That’s a weird title, right? Lets dive into what I mean a bit more, and why it’s both exhausting and an impossible standard.
What do I mean by Compulsory Trans Activism?
Social media is a mixed bag, right? Understatement of the century. It’s something so big, fast, and different that nobody can really keep up. Even those on the cutting edge of memes aren’t really on the cutting edge of the technology. Facebook are creating a new cryptocurrency, executives of tech giants are frequently being called up to explain one scandal or another, all of our elections are being run by a Russian megalomaniac, it’s too big for anyone to really keep hold of.
One of the things it’s done is bring people together and make everything public that once would have been private. Every turd has come out of the woodwork spouting beliefs and attitudes they would never dare say in public because they know the reaction it would get. Some of them are now seeing the lack of consequences from their behaviour online and are taking this as implicit endorsement, pushing for their “right to free speech” to let them say this vile shit in public and get away with it. Some of those people are now president.
There’s also a lot of talk going on, always.
So what does this have to do with activism? Well trans people are held to a high standard, and you can see it in the media. If a trans person rapes someone the story that runs is “TRANS PEOPLE ARE DANGEROUS, THEY ALL NEED TO BE LOCKED AWAY”. If a cis person rapes someone the conversation is very different, “oh they deserved it, look how they dress!”, or “that person is mentally ill, they don’t represent us”.
It’s a clever way to justify the rape by someone of your “in group”. Either the rape was justified (the way the victim dressed) or you exclude the person from your group (they’re mentally ill). That way your own in-group are still okay. There’s a lot of research in Psychology in In Group and Out Group bias, how people divide the world up into groups they’re a part of and are good, and “The Other”.
This places a huge burden on trans people, we have to be perfect at all times because our behaviour doesn’t just impact on us but on every trans person ever. In the case of the above rape obviously the trans person did something horrifying and should face jail time, end of story. But the story doesn’t end with their punishment, the media whips up a storm to call for all trans people to be punished. You see this all the time in a minority, any one in it doing something bad reflects on the whole minority.
If I get attacked and fight back the story tomorrow will be along the lines of “Trans ‘Woman’ beats up critic”. If instead I don’t beat them up but I report them to the police it’ll be “Man Jailed for Misgendering Transexual”. That’s just what happens, and what has happened recently.
The other element to this is that any time a trans person talks about wanting to be accepted, validated, and just live life, they become a political statement. I can’t have an opinion about not wanting to be murdered without someone saying “I disagree and my opinion is just as valid as yours, this is all political”. My very existence is political through no fault of my own, which mean I don’t have a choice to not be an activist. If I want any kind of rights for myself I have to fight for them, and I have to be an activist.
Or do I?
What if I don’t? What if I just got on and don’t fight, don’t get involved, and don’t stand up for my fellow trans siblings? Am I a Bad TransTM? If I don’t stand up for my In Group and I don’t fight for our rights, am I abandoning them? Not doing my civic duty for the betterment of society? Leaching off of the hard work of other people without giving anything back?
And if I do fight I have to fight constantly. I have to hold down a job, I have to keep paying bills and taxes, but I also have to spend all my free time fighting the system. And if I don’t I’m part of the problem.
That’s what I mean by Compulsory Trans Activism.
There is an expectation set on me (and other trans people) by both sides. My In Group want me to support at all costs and if I don’t I’m a bad person. My Out Group expect me to support and fight at all times, and regardless of whether I do will attack and treat me like I am. There is no middle ground, there is no release, and there is no relenting.
How does this manifest?
The most common place I notice this is in social media, hence the above monologue. Especially on twitter; if I follow famous people who also happen to be trans I get a feed packed with the bad news. Every negative story about trans people has a reaction to it, an argument against it, a counter point. And every one has a comment thread full of bullshit from right-wing basement-hiding fucks (actual basement not required, it’s the basement in your heart that matters). It’s a constant deluge of stuff I have to care about.
Or I don’t. I unfollow them all, I block all the activism, I take a break. Then I feel guilty because I’m not doing my bit, there are people out there who have it worse and I’m not helping them. I’m also not helping me, after all if I’m not willing to take a stand now what will it be like when I present fully in public? Am I justified in the abuse I’ll get because I didn’t fight off the abuse people get now?
And even if I don’t engage that doesn’t stop people engaging with me. I post me agreeing with a cute trans story I get piled on by people highlighting how sick it is, how all LGBTQ+ people are perverts, how Pride should stop ramming a lifestyle choice down everyone’s throats, how if we were just less politically correct the world would be much better.
And what’s the right answer? I don’t know if there is one.
Stay safe, and remember to love each other.