tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[personal profile] tim
Friends, suppose you are a cissexual man. If you are one, this should be easy enough. If you aren't one, this should also be easy, as the use of most socially-sanctioned narratives in any culture you're likely to originate from is predicated on the appropriation of a distinctly male, assigned-male-at-birth persona.

Now suppose that I were to kick you in the balls repeatedly. I have reason to believe you would likely find that painful. But I can make it up to you! How about once you're recovered, you go ahead and kick me in the balls repeatedly? Go on, imagine it. Okay? Well, that didn't feel like much at all. I'm clearly impervious to being kicked in the balls, and that's clearly a reflection of my superior strength of character.

The only problem is that this is an unfair comparison, since my balls are made of silicone and kicking them would only serve to further cushion the blow that my already much-less-sensitive crotchal accoutrements would otherwise absorb. I'm not better than you because I'm less sensitive to a swift kick in the crotch -- I just don't have testicles, a lack that is hardly on my list of personal accomplishments and is in fact something I would change if I had any idea how.

Cis people often call trans people "oversensitive" or "easily offended" because they react to certain kinds of verbal attacks differently than a cis person would to the same comment. Of course, the person making such an attack does not always mean it to come off as aggressive, but since meaning is determined by the recipient of a message and not the sender, these comments are attacks nonetheless. For example, a cis person might call a trans person "oversensitive" because she reacts badly to being addressed with the wrong pronoun, and a cis person would just laugh or shrug it off. Or a cis person might say a trans person is "easily offended" and should "know what I mean" when he says "born female" to mean "assigned male at birth": when they say such a person is easily offended, they mean they react to such a comment more strongly than they would expect a cis person to react. Cis people stack the deck (they take advantage of their socially sanctioned privilege to define what a "normal" level of sensitivity is) and then complain when trans people won't play.

Like a swift kick to the crotchal region, verbal attacks are received differently depending on what, inside the recipient's body, takes the blow. A pair of testicles that you can't even see (when your victim has pants on) make the difference between a few moments of discomfort and a thoroughly ruined day. A collection of emotional baggage that you can't even see, comprising memories of, and learned reactions to, transphobic violence -- the kind of violence that hides behind words and makes its victim do all the dirty work -- makes the difference between a dickish comment that's laughed off and a dickish comment that ruins someone's trust in you and jeopardizes a relationship.

If I were to request adulation for what I characterized as thick skin developed through my own efforts, but is really a matter of (a certain kind of) luck, you'd rightly suggest I was disingenuous. So why is it a mark of good character to be "thick-skinned" and "not easily offended" when that really amounts to having had the good luck not to grow some brain structures that -- like your testicles, if applicable -- you don't think about all the time, but that make it difficult for you to regain your composure when someone stomps all over them? Why it's considered a virtue to not be "sensitive" -- that is, to be indifferent to other people's emotional states and responses -- and to be "thick-skinned" -- that is, to not care about your relationships with other people -- is another question as well. Why is "you're just being oversensitive" an all-purpose silencer, while "you're not being sensitive enough" gets you laughed at and called a castrating PC cunt (and then accused of oversensitivity when you don't like being reduced to the genitalia you're presumed to have)? But even if we take it as a given that apathy is a virtue, are virtues that accrue by accident of birth really so praiseworthy?

When you say that a trans person (or, you know, any person whose life is different from your own) is "oversensitive" because you are incapable of imagining their response to anything from a misplaced pronoun to a "Saturday Night Live" sketch dedicated to mocking and denying the humanity of a group of people to which they belong, you are really saying that it's easy to maintain a serene state of indifference to everything other than yourself. Easy when the rest of the world is indifferent to you, too -- and, just as easy when the rest of the world would prefer to see you dead.

You're saying that if it's harder for you to do something that's inherently more difficult than it is for someone else to do something easier, then the problem is that you're not trying hard enough.

And really, that takes balls.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-17 01:52 pm (UTC)
winterkoninkje: Shadowcrane (Default)
From: [personal profile] winterkoninkje
Why is "you're just being oversensitive" an all-purpose silencer, while "you're not being sensitive enough" gets you laughed at and[...]

In part I think this has to do with the imbalance between the definitions of "male/masculine/..." and "female/feminine/...". Masculinity is defined by what you are not (namely not feminine) and is correlatedly accorded a position of prestige, whereas femininity is defined all to often as "everything else". So saying someone isn't manly enough is an insult and clearly "points out a character defect", whereas saying someone isn't womanly enough is just trying to "drag them down to your level" and should be scoffed at accordingly. Similarly for other imbalanced dichotomies like "white" vs "everyone else", "straight" vs "everyone else",...

I find the praising of apathy and coldheartedness a condemnable thing. And the association of those "virtues" to masculinity does a disservice to men by denying them the right live a life that doesn't revolve around psychiatric issues resulting from the inability to express and own their emotions.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-18 05:40 am (UTC)
winterkoninkje: Shadowcrane (Default)
From: [personal profile] winterkoninkje
I don't think it's exclusive either. But it is typical, or at least stereotypical. While women can be apathetic, coldhearted, and can even consider these to be good things about themselves, apathy and coldheartedness are not traditionally associated with ideals of femininity (in Western cultures, at least). Whereas these things are often associated with ideals of masculinity, though usually under more appealing names like stoicism, determination, unflappability, having true grit, etc. And I don't mean ideals in the idealistic sense either. While these things are often given pretty names and praised in men, there are also ideals about men being pig-headed, socially-inept, etc, which is just the other side of the same coin.

My point was rather that I think the reason why "you're being oversensitive" is an all-purpose silencer while "you're not being sensitive enough" gets you laughed at, has to do with the fact that there's an unbalanced dichotomy and that stoicism etc (apathy etc) tend to be associated with the exclusive group whereas sensitivity etc (whining, emotionalism, etc) tend to be associated with the low-prestige group.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-17 08:21 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
Some quibbles:

Virtues aquired by accident of birth: a virtue aquired entirely by accident of birth might not justly be considered praiseworthy (desirable, though, and people might, all else being equal, understandably prefer the company/employment/etc. of people with such a virtue), but there are also virtues aquired partially by accident of birth, which can nevertheless be cultivated. It would seem unfair to deny praise to someone who has cultivated such a virtue, don't you think?

The value of a thick skin: if you're thick skinned, people don't have to be so careful around you. Time spent thinking about how to avoid causing hurt is time not spent thinking about the content of what you are going to say, and when the best strategy for avoiding causing hurt is to give some topics a wide berth, it restricts the scope for conversation. This can be difficult sometimes if there are important issues to deal with. Furthermore, some thin skinned people can also be aggressive, and this can result in a lot of hurt when they fight back against accidental hurt. This is not to say that thin-skinned-but-aggressive people cannot be valued friends - I can think of several people I know who at various times have fit into that category, sometimes they've been the person I've most wanted to see but sometimes they have been extremely trying. That said, there are other ways to be problematically thin-skinned. Being a doormat in public and a brooder in private is one, one that I'm not particularly proud of.

I was going to say something about "sensitive", except it seems I failed to spot the "not" in 'Why it's considered a virtue to not be "sensitive"'. Possibly this misreading says something about the difference in our social circles, I don't know. Certainly it does not seem good to be considered "insensitive".

It's notable that there's considerable individual variation in sensitivity to things such as misgendering, both among transsexuals, and among other trans*/genderqueer people. How much of this variation is due to differences in brain structures, how much is due to differences in life experience, and how much is due to differences in general character is unclear.

That said...

Your analogy with testicular vulnerability is a good one, drawing the distinction between specific vulnerabilities and generic thin-skinnedness. Possibly you could expand this further (sorry, over-extending metaphors is a hobby of mine), to draw analogies with the Queensbury rules, and what is and isn't "below the belt" (so to speak) when sparring with someone.

Also, the "unclear" bit a couple of paragraphs above cuts both ways. A couple of weeks back someone praised me for being very accomodating about names and pronouns (a comparison was drawn with genderqueer-IDed people she'd met at BiCon who were rather less accomodating). I felt very awkward about this, and had to explain that the way things work for me (discovered through trial and error, rather than by introspection) isn't necessarily the way it works for other people, and that perhaps they weren't being as unreasonable as she thought they were. I quite like it when people go back and forth, when people aren't sure which name or pronoun to use and stumble over themselves - it matches the way I feel inside somehow. This, it seems, is luck-of-the-draw, and not something that can be expected of other people. That said to the that said, sometimes it's hard to tell where being a good ally stops and making excuses for people starts (and when you do that, I worry there's a danger that you stop being a good ally to the people who aren't doing the thing that's being excused).

Incidentally, if you ever find yourself in a legalistic frame of mind, try looking up "eggshell skull". I was quite surprised to learn about that.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-18 11:44 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] flippac
A better fight rules analogy might be the way that pretty much all MMA rules prohibit doing things like sticking your fingers in open wounds, however acquired. I'm not saying I'd never do anything in sparring that's prohibited by MMA rulesets, but there are some limits that you stick to however light-contact you're playing at the time - and unlike matches or training, you can't drop out of life in general for recovery because it turns out life's invariably part of the recovery process.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-18 02:28 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
Presumably you mean... actually, when I wrote that bit, the examples that were most closely in my mind were depressives (so, yeah, you could say my template was nondepressives, but bear with me), and mostly cis depressives at that. It's clear with depressives that some of them were really quite spiky, and some of them were sweet and lovely. You had to make allowances for the spiky ones (to some extent some of this comes under the heading of being thick-skinned)... equally, you had to make allowances for nondepressives who had just had a difficult interaction with one of the spiky ones and wanted to let off steam - and you have to really feel for the sweet and lovely depressives when they get it in the neck from the spiky ones. These experience have shaped a lot of my thinking about emotional robustness.

I guess the point I was trying to make in this post - it's a point I take and broadly agree with, I'm quibbling about details here. There are a variety of ways to make that case, I'm arguing that suggesting that emotional robustness isn't desirable perhaps isn't the best way of making that case.

I think there's a difference between what's acceptable and what's desirable - hell, I think academic ability is desirable, the more the better, but it's clearly unreasonable to expect everyone to have a PhD.

the ... group - one thing here is I'm thinking very much about individuals. One thing I feel is that in some cases, levels of sensitivity that significantly exceed the transsexual average (actually, in my experience, this seems to be more on the robust side that I had been led to expect, and various slip-ups of mine that I'd been anxious about at various times have often turned out to be not that big a deal) can be acceptable. For example, you might cut more slack for a person who has been rejected by their parents on transition, and even more slack for a person who has experienced being homeless. And some things you just can't know about. Equally, it seems that some transsexuals are able to take a more diplomatic approach. Maybe they have particularly good social skills, maybe their brain structures are a bit different, maybe they've had good experiences with cis people. On the one hand, good for them, on the other hand, I don't see them as setting a standard that other people should be expected to follow.

Boxing match analogies - yeah, it's easier to define rules of engagement for symmetric conflicts than for asymmetric conflicts, especially when the people trying to draw up the rules of engagement are the people involved in the conflict. Defining these rules is hard, not least because of the diversity of people on both sides of the line, and the diversity of situations. A set of rules of engagement that work well for conflicts between friends and colleagues might get in the way of discussing issues that are important for SOs and family members, for example.


Sorry, this started out as some minor quibbles, and has turned into a huge wall of text, hasn't it? I should get some work done...

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-19 05:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemone.livejournal.com
I like this analogy.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-02-20 01:33 am (UTC)
picklish: (Default)
From: [personal profile] picklish
This analogy is *so* great. Blowing people off as being oversensitive always feels so much like victim-blaming. "You know, I'd be less sensitive if y'all would just stop kicking me there!"

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tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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