Internet Meme Demolition Derby: The Bathroom Wars Part Two, The NOT HELPING Edition
(CN: Anti-Trans bigotry and some generally clueless allyship)
Welcome back to the Bathroom Wars. If you read the first edition in this series (click here,) then you’ll be up to date. North Carolina started this brouhaha about who should get to pee where at the end of March, leading to all sorts of fun with boycotts and concert cancellations and a lot of frothing at the mouth from the usual suspects in the conservative mouth frothing industry. One of the more amazing responses has come from President and 5th Horseman of the Apocalypse Barack Obama, whose Justice and Education Departments released guidelines confirming that trans student rights are protected under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive any public funding. The Justice Department is also suing (and North Carolina is suing back,) leading to Attorney General Loretta Lynch making the most impassioned and unambiguous statement about trans rights I have ever heard from a government official. DON’T READ THE COMMENTS!!!!
But that’s just preamble to why we’re here. We’re here to bust up internet memes and today we have to take on two memes being passed around by folks ostensibly on “our side” in this fight. Some friendly fire if you will.
Let’s start with the milder of the two…
The image to our left asks the question,
So, the transgender community should use the restroom that corresponds with their biological/”birth sex?”
Then proceeds to show us eight people who look one sex but are actually the other! The implication being that laws like the one in North Carolina would seem to require that the dudely looking dudes in the top row go to the ladies room whilst the lovely ladies on the bottom row would have to use the gentlemen’s lavoratory, all because of what naughty bits they had when they burst purple and squealing out of their mommies tummies. The guy in the cowboy hat (first on the top left,) Michael Hughes, and the lady with the lipstick, Brae Carnes (bottom row #3) were among the first trans activists to post selfies like these on the internet, on Twitter at #WeJustNeedToPee, and spreading across the internet like wildfire.
They make a very good point at first, but the more I saw them the more certain elements of this campaign felt a little hinky. Look at that lineup again. Notice anything? Here, see if this helps, look at each image and think “would I suspect this individual of being trans if I didn’t already know? I know that’s a kind of gross way to think, we aren’t supposed to care about that over here in Social Justice Adventuring Party land. But put yourself in head of your average bigot, would any of those people really raise an eyebrow if they went into the restroom at Target, went into a stall to do their business and walk out? Would any of our potential bathroom vigilantes really bother any of these conventionally attractive people as they went to make a deposit in the porcelain bank?
Now the concept of “Passing Privilege” is certainly not an uncontroversial one in trans rights circles so I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert here. But it seems to me that the people in our meme aren’t the folks most likely to be harmed by North Carolina’s HB2. While I applaud them for their activism, I worry that by focusing on how silly it is to make Michael use the girls room we miss the harm this is doing to people who don’t meet standard norms of gender presentation. That doesn’t just include trans people either. These laws are political tools designed to activate conservative voters, and the self appointed bathroom guardians that they appear to deputize are closer to Barney Fife rather than Andy Taylor. Take for example this story out of Danbury, Connecticut.
Aimee Toms was washing her hands in the women’s bathroom at Walmart in Danbury Friday when a stranger approached her and said, “You’re disgusting!” and “You don’t belong here!”
After momentary confusion, she realized that the woman next to her thought – because of her pixie-style haircut and baseball cap – that she was transgender.Toms believes the incident happened because of the national controversy sparked by a law that was passed in North Carolina attempting to force transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they were identified as at birth. Since then, religious conservatives have launched a boycott of Walmart competitor Target, which has said transgender people are welcome to use its bathrooms freely. Nationally, Walmart has been silent on the issue.
I have to say I’m all for public flogging. One type of criminal that a public humiliation might work particularly well with are the juvenile delinquents, a lot of whom consider it a badge of honor to be sent to juvenile detention. And it might not be such a cool thing in the ‘hood’ to be flogged publicly.Commentary on MSNBC (22 March 1997), as quoted in “The Wisdom of Ann Coulter” in The Washington Monthly (October 2001).
When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that John Walker is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors.
Remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (25 February 2002)
If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president. It’s kind of a pipe dream, it’s a personal fantasy of mine, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.
interview with New York Observer 2007-10-02, quoted in “Coulter: “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president”“, Media Matters for America, 4 October 2007
So as you can see, Ms Coulter is not one of our favorite people. In fact I’m fairly certain that under normal circumstances I would receive the news that Ann Coulter had been arrested with a certain amount of glee. But this isn’t real news and it isn’t a very good joke. In fact it is an incredibly harmful joke. It is intentionally misgendering someone because we don’t like them and that is exactly the kind of shit we excoriate sexist, misogynist and ant-trans trolls for all the time.
And this isn’t a new thing, Googleing “Ann Coulter is a Man” finds dozens of similar memes claiming that Ms. Coulter has an obvious Adam’s Apple, that she has “transvestite mascara” or other such nonsense. First of all that is all bullshit. Ms. Coulter has been a public figure since the early 90’s. There is zero evidence of any kind that she is anything but what she appears to be, a conventionally attractive cisgendered Caucasian woman of middle years with horrid taste in political heroes. And as we pointed out in the previous segment, people are terrible at this. Trust me you didn’t uncover a decades long conspiracy to conceal Ann Coulter’s secret underpants scandal by staring too long at a screencap fron CNN.
The fact of the matter is that this kind of misogynist insult is far to often given a pass when the subject is someone we don’t like. Recently deceased professional wrestler Joanie Laurer, who performed as Chyna, the 9th Wonder of the World, often had this slur thrown at her by (surprise) uncouth wrestling fans. I hated it then and I hate it now. And attacking successful and powerful women for being mannish is something the assholes have been doing for time immemorial. There’s no excuse for it.
So for the record, if you are intentionally misgendering Ann Coulter to make your shitty joke you are not helping trans people. You are part of the problem. Stop it.
Featured Image Credit: Rick Gordon