Thursday, October 3, 2013

Angry, Concerned Student is Angry, Concerned

[Content note: trans bigotry]

You might have seen some conservative "anti-PC" types enthusiastically praising University of Wisconsin grad student Jason Morgan for his rant against, basically, political correctness gone awry.

His letter to the University's Graduate Director, which he (in true conservative outrage, shit-stirring style!) also sent to various news outlets, seems to have been inspired by the University's mandated diversity trainings that teaching assistants have to attend.

So, you can imagine it already.

In addition to railing against rampant leftism and expressing outrage at the trainings' "overriding presumption" that attendees might be racist, he takes particular issue with the sessions on transgender issues.  He writes:

"At the end of yesterday’s diversity 're-education,' we were told that our next session would include a presentation on 'Trans Students'. At that coming session, according to the handout we were given, we will learn how to let students ‘choose their own pronouns’, how to correct other students who mistakenly use the wrong pronouns, and how to ask people which pronouns they prefer ('I use the pronouns he/him/his. I want to make sure I address you correctly. What pronouns do you use?'). Also on the agenda for next week are 'important trans struggles, as well as those of the intersexed and other gender-variant communities,' 'stand[ing] up to the rules of gender,' and a very helpful glossary of related terms and acronyms, to wit: 'Trans': for those who 'identify along the gender-variant spectrum,' and 'Genderqueer': 'for those who consider their gender outside the binary gender system'. I hasten to reiterate that I am quoting from diversity handouts; I am not making any of this up. 

.... It is an honor and a great joy to teach students the history of Japan. I take my job very seriously, and I look forward to coming to work each day. 

It is most certainly not my job, though, to cheer along anyone, student or otherwise, in their psychological confusion. I am not in graduate school to learn how to encourage poor souls in their sexual experimentation, nor am I receiving generous stipends of taxpayer monies from the good people of the Great State of Wisconsin to play along with fantasies or accommodate public cross-dressing.

In this instance, while Morgan may get lots of standing o's from like-minded, close-minded types, he actually, quite sadly, demonstrates pretty well why such trainings are and should be required for public employees who have to interact with a diverse student body.

I mean, the very way he discusses gender issues is largely an ignorant mischaracterization. Referring to transgender and/or genderqueer people (it's not super clear how or whether he even distinguishes the two) as "poor souls" who engage in "cross-dressing" "fantasies" does a pretty good job of diminishing his credibility as an informed academic who is so enlighteningly-above needing to learn more about gender.

Wanna-be intellectual freedom crusaders further lose credibility when they treat discussions that in any way diverge from their own provincial "Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus"  thinking about gender as so self-evidently absurd that they don't even require rebuttal.  With his sneering "I am not making any of this up," it's as though he's confronted, for perhaps the very first time, thoughts about gender that differ from his own and that, mistakenly, everyone else is a n00b to gender issues as well.

Yet, transgender people actually exist in the real world even if Jason Morgan doesn't know, doesn't want to know, or doesn't think he knows, any!

Genderqueer people actually exist in the real world even if Jason Morgan doesn't know, doesn't want to know, or doesn't think he knows, any!

Most people want to be addressed by the gender pronouns they identify with and it's generally good manners to call people what they want to be called.

So, what's the fucking problem, dude?

The other day, I read a piece at Salon about (other easily-offended white people might want to close their eyes now) white privilege in the debate about naming mascots after Native American caricatures. In it, Steven Salaita (or his editor) notes in the sub-title that there's "nothing scarier than a nervous white man."


The way that white people angrily defend certain mascots of their ballsports' teams seems similar to the way that some people angrily defend their "intellectual freedom" to remain ignorant and close-minded about diversity and transgender issues. To be a white cisgender man in the US used to be something very, extremely important compared to being other types of people. At least, that seems to have been the promise made to many such folks: that they were, would be, and deserved to be the real movers and shakers in the world, with other people relegated mostly to supporting, subordinate, and awestruck roles.

As white cisgender men increasingly confront the brokenness of that promise in an era of increasing civil rights and awareness, everyone else has to increasingly deal with the angry, anxious white man fallout of them periodically stamping their feet about it while other dudes cheer them on at, say, the Wall Street Journal.

Salaita continues that the perpetuation of offensive mascots are "products of an American will to name what has been conquered and to maintain power through a refusal to reconsider traditions of naming." Just as masses of white people scream, and I do mean scream, about PC gone awry in the mascot debate, cisgender people often refuse to reconsider naming transgender people what transgender people want to be named even as these cisgender people evidence not even an iota of understanding of transgender issues.

Again, I reference Morgan's "I am not making this up" snark as though he, rather than transgender people or people who study gender for a living, is the real namer of whether transgender lives are authentic or not.

Men who cheer on Morgan's rant are likely those who treat diversity training as though it viscerally pains them, and is an assault on their intellectual freedom, to be confronted with the reality that people who aren't like them both exist and do not all go waiving around "White Men Are #1" foam fingers all day long 24/7/365. From reading his letter, one might think that the diversity training is mandating that he personally clothe transgender women in poodle skirts each morning, whilst then donning pom-pons and megaphones, perhaps with the added humiliation of being forced to apply a couple of layers of mascara as well.

Yet, all he, or anyone, really has to do to be even just a halfway okay person is call someone by their preferred pronoun and not, like, physically assault someone because they're trans. And that's a pretty fucking low bar when you think about it.

His letter doesn't seek so-called intellectual freedom. It demands the power to name reality and asks the rest of us to participate in the charade of white male supremacy.

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