Guest Blogger

13 Ways to Avoid Blame for Homophobia & Transphobia

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 01, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: homophobic behavior, transphobia

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Matt Smith owns Detour Travel, providing LGBT-oriented small group tours to destinations in Latin America. In a previous life, he ran Out Youth (Austin, TX) and taught social justice at the UT-Austin School of Social Work.

Okay, I'm back with more of your favorite maneuvers for dodging conversations on heterosexism. If you missed part one, you'll find it at "Classic Defenses for Anti-LGBT Behavior."

As a teacher, I've always wanted my students of social justice to understand how much one form of oppression resembles another. what-me-worry.jpgAnd I've always loved the blog post "Sixteen maneuvers to avoid really dealing with racism" by Holly at Feministe. Recently I read through it and thought about all the parallels for heterosexism. And before I knew it, I'd translated the whole thing into queer terms.

See if you recognize any of these classic defenses:

1. Whipping Out the Best Friend

"Hey, I'm not a transphobe, OK? Some of my best friends are transsexuals. See?" Best Friend: "Yeah, he's practically one of us!"

2. The Infallible Resource

"Well I have a transsexual friend, and she says I'm allowed to say tranny, and you can't argue with that! No, I didn't know there are other takes on it. That doesn't make any sense, because trannies are automatically expert about tranny stuff. That's why if one of them says it's okay, I know I'm good. Case closed. Now that we've got that settled, want to come with me to protest the ex-gay conference? They trot out these gay people in front of the crowd, except they're all mixed up, and they tell everyone how homosexuality is evil and homophobia is Christian love."

3. Lost in Translation

"I went to a lesbian bar, and I was like the only straight person there. So now I understand how it feels to be a minority, you know? I can't be heterosexist. And man, is it ever uncomfortable to be surrounded by all queer people. I totally get it now."

4. The Hot Potato

"But I'm not the one bullying gay children! You should stop worrying about me and take it up with the bullies!"

Or a variation that's become popular in certain circles:

"Why are you pressuring me?!?! I'm on your side, remember? The Republicans are the real enemy of gay rights!"

5. The Smoke and Mirrors

"I totally agree. Heterosexism is one system of oppression among many interlocking ones, that specifically awards more privilege and power to all cisgender, straight people, whether they like it or not, and serves to keep the existing power structure in place. Oh... what? You want me to volunteer in a community organization, contribute money, do security for your protest march? Uh... yeah maybe next time, I've got to wash my hair tonight. And walk my dog, see the latest episode of Lost, manage my stock portfolio..."

6. The Penitent Paralysis

(will not truly absolve you)

"Oh my god... that is so awful. I'm so sorry. Sorry. I can't imagine what it must be like... I'm sorry. That's so awful. I feel so bad for you. Sorry."

Or: "Perhaps if I scourge myself regularly, I can atone for my uncleansable privilege."

7. The Adam Smith

"I think gay rights work is essential, and I try to learn about it when I have some time free, but my pet anti-racist issue is also really important and totally urgent, so I've got to prioritize my expertise. As long as I focus only on racial discrepancies in the child welfare system, and let others educate and advocate for gay issues, the invisible hand of social justice will work its magic and we'll all get free!"

8. The Liberation Camouflage

"Nobody would target them if they'd just act normal/stop flaunting it/not shove their sexuality down everybody's throat! "

Can also be:

"All we have to do is show heterosexuals we're Just Like Them™. I hate when people talk like their queer experience has given them any insight into gender, sexuality, or love. Hetero society already has all the answers... except when they think we're not all the same. That's the one thing they're horribly wrong about."

9. The Defender of All Things Hetero

"I'm gay, and from my experience we gay people are the most prejudiced people on the face of the planet. A poor heterosexual can't even walk down the street without seeing some sex-crazed half-naked guy gyrating on a Pride parade float... or some flaming queen saying something catty about his outfit. You people, I mean we people, need to stop blaming the hetero world for our problems and catch up with them!"

10. The Pause for Applause

"Unlike all those other cis people out there, I actively support my trans brothers and sisters." (...) "I work for trans rights and I try to educate other people about transphobia." (...) "Wait, did you hear me?"

11. The Tiger Lily

"I can't be heterosexist. I kissed my best friend Penny when we were twelve. So technically I think I'm bisexual, and that makes me exempt. What? You say I spent my teens talking about boys nonstop, have only ever wanted/dated/fantasized about men, and have never mentioned that kiss to anyone before in my life? Well, did I tell you I got a funny feeling at the poetry slam, during this one woman's poem? I'm not sure, but I totally think she might have turned me on a little. Unless it was just gas. Anyway, I'm exempt. Oh yeah, and when I was little I liked to climb trees. Gender non-conformists in the house!"

And, a couple bonus super-maneuvers that avoid dealing with heterosexism for an entire organization or community at once:

12. The Never Happens Here

"Homosexuality is a white/unsaved/urban/American thing. There's no homosexual people in our community/church/school/country. We really don't have to worry about it."

13. The Exhausted Hoop-Jumper

"We have a genuine, bona fide, bisexual person right on our board of directors! And you still want to talk about heterosexism? There's just no pleasing you people."

Keep your eyes peeled! New maneuvers are sighted all the time. Got any to add to the list?


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I don't understand how #5 and #6 are specifically ways to dodge talking about heterosexism or transphobia.

#5 is conflating unwillingness to discuss or dissect prejudice with unwillingness to participate in activism, which while annoying, is not dodging a discussion or debate. While engaging in activism is probably one of the best ways to have discussions and learn about prejudice, they're not the same thing.

#6 only seems like a conversation dodger if the person adamantly refuses to discuss what you're talking about by just repeatedly apologizing. On its own, though, it seems like the exact response I've heard from some trans activists: "Don't infer insight where you can't possibly have any." "Don't talk about trans experiences if you're not trans." And in my own experience, you're more effective as an empathetic reflector than you are a disingenuous "understander" (no matter how well intentioned), because you CAN'T ever understand, though you can observe and draw your own impressions. This one sounds like deference (albeit hyperbolic) to someone else's experience, allowing them a platform to discuss the topic at hand.

You're right about #5. It's a way to dodge action rather than discussion.

#6 is a conversation-stopper because would-be allies can fixate on feelings of guilt to the exclusion of all else. Sometimes it can even switch the focus of discussion from oppression to helping the ally feel better about themselves. C.f. "white guilt" ;-)

How many times have I seen #4 flung around by gay people, especially gay activists? It's what "Fight the right, not each other" means.