Thursday 26 June 2014

Laurie Penny and the ‘TTP’.

Briefly: ‘TTP’ refers to the ‘Transgender Tipping Point’, posited in a cover story about Laverne Cox in the US Time magazine, which led to various (worthless) responses from various people, which feminist journalist Laurie Penny addresses (indirectly) in a blogpost for the New Statesman.

There is an ingrained distrust in the trans community of "experts", arising from long and problematic experience. Of non-trans people holding forth about trans matters. Explaining, "discussing", pathologizing, dismissing... So, whenever someone speaks or writes about trans, the first thing I want to know is not the basis of their "objective expertise" but where they're coming from trans-wise, what gives their words any validity. Laurie Penny answers this towards the end of her piece:

“Explaining why this is so significant is hard for me, because I’m about as close as you can get to the trans rights movement without being trans yourself. I’ve been associated with trans activism for years, and while I don’t know what it’s like to be harassed, threatened or abandoned for being transsexual, most of my close friends do.”

Okay, fair enough. Not trans, but standing with. An ally, being supportive. Using her media platform to rally her (presumably) mostly non-trans audience. To say "I stand over here". That's great. Thanks :)

What Laurie isn't doing (in my opinion) is setting herself up as an expert. She isn't offering a definitive account of the varied and multifaceted nature of trans realities. Indeed, she flounders a bit here: “If gender identity is fluid - if anyone can change their gender identity, decide to live as a man, a woman, or something else entirely, as it suits them” – taken at face value, that doesn't get very close for me at all. But I'd read it as her trying to say that gender and sex are complicated; that they don't constitute a discrete and correlating binary; that gender (as well as being an oppressive system) is personal; that... gender is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly gendery-wendery... stuff. Which her continuing sentence clarifies: “- then we have to question every assumption about gender and sex role we've had drummed into us”. Okay, right, fine. In other words: “Don't assume you already know all about sex and gender. You don't. Shut up and listen.”

So what is her piece actually about? I think, this:

It's a riposte to recent tedious drivel (in the same outlet and elsewhere). It's a loyal standing by friends. It's a demand for trans rights as simple social justice. It's a question: which side are you on? It's a declaration: change is coming, change is already here. As Bob Dylan sang: “Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand. For the times they are a-changin’.”

“The time is coming when everyone who believes in equality and social justice must decide where they stand on the issue of trans rights - whether that be the right to equal opportunities at work, or simply the right to walk down the street dressed in a way that makes you comfortable. Those are rights that the feminist and gay liberation movements have fought for for generations, and those who have made gains have a responsibility to stand up for those who have yet to be accepted. If we believe in social justice, we must support the trans community as it makes its way proudly into the mainstream.”

For which Laurie has had people in the community attacking her on Twitter.


As Roz Kaveney tweeted: “Dear my community, I think you're being wrong-headed. Everyone is putting more energy into bashing an ally than in defending her from attack”. Or more tersely: “Yep. Here's an ally. Heave a brick.”

To which I'd just add: We can't expect people to get everything right. Hell, we don't even agree with each other half the time. But when someone – like Laurie – is adding a friendly, supportive voice to our own struggles, can we please not try to make them wish they hadn't?!