Friday, August 27, 2010

Transphobia in Halopedia

(This was written for Halopedia, but I think it's an important message regardless.)

I’d like to talk about the transphobia present in the Halo and Halopedia community. Transphobia is prejudice against transgender, or transsexual, folks. Transgender as I use it here refers to people whose gender identity (i.e. who they are as a person inside their head) is different from their sex (i.e. how the body forms beyond the brain). (Still confused? See here.) Halopedians, who should be friendly to everyone who’s not a troll, have made some seriously messed up comments in reference to trans people. My purpose here is to bring attention to this issue, so that further transphobia can be actively discouraged.
The first specific transphobic incident I witnessed occurred at least two years ago on #halopedia. I very rarely go into the chatroom, and when I do I tend to lurk and just be an adminly presence to encourage people to follow the rules. A prominent male user there started to make some transphobic comments against trans women (i.e. women born with a male sex, who have had to assert a female identity). He was giving his support to what the LGBT community calls the “trans panic” defense, based off of a pseudoscientific disorder called “homosexual panic”, which frames homophobic violence as a form of psychosis (and thus not the fault of the one who attacks). Trans panic defense is a legal defense used by transphobic murderers who claim that when they found out that their victim was presenting as a gender different from their biological sex, they flew into a violent rage—one caused by their victim—and so can’t be held accountable for their actions.
I suspect the discussion on #halopedia related to the murder of Angie Zapata, a trans woman whose murder was fairly widely publicized. A good description of the case and breakdown of the trans panic defense can be found here. While I don’t believe this male user I describe actually wished to advocate murder, he was actively blaming the victim for violence she encountered. He said something about how it was partly her fault because she (who the user misgendered as male) was a man who dressed up like a woman to deceive the man who became her attacker.
At this point, I spoke up and said something like “Don’t disrespect trans folks.”
And then this female user, who had been quiet for a while, started sharing her agreement with what I was saying. She added something like “Yeah, don’t be disrespectful.”
This male user continued, saying something like “I’m just saying, if a man pretends to be a woman to have sex with a straight man, it’s lying.”
I countered with something like “Not a man. A woman expressing her true self.” That seemed to work in terms of stopping the male user from saying any more.
The female user got excited because I was using my adminly presence in a way congruent with her beliefs, and said something like “Yes! Yes, exactly! Dragonclaws, you’re so good to know trans women are women! /me gives Dragonclaws a cookie!”
While I digitally ate the cookie to be polite, I was a little unnerved by the presence of even an abstract reward system considered necessary for the promotion of respect. How truly fraking messed up is it that basic understanding and respect for trans people is so non-automatic that its slightest appearance must be commended? If it had been neo-Nazi crap being spouted by one user, 80% of the chatroom would be arguing vehemently, and the rest would be frantically PM-ing the admins to get the guy kicked out. Of course, most people are opposed to Nazism and recognize the basic human value of Jewish people nowadays. How many of us are Jewish or at least have Jewish blood that would make us targets of Nazis?  Ajax is one, I’m one, many others are, and I’m sure no one’s surprised by that. When it comes to trans people, though, many people just can’t conceive of them being people they know and respect, so it comes across as some outlandish thing done by weird people they don’t understand and therefore can’t respect. And this female user just didn’t expect me to show basic respect, so when I did it was noteworthy and commendable.
The second incident happened, not in #halopedia, but a separate chatroom some Halopedians were in. Somehow the conversation turned to trans folks, and then a different male user used the slur “tranny”. Now, it may not be clear to a lot of cis (i.e. having a gender identity congruent with biological sex; not trans) folks, but “tranny” is a really offensive term on par with the F-word or N-word. I pointed this out to the user in hopes that he would stop using it. He didn’t, though.
He then made a comment that was supposed to be a joke: “/me wonders if Dragonclaws is transgender…” A beat later: “Nah…”
I wanted to yell “How do you know I’m not!? Why is it so unlikely I’m trans? Why is being trans just the butt of a joke to you? Don’t you realize transgender folks are real people!?”
So, folks, who am I? I’m Dragonclaws, a long-time user and administrator of Halopedia, presumably straight, presumably a cis male. But besides what I’ve explicitly said, what does anyone really know about me? Have I ever said I was straight? Or cis? I imagine everyone just makes the assumption I am. Why? Because the majority of Halopedians are?
The majority of Halopedians aren’t directly targets of Nazis, but is it a big surprise some prominent users are? It’s not like there are significantly more Jewish people than there are trans people. I’ve been saying for a while now that I’m a boy and look like a girl and that I don’t care, and a lot of people probably use that to picture me as a cis male. Why couldn’t I be a trans boy with a female sex? Or a trans girl afraid to come out of the closet? What makes you so fraking sure a real person, someone you can relate to because we both like Halo, isn’t trans?
Well, the whole environment is transphobic. Not just Halopedia, but society in general. I suppose it’s hard to blame individuals who may be ignorant of transgender issues, but once someone says something to clue them in, I think they should be responsible for their own transphobia. A major problem with the overall gamer community that contributes to transphobia is its prevalent sexism.
The gamer community is predominately made up of males who, through the subconscious perception of the community as only for males, have created an environment that is unfriendly to female gamers. I’ve been trying to keep this off Halopedia, but it is extremely difficult because Halopedia is part of a larger community that is mostly sexist. Many Halopedians do behave in sexist ways, and while I can ban the explicitly misogynistic users, the subtler sexism is much more difficult to combat, and it continues to create an environment unfriendly to those who deviate from the norm of straight cis males.
I keep thinking about how in the first incident I describe, the female user only started attacking the male user’s transphobic viewpoint after I spoke up about it. This female user had been in the channel a while and the male user had been talking a bit before I said something, so why didn’t she speak first? I believe the answer is sexism. The predominately male environment created an atmosphere where she felt reluctant to contradict the prevailing opinions until I, an apparent straight cis male with some authority in the group, challenged them first.
Transphobia is a serious issue. The way society victimizes transgender people cannot simply be ignored. Because of transphobic bullying, trans youth are more likely than cis to attempt suicide. Some trans girls accidentally kill themselves through mutilating their genitals out of a mistaken belief that emergency room doctors will give them socially acceptable sex-changes, and they end up bleeding out. Transphobic violence is also prevalent, and several times each year a cis person will murder a trans person because of intolerance. There’s a tribute to victims here, which I suggest everyone take a look at to make it clearer that trans people are real people just like cis people.
You know what? I’m going to use this space as an additional tribute to the victims. There have been plenty of posts here about wartime causalities and the horribleness of war, which is connected to Halopedia very loosely only in the fact that Halopedia has a high demographic of people in or who want to be in their country’s military. This is at least related in that I’m talking about Halopedian being transphobic, so I don’t want to hear any complaints. So, yeah, here’s a Photoshop:
So, anyway, to conclude, transphobia is a serious problem, and Halopedia should not perpetuate it. I imagine most of you never considered the issue before and probably perpetuated transphobia without properly understanding it. Now that you know about it, please stop it, and please actively discourage other people from behaving in a transphobic manner. Halopedia should be a friendly environment where all people who enjoy Halo can discuss it without the ugliness of intolerance bearing down on them.

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