Gender, race, and the cult of true womanhood, cont

Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3

It’s really telling to me that, while laziness and hypersexuality are stereotypes are applied to black people in general, so many of the evangelicals Emerson interviewed for Divided by Faith singled out black mothers  as specifically embodying and being the root cause of what they saw as black individual, family, and cultural dysfunction. This circles back to the gendered double standard discussed in the previous post: under the complementarian view of gender and sexuality, the responsibility for sexual and reproductive gatekeeping outside marriage is placed almost entirely on women. So again, though “promiscuity” and having “too many kids” are behaviors that require at least one man in normative heterosexual pairings, these labels stick to black women in different ways than they do to black men: the women sit home and have babies while collecting welfare checks, the mothers send the fathers away, etc.

I think this is worth noting because criticisms of racist narratives about black laziness or the failure or demise of the black family often overlook the fact that these stereotypes are fundamentally and profoundly gendered.  They’re implicit statements of what gender roles “should” be, based on white, heteronormative, classist measures, and statements that black women and men as a group fail to live up to these measures in gender-specific ways. There’s a reason the prevailing stereotype of black people on certain forms of government assistance is that of the “welfare queen.

It’s a critique of black femininity as a failed or less-than. The welfare queen is not only wanton in her sexuality and reproduction, she is also negligent in her attentions to her children – in effect pawns conceived for purely mercenary purposes (to get money from the government). The welfare queen is not bound to one man, doesn’t have her reproduction limited or controlled by one man, uses and neglects her children rather than nurturing them, and is therefore a bad mother. She stands as the foil to the “angel in the home” – the romanticized, infantilized image of the “true woman” and “keeper in the home” (a carry over of Victorian and other Western european notions of idealized, non-threatening, non-sexual femininity), whose only concern is for husband, children, home.

One of Emerson’s interviewees argued that the government perpetuates black inequality by “[making] it easier for somebody [read: black women] to sit home and collect welfare and have baby after baby.” There’s quite a bit of irony in that statement when you juxtapose it with the fact that for many evangelicals, the highest display of femininity is precisely to “stay home and have baby after baby” after marriage and be a “keeper of the home,” while the husband acts as unquestioned leader and sole income earner (“provider” – as though homemaking and child-rearing aren’t “providing” for one’s family).

So in effect, when the welfare queen stereotype is leveled at black women by white evangelicals who believe that women shouldn’t work outside the home and should reproduce frequently, the criticism is really of black women for supposedly being “dependent” on the government instead of being properly dependent on and submissive to a patriarchal husband. Again, recall another one of Emerson’s interview subjects claiming that “we have paid their [black children’s] mothers to have their fathers stay away from home.”

And by extension this is a critique of “the black family” as failed or in crisis, in implicit contrast to white families. And it’s specifically a criticism that black parents are not living up to their proper gender roles in the presumed heterosexual partnerships and heteronormative families. White evangelical attachment to the caricature of the absent black father who due to custom or culture doesn’t “provide for” or “lead” his family is an implicit statement about the superiority of white fatherhood and white family culture. So too is the attachment to the caricature of the negligent, unattached black mother, often also depicted as loud, violent, and contentious, an implicit statement of the superiority of white womanhood and motherhood – by the standards of white evangelical conservative culture – characterized by a “gentle and quiet spirit” and a self-negating submission to the sexual and emotional ownership of one man and a likewise self-denying level of devotion to children and the home.

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NaBloPoMo so far

Day 15 of NaBloPoMo: All of my post drafts are still in fairly drafty form, so I don’t have anything topical to post today. Instead, you get to read (or skip, hah!) my thoughts on how NaBloPoMo is going and future posts I’m working on.

One of my goals for doing NaBloPoMo was to get myself to loosen up a bit about the writing process and what I share on the blog. I’ve tended towards long, article or essay type posts here, and while there are things I like about that blogging style (in part because it reflects the way I think), it takes a really. long. time. for me to get posts of that sort fully drafted, edited, and ready to go up on the blog. I was hoping that committing to blog every day would be a good way to make myself post pieces that haven’t touched on every single possible point I think I could make, and to trick myself into writing shorter and more manageable posts.

So far, it’s working. I’m still posting a few fairly long pieces, but for the most part I’m writing posts under (or not too far over) 1,000 words that either stand alone or are concrete chunks of larger series.

I’m also finding that it’s making me agonize less over the wording of posts being perfect, or every point being as completely clear or articulated as possible. I have a lot of perfectionistic tendencies (not helped by growing up Calvinist, let me tell you) that can really slow down my writing, especially when I’m in a particularly self-loathing mood (cf the whole Calvinist thing). I have to constantly battle the voices in my head that are never satisfied with what I write – it could always be more clear, more elegant, more concise or more comprehensive, more exciting, more funny, more insightful….on and on and on.

Those are all good things in writing, but being obsessed with everything being as perfect as it can be is a surefire way to get no actual writing done. And in the end, writing that you want other people to read has to be just done at some point. Not perfect – it will never be that – but done.

Agonizing less over elusive perfection also means that I’m writing posts a lot faster than I ordinarily do. Or perhaps that goes without saying since I don’t usually post every day. In any case I think there is some trade off in terms of the quality of the writing I’m doing, but not so much that it’s a really obvious drop, and posts are still readable. And writing more in over a certain period of time is better practice for improving one’s prose (and one’s speed at writing good prose) than producing less content that’s as polished as it can possibly be.

I guess the thing is that I’m a pretty risk-averse person. I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to have things missing or out of place. And I have to consciously fight off the idea that posts need to have every conceivable base to go up on the blog. And really…a blog full of perfect writing doesn’t sound all that interesting – not that I could produce such a thing in the first place! The best discussions often come out of points that aren’t completely articulated, or out of silences or thin spots that people fill out by thinking through a piece of writing together, once it’s done.

I certainly don’t want to get in the habit of sloppy writing. But I do want to train myself to not let the perfect the enemy of good enough when it comes to writing. To recognize that in the end, good writing is as much about knowing when to stop and just put it out there as it is about polished prose.

So I think I’m learning a lot, and getting a lot more on the blog in the process, so it’s a win all around.

What I’m working on:

– I have some more thoughts on Penn State that are still in pretty chaotic form, writing-wise. Before I read Toranse’s posts about the gaps in feminist writing on child sexual abuse, I’d been thinking about how patriarchy and specifically ideas about masculinity factor into the sexual abuse of male minors by male adults. There are really strong parallels here between the male-dominated hierarchies of the sports world and much of American Christianity, particularly in terms of what’s considered to be “manly” behavior, and how relationships between older men and boys or young men are seen as instrumental in shaping “real” masculinity. Both sports and religion set up male authority figures set up as proxy fathers to the boys and men under them – coaches, priests/pastors, etc. And there’s this idea that these kinds of figures, whether actual fathers or men who serve in similar roles, are absolutely necessary for strong or healthy male identity to coalesce in boys. There’s a recurring pattern where this role as father-figure and the trust invested in it are either exploited by child predators who use it to get access to boys and young men and youth of all genders in general (like Sandusky, like Eddie Long, like so many other predators in churches and sports teams and other institutions), or they’re built up into an extreme, uncritical devotion and loyalty to paternal figures and institutions that produces a culture of silence around problematic or abusive behavior.

– I’ve still got a lot more to say about race and class in the cult of true womanhood. I have a post halfway drafted about more of the gender and race implications of Michael Emerson’s findings in Divided by Faith. I also have a rough idea for a post sharing my and a few other black women’s personal experiences of dealing with misogynist, racist stereotypes about our sexuality and reproduction.

– More on the Duggars and the question of choice: specifically, my frustration with how the rhetoric about how they’ve chosen their lifestyle erases the fact that the Duggar children are being raised in an environment rife with spiritual abuse, have almost certainly been subjected to severe corporal punishment that would qualify as physical abuse (and if they haven’t been, are very much an exception for Quiverfull families), and that the girls especially are being deliberately denied an education and any vocational training for work outside of domestic duties, and having their unpaid time and labor systematically exploited all so that their parents can keep having more kids. This is not ok.


Gender, race, and the cult of true womanhood, cont

Part 1
Part 2

Sexualized stereotypes about black women are not isolated to my former church or denomination, but rather representative of beliefs about black sexuality and family life that remain common among white evangelicals. Michael Emerson, a white sociologist of religion, writes of encountering these same attitudes in his (highly recommended!) book Divided by Faith, an examination of racial segregation in American evangelicalism and of factors in the white evangelical church that contribute to and perpetuate such segregation. [The following quotes and paraphrases from Divided by Faith can be found on pp. 100-104; emphases are mine]

For example, Emerson notes that white evangelicals often see “bad choices” on the part of black people as being primarily to blame for racial disparities between U.S. blacks and whites; among these choices are “having too many children.” He writes:

In their use of these cultural reasons [for racial inequality], white conservative Protestants do not mean patterns of behavior rooted in values (e.g., blacks have many children because they highly value large families), but rather that blacks are making poor choices (e.g., black individuals do not exercise responsibility in child-bearing, faith, or speech).

White evangelicals interviewed by Emerson repeatedly linked welfare to “bad choices” with respect to sex and family life that produce racial inequality. One woman saw unrestrained black reproduction as the problem:

So many black people have beaucoup [large numbers of] kids. I only had two because I feel as though that’s what I can afford. And, I mean, sometimes I think they just don’t use the brains God gave them.

Similarly, a Baptist woman argued that black women have children to collect welfare payments:

[She]…linked welfare to family dissolution: ‘I think ultimately it goes back to the fact that they have a lot of single parent homes. [When asked by authors why this is] Well, in a lot of instances there was no family to start with…I mean the AFDC payments. A woman gets money for each child she has and there is never a husband involved. In this area it is very common for a black girl in her late teens to be having her third or fourth baby, unmarried. My daughter works in OB (obstetrics), that is how I know. Very common, because they get their AFDC payments.

Other views offered in these interviews:

  • One woman described government programs to address [black] poverty are “no different from slavery.”
  • Another “was not shy in implicating the government, even while making welfare recipients seem less than admirable: It has to be blamed on the government. The government makes it easier for somebody to sit home and collect welfare and have baby after baby.
  • Still another woman claimed that under welfare, “we have paid their [black people’s] mothers to have their fathers stay away from home.
Interestingly, all of the comments on black motherhood that Emerson includes came from women. This is probably just an accident of selection, since he says that these views were expressed by a many people he interviewed, not just the five women he quotes. Still, it’s striking that so many white evangelical women, speaking out of a cultural context where performing “traditional” gender roles is so important, would choose to comment on the ways in which black women fail to live up to their [white evangelical] standards of proper femininity.

Emerson also found that some white evangelicals saw a feedback loop relationship between black poverty and welfare. On the one hand, “it is blacks who, perhaps because they are seen as having less initiative or moral fortitude, are more likely to receive welfare” (despite the fact that the majority of Americans on welfare are in fact white). But at the same time “it was common to link welfare directly to the demise of individual initiative and responsibility among African Americans.” In other words, there’s circular reasoning at work here: black people are more likely to be on welfare because of lack of initiative, and welfare creates lack of initiative in black people.

As the quotes above show, most white evangelicals Emerson interviewed cited “choice” rather than natural lack of ability as the reason for racial disparities between blacks and whites. Yet these quotes also show that “choice” is framed in such a way as to be almost indistinguishable from “natural” racial inferiority. When you see an entire race as habitually “not using the brains God gave them” or habitually choosing “the easy way out” of “taking” government support (which, again, is really not so easy as some imagine), and habitually choosing not to provide for their families, make “moral” decisions about family life, or exercise sexual or reproductive self-control – when you see an entire race as suffering because of habitual “bad choices”  you’ve framed “choice” as something that so completely characterizes a group of people that it’s not much different from a natural trait.

Bringing this back to the notion of “true womanhood,” then, the implication of the attitudes Emerson describes is that black women flout the norms of “real” femininity so regularly and to such a degree that we are basically not real women. Or at the very least, the “realness” of our femininity is always in question in the cultural context of predominantly white evangelicalism. We have to prove, in a different way and to a different extent than white women in the same contexts, our sexual “purity,” our competence and maturity as mothers and wives in a patriarchal (and white privileging) system, and our ability to show a submissive, “gentle and quiet” spirit in a context where black women are stereotyped as loud, unruly, and uncouth. The bar for showing ourselves to be “real women” is higher (and as other commenters have pointed out, similar stereotypes and double standards apply to Latina women in the white church).

More thoughts on the interviews in Emerson’s Divided by Faith in the next post on this topic.


Gender, race, and the cult of true womanhood, cont.

Part 1

Growing up, I had to make sense of two divergent messages I heard about female sexuality. On the one hand, there was the constant refrain about “Women” as a monolithic, universal category, utterly separate and distinct from “Men.” This idea was pounded into our heads through every possible means: in sermons and books, at conferences and bible studies, in magazines and constant exhortations to the “ladies” about the importance of modesty and to “the men” about fighting lust.

And of course it pervaded church culture and family life in less official but also powerful ways: the joking-but-not-really comments from boys and men about whom they would “allow” to court their female relatives, and the dire consequences awaiting any man who dared to touch their sister or daughters without prior approval. The warnings to girls and women that we must withhold sex from men in order to lure them into marriage. The pervasive refusal to even consider the possibility that women might want to have sex – even, horrors, outside of marriage – and the complementary assumption that men were always and only really interested in straight sex.

The message was pretty clear: the bedroom for men, the altar for women. End of story.

Except the story wasn’t so simple for me. At the same time that I was being taught to equate “true” femininity with chastity and sexual reticence, I was also learning that many people I went to church with saw black women as having a habitually unchaste and voracious sexuality. A similar disconnect existed between the notion that “women” are nurturing, warm, oriented towards family and the home, and on the other hand, pernicious stereotypes of black mothers as neglectful, irresponsible, unfit parents who either lacked or rejected “normal” maternal sentiment and behavior.

Offhand comments from pastors and church members alike, snide asides, jokes in which black female sexuality was a frequent punchline, and widespread willingness to pontificate about the moral and cultural failings of black communities made it unmistakably clear that the prevailing assumptions about black women stood in sharp contrast to everything I was told came naturally to “Women.”

These are some of the messages I heard about black female sexuality (hopefully unnecessary disclaimer: this is a description, not a statement of agreement on my part with any of the moral judgments that follow!):

– Black girls and women are sexually active early, often, and with multiple partners.
– Corollary: black girls and women can usually be assumed to be sexually active, or soon to become sexually active, with no information or evidence for this apart from their blackness.
– Black girls and women are unrestrained and irresponsible with both sexuality and reproduction, e.g.: black women become parents at a very young age, are usually single or unmarried parents, have large numbers of children, fathered by different men who are seldom involved in parenting their kids.
– Corollary: black girls and women in public with children can be assumed to be single parents of those children, with no information or evidence for this apart from their blackness.
– Black mothers do not adequately provide for their children, are often unemployed by choice and on public assistance.
– Corollary: older black girls or women with children in public can be assumed to be unwed parents of those children supported by the hard-earned money that the government steals from hardworking, white, married people pay in taxes. In other words, black women suspected of being unwed parents are also lazy mooches (never mind that the majority of people on welfare are white Americans, never mind that being on welfare is hardly the primrose path conservatives seem to imagine).
– Black mothers are neglectful, lazy, and abusive in their parenting.

In short, I was left to reconcile the following contradictory messages:
woman” = “natural” and “God-given” sexual reticence, “natural” desire for marriage and “the home” as boundaries that contain sexuality and reproduction, and “natural” desire to submit to male “leadership.”
black woman” = hypersexuality, reproductive excess, parental neglect, and the absence of husband/father figures (in other words, the absence of patriarchal covering and authority).

On top of all that, these negative stereotypes were so strongly associated with blackness as to make them seem almost like an innate racial trait. People widely assumed that these behaviors could be taken for granted as characterizing random black women they saw in public, or on TV. Unsurprisingly, these assumptions also affected how black girls and women who weren’t strangers, but part of the church community, were perceived and treated by the white majority of the congregation and even by other black members. These stereotypes so strongly shaped how the church viewed black women inside and outside the community that they rose to the level of “just how black people are.”

As I’ll discuss in the next post, these stereotypes were not isolated to my church or my denomination (or to Christians in general, to be fair); rather, they were representative of beliefs about black people and especially black women that are still quite common among white religious conservatives.


Bob Jones, Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney, cont.

Part 1

John Jensen’s post about the criticism he’s gotten from other Christians for swearing got me thinking again about about the skewed moral priorities that often prevail in evangelical churches. Growing up, we were led to believe that all sorts of personal choices disqualified someone from being a “real” Christian – swearing, listening to “ungodly” music, voting a certain way, wearing certain clothes. Before I went to college, I honestly thought it was impossible to be a Christian and a Democrat.

But I was never taught it was impossible to be a good Christian and a racial separatist.

To the contrary, my experience was that fellow conservative Christians, white ones in particular, were extremely reluctant to call BJU’s opposition to interracial marriage what it so obviously was: blatant racism. They had no trouble saying they disagreed with the ban, that they believed in racial unity in Christ. But few people would go so far as to actually call the ban racist, much less make a real issue of it.

Instead people stressed that Bob Jones and others at BJU were our “brothers in Christ” and that they loved Jesus, loved the Gospel, and were working hard for the kingdom. Yes, they said, Bob Jones is wrong to oppose interracial marriage, but no one is perfect; we’re all sinners and we all make mistakes. All of us are wrong about something. Making a public issue out of BJU’s sin would be self-righteous. It would be wrongly attacking a fellow Christian and creating division and conflict in the church, making the church look bad to the secular world.

Besides, Bob Jones wasn’t really racist – he didn’t hate black people, he just honestly believed the Bible required segregation. BJU never went quite so far as to say “We hate blacks,” so the churches I attended not only did and said nothing to oppose their racism, they also supported BJU and affiliated institutions by purchasing their books, and holding BJU up as a good Christian university that good Christian families could send their kids to.

There are days I think BJ III would have had to put on a hood and burn a cross on Jesse Jackson’s front lawn to spark any serious uproar in white conservative Christian circles. Even then I think it might have been dicey.

Evangelical responses justifying Mark Driscoll’s hate speech or C.J. Mahaney’s autocratic leadership of SGM illustrate the exact same kind of thinking that allowed BJU’s ban on interracial relationships to stand for so long. Put simply, there’s a pattern of making excuses for fellow evangelicals, as well as a culture where certain “sins” are arbitrarily and bizarrely prioritized over others.

Saying “shit” gets you flack for being a bad example, not being “holy,” and being a “stumbling block” to others. But engaging in hate speech or abusive behavior that actually traumatizes people is apparently not a sufficiently bad example or “unholy” or “stumbling” enough to warrant public criticism. Anyone who disagrees will be accused of “libel” and “slander.”

I mean really, this is the same crowd that just months ago pitched very public tantrums over a video of Rob Bell asking questions about hell, and over Ann Voskamp’s erotic spiritual imagery. These folks were quick to warn of the spiritual danger of Bell’s and Voskamp’s writings (without having read them) and to paint them as stealth pagans.

Now this same crowd is accusing critics of libel and slander for pointing to a clear, public record of Mark Driscoll’s bigoted, bullying behavior, and for simply discussing countless compelling stories that point to SGM being a ministry that perpetrates and enables all sorts of abuses against its members.

The hypocrisy, the moral relativism, and double standards are quite blatant.


Bob Jones, Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney

It occurred to me that Bob Jones University, Mark Driscoll, and C.J. Mahaney have a lot in common. The connection might not be immediately obvious, but bear with me.

Stuff Fundies Like posted a 1995 letter from fundamentalist leader Bob Jones III (BJ III. Yes, really!), defending his university’s now defunct ban on interracial dating. When a student challenged this policy by pointing out that in the Bible, Moses, a Jew, married an Ethiopian, which would seem to be an interracial marriage, BJ III responded:

Text:

Bob Jones III
November 15, 1995

Dear Peter:

As a young man, you would do yourself a favor to back off and listen to your family and others who know a lot more about the road of life than you do because we’ve been there.

No, I can’t see your point of view. I am sorry. I don’t suppose that surprises you.

You don’t have to agree with the school’s position on this matter to stay here, obviously; but you do have to keep your disagreement to yourself, because griping isn’t tolerated.

As I mentioned the other day in Chapel, 40-50 years ago in America, it was understood by believers, North and South, that interracial dating was not proper. There would have been a few radicals, of course, that would not have agreed, but it wasn’t even discussed in churches because it was just understood.

You and others of your generation who have allowed yourselves to be brainwashed by the media have been sold a bill of goods.

Yes, Moses married a non-Jew. That was what he was criticized for, and the issue for which Miriam his sister was judged by Godwas her criticism of the leader God appointed and the divisiveness that it brought. The race of Ethiopians has to do with what part of Ethiopia they come from. Haile Selassie, the former ruler of Ethiopia, and the ruling family are not black. To make a racial issue out of this is to argue a point beyond all reason.

I could spend my time dealing with this issue, but I am not inclined to because I don’t think you really wan tot know but that you want to argue. Forgive me if I have misjudged you, but that is how your note comes across.

Kind regards.

BJIII:kas

Riiiight. It’s not even worth trying to take all that apart. I just love how he basically equated “white racist Christians” with “believers” and everyone else with “radicals.” Also “reading comprehension” and “sharing an opinion” are, apparently, griping and dissent, not to be tolerated at BJU circa 1995.

To be honest, I’m not particularly surprised that BJU’s leaders were, and in all likelihood still are, opposed to interracial dating. Many white conservative Christians still are. Nor am I surprised that it took the pressure of overwhelming negative publicity for BJU to finally drop the ban in 2000. That’s pretty much how it goes when it comes to injustice and oppression. People who know better have to raise a stink for things to change.

What I have always found remarkable about the longevity of BJU’s ban is precisely the fact that other conservative Christians in large part didn’t protest the policy, and instead dealt with it with silence and complicity. Most conservative Christian leaders and churches did and said nothing to challenge an institutionalized, blatantly obvious form of racism at a nationally known conservative Christian university.

Most such Christians would deny having any problem with interracial relationships per se. Most would claim to believe racism is a sin. All of them would claim to believe in the unity of the church and the equal humanity and worth of all people.

Yet the end of the ban at BJU had virtually nothing to do with the Christian church. It came largely thanks to the evil liberal secular media.

The scandal here isn’t that some Christians are prejudiced, or even blatant racists. That’s true of all kinds of people. The scandal is that the media did the job the church should have done in calling out, pressuring, and, yes, publicly shaming BJU for their racist policy.

Here’s the connection Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney: There’s a disturbing pattern of evangelicals tolerating and making excuses for egregious and oppressive behavior when the people engaging in it are their kind of Christians. This is frequently coupled with a tendency to turn on and ostracize anyone who dares to call out prejudiced or harmful behavior for what it is.

We can see this in the backlash against Rachel Held Evans’ posts calling on Christians to denounce Mark Driscoll’s bullying speech and misogynistic teachings. We can see it in the SGM board and SGM defenders accusing Brent Detwiler and ex-SGM bloggers of “slander” when we dare to openly discuss even established and admitted facts about the pastors.

Part 2 of this post here.


Baltimore anti-trans hate crime: Why “toemageddon” matters

Heavy trigger warning – detailed discussion of transphobic violence.

Last week, Chrissy Polis, a transgender woman, was viciously attacked and beaten by two cisgender (or cis, i.e., not transgender or trans) girls at a McDonald’s in Baltimore, Maryland. Several people, including employees, merely stood by and laughed as Polis was repeatedly stomped on, jumped, dragged by her hair (to the point where chunks of her hair were strewn on the floor), and punched. One onlooker repeatedly referred to her as an “it.” Only the manager and one customer attempted to intervene. One employee apparently saw the incident as entertainment to be captured on video, continuing to film even after Polis, who is epileptic, began to have a seizure. She was left on the floor while the man filming encouraged her attackers to leave before the police arrived. [Sign the petition to hold the employees who stood idly by responsible.]

Why was Polis so brutally attacked? Simply because she wanted to use the restroom.

TransGriot has the video of the attack here. It’s horrifying; I felt sick watching it. But I think any cisgender person who won’t be triggered by it should watch it. See what the costs and consequences of our gender fundamentalism are for a real human being just trying to live her life like anyone else.

The ability to do something as basic and essential as using the bathroom without harassment, without being spit on as Polis was, without risking our safety or our lives, is something most cis people take for granted. In most situations it’s something we do without even thinking. Trans people and especially trans women don’t have this privilege. Using gender specific bathrooms, especially in public, is often a fraught and far from mundane task.

Few cis women would feel safe being forced to use the men’s bathroom, even if they are consistently read by others as female, and as the Transgriot points out, not all cis women “pass” as female by our narrow, prejudiced measures of femininity. Any woman, cis or trans, in a situation where some people read her as an “effeminate” male would be in even more danger in a men’s bathroom. Polis couldn’t use the men’s bathroom safely. And she couldn’t count on using the women’s bathroom safely, either.

Just a few years ago another trans woman, Christine Sforza, was bashed over the head in a New York City McDonalds for being in the women’s bathroom. Her attacker went free and she was arrested, even though she was the one who called the police for help. There wasn’t any video evidence of the assault. There usually isn’t. Neither woman’s experience was an isolated incident. This happens literally every day to trans and gender nonconforming people. But it usually happens out of sight, whether it’s in communities that are invisible because we don’t care about them as a culture (because of class, or occupation – like sex work), or hidden in plain sight as bullying, domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence. Every day.

Polis’s case has gotten attention because it was caught on video, and because of the racial aspect: her attackers are black and she is white. Much of the sympathy she’s gotten, even at supposedly progressive sites, has invoked racial slurs and stereotypes, and has described her attackers with animalistic language and imagery that has long history of being used to support anti-black racism and white supremacy. Polis’s gender identity wasn’t initially reported; now that it’s been made public, some of the sympathy she got at first has given way to victim-blaming vitriol.

If the attack on Polis hadn’t been caught on tape…If her attackers had been white…if her gender identity had been reported from the beginning…would this be a news item? Would people care quite as much? Probably not.

Because the news media is informed by a racist culture that depicts blacks as naturally violent and sub-human, and as a threat to white people rather than dealing honestly with the realities of systemic white privilege and macro-level structural violence against individuals and communities of color.

Because the news media is informed by a transphobic culture that blames trans and gender non-comforming people for any violence and discrimination perpetrated against them, and depicts them as a threat to cis, gender conforming people, rather than dealing honestly with the realities of systemic cis privilege and the daily harassment, discrimination, and violence trans* people face as individuals and as a group, as Diamond Stylz notes:


(Posted at Diamond Stylz, ht Questioning Transphobia)

Until just a couple weeks ago, the Maryland legislature had been considering legislation that was supposed to protect people against discrimination based on gender identity. But Equality MD, the main group lobbying for the legislation, made a “compromise” with liberal state politicians to remove public accommodations (including bathrooms) from the bill, because they felt this would make the bill more likely to pass (it didn’t). In doing so they ignored the protests of the MD trans community even as they claimed to speak for them, and ignored the fact that stand-alone “bathroom bills” have failed repeatedly, due to opponents portraying trans women as predatory “men in dresses” who would use the law as a pretext to assault cis women in restrooms.

The attack on Chrissy Polis is just one example that the exact opposite is true: the real danger is posed by cis people, to trans people. As Transgriot puts it, cis people are the real bathroom predators. Polis now feels afraid to leave her home. Her past criminal record, completely irrelevant to the case, has been made public, almost certainly as a way to smear her as being responsible for the attack. She’s worried that the publicity over her gender identity and record will hurt her chances of getting a job in the future. As she says, no one should have to be afraid to go outside or face job discrimination just because of their gender identity.

This is why legislation that protects the rights of people of all gender identities to use public facilities is a non-negotiable necessity. Maryland also has no hate crime laws that protect gender identity (or sexual orientation). On the state level, this attack can only be prosecuted as a hate crime is race is shown to have been a factor.

The two attackers in this case are 14 and 18. At least one of them can still be called a child. That’s horrifying. People who call these young women “monsters” or “animals” are missing the real horror of the situation, perhaps deliberately. This is what we’re teaching kids to do. When we portray gender variant people as scary and threatening, as lurking in bathrooms to assault cis women. When we turn our heads or even nod approvingly when boys beat each other up for being “effeminate.” When we ignore sexual and physical violence, even fatal violence, against people because of their gender presentation. When we lose our collective shit over a boy with pink toenails.

We’re teaching them that it’s perfectly acceptable to lash out against fellow human beings, just because they don’t fit into neat little gender boxes.