The difference between “die cis scum” and “die trans scum” is one side has managed to make it happen.
– Nicholas Kiddle
I’ve noticed lately that Asher’s “Die Cis Scum” post, although it was originally posted way back on Transgender Day Of Remembrance in November, has over the past couple weeks suddenly developed an intense amount of heat. It is is being widely and intensely discussed, with a great deal of thought being put into it, from a variety of positions, perspectives and voices.
This is lovely. This is perfect. People are talking, and thinking, about trans violence, the fear, helplessness and anger it generates, the form that trans-advocacy should take, how we ought empower ourselves, what it means (potentially negatively) to reclaim violence as a means of asserting our autonomy and empowerment, how context modifies what violence or threats thereof mean, and all kinds of other super-duper brainy and important things.
It’s beautiful. This could not, or at least would not, have happened a couple years ago. But as Patience Newbury said to me the other night, we’ve recently “woken up”. Over the past year or so, the trans community has stirred to life. We are awake. We are angry. We are now making our voices known. We’re organizing and acting and demanding our rights. It’s an amazing, exciting and at times a bit scary time to be a trans person. And it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of this.
Seeing this conversation developing around “Die Cis Scum”, I’ve suddenly felt like I didn’t give the issue its due consideration when it first popped up on my blog. I had only referenced Die Cis Scum tangentially, by linking Lisa Millibanks list of things trans people are expected to do in return for cis people not hating us, and a conversation simmered in the comment threads, but I didn’t tackle it head on.
Perhaps I was a bit scared to. While I was prepared to adamantly defend Asher’s right to have made the post, and feel it was an extremely important post to make, I wasn’t sure I felt comfortable putting myself on the line by making a definitive statement of my own. And perhaps also I hadn’t had time to really collect my thoughts.
But I’d feel like a bit of a wimp if I let this entire discourse pass me by without at least throwing in at least a little something. Some small contribution.
After all, like I said, I deeply enjoy being a part of this community and movement, at this particularly crucial moment in our history.
A great deal has been said about the idea of the context to Asher’s post. A threat expressed by a minority in a context of constant risk of violence, effectively rendering it a conceptual act of self-defense, has markedly different ethical, social and political implications than a threat expressed by a powerful and privileged majority with the full capacity to act upon it towards a vulnerable minority (especially when such threats have indeed been carried out), and even stands in stark contrast to a threat expressed between peers on a relatively level playing field. I don’t have much to add to this dimension of the conversation, thoroughly explored as it has been, but feel it’s necessary to include to pre-emptively deal with suggestions that “it’s the same as when cis people threaten to kill trans people!”.
It would indeed be hypocritically selective, and discriminatory, to say an action undertaken by one group is unethical while the same action undertaken by another is completely fine- but in this circumstance, as is almost always the case when looking at language and symbolic gestures, context plays a significant enough role to render it a different action. It’s not “cis people making threats is bad, trans people making threats is good”, and therefore basing the moral judgment on the group in question. It’s saying “actionable threats against the vulnerable are bad, symbolic threats against an intimidating, oppressive force are not”. It’s basing the moral judgment on what is actually happening.
But what I’d perhaps rather comment on here is the emotional and symbolic weight of the threat. What it means for us, and from where it’s coming, and what the consequences are.
As mentioned, trans people, particularly trans women, particularly particularly trans women of colour, particularly particularly particularly trans women of colour in economically depressed communities, face a constant and inescapable threat of real, physical violence. Trans women of colour, in fact, are statistically more likely be victims of murder or attempted murder than any other demographic. Trans women in general face similarly escalated risk even at that level of eased demographic specificity, far more likely to be be the victim of a hate crime than any other comparably broad group, such as gay men, trans men, people of colour, etc. Risk is compounded along all kinds of intersecting axes- race (as noted), involvement in the sex trade, poverty, addiction, location, etc.
Being trans, and being a trans woman specifically, means living with awareness that you may be the next point in the statistics, the next tally mark, the next name to be added to the TDoR website. It means living with risk, with violence, with fear. Every single person you meet could end up being your murderer. The psychological implications are profound. In every trans woman’s eyes you’ll read alongside the sadness, depth and survivor’s strength an underlying hesitation and guardedness- hurt, yes, but resignation to being hurt again. And emotional preparation for the really, really bad day that lies perpetually around the corner. Sometimes we feel helpless. Often we feel scared. Usually we feel cautious.
And sometimes we feel angry.
There are lots of ways of coping, and in order to survive we all need to negotiate our own. Whatever works for us, individually. I learned very early in transition how stupid it is to judge whatever decisions a trans person has made in order to manage and get by. We have to deal with A LOT OF SHIT. Not everyone is going to be able to cope with it the same way, or do so in a nice, happy, nice-nice, smiley-smile way. Some of is will find our strength in remembering our good fortune, focusing on those aspects of our lives that are actually rather nice. Some of us is will cut out whatever aspects of our lives, or whomever within them, are causing us pain. Some of us will make compromises to our own transitions so we can continue to find strength and comfort through our loved ones, our love of them, and making things as easy on them as we can. Some of us draw strength by investing ourselves in helping others through transition, some of us by becoming activists and campaigning on behalf of our community as a whole, some of us by withdrawing from the community and simply doing our best to live our lives the way we would have if we hadn’t been burdened with this. Every single one of those approaches, and of the uncountable others someone may take, is valid, and it isn’t anyone’s place to condemn the means they find to survive. To do so is to add oneself to the oppression they are trying to cope with.
Sometimes, we cope through anger. Through screaming about how incredibly fucked up and wrong it is that we are treated the way we are. That we have to be scared, that we are constantly invalidated, belittled, ridiculed. That our basic human rights are not respected. That we’re treated as a joke. That we have to live at the bottom of the social ladder. That there even is such a social ladder. That we can’t go through a single day without some kind of reminder of just how fucked-up and hard it is to be trans. That all you cisholes carry on with your privilege and entitlement, complacent to our oppression, whistling a happy tune as you tie the shoelaces of the boot you’ve got on our necks.
And given that threat of violence? That fear we have to live with? Yeah, sometimes that is the shape our anger is going to take. Sometimes we want you to feel the way you all, collectively, have made us feel.
When I see a “Die Cis Scum” tattoo or jacket, I don’t see an act of violence. I see a “back off, motherfucker”. I see “I am not going to let you fuck with me”. I see “I am prepared to assert and defend myself”. I see a defense against violence, discrimination, ridicule and harassment. I see a rattlesnake shaking its tail, a cat arching its back, a dog growling (they’ll only bite if you don’t take the hint). And I see someone coping with what ze has to face, in a very, very effective way.
And you know the thing about anger? Unlike sadness, fear, resignation, or pragmatism, it is empowering. It makes us feel strong. It makes us feel capable of determining our own lives, our own rights, even in a world that has conspired to make us vulnerable and wholly dependent on the mercies of those who would condescend to tolerate us. It allows us to reframe things such that we’re not asking for our rights, we’re demanding them. We’re not suggesting you reframe your understanding of gender to accommodate us, and treat our identities with respect, we’re telling you to. It lets us feel less helpless. It lets us feel like we don’t have to wait for the rest of the world to decide we’re worthy of equality and respect. It lets us feel like we don’t have to wait for you to “get around” to trans rights. It lets us frame things for ourselves. It lets us say that NOW, this is the time, this is when this happens. We’re not going to wait anymore, we’re not going to be quiet anymore, we’re not going to hope and pray for your mercies. We’re not going to wait for you to give us our rights, we’re going to take them.
That is really fucking important. Because as history has taught us repeatedly, power does not simply decide to share. It holds on to its position until it absolutely MUST adapt. It won’t do anything until it has to. If we build our movement on gently suggesting that trans rights are kinda sorta something we’d like people to someday help us out with, if it’s not too inconvenient, nothing will ever happen. It’s only in letting you know that we’re angry, and only in being willing to shift the balance of fear in the other direction, that we can ensure change and progress.
It is not necessary to have an uprising in order for power to concede its position. But it at least needs to be scared of one.
“Die Cis Scum” has allowed this. It’s re-framed and re-contextualized the trans rights movement. It’s shifted our rights from being something we’re politely waiting for to being something we’re fighting for.
It has us talking. It has us thinking. It has us angry. It has us empowered. It has us no longer waiting, but ready to act.
It has us awake.