No, I’m not defending Ann Coulter’s egregious use of the r word in a tweet about President Obama. As usual, she was wrong. But equally wrong was the slew of responses calling Ann Coulter a “tranny,” “transvestite,” and “cross-dresser.” Some even poked fun at her Adam’s apple. My parents taught me that two wrongs don’t make a right. And Ann Coulter has done a lot wrong. However, these reactions, aiming to silence Ann Coulter, only furthered the marginalization of women and transgender people.
Women have Adam’s apples too. Saying that Ann Coulter’s Adam’s apple makes her transgender just doesn’t make any sense. But the more sinister harm here is the thought that her appearance somehow makes her less worthy of respect. Images in advertising contort women’s bodies in ways that render them unable to be seen or heard. And images like these support the idea that women should only speak when they’re called on, a perspective that has had a real impact on women. A new study by the American Association of University Women found that full-time working women still earn only 82% of what male peers earn. And so when people aim to silence Ann Coulter because of how she looks, they only help drive women’s inequality.
Judgments against Ann Coulter because of how she looks are also an attack on transgender people. The difference is transgender people often can’t shrug their shoulders and move on the way Ann Coulter can. Indeed, this kind of prejudice has a role in the staggering rate of suicide attempts among transgender people: 41% (compared to 1.6% of the general population). While Ann Coulter gets to stir controversy like it’s a game, everyday transgender Americans have to deal with the bias and violence at the core of these messages.
Many have weighed in on how words like “tranny” and “faggot” hurt people. But here’s the bottom line: Who cares if Ann Coulter looks trans? Of course these words are offensive. These words are among America’s most reliable epithets — they somehow always get the job done. But these words also do something much worse. When used to silence someone for their beliefs, these words normalize a narrow picture of who gets to participate in our politics. The last four decades have not seen even a dozen openly transgender elected officials. This is changing as more transgender people become national advocates, but for a lot of people, “trannies” and “faggots” still don’t get to be part of the conversation.
What’s needed now — and something Ann Coulter could use more of herself — is a return to public conversations where the merits of an argument are judged by the strength of their ideas. Reading the tweets on both sides reminds me of schoolyard bullies indiscriminately pushing people away. Here, Ann Coulter and her agitators are all in the role of schoolyard bullies, driving sexism and ableism forward, adding to the culture of violence against transgender people, and pushing transgender people away from engaging in civil society.
VINCENT PAOLO VILLANO is the director of communications at the National Center for Transgender Equality. You can follow him on Twitter at @VincentPaolo.