Six Dead Women, One Dead Trans Person

In the aftermath of the Elliot Rodger murder spree in Isla Vista, California, many people wanted to attribute his violence to mental illness. In fact, we had no evidence1 that Rodger had any mental illness known to cause violent behavior, much less that a specific illness did cause that behavior in Rodger’s particular case. On the contrary, we had plenty of evidence that Rodger’s violence was motivated in significant parts by racism and sexism, sexism directed outward at others and racism internalized, contributing, by turns, to an entitlement he articulated to be as a result of being half white and feelings that his failures were due in part to being the child of one Asian-American parent.

We know this because he ranted about it. He ranted about race, he ranted about gender, he ranted about sexual interactions, and he ranted about heterosexual norms and expectations. And he did so in both written form and a video created not long before his murders and death. His words alone are sufficient evidence to believe that sexism and racism played very significant contributing roles in causing his violent behavior. But some people, attempting to stamp down the crazy-blaming arguments that Rodger must have been mentally ill and that this mental illness must have caused his murders, cited things that weren’t actually true. In one particular case, cm’s changeable monicker moved – nobly! – to correct one particular mistake (made by ck):

 ck @#596:

[…] the six dead women in this story did absolutely nothing wrong, and realistically couldn’t have done anything that would’ve deserved this. Maybe I’m missing something, but I think that the only thing we can do for these women now is to try to find some way to prevent this from happening again.

I can’t let this pass without noting that four of the ‘six dead women’ were, in fact, men.
(This lack of attention to, you know, facts drives me up the wall. I’m sorry, but there it is.)

This (however well intentioned, and of course I think it was well intentioned), contributed to anger I had already been feeling over the relentless certainty that cis* people seem to feel every time there’s one of these mass murders that we can be sure of the genders of the persons involved. In fact, we can’t. The media will inevitably erase trans* victims in the future as they have for as long as media have existed in the past. I was more than merely frustrated with this cissexist certainty that no one shot by a mass murderer could possibly be trans and that everyone killed must have a straightforward and easily understandable relationship to society’s gender categories that will inevitably be accurately and completely reflected in their government-issued IDs (a certainty that I in no way mean to imply was merely cm’s, no it also manifested in ck’s and nearly every other person writing about Isla Vista at the time). And so in response I wrote:

Yes. Facts. It’s a fact that four of the ‘six dead women’ were reportedly men.

And, again, I’m not pissed off at cm’s changeable monicker so much as I’m pissed off at the relentless confidence that we just fucking know no trannies were killed. It’s just so easy to be sure that the victims, no matter how many, will all belong to one or at most two genders. Couldn’t possibly be any other way.

I’m fucking tired of it. Mostly I’m just fucking tired of people not seeing that **you can’t end misogyny without substantially taking on and eroding trans* oppression**.

How, precisely, will misogyny end if there are still only 2 permitted genders?

How will you police the boundary of woman without sneering at women who don’t know their place?

What will you do when no woman is murdered unless and until she violates some gender taboo?

Be content? Really?

Fuck every single comment in any of those Isla Vista threads that pretended for half a second that we “know” the genders of the victims – any or all. No matter what help they did or didn’t provide on this or that sub-issue, every single comment that took that shit for granted is part of the fucking problem.

If you can’t give a shit about the trannies, at least give a shit about the excuses trans* hatred gives to murderers of cis women.

How’s that for a feminist manifesta?

So, what makes me bring this up now? Because my magical powers of prophecy have been validated, again. In the Dayton mass shooting the killer was said to have killed his sister. This was widely, widely reported. But it turns out that he didn’t. Instead he killed his trans sibling who was not a sister, and was very probably a brother given his preference for masculine pronouns. And yet the media reported otherwise anyway, erasing the true nature of Dayton’s loss. Splinter News was responsible for first reporting this:

Accounts from friends and social media profiles belonging to a victim in last weekend’s shooting in Dayton, OH, whose name was previously reported as [X X], indicate that [X] was a transgender man who went by Jordan Cofer and used he/him pronouns.

It’s entirely understandable that the reporting was wrong. Cofer’s legal name was given out by police, and the police gendered Cofer in a manner congruent with Cofer’s legal sex as recorded on government ID. Moreover, Cofer had feared mistreatment by family and discrimination at school, and thus was mostly closeted in relation to those groups of people, people that reporters would seek out first for information on a shooting victim. But the fact that this is understandable doesn’t undercut my point. The fact that it’s easy to see how mass media would get this shit wrong, especially in the reporting frenzies that are guaranteed after a mass shooting, means that we should be more skeptical of media reported genders (and, frankly, races).

In this case, (at least according to Splinter) an account linked to Cofer tweeted his brother, his murderer, hours before the shooting rampage and Cofer’s death. This means that his murderous brother had at least some info related to his masculine identity before the killing. We don’t know, and Splinter specifically does not suggest that we have, enough information to say that this even might plausibly have been a hate crime, much less that Cofer’s murderer was definitely motivated by anti-trans* bias. But we do know that Cofer was scared of the reactions his family might have to his masculine identity, name, and expression. Therefore, when we who know that this type of protective response to cissexist family (a closeting, a closing off of information about one’s trans* identity and experience) is common, and when we know records kept by the government are done so in a manner that invisibilizes trans* experience, and, finally, when we know that media will rely on these two sources of information about gender first and foremost, we can only conclude that accepting media accounts of victims’ genders uncritically inevitably leads to permitting cissexism to erase the lives a murderer has ended.

As Splinter says:

People can debate about whether the fact of his gender identity is newsworthy. What is clear, though, is that his friends are free to remember him as they knew him.

The trans community also has a right to account for its dead. [emphasis mine]

Although we don’t know that Cofer was murdered because he was trans*, we do know that some trans* people are. Continuing to treat as reliable media reporting of the genders of persons who cannot speak for themselves means that some murderers will gain accomplices in both the media and its consumers – that means you – in accomplishing the ultimate goal of violent cissexism: the erasure of trans* existence. When a murderer kills a trans* person and the media reports that trans* person’s gender as if it were certain and simple and cis, the media does not merely allow this act of violent erasure. No, the media in reporting erroneous gender actively completes the violence to a trans* life begun by that murderer.

Unless you own a newspaper or TV station or other outlet, you can’t control whether the media you consume participates in violent anti-trans* hatred in this way. But you can actively resist the cissexist certainty that no victim could possibly be trans*, that we must assume cisgender even in the face of certain knowledge that the media can make gender errors and does make gender errors all the time.

Don’t participate in the erasure of Jordan Cofer. Don’t participate in media cissexism. Don’t make the violent erasure of trans* lives any easier than it already is.

 


1: At the time – remember we’re speaking about what happened “in the aftermath”. I also know of no information now, but I haven’t done research on Elliot Rodger to see if anything has changed since then… it’s really not relevant to the point I’m making.

 

So… Slavery Did Not Exist?

There’s this thing that’s been in the news lately. It’s actually quite an interesting bit of awful, and exactly the kind of thing we would normally discuss on FtB: an educator who abhors asserting facts because some people refuse to admit the truth of those facts. Now, the right wing loves to claim that this is a common left wing practice, routinely employed to hide facts supportive of conservative opinions, religions, or ideologies. (For our purposes in this post, we’ll follow the Fox News formula and accept arguendo that anyone working in the public schools is a “lefty”.) I don’t particularly see that, and more telling still, the examples that Fox News blowhards tend to cite don’t actually show that when one returns to original sources. If this really were happening all the time, one would think that the conservatives opposing the practice could come up with at least one good example. In these cases, then, the absence of evidence is waggling its eyebrows suggestively and mouthing, “Hey! Look over there!”

But that doesn’t mean that ignoring fact in favor of opinion or “belief” is something of which we on the left are  never guilty. Just recently, the news has gotten hold of a story about a principal in Boca Raton, Florida, where many of the large contributors to local taxes are Jewish. What was the story you ask, as if you didn’t both already know?

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Hell is Hope Hicks

As you may already be aware, the NY Times just published an Maggie Haberman essay on Hope Hicks’ most recent dilemma: should she break the law (again) or should she obey the requirements of a congressional subpoena?

The NY Times and Haberman advertised the article on twitter this way:

Now, some took issue with the glamour photo shoot that the Times commissioned for this piece. To the extent that criticism has any validity, it’s not about merely displaying a photo of Hope Hicks, it’s about the fact that they clearly spent significant resources in order to craft an artificial image that comports with Haberman’s editorial depiction of this former Trump aide (and those critiques that mentioned the photo without including this more detailed objection run the risk of communicating an anti-feminist message that what is important in media coverage of women is the photo shot editors choose to run). The lavishing of resources emphasizes the PR function of this effort; it is, in short, not a news story.

And yet, this wasn’t featured in the Times’ lifestyle section. It was featured in “Politics” which, when it is not overt opinion (which should be confined to the OP/ED pages anyway), is supposed to be news. So what is the news story here?

That leads us to the other criticism that many have already made: choosing to comply or not comply with a legal order is not an existential question any more than choosing to print up a few million dollars’ worth of counterfeit bills. Both lawyers and philosophers (mainly ethicists) took issue with this ridiculous and inaccurate description, so it’s not surprise that I, too, found it risible. The philosophers mainly focussed on the misuse of “existential questions” in a way that Sartre would have found condemnably ignorant even if it did tend to validate his assertion, “Hell is other people.” The lawyers had a different take, not so much emphasizing the “existential” part, but focussing rather more on the “question” part. One lawyer, Max Kennerly (@MaxKennerly), put it this way:

Most existential questions have no clear answer. What is my purpose in life? What happens after I die? Is there a higher power guiding my destiny? Does my dog have a soul?

Other “existential questions,” however, are answered by 2 U.S.C. §§ 192 & 194. Compliance is mandatory.

Yet, despite my laughter when I read that and my sympathy to those who would call out the Times for bad philosophy and bad law, my most significant problem with this story and the promotional tweet is neither of those. Instead, read this tweet from Sam Wang @SamWangPhd:

“Should a federal employee obey a lawful order, or stay loyal to an individual? Here at @nytpolitics, we can’t say. It’s just all a partisan game! We’re not going to make a value judgment! We have great portrait photographers though.”

The NY Times isn’t doing something new in this story. They are treating compliance with the law as entirely optional for the rich and well connected even as other stories, say, stories about a famous woman who went to jail for defying a subpoena, don’t include the same PR efforts or gosh, who can say whether it’s fair that someone obey a subpoena support for lawlessness as the Hope Hicks profile.

The Times is doing what the times always does: it’s opposing accountability for the rich and powerful who have the most motive and opportunity to destroy US democracy, while insisting on strict accountability for those who break the law in a principled stand on behalf of what they believe to be a necessary resistance to the subversion or destruction of democracy. Thoreau-like, I can believe that Manning subscribes to the maxim

“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

But the proper response for those of us on the outside is not to scream, “Yeah, lock her up!” at democracy’s defenders and, “Let’s all sympathize with the lawless,” as they attack that democracy. Believing that we have reached the point where the true place for a just trans person is in prison is not to believe we have accomplished something wonderful that must be perpetuated.

The anti-democratic limits on acceptable discourse accepted and propounded by the Times must be opposed. The Times and Haberman and her editors are not worthless and thus irrelevant. The magnitude of this mess is only appreciated by accepting that the Times has an impact on the policies and practices of justice (and other things) and have great value to those that benefit from advancing the Times’ skewed view of proper accountability. Ignoring the Times is not a principled and logical and effective way to deal with their anti-democratic trolling. Instead, the Times must be countered each and every time they embrace the ideology of an accountability-free elite. We must never forget that the Times isn’t portraying the Trump administration as wise and sympathetic philosophers because they are working honestly or even diligently to divine the best possible response to problems of Gordian convolution and unsolvability. The upper ranks of the Times (including Haberman and her editors) are portraying the Trump administration as wise and sympathetic philosophers because they, too, believe themselves better off in a world without accountability for the US elite.

This ideology must be opposed wherever it presents itself.

 


Although I originally titled this “Hell is Hope Hicks” I later thought that perhaps it would be better titled, “Hell is the New York Times”. Ultimately I decided not to change it, though there are certainly reasonable critiques of making Hicks the focus of the title when the main critique is not of Hicks’ disdain for the law (which exists and is critiqued in passing), but instead the NY Times advocacy of disdain for the law – or at least advocacy for the idea that we must consider disdain for the law to be a reasonable position which might be reasonably held by reasonable people in a democracy.

Follow up to the Punisher cops: Logo Lawyer is Troubled

And FREEZE PEACH activists, for that matter.

One of the things that struck me the hardest in that story, at least after excluding the revelation that cops had actually placed punisher logos on their patrol cars anywhere, ever, much less huge logos covering nearly the entirely of the hoods, was the DeepThoughtsing™ of batshit dingleberry Roy Gutterman, head of the Syracuse Tully Center for Free Speech.

What did this “expert on communications law and the First Amendment” have to say that could help us appreciate precisely what had happened in Catlettsburg, Kentucky?

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Sometimes you just have to be understanding of a little rape.

In Madison, Wisconsin two students confronted another in a bathroom after the regular school day had ended on April 10th. The first two raped the third. Not to fear, however, the school district’s head of safety and security is here to put it all in perspective:

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Your Moment of Zenlike

Over on a post of PZ’s, zenlike has a particularly insightful comment. The OP is criticizing some bullshit commentary on Fox News about how trans folk are destroying the entire species of Homo sapiens:

We’re not talking about people who want to simply do a bit of reform here and there, add a new category. They want, they must, in fact, destroy whatever is in order to replace it with what they think should be.

[T]he trans people have taken it one step further because by abandoning gender altogether, not simply re-writing it, they’re basically trying to use social engineering to create a new species.

[presented out of order, because I think it’s easier to follow the logic that way – cd]

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The Best Thing Yet Written About Captain Marvel

SyFy has a brilliant piece about the feminism in Captain Marvel and how her antagonists’ tactics recapitulate anti-feminist tropes. What makes Captain Marvel bad? She’s too emotional:

Carol, like so many women, is told repeatedly throughout the film that she must “fight fair.” And “fair,” in the case of the men she encounters both human and alien, means “void of emotion.” … [W]e’re led to believe that detachment is necessary for any Kree warrior. … Nobility, honor, these are the things that matter most. That might be true, but it’s also a guise for a more sinister reality, one in which a man in power tries to stifle the abilities of a woman by equating her emotions with something negative, something shameful.

There are very minor spoilers, but I doubt, as vague and/or peripheral as they are, that they would actually ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the movie. So I recommend that everyone read the piece. Following Jessica Toomer on general principles isn’t a bad idea either.

 

 

Accountability Is The ONLY Radical Idea: Oh, and look what we have here!

I’ve been saying for years now that accountability is the only radical idea. You can propose single payer health care, you can propose shutting down entire federal agencies, you can propose a post-racial, post-sexual orientation society where everyone gets randomly assigned sex partners for 6 days before sex partners are randomly reassigned for the next 6 days, but nothing about any of those ideas is radical unless there are actual consequences for failing to implement them.

You can have the most hare-brained scheme proposed by the most hairy-eyed word-bomb thrower*1, but hare-brained schemes tend not to get actual implementation, and when things get hard, people will give up unless the consequences for giving up are worse than the consequences for moving forward.

So think about it: which would produce more screaming about radical change, a US president saying that they’re working on a proposal to tighten the laws and increase the penalties for white collar crimes, or a US president restructuring the justice department’s priorities so that no laws are changed, no new crimes are created, but every time a company is found to have committed a crime, the justice department actually sends the people that run the company to jail for conspiracy to commit that crime? ShearsonLehman defrauds investors and profits to the tune of US$12 billion, then negotiates with the feds to reduce the financial penalty down to US$250 million? Okay. That sucks. We’re incentivizing lawbreaking right? But if the top 200 corporate officers each spend a minimum of 12 years in prison, that’s a fuck of a lot more incentive for ShearsonLehman not to break the law going forward than the profit is an incentive to break the law. Also, when fucking EVERYONE involved in the conspiracy goes to jail, you get a fuckload more whistleblowers because they don’t want to be the least powerful person in the conspiracy, with no way to stop the fraud from getting too brazen, but with just as much criminal culpability as the persons at the very top of the corporation. The net result is a hell of a lot more effective than adding new penalties to some dusty book of laws without ever providing a credible threat than any executives will face any consequences at all.

Accountability, then, is the ultimate – and ultimately the only – radical idea. This is also why accountability is as rare as a mountain-dwelling tree wearing a tricorn and denying the existence of the FSM in front of CNN’s cameras on Talk Like A Pirate Day.

But wouldn’t you know it, while NBC isn’t willing to create actual structures of accountability, it appears that they’re actually going ahead with a little accountability mimicry. And not just NBC, but apparently at least one talent agency as well. “What’s that?” you ask. “What is our fair Crip Dyke on about?” It is just this: Megyn Kelly has been mutually dumped by her current talent-rep agency, and while apparently there has been a movement towards separation for a while now, the agency that Kelly was courting for her next monagentous relationship called off the engagement. You want more? Kelly’s ultimate boss, NBC News Chair Andy Lack, has made it clear he’s kicking her to the curb.

“But accountability mimicry?” you say. “Dear Crip Dyke, wouldn’t this be actual accountability?” I understand the inclination to think so, but that’s not exactly likely. If you read the article, NBC has been upset with Kelly about ratings, they’ve been upset about her insensitivity pissing off her guests in ways that created bad publicity for the show, and most of all they’ve been upset because – with notable exceptions during discussions of Kavanaugh and the guys to whom she wants to show actual favoritism – she repeatedly returns to the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace and expresses the opinion that guys should get fired for that shit. Of particular note, she has criticized NBC personalities and the NBC brass – including, yes, Andy Lack – for an environment in which sexual harassment is allowed to flourish. Andy Lack might be particularly upset about that last one because it comes across as actually being true, given all the evidence and shit.

So now when Megyn Kelly decides to rant about how blackface is just a jolly-happy-funtime and can’t we all just agree to let a little racism slide between whites, the outrage among many people around the country is certainly genuine, and the outrage among prominent Black presenters on NBC is probably genuine, but there are good reasons to question whether consequences imposed by management are actually motivated by her racism. This may not be accountability so much as backstabbing, revenge, and an effort to secure impunity for sexual harassers and the managers who enable them.

Nonetheless, I say celebrate. Break open that juice box and take a good, hard suck at that straw, because when people get fired on the pretext of their racism, sooner or later the 300 million people who aren’t following inside politics at the big media companies are going to think that racism is an actual fireable offense. This is a classic example of the seemingly paradoxical phenomenon unintentional performativity. Performativity is a concept most frequently associated with feminist Judith Butler, and is intended to describe acts that create the truths they portray. Someone who has no wife, but who tells your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke, “I take you as my wife,” may very well (if certain preconditions are met) actually gain a wife by saying those words. Performativity is especially important in the Butlerian analysis of gender where a person say, “I am a woman,” far less frequently using actual language as such a person might do by brushing on some eye shadow or donning a dress. And, in performing gender in this way, one may very well become a woman at least for the purposes of how others will treat you on that day. But here’s the thing, if one does that often enough, then one gets treated as a woman with regularity, and in being treated as a woman with regularity, the psychological and sociological traits that adhere to women eventually adhere to the person performing womanhood. At that point, one might be said to have become a woman through performing womanhood and the performativity cycle, though much longer than even a wedding, is finally complete.

In the case of unintentional performativity, one can accidentally initiate this cycle. Of course, it’s not actually peformativity if the performance does not eventually create the reality, so unintentional performativity is not a one-off. It must actually begin or continue a pattern that eventually creates the reality it depicts.

Let me be clear: I do not think that NBC is getting rid of Kelly because of her racism. However, taking advantage of her racism to fire someone that NBC dislikes for other reasons requires making the case that it is reasonable to fire someone for their racism. Moreover, Kelly has a contract which is guaranteed unless she is fired for a sufficiently serious cause. So if NBC really wants to keep their money, and/or if they really want to hurt Kelly (the latter being the more likely motive), they have to make the case that it is not only reasonable to fire someone for a defense of blackface, but that it is unreasonable not to fire someone for such statements.

NBC, then, while clearly anti-accountability judging by the tolerance they showed to Matt Lauer and others, is going to be making the public case that those who use prominent media positions to spread racism must always be fired. We may suspect that an institution like NBC with its history of tolerating sexism and racism has other motives, but in portraying racism as a fireable offense, NBC is making racism a fireable offense.

Make no mistake, this is a feud between different members of the wealthy and powerful, and none of those directly involved actually want accountability for the wealthy and powerful. And yet, what today begins as mere consequence will someday become the outcome of accountability.

Today is a very, very good day.


*1: One of my favorite commenting pseudonyms in the ever!