Priority 2: Enforce Political Correctness

They are looking for new co-facilitators of the Trans* Pride group at my local LG Center, so they have put out an application for prospective volunteers on which they list the job requirements.

Number one on the list is great.

o Create a welcoming and respectful environment for all members of the group.

What do you think the number two job would be?

Maybe something about empowerment or support?   Something about affirming or comforting?   Perhaps encouraging or clarifying? You know, some way to increase the level of personal pride of the unique individual participants in the group?

You would be wrong.   The second bullet point is not about any of that at all.

o Utilize “teaching moments” to openly address any homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, cissexist, sexist, racist, ableist, ageist, classist, xenophobic, etc. comments that may come up in group.

Make people welcome, but then become the thought police, confronting any non politically correct thinking that may come up.   Use “teaching momets” to point out the errors in their beliefs and understandings that differ from the approved groupthink you have been taught as a member of the center.

The second most important job is to work to shape the participants thoughts by hammering down the areas where they diverge from proper beliefs.

I find this appalling.

Consciousness raising, the ability to get out of our old habitual ideas and see our lives in new ways is clearly at the center of growth.   Learning to become allies, viewing connections between us so that we can come together to support each other in finding pride is a big deal.

Bt do we do that by enforcing a belief structure based around shared group oppressions?   Do we do that by openly addressing areas where people’s statements diverge from approved identity politics?

This priority justifies of the sexist slap the mental health coordinator for the center delivered to one of the kids in a workshop I gave for the center.  I wanted to empower the kid, help them find new ways to stand up for their queerness in the world, but she wanted to slap at sexist thought with disgust.

For me, the first two bullet points on the job description are directly contradictory,   How do you make someone feel welcomed and respected when the second most important thing you do is directly address points where their thinking violates a set of political belief structures that you have been taught need to be enforced as a top priority?

If any participant feels dismissed and disrespected, won’t they just not come back?   Aren’t you just creating an environment that doesn’t support transpeople but only supports people who assimilate into the political belief structure being offered?

I spent over a decade welcoming transpeople to a local clubroom on Thursday nights and I know that many of the people who showed up were not open and ready to grow.  Instead, they were defensive, acting from their own fear and pain, asserting the shell they had grown to survive as transpeople in the world.

They matured, though, as they relaxed in the space over time, sharing themselves and getting feedback from others.    They grew and mellowed, finding common ground and new ways to think about connection and truth.

If we had set a priority of enforcing political correctness, though, would they have come back enough to soften and start to listen?  I suspect we would have just chased them away, which is exactly what happens at the center.

People can’t listen to you until they believe you have first listened to them.   We aren’t all college kids so desperate to be part of the group that we immediately agree to surrender our voice to the group vision just to belong.

The story that transpeople have to tell isn’t pretty or politically correct.  It is the story of being trapped inside of their own armor by a world that they experience as attacking them, as pounding them into silence and compliance with norms.  It is inside ourselves that we have the breath of queer, the sizzle of fuck you, the demand, the absolute demand of respecting our individual, isolated expression.

Transpeople aren’t like lesbian and gay people who are looking to find partners, looking to shape themselves into someone potential lovers will appreciate and approve. Instead, we are trying to claim our own unique voice in the world against what we experience as a battering of demands for conforming.

How can you welcome transpeople and respect their challenges if the next thing you need to do is correct where their thinking falls short of a pile of “isms?”

The rest of the requirements, listed below the jump are mostly about making sure the needs of the center are kept; record keeping, encouraging use of other services, being trained in proper procedures/attitudes and so on.

That’s what the whole document is about though, keeping the political climate around the center pure so that belief clashes are eliminated early by correcting or purging those who are not willing to sign up for the approved corporate culture.  The mostly young people who run the place believe that keeping unity is based on enforcing ideological purity, just like they were taught in their social justice courses at uni.

“Organizing transpeople is like herding cats,” goes one old saw.   Transpeople have traditionally been some the most determined and craggy individualists on the planet, who, after being beaten down into compliance with gender norms for years still break out and defy convention with a wild and free attitude.

Enforcing a political worldview on us does not make them more docile, it only strives to filter out the most ornery of us, the ones who probably need support and help most.

I know that for myself, attenuating myself to play nice so I can be seen as a polite and correct member of the group does nothing to increase my pride.   It is only when I claim my own strong voice, asserting my own feral and quirky queerness that I get a boost that can help me face another day in a world that demands and enforces conformity.

If the goal is to gather more transpeople under one tent so that they can emerge with pride, I can’t imagine how prioritizing the demand address how they diverge from proper and correct political thought even attempts to achieve any of that?

Does it make the space safer, more inclusive or more empowering?  No, it only makes the people who are willing to stay more pliable and compliant with the ideology of the managers.   It purges real conflict in favour of enforcement of belief,, quelling the real and human voices of transpeople who have been shamed into the closet.

The local center claims to serve transpeople and in fact gets funding to do so.

As long as they only serve transpeople who sign up for their canonical, fundamentalist beliefs, though, are they better than any religious group who only offers services to the depraved who agree to be proselytized in return for a crust and a cup of soup?

How are they welcoming and respectful to the real life challenges of wild and bold transpeople who are just struggling to make it in the world?   How do they help transpeople who might find some help, comfort and pride in social justice understandings, but who first need to be heard, understood and even loved?

As long as the second priority is to address where participants thoughts diverge from the proper ideological beliefs, the space will never be welcoming or respectful.

As long as those beliefs underlie all training they do about trans in the community, they will never encourage real safe space for real, messy trannys with real needs.

And any claim that they are inclusive and supporting the very real needs of transpeople in the community is just a pile of self-serving hypocrisy rolled in a bit of trendy political correctness.

Continue reading Priority 2: Enforce Political Correctness