Poverty. Happiness. Nice things. A side of transphobia (of course).

TW for transphobia, classism

A few days ago, a good friend of mine sent out an Amazon wishlist to her online friends and followers. She’s a little bit broke after moving house, and although she can afford the basics of food and rent there’s a few things she wanted that would help her to get through the winter. So she figured she’d ask if anyone could help her out. And was really, really clear that she wasn’t about to make a big deal of things or guilt anyone:

Let me level with you: I’m not in a situation of extreme need, hence why I’m not asking for donations. There’s people out there that need the money way more than I do, and I’m not going to freeze or starve this winter. But truth is, aside from food/bill/rent money, I’m kinda hella broke. My benefits haven’t come through, and I need some stuff for winter. If you feel generous enough to get me something from this Amazon wish list, I’ll be very grateful. And if you could reblog this, that’d be fantastic. Thanks!

The list had things on it like bedding, an electric blanket, a desk to work on. There might have been a thermos in there too. The kind of things that, although not absolutely essential, can make a major difference between just barely getting by and feeling at home. I gather, by the way, that people chipped in for her and she’s going to have a lovely cosy winter with the internet’s housewarming presents. Which is wonderful, ’cause she’s moved Way Up North and it’s chilly up there.

And then she got this anonymous response. By the way, I think that at this stage she’d gotten everything she needed, and this person was looking at some other, more whimsical wishlists she had lying about:

Anonymous asked: so you have money for everything you need except LUXURY items like books and you think its alright as a grown person to ask people on the net to buy you non-necessities? what a spoilt privileged person you must be to think that’s ok. probably because you spent the majority of your life as a man.

So my friend had her response to this. Which seems to me to be about right, and I’m impressed that she only told Anon to fuck off once. Admirable restraint, that. I have a few things that I’d like to unpack in more detail, though.

A portal icon for Portal:Transgender, based on...

The Gender Thing

what a spoilt privileged person you must be to think that’s ok. probably because you spent the majority of your life as a man.

It seems that this person is under the impression that there is no difference between trans women and cis men, or between privilege and passing privilege. I’m going to assume that my readers have at least a basic knowledge of Trans 101- if you don’t, then check out this and then read the hell out of this. The difference between privilege and passing privilege, though, I’ll take a shot at explaining myself with a slightly different analogy.

Let’s say that you have two people- let’s call them Alex and Sam. Alex is straight, and Sam is queer and closeted. Sam isn’t even out to themselves. They live in a pretty homophobic place. Both of them get assumed to be straight. Even though Sam isn’t out in the slightest, the privilege Sam gets is conditional. It’s based on something that is assumed that isn’t actually true. In addition, even if Sam isn’t even out to themselves, they’ll likely on some level be internalising their community’s homophobia in a different and more damaging way than Alex does. For Alex, homophobia is something that happens to other people. For Sam, there’s probably something just a bit discomforting about the whole thing. Something isn’t quite right.

It’s easy to accept this when we talk about queerness and straightness. Being a closeted queer is something that people understand- it’s something that’s gotten into the popular dialogue. We haven’t really caught on to the similar narratives about gender, though. Probably because transness is expected to be a thing that someone Always Knows. Trans people don’t get the same social pass that queers do to actually be uncertain and questioning, and yet affected by transphobia. So where you wouldn’t generally say that a queer person “lived as straight” until they came out, this charming person seems to think it’s okay to make a similar accusation to a trans person.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that going around referring to trans women as having been men for most of their lives is Seriously Fucked Up. Oh, and it’s also a silencing tactic that transphobes have been using against trans women for decades. If a trans woman actually speaks up for herself, takes up space or defends herself, you see, she gets accused of being aggressive and masculine. It’s the oldest- and one of the meaner- tricks in the book.

Sunday morning pleasures
Sunday morning pleasures (Photo credit: The hills are alive)

The Poor People Can’t Have Nice Things Thing

Y’know what’s another mean one? Poor People Can’t Have Nice Things, Ever. People who aren’t financially well-off, you see, are expected to only spend our money on wholesome and socially-approved things. Cheap yet healthy food, for example. Preferably the kind that takes lots of time to prepare in rustic sorts of ways. Tons of misshapen veggies and a load of beans to make into vats of soup is fine. Spending the same money on a giant stack of cheapass pizzas that’ll take a tenth the work to cook and provide more calories? Not fine. Poor people don’t get to relax. When poor people relax, we call that laziness, even if they’ve been out working all day. And poor people are supposed to spend any leftover money on important, long-term goals. Saving what little money you have left is great. Buying something fun? That makes you a Scrounger, and probably someone who Doesn’t Deserve Better. You can’t be a Scrounger. You definitely don’t want to be both Lazy and a Scrounger. Then you’re nothing more than the scum of the earth.

If someone who’s poor- or even just broke- dares to ask for nice things? Well, they must be an Entitled Lazy Scrounger. The worst kind, really. Poor people, you see, don’t get to have hobbies or to relax or spend any of their time doing anything but working their asses off to become respectable middle-class people with nice big incomes. Once you become one of those, you’re allowed to eat pizza and play video games and read books all you like.

Of course! Respectably-off middle class people are expected to have fun. Not poor people. Not broke people.

Poor people are supposed to shut up and start spending their lives sacrificing so that they (or maybe their children) can be respectable middle-class people. Trans people are expected to just shut up, period. And if you dare to- politely, casually, without pressuring anyone- ask for things, you’d better believe that they’ll use who you are against you. After all, if they won’t dig in where it hurts, how else are they supposed to keep you (we/us) quiet?

Poverty. Happiness. Nice things. A side of transphobia (of course).

14 thoughts on “Poverty. Happiness. Nice things. A side of transphobia (of course).

  1. 1

    Although you say that “Poor people are supposed to shut up and start spending their lives sacrificing so that they (or maybe their children) can be respectable middle-class people,” it’s worth noting that it’s a big maybe, because if poor people dare to have children to reap the rewards of all their sensible, non-fun sacrificing, they often come in for a huge amount of shaming. Because poor people not only can’t have nice things, they also can’t raise kids right, and not being able to buy your kid a PS3 is, like, beyond cruelty.

    Yeah. Classism is everywhere and it really isn’t nice. I’m glad your friend got enough things to have a more comfortable winter.

    1. 1.1

      You are so, so right. Unless, of course, those kids grow up to be very economically/socially/acceptably successful people. In which case being denied a PS3 taught them an essential life lesson about the value of sacrifice and hard work. If the kid got a paper round or mowed a bunch of their neighbours’ lawns to save up the money for that PS3, then as long as they start a successful business when they grow up it’s all good.

      If not, then how dare poor people have kids that they can’t afford?! And of course, if they don’t want to have kids, then how dare they expect us to cover their birth control and abortions for their filthy irresponsible lifestyles? Can’t poor people just keep it in their pants, like, for their whole lives? Jeeez…

  2. 4

    I cringe whenever I hear someone say that trans women come from male privilege. It frightens me because it’s a step beyond typical transphobic comments, and tends to come from someone who is educated enough to know about gender privilege, yet still chooses to be ignorant (or even hateful towards) about transgender issues. It’s very disheartening to hear that someone made that comment to your friend.

  3. 5

    I wonder if it’s all about how they tell themselves a story about, say, your friend.

    So the story goes: that is not a woman in dire straits, who may be facing a cold and desperate winter, because to condemn such a woman just for asking for compassion would be an evil and vicious act. So they tell themselves a story, because their view of what such a woman should be doesn’t square with reality. They ascribe motive and feeling to her in order to make their view match reality, and, when that view is colored by sexism, classism, transphobia, whatever, there really isn’t any way for your friend to look good. So asking for compassion becomes entitlement, and merely existing is enough cause to be reprimanded. And they write a comment – anonymous, of course, least they be held responsible for their vitriol – attacking her in their righteousness, because god forbid such a creature be unaware that her place is not among decent people.

    I don’t rightly know what kind of mental gymnastics that a person would have to perform in order to assume the worst of a complete stranger unconnected with them, but I’m sure of this much: on some level, they know that it’s undeserved. If they really believed what they said, they would say it under their own name. Cowardice is the mark of a weakly held opinion.

    I feel for your friend. I’m glad she is warm and happy for the winter. All the narratives told about people as a result of bigotry make my head hurt sometimes… those stories are the root cause of more death and suffering in the world than I like to think about.

  4. 6

    Great post! Do you think it’s important to distinguish between being broke and being poor? Seems to me that middle-class and upper talk about being “broke”, while working class experience being poor (making choices between things like a winter coat for your child or new glasses). Maybe beng broke is considered temporary, I.e. you have access to money making whereas beng poor lasts longer. Just wondering. Great blog post and I hope your friend is cosy!

    1. 6.1

      Yep, that’s exactly it. I’m broke at the moment, but I also have a whole bunch of middle-class privileges, from my education to the way I talk to all the lovely gadgets I bought when I wasn’t broke to friends and family who are reasonably-off and can help me out if I really need it.
      Also, hello! Thanks for commenting, nice to meet ya 🙂

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