Why do cis men defend the outing of trans women?
[Trigger warning: discussion of transphobia, transmisogyny, misgendering, self harm]
This was going to be a post about Caleb Hannan, a man who calls himself a “journalist” and who, in the course of what he thinks “journalism” is, hounded a trans woman into suicide, and then (because that wasn’t enough) turned his “story” – and the details of her suicide – into a self-aggrandizing, sensationalist narrative about himself.
But you can read many other excellent people’s writing on it:
- Aoifeschatology: Dead Trans Women in the Print Guillotine [note: includes description of suicide attempt]
- Maria Dahvana Headley: Hostile Subjects, Vulnerable Sources and the Ethics of Outing
- At Autostraddle: Why we can’t accept lazy, transmisogynistic journalism
- Shakesville: Careless, Cruel and Unaccountable [note: Shakesville has a history of shitty treatment of trans issues]
I want to discuss a different aspect of this article: the reactions of journalists, predominantly cis men, who have tried to insist:
- we can’t tell her life story without mentioning her gender identity! (when the article was never about her life story)
- it’s just like how we mention people’s past marriages! (when there are obvious differences in how our society treats divorcees and trans women)
- we should focus on the “fascinating” ethical side of this! (when a woman is dead)
And those points are all just so utterly irrelevant to the facts – that a journalist invaded an interviewee’s privacy, ignored her pleas for respect, and exploited her suicide – that I can really only come to one conclusion.
Y’all are a bit fucking insecure about trans women, aren’t you?
Every objection, every insistence that we treat this case as part of a “wider discussion”, every excuse about “telling the full story”, every lie told that Dr V’s gender identity was somehow relevant to a story about a golf putter and possible discrepancies in her academic record, boils down to one thing: WE MUST KNOW THAT SHE IS TRANS! WE MUST! THE WORLD MUST KNOW!
And we have to see this in the context of a society which treats trans women as a punchline – where the scenario of cis-men-who-have-sex-with-trans-women-without-knowing-it is treated as the height of “gotcha! oh snap!” comedy. Ally McBeal. The entire plot of Ace Ventura Pet Detective. Austin Powers. Nip/Tuck. And in a more serious vein, God knows how many episodes of the various Law & Order and CSI franchises – which usually highlight (in their sensationalist way) the real, terrible issue of trans women being murdered by their “betrayed” sexual partners – who are usually portrayed as violent thugs, but you know, violent thugs who maybe had a good reason this time.
The “reverse” situation – cis-woman-has-sex-with-trans-man-without-knowing-it – is almost non-existent.
So we end up in a society where heterosexual cis men are told that having sex with a trans woman is tantamount to having homosexual sex (and therefore wrong! And unmasculine!!!) Where trans women are seen as inherently deceitful, to the point that being-a-trans-woman-and-not-disclosing-your-history-before-sex is tantamount to a deliberate conspiracy to make poor hetero cis men have gay sex (and therefore become Not Real Men!!!) Where the good and proper dudely thing to do is to make sure that all the other dudes know that someone is a trans woman (and thus, to them, Not A Real Woman).
And we end up in a society where Dudes Who Journalise vehemently defend the rights of another Journalist Dude to invade a woman’s privacy, threaten her safety, ignore her pleas and cause her suicide. Using arguments which are irrelevant to the actual facts of the matter.
We end up saying, “how dare you treat this real-life tragedy as a thought experiment”, but what I wonder is: are they really treating this story as a thought experiment? Or does it all just boil down to hetero cis men’s sense of ownership over bodies-they-might-want-to-fuck?