Friday, October 13, 2006

Full disclosure

Over at Bitch Lab (and elsewhere) we have lately been talking about some of the subtler (?) manifestations of power-over. A comment by Jay Sennett mentions

...the all-too-common response, when a trans person discloses their history, “oh you should have told me….” This situation is also why I hate the term passing for trans people,…

...and it immediately made me start connecting to, well, a number of different scenarios i have witnessed and/or been in, recently and otherwise. The general theme would seem to be the practice known as "outing."

This is a term that has a number of different specific meanings, depending on context. But what seems to me a common denominator is this: it implies that the one who is "outed" (either by self or others) has something substantial to lose by doing so.

Once framed this way, it is generally understood that therefore it is very bad form indeed to request/demand that someone else out hirself, much less take it upon oneself to do it for hir. And in the cases where one does actually do it for hir, this is, or should be, understood to be the "civil" equivalent of the A-bomb. You do it, if you do it at all, when it's not only a loathed enemy but one whom you feel is posing a clear and present danger to you and yours. The most common example of this currently is someone "outing" as gay a powerful politician, lawmaker, or influential demagogue of some sort or another precisely because, and only because, said person is directly responsible for making life concretely more difficult for gay people, through laws or persuasion or both. Thus, this isn't just done because "bad person for being a hypocrite, no biscuit" or "this is teh Enemy: exterminate with extreme prejudice." It is done as a conscious act of self-protection. And even then, there are a number of honorable people who will probably chastise you for this: this was below the belt in any circumstances; one ought to be able to defeat one's opponent by argument alone.

Well, perhaps. As you can probably guess, I lean toward exceptionalism myself, but only in extreme and easily identifiable cases: i.e. a certain Congressperson a while back who was responsible for some truly vile pieces of anti-gay legislation. got caught trolling for hot man on man action in some personal ad (must be discreet, uh huh). Went down in flames, and imho, deservedly so. (as someone put it, I forget where, but this itself was memorable: "Hi, I'm looking for someone to hoist my petard...")

On the other hand, would i support "outing" a Hollywood celebrity who hasn't made any particular homophobic remarks, just "vants to be alone" a la Greta Garbo; but maybe has said some other things that i find personally offensive? Fuck no. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly pure as the driven snow about enjoying celebrity gossip; it's not as though the tabloids aren't going to do what they do anyway, wring one's hands though one might. But do I have any respect for people who unearth someone's deeply personal shit simply because it suits their own agenda? (i.e. oh, so and so IS gay! knowing this will somehow make life better for hir viewers! like me! or, arguably worse: I just plain don't like so and so, and if everyone knows sie's gay, they'll lose popularity! Muhahaha!) Nope. And the higher the stakes for the outee, the less respect I have for the "outer."

Extrapolating, that extends to the charming habit some, mostly right wing, have to say, bloggers have apparently developed, of "outing" fellow bloggers who disagree with them; or more accurately, more often, really, to threaten and insinuate and whisper. "I know something about you-u..."

The goal here, of course, is not to create more "honesty;" the goal is to intimidate and bully and shut up one's opponent.

It is contemptible, for any number of reasons. Yes, that includes insinuating and demanding and nagging. "Hey, I use my full name; why can't you? Huh? huh? Bet you wouldn't be so brave if..."

Among them, which ties back into my original point, it implies that in fact the full-name revealer and the person sie's nagging/cajoling/hint-threatening are on the same footing; that they do/would have an equal amount to lose by revealing their names.

This is disingenuous at best, frankly; it becomes clearer in some cases than in others.

To take a hypothetical example: let's say the would-be outer, whose full name and photo and so on are on full display to the world, is an upstanding member of the community; professional, well-to-do, job pretty safe even if sie takes heat from some people online or says provocative things. Lots of friends in high places and resources in general.

That person is not risking what, say, someone writing as a sex worker would be by revealing hir name. Or, I don't know, someone living here as an illegal immigrant, writing about the experience. Or someone who has an abusive ex stalking hir, or just someone who has very little in the way of personal resources should the boss decide sie doesn't like what hir employee is saying online, makes the company look bad, off you go.

So say one of these people says something that pushes the professional person's buttons sorely. Instead of owning this, or fighting back on the merits of the argument, well-heeled Pillar reaches for the red button:

"Bet you wouldn't be so brave if you were posting under your REAL NAME, like me; come out here and say that!"

Nasty, nasty move. Not least because: said person is being brave, is taking a risk; both by being online at all, with so much at stake--because frankly, in this age? any illusion of true privacy is just that, an illusion; if someone really wants to find you, they will--and/or by, quite likely, saying the things sie's saying; which, let's be honest, is probably what pissed off Professional Pillar in the first place.

And that is how power maintains itself; or one way. It's not by fighting fair. It never was. And particularly unfair is the way the powerful have the power to define the rules of the game, what "fair" is, for themselves.

...At the time I could not see beyond the moral dilemma that is presented to the weak in a world governed by the strong: Break the rules, or perish. I did not see that in that case the weak have the right to make a different set of rules for themselves; because, even if such an idea had occured to me, there was no one in my environment who could have confirmed me in it.

--George Orwell, "Such, Such Were the Joys"

And it all ties back together, of course. As piny said over at BL's, wrt the choice to keep anonymous:

Perhaps I have different standards, as a queer; protected space is all too familiar to me.

and as Jay noted,

Some of us get privacy on a contigent basis. Period. Poor. Working class. Trans. POC/WOC. Fat. Disabled. and on and on.

And anonymous only pisses people off who think, “why’d you have to make me ask???!!!!”

Getting back to the original example, Jay's, what it first made me think of was what it may well have been inspired by (or could have done; this sort of shit happens all the time, of course): as was discussed at feministe, some mulleted 'stain said on his blog (mullet himself makes no secret of his real name, I believe; brave brave lad, yes) some seriously nasty shit about TG folk in general, piny in particular. The gist, again, being that the TG person has a responsibility to tell the cisgendered person of hir TG status, particularly when (gasp) dating; mullet, being a 'stain, took this all the way to a conclusion most posting at a place like feministe wouldn't, of course: that any TG person who has or even suggests sexual relations with an unknowing cisgendered person deserves pretty much whatever wrath the "deceived" "normal" person decides to unleash on the TG person, up to and including physical violence.

I think y'all can probably see the problem there.

But, and as I was also noting: the funny thing here, particularly when it comes to matters where straighty straightertons get antsy about matters sex-shul/gender related, they can also go the opposite way and complain because gender/sexual deviant is revealing too much for their comfort, and clearly their own comfort is more important, here. Even better: sometimes you get both "Ew, don't tell me that!" and "I demand that you tell me more!" in the very same interaction.

“I don’t care what anyone does in the bedroom. Why does anyone need to know? I don’t go around telling everyone what my wife and i do in the bedroom; why do these people need a parade? Why do they need to shove it in our face? I mean, some of the things i saw this one time, i was just disgusted, get this

…oh, jesus, YOU’RE…man, I mean…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean -you-, some of my best friends, I didn’t mean it that way…But you should have told me!”

fuck OFF.


Jay said...


More and more I'm coming to the conclusion that, at least as a trans man, my identity is defined through and by the contigent reality of "my" privacy.

Were I to have full privacy, I'm not sure I would be trans anymore; at least not in any conventionally understood manner.

prosphoros said...

Add me to the "Fuck off" chorus. Unexamined, unacknowledged privilege pisses me off in general, but Othering folks, destroying them against the wannabe hegemony of convention to reinforce it, makes me see red.