First uploaded February 19, 2012
Note: This is a two-part entry. The first part in italics was sent anonymously to my tumblr. The second part was my response.
Forgive me for sending this as a submission and not an ask, but it’s way too long and I didn’t want to whittle it down and lose the nuance. Let me start off by saying that I’m happy that the fervor over your “die cis scum” tattoo has died down, and I don’t want to pile on for the sake of piling on. However, certain things have been nagging me about it for a while, and while it clearly took me a longer time than everyone else to process my thoughts, it’s still important for me to try to engage even though it would appear the moment has passed; I’m submitting this anonymously because, even though I follow you, I don’t want to “take credit” for calling you out, and because my intention is not to attack you or to potentially incite more hostility from my followers. As a trans, mixed-race, first-generation American, I submit this to you in concern and solidarity, in the hopes that you will simply consider what I have to say.
While the fact of your trans identity has been what’s been most discussed with respect to your tattoo, as somebody who’s white, American, not an immigrant, TAB, etc., the fact that you are even able to name one form of oppression and throw the weight of a prominent “die cis scum” tattoo behind it is as much a statement about your privilege as it is your oppression. The absence of “die racist scum” or “die colonialist scum” tattoos on your body is jarring—clearly it would be absurd for you to have them because you do not experience those oppressions and are by definition complicit in furthering them, and yet as a white American, you fail to recognize how you are still complicit in much of the violence committed against trans people. The trans folks who most often are murdered in anti-trans hate crimes are women and MAAB folks of color, many of whom live in countries directly and indirectly under the control of the U.S.: whether by way of American foreign policy; predatory practices of the U.S.-controlled WTO, IMF, and “development”-oriented NGOs; or simply the legacy of Western cultural imperialism. The impact of Western and particularly U.S.-ian neocolonialism is largely responsible for the ways in which anti-trans violence plays out on a global scale. (I would recommend doing some outside reading on this point if you don’t believe me, but I really can’t do this idea justice as a tangent here.)
While threatening violence against an oppressive class is certainly not abusive, the impact of your words cannot be divorced from the fact that you are a white American saying them. A white American advocating violence against folks who may not be white or American will always be coming from a position of relative power and be imbued by a legacy of violence. While you’ve suggested that your statement is acceptable because it comes from a person oppressed by cissexism, thus selectively invoking your identity as a trans person and not as a white person, your message is still etched into your white skin. By claiming that this tattoo is not coming from a place of institutional power because you are trans, you are obscuring the fact that your trans identity is shaped by your whiteness. While you have clearly experienced cissexist violence personally, your tattoo still speaks on behalf of an experience and therefore a class of people among whom you hold immense privilege: while intersectionality is colloquially used to refer to multiple oppressions operating at once, it is also important to consider intersectionality as a reminder of the ways in which our each of our identities influence our other identities—this is to say, your whiteness and nationality means that, even given your marginalization due to your trans identity, you hold privilege with respect to other trans folks in terms of the types of cissexist violence you are subject to.
What troubles me about your tattoo is not that an oppressed person is advocating violence against their oppressor: I support this completely, and on somebody other than you I would support your tattoo 100%. Rather, what troubles me is that you point the finger to others as your oppressors in a way that conveniently excludes you as somebody responsible for the systems of oppression that facilitate most forms of violence against trans folks. For you to advocate on behalf of a class of people whom you largely oppress and thus do not and cannot speak for troubles me; there is a reason you, as a white American citizen, are only person to publicly boast such a tattoo, and I suspect it’s related to the fact that you live in enough relative freedom and safety to be able to access having and displaying such a tattoo without already experiencing swift and violent repercussions.
This isn’t to say that your experiences and indignation at your own experiences of oppression are not valid; I simply wish to implore you to consider the context in which, as a white American, you are pointing your finger at cis people categorically as if they are solely or even primarily responsible for the violence that is actually carried out against trans folks. Are colonized cis folks and/or cis folks of color more responsible for these global and intersecting systems of violence that enable this particular brand of violence than you are? I doubt it; I certainly don’t think it’s useful to compare the severity of various oppressions, but it is necessary to consider the ways in which your other identities perpetually mire you in violent racist, colonialist, and cissexist systems that, while harming you, also greatly reward you.
There are times when “types” of oppression cannot be teased apart neatly into an SJ framework of separate vectors or axes or what have you (i.e. sexism, colonialism, cissexism), and when most of the people on lists of murdered trans folks and victims of anti-trans hate crimes are disproportionately oppressed by systems you benefit from, this becomes such an occasion. You cannot believe that the cissexism you experience is the cissexism they experience, and that you are not implicated in the latter.
In case it needs saying, it would be inappropriate for a cis person to have a tattoo reading “die cis scum”, because their voice would displace the voices of people they wield power over by virtue of their cis identity, and would speak for them (to say things they may not want to be said). Your particular relationship to cissexism is not one in which you are solely on the receiving end, and by advocating violence against cis folks as a white American while failing to acknowledge that you continually benefit from violence against trans folks, you are speaking for other trans folks in order to say things that are incredibly disconcerting given your relative position of power to them.
-submitted by anonymous
I want to thank you for your excellent commentary and for putting in the time and energy to send it over.
You are absolutely correct. I cannot and will not argue against the fact that I, as a white middle class US citizen, profit from the rape and murder of trans* people of color worldwide.
I’m familiar with the TDoR lists. I acknowledge the fact that, as a white trans* person, my risks are incredibly lower and my privilege is overwhelmingly greater than any trans* person of color.
I do think that the murder of any trans* person adds to the normalization of violence against all trans* people. Exponentially so for people of color, obviously, but I think that the general acceptance of anti-trans* violence does affect everyone under the umbrella. Again, I realize it is vital to be aware that this increase in the risk of being trans* has a huge disparity which is rooted in race and class.
I get a little emotional discussing this sort of thing so please bear with me. I know that my chances for being killed as a result of my trans status are nowhere near what they would be if I was not white. Here, in my apartment, typing this out at my laptop, this is an obvious certainty. During those moments in which I have been convinced through abundant evidence that I would not live out the next few minutes, the fact that my chances of being killed are lower has not served as a useful comfort. Again: I understand that my experiences are limited and reasonably benign in comparison to what someone without my privilege must endure.
I suppose I’m trying to say that there is a point at which I believe people ought to feel that anger is an acceptable reaction. I thought I had come to that point, and I thought my anger was justified. I generally support a wide range of expression for survivors coping with their trauma; however, I get the message that my having the ability to advertise that anger does come from privilege and entitlement.
If people want to comment on this, I’d actually appreciate it a lot because obviously I need some additional perspective. I would like it if anyone who is white could take a back seat in this conversation. I do not want this to turn into a space for people to whitesplain racism.