Thursday, April 29, 2010

But it rhymes!: ridiculing marginalized groups in articles about their concerns

Trigger warning for terrible language.

In San Francisco, the city government is facing budget cuts:
Part of the proposal considered Thursday at the Human Services Commission called for cutting $239,000 from the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative, a pioneering transgender employment program, and another $200,000 from Edgewood Center for Children and Families, which treats severely disturbed children and supports relatives -- often grandmothers -- caring for kids who would otherwise find themselves in the foster care system or worse.
I'm glad this is being reported on, because it's crap. Budget cuts for what look to be necessary programs will limit resources for those whose resources are already limited. Trans people are constantly assaulted, physically, verbally, and legally – they are subject to being legally fired because of their bodies at any time. The caretakers specifically covered by this bill face ageism – older folks, particularly women, are devalued and judged as incompetent.

However, the caretakers and those being cared for (whom are barely mentioned in this article) are described with ableist language:
Advocates for both centers said the cuts would be crippling.
Children with mental disabilities face an intersection: they are marginalized by their disability, and they have little legal right to their own identities and bodies. Ableist language like “crippling” further ingrains the dismissal of their concerns.

I don’t know which is more necessary, and ultimately, cuts were not approved for either. Good for the commission on making the difficult decision to prioritize these programs.

Unfortunately, this article and especially the title have decided to play this serious situation for laughs. Here’s the title of the article:

Photo: A header with a capital building reading "City Insider: the people, politics, and places of San Francisco". Below, the headline "Trannies vs. grannies?". Below that is the following passage: "Budget cuts are serious stuff, but as Trent Rhorer, the head of the city's Human Services Agency put it, this was definitely one of those "only in San Francisco" moments."
Framing a difficult decision on budget cuts in this binary, in the language of hate speech is not the way to introduce this story. This is a straightforward story about budget cuts. This kind of language makes both of these problematized, marginalized groups into a trivial joke, a funny juxtaposition. It’s not a serious repercussion, an illustration of how the economic downturn further marginalizes already oppressed groups. It’s a quip. From the last line of the short article:
But not before one speaker had this uniquely San Franciscan line of the day, relayed by those in attendance: "In the end, it shouldn't come down to pitting the trannies against the grannies."
Hilarious! Glad to know that hate speech is so uniquely of the area! I don’t even know how this is funny or interesting or revealing without the hate speech. Are there not trans people and older caretakers in areas that are not San Francisco?

Tr*nny and all variations thereof are hate speech (which is why I, a cis person, am using an asterisk to censor the word in my analysis). I’m hoping you know that. If you don’t, here’s an explanation from Queen Emily of Questioning Transphobia (and if you don’t know why tr*nny is a vile word, you should go and peruse the hell out of their archives):
See, the word “tranny” gets used with alarming regularity in the media, and I’m not sure it actually registers that it is a slur. It’s always so jolly, like it’s a whimsical, fun term that cis people can throw around with abandon. Always with the implication that trans people are laughably pathetic. Because my identity, our history, of itself is a joke.

What is missing is that in my personal experience as a trans woman, “tranny” is a form of hate speech. The last person who called me it literally spat on me. It’s frequently paired with “faggot”–yet no-one sprays that word liberally around the media. When someone spits a word at you, the implication is clear– you’re disgusting, barely even human. And that disgust is worked out violently against the bodies of trans people.

So why is it not that bad, why is this word qualifies as appropriate for use on ... apparently “liberal” newspapers? ... I mean, is it all this massive power we have in society? The general societal reverence and esteem trans people get? Now there’s a joke. If it’s not appropriate to use other hateful words, why does “tranny” get a pass?

Oh I forgot. I mean, we’re all post PC here, no-one gets really offended just because they’re constantly insulted, having their identity positioned between hilarious and disgusting? Hur hur.
Granny isn’t necessarily or usually a pejorative. However, when used in conjunction with a violent slur, the marginalization of older folks is also emphasized. This is not just cissexist - it's ageist.

Just because tr*nny rhymes with granny does not excuse the use of a hateful, vile slur. It’s effectively announcing to trans & older folks who might be interested in reading the content of this article - in reading about the issues facing their community - that the article is a hostile and unsafe space that does not cares about them beyond mockery. Both groups are made into a joke in an article that is about their concerns.

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