*** up".

I have friends who have adjudicated the same sentiment in more refined terms. A columnist referred to the same group as "victim cultists", "stay-at-home transactivists" and "pseudo-activists.

In other words leaving them no room to call out what they find offensive, degrading and discriminatory. If they do they are labelled with just such adjectives.

Don't tell people how to feel

And so begins the usual argument of invalidating people's rights to be offended by what the rest of us say and do. I grew up a white South African, and am well aware of what it is like to tell black people that there is no racism, I didn't intend any, and their complaints about it are some sort of perpetual "race-card" bingo.

But (hopefully) we grow up and learn that the entire principle of telling other people what they are permitted to be offended by, according our own side-view of the world, is incongruous with their reality. To take someone else's circumstances, which are not our own, and tell them that what they feel is not real, and they are not permitted to feel it, is grotesque.

Yet, as a group that faces discrimination all the time, we have allowed that exact principle to ferment in the LGBT community, and are telling our transgender peers how to deal with their own issues, and deciding whether they are allowed to deal with them at all.

It is 100% acceptable to disagree with whatever anyone else says. It is not to tell someone they are hallucinating. They have a far better understanding of their own niche than the rest of us do.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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