How to Tackle Transphobic ‘Humour’?

So someone who I generally like and respect retweeted a ‘funny’ meme the other day that ‘triggered’ me. It was something that might have been ‘funny’ to someone not faced with occasional societal hostility based purely on who they are, but to those of us who experience that random, unpredictable, unwarranted and often unexpected hostility it was hurtful, because its underlying premise was to make fun of us through thinly veiled allusions. Allusions that cloaked the offender in a veneer of ‘plausible deniability’ but that were clearly there. It was clearly a ‘dog whistle’.

The meme in question was poking fun at transgender sports people who it alleged gained an unfair advantage by competing against cisgender women. A subject that is hotly debated and whose merits are not as clear as it may at first seem. The meme intimated that a motorbike that ‘identified’ as a bicycle would win all the bicycle races it entered (or something to that effect).

I initially said nothing because I was hurt by the post and I did not want to react ‘in the moment’ and wanted to be sure I was not ‘over reacting’ or being ‘sensitive’. I have decided to say something because it needs to be said.

Often some of the people who self-identify as allies to the LGBT+ community (and the same applies to issues like racism and sexism) get it wrong. Not through malice but by being blinded by their own privilege, by not seeing what is obvious to those of us who experience prejudice. What seems harmlessly ‘funny’ to you may in fact be playing on deep seated prejudices and attempting to further entrench prejudice and discrimination against others by not so subtle ridicule of the ‘other’ by means of metaphorical language.

Sometime this is crude like people saying ‘I identify as an attack helicopter’, or a celebrity saying he now identifies as a penguin and using pictures of a penguin in his social media. This is overt and easily dealt with. It isn’t funny and it is patently ridiculous and thus easily defeated.

The weaponisation of humour, however, is slightly harder to combat. If you ‘can’t take a joke’ you are obviously overly sensitive or simply not secure in yourself. On the other hand when you let it slide you allow a poison to seep into the discourse that is used to delegitimise who we are. It undermines our right to exist.

But how do effectively challenge this? How do we avoid being accused of being humourless and overly sensitive and still challenge these attacks on us?

I am not sure that I have any, let alone THE answer.

But I will ask everyone, before you hit ‘share’ or ‘retweet’ please ask yourself who is the target of this ‘joke’? Is it as ‘innocent’ as it may appear to you at first glance? How would you feel if you were the intended target of the punchline? And ultimately, I suppose, is this actually, objectively, ‘funny’ or is it just a cheap shot at another marginalised community too afraid to speak up for fear of losing what little acceptance, respect, friendship and legitimacy we have already achieved?

Sometimes we (transgender people) are perhaps ‘too sensitive’ and sometimes we do ‘overreact’ but when, in the course of your daily activities you are wondering where the next attack (physical or emotional) is going to come from, I am sure you might see that sometimes we deserve a little ‘slack’ in this regard.

I ask you all, especially those who consider themselves ‘allies’ or even just ‘not-phobic’ please consider more carefully what you post. Are you perhaps (mistakenly or inadvertently) promoting an agenda that you do not in fact (rationally) share in exchange for a few chuckles at someone else’s expense?

I don’t think we can reasonably ask for less.
Perhaps we should demand more?

About the post

abuse, gender, humour, transgender


Add yours →

  1. If it is someone you know and like maybe let them know how hurtful it can be and that the line of reasoning in the joke is a favorite of people trying to deny other people the right to exist. I don’t think you are is pretty blatantly transphobic. I have cut off contact with some family members over similar memes. (I did not follow the advice I just gave you.I didn’t talk to them..we weren’t that close and they weren’t the type of person who would care)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I saw the meme a day or so after you mentioned it, and yep, definitely a dog whistle. I don’t think people using such memes (or “jokes”) realise how they can invalidate others.

    Liked by 1 person

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