Respecting Ignorance: Nope.

Once again from the turgid sea of content that is Tumblr, I bring you something relevant to my interests.

The (lovely and you should be following her) Iridessence got asked the following question.

In response to your “Respect Gender Pronouns” post. I can respect the proper pronouns, but not everyone knows them or is able to tell what someone is. I don’t like it when people get seriously offended when they are called the wrong pronoun by someone that they don’t even know. How is that person supposed to know what you want to be called?

Can there be respect for ignorance too? For those that are old fashioned or just plain unaware of new pronouns?

Respect ignorance.  That’ll be a bumper sticker any minute now.

Iridessence’s excellent answer: “You should probably ask a trans person, since even if it were my place to answer, I’m not sure how to.”

It didn’t actually address the asker’s concerns, though, so here’s my answer, edited slightly for clarity.

Respect Gender Pronouns patch from TheChurchofHotCoffee on Etsy.

This awesome patch and many others are available from TheChurchofHotCoffee on Etsy.

I’m female-leaning genderfluid who was born female and passes as female. It ain’t my place to speak for everyone, and I have a shitton of privilege and am sort of waffly on where exactly I fit in, so I don’t know if I can rightly put forth an opinion on behalf of trans* folks, but I have to say, as a member of other marginalized groups:

“Can there be respect for ignorance, too?”

NO.  Indulgence and possibly understanding, and respect for the people themselves, but for the actual ignorance, no, not ever, NEVER, respect.  You do not respect ignorance.  Ignorance is the water that passively allows the poison of hate to fucking spread, and as it is harmful, it is not something that compels respect.

“For those that are old fashioned or just plain unaware of new pronouns?”

For the ignorant/unaware, there should be some level of tolerance, I think.  Some level of understanding that this is not a new thing (trans* history goes back to the earliest human civilizations), but a thing that is only just now making its way into the light of our own culture, and so it is new to some people.  So for people who don’t understand it yet, but would like to or are trying to, I think that there should be some meeting in the middle.

It is important to understand, though, that it can be really fucking tiring for trans* folks to have to correct people, and have those awkward, sometimes long, and always potentially hostile conversations.  Nobody is obligated to tiptoe around the ignorant person’s feelings.  Sometimes it’s fine to say “Take it or leave it.  Problems?  Problems.  Fine.  I have no time for this discussion and am not obligated to educate you when you could do it yourself. Goodbye.”

For the “old-fashioned” who just don’t want to acknowledge that gender is complicated?  NOOOOO.  I’m not saying outright hostility without provocation is called for, or anything, but a person’s right to respect trumps another person’s right to say shit that disrespects them, and deliberately misgendering someone because you disagree about who they are inside — as if you fucking know them better than they do — is very very very disrespectful.

The relatively polite question-asker toward whom I bear no ill will, doesn’t like it when people get upset about being misgendered.  Well, people get upset because they really don’t like being misgendered.  If it’s accidental, well, reacting badly is maybe not okay, but it’s sure kind of understandable considering how often it is done on purpose, and the results that can come from that.  “I don’t like it when marginalized people who are sometimes murdered for being what they are get angry when they have been hurt by someone refusing to acknowledge them in a way that doesn’t actually cost anyone anything other than a tiny bit of consideration” is … you do see how that looks?  You see how petty and one-sided and bratty that sounds?  Aside from genuine oh-shit-sorry-I-didn’t-know ignorance, there is no reason other than being kind of a butthole to refuse to acknowledge a person’s preferred gender once you are made aware of it.

I am not entirely unsympathetic, okay?  Truly, I am not.  I get it.  I’m assuming you’re talking about people who maybe would respect the person’s identity if they knew it, but they don’t know, and they get it wrong.  Yeah.  I get annoyed when someone who has literally no way of knowing what gender someone they are taking to (on the internet, for instance) and makes a guess, and they’re wrong, and then they get attacked.

I am sad that happens.  That’s shitty.  Not as shitty as, you know, being attacked for wearing the “wrong” clothes or using the “wrong” restroom, but shitty.  But you know how often I’ve seen that?  I’m holding up one hand and wiggling most of the fingers.  Now, maybe you’ve seen that way more often, and if so, I’m truly sorry you had that experience, and I have sympathy.  I legit hate that it happens, it makes me angry and sad, and I call it out when I see it.

But you know how many times I’ve seen people get all upset and whiny because they deliberately misgendered someone and the person responded by standing up for themselves and saying anything from “Hey, don’t do that please!” to “Go fuck yourself!” or something like that?  I stopped counting.  It’s not great that sometimes marginalized people assume ill will, but it’s coming from a place of being totally shit on by our culture at large, so, again, understandable.  And some trans* people are fucking jerks, just like some brain surgeons, some writers, some dog owners, some blonde people, and some neo-pagan people are fucking jerks.  Holding us to a standard of perfect politeness in addition to the expectation that we perform our gender “correctly” is fucking oppressive as shit.  It’s saying “No, we will only engage in dialogue with you if you are totally respectful of us when we are disrespectful of you.  Otherwise we shut it down until you can watch your tone.”

Basically, holding the progress of our acceptance hostage against our perfect good behavior.  Our culture may give you a free pass to do that, but marginalized folks don’t have to.  We don’t like it, and we aren’t obligated to do it.  So asking “why are some trans* people so meeeean” is futile.  Some people are just fucking mean, okay?  It sucks having run-ins with them, but holding them against us is not cool.

And yes, before you ask the somewhat logical “Then why is it okay to hold OUR behavior against US?!”, there’s a difference between the two.

There’s the side of being a defensive dickbag who tries to take your whole hand off when accidentally poked. Being a jerk results in hurt feelings.  Nothing more.

There’s the side of being an active oppressor who takes his right to say anything he wants as an excuse to shove toxic shit down the throats of people lower on the totem pole than he is. This system results in people getting beaten, raped, thrown out of their homes, and killed.

Therefore, there is a difference between holding the behavior of a marginalized person against the whole group, and holding the behavior of a bigoted shitwad against the group of people that for the most part fosters and encourages that shitwad behavior, and which actively shoves down that same marginalized group — thus causing a lot of defensive hostility.  And I hope you can understand that, or come to.

Again, a person’s right to respect trumps another person’s right to say shit that disrespects them, and marginalized people are the ones who get to define what is disrespectful to their group.  It’s very, very simple.  It’s just not something people want to have to acknowledge, because it requires dislodging their comfortable opinions about who people are and what they are supposed to be.

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