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On John Shore’s Allyship: A Guest Post

On John Shore’s Allyship: A Guest Post September 18, 2014

Some background information:

Recently, fellow Patheos blogger John Shore wrote a post dismissing all of his critics–from the homophobic/transphobic conservatives, to some of the actual LGBTQ+ people he claims to be be an ally to–claiming that God is on his side. As a queer person who has had problems with Shore’s writing in the past, I was frustrated to see Shore lump criticisms from LGBTQ people in with criticisms from bigots, and flippantly dismiss them. I was especially frustrated with how Shore reacted in the comments: accusing genderqueer people of trying to trick him into misgendering them for attention, closing the comments once queer people began to pushback, listing times he’s written about trans issues in order to “prove” his allyship, etc. 

After all of this went down, a trans woman (who wishes to remain anonymous) sent me this response to Shore, asking if I would publish it. I think it’s an important and thorough response, and a reminder that cis people writing a few blog posts isn’t enough if you aren’t listening to and standing in solidarity with trans people. Enjoy! (Note: since this is a guest post, and I want to make any guests at my blog feel safe and comfortable, I will be monitoring the comments more closely than I normally would. Any hateful, trolling, or cruel comments will be deleted)

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This is a response to John’s comments about his support of trans people in this comment here. First off, his articles on trans issues are rather slim pickings. Of the posts that he lists as where he’s written on trans issues, two of the eight are just him printing letters he’s received, one is just him adding a few words to another person’s youtube video, and another is him summarizing the resolution by the Southern Baptist Convention. Now, he even says in his comment that some of these posts are him printing letters so I’m not claiming that he’s being disingenuous, to be clear. I’ll consider, then, the other four posts where he has his own words on trans issues.

The first post we’ll consider is Christians Be Thee Not Discombobulated By Transgender People. The basic message of the post is “hey, cis people, be nice to trans people” which is hardly objectionable, but the meat of the post is flippant at best and insulting at worst. Consider the following quote

Disliking the house into which fate birthed them, they change that house. Maybe they repaint the exterior: blue to pink (“Bring me wigs, falsies, lipstick!”); pink to blue (“Shoulder pads, a fake mustache, and a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for the front of these pants!”) Maybe they restructure the very foundation of their house, and get sex reassignment surgery.

Wigs, falsies and lipstick: that list isn’t simply strange and inaccurate, but downright disrespectful. The image of trans women as men-playing-dress-up, which is clearly what he seems to think we are, is a rather damaging one. It comes from the conflation of trans women with drag queens as well as the prevailing image of trans women as looking like men failing at femininity. It’s a painfully common pop culture image of transness. Not being a man, I don’t feel as qualified to comment on their portrayal but it seems just as insulting to my eye. In some sense, though, that’s a digression from the main point: even if they’re jokes, they’re jokes that John shouldn’t be making. I am aware that he summarizes most of his criticism from queer and trans people as “wahhh you’re a straight white man” and that’s not my criticism, but there’s an element of that complaint here. John, as someone who may support queer and trans people but never be one of them, should err more on the side of respect and caution than he does in this post. I also object to both the ridiculously simplified presentation of what transness means, e.g. saying that we’ve lived as two genders, and the lack of links to actual trans people talking about their representation of themselves. As someone who is making a living from writing about the lives of queer and trans people he should really be putting forth the basic respect to cite the many of our thinkers who have already attempted to explain our lives and our experiences. I’m not saying he’s wrong for talking about this, but a post “explaining” trans experience should have at least a few “for further reading” citations.

The second post we’ll discuss is A Biblical Man Attracted to Transgender Women. In this post, John answers a question from a reader, a straight cis male, who is concerned that his being attracted to women-with-penises might mean something about his sexuality. The most problematic aspect of John’s response is that he, essentially, says that the man very well might be “transitioning” (ironic word choice given the topic) to being gay or bi by using trans women who have penises as an opportunity to have “homosexual sex”. The problem being the conflation of “sex between two people with penises” with “homosexual sex” which fundamentally degenders trans women. I’m not saying that this is a malicious degendering, but rather an unintentional one. To his credit, John does say that trans women are women, so a straight man attracted to them is still straight; however, the basic point stands that I feel the answer was clumsy and not sensitively handled. For example, referring to straightness as being “adjusted” to accommodate trans women. The entire premise that it could be a way to explore “homosexual sex” is also a bit misguided in that a trans woman’s genitals, after hormone therapy, aren’t really at all the same as a cis man’s genitals. Could John be expected to know that? No, but that’s part of my case for why I don’t think someone so distant from the day-to-day of being trans should be trying to answer these kinds of sensitive questions.

The third post we’ll discuss is Can a Man Act Too Effeminate?. Most of my concern with this post is that, well, it doesn’t have anything to do with trans people. Not really. The only way it does is if his reference to “women who act like men” and “men who act like women” is meant to be a reference to transness. I think the fundamental confusion that connects this to trans people is the idea that trans women are inherently feminine and trans men are inherently masculine, which is absolutely not true. I know trans women who never wear makeup or dresses and trans men who love glitter and pink. There’s no causal connection between being trans and whether you express traditional masculinity and femininity. This really isn’t surprising when one considers that cis men and women violate conventions of gender and presentation all the time, and that it’s not really about “men acting like women” or “women acting like men”. So ultimately I’m not criticizing the post per se as I’m just confused as to why it was included at all in the list of trans related posts.

The final post in the list is A Prayer For The Transgender In All Of Us. I’ll be honest, my main problem with this is the problem I have with most writing about TDOR. Violence against trans people is very localized in terms of demographics: a vast majority of the violence is specifically against black and latina trans women. My teeth are set on edge by any talk of violence that doesn’t include the intersection of racism and misogyny. I’m hardly the first person to point this out, and a simple google search will pull up a lot of criticism, though one of my favorite posts on the topic is here. Further, I don’t want to sound callous but I don’t really think it’s appropriate for someone outside of the community to be writing about this, especially when there are parts like this

And so, like trapped animals, we fight. We attack. And a lot of us do so blindly, horribly, against anything and everything. Because none of what we’re fighting is the real thing. Because we can’t get to the real thing, can we, Lord? So we fight what we can get our hands on. In the frenzy of our fear we look around, identify a threat or target, and start in swinging.

that fundamentally empathize with the perpetrators of violence against trans women of color in a way that I think is rather crass.

So, all of these points considered, I do not think that John Shore has really written a lot of positive material about trans people. His writings have been fairly superficial and display many of the pitfalls around a person writing about the lives and struggles of groups he has never been a part of. I hope that I have clearly articulated the places where he has said things that were not his place, as he requested in the comment that spurred this post.

 


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