Whirr, Transphobia, + Persuasion
By: Joshua B. Hoe Last night, I was checking out my Twitter feed and saw that Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) was tweeting like crazy about a band called Whirr….I had no idea what she was talking about (I don’t know her, I “follow” her and like her band).
Apparently, “someone” associated with "Whirr" (the band says the poster was a “friend” of the band) posted a bunch of tweets about a band called G.L.O.S.S. who has a transgender singer...
These tweets were at best crude, stupid, and insensitive and at worst transphobic...Here is an example of one of the tweets:
..”misogyny is hating women. g.l.o.s.s. Is just a bunch of boys running around in panties making shitty music”
After that tweet, they went on to make fun of trans people being shut out by friends and family and about their thoughts and attempts at suicide...not going to win any awards for compassion.
While I am not very aware of Whirr, I certainly understand the outrage and immediate response from other musicians...And, predictably, within hours, Whirr had been dropped by their record labels (Run For Cover + Graveface) over the controversy.
I have also read stories about previous social media incidents instigated by Whirr.
I am not confused about the outrage at all.
I am confused about what we are trying to accomplish with the strategies that we all seem to use these days to respond to bad + inappropriate speech.
Before I continue, yes, I have done bad things in my life…Maybe that disqualifies me from comment...I would like to think it puts me in a unique position to comment (but I apologize in advance).
Also, the difference is that I believe my behaviors were wrong, I learned and am learning from my mistakes...I hope Whirr does as well.
I do not think I am better than Whirr, I don’t think I am better than anybody...The point of this post is to talk about effective strategies for change, not to bash Whirr (although I vociferously disagree with what they posted).
Who’s The Target?
Generally, every time something like this happens, the world follows a pretty predictable response pattern:
- Noticing the “bad” post
- Responding with anger and incredulity
- Corporate or commercial entities tied to said poster running for the hills (FAST)
- Shame sprouting and spreading all over the net like radiation after a meltdown
I am certainly not accusing K. Crutchfield of this…
I am not removing myself from this...I have participated and been the object of such responses.
I am asking a question about the predictable pattern of responses from other such incidents...Not pointing the finger at anyone.
The question is who does this pattern serve?
Is the cause of transgender rights, or anti-racism, or anti-sexism furthered by singing to the choir?
Are we just pushing racism, sexism, and phobias underground while making ourselves feel good for being ideologically pure (correct)?
Is our typical strategy good?
There is never any shortage of people ready to pile on when someone does something stupid...Or intentionally hurts people...And, most likely the people deserve some of the approbation and shunning…
But, are we pushing our own purity, or trying to create the impetus for changes...not in how the insiders think...changes in how the people who are still struggling with issues like transgender, gay marriage being legal, racism and sexism think about these issues?
I understand that the process of shame + shun finally reverses the funnel + puts something at stake for the people saying objectionable things.
Before the backlash, nothing was at stake for Whirr, the joke was all about a person they did not resemble in any way...After the backlash, they finally lose something for being cruel and insensitive...I get that.
But, that tactic does not seem to result in much real discussion and change...change in people like those in Whirr...or change in people like Trump, or people trying to understand the “changes” happening around them.
It is natural not to care much about these people...but, they are the ones that have to change for society to change.
Maybe a microcosm of what I am talking about is what is happening with state flags right now...I was reading an excellent piece in ESPN the Magazine about a black reporter visiting Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi)...He was asking people about Old Misusing the confederate flag and at least one person (Skipp Coon, an artist) responded that:
"They can change all the flags they want...It's a false solution. It's also what black people have always gotten. We asked for equality; we got integration. We asked for freedom; we got Reconstruction. They can change that flag and my material reality won't improve one bit."
In other words, while changing the flag might, in a perfect world, be a good idea and send a decent message, it also does nothing to materially affect racism in Mississippi.
By removing the symbol, you don’t remove the racism...or in the case we are discussing, Transphobia.
We are showing support for G.L.O.S.S. - Unquestionably good.
We are saying we don’t support discrimination against Trans people - Unquestionably good.
But, are we missing an opportunity to do more? Or do different?
It will sound like I am calling out the people who were angry (I am not, they should have been angry)...But, is the resulting discussion transformative or educational or just angry?
Who are we trying to change? And how are we trying to do it?
- Is it the Band Whirr we are trying to change?
The band? Don’t know them, don’t know if they are open to change.
I have no idea if this is exactly what they were hoping for, “any press is good press” or if they care about how they are perceived?
I certainly have paid the price for my mistakes in my life. When we make “mistakes” or bad choices, we usually have to pay a price. But, there is probably as much chance they go Trump and double down...or just say the right things publicly but still feel the same we privately.
I have no doubt Paula Deen is really sorry she said the things she said, I have no idea if the controversy made her reconsider WHY she thought having plantation parties was okay.
- Or are we trying to change the fans of Whirr...or people watching social media?
How are we accomplishing that, aside from letting people know that if they don’t say the right things they will be blasted and shamed…
I guess deterrence is a possible benefit?
But, does deterrence work in this instance?
I have a sneaky suspicion that it takes more than social shaming...It takes contact, and context, and understanding.
People have to really understand why what they are doing hurts people...And they have to care about not hurting people.
Either way, are we trying to have a discussion with them about what was wrong about the posts? Or are we trying to use the posts to have a deeper discussion about acceptance and inclusion in general?
Privilege + Empathy
I remember when it was entirely normal for people to be homophobic, I remember when people made fun of Geraldine Ferraro with sexist bumper stickers for having the temerity to run for VP.
What changed, when things changed, if things changed, was when privileged jokers started to become aware of how their own privilege was preventing them from being empathic.
Almost always, the people who hate political correctness tell their “objectionable” jokes from a position of privilege...A place where who they are is not at stake, but they put someone that they don’t care about at stake with their humor.
Objectification, seeing someone’s difference as a reason you can treat them differently is how privilege operates here.
It is easy to mock someone being kicked out of their family unit, when you are at no risk of being kicked out of yours...Not only can you not understand the other, you cannot understand the other’s pain.
I have experienced privilege that morphed into cruelty through objectification many times..
- The consequences of ethnic humor never occurred to me as a kid until I saw someone crying after I made an ethnic joke.
- I never understood what being gay must have been like for most closeted people until I saw the Bronski Beat “Smalltown Boy” video.
- I never truly understood racism's impact until I lived in Chattanooga Tennessee as a boy (and saw the impact really up close).
Being forced to face my own privilege in the face of the “other” changed me in every instance.
Before that, it was just a joke….it was all just jokes.
We don’t change because someone tells us that something is wrong (at least not always) we change because we have seen the pain...because we can’t pretend it is just a joke anymore because we have seen the faces..,and felt the pain.
We don’t change because society decrees something (at least not always)...we change because we come to understand that we ourselves are mostly cruel and full of shit.
When I got busted, I could have doubled down, I saw many people in prison that did...But, I immediately connected to the REAL pictures from my own childhood..I knew that what I did was wrong, I knew I had to change...Not because I was ashamed...Because I knew it was wrong.
We face the BIG REAL...The thing we can no longer deny. The thing we see with our hearts.
Creating Contact With The Big REAL
It might sound like what I am saying is that we need to create oppression tourism for the privileged….I guess, in a sense, that is fair.
Really, what I am looking for is a better transformation strategy than social shaming. One of the problems with privilege is that it seems seamless...It seems natural.
I know, from my own experiences and struggles with addiction, that as an addict, you spend a great deal of time trying to justify things that deep down inside you know are wrong...But, no matter how much you deny things, in the end, you know that what you did was wrong.
There have to be some bumps that you encounter in your road, to shatter the justifications and show you the face of the people you are hurting.
The actual faces, not just the outrage.
I do not mean you have to parade outsiders like the elephant man in front of haters (see tourism above)..I am saying you have to break down what is actually wrong with what they are doing in a human way.
You have to tell the stories in words everyone understands...or find a way to make everyone understand.
If they still don’t care...well, I don’t know what to say about that (some folks are just bad).
I guess, what I am really asking for is responses that educate and inform from a place of caring and compassion, not just piling on shame.
A place that cares not just about making people pay...but, also about changing the world for the better.
A place that cares about transforming hate into caring.
Bronski Beat’s video was transformative because anyone could watch it and understand the terror young gay people faced in the 80’s all over the world (and still face in many places today). They shared that story to make the world a better, less cruel, place.
It was easy for me to immediately connect with that video because I had been beaten up (often) as a kid for being different (hyperactive)...I understood that terror. I could not ignore it.
I was not LGBT, but I could understand what LGBT people were going through.
It wasn’t funny anymore.
I had seen the face of the big REAL, and I did not want to hurt anyone,
Tying it All Together
I guess what I am asking for….is something that at least considers this:
Yes, it is appropriate to be angry and to call bullshit
It is most likely appropriate to commercially distance yourself
But, it should also be more...We should talk about why it is wrong...what is wrong about it etc.
We always talk about “having the conversations” but we never really seem to have the conversations...no?
Telling the people who did something wrong how terrible they are is not really a conversation, and it certainly is not persuasive to the people who are in the middle on the issues that you are discussing.
In this instance:
Did anyone talk about why people should be allowed to perform their own preferences and be who they are, regardless of biological gender or place?
Did anyone talk about why there is no natural connection between what clothes people wear and what kind of music they make?
Did anyone talk about how it is pretty shitty to mock people's coming out struggles and suicidal thoughts (other tweets in the chain mocked coming out and suicide)?
Did anyone talk about why being an outsider or shamed is a uniquely terrifying place to be?
I missed it if it happened (it is certainly possible that it did). Kudos to anyone who went a few steps deeper in their responses.
Empathy Can = Transformation
I certainly remember wondering as a kid, why, despite my best efforts, people were literally choosing to physical hurt me instead of being my friend.
I remember feeling so insecure I basically swallowed my personality and tried to perform “coolness” until I got it right like 10 years later.
I remember never feeling like I belonged and that nobody would ever like the “real” me.
And, I will always remember wondering why nobody saved me from bullies (like they did in the movies).
And I was a privileged heterosexual WASPY white kid.
I do not write this to throw a pity party for myself at all...I am a big mess of good and bad things...I am just using my experience to highlight how things can suck for outsiders (even WASPY ones).
You will often hear people talk about how it is not the duty of people who have been hurt or oppressed to educate and inform people...That is probably true...But, I suspect there are plenty of people who started out in about the same place as Whirr but transformed how they saw transgender issues.
I certainly remember being at nightclubs between the ages of 17-21 and not really knowing what to think of transgendered women, biological men in drag, and cross-dressers. Ultimately, I just embraced it all as part of the same culture of celebrating difference that allowed me to look like a goth nightmare.
But, my understanding came over time, and almost always after contact and immersion into cultures and discussions where communication was possible.
I don’t know this, but if the point is communicating beyond the band Whirr…Helping people see what is wrong with transphobic behavior...not lecturing per se...actually sharing feelings and experiences and empathy is probably what matters.
If we all come to understand that there are real people with real faces out there who know that their insides do not match their outsides biologically or culturally...And that these people suffer from a great deal of repression, a great deal of suffering, and a great deal of social (and legal) discrimination….Maybe more of the larger “US” will if not “understand” maybe care enough to change?
It might even matter as much when the communication comes from role-models outside of the discriminated and oppressed community itself...
Even if I am 100% wrong, and I probably am, I am probably right that our transformation strategies need some serious thought and adjustment...Just screaming is cathartic and can be supportive, but we can probably do more?
What is the best way to respond to controversies like this Whirr situation? What strategies do you support? Feel free to comment, we would love to hear from you!
Listen to Waxahatchee here