Trans Can Have Little a Murder as a Treat
The nonviolent benefits of violent rhetoric
Content warning: Casual ableist language, descriptions of real and fantasy violence.
TL;DR: Nothing in this essay condones violence, but discusses the use of violent rhetoric as a tool.
The resources I had when I was first coming out as transgender were not by any means radical.
The ideas that my online communities held about what it meant to be trans were old-fashioned, even, though we looked down on others as old-fashioned.
Most of us, for example, didn’t think we deserved the right to use public bathrooms.
Most of us believed that it was right for us to be forced to go through years of therapy to access medical transition, and that some of us should be denied it for not being conventionally masculine or feminine enough.
Most of us tried to determine our true genders by means of online tests of questionable origin. Measuring our ring fingers. Spatial skills.
We almost universally called ourselves transsexuals, up until a certain point, rather than transgender. The word “transgender” had existed since the 1960s or ’70s, but we thought it was new in the ’00s. Trans people still made a point of calling themselves pre-op, post-op, or the somewhat controversial “non-op transsexual.” We don’t anymore because what surgery we’ve had is nobody’s business, and shouldn’t be used as a status signifier.
The term transsexual had elitist connotations in those circles; a transsexual was a real trans person — approved by a cis medical authority — while a transgender person (or a transgenderist, once a more common term) was some kind of faker. So I and many others began to use transgender, out of solidarity; out of a rejection of cis authority; out of a rejection of the medicalization of our bodies as a descriptor of identity.
However, this does not mean it is bad for a trans person to use the word transsexual. Merely that in many communities, it had certain connotations.
When I met trans people who grew up with in-person trans communities, in major cities, I realized that they had grown up with a better education in trans activism and history than I had. They’d met trans people who had actually been around in the ’60s while we were going around thinking we would all drop dead at 30. The internet had failed as a communication tool. It had brought together only the isolated, the trans people who had largely learned from cis people what it means to be trans.
Not all the resources I had were like that, of course. One of them was Sybil Lamb’s old site, trannypunk.com.
I don’t remember most of the writing on the site but the essay that sticks out in my mind, the one that changed the way I think about being trans, is titled, “Kill Normals!”
The essay is still up on a page that appears blank — but can be read with a bit of HTML editing (the angle brackets of the HTML itself are written in HTML).
It opens like this:
“BIO GONNA DIE !!!
this is a Trans supremacists / Bio-People hate site
i am gonna fucking kill you you stupid non trans piece of shit garbage.
BIO People are worthless shit.
Yes you are.”
I imagine a cis person reading this sort of thing and being frightened by it. Because often, they are: there’s been a great deal of controversy over “Die Cis Scum” and “Down With Cis” and those things were never real death threats against all cis people.
“Die cis scum”
Medium Staff; just a heads up, this article isn’t condoning or supporting violence or threats in anyway. Its merely…
Cis folks don’t get that it’s not really them we want to kill, but a sort of effigy of cis-supremacy.
They don’t get that it’s something between satire and venting, something the following paragraphs should make clear.
“I’m not BIOist. Most BIOs are good people. I’m just sick of them whining about their special rights and I wouldn’t like them anywhere near my kids.”
Or perhaps for the more violent-minded, it’s a fantasy of vengeance against any actual cis person who has actually committed violence against trans people. The originators of the most well known violent trans rhetoric are survivors of assault. Who most likely personally know a trans person (disproportionately Black trans women) who was murdered.
I always sort of thought of this essay as the trans “SCUM Manifesto:” I’m not saying Solanas wasn’t problematic, but it was surely empowering to many women.
I get it. Men can be pretty fucking bad. I’m a man. I identified as nonbinary for a while because I thought being a man sounded fucked up.
See, I didn’t feel hate when I read this as a teen. It didn’t make me want to kill anybody. But it made me realize that thinking about killing cis people was possible.
Until that moment, the entire trans community I had known had put cis people on a pedestal. The goal of being trans was to become cis. Cis people’s bodies represented ideals that we strove to meet. A world that had no place for trans people in it, in which our job was to assimilate and pass as cis, was the correct world.
So if I can think about hating you, think about murdering you, think of myself as better than you: I can finally think that you’re not better than me.
I can finally think of us as equals.
You have to go a little over the line, to really get that into your head.
It’s difficult for me to understand how cis people can read violent rhetoric written by transgender people and feel truly threatened by it.
Of course, any writing with violent themes — even clear satire — can inspire real-life violence. Perhaps even “A Modest Proposal” inspired some poor fuck to eat a baby. But as a demographic trans people aren’t even threatening. Why would anyone be afraid of us?
Then I remember that while we’re a largely powerless demographic, we — well, pretty much only trans women really— have long been portrayed in the media as psychopathic killers. Joanne Meyerowitz’s “How Sex Changed” attributes the origin of this trope to the 1955 mystery novel “Sex Gantlet to Murder.” Others have noted that “Psycho” and “Silence of the Lambs” were inspired by the real serial killer Ed Gein, who was not transgender: Gein made a suit out of his mother’s skin. The fact that his mother was a woman was somehow what made this shocking.
But of course, this is also a common pattern of interaction, in which the oppressor comes to fear the oppressed, even when there is no actual fear of violence. Because cis people have not learned exactly what they are doing to offend trans people, our anger seems like random outbursts. They do not know what action produces this response and become paralyzed by the thought that interacting with us at all will bring offense. We sense that fear, as well, and it puts us on edge.
In other words:
They can’t figure out what they did to piss us off, so they think we’re crazy. And they think mentally ill people are violent.
And we think people who think we’re violent might get violent with us, preemptively. The tension is recursive.
The phrase “Down With Cis,” an example I mentioned earlier, is a meme mocking a clearly false story from a 2015 Tumblr post.
A (most likely) cis person invented “Down With Cis,” and it’s brilliant, really, I have to thank them.
Maybe if you’ve never met trans people you can imagine us organizing to attack cis people at random. You can imagine us managing to get a group together to rent a bus. You can imagine us even managing to arrive at the same place in matching custom shirts.
You can imagine us assuming we can tell random strangers are cis by looking at them and then beating the shit out of them. Because if I was cis and a bunch of people came at me with “Down with Cis” shirts on? I’d tell them I was trans. There is literally no way to prove otherwise, for fuck’s sake.
What’s really important to understand is that there is no trans-supremacist movement. It’s a term we throw around sort of jokingly sometimes. I know every time I tell a cis person that, they don’t believe it. They really don’t believe it’s a joke. Maybe because they think we’re crazy.
The shooters radicalized by white supremacists were done so by a long-extant movement; hundreds of years of violence, oppression, slavery, genocide. We can’t be radicalized into a movement that doesn’t exist. We are no threat.
When I see a trans person with a gun, I just think about how high the suicide rate for trans people is.
Of course, like everyone else, we’re capable of violence. There are some examples that TERFs (now better called GCs, if nothing else because they’re hardly feminist anymore, but I keep calling them TERFs because I know they hate it) like to throw around, of trans women committing violent crimes, to show that trans women are violent criminals. There are far more cis women who commit violent crimes, I assure you. For example:
“When Wilkins came to Lane’s house in Longmont, about 40 miles north of Denver, Lane beat and stabbed her, cutting into her uterus and removing the fetus, according to prosecutors.
Authorities said Lane had been carrying out a ruse that she was pregnant. Her partner testified he came home early that day to take Lane to a doctor’s appointment and found her covered in blood, saying she’d had a miscarriage.
Not knowing Wilkins was bleeding in the basement, the partner said he took Lane and the baby to the hospital.”
I had forgotten that “Kill Normals” was written before we even started using the word “cis.”
It refers to cis people as “bio people.” This historical usage really brings to light the reasons cis people think cis is a slur.
See, we stopped using “bio” because it positions trans people as inherently less authentic than cis people. Cis people are biological and trans people are… not. We used to use terms like “bio boy,” “genetic girl,” “natal women,” (that’s the one J.K. Rowling likes and yeah it’s a transmisogynistic dogwhistle) or just “normal,” “real,” man or woman, all words that emphasized that cis people represented a template that we were an attempt to copy. We had to denigrate ourselves in some way to describe people who are not trans. Simply using “non-trans” never seemed like a valid solution either to trans people or transphobes.
The word “cis” is an equalizer. It comes from Latin, a prefix that means “this side of;” the opposite of “trans,” and is used in fields such as chemistry: hydrogenated fats are trans fats, and unhydrogenated fats are cis. The idea that cis is an acronym that stands for “Comfortable In Skin” has been spread as a misinformation campaign — it’s never meant that. Because being cis and being comfortable in your skin are vastly different things.
Cis doesn’t mean being gender-conforming, or being happy with traditional gender roles, or being satisfied with your body, or approving of sexism.
Both terms, cis and trans, are considered by trans people to have equal value.
So why do so many cis people think “cis” is a slur?
Generally, it’s because they see trans people using it to complain about them. They’re only exposed to the word in this context because they don’t interact with trans people on a regular basis. All they see is us talking shit about them because those are the posts that get shared online; they only see the wild shit that goes viral. Sometimes stuff said by young teens and trans people who are just coming out and figuring out what it means to be trans. Sometimes jokes, satire, and venting taken out of context. Sometimes trolls pretending to be trans. Sometimes people having mental breakdowns online.
Serious trans discourse doesn’t go viral in cis circles. Because it is boring to them.
And because it uses terms and concepts that aren’t readily understood by folks who haven’t already familiarized themselves with trans discourse. This is not academic elitism: it is, unfortunately, extremely difficult to discuss certain issues without using those terms; this is why we had to create them.
Why do we talk shit about cis people?
Because cis people don’t know how to interact with trans people, and we have to deal with the fallout from that, all the time.
We know it’s not your fault you weren’t taught anything about trans people, if you’re cis. Because we were raised in the same society as you. We were taught a lot of toxic bullshit about trans people and we’ve spent our entire lives unlearning it. We know that a lot of you aren’t doing it on purpose!
But we still hate dealing with it, all the time every day, and we’re still gonna complain, and we’re not gonna stop calling you cis because you refuse to read any of the stuff we write about cis people that isn’t negative.
There’s nothing wrong with being cis. Having privilege neither makes you privileged, in that common silver-spoon-in-the-mouth understanding, nor does it make you a monster. Making you feel like a monster whenever you’ve hurt someone is a right-wing indoctrination tactic: if you’re irredeemable, why try? Why not just go all-out and hurt everyone?
“Why should I keep trying to help you when you won’t accept it?” asks the apprentice carpenter, after hammering your thumb for the hundredth time.
Just spend more time around trans people and you’ll get it.
That’s all I did.
(Check out Sybil Lamb’s book “I’ve Got a Time Bomb” on Goodreads.)