Flight Papers

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Archive for the ‘language’ Category

Opening dialogue between apples and oranges.

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

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This is a linguistic pet peeve* of mine.

When you say, “I (want to | hope that we can | hope that this will | … ) (open dialogue | lead to more discussion | lead to a healing of rifts | …) between X and Y,” you are implying that X and Y are mutually exclusive groups. When you’re talking about people, your statement erases anyone who exists in the intersection. (You are also ignoring anyone who exists outside of both X and Y, but that’s different from erasure.)

Sometimes you actually want to do this to make a point. “I really hope this opens up dialogue between men and people who don’t rape,” you might say. Or perhaps, “it would be nice if we could get some discussion going between neocons and people who primary concern in life isn’t hastening the destruction of the entire world.”

Sometimes you really want to use this trope, and since this is a cutting language pattern rather than a healing one, you have to accept that your language is going to cut some people. “We really need to get Palestinians and Israelis to work together,” you might say, thus erasing Palestinian-Israelis in one neat sentence. I don’t like this use of cutting language exactly because it’s likely someone is caught in the middle, but maybe you do, and you think the rhetoric is worth the hurt. Fair enough.

So when you’ve written a film that some people think is transphobic, and you’re trying to clarify your position, saying, “I hope The Gendercator can lead to further discussion between transgender people and lesbians,” maybe doesn’t indicate that you haven’t fully internalized the issues people are raising. Because, as we all know, there exist no lesbian trans women. When your clarification starts with, “This remark is not about transpeople. It is about women,” I start to wonder what exactly you think trans women even are.

I should say that the premise of The Gendercator doesn’t strike me as inherently transphobic, and I would actually like to see it at some point. Having not yet seen it, I don’t really know how to feel about it being kicked out Frameline. The director’s notes seem to reveal that she doesn’t have a particularly strong understanding of trans issues, but I’ve definitely seen worse, and it doesn’t necessarily destroy the film.

* Apologies to everyone for whom “pet peeve” is a linguistic pet peeve.