Anyone who knows me knows that I can be a bit of a 'scrapper'. I have an unswerving belief in the universal entitlement of all human beings to be treated with an equal level of dignity and respect. My other strongly-held tenet is that we are, as people, far stronger together than we are divided. This is why last week's #fuckcispeople Twitter storm troubled me as much as it did.
I am the editor-in-chief of an LGBT magazine and, as such, am ever mindful of the need to ensure that the all-important T is not neglected. To this end, I organised So So Gay's first 'Trans Awareness' month earlier this year. This was a deliberate effort to focus our efforts on our trans brethren and the enormous contribution they make to our society, as well as highlighting the considerable work left to be done. I don't expect a 'medal' for this; I consider it part of the job. Cards on the table: we have a long way to go, still. There have, admittedly, been occasions where writers have needed to seek advice as to the correct terminology when approaching trans issues. This has never been a problem for us; we encourage people to ask questions rather than to clumsily march forth in blindness.
The brutal truth is that the fight for trans equality lags behind LGB liberation considerably. There is a great deal of absolutely abominable transphobia running rampant in the world at large. Experience tells us that many people, including LGB people are unable to distinguish between terms like 'trans', 'transsexual', 'transgender' and even 'transvestite'. At worst, this lack of basic comprehension of key concepts leads to harassment, physical violence, murder and suicide. Hence, it is fully understandable that trans people actively seek ways in which to fight back. I quite often comment that I am immensely proud that LGBT people are becoming more assertive as a 'movement', no longer content to sit back and wait for their rights to be bestowed upon them.
Social media can be a very important weapon in the quest to raise awareness and, equally as valid, to simply vent your anger at injustice and oppression. However, we are rightly quick to rise in indignation when it is misused in a manner which advances nothing. Enter the #fuckcispeople debacle on Twitter. For those of you, LGB and otherwise, who are unacquainted with the term 'cis', it denotes someone who is not trans. It is in no way pejorative, instead being a Latin prefix, the opposite of 'trans'. On a basic level, it avoids the use of the term 'normal' to describe people who are not trans. Seems like a reasonable concept. At the weekend, the aforementioned hashtag began to emerge on Twitter. Now, upon closer inspection, the hashtag was used to express frustration at cis people's lack of understanding of or outright hostility towards trans people. This meant that the hashtag was generally followed up with 'who say ...' or 'who think ...'. This is the crux of the issue. There is a world of difference between #fuckcispeople and #fuckcispeoplewho. In the absolute mayhem that ensued once Twitter users became aware of the hashtag (more on that later), several users of the hashtag employed the argument that it was cis people's responsibility to read beyond the hashtag to glean the necessary information for themselves. However, this is obtuse at best: they know full well that a hashtag is often seen as a stand-alone entity, a bold statement intended to make maximum impact. When a hashtag 'trends', it trends alone and that is what people see.
Three days after I became embroiled in one of the most unpleasant days of social media activity of my life, I am still slightly perturbed by it. What I witnessed and experienced in the aftermath of #fuckcispeople can only be described as an act of mass bullying and harassment by a group of people so hate-fuelled that nothing, and I mean nothing, would placate them. It is absolutely vital at this juncture that I stress a point I made earlier: trans people have every right to be enraged by the inequality they continue to suffer. I find myself absolutely livid at some of the abuse, both physical and verbal, meted out to trans people, sometimes by those who should - and could - know better. I feel their frustration at the utter lack of fundamental understanding of the key issues. Something extremely worrying happens, though, when an oppressed group rejects those who are clearly allies in the most vehement terms possible, as happened this weekend.
To outline all that went backwards and forwards would be to bore you rigid. It all began with me expressing my dislike of the #fuckcispeople hashtag and unravelled from there. Over the course of a 14-hour exchange, during which I can honestly say I did not once tweet in an antagonistic, angry or patronising manner, I was faced with a barrage of condescending, patronising, sarcastic and downright offensive responses from a group of people (trans and cis) who clearly behave like a group of schoolyard bullies. It began with a cis person who took umbrage at my stated dislike of #fuckcispeople; in response to my point that the hashtag was likely to only offend people who knew what 'cis' meant, the response was along the lines of 'Oh poor you, you must be so hurt, let me play the tiniest violin in the world for you'. I then explained that I wasn't necessarily hurt and outlined the work I have done with my trade union to further trans awareness. Response: 'Wow. Thank you for deigning yourself to be a trans ally. How generous'. When the 'conversation' plummeted to the depths of 'PS. F*ck you', I knew this was the end of that particular exchange. Ironically, a colleague of hers later labelled me 'passive-aggressive' for blocking her, a reaction to all of the above plus being called a 'troll'.
As the 'debate' widened, more people chipped in. This is where I first encountered the 'tone argument' complaint. The gist of this is that no one (absolutely no one) should criticise the tone in which the oppressed express their consternation. I take issue with this theory, as did many other trans and cis people. It makes no sense whatsoever to send the message out that you may only consider yourself an ally should you refrain from any criticism of how the group you support express themselves. You could apply this profoundly flawed thesis to whole range of causes. I may, for example, agree with what drove the Suffragette movement without necessarily approving of hunger strikes as a form of protest. I saw many a tweet which accused allies of being 'false friends' because of their opposition to #fuckcispeople. The sheer venom spewed at trans allies who voiced their concern was, frankly, shocking. Do trans people need allies? Absolutely. There is no hope of increasing awareness and making a difference if you 1) make a blanket statement like #fuckcispeople and 2) collectively attempt to alienate self-declared allies through sarcasm, condescension and downright nastiness.
This betrays the utter nonsense and confusion behind what this group of people hoped to achieve with this hashtag. Over the course of the day, some of its proponents claimed it was simply an opportunity to 'vent' at injustice and that they are entitled to do so. Others, however, portrayed the hashtag as a 'wake-up call' to cis people. Now, I agree that there remains a great deal of educating to do in terms of raising awareness of transphobia and trans issues in general. However, something very extraordinary happened in relation to this. Once word of the hashtag spread, the inevitable 'What does 'cis' mean?' tweets appeared. This was met with a wall of derision by many hashtag supporters. The standard response seemed to be 'Don't you know how to use Google?'. Surely, this risks missing a crucial opportunity to enlighten another potential ally? Are we seriously saying that it is acceptable to behave provocatively by using a #fuck[ ]people hashtag and then pounce upon those who don't even understand the central meaning? This calls into question the very goals of the enterprise. What's more, there is an inescapable and cringeworthy inherent hypocrisy in instructing people to do their own research while, in turn, insulting people as 'hateful' and 'indifferent' for disagreeing with you and yet failing to even read their biography to see what they are really about.
Interestingly, one trans woman who took umbrage to #fuckcispeople and tweeted '#fucktranspeople for using the language of oppression, misogyny and violence' was immediately seized upon by #fuckcispeople supporters. They told her that it was a transphobic hashtag. This may seem a hugely hypocritical statement to cis people who don't understand the concept of 'privilege'. To me, 'privilege' is a very subjective term. People using #fuckcispeople claim that there is, in fact, a difference between that and #fucktranspeople. Why? Because cis people are the 'privileged'. A similar theory was applied when #killallmen trended on Twitter. The argument put forward was that it was more acceptable than #killallwomen because, by and large, men hold a position of 'privilege' culturally, socially and economically. To me, it's a convoluted idea and one which does nothing to detract from the overtly antagonistic, non-focussed hashtags I've previously described. It also seeks to pigeon hole people into positions of 'privilege' where there are likely to be more grey areas than black or white. Let's switch this up for one second and consider whether or not the real 'privilege' being rattled is a 'trans activist with a PhD' who seeks to undermine the intelligence of others by wielding arguments stepped in intellectual snobbery at those who they know it will bewilder. Which part of me, as a 'white cis male born into a working class family as the son of a coal miner' is more privileged than a 'white trans male born into a wealthy family and privately educated'? What's more, who exactly is obsessively placing labels on everyone here?
In conclusion, one Twitter user who supported #fuckcispeople put forward the opinion that trans people had tried long enough to make cis people understand their struggles by being polite. They argued that this hashtag is recognition of the anger felt by many trans people at the hatred and ignorance out there. My response to that is simple; we must never stop pushing the issues to the forefront by educating people. You don't make people understand by using aggressive hashtags on Twitter and you certainly don't make any positive difference by attacking those who disagree with you or those who merely ask genuine questions. The kind of overdramatic self-indulgence on display in some quarters (for example, 'I owe you nothing' in response to someone asking why a trans person would not explain was 'cis' means) was most unbecoming. It is crucial that those who are clearly natural allies of trans people are not ambushed in the manner observed these last few times. After all, it is the mark of a true friend and not, as was so often claimed, 'someone pretending to be an ally' that they support your cause but feel able to criticise your methods.
Ultimately, #fuckcispeople did nothing to further the desperate need for progress on trans issues. The sad truth is that the complexities of what it even means to be trans are alien to many, even within LGB circles. Has this hashtag increased awareness? No. It has merely drawn attention to the existence of a particularly vicious circle of people who have selfishly risked the furtherance of trans issues for their own ends. I disagree that making reference to a 'trans movement' dehumanises people, as one person claimed. If that were the case, one must surely ask why these people were so willing to lump all cis people together under one aggressive hashtag. All I know is, the LGBT community, with all of its imperfections, perhaps most insidious of all being the neglect of trans issues, is in no way bolstered by the kind of hatred on display this weekend. We are, by far, stronger together than we are apart. I saw several wonderful people who have worked tirelessly for trans rights, both cis and trans, come under a torrent of aggression from this group of people.
The implicit, and sometimes explicit, suggestion was very simple: that cis people had no right to be offended by #fuckcispeople because trans people have it worse. It's impossible to draw any conclusions on the validity of that argument here but all I do know is that no group of people has a monopoly on oppression. What I absolutely do believe is that there is strength in numbers and, like it or not, trans people need more people on their side. I, for one, remain firmly committed to equality for all, including trans people. I just hope the potential damage caused by #fuckcispeople and the lazy, (passive-)aggressive, sometimes self-serving 'activism' that belies it, does not detract from the human reality and the need to tune more people into it. The proponents of the hashtag who were prepared to hurl bile at anyone who dared to challenge them are not the real face of trans activism, are not immune to criticism and, in reality, have done nothing to further a cause they seek to dominate.