Roots: Bogeymen

Know all your enemies.

We know who our enemies are.

Let’s talk about bogeymen.

In mythology, bogeymen are known to be imaginary evil spirits and are commonly depicted frightening children. They are the beast in your closet. The monster under your bed.

In reality, for many, they are everywhere.

We create them. We call others them.

They are social constructs.

In his 1919 novel Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson writes:

“At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book which he called “The Book of the Grotesque.” It was never published, but I saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one central thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By remembering it I have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to understand before.The thought was involved but a simple statement of it would be something like this:
That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.
The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelessness and abandon.
Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.
And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.
It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.”

These grotesques Anderson describes are, in essence, what I understand to be bogeymen manifesting in reality. They are released into the world via our own perceptions, by embracing the false notion that we are capable of perceiving truth and claiming it as our own.

When one embraces such truths as their truth and uses them to build a monolithic representations of groups of people, bogeymen are born.

Racists fear bogeymen of other races. Sexists fear bogeymen of other sexes. Homophobes and transphobes fear LGBT bogeymen. Conservatives fear liberal bogeymen. Liberals fear conservative bogeymen. Xenophobes fear immigrant bogeymen. These are direct manifestations of our tribal psyches.

We trans people have a particular breed of bogeyman that we call “TERF”.

TERF, as I’ve written about in a similar article stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. TERFs are perceived to be a real, organized extremist group of anti-trans activists. They seek to erase access to medical care and expunge accommodations granted to us by our societies for our safety and protection. But not everyone with questions and concerns over trans people or movements in trans activism is such a bogeyman. The TERF label is often applied to avoid difficult discussion and what might otherwise be reasonable discourse.

Anti-trans activists, and primarily TERFs, have their own bogeyman. They call it the transcult. The transcult is perceived to be a real, organized extremist group of pro-trans activists. They are misogynists who seek to harm women and erase them from society. They prioritize the needs of trans people and punch sideways (never upward) in their activism, at primarily vulnerable groups of women with reasonable concerns over our movements. But not every ally to trans people is such a bogeyman. The transcult label is often applied to avoid difficult discussion and what might otherwise be reasonable discourse.

I have a long history of speaking out against activists calling people TERFs and/or pushing any other divisive or inciteful rhetoric. It’s important to label the problem. It’s important to identify the group and those who do belong to it. It’s not appropriate to employ the term as an aspersion against individuals.

In my own activism and advocacy, I seek out those who have questions and concerns over us. I engage in difficult discussions with them and through them, work to build bridges to common ground where we can constructively address the issues they have. I’ve had so many wonderful conversations with such people and I find that once we clear the air of toxicity, it is excessively easy to do so.

But clearing the air of toxicity is no easy task in our current political environment. There’s simply too many bogeymen running around. The air is so toxic that it affects the perceptions of those I engage in discourse with. They pre-conceive that I am a member of the transcult. That I am a sexist. A rapist. A narcissist. Deluded. Mentally ill. Misogynistic. All qualities ascribed to the transcult bogeyman.

I’m used to it. I’ve been breathing the toxic air of our politics for a very long time now. It doesn’t skew my perceptions anymore. Where so many others seem to see bogeymen running amok, keeping the world constantly on fire, I see people with differing philosophies, doing what they can to put those fires out.

There’s my take, now you might be asking yourself, “So what?”

So we need to expunge trans activism of bogeymen.

If you are a non-trans ally in activism who makes a habit of not engaging with others in good faith and instead just call them names, label them with aspersions, or stir hateful or inciteful rhetoric into the discourse, your voice is no longer welcome as far as I am concerned.

Try to see this from my perspective as a trans person who works to build bridges with those who hate us. For every bridge I build, you burn two more. Your rhetoric adds nothing of value to the discourse, and when taken out of context is used to socially construct the transcult bogeyman I am mistaken for every day of my life. I’m forced to live with the consequences of your actions every waking moment. You are not.

By no means is this to say that our allies don’t have my support. They do. Many are wonderful and nothing but constructive. The sort I take issue with are destructive. They detour us from engaging in difficult and important conversations, spewing toxicity into the air that does nothing but create more bogeymen.

If you aren’t convinced, look at it this way:

If a TERF is attacking you, pushing divisive & hateful rhetoric, they are making themself look like a fool and fueling the fires against their own cause. I don’t care what they say. I say let it be. Let their hate speak for itself. Don’t retaliate with backlash. Any time you reach a point where you can no longer engage in good faith, simply don’t. Let it stand, block/mute them, and move on with your life. Don’t sink to their level.

The moment you lash back is the moment bogeymen are born. Any venom you spew back at them can and will be taken out of context to fuel the fires of hatred against us and your attacks only strengthen their resolve, further cementing the idea of the transcult bogeyman into their brains. It adds nothing whatsoever of value to the discourse. All it does is make us look bad.

In our activism and advocacy, we need to get back to the heart of the matter. We need to overcome this tribal mentality and stop demonizing the other tribes. Instead, we should be uplifting and celebrating our own tribe, while using positivity to engage in good faith with other tribes, and showing them all the good we have to offer the world.

There’s so much we need to do. So much work that needs done. So many trans people living in pain, distress, poverty, isolation, etc. and all the reductive, divisive, inciteful, hateful rhetoric coming from our side of the discourse is only distracting us from meeting those ends.

Please consider the impacts of your activism on the big picture and to borrow a metaphor from one of our most well known detractors, clean your room.

Roots: Us & Them

A concept to approaching positive engagement with transphobia and effective ways to overcome it.

TERFTrans Exclusionary Radical Feminist

Big, scary term, innit?

I’ve spent most of my life scared of people who I saw fit to this label.

Well here’s the thing, transfolks. It’s a thing that most of us who have been abused by them over the years have a REALLY hard time with.

TERF is an offensive term in many cases. Many who share concerns with those who we might call TERFs do not necessarily identify with this group.

The continued use of this term in our conversations with such people disparages the genuine concerns of women who, at the end of the day, just plain don’t understand us and need to be shown that we aren’t a #transcult injecting the world with #peaktrans ideologues with a #cottonceiling we demand women break through in #totalitarian fashion.

We are not #bogeyMEN.

And neither are all the people you perceive as TERFs.

Applying this term to those who think in ways which defy our own demonizes them and causes us to pre-conceive bias against them and it leads to destructive, rather than constructive conversation.

They are humans with real human concerns over real human conditions, just like we are.

They need to be shown our Humanity if they are ever going to accept it.

But how to we do that?

My friend Rya shared with me an amazing concept for beginning the building of bridges with people like those who are infected with transphobia:

1. Demonstration of understanding

2. Nurturing of understanding

That begins a process of growth. From there, you can bridge the rest of the gap with apology and capitulation wherever necessary.

This has been my moral guide throughout this entire, often times terrible, bridge-building process. And it has begun to work. I’ve seen the potential for growth it has and have experienced first hand its uplifting of the human condition.

It has required apology and capitulation on my part. I’ve apologized for being certainly overly-liberal in application of the term TERF and for, in my fear of those who I saw as TERFs, brushing the valid concerns of regular women under the rug.

If you’ve paid any attention in your life to the world around you, you’ll likely have noticed that most every theology, narrative, poem, etc has a figure alluding to this sort of path. These sorts of signifiers can be found everywhere, woven into in culture.

Maybe, just maybe that’s because a lot of people have learned that it is an invaluable lesson in humanity.

Haven’t you heard? It’s a battle of words.

There is no good or bad. Only thinking makes it so.

Words, words words!

Slanders, sir. For the satirical rogue says here that old men have gray beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams—all which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.

Words without thoughts, never to Heaven go.

The path to insanity is fraught with many flawed ideas.

Let’s not succumb to them.

Let’s build bridges.

Let’s overcome the obstacles that separate Us & Them and find our common ground.

The truest problem we can all face together, right here, right now, in egalitarian fashion is to volunteer our voices and time to shelters as well as donate anything we can to them. In exercising our voices, let us not use them to bicker on social media and instead use that energy to set out into the world and help shelters!

I’ve taken concerns over sharing shelter spaces very seriously and have capitulated to certain concerns over them.

Women who are traumatized at the hands of a man can internalize this experience in such a way that the experience of men by any stretch of the imagination triggers pain in them. They can’t come to accept who I am because they quite simply can’t complete the mental process. This means, that in the eyes of a survivor, a trans woman can take on the appearance of a threat. By and large, we are of course, not any sort of threat and do have every right to shelter when we need it.

Both sides have perfectly valid concerns over survivors in this argument. This, above all else, is why we need to take an egalitarian approach to this problem.

Women’s shelters, which have been built and designed specifically for women and/or children have not been made with trans people in mind and we must be sensitive to the concerns of those who run such shelters. Transwomen shouldn’t impose themselves on these spaces. Women have earned them through years of blood, sweat, and empathy. We must put forth the same effort if we there will ever be enough shelter space available for all types of people in need.

When I say “all types of people” I mean ALL types. This problem of spacial accommodation to trans people, over shelters especially, is FAR bigger than the trans/transphobe dichotomy.

If a black woman is beaten to within an inch of her life by a group of white women, where can she go?

Do we have shelters for her?

If not, we damn well should.

Equipping shelters to handle all types of people in a myriad of circumstances is no easy task, but it is a necessary one.

I have been working together with my local shelter to acknowledge and address these sorts of concerns. Here is the most relevant response I have received so far:

“Operating a shelter is a challenge and there’s no one right answer for any question when talking about shelter issues. I’ll answer your question to the best of my abilities. We work on a case by case basis with every client that comes to our shelter, because everybody has a unique story and individual needs. With that being said, we do have basic rules that everyone who comes to shelter must follow. Resident advocates do everything we can to ensure the safety of residents staying in shelter, and we have a zero tolerance policy for any violent behavior in shelter. We also have a nondiscrimination policy that everyone must agree to when they come into shelter. That includes not discriminating on the basis of age, race, creed, gender, ethnicity, color, size, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, different abilities, religion, or gender identity. That being said, we do realize that things will sometimes happen in shelter that we cannot control or that residents may break the rules. We hold all residents accountable for their behavior. We work to ensure everyone who calls us for shelter know that we serve all genders.

We train everyone in our program not to assume gender, but we know that people bring in their own biases and personal history. On our intake form we ask for gender just as we do other demographic information. If a person identifies as female and they do not have children, we have them share a room with up to three other women. If a person identifies as male without children, then we have another room for them that they may have to share if another male identifying person comes into shelter. If people complain about a person who appears to be male, we remind them that we serve all genders, and that they agreed to stay in shelter knowing that. We have clients who come to shelter who have suffered trauma from various types of relationships. Some of those relationships are same or opposite gender so they may be uncomfortable with people of their own gender. We make sure to tell everyone that they don’t have to be friends with the people that they room with, but that they must be respectful towards everyone.

We still do have basic criteria for entering shelter. The person needing shelter must be fleeing domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking. We have a six county service area and we give preference to those meeting the criteria within our service area. People can only bring children that they have custody of, but people don’t have to have children to stay at Middle Way House.”

Let’s stop bickering and get off social media to face and end this problem together, hand in hand, fighting the tide that disparages and oppresses women everywhere while pushing to provide shelter and a safe and secure pathway to healing to everyone who needs it.

Here are some resources to help you find shelters in need:

Volunteer your time to them and donate to them for the betterment of all humanity.

Thank you.