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  • Jessica McDonald

Catching the problematic self (NSFW language)

#seriousstuff #transrights


I wanna take a minute and write about privilege and what it means to expand your view of the human condition and be an actual ally. My privilege lies in being cis and white passing, in my socioeconomic class and education, in being married to a white, cishet dude. Most of these areas I understand well, and I understand–although not KNOW, because I don’t have that experience–the obstacles facing people who do not have these privileges. One area I am still learning about trans* issues, and that’s the example I want to use here.


When I was living in Japan, there was some weird ass game show (because that’s what Japan does exceedingly well, weird ass game shows) and one of the challenges was to place contestants on a seat and blindfold them. Then, on a platform that slid along a track toward the chair, there was a rather large man wearing a dress and make-up. The idea was the contestant had to hit a button to stop the man from moving closer–whoever let him get the closest won. If the man on the platform got all the way to the contestant, he kissed him. One of the contestants didn’t stop the platform, and the man in a dress kissed him and the contestant passed out. Everyone on the show thought it was uproariously funny.


I laughed too. At the time, I thought it was funny too.


I cringe writing this now because fifteen years later, I see all the things wrong with that set-up. It’s transmisogynistic. It’s homophobic. It’s fatphobic. It’s gross. I don’t defend my past self for laughing. I don’t write it off as “just a joke.” I was a teenager and the culture I lived in, both American and Japanese, taught me that transwomen and gay people were objects of ridicule, punchlines, lesser. So when a man in a dress kissed another man, I laughed. I took what prevalent culture taught me and didn’t question it.


And that’s the problem with privilege. You don’t see the harm unless it’s affecting you directly. You don’t question the culture that taught you it’s okay to use human beings as the butt of jokes. It stems from ignorance, in the dictionary definition of the word. There will be a time, though, when your ignorance is challenged. When someone speaks up about an issue about which you know nothing. At that point, you have a choice: You can either continue to be a part of dominant culture–a culture that causes real, tangible violence to people–or you can fucking listen.

If you choose to support the dominant culture, it’s easier. It’s more comfortable. You don’t have to write public stories about how you laughed at a man in a dress and feel embarrassed over exposing your own biases. You can pretend you are a perfect ally–but you won’t be. You won’t be because whenever someone corrects your errors (and you will make them, because you’re human), you’ll get defensive. You’ll not want to give up the humor you find in ridiculing others. You’ll feel uncomfortable and indignant and you’ll bemoan how everyone’s upset about everything these days, but you’ll get to write it off as other people “not taking a joke” or being too serious or too angry.


It’s infinitely easier, and you’ll never risk anything because you’ll still be part of the dominant culture. But make no mistake– you will NOT be an ally.


Allies take the road that forces them to investigate their own internal biases. To question the gut reaction they have to things that are outside the dominant culture. And to do that, you have to listen. You have to listen to perspectives that aren’t your own, and you have to actually, actively choose to incorporate that information into your worldview. You’ll probably have to recognize that you’ve done some fucking problematic things in the past, but it’s okay–the first step to change is to identify the problem. What matters is what you do now.


I’m really tired of privileged people getting defensive, particularly over comedy. If you live in a world that’s so safe and comfortable and secure that not being able to make racist, homophobic, transantagonisic, sexist, abelist, etc jokes is such a problem that you get upset about it, check your goddamned privilege. And I don’t mean that ironically. I mean take a hot minute and consider that your right to laugh at someone does not outweigh that person’s right to exist. Exercise compassion. Listen. Take the uncomfortable road that requires self-awareness and a change in worldview and a shift in your understanding of people.


Or don’t. Hey, it’s a free country. But don’t you dare call yourself an ally if you can’t be bothered to make any changes in yourself. You’re claiming to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who suffers real harm, but what you’re really doing is wearing their suffering as a crown of acquired justice. You didn’t fight for it. You didn’t help obtain it. You just stood there and stole some of the light so you could feel good about yourself. That makes you a thief, not an ally.

So do what you want. But understand that your actions, the way you react to your privilege and the voices of the marginalized, they’ll garner reactions too. No one owes you praise and if you truly care about the issues you claim to, be brave. Take the uncomfortable road.

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