Indiscriminate Niceness is Overrated*

The more I look back over the comments on this post, you know the one, the one I wrote about already, the more I think I reacted poorly. And, well, I’m sure I did, as all my reactions were emotional reactions, either a “ouch I’m hurt” reaction or a “I offended you, I’m bad, I’m sorry” reaction. Neither of which made me react in a way that was at all constructive.

Honestly I’m not sure how to be constructive in a situation like that. The people involved were obviously looking for something to be offended about rather than trying to understand my experiences. Maybe I should have ignored it all together, but it really really hurt me, so much so that I felt I had to respond in some way. If only I could get them to understand what I actually meant… but rationally I knew that nothing I said would change their minds, and so I went for the other route: apologize until they realize it was unintentional. Well, that didn’t do me any good either.

Something that helped me yesterday after this first started was a piece by Madeline H. Wyndzen a transsexual psychologist titled Why are Trassexuals so mean to each other? which applies not because I’m a transsexual (I think I’ve made that clear) but because the reaction that she’s talking about is actually pretty universal, and I think transsexual people react this way to someone who is outside gender lines as well.

This is my first interaction that I can think of where a post of mine offended someone enough for them to personally attack me. I’ve gotten personal attacks before, but never on my blog, never on the subject of my gender, and never due to me being offensive to someone else. I tend to be hypersensitive toward others, which is why something like this is such a blow to me when it happens because I tend to err on the side of caution. I’ve made mistakes before, sure, and I’ve misspoken, but never to the point of being so blatantly attacked.

Looking back, one big thing I would do differently is I would stand my ground more firmly. I wasn’t appropriating trans experience by using the same language. I wasn’t even close to that, they chose to interpret my words that way. By saying I have cissexual privilege somehow that makes it okay for them to ridicule me but not okay for me to use similar language or identify with a quote from someone who was not even considering transitioning when he wrote it? Would my gender issues be more valid if I transitioned? Probably in their eyes.

What does claiming to have a more difficult time being marginalized compared to other marginalized groups get us? Nothing. No, wait, it gets us squabbling within groups that should be supportive rather than the support that the people within the groups actually need.

I do find it ironic that the first attacking comment made to me focused on telling me that I failed at my gender. What trans person doesn’t hear that at some point in their life? The gender failure was partially intentional as every gender fails, all gender is drag, and no gender is perfect, which is something I enjoy playing up when possible.

I also find it ironic that I was told that the gender I feel on the inside isn’t real by a trans person. Let me say that again: a trans person told me that the gender I feel on the inside is not real. Um… does anyone else see the obvious flaw here?

This brings me back to Why are Trassexuals so mean to each other? by Madeline H. Wyndzen. Her big point is that it’s a defense mechanism, one quote which is particularly apt is: “a lot of us feel this need to put others down in order to feel better about ourselves. And many of us are hypersensitive to ‘criticism’ so we can often misread an innocuous remark as though it was saying something invalidating about us personally.” It’s easy to read something offensive into something when you’re looking for it to be offensive or if you are hypersensitive to anything that might possibly be offensive if taken the wrong way.

Another thing she said also rang true for this situation: “if anybody really bothered to challenge if I’m a “real girl” or a “real transsexual”, I would just go “whatever” and think they really need to get a grip and not waste so much of their time deciding what I ‘really’ am.” Basically, why do they even care that I’m using the same language? Why does it matter to them what I call myself or don’t call myself? Shouldn’t that only matter to me?

As Elizabeth pointed out in the comments of my last post, this issue wasn’t actually a misunderstanding and that probably the best thing to have done in the situation was not to engage them, especially since I knew it wouldn’t do any good.

Gabe has helped me come to the ideas in this post as well, mostly to make me realize how bad it was of me to give in like I did, essentially placating anything that they said to appease them rather than standing my ground. He was nice about it, probably nicer than he should have been.

I have a tendency to roll over and give someone anything they want if they are telling me I offended them. I will do just about anything to try to make them not hate me, as that is something that hurts me inside and out, it’s not rational, but it’s the way I work. Like I said above, I reacted in a “I offended you, I’m bad, I’m sorry” way which was not at all constructive.

Overall if I had to do it again there would be many differences, at least in theory. I’m not sure, should something like this happen again (and, let’s face it, it’s the internet and a touchy subject so it’s bound to happen again), I’m not sure I could actually disregard my automatic “coddle and appease until they don’t hate me” reaction, but maybe I’ll remember this situation and at very least wait to respond until I have something better to say, or just not respond at all.

*quote from House Season 4 Episode 11 “Frozen.” Used because I tend to be hypersensitive to the feelings of others, and often nice beyond the realm of necessity.

Technorati Tags: change, commUNITY, genders, identities, labels, terms, vulnerability

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7 Responses
  1. Amber says:

    Awesome. AWESOME. I’m so loving the attitude of this post and I am so, so glad you realized that you were in no way in the wrong by writing anything you did in that post. It actually makes me feel better about posting on TFG now because now someone else has gone through the same thing I did – only actually, yours was worse because they really got into the personal attacks, whereas the attack on me was a little more veiled by an air of “education” – and has emerged from it stronger and not reluctant to continue writing and expressing her feelings. Rock on.

    Amber’s last blog post: Priorities

  2. Sublimefemme says:

    Hi Scarlet,

    It’s good to hear you speaking from a more empowered place. You make a lot of fantastic and insightful comments in this post–your so-called “gender failure,” for example, and the irony of policing around transgender (being a “real” trans person). Riki Wilchins’ work is useful in thinking through these and related issues.

    To me, the main issue isn’t really about whether one should stand one’s ground or seek to appease (although I understand this is an important issue for you personally). For me it’s about netiquette and what’s appropriate on TFG. Frankly, if TFG doesn’t have a policy about how to address such matters I think it needs to develop one because attacks, snarkiness, etc compromise the supportive culture/community you have worked so hard to create. People need to respect difference, disagree respectfully, and criticize ideas, not people.

    As for the substance of the critique you rec’d (which is, of course, a separate matter than how it was delivered), I will try to post on my own blog about my sense of the political implications of the femme-as-transgender argument.


    PS And holy shit, my eyes are killing me–for those of us who aren’t 21 yrs old, the font in your comment box is super tiny!!

    Sublimefemme’s last blog post: Femme=Bottom (And Other Myths)

  3. Soph says:

    You know what? It was my intention to let you know that I was sorry that you were A) insulted by someone I know (as I think it’s immature and stupid and often misogynistic to make fun of a woman’s appearance/performance, not to mention distracting and irrelevant, and especially coming from trans women who are reduced to how “well” we perform gender each day by cis people) and B) that you felt singled-out for something that is epidemic among cis femmes and has been for years. But I have to say – jellybear’s comments were spot-on, and I’m not sorry that you were called out, especially since you and your “supportive” commenters have said so many bullshit cissexist things in response here without even TRYING to check yourself/yourselves.

    • Scarlet Lotus Sexgeek says:

      @Soph, I’m not sorry I was called out either. It has been a learning experience and has obviously made me think about things. I thought I was trying to check myself, perhaps I just don’t have all the information I need to do it successfully. I’ve been reading and thinking and trying to understand this situation and myself better since this started. I wish it hadn’t started the way it did with the personal attack, but that’s how it started and I can’t change that now. I’ve read over both yours and jellybear’s comments many times trying to understand them as best as possible. I didn’t really disagree except on very minor points. I’m trying to check myself, maybe I’m not doing it right, I’d happily take any suggestions on how I might do this better.

  4. Lisbeth says:

    I’m a trans female and a queer femme, and this whole situation is problematic for me.

    Perhaps it’s because I’m well past anything trans having much direct impact on my daily life, or perhaps it’s simply because my femme identity is very important to me, but I actually don’t mind cis sexual femmes using phrases like FtF (female to femme). For one thing, I take it for granted that most people will recognize that “male to female” is on an entire different level, Also, I’m just not that fond of MtF anyway — I’d rather people didn’t label me with a term involving the word “male”, so I think femmes are welcome to not just borrow the Y to X construction, but to own it. Finally, I really do think that (on some levels) femme and butch are gender identities, not just gender roles (and certainly not just gender expression — I’m not even all that exceptionally feminine in daily gender expression, but even in a t-shirt and jeans, I’m still femme).

    So anyway, I was willing to let you take some liberties, and I didn’t personally react negatively to your initial blog post. I’m all for people experimenting with gender performance or exploring their gender identity,

    Also, the initial responder was so offensive in how they talked to you that I thought they might be someone mocking trans people themselves (especially given the name, which most transitioners find offensive). In any case, at best they were a jerk, and more likely they were a troll, so my initial impulse when belatedly reading the blog entry that started this was to post in your defense.

    Then, however, less inflammatory voices posted comments asking you examine issues like appropriation, and while fluctuating in response, you eventually became very defensive and dismissive of any complaints from trans folk. That’s not so okay, from my perspective. The way this blog entry (and many of the comments to your various blog entries on this subject) reject trans voices in favor of cis sexual voices determining what we are allowed to take offense at is not okay. Your choosing instead to psychoanalyse your trans critics is problematic at best. Horizontal violence between oppressed minorities is quite common (and not just a trans phenomenon at all), but that doesn’t mean that all criticism from trans voices can be safely dismissed as irrational.

    Of *course* you were appropriating trans experiences to some extent. The whole “woman trapped in a man’s body” thing, for instance. I think the whole concept is silly (i’ve had trans person after trans person agree with me that this phrase does not accurately convey what our gender dysphoria feels like). So I personally make fun of the phrase, telling people (for instance) that I was a redhead trapped in a brunette body, but then I got a box of hair color and transitioned. But I’m *entitled* to make fun of an overly melodramatic description of trans feelings and make light of transition, because I’m trans and I transitioned. Anyone else should know that phrase is totally linked to trans experiences, so anyone cis sexual using phrases like “man trapped in a woman’s body” should realize that they are treading on sensitive ground. They have essentially appropriated that phrase, and they run the risk of trans folk objecting.

    That you didn’t know that Pat was trans when you quoted him doesn’t really negate any of that, because there were only two possibilities. Either Pat was trans but still trying his best to cope, in which case you are appropriating trans experience (the actual answer), or Pat was not trans, and was himself appropriating trans experience (in which case quoting him is still not cool). Actually, since you can be trans and still decide not to transition (for various reasons), there really was only one choice. Either way, the phrase in question was coined to describe trans experiences (no matter how poorly it does the job).

    I can easily see how “I’m a female-bodied person who is a woman trapped in a man’s body, or perhaps a starfish” could be interpreted as making light of trans experiences, or could be otherwise triggering to other trans women. I’m not really fond of the statement myself. If I’d used that line in a trans space, and someone objected, I’d apologize and remove it. I’d expect no less of an ally.

    • Scarlet Lotus Sexgeek says:

      @Lisbeth, Thank you so very much for this comment. I think you described the issue in a way that has helped me understand it the most and that has made me realize my fault more than any other. Unfortunately, a lot of my responses come back to my intent. How much does intent really factor in to situations like this? I’m honestly asking as I have no idea at this point.

      The way this blog entry (and many of the comments to your various blog entries on this subject) reject trans voices in favor of cis sexual voices determining what we are allowed to take offense at is not okay.
      You’re very right, and a big part of these posts has been to react against my initial reacting, in order to do that I swung in the other direction before finding the middle. Point being: you’re right. I shouldn’t have been trying to say what should and shouldn’t be okay, but I was working through the arguments and trying to figure out where I had gone wrong. You made that more clear to me than anyone else has, and maybe that’s because I took a few days to get away from the situation before reading your comment (which is likely, as I’m far less emotional about this entire situation now, though it does still hurt). It comes down to intention again, all I’ve been trying to do with any of these posts is work through my own thoughts and emotions, but I seem to be constantly doing or saying the wrong thing. I wasn’t *trying* to dismiss the complaints or determine what is offensive or not, but I do realize now that’s what I did. I was feeling attacked, and that’s no excuse but that’s the reason behind a lot of it, I think.

      Horizontal violence between oppressed minorities is quite common (and not just a trans phenomenon at all), but that doesn’t mean that all criticism from trans voices can be safely dismissed as irrational.
      I didn’t mean to imply that it was just a trans phenomenon (blah blah, intent), I know it’s common throughout marginalized groups, my intention in bringing in the ideas from Madeline H. Wyndzen was to explain how I was processing it and working through the situation myself and not to say that all transsexuals are irrational. My background is in psychology, so when I found the article, even though it is a phenomenon I’ve been introduced to, it helped the idea click in my brain. The article actually makes clear that even though the reaction may be negative there still is an underlying issue that needs to be taken into consideration, though I realize I didn’t stress that as much as I meant to.

      “If I’d used that line in a trans space, and someone objected, I’d apologize and remove it. I’d expect no less of an ally.”
      I’ve been debating this for a while, as I wasn’t sure if taking away the quote completely would be like trying to deny the situation happened. Would it be best to delete it completely, to cross it out with an edited note, or something else I haven’t come up with? I just wasn’t sure and, honestly, am not sure. It seemed like cheating or something to just go in and delete it, as if I was trying to pretend it didn’t happen. Maybe that’s my own paranoia, because that’s not my intention at all. I will, though, go take it out of the post with a note.

      • Lisbeth says:

        @Scarlet Lotus Sexgeek, Don’t beat yourself up too much over this (which I suspect you already have). You expressed how you felt as best you could (which I found very interesting, btw). You had no ill intent. Where you went astray, in my opinion, is not realizing that you don’t have to have ill intent to be culturally insensitive or to appropriate phrases (and this is a common misconception).

        I would not have reacted well to the initial criticism you received either. Few people would (which is why coming in with all guns blazing is not a good idea if you actually want to inform or persuade people).

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