We need to shift that discourse

A student group at Laurier University, Lspirg Waterloo, has posted an essay explaining its positionality. LSPIRG stands for Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group; it identifies as a social justice group.

Dear Laurier Community,

Due to recent events on the Laurier Waterloo campus and the heightened media coverage, we feel it is our responsibility to speak out against the level of transphobia that has been emerging on campus and in on-line forms.

We have spent a lot of time over the last while speaking about “freedom of speech”. We have, however, not spent much time questioning how the increase of transphobic rhetoric on campus has been impacting students and the larger community. If there is one thing we request of the Laurier community at this time, it is to acknowledge whose voices are being left out when we see these constant articles hitting the news. Who is getting the most amount of air time. Who is getting lots of time to explain their side of the story. And who is not?

Trans students have, without a doubt, been silenced throughout this process. There have been a small handful of articles or interviews released that provide any sort of context from their perspective. And when they do get coverage (such as in the Cord), entire stacks of newspapers are destroyed and returned to the steps of the Cord. So we ask you again, who is being silenced in this situation? Who is having their right to share their side of the story taken from them? And who has little or no ability to change the public discourse?

But is the story in question about “trans students”? All of them? Do we know that? If so, how do we know it? Lindsay Shepherd is the one who was hauled before a tribunal of three people berating her for ridiculous reasons; why are “trans students” supposed to have equal coverage?

The post is framing the issue as if Shepherd had abused “trans students” but that of course is not the case. The three sanctimonious goons who bullied her are the Other Side of this story; the story is not directly about trans people or “trans students.”

The discourse of “freedom of speech” is being used in order to strip the ongoing situation of all its context. We need to shift that discourse so that we can actually see the underlying issues. We need to see what is at the root of this discussion and why trans students feel so passionately about it.

Or to put it another way, we need to claim and insist that this story about three academics bullying a grad student is actually about [all] trans students so that we can claim the “underlying issues” are quite different from the ones being discussed.

We need to acknowledge that “debates” that invalidate the existence of trans people or dehumanize trans people based on their gender is both a form of transphobia and a form of gendered violence. And we need to acknowledge that there is no neutral way to demand that someone defend their existence and their right to a safe educational environment.

Nah, you don’t. You don’t need to acknowledge claims that are not true. Nobody invalidated the existence of trans people or dehumanized trans people; that’s just the familiar irrational catastrophizing bullshit that everyone is so tired of.

For these reasons, we stand in solidarity with the trans students on campus who are continuing to make their voices heard despite brutal and harsh opposition. We stand in solidarity with the trans and non-binary students who are not making their voices heard. Who are keeping to themselves or staying silent out of fear, intimidation, exhaustion, or a range of other valid justifications.

Or, perhaps, because they have enough sense to realize the bullying of Shepherd is not about them and they don’t need to make everything about them.

We stand in solidarity with every trans and non-binary individual (student or not) who has been caught up in the whirlwind of social media and mainstream news that so consistently tells them that they are not important or worthy of having a voice in this discussion.

Nobody is telling them any such fucking thing. The melodrama is not persuasive.

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