“You’re going to hear something, but don’t be offended. It’s a very empowering phrase for us, and I don’t want you to take it the wrong way,” a young transgender man told me.
“Die Cis Scum”
I looked at him a bit incredulous. “Seems sort of violent.”
“It’s not meant as a real threat. Realize, we all know someone who has died. We are the ones who die. It’s turning that back on them.”
“So, that’s why you don’t like feminists? I don’t understand.”
“They are the worst. They hate us. They attack us.”
I’ve been there.
It may appear to be a story that is all-too-familiar. A feminist with unpopular views is dealing with a deluge of sexist insults, threats and harassment. She decides to fight back by documenting this treatment and naming-and-shaming those who are attacking her. We all rally in support of her, despite her real or perceived imperfections. This is something that we, unfortunately, know very well.
But that is not what is happening here.
This is different.
This should not be confused or compared with any other situation.
The feminist with an “unpopular opinion” in this case, is the one who is instilling fear and intimidating others. A stance calling out her dangerous and inappropriate behavior is not condoning every action that has ever been made against her.
Let’s make that clear.
The reason I have personally become involved, is that I witnessed an acquaintance on twitter find out that information about her had been posted by Brennan. This was very difficult for her and I saw that play out in front of me. Brennan had previously printed her legal name, picture, and an old twitter account on one of her many websites. But this time, Brennan dug up an old profile that contained her former name and a picture of her pre-transition.
Underneath was a name and picture of a woman I previously didn’t know. Brennan called her “a man who harassed women on social media” and included a link to her facebook page and a link to the supposedly damning evidence of this harassment. What was the vile and disturbing message that necessitated this naming, shaming and outing exercise as a means of self-defense?
A tweet that said:
Directly under the picture of a woman I did not know, was the name and mug-shot of a man who allegedly beat a member of his own family with a crowbar because the family member was a lesbian.
Directly under that picture was the name and mug-shot of an alleged rapist and child pornographer.
And that’s one of the reasons why this isn’t the same old story.
Brennan isn’t simply presenting public statements that she disagreed with or she finds problematic; but digging up information on transgender people and framing that information in such a way that those individuals are labeled as a threat.
Here is another example (in this case a young sex worker) on a site associated with Brennan and attributed to one of her online pseudonyms:
To give this more context, Brennan is associated with many facebook groups, websites and pseudonyms online. Here is a picture that was posted on a hashtag created by transactivists to communicate with cisgender feminists about the treatment they often receive from mainstream feminism (note: It is highly unlikely that Wanda Sykes image is used with permission):
So, why is this different? Why can’t we ignore this type of thing as an online fight where there are strong differences of opinion and nobody is blameless?
Your average person isn’t going to confuse an activist on twitter (who happens to speak out against a woman who regularly forwards a transphobic agenda) with a threat akin to a rapist or a violent homophobic misogynist? Right?
Here is a statement by a fan of Cathy Brennan named Nicky (who often comments on her pages and has been involved in actions with her):
Fear is a powerful motivator.
Fear, disgust and hatred of transgender people (especially transgender women and particularly women of color) is the motivator of horrific crimes against them. Many are pushed to the fringes of society. Unable to find other employment, many become sex workers. Their lives and relationships are treated by the mainstream as nothing by the butt of a joke. They often are denied access to medical care.
Brennan and those who take her lead are not directly responsible for everything bad that has ever happened to a transgender child, teenager, or adult. Of course not. However, the fact that she doesn’t have a knife in her hand, does not absolve her of the harm that she does.
She is absolutely responsible for how she behaves within the context of harsh and unrelenting realities. She is absolutely responsible for what she does, what she says, and what the effects of those actions are.
The reality is that, to many transgender people, remaining hidden means remaining alive.
She uses that fear to silence her detractors.
All she needs to do is just post a name or post a picture; for that fear to be realized in her targets. Outing a transgender woman or girl on a platform that is viewable and searchable by millions of people is equivalent to a threat on her life.
Cathy Brennan is not the victim in this story – bravely standing up to those who would try to silence her truth-to-power. She’s simply a hateful person painting the transgender community with a broad bigoted brush. She is not fighting against the status quo, but using our own internalized ignorance and fear of transgender women as her most potent weapon.
This isn’t the same old story. She is not our ally. She is fighting against us and hurting the most vulnerable among us.
She needs to stop.