Tuesday, 3 September 2013

There be dragons

Why is it that -

  1. We are taught to fear attack by trans women ("but if we let THEM use OUR bathrooms how can we protect ourselves against being raped by the hypothetical penises we show a creepy amount of interest in??") when a) there is not a single case I am aware of where 'bathroom panic' has been justified, and b) trans people are exponentially more likely than cis people to be the victims of violence, and
  2. We are taught to fear attack by people with mental illnesses, when a) people with mental illnesses are no more likely to commit violent crimes than the rest of the population, and b) people with mental illnesses are significantly more likely to be the victims of violence and abuse, and
  3. We are taught to fear sexual assault from gay people ("don't drop the soap!"), when a) there is no evidence that gay people are more likely to commit sexual assaults than straight or bisexual people, b) gay people are targeted for violent assault because of their sexuality, and c) the vast majority of sexual violence is committed by men, against women.
(An obvious caveat: this is not about individual members of these groups. Trans, mental, and gay (or any combination thereof) people can and do commit horrible crimes, and sometimes their victims are cis, straight people with brains full of sunshine. This is about the net flow of violence between groups, and the popular conceptions of which groups are dangerous.)

I'd love to tell you that this is a calculated program of misinformation, designed by malevolent moustache-twirling policy wonks in the Ministry of Social Injustice (possibly dwelling in the musty basement of Senate House) for the explicit purpose of Fucking Shit Up, but sadly, this is like everything else: it's more complicated than that, and we all contribute to it, every day.

Where the evil happens
I think it's primarily about fear of the unknown. Everyone is scared of things they don't know: that's just how our brains work. But no one wants to think of themselves as being scared of the unknown, because that would make them a bigot: better to fill the threatening blank space with big, hard, concrete REASONS to fear people who are Not Like Us. And if there aren't any, better to make some up.

Because being scared of someone who is 'below' you in the Universal Pecking Order would make you kind of pathetic, right? You're the one with the power, and yet you're quaking in fear.

So to maintain two key beliefs about yourself - that you are not a bigot, and that you are not a coward - it is imperative that you believe that these marginalised populations pose a genuine threat to your safety.

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