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.