if they hate the transgender community so much, why do these wannabe rad fems bother coming on our blogs?
Similar questions have been posed and have occurred to me many times before regarding Defenders of Male Privilege who comment on womanist/feminist blogs, Defenders of White Privilege who comment on POCs blogs, Defenders of Ableist Privilege who comment on blogs that take on issues surrounding disabilities, etc. It seems like whatever issue you're dealing with on your blog, you'll attract some individuals who are not interested in constructive dialogue or learning or growing or working together in any way. They're simply there to preach at you about how wrong/evil/disruptive of society you are. Since it's so clear that neither of you is going to change your position at all based on this interaction, you wonder why they keep coming back? And why do they often have to be such assholes about it and interpret everything you say as a personal attack against them? For one thing, this view is incredibly narcissistic. But more interestingly, I think it reveals a deep insecurity and problem within their own personal identity.
In the comments on a recent post here, Erin recommended Gender Treachery Homophobia Masculinity and Threatened Identities by Patrick Hopkins, which I'm obviously going to have to read. Erin summarizes Hopkins main point as follows:
He posits that the reason some men have so much vitriol towards other men who display any feminine characteristics is that they have so much of their identity tied up in notions of 'masculinity' (defined simply as NOT a woman), that any threat to traditional definitions of masculinity is a threat to personal identity.
I think this is actually a really helpful way to think of it, and I think it applies to many identities beyond just male. It seems to me that a lot of people, especially those who are somewhat insecure and lacking in maturity, see the stability and value of their identity as linked to the negation of the validity or value of the other. So if they're male, being clearly demarcated from the feminine and devaluing femininity is of utmost importance. If they're somewhat insecure about their gender identity, then it's important to them that gender be maintained as this essentialist, "natural" thing, and therefore they feel threatened by genderqueer and trans people. And so it goes with all of the binaries we're so fond of in our culture: gay/straight, white/colored, cis/trans, able-bodied/disabled, young/old etc. The existence of each as a discrete category depends on the negation of the other, which often also involves devaluing the other. And it seems to me that the more insecure a person is, the more important this distinguishing from and privileging your own over the other identity is to you.
But I think that understanding this has changed my response to the insecure identity defenders. For one thing, understanding the dynamic makes me more likely to see them as scared and insecure individuals rather than just hateful assholes. It's true that their behavior is hateful and need not be tolerated by anyone. But my dismissing them as assholes is somewhat lacking in compassion. After all, something(s) must have happened in their lives to make them so insecure. What kinds of experiences have they had in our culture, which can be terrifically brutal at times, to make them become this way? And how can I, a person who is very privileged in this way, condemn them for being this way? In this sense, I'm incredibly privileged. I am a very secure and well-balanced person largely because of factors I had no control over. I had the good luck to be born to parents who were thoughtful, mature, and intuitively good at parenting in a way that fostered confidence and high self-esteem without arrogance and self-centeredness. I was fortunate enough not to be physically or emotionally abused by the adults in my life or rejected and belittled by my peers. But I did nothing to earn the security and well-adjustedness that allows me to be more open and compassionate. I don't feel threatened by others largely because of the environment I just happened to be born into. In this sense, it is privilege. So for me to write these people off as hateful assholes is to refuse to acknowledge that I'm lucky not to be plagued by the insecurities that drive them to behave this way.
Does this mean that their behavior ought to be excused or tolerated? No. Just understood in a new light and empathized with. Nobody should have to tolerate the hateful and vitriolic words that are often thrown around regarding these topics. Everyone should feel safe and able to care for themselves. But I think I'm done dismissing people as hateful assholes, because doing that requires that I remain blind to my own privilege in this sense. From now on I intend to be critical of the behavior but compassionate (or at least tolerant) of the person.