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When you're in your 20s, you're supposed to be wild, loud, and stupid. It's your right to be, and it's a lot less awkward for everyone to be that way when you're 25 than being the 45-year-old woman standing on the bar wearing mom jean Daisy Dukes that barely cover the C-section scars and woo-hooing while drinking tequila. It's just, well, no one really wants to see that. So when you're young, be loud, be rowdy, be politically active; just don't be an awful person. For most people that means that you don't drunkenly vandalize property or get into fights, you don't harass strangers and mess with older people who just want to be left alone. For the young activists, though, this means not being as hateful and bigoted against the things you say you're fighting.
Recently a group of students at Oregon's Reed College, in their fervent zeal to be the best activists they could be, protested filmmaker Kimberly Peirce during a screening of her 1999 film Boys Don't Cry, which told the story of murdered trans man Brandon Teena. In their attempts to express their views that the film glorifies violence against trans people, rape, and the perpetuation of casting cisgender actors in trans roles, they went just a little bit too far. Firstly, they tore down posters promoting the event earlier in the week (because destroying property always gets your point across). After that, they left a series of signs all over the auditorium and carried them into the screening to protest. Which is fine, except they contained more than a few curse words, with the most important and powerful sign left at the podium for Peirce that read, "Fuck this cis white bitch." Well, that's something. The protesters then began shouting at Peirce, who eventually left the stage but was coaxed back, only to have, "Fuck you, scared bitch" shouted at her loudly by one protester.
Now, as I was discussing with a TV critic I follow on Twitter, there is merit in criticizing any work of art. There's a whole industry built around it. All art is there to be critiqued, evaluated, judged on its merits, and over time its ability to remain true and relevant. It's another thing entirely to smash the work with a hammer and burn the artist at the stake. A different blog gave a much better breakdown and legitimate criticism of the film and Peirce's motivations for her artistic efforts than I ever could. I'm not much of an art critic, and so I leave that in more capable hands. However, the article also touches on the part that really gets me fired up, which is the discussion of the people involved.
The poster left at the podium for Peirce to see called her a "cis white bitch." This bugs the crap out of me, because Peirce has identified herself as gender-fluid. Now, I admit, I'm not 100 percent up to speed on all the latest gender theory stuff coming out these days, and to be honest, sometimes even I, a trans woman, don't get the difference between a genderqueer and gender-fluid person, but apparently they're different. It's not my place to question how a person identifies, so hey, just tell me the pronouns you want for the day and we'll figure it out from there. Yet for a bunch of people who are acting in the name of LGBTQ+ rights to go against what a person self-identifies as in a way designed to hurt and offend a person they dislike is in no way different than the same abuse hurled at gender-nonconforming people by those who want to marginalize us. It's specifically designed to be malicious. When the term "cis" is used like this, in an attempt slander a person, it makes people who use it as a way to communicate ideas about gender identity issues have a harder time differentiating themselves from these folk. They're not helping the conversation, they're harming it.
The other word tossed around a few times, "bitch," is just unbelievable. I'm sure that there are a few psych grad students working on a thesis centering on cognitive dissonance who have already incorporated this into their paper. The LGBTQ+ movement has long drawn from both the civil rights movement and feminism to help frame much of its ideology and foundations. I mean, why repeat good work already done? A huge part, especially in transgender activism, is feminist ideology. In fact, some of the most strident and radicalized feminists I know are trans women, probably because they can see the importance of it (or they really never knew how much male privilege was real and tangible). One would think that anyone involved in women's and gay rights, especially transgender activism, would recognize that "bitch" is the silver medalist in the "most offensive thing you could call a woman" competition (guess the gold). It's a completely misogynistic slur, a dehumanizing one, and no matter how many times a drag queen or rock star proudly proclaims that they are one, it's not going to really keep it from being the word people use to attack women who speak up and act out. The level of self-deception, solipsistic vitriol, and, frankly, hate it takes for a person acting under the guise of "progressive activism" to use a word they would drag a "cis-het white male" for using even in jest is staggering.
I get these kids are young, excitable, full of spirit, and ready to smash the system just like every generation of 20-somethings before them who burned bras, protested Vietnam, threw rocks at Stonewall, and marched to Selma, but there's something really wrong here. I get being frustrated at the slow pace of social change; it's never fast enough. I get the energy one feels when whipped up by an activist fervor (I posted my share of campus fliers too, mostly antiwar and anticonsumerist), but this type of behavior is one step too far. It's born not of a spirit to make the world better, but of outright hatred and maliciousness, a demand that all conform to their ideology.
I could easily go on for another 1,000 words about campuses and political correctness, but it wouldn't serve any purpose but to confuse and obfuscate the issue, really, which is that there must be a reckoning with this streak that runs within the LGBTQ+ movement that more closely resembles the closed-minded, hateful bigotry of the oppressors they speak against. It's easy to say that these protesters are "just being ignorant kids," but I'm sure most of us at one time were "just kids," and most of us didn't scream "bitch" at a genderqueer lesbian because we though her movie was problematic. Most 20-something activists in the LGBTQ community are those kids who just went out and drank too much at a party; these protesters are the ones who drank too much, smashed some window, called the girl in the drive-thru window an ugly cow, and then puked in the back of the Uber.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @EternalKerri.