Sunday, February 10, 2013

tr*nnygate: i did something unkind and i wanna talk about it

I did something bad. The other day, on Thursday, I said the word tranny in a tweet and it upset some people. Then when these people said that was an offensive word my posture was "whatever, I'm going to say it even more." That wasn't nice of me at all. This was my tweet:

There are two elements of backstory on my part which are not excuses, not at all, but they might help inform some of my where I'm coming from: I only have four trans* (I'm using the term trans* because that's what these people on twitter said to use) friends but we use this word and we text each other "What's up, tranny?" if that informs a bit where I'm coming from. And those people's perspective doesn't mean that every person should have that perspective. Another piece of my story is that there are a few internet people in particular who have repeatedly had problems with things I say and because my story involves authority figures whom I could never make happy and who often critiqued my words, that sort of critique even now sends me to a primal place where I feel like my autonomy and identity are threatened and I feel like I need to assert the fact that I'm my own person, because some key players in my past were intent on silencing me. So when I started being told not to say tranny some of that panic came to the surface for me, that whole undercurrent of "this again, I'm being told to disappear and acquiesce." I didn't realize this at the time. I was like "eff that, I'm going to say it even more." It even encouraged me that no one expressing offense was an actual trans* person and that several trans* people expressed amusement and support. And here is another thing about me, and I am not saying this is an excuse for my behavior, but for some reason it's difficult for me when people who do not belong to a marginalized group take on that group's agenda and become deeply offended on that group's behalf. I wish I could explain it better and I know it's probably rooted in my story again as every last damn thing always is, and it also has something to do with the manner in which they take offense. @TwoFriars said it really well on Thursday, they used the terms "planting a flag of self-righteous indignation" vs. "encouraging virtue in each other." When someone acts out of what feels like self-righteous indignation and not in a way to try to make room for the backstory of the offending party, that is very difficult for me. It has something to do with my story and the ways that my motives weren't given credence but I was judged and punished based on my actions, and the people who did the punishing had boundaries that kept moving. I never knew where the line was. So all of that acts up in me when I see people who appear intent on being indignant for the sake of shaming someone without being interested in encouraging virtue in each other. And maybe the worst part is that I totally did this on Thursday. I didn't make any room for the offended parties' story. I only paid attention to my territory. I think this was a big part of the problem.

So when the tweets started flying all of this was acting up for me. I felt panic that my right to expression was being threatened in some way. It doesn't mean my right to express myself was actually being threatened but it felt to me very realistically that it was, because of my story. And this is what I think happened for the people who were upset by my tweets. I was reminding them of their abusers. I was being insensitive to them and to their story. I wasn't acting out of curiosity towards what they've been through and how my actions affect them. I was in survival mode, as dramatic as that sounds, because I was being strongly reminded of times I had to fight to maintain my sense of self. And this was happening on their side too. My words and my insistent posture were reminding them of when they had to fight to maintain their senses of self. It was a really bad scene.

I tweeted a question on Facebook and one of my trans* friends responded saying trans* people aren't offended by that word (the screencap of that is here). I felt affirmed and smug. Then a trans* ally tweeted me this:

and it contained a link to a story by the guy from MST3K about when he found out on twitter that the word tranny is offensive (link to that is here) and something clicked for me. I immediately felt the hurt I had caused these people and I kinda got it. And it had something to do with how self-sacrificing this Joe person was, he had every reason to be offended and yet he was so generous and really took it on the chin and gave me goodness and grace anyway. I tweeted an apology (here is what I tweeted across the space of several tweets: "I'm sorry. I was really insensitive and cunty. Can you forgive  me? I wish I could go back in time and undo those things I said. I want the best for you.  I just want you to know how deeply sorry I am to have  hurt you at all. I don't mean to imply you ever need to forgive me, I guess the main thing is I feel horrible I hurt you") and there was a Facebook discussion about all of this (you can see that here). Some of the people who had been offended said they wanted a direct apology so I gave that to them that and then I saw that one of them had a problem with the fact that in my apology I said my behavior was "cunty." This triggered another domino thing for me because part of my story is that my abusers would say it was my fault I made them harm me and then they would make me apologize to them, and then they would critique my apology. This was a pattern, so when I heard that this person didn't like my wording in an apology, that again made me feel panic about these old instances and they felt new all over again. So I tweeted some of this at this person and haven't heard back but that is okay of course, that's part of it. I mean, I'd like to have forgiveness but that's the thing about asking forgiveness, we can't demand it at all. I think in the space between asking for forgiveness and waiting for it to be received we feel the pain we caused, in a way, because that waiting is excruciating and if we're truly sorry we want that shalom so badly. An equally huge truth is that we all act out of what our story is, nothing is ever just black and white and cut and dried like that. So I want to remember to make room for this with all the people I interact with. And what really sucks is I know I'm going to screw up at this sometimes, I already did it this morning with my daughter, I got upset about something because I didn't make room for her context. This is one of the worst things about being human but I actually really think that because I've received grace that I'm able to give it. The past few years I've been working on soaking in grace people give me because on a base level I don't feel like I deserve it and I let goodness go over my head and don't let it sink in, there is something about me that feels like I don't deserve anything good, especially not sweetness and kindness. So when I am able to accept it I'm strangely able to give it. Well, I guess that's actually not strange, that kind of makes logical sense to receive something and then be able to give it. But there is some kind of paradox going on too which makes me think of the line from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and what Scott Peck said about it on the last page People Of The Lie: Hope For Healing Human Evil:
The healing of evil––scientifically or otherwise––can be accomplished only by the love of individuals. A willing sacrifice is required. The individual healer must allow his or her own soul to become the battleground. He or she must sacrificially absorb the evil.

Then what prevents the destruction of that soul? If one takes the evil itself into one’s heart, like a spear, how can one’s goodness still survive? Even if the evil is vanquished thereby, will not the good be also? What will have been achieved beyond some meaningless trade-off?

I cannot answer this in language other than mystical. I can say only that there is a mysterious alchemy whereby the victim becomes the victor. As C. S. Lewis wrote: “When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

I do not know how this occurs. But I know that it does. I know that good people can deliberately allow themselves to be pierced by the evil of others––to be broken thereby yet somehow not broken––to even be killed in some sense and yet still survive and not succumb. Whenever this happens there is a slight shift in the balance of power in the world.
I feel like this is what Jon Stark did when he could have responded with indignation but instead gave me softness and acted in good faith. I want so much to absorb evil sacrificially but it sounds so scary, and the idea of it makes me once again go into panic mode where I think "I've been the victim of so much bad stuff, I can't take on any more, what about boundaries? Where do those come into play?" I struggle so much with these questions and I think I will for a really long time, but while I have these questions I always think of the Mother Teresa quote: "I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." That's such a gigantic paradox. But I've experienced it and I want to go with it. I want to know the ways I don't love well and how what I do affects people and I hope they can have that space for me as well and maybe this ancient idea can spread a little farther and deeper. I would like that! Thank you guys very very much for hanging in there with me.

love, stephy

(I also talked about all of this on this episode of Dongtini if you want to hear more.)


Karla said...

Stephanie, that was gorgeous. I've struggled with word usage for years and whether or not there is such a thing as a word being universally hateful (and I do think some are), and I've also struggled with why I've felt so resentful when told not to use certain words, even though I can definitely see why they'd trigger people and why others would find them hateful. Even when I agree that the word sucks, if you tell me in a certain, well, biblical tone I must never use it, and you have an avenging angel expression on your face, it reminds me of my abusive mom and I get terrified, like you can see to the depths of my evil soul, and then I get scared and then I hate you for scaring me and making me feel like scum yet again, because I've been trying to fight against that since my mom died.

Words do matter. It's okay to despise a particular word and to explain why. But I think it's also important to differentiate between people who are using it hatefully and people who are using it because they genuinely have no idea it's hurtful. People fuck up.

(I know I copied and pasted this from Facebook. Fuck it. It's Sunday. God wants us to cut and paste on Sunday.)

Kara said...

I love you Stephy. Thank you for being brave.

Christy S said...

I followed the link from FB.
You're doing the best you can. You happen to have the disadvantage of being human, and therefore fallible. You did an awesome thing by choosing to apologize and tell your story. I think stories can suck a lot of the evil out of the world, because they help us understand each other and gain perspective. Stories like this are very powerful, so thank you for giving it to us.
Honestly, when I feel like everyone is out to get me (which is fairly often actually) I re-read Johnny the Homicidal Maniac for the gazillionth time. It isn't uplifting, cheerful, or any of the things people try to tell you is the right way to process things. It's angry, violent, and ugly in places. It's also remarkably insightful, and quite beautiful if you're in the right place to see it.
Good luck with everything, and don't lose faith in yourself.

LKT said...

Such a brave and noble post, from a brave and noble person. Thank you for your honesty and humility. And for teaching me something!

Love you,

Still Breathing said...

Stephy, I am having a lot of trouble responding to this for one simple reason - I'm angry about how you were treated. Angry that someone who I love and value as a person has been hurt and that makes it hard for me to clear my thoughts. That anger hurts and I hope and pray that in some small way that enables me to carry part of your pain.
I haven't read the Twitter exchanges and have only scanned the FB comments but I think I have got a picture of what has been going on that isn't skewed by my friendship with you. Firstly I don't think you were wrong to use the word 'tranny' as you had never come across it used as a term of abuse. Secondly I am suspicious of those who objected who aren't part of that community; their intervention of the behalf of others sounds very legalistic and like the Pharisees or Thought Police. Your reaction was understandable to anyone who knows you even if it all it did was stir things up. Your apology was gracious even if someone who obviously doesn't know you objected to your language.
Most importantly you have learnt from this and will give space to others stories in the future. My concern is that you don't lose sight of your own story in the process. Your story is just as important as anyone else's and has helped and inspired many through your on-line presence.

Look after yourself
God bless and PFATP

stephy said...

Some of the people who took offense to what I said on twitter have long reminded me of people from my past whom I couldn't please. I only hear from some of them when they're hopping mad and some haven't ever acknowledged my apologies in the past. I know they each have their own story. It's just good for me to be aware of how intensely they remind me of authority figures from my past and the futility I always felt with them and how much of my response to them is actually to the old figures.

Alex said...

Hey there Stephanie,

Found your blog this morning -- oddly enough, by doing a search for Sufjan Stevens, with whom I have a love/meh relationship -- and reading your yesterday post feels eerily synchronicitous.

I've been having a lot of conversations with friends about accountability. And using the framework of everyone having a story and the importance of leaving space for each person's context has been the key component of those processes. Thanks for sharing. :D

Karla said...

"Secondly I am suspicious of those who objected who aren't part of that community; their intervention of the behalf of others sounds very legalistic and like the Pharisees or Thought Police."

This. When a person used language like "I am offended on behalf of...," I immediately check out. I also get super defensive because it reminds me of all the abusers I knew as a kid who claimed to be speaking in the name of Christ.

It's also difficult because there are otherwise reasonable people who use that language because they've been led to believe that's the Right Way to express disapproval, like a simple "Hey, I don't like that word - please don't use it" isn't sufficient. And sometimes it's not sufficient for containing that person's anger - believe me, I know from. But no matter how sincere you are, if you use the "I'm so offended" jargon, I'm gonna freak the hell out. Just tell me you're really pissed off and let's hear each other out and hopefully move forward.

stephy said...

I think about this Desmond Tutu quote a lot, might as well paste it here: "Dear Child of God, I write these words because we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in the world will ever end. I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine....Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.—Archbishop Desmond Tutu"

Still Breathing said...

"True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing." Is definitely my story; I didn't succeed in reaching reconciliation but at least I have a clear conscience over the matter.

stephy said...

The most difficult part now is that the people who talked most about my saying this and tweeted about it haven't also tried to spread around my apology they way they spread their disdain for me. It is reminding me hard of my abusers who were gleeful about my "sin" (their term) and when I apologized they critiqued my apology and wouldn't accept it. All kinds of old memories I hadn't had in some time are at the surface again. This is hard.

Still Breathing said...

Don't we all do that? Spot when someone messes up but don't notice the things done well. Mostly we just shrug it off as the way life is but this was done in public which is more hurtful. Then they failed to engage when you explained why you might have been right; even if they have no idea of your story this was still wrong.

All I wanted to do was give you a hug but there are too many miles between us for that to happen. So, even though I'm struggling with prayer at the moment, I held you in prayer as often as I could over the weekend.

When others have a go and try to shame you just remember I'm not the only one out here supporting you. We don't follow you blindly and will tell you if we think you have messed up big time - but we will do it privately so as not to shame you.

God bless and PFATP

Billy Dean said...

People need to lighten up and not get their feelings hurt so easily.

~Billy D.

Anonymous said...

I looked through your different blogs etc. and you became instantly my HERO!!! … which is defined as someone who would probably enjoy watching Big Lebowski with me … (funniest film eva' with cursing transcended to poetry) … like "Finally! A normal enough Sister of mine that's normal enough to be crazy in this crazy world! So liberating!!

… Then I read the tr*nny story, and I immediately wanted to be your body guard! … and then someone objecting to your apology because of u using the word c*nty: I thought: Enough of this crap! … But, at the end of the day, we all learn stuff in unusual ways (Romans 11:33) …

Anyways, you are my HERO now, (and just listened to you and your friend's podcast), and I wonder: Do you like The Big Lebowski? Score from 1 to 10 ^_^

Unknown said...

i know all about the moving boundaries---thats how i was raised too

Anonymous said...

A problem with apologies in general--and, particularly, for good people like you who try to be considerate and feel really bad when they say something perceived as insensitive--is that people tend to perceive you how you represent yourself. I've got friends who over-apologize and worry about how they're coming across constantly, and I feel like they sometimes get more shit over minor slips than insensitive dicks who blindly tramp over everyone get for much worse things. And gender obviously plays into this, as well as the ugly Internet pack mentality.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have apologized (not that I would have the right to say that, in any case), but I do think your instincts were justified. When people make a big deal about a good-natured mistake that does not come out of a place of malice, often they're just looking for an excuse to bring you down.

And social meaning is interactional. Being publicly hurt is as much of a social act as being indignant or being self-righteous. Not that the hurt isn't "real," but it does serve a social role, and is used in the negotiation of power (albeit, unconsciously.) Being a sacrifice is a social act too, and one that tends to invite stabbing.

I guess what I'm really saying is that you're cool. I've read your blog for a while, and admire your humor, insight and compassion, and humbly suggest that you not let anyone make you feel ashamed over a minor fuck up. Being compassionate, feeling regret, expressing remorse are all good things, but self-flagellation in the face of the mob really doesn't heal anyone.

I'm a white, hetero guy. I can't speak for trans folks or women, but I do think it's a shame when the compassion of good people is used as a weapon against them. That's a big part of the reason why so few good people are in power IMO.

Also, as a woman, you don't need anyone's permission to say "cunty" if you want to.

Anonymous said...

The slur is not the only problem.

Your reaction to being informed by both trans allies and trans individuals of the slur was part of the problem. People shouldn't have to out themselves to prove that something you did was hurtful or be nice about the fact that you were using a slur. I highly doubt you would tell someone in the same situation with a different slur to calmly and politely explain to you why it is a slur.

The first thing you should have done was check around online, there are many trans and trans-friendly spaces which discuss the issue.

Not only did you put the onus on the hurt to explain why what you did was wrong, you demanded that people out themselves and their friends as trans, not only that but in a public space. You also did nothing to discourage you army of followers from attacking all of the people who tried to inform you of the problem. This army of followers also continued to attack many people even after this "apology" was put out.

Finally, the *biggest* problem is the harmful stereotypesabout trans women that your tweets perpetuated. The "funny" aspext of your experience was entirely based in mocking trans womanhood, whether the person you were insulting on twitter was trans or not.

It is *not* okay to mock anyone using harmful stereotypes of any sort, whether the person is part of the stereotyped group or not.

This "apology" is *not* remotely adequate as a response to all the harm you did by using these hurtful stereotypes, the slur, or your personal army to attack trans women and their allies when they tried to call you out on your abusive behaviour.

Also, today you've been demanding that people provide you with an example of a time where you treated the emotions of the oppressor over those ofnthe oppressed. This whole situation is a *perfect* example. You cared more about veing told that you couldn't use a certain slur than you cared about the feelings of the people who felt betrayed by your use of transmisogyny, a slur, and an *army* of people who will attack anyone who disagrees with you.

So don't ever say that you have never privileged the oppressor over the oppressed.

stephy said...