Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Queer Activism: What I Left Out

On Monday, I wrote a post I entitled "Queer Activism: When We Are Our Own Worst Enemy" Since then, I recognize that I may need to hash out a few points in greater detail.

If the LGBT community has reclaimed terms once thought to be very hurtful, why should we stop at "queer" or "dyke"? In the foreseeable future, could the same standard be applied to terms like "tranny" or "fag"? One answer might be that it's only a matter of time. "Queer" works well for everyone and is a term I assign to myself more readily than LGBTIQ or whatever it will be next year. And this leads to an overdue argument about Freedom of Speech rights.

And on the subject of "tranny", as much as I recognize the severe stigma assigned to it, we live in a country supposedly predicated on the First Amendment. Freedom of speech is important and I grit my teeth and tolerate hateful attitudes as long as mine are given the same weight. Arguments advocating for a greater good, by which everyone ought to adhere, have their place but must be considered more delicately.

Queer theorist Jack Halberstam wrote the original column I referenced. He provides additional context to what I've written.
Much of the recent discourse of offense and harm has focused on language, slang and naming. For example, controversies erupted in the last few months over the name of a longstanding nightclub in San Francisco: “Trannyshack,” and arguments ensued about whether the word “tranny” should ever be used. 
These debates led some people to distraction, and legendary queer performer, Justin Vivian Bond, posted an open letter on her Facebook page telling readers and fans in no uncertain terms that she is “angered by this trifling bullshit.” Bond reminded readers that many people are “delighted to be trannies” and not delighted to be shamed into silence by the “word police.”
Bond and others have also referred to the queer custom of re-appropriating terms of abuse and turning them into affectionate terms of endearment. When we obliterate terms like “tranny” in the quest for respectability and assimilation, we actually feed back into the very ideologies that produce the homo and trans phobia in the first place! 
Additionally, the equally contentious concept of triggering and trigger warnings should be put in proper perspective. I'll use myself as an example. From time to time, particular environmental stimuli can cause a panic attack so powerful that I want to crawl out of my skin. For reasons therapy has never been able to explain, I can't watch the body-switching movie Freaky Friday.When it was shown in front of my fifth grade class one dull Friday afternoon, I had to flee and sat quietly in the hallway by myself.

This doesn't happen all the time, thankfully. If it did, I wouldn't be able to live a normal life.

This is Halberstam's take, for better or for worse.
And so, while in the past, we turned to Freud’s mystic writing pad to think of memory as a palimpsest, burying material under layers of inscription, now we see a memory as a live wire sitting in the psyche waiting for a spark. Where once we saw traumatic recall as a set of enigmatic symptoms moving through the body, now people reduce the resurfacing of a painful memory to the catch all term of “trigger,” imagining that emotional pain is somehow similar to a pulled muscle –as something that hurts whenever it is deployed, and as an injury that requires protection.

Triggering is either a real ailment or often a feigned one. It occurs to me that we've never really heard the stories of those who are susceptible to triggering and the forms that triggering takes. Until then, we're chasing at shadows. Talking past each other is no way to find common ground, which is what we need. There's too much mistrust and too much paranoia present, which has kept us in shackles for what seems like eons. It's time to act like adults.  

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