Navigating the world of humour can be difficult when you’re clued in. For me, an important part of being an extremely privileged feminist was learning to stop making jokes at the expense of others, particularly about rape and sexual assault. Some humour seems so pervasive in the dominant culture that people think it must be ok (like prison rape jokes, or someone-you-thought-was-a-woman-turns-out-to-be-a-man jokes, hahaha NO). However, the more you learn about oppression and privilege, the more you see how pervasive racism, transphobia, sexism, etc. etc. are in our culture, and how they grow and spread through “comedy.”
So with that said, can we agree as feminists (and human beings) that jokes where the punchline involves firebombing a facility whose staff and clients are under constant threat of being firebombed aren’t funny? Just like jokes about women being raped aren’t funny? The reason being that they aren’t challenging or subversive; they propagate the status quo. Clinics get bombed. That isn’t humour. It’s news.
This post tells us that Mavis Mantis, who identifies as a “radical feminist” (the fact that this term has been co-opted by trans-hating assholes is a topic for another day…), made the following “joke” regarding the recent Planned Parenthood bombing/arson in Wisconsin: “If they were going to bomb PP, they at least could have bombed Toronto (after that horrible lesbophobic “overcoming the cotton ceiling” workshop.)”
The workshop Mavis is referring to was run by Planned Parenthood Toronto and focused on “…draw[ing] attention to the ways in which trans women are socially constructed as undesirable, and are denied full participation in queer women’s communities.” We can argue all day as to whether this workshop is inherently lesbophobic, which is Mavis’s (and other “radical” feminists’) contention (hint: I disagree), but to suggest (even jokingly) that it merits having the clinic bombed is offensive and frightening. As if the staff running that workshop don’t go to work every day with the threat of bombing hanging over their heads. As if the queer and trans participants don’t face the threat of violence and murder every day of their lives. As if this is how we “punish” supposed transgressions from our allies.
As a cis woman and a feminist, I reject and condemn such bullying tactics – that is pretty much the bare minimum of what I can do as an ally to trans folks and as a decent human being. As a person who lives, works, and accesses sexual and reproductive health care services in Toronto, I am frightened by the anger behind this “joke” and by the implied spirit of violently correcting perceived mistakes in the feminism and social justice efforts of others. And as a former clinic worker, I am appalled by the levity with which the daily threat of violence is treated by this supposed ally.
Here’s a thought: what does firebombing anything accomplish? I don’t think we can’t joke about firebombing things, but really, let’s at least be subversive about it. There’s nothing new or hilarious about saying you want to firebomb Planned Parenthood, because a lot of assholes want to firebomb Planned Parenthood. And it’s especially unfunny to joke about violently punishing people or organizations that attempt to offer support to trans folks, because guess what? Trans folks get threatened with violence pretty much every day of their lives.
Just because allies are thin on the ground doesn’t mean we have to accept any old self-identified feminist that comes along. As someone who believes strongly that trans folks, queer folks, clinic staff and their allies and supporters deserve to be safe every day, I strongly and unequivocally condemn any “joke” or statement from any person – feminist-identified or otherwise – that uses violence or the threat of violence against anyone as a punchline or something that can be treated lightly. My feminism is not just implicitly intersectional; it is explicitly anti-transphobia and anti-violence. Haters need not apply.