I understand why people use trigger warnings. I know it’s a practice that some folks make fun of, but I appreciate that it’s a common practice for people who write a lot of things I read, from fiction to personal blog posts. I don’t usually pass things up based on warnings (unless someone warns for “non-consent” in porn fiction because I will not read rape porn no matter what name it has), but it can be helpful to know in advance if I’m going to come across difficult issues before I start reading something. I don’t know that I’ve ever had much of a reaction to something that came with a trigger warning before, to be honest.
So I was surprised to have such a visceral reaction to an “Occupy Hollywood” graphic I saw reposted on someone’s tumblr earlier this week. There are several sets of these, but the original post I saw was this one, and when I got to Chaz Bono I really did have a moment where I felt like someone had slapped the wind out of me. It was a combination of the really gross and violent phrasing of “cut my tits off” and the assumption that anyone who can afford to have surgery to help ease body dysphoria is an asshole on the same level as celebrities who blow millions on short-lived weddings that got to me.
I am not denying that my ability to have chest surgery came from a place of privilege. Of course it did, and I want to acknowledge this any time I talk about my surgical history. But how does having surgery make me, or any other trans person who has the desire and means to pursue it, an asshole because of it? Where do you draw the line between noble, deserving trans person and money-wasting asshole? Is it wrong to be able to afford surgery after a community fundraiser you’ve put a lot of effort into? After saving up for several years? Because your partner makes enough money to help pay for it out of pocket? I’m interested to know, because it might mean I have a lot more assholes in my life than I previously thought.
I broke one of the most important rules for dealing with offensive content on the internet: I read the comments. There were actually many commenters who were angry about the Chaz Bono post (and, to a lesser extent, to the one about Anderson Cooper), but they were outnumbered by people who insisted that being able to afford surgery does indeed automatically make you an asshole, that everyone should “lighten up” because it’s a satire site, that anyone who uses the word “transphobia” is automatically a big whiny baby, or (perplexingly enough) that people shouldn’t give into societal standards of “male” and “female” by changing their bodies through surgery. And so on. Note to self: for real this time, don’t read comments. Ever.
I really take issue with the language used here. I’ve heard the trans experience distilled into “cutting their tits/dicks off” many times and it never ceases to make me feel a little ill. It reveals a complete lack of understanding of how trans surgeries and bodies work, and, I would argue, a complete lack of desire to understand. It’s an ugly, violent phrase that denies the beauty of trans bodies. To me, these surgeries are less about taking something away and more about creating something that trans people can be happy with. My chest surgery didn’t cut my breasts off, it gave me a flat chest, and that helped me to be comfortable naked, feel less terrified when using public restrooms, wear clothes that fit and make me look nice, and not panic during sex. Those sound like reasonable goals to me.
This violent language is also unsettling because, in the months leading up to my chest surgery, I actually did have horrible, violent thoughts of taking a serrated bread knife to my breasts. I feel sick even typing that, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever said that aloud, but it’s true. That’s what body dysphoria can do to a person. So don’t fucking tell me to lighten up about that language when I’ve felt that urge and hated myself for it. I know people can entertain serious thoughts of taking matters into their own hands when they can’t afford or are otherwise denied access to medical procedures that will help them feel more comfortable in their bodies. I had a conversation about this recently and I was worried about this person’s health but also understood where they were coming from. It’s not an indulgence on par with having a giant nursery or a pizza oven in your backyard.
I mentioned this when I made the post about Tory Bellaci’s “hilarious” joke tweet, but this sort of thing gets to me so much partially because I invested a decent amount of energy into trying to convince myself that I shouldn’t make such a fuss over it, or that it wasn’t worth getting myself more worked up by writing about it. I was so disgusted that I didn’t plan on writing about this at all until I saw it linked a second time last night and felt gross and prickly all over again. I’m still a little uncertain about it; writing this is just depressing and I kind of feel like I’m wading in shit so I can better point out how gross it is – sure, you can see more detail because you’re spending time down in it, but the general concept is still “this is shit” and you come out covered in and contaminated by it.
It doesn’t matter that this comment might not be as terrible as many other statements that could be made about trans people. It’s still disgusting and offensive and dehumanizing, and I hate the reminder that many people don’t respect me or people I love enough to think about the language they’re using. I’ve been very lucky in that most of the people I care about have been accepting of the changes in my gender identity, sexuality, and outward appearance over the past decade, and I’ve been living in places with a visible queer population and reduced, if not absent, levels of violence and harassment. I know it’s a bit of a bubble, but I like feeling safe and accepted most of the time. I don’t use that to pretend there aren’t people who think terrible things about trans folks, but it’s nice to be able to minimize my exposure to that in my daily life. This sort of thing is a slap in the face that reminds me that my life isn’t typical, those scary assholes are all over, and many people don’t even have the luxury of escaping abuse as much as I do.
I guess this really is a topical post. There’s your Halloween scare for the night, folks.