Oh dear. There's been a bit of a bust up on Twitter this week.
"That's not new", you'll say. And you'd be right.
But this one is particularly sad. And doubly so, because the one twitter storm everyone's talking about has been raging whilst another, rather pertinent, twitter event has gone relatively unremarked.
As the two are about the same group of people … and as the one informs the context of the other ... I wanted to reflect for a moment on the dissonance.
Two storms, one teacup
The current status of the two twitter themes can be summed up by these articles (bearing in mind that I've selected these as the latest accounts at the time of writing. They may not be the best accounts by tomorrow).
Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore leaves Twitter following transphobic row (Pink News 11-Jan-13)
The real trans scandal is not the failings of one doctor but cruelty by many (Guardian 10-Jan-13)
The common thread is that they both involve trans people … and angry trans people at that.
But what's so strange is that the first storm, in which the supporters of Suzanne Moore step forward to denounce trans people as intolerant bullies who can't take a joke about a stereotype, is able to spiral ever more ferociously without anyone apparently caring a toss about the virtual disregard for the second.
Consideration of the second issue may explain, to those who don't understand, why trans people might be on an especially hair trigger this week.
Maybe I'm just old fashioned
The way I've been brought up is with a dash of humility. I'm an Equalities specialist, but I try not to be arrogant about my knowledge of different groups and their needs.
The more I know, the more I realise how much I don't know. Worse still, I probably don't even know what I don't know.
Periodically I make mistakes and offend people. Quite often people are very angry when they complain. I can be taken aback and feel hurt when they come at me with guns blazing because I really didn't mean harm.
In the ideal I aspire to, I swallow the indignant and defensive reaction on my tongue and respond in an open way. I explain I didn't mean harm. I try to use language that invites explanation so I can learn. Then I try and apologise quickly. I fix the problem. We move on.
That last bit can be painful sometimes. I'm not an ego free zone. And, hell, I don't always pull it off in quite this model fashion. Catch me when I'm tired and pissed off and I may fall dreadfully short. I'm no saint. Complaints can be aggressively triggering too.
What I do know is that whenever I depart from the ideal path I'm describing I end up regretting it.
Sooner or later the apology needs to come. And some mending of fences. This experience is what motivates me to believe in not escalating things.
Apologise quickly. Learn. Repair. Move on.
This is why I sympathise with the way that another blogger, Zoe Stavri, expressed concern...
I wish the Guardian’s Suzanne Moore would stop digging (Pink News 11-Jan-13)
A little empathy wouldn't hurt
Moore's friends and various independent-minded thinkers are now out in their legions to debate what's occurred. This is an interesting example from Stella Duffy:
Head/Parapet (Stella Duffy, 11-Jan-13)
Stella is obviously trying hard. She agonises over whether twitter storms like the one experienced by Suzanne Moore have a chilling effect … dissuading nice people from wanting to write about transsexual folk, for fear of attack.
Maybe that's a reasonable enough fear if you're looking at all this from a distance with a look of bewildered incomprehension.
"Mention the word 'transsexual'? You'll get your head torn off and fed to the Twolves." (And that's not quoting what anyone may or may not have said. I'm trying to sum up the idea that writing about trans people should be toxic)
But unless I've been particularly dumb, I don't see much consideration of why trans people might be angry. People don't rise up and argue passionately without a reason.
OK, Stella notes that framing a humorous quip around Brazillian Transsexuals … a group that is regularly harassed by police and murdered on a depressingly regular basis … might be a tad insensitive. You might imagine the response if you made a flip association between slimming diets and the prisoners of Belsen. Jewish people might have a similar sense of humour failure. (And I apologise in advance if making that comparison offends as well. I understand how raw that is. How profoundly unsuitable a topic for co-option).
But that's the point. If we discuss other oppressed groups being used as joke fodder then the chances are that everyone in the room acknowledges the back story to why a flip remark may raise more hackles than its face value. If we joke about skin and bone survivors in a Nazi concentration camp we can understand why some Jews would be triggered. There is the whole Holocaust in their mind. And just imagine if nobody ever talked about the Holocaust … if the press only concentrated on jews regretting their faith? How much worse would the trigger be?
The elephant in the room
That's why I'm mystified by the way so many people are blind to the full context of why some trans people are so triggered by a joke about Brazilian Transsexuals.
It's not that they are Brazilian Transsexuals.
It's not just that the epidemic level of murder of Brazilian Transsexuals makes joking about them a matter of poor taste.
Maybe … it could be because there's a group of transsexual people out there who are experiencing real brutality in their own lives and are already pretty pissed off that most of the press couldn't care a toss.
Pink News, which has gleefully reported the offence taken by non-trans people over the Suzanne Moore farrago, has barely mentioned why the clinical abuse story is of importance … until belatedly inviting a trans person to write about the matter this evening.
The Guardian is seen by many trans people (rightly or wrongly) as prone to transphobia … a belief reinforced when it carries reports critical of one trans clinician whilst being blind to the clinical abuse of hundreds or thousands of other trans people. Again, the only balance in this latest controversy has come from trans writers.
I don't say whether it is fair or not for trans people to see the world this way. I'm too far from everyday discrimination myself to know for certain how I'd feel if I were being called an abomination.
I don't say that being abusive or making threats is ever an acceptable way to conduct an argument. Heavens, over the years I've had enough threats myself. It's not nice.
But I do have the perspective to understand why people might get that angry. Why they may lose it. Why cries of 'victim' by the people who've abused you may sound just a tad ironic.
What's happened in the last couple of days has been both a triumph and a tragedy.
It's a triumph that trans people have turned their anger at one injustice into a united expression of all the bad things that have happened to them at the hands of Doctors. It's a triumph because the sheer force of voices has made a new story which challenges an old narrative. People are shocked to hear how trans people are treated. They may even see the irony of how the balance in reporting of trans health matters is usually swung the other way.
The other event is a tragedy. Because it should never have been allowed to get out of hand as it did. And it got out of hand, I believe, because of a fundamental inability to grasp just why some trans people may be so triggered and to respond to that in a sensitive way.
I don't give some of the trans people involved a free pass to abuse. No matter how bad things are, there are limits to reasonable behaviour. When they are crossed, we end up with a mess like this.
You can't undo things like this with a wave of a wand. But I have a couple of modest proposals.
I would like to see more non-trans writers … Suzanne Moore and some of her very capable writing friends … engage with showing that they can learn more about why trans people are so apt to get angry. It's not pathological. It's really quite reasonable if you're in those shoes. The team at Trans Media Watch have offered to help.
A really good 'win' would be to see mainstream writers examining and writing about the claims of abuse expressed this week under the hash tag #TransDocFail.
Why wouldn't a journalist do that? It might not be the most important story at any given moment. However, we are discussing right now how hundreds of people were not listened to or believed when being abused by Jimmy Saville. People are wringing their hands.
If they've genuinely learned anything from letting that happen over the course of fifty years then there's a way to put that learning to effect. Over a thousand trans people have said this week that they've been abused … and nobody has wanted to listen. Am I missing something?
And as for Suzanne. How about committing to write about the world wide scandal of hundreds of trans people being murdered in unsolved crimes? How about examining why trans people who defend themselves end up in jail instead? How hard is that?
And wouldn't it be a real mark of healing if Suzanne were to read from the roll of the dead at the next Trans Day of Remembrance event in November?
She could read the latin american names.
After that, I would join in supporting her if anyone gave her lip. I would know she truly understands why trans people are sensitive. But then I don't think they would be anymore. They would know they had a genuine friend.
But, hey … what do I know?