Friday, January 18, 2013

A spiteful joke

“You’d think the trannies could take it”, a man writes in a national newspaper in defence of the writers of some recently hateful articles about trans women, “Their shoulders are broad enough”.

It's a common tactic, of course, that the apologists for abuse tend to use: to blame the victins, rather than challenge the perpetrators. Because that, somehow, requires too much courage. 

But he shows no awareness of that. Instead he writes in a gleefully complacent tone, as if saying something especially witty and daring, courageous even: because he knows what he writes will cause offence.

I came across his words, as it happens, just after packing away a beautiful evening dress I was going to have take back to the shop. A dress I couldn’t wear because my shoulders are too broad for it.

“I won’t be hurt by this”, I told myself, “I won’t be. It isn’t worth it”.

But of course I was. It reminded me of those sneering remarks that were always directed  to me at school; the remarks that bullies use to taunt and ridicule. They’re impossible to deal with; I never knew whether to pretend to ignore them, which gave the bullies one kind of victory, or try to answer back and give the bullies the satisfaction of knowing they had hurt me. 

I would generally say nothing, and then afterwards rehearse the most stinging responses over and over in my head. And that, I suspect, was how I first learned to craft dialogue.

It’s a sadness that otherwise intelligent people should think it witty to mock a fellow human being’s physical appearance. In this case, I’ve a feeling the writer’s gibe at broad shoulders comes from something inside himself that frightens and shames him. Something he doesn’t yet have the strength and courage to directly confront.

And so he spreads his little bit of hatred. And hatred breeds hatred, and rage breeds rage.

And fear breeds fear. The woman in the dress shop seems possessed by it. She can barely bring herself to look at me. I can’t tell if she is afraid of me, or afraid of losing her job. She’s standing in an empty shop and I feel sorry for her. For all my efforts, she will not smile. On a couple of occasions she fleetingly moves the muscles of her mouth, as if with great efort, but her face stays lifeless.

Outside the street is full of beggars. Their gang masters have placed them at regular intervals each side of the road. And told them to kneel.

The Big Issue seller is furious. “They should be sent back”, he says, “Sent back to where they come from”. I say I feel sorry for them. “Each country should look after its own”, he says. “But we’re not”, I say, “Look at this one”. He agrees: “This country”s a joke”. 

And I say: “And we all turn against each other”.

The way I see apologists for abuse is that they have prejudices they refuse to drop. They do not always play the apologist: if faced with abuse against their own kind, they'd eagerly play the retaliating victim! No; the times they play the apologist is when the abuse is abuse against people they were already prejudiced against.

If anything, what upsets me more deeply is that someone who identifies herself as left-wing and a feminist is against trans women. I'd expect such a person to support the victims rather than the bullies, the minority rather than the majority, reason rather than prejudice, knowledge rather than ignorance, and accuracy rather than sloppiness. It is upsetting to see such a person siding with the bullies, slinging even more mud against trans women, proudly flaunting her prior ignorance of terms like "cis" and of how trans people prefer to be referred to.

Is that dress shop owner usually so frosty with you?
I would expect the same, Rosemary, and it is deeply upsetting to find such prejudice in a supposedly progressive context. A lovely piece from Deborah Orr in theGuardian today, however, which was a nice surprise...
I'd never encountered that dress shop owner before. I don't normally buy posh frocks!
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