Performative Nuance

Leave the newly out alone to find their space

There’s a meme, in transfeminist circles, which goes something like this. “ugh <newly out trans person> said something stupid, we should ban newly out trans people from speaking to the media for n years”. It’s absurd, and it’s a product of frustration, and it’s also an acceptance that at some stage we all thought the same inane bullshit. They’re not traumatized enough yet to speak about trans experience, and so we’re angry when we see them doing it.

There are, of course, people who will never actually have the normal experience of transness. Caitlin Jenner, India Wiloughby- much like there are cis women who will never actually be forced into domestic or emotional labour in the same way that every other woman on the planet is, by virtue of class and money. (Ever met a literal princess? reckon her experience of misogyny is the same one as a working class woman has?). Money buys privilege and buys you out of (trans)misoginy.

Money, and profile, we should also note, buy interviews. Not every interview forced out of a trans person comes in the form of doorstopping- most don’t. Most come in the form of an invitation to write for buzzfeed, or the evening standard, about your experience. Do it for the profile, do it for the money which you desperately need. These interviews are no less predatory, simply because consent is nominally gained.

Anyway, we get angry, because the media loves these new, vulnerable voices with opinions about how gender works. The media loves how their their hope plays on television, to photograph monstorous, developing bodies, to force their narrative. And especially loves putting them in the ring with experienced right wing campaigners who will rip them to shreds(cough newsnight).

I think we’re right to be angry. Not at whoever came out this week in an op ed or photo shoot, but at the media for putting them in this position. For latching onto this persons vulnerability, dragging them into the spotlight and forcing them to speak for every trans person.

Protecting the vulnerable

We do, of course, put vulnerable cis women teenagers(and occasionally men) through truly disgusting, paedophilic photo shoots, and obsess over how their bodies are changing. I most vividly remember watching it happen to Emma Watson, because that’s about how old I am, feeling physically sick. This is, however, the realm of tabloids and thoroughly criticised by the very same broadsheet culture which does this to trans people.

The idea of asking a 14 year old to explain her precise feelings on how her body is changing, what exactly the politics of this are, and who exactly it is she’s dating, is absurd and disgusting. Asking her to do it in 2000 words of op-ed for the NYT, doubly so. So it should be for trans people who’ve just come out.

This is not, of course, to suggest that trans people lack capacity or ability to make reasoned judgments full stop. We do not refrain from putting teenagers in positions of power because of their lack of ability to make decisions. We do it because they lack the experience to comment as experts. Trans people, until they have experienced the violence of transphobia first hand, sat and talked about their lives to their peers, and understood the affect of transness in it’s totality, should not be asked to do so either.

We need a taboo against the media harassment of anyone who’s just come out until we can comment with some degree of expertise on our existence.

And, because that’s never going to happen, we need to protect the vulnerable among us from the vulture-class that are journalists.