In August someone on Twitter asserted that transgender women should not play rugby because they posed a threat to other, cisgender women, participants, citing a Tweet by a sports scientist by the name of Ross Tucker. I entered into a good faith discussion with him and unfortunately he refused to see an alternative perspective. This discussion led to me writing many more words on the subject of rugby than I ever thought I could ever write. The ensuing Twitter discussion even got a response from Ross Tucker himself.
Whilst I was disappointed that my Twitter ‘friend’ would not see an alternative perspective on the subject I decided to leave it alone. I had said what I had to say and that was sufficient for me.
Then a few weeks ago this same person retweeted a Twitter poll in which the original poster was asking whether people agreed that people should have to register their ‘true’/’genuine’ identity (and lodge appropriate identity documents) with social media service providers in order to have asocial media account. My Twitter ‘friend’ was very much in favour of this and used his usual abrasive and highly assertive style to indicate as much.
I found this very troubling. I pointed out that this was very problematic for transgender people and that their position of privilege was not shared by all social media participants. This certainly got their backs up and they challenged me. I explained that:
Many transgender people lacked official documentation that ‘matched’ their online identities.
Closeted people especially would be unwilling to expose themselves to possible outing.
Social media is an invaluable resource for marginalised and isolated people who are given access to like minded people, often for the first times in their lives.
Even relatively ‘out’ and confident transgender people (especially those living in less enlightened areas) may be very nervous of this as they may be exposed to conversion therapies, harrassment from authorities and indeed families.
The discussion flowed and when told that this was no more onerous than opening a bank account I was able to give some insight into the difficulties some people have with deadnames, honorifics, names on bank cards not matching their outward appearances etc.
I also pointed out the additional unintended consequences of this sort of action: that political activists, writers, journalists, artists etc in authoritarian states might end up being targeted and this would have negative effects on democracy and freedom of expression.
This type pf action would almost certainly result in excluding transgender people as well as other LGBT people, activists, artists etc from Twitter.
My ‘friend’ was extremely dismissive and came after me. I was told that he has done a great deal for disadvantaged people and that it was unfair of me to attack him like this, that he did not understand who I thought I was and that I was basically far too touchy. It was heavily implied that he believed that his previous activism on behalf of disadvantaged people gave him a free pass to be as insulting and dangerous towards transgender people as he liked.
I countered and then left the discussion.
The bottom line for me is that being a progressive in certain areas does not necessarily mean that one is a progressive in all areas. It is possible to be highly progressive n say the area of race and racial politics but still be homophobic. It is possible to be transgender and homophobic. Progressive politics may be highly correlated with being aware of the plight of the LGBT community, black communities, feminism and women’s issues, the need for workers’ rights and trades unions etc, but these are purely correlative, not causative relationships.
We all need to be constantly looking at ourselves, our values, our beliefs and especially our actions. Evaluate how we are impacting on others and what these all say about ourselves, especially in relation to others and even more especially marginalised communities. If someone calls us out, instead of reacting negatively, lets assess why that comment resonates with us. Are we truly as progressive as we think? Did that comment have ring of truth? If not why would that person have such a misconstrued opinion of ourselves? Above all we should all remember that none of us gets a free pass. We are all in this together and we all impact upon each other, for better or for worse. Having done a good turn yesterday is good and worthy of gratitude but it does not excuse our malicious actions today.
If someone walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, they may well be a duck. Similarly, if people keep on saying that they think you are a duck, you should look at your feet… They may just be webbed!