Is this poster transphobic?
Watch and learn. (really, it’s worth watching)
[Reprinted below is the letter from Neal from Rolling Thunder #1]
My name is Neal. Whoever is reading this probably knows me, and vice versa. I’ve been an organizer and activist in North Carolina now for many years. I do guerilla gardening, labor work, Earth First!-type shit, anti-war organizing, work against police brutality, and transgender/queer activism.
I’ve never been a huge fan of CrimethInc. I know and love most of the people who work with y’all—but the romantic lifestyle politics hop a train “drop out of” capitalist society style just ain’t my thing. Emma Goldman once said, “it’s not my revolution if I can’t dance to it.” Well, another anarchist I know also said, “it ain’t my revolution if all we’re gonna do is dance.” Whatever. I find most of the sloganizing overly romantic (perhaps its purpose), often naïve, rooted in a middle-class perspective on the appeal of poverty and consumer asceticism. I suppose taking a shot at that obnoxious and fucked up evasion book is probably cliché at this point.
Anyway, I’m not writing to rant to y’all or discuss anarchist theory. I merely wanted to relay my rage and anger at your latest propaganda. Now I like a lot of y’all’s art and posters—I think the one on [not] voting is well done and poignant. But this latest bullshit on plastic surgery (“Plastic surgery is self-imposed domestic violence,” with a graphic picture of a person with a bandaged face, super-imposed upon an application for such surgery) needs to be nipped in the bud. I’m bothering to write y’all because I don’t think it was intentionally insulting or dismissive of trans people (and others), but rather a naïve product of ignorance and an extremely poorly thought-out analogy. The reason for my previous rant was to give you a context for my position, so to speak. This bullshit flyer affects me and the trans folks I do activism with personally, and you need to know and understand why that is before you print more and seriously piss off our tranny comrades.
I work with a transgender activist/direct action group in Asheville, NC called transmission. We do a lot of good stuff—education, free literature, queering public spaces, fundraising with punk/drag shows, demonstrations. A lot of our group is trans, and some isn’t. Some have had surgery, some are on hormones, some choose not to go that route at all. One of the most important guidelines we have for allies who want to be supportive is not to challenge a trans person’s decision to get treatment, surgery, whatever—it can be an extremely confusing, difficult, scary place to be in—we need love, support, friends, allies, people who understand what it’s like to be forced into a gender box we don’t belong
to. We don’t need presumptuous activists (who are most likely not trans) comparing us to perpetrators of domestic violence.
Do y’all understand that hormones and surgery can be a liberating experience for many people? And get this, for all my fellow anti-capitalists out there, it is sometimes a decision made within the context of an oppressive workplace where someone HAS TO PASS in order to keep their job, feed their family, or even avoid rape, assault, or murder. Do you fucking get it?
Your bullshit poster here trivializes the experiences of my good friends in struggle Zac, who spent the little money he had to get upper chest surgery, and Victoria, who is going under the knife next week out west. She might be scared shitless, but in need of the work-oriented and psychological and social liberation the surgery can offer her. I find your naïve poster analogous to asshole Christians screaming at women entering an abortion clinic, who are trying to make a vital and extremely delicate decision. Tranzmission would just like to say—please keep your moralistic propaganda off our fucking bodies. Do you get it yet?
Not everyone going to get surgery is a fur-coat wearing, vain, insecure, beauty-obsessed rich lady. We are real, oppressed people, with dreams and hopes of our own, and your moralism is not one bit helpful. You may anticipate many others of like mind and experience to be writing you in anger and frustration if you continue distributing this flyer.
P.O. Box 1874
Asheville, NC 28802
Tone aside, Neal is right to chide those who conceived the poster for not even considering the way it would be perceived outside homogeneous middle class circles. It has since been removed from circulation on the grounds that, even if it was intended only as a critique of the sexist, abusive “beauty” industry, people who already have to deal with the bigotry and violence of our gender-normative society shouldn’t have to deal with the stress of feeling disregarded or attacked by radicals as well. Distributing provocative propaganda is always going to mean stepping on toes, but it’s important to be thoughtful in considering which toes to avoid and which to stomp on.