A Trans Take on Rose McGowan: Stop Using the Feminist Icon as a Punching Bag

A Trans Take on Rose McGowan: Stop Using the Feminist Icon as a Punching Bag

By now, regular Advocate readers should know that I'm the type who gets angry at the things most other folks don't — and doesn't get upset about the things others do. I'm not deliberately contrarian; it's just that I form my own views framed through my own life experience. I tend to often see the nuances and complexities, and yes, sometimes this means I'm wrong as hell about things.   

When I heard about the incident the occurred last week between Rose McGowan and a trans woman in the audience of one of her book signings, I knew that what went down was far more complex than the initial reactions described.

Back in July, McGowan did make some rather transphobic comments on RuPaul's podcast, where she belittled the experiences and feelings of trans women in quite an offensive manner (“[Trans women] assume because they felt like a woman on the inside. That’s not developing as a woman,” McGowan said. “That’s not growing as a woman, that’s not living in this world as a woman, and a lot of the stuff I hear trans complaining about, yeah, welcome to the world.”) I wouldn't call it quite TERFy, but it did come pretty close.

At the book signing last week, as McGowan answered questions selected from the audience, Andi Dier, a trans woman and activist, jumped from her seat and aggressively called McGowan out on those comments. Before Dier could finish, McGowan began shouting back a defense that grew more heated and expletive-filled (not that there's anything fucking wrong with that).

The exchange grew harsher and more pointed, with Dier saying that McGowan does nothing to support trans women's causes, to which McGowan said some contradictory things about supporting trans women, while adding comments that were insulting and dismissive. From there it took some rather interesting turns, with McGowan claiming that Dier was an agitator sent by Harvey Weinstein whom she claims is trying to assassinate her, a rather unsettling interview on The Colbert Report, some interesting tweets, and finally canceling all of her public appearances for her book promotion.

Now, I'm not going to defend McGowan's transphobic comments on the RuPaul podcast, nor her hurtful and dismissive rant at Dier. McGowan does in time need to answer for those comments, as does anyone who makes those sort of remarks, but I'm not exactly going to push her. Dier is right that McGowan seemed to dismiss the violence and bigotry that trans women face — something too common among cisgender feminist activists — and she was right to call McGowan out. That said, I'm just never a fan of ambush gotchas for anybody, but if that's Dier's chosen tactic, then I'm not going to stop her. Besides, this isn't about Dier, it's about McGowan.

I think McGowan needs to take a break from the headlines for a bit. I'm legit concerned about her mental health. Now, of course I'm not a psychologist, though that's never stopped me or anyone else from pretending to be one, but McGowan’s claims of Dier being a Weinstein plant and her concerns over assassination worry me. That's the sign of a paranoid personality, which I can kind of understand in her case. McGowan has spent years calling out the sexual predation of women in Hollywood while no one paid her any attention — or they dismissed or mocked her. People criticized her appearance, her emotionally charged public statements, all before the #MeToo movement took hold of the cultural zeitgeist — which honestly has been a vindication for her. This should be McGowan's moment to shine, but it all seems to be falling apart for her.

She was raped and sexually assaulted, had her voice silenced, had her career sidetracked, and has been demeaned in the press. For as emotionally devastating as sexual assault can be for people, especially when they aren't believed, imagine having the power of the media turned against you for it. Imagine having your trauma be the fodder of TMZ, talk show hosts, gossip magazines, and hundreds of thousands of internet bullies. I cannot begin to imagine it; it would break most of us, and it at least appears to have affected McGowan's mental health.

I've been through severe emotional traumas in my life that have resulted in temper explosions, crying fits, self-destructive behavior, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, and a variety of behaviors you find in someone whose sanity is holding on by a thread that's fraying. I got the help I needed and got better, but I recognized that I was not a stable person at those times. I see a lot of similar behaviors I had and have seen in others in that state, and I legitimately worry about McGowan.

While she talks a lot about being a strong woman — which I don't doubt she is, with the way that she kept up her fight — that doesn't mean that she's not a wounded woman. The cracks in her armor are obvious. We know all too well how often our culture and media will smell blood and exacerbate a person's emotional issues for ratings and schadenfreude. I'm sure McGowan desires to "get back what she's owed," but it may not be what is actually best for her. It might be time for her rest now.  She can lay her burdens down and come back stronger than ever. 

Yes, Rose can be problematic and there are things for her to clarify and, yes, apologize for. However, this isn’t the time. Not because I want to protect her cisgender-privileged feminism, but because I don't think she's in the best headspace. Perhaps it's time for her inner circle to quit pushing her into the spotlight, at least temporarily. She helped more with getting the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements started than nearly any of us, and for that she deserves to finally take care of herself.

AMANDA KERRI is an Oklahoma City-based writer and comedian, and a regular contributor to The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @amanda_kerri.

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