Ok, I’m going to say what might be some pretty unpopular things this time: now I understand why the right makes fun of us for being “Special Snowflakes”.
Let me give you some background…
IndyPride is the group that puts on our annual Pride festival every June in Indianapolis. They have done this for years, and miraculously have done it free of charge. That alone baffles me. I’ve been apart of other conventions and festivals and have first hand knowledge of just how expensive these things are. And given that the attendance of IndyPride’s festival is over 100,000 people, I couldn’t begin to fathom the price tag entailed. That being said, for the first time this year there is going to be an entrance fee. Four dollars if you register online in advance. Five dollars if you take care of business at the gate.
This morning I logged on to Facebook to find an acquaintance of mine complaining about this fact. And initially I could see their complaint. This certainly has the ability to exclude members of our poor, as well as disadvantaged youth. I happen to know one of the members of the board, who is also a member of the trans support group I attend, so I tagged them hoping that we could get some insight, and get our voices heard by someone who could do something to address the problem.
And she did. It turns out that IndyPride is launching some initiatives in conjunction with their sponsoring partners to make sure that free tickets are available for people who need them. Specific details of the program are still to come, but only because they are finalizing things with those partners. What we were told was that not only would free tickets be given away to people who need them via supporting organizations, but that a system where you could buy tickets for others that needed them in a sort of “pay it forward” style was also being set up. Of course I want to see more details, but for the moment my initial concerns were squelched. It seemed that IndyPride was on top of things.
The concerns from others continued and then turned to bashing. People claimed that it was a money grab. That it was meant to exclude members of our trans community, who often fall into lower socioeconomic classes. That it was meant to act as a gate keeper to keep out anyone who wasn’t a white cis gay male of upper middle class. So I spoke up. Maybe these folks had missed the part where they were giving away tickets for free to people who needed them. Maybe these folks missed the part where a trans woman was the messenger this morning of this news, and that she was a member of their board. What that was met with was hostility, and plenty of it.
What became a huge turning point for me in this conversation was when the topic shifted to water. Let me give you some more history…
This festival takes place in June, on what has historically been a blisteringly hot sunny day. Keeping people hydrated is a problem, and it seems like every year there is at least a few accounts of heat stroke. This individual was complaining about the fact that they can’t take open containers inside the gated area of the festival. I, as a small business owner in our community, know exactly why that is: liquor laws. And I shared this fact. I also shared the fact that the price on water inside the festival had been fixed, so that there couldn’t be gouging, and while I personally think that fixed price was too high, I felt like this was a safe guard for our community over all. I also mentioned another fun fact: lots of booths give away water for free. My business had a booth last year and we gave away approximately 500 free bottles of water. I was super happy to do it because I care about my community, and I could. This was met with the notion that I have a savior complex and that I hate the environment. These are the same people who moments before were upset about the idea of paying for water, but when presented with free water were upset with that as well. It didn’t make any sense.
“Sounds like an elaborate excuse to simultaneously exclude us poor peons and then pat yourself on the back for being bourgeois saviors but ok.”
“Man, how are you going to have it both ways? Mad that they won’t let you bring in water, but mad that they GIVE you water?”
… and that’s what really started the most eye opening exchange I think I’ve ever had. The clearest view of what the red portions of America see.
You see, I had misgendered the individual in question. At least, sort of. I was using “man” as a gender neutral term, but I could see someone perceiving it as a specifically masculine term. So when they corrected me on their gender, I apologized, and then continued with the conversation:
“Do not call me a man. I’m a trans woman. Get your cisnormativity and gender assumption the fuck away from me.”
“[Individuals Display Name], I don’t know you and I apologize for the misgendering. No harm intended.
If you are upset over the refillable bottles…”
Let me break down my response for you:
“I don’t know you”. I didn’t, until this day, know this person and therefore know their gender identity. I also wasn’t able to make any sort of logical mental leaps based upon their profile pic or screen name. The profile picture in question (listed to the right) was simply a meme about hitting a Nazi (which I can get behind, and is an entirely different post waiting to happen). Furthermore, the first name listed for their account was “Gnat”. This doesn’t really convey a gendered connotation, although if I had to choose a gender based upon it, I think I would choose male as it’s reminiscent to the kind of nick name you might be given in a college fraternity. All of that being said, I didn’t have any visual cues for addressing this person that I didn’t know. I also stressed the “I don’t know you” part, because I know a lot of members of our trans community through support groups, friends, etc. It seemed entirely possible that they would correct me in this fact. Maybe we had met at a meeting, and simply based upon their screen name and profile pic, I wasn’t putting two and two together.
“and I apologize for misgendering”. Every thing else that you read today, keep this fact in perspective: I am sorry that I misgendered this woman. I know how much that stings, both from first hand accounts, as well as from times I have needed to comfort Amber from similar tribulations. It’s unpleasant for me, and devastating for some. From that point forward I made an effort to affirm her gender, and show that I really was more than happy to do better.
“No harm intended”. For me, this is just about as important, if not more important than the apology itself. No ill will caused this exchange. No malice was at it’s heart. It was an honest mistake, which I was more than happy to correct. To me, the intent behind why a person does something is very important. For example: stealing my pen because you absent mindedly pocketed it is very different than stealing my pen because you covet it or want to see me fumble later. And so stating that I intended no harm to that person, is to me, an important facet. If I thought someone was misgendering me deliberately to be rude or condescending, it would be very trying to not punch them in the nose. But an accident? A simple not knowing? Those aren’t fighting words in my book. Boy was I wrong.
And lastly, then I moved on. I know when I am misgendered, I really don’t appreciate a big show of people apologizing tons. For me that’s uncomfortable. In the trans support group I am a part of, it is also stressed that we should apologize and move forward during each opening sessions “rules”. And in general this is what I’ve come to expect to be the desired norm for most trans people. Apologize and more forward.
Approximately three posts later, things went further down the proverbial toilet…
Gnat: “I’m going to disengage from this [Original Poster]. I’m sorry im being agressive on your status, just the classism and trans erasure really get to me.”
It was at this point that I started to lose my shit a little bit, which I guess is appropriate for the proverbial toilet. I could actively feel my blood pressure rising. I’m trans. My girlfriend is trans. I host events for trans folks in order to help insure the mental well being of my community. These assaults on my character were maddening, and for what? Because I spoke up in defense of a community organization?
Once again, let’s break this down. Firstly, classism. Later on, when pressed for answers, this woman states that I am classist because I don’t think that the entry fee, or the price for water, is a big deal. Now, in reality, I don’t think they are a huge deal for the fast majority of our community. Most people can eat that cost without batting an eye. However, I never said that, and I also understand the plight of the very poor. I know, because I have been there more than a few times: nearly evicted from my home, electricity shut off, debt collectors calling constantly, having my vehicle repossessed. Oh, I’ve been there. And while I own my own business, we aren’t exactly rolling in it. I made so little last year that when I did my taxes I didn’t even have to take the penalty for not having insurance. I know poor. But all of that aside, what I was advocating for was not for people to pay the fee and get over it. I was advocating for us not the bash our volunteer organization, because they are making efforts to offer free tickets to anyone who can not afford them. Thereby addressing the situation, right? Apparently this further reinforced the notion that I am classist.
The second part of this was that I was erasing trans experiences. Umm… how? Have I mentioned that I’m trans? That my girlfriend is trans? That I help support my trans community (and really my LGBTQ community) in any way I can find? Apparently pointing these facts out made me “gross”.
Original Poster: “conjuring up a list of folx you engage with to prove that you AREN’T a bigot is really kinda gross”
Now, let me pause right here… if this was a random online forum, with anonymous users, I would have simply disengaged and chalked this up to trolls. But this wasn’t a random online forum, this was Facebook. The original poster was an acquaintance that is good friends with some good friends of mine. Gnat is a friend of the original poster, and therefore somewhere in the social circles of all of these people. This was not anonymous. This was not random trolling. These were authentic feelings and statements by authentic people. And that’s what made me keep going, the notion that these are people I sort of know.
Gnat: “So calling out classism and trans erasure is name calling, but violently misgendering and making excuses for it is okay.”
Gnat: “You made excuses. “I dont know you” “no harm intended” “you dont have a picture that shows your face” (as if you can tell by my fucking face). That’s not an apology or taking responsibility, thats shifting blame and making excuses.”
Gnat: “You definitely clearly have class privelege. I dont know you’re gender, but you clearly have enough privelege there to trivialize misgendering and support gender detective work and trans gatekeeping.”
Now, these three quotes are not in context. I’m saving you from reading through over 100 messages. With a large number of them saying some equivalent of “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to misgender you.” and further explaining my intent and language choices, or explaining that I’m not trying to be classist, but I don’t see a problem if they are giving away free tickets. By the end of it all by blood pressure was through the roof and I had been dubbed trans phobic, classist, ablest, rude, and gross.
Now you have an overview of what happened, now to the not so popular statements…
If this had been the first trans person I had ever met, and my opinion of the community was based upon my interactions with her alone, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t be firmly on the side of people that want to legislate trans folks away. This was the most ridiculous non-sense that I have ever been apart of. At every point this individual was the victim. Which I find insulting to people who actually are victims of hatred. Now, before I get hate mail, I’m not saying that at some point she hasn’t been a victim, but on this day, when dealing with me, she was not. An innocent mistake, which was apologized for, was blown to such a proportion as to be completely non proportional to the event that took place.
And then there was the thing with the water. It’s ablest to think you will carry unopened bottles of water with you during the day. It’s classist to expect you to buy water. And it’s a savior complex to simply give you water for free. At what point is there a reasonable solution, short of throwing your hands in the air and saying “fine, do whatever in the hell you want!”? This is making a problem where there actually isn’t one while simultaneously alienating our allies. I feel like this woman, and her friends who were quick to agree with her, are simply pissed off and looking for something to pick a fight about. However, when you pick a fight in this manner, using these words to describe your “attacker” you are actually devaluing them. You are crying wolf.
At no point during this was I ever remotely trans phobic in my language or manner. And I tried to show this woman respect in every regard possible, including apologizing and then correctly referring to her. At no point during this was I ever classist. I equally had concerns for our poor and youth LGBTQ, and was happy to see those concerns addressed. Ablest I will own, on one account…
“Gnat, you are an asshole and an idiot. And I’m not sorry for that.“
After a conversation spanning hours, and the blood pumping in my ears, I lost my temper and called Gnat an idiot. Is the word “Idiot” ablest? These folks certainly thought so. I could see the argument more if I had called them “retarded”, but “idiot”? I’m not sure I buy it, but I guess I’ll own the title of ablest today, on that account.
These are the kinds of things that the conservative right points to on mass when they call us “Special Snowflakes”. That we can not so much as engage in a reasonable conversation about water at a festival without being accused of being ablest/classist/transphobic/etc. That we must censor ourselves at all times, lest we offend someone horrifically, and then again offend them with our apology. And ya know what, their right.
Now, if there do happen to be some conservative folks reading this blog, let me first say: I’m sorry. You’re right, and this is ridiculous behavior. And it detracts in a very real way from actual ablest/classist/transphobic/etc problems that this country faces. I don’t blame you for rolling your eyes when you hear “wolf” being shouted, because gosh, I got a taste of that first hand today. But know that not all members of the community are this horrendous to work with. Good people with real concerns do exist, and while over use of these words might now elicit an eye roll and a dismissal, these problems exist in legitimate ways. I just hope that my community can pull it’s head out of it’s own ass enough so as to stop tossing chaff back into the wheat pile, because separating them is an exhausting effort that few have a stomach for.