Tag Archives: language

Our Heroes Are Garbage People And We Are Too

I have a problem with heroes, and I bet you do too. Whether or not you pay attention to someone’s Twitter, Facebook, or their interviews, someone you like is invariably saying shitty things about you.

I used to be able to willfully ignore my heroes missteps, but they continued talking trash, especially on topics they know very little about. When I came out as transgender, it got worse. As much as I looked up to these people or enjoyed their work, they constantly insulted and offended me and individuals like me. It was completely disheartening. My so called heroes began to show their true selves, and their true selves were trash.

Maybe It’s Just Me

When I was younger, I often believed that my getting offended at individuals dehumanizing me was the result of my own sensitivity. I believed myself to be weak because I couldn’t roll with the punches. I know now that this was simply not the case, and the individuals I looked up to simply reframed the controversy to make it about me and individuals like myself. Framing in communication is an important tool, it allows us to utilize rhetoric without changing the facts, to promote certain interpretations of events and discourage others. In essence, it’s a means of steering the conversation towards one conclusion.

What often happens when someone in a position of relative power is attacked is that they will shift the blame and communicatively construct a reality where the victim is at fault. “I was making a joke.” “You’re just being overly sensitive.” “Hey, it’s just my opinion.” While the facts remain that someone made a mistake or used language that was harmful to an individual or group, the conversation shifts to be about the victim. Often time the victim’s only action is to point out that the individual made a mistake; sometimes the victim has had no action. If the internal logic is consistent, someone could basically reframe any issue and convince people that they’re right and the victims are wrong. “You are reacting to something I said so you’re the one at fault.”

Whether intentional or not, this often results in a skewed reality where an influential person has changed the conversation and minds of several of their followers. It often incites a hate mob, specially targeted at the victims of the initial comment. Furthermore, it promotes the internalization of oppression. When reality is skewed to be against a victim, they may begin to believe that they are actually at fault. If our understandings of reality shape what we believe, and reality is skewed against us, we take in, rationalize, and internalize that reality. The reality where victims are just weaklings becomes our own. This just leads to the further marginalization of people, simply because someone in a position of power can’t accept their mistake or understand the gravity of the situation.

What needs to be understood by individuals in power is that power dynamics play an important role. Being in a position of power shouldn’t make an individual infallible, and while everyone is entitled to an opinion, when all eyes are on you your opinion can have serious repercussions for marginalized individuals.

The Problem with Celebrity

Whether an individual is respected or seen as intelligent is irrelevant. If you’re asking an individual to opine on a random topic out of their breadth of expertise, you’re rolling dice as to whether or not your hero will let you down. This is especially the case when it’s a hotly debated topic and there’s no care and dedication into understanding the problem. Privilege, widely held social beliefs, age, and trust in meritocracy only compound these issues further. So while an individual may be regarded as the pinnacle of their field of expertise, ignorance, privilege, and other social factors, may cause them to share uneducated or harmful opinions.

This is emblematic of a society that values celebrity the way western society does. We still expect that everyone that has elevated in society based on their talent will somehow be a renaissance person. We give individuals a soapbox and a loud speaker, and expect them to tell us how to think, feel, or act, because they’re someone in society. It’s also a society that places the value of personal opinion higher than expertise, that gains enjoyment from shock value, where any mainstream opinion that condemns a minority is lauded by the individuals that do not match that identifier. This is not to excuse who share their terrible, harmful, and often times violent opinions, but the construction of society plays a major role as to how they were given a voice and why they haven’t been driven out yet.

This problem does not solely lie on expertise, however, ignorance and an inability to process new information also contribute to dangerous opinions. Similar to taking a driving test or getting a degree, we often falsely elevate individuals based on solitary achievements and not continued work or relevance. When you’ve made it, you’ve made it, or so they say. Individuals that were once considered groundbreaking, revolutionary, or relevant, are falsely raised above others and given an important voice in a community. Often their contributions are hailed as being so pivotal in the cultural zeitgeist that society begins to see them as infallible leaders. As time goes on and as society becomes less interested in the zeitgeist they stood for, their opinions begin to clash harder and harder especially if their opinions come from a time society has moved past. A once revolutionary, cutting edge, iconoclast can be reduced to just another member of the establishment and no longer concerned with the revolution.

Conclusion

We’re all just living garbage. Every single one of us is guilty of holding a contrarian opinion, having shitty personality traits, and being genuinely ignorant in many ways. However, when we elevate some trash above the rest of the pile because of their accomplishments, we risk creating a monster that can have very real, adverse effects, especially on marginalized individuals. When we give an individual a soap box on which to espouse nonsense and we enforce the lie that this individual is a person of real leadership in the community, we set a dangerous precedent that often reinforces taboo, prejudices, and flagrant ignorance.

Individuals we elevate above us have too great a power to influence discussion and place the blame for their shitty comments directly on their victims. They use reframing as a tactic to skew reality and convince other individuals that their victims are simply weak or too sensitive. They punch down at individuals that they hold in contempt and incite hate mobs to further destroy their victim’s lives and safety.

Furthermore, culture of celebrity treats the opinions of individuals with social power as infallible. We still wrongly believe than any individual who has shown mastery or expertise in one field, is magically endowed with expertise in other fields. We are also constantly disappointed by this fact as if we could not see that an evolutionary biologist might not have the firmest grasps on world affairs, or that an actress and comedienne may not have any understanding of medicine. We wish, that despite creating the exact situation we dread, that somehow this would not happen, that individuals we choose to elevate may meet our lofty expectation of omnipotence as if they were a deity. At least that way the idolatry would make sense.

Never meet your heroes. In fact, its best not to have heroes at all.

Comment: On Words and Assignment

Words are political, there’s no way around this. Unless you’re inventing language on the spot, every time you open your mouth you have to accept that that with the noises your making comes centuries of meaning, use, and history. Try as you may, it’s inescapable even if your intention is not to offend or harken back to historical use.

Because of this, writing articles about trans identity can be difficult. It’s hard to talk about ourselves when so many of the words we use have been used against us by cis people. Language can be a tool of oppression and, for our community, this was often the case. The slurs that have been used against us are obviously terrible, but even cis individuals in the medical community, masquerading as allies or friends, have been equally as shitty and oppressive. Understandably, the majority of the trans community has been pushing hard to move away from these terms, whether slurs or “science”.

While writing about masturbation, the word choices became the hardest part of writing the article. I had conversations with individuals from a very specific subset of the trans community, all with similar genitals, but with different gender identities. To lump them all in the same category would be doing a violent disservice to them, however, to not be able to specify that only certain people were willing to talk to me would also let down the strength of the article. Because of this I made a compromise and used two acronyms that are not without controversy in the trans community: assigned male at birth (amab), and assigned female at birth (afab).

The problem with these terms will be immediately apparent to a large number of trans people but in essence they combine three things I hate: shitty science, assumptions of sex based on genitals, and terms cis people appropriate for us. It is, in essence, the most politically correct way to say “birth sex”, while still being used to justify cis oppression, bigotry, and ignorance. It may be a softer way to say something incredibly shitty, but it’s still saying something incredibly shitty with all the garbage history that terms like “birth sex” and “x-to-x” bring.

That’s not the whole story though, there is a second meaning to unpack. When I first heard amab and afab a few years ago, I heard it as a term trans people were using to describe themselves. In this context it was often used in a more self-deprecating manner. Assignment is dehumanizing, to tell someone they’re something they don’t identify as, against their will, is violent. Assignment is patronizing, unnecessary, is used as a gate-keeping tool, and is a huge hassle to change. When applied to ourselves, it serves as a little tongue in cheek reminder that the our doctors made a mistake we’ll spend the majority of our adult lives correcting, that cisnormativity is pervasive, and that the social construction of sex is a reality.

Obviously, these terms are now more centred around the former than the latter, but it is still something descriptive of a subset of the trans community that had a similar starting point while not explicitly connecting genitals to gender and assuming a similar experience. I reluctantly used these terms however, but with an addition. When my editor suggested using “Coercively” in front of amab or afab, I immediately relished the thought. It was just icing on an already implied “fuck you” cake. Cis people could never re-appropriate the term without having to deal with the baggage calling themselves “coercive,” and implying that they too are continuing the violence.

Hence, I felt justified using those variations of assignment terms in my first article about masturbation. I just wanted to clear up any misgivings I had with the language used in the article and explain why I used the terms I used. As a writer I’m always keenly aware of the use of language and it’s implications, but I’m also aware that this explanation would have been ungainly or irrelevant in the article itself. There’s always the nagging through, every time I publish something, that would I have to mount a defence to justify my word choice. Nobody has actually called me on my shit yet, but I wanted to do good by my sources to pre-emptively publish an explanation as to why I used those particular terms to refer to them, while unpacking and discussing the particular language. My trepidation is always that my words will lead to eventually being ostracised, so I’d rather have a pre-emptive discussion than face a backlash.

To see the article this comment was following up, check out “Deviations in Masturbation in the Transgender Community”