Under the banner of freedom of speech

But! Don’t worry – the Laurier Rainbow Centre wrote an emergency Facebook post to explain how transphobic it all is.

Dear Laurier Community,

In the face of recent media attention, we feel it is our responsibility to speak out against the climate of transphobia that is being fostered at Laurier. The university’s silence on these issues has allowed for a one-sided perspective to be cultivated in the media that is entirely disconnected from the experiences of trans people. We speak now as a collective of queer and trans students, asking you to engage critically with the media you read and to hold our community with care.

On Friday November 10th, an article was published in the National Post that disparaged the university’s response to a situation that emerged in a first year Communications course. We are obligated to uphold the confidentiality of all parties and, therefore, are unable to comment directly on the situation that instigated this article.* We can, however, speak to the ways in which this article, and the dozens that have been published since, are defending and perpetuating transphobic beliefs and attitudes.

*Nonsense; it was all over the press for days, with the protagonists named. Also a situation can’t “instigate” an article. They mean “inspired” or “motivated.”

Under the banner of freedom of speech, the news media have advanced a critique of institutional practices aimed at increasing inclusivity and challenging oppression. The always present but often unnamed ‘other’ at the center of these critiques, are the trans and non-binary individuals who these institutional practices would support. We must understand the ways in which these attacks on the “PC culture” of the university are, in actuality, attacks on the needs of trans people that these critics do not support.

The discourse of freedom of speech, is being used to cover over the underlying reality of transphobia that is so deeply ingrained in our contemporary political context. Ironically, these discourses seem intent on silencing those who speak out against the systemic violence perpetrated against trans people while propagating a far right ideology. In fact, recent empirical studies conducted by White and Crandall (2017) have shown that freedom of speech endorsement is predicted by underlying prejudicial attitudes.

So…they’re saying Rambukka was “speaking out against the systemic violence perpetrated against trans people” when he bullied and browbeat Lindsay Shepherd for using a brief clip of Jordan Peterson in her tutorial? How was he doing that? Shepherd wasn’t endorsing Peterson, so even if you accept the claim that Peterson is perpetrating violence against trans people, it’s not reasonable to claim that Shepherd is also doing so.

We must, therefore, be critical of the ways in which trans bodies are being appropriated as the battleground on which the war of freedom of speech is waged.

Really. Shepherd stole trans bodies and fought a battle while standing on them? Really? Why hasn’t this been reported?

Debates about gender neutral pronouns or the validity of trans identities are not only discussions about (dis)allowable speech but, also, affronts on the reality of trans experience. These debates, regardless of how “neutrally” they are presented, constitute a form of epistemic violence that dehumanizes trans people by denying the validity of trans experience.

No they don’t. You can’t use “regardless of” that way. You can’t say “regardless of the obvious fact that presenting an example of an opinion is not the same as embracing it, I’m going to say it is, because I want to” and expect to be taken seriously. That’s a good deal more “epistemically violent” than anything Lindsay Shepherd did.

For trans people, these debates invalidate their gender identity or expression as wrong or pathological, with very material impacts for their well-being. According to a national study, two-thirds of trans youth in Canada have engaged in self-harm and one-third have attempted suicide (Veale et al., 2015). For cisgender (non-trans) people, these debates validate the ideologies of cisnormativity and genderism that inform transphobia, once again with material impacts for trans people. According to the Trans Pulse project, for example, 20% of trans people in Ontario have been physically or sexually assaulted for being trans and 34% have been verbally threatened or harassed (Bauer & Scheim, 2015).

In this context, we must respond to the enactment and maintenance of transphobia and problematize media that upholds transphobic ideologies. We should take students’ concerns about their safety and well-being as a result of the intensification of these ideologies on campus very seriously. These concerns are real, with students accessing the Rainbow Centre for support around experiences of harassment in their classrooms, on campus, and in online forms, as a result of this increased media attention. The Rainbow Centre itself is being targeted on this issue, with antagonizing posters being left on our windows and emails criticizing our educational initiatives around Transgender Day of Remembrance.

These experiences of transphobia and their aforementioned implications, are the realities in which our conversations about this issue need to be embedded. We all have a responsibility to create an environment for learning and living in which trans people are safe from epistemic and transphobic violence. We all have a responsibility to speak out about these issues, and we call on our allies who have remained silent to please take a stance. This political moment is intent on derogating trans people in the name of freedom of speech and we cannot allow for this profound violence to be continued.

It isn’t violence. There are arguments that can be made about ways that speech can create climates that become friendly to violence; I think Trump did that during his campaign, for instance, and has been doing a lot of it since. But that doesn’t make the speech itself “violence” and people will just roll their eyes when you tell them it does.

Grade: F. Repeat the course.

17 Responses to “Under the banner of freedom of speech”

Leave a Comment

Subscribe without commenting