These are not the allies we’re looking for
February 7, 2014 § 2 Comments
If you’re a trans person with access to twitter, odds are you’re up to speed with Piers Morgan’s gross rudeness to Janet Mock, and subsequent tantrum when called on it. Cisphobia, people. Cisphobia. If you know any trans people on twitter, same deal. I don’t have anything to add to the excellent summaries of the situation already making the rounds – but I was interested (in that ‘oh god, here we go again’ way) in the wider response I saw, when the news was shared by supportive cis people – and then commented on by cis people who consider themselves supportive.
As a Londoner and a Private Eye reader, I’m not convinced that Morgan believes a word of his “but I’m an ally” routine – beyond the desire for it to make him look like the good guy – but it’s the inevitability with which the people agreeing with him resort to the same tactic: “hey, I’m open-minded”, “I’m an ally”, “but I support people like you”. The shock they express when told that no, actually, they’re not being very open-minded, supportive, allied to a movement, a concept, a group of vulnerable people.
I’ll admit up front – I’m angry, and I’m ranting. But if you’ve ever caught yourself saying or thinking these things to someone you claim to be helping – well. Maybe you should have a nice long look at your ego, and where it needs to step down.
“I’m just being objective”
Funny how ‘objective’ allies claim to be able to see how an unequal world can affect the lives of others – but never them. “To every action is an equal and opposite reaction” – except of course not, because while an oppressed group might have their minds clouded by the experience of oppression, these allies would never have their rationality influenced by the experience of privilege. Because that’s not a thing. It’s just how the world works. Like the fact that people are ‘born’ men and women, and there’s a definitive standard of ‘male’ and ‘female’ that we can all adhere to, and these totally aren’t cultural sophistries to cling to without active investigation, and trans people have certainly never had the wherewithal to think things through for themselves, or start with the same inculturated assumptions but move to a different place based on greater wisdom – no. “Objective” enough to parrot widely held myths about bodies and minds, but not objective enough to consider why they came to hold those views, what they mean, where they came from, who they serve. Fancy.
“Why aren’t you grateful?”
I think my favourite part of Morgan’s vitriol was his apparent shock and disappointment at Mock’s failure to be suitably grateful for everything that he’d given her. A washed-up sleaze of a hack invites another media professional (a current, interesting one on the rise) onto his show for an interview – and she failed to shower him with praise for his largesse. Is there often an element of selfishness in acts of kindess? Fuck yes. This much selfishness, for so little kindness? No points. And no cookie.
“You’re telling me not to contribute/fuck you, I’ll contribute without you”
A favourite way of flouncing out of the conversation – or, if you have the power to do so, of continuing a monologue on your own terms. Some people use it to shut down a debate – Morgan used it as a chance to call a panel of other cis people to discuss whether or not they should act with basic decency towards trans people.
The thing is – we’re not telling you not to contribute. We’re telling you that your contributions need to be better. If the only things you have to give us are the same tired lines and responses we hear weekly, if not daily – then why do you think they have any value left? Would you be proud of bringing something mouldy to a pot-luck supper? Would you insist on everyone eating it just to make you feel valued, and telling you how clever you were to have made it at all?
We need these conversations, these dialogues – but they have to be dialogues – and they can’t happen when one side refuses to catch up with the other. You can’t get to the end of the ensemble piece when one musician keeps fucking up the first bar – and then refusing to practice it until they get it right, because someone else should do that for them.
If you know me, or are a regular visitor here, you’ll know how much I value and respect those who genuinely support others in their work towards equality and justice. But I’m getting heartily sick of those who want all the advantages of seeming like a nice, progressive, “tolerant” sort of person – without having any of the attributes that actually make an ally.