Up Front by Emma Hart



We on the Left may have better stories than the Right, but man can we make ourselves thornier dilemmas. Oh man, I don't think bakers should be allowed to refuse to serve gay couples, but I do think restaurateurs should be allowed to refuse to serve members of the Trump administration, am I a hypocrite? I think racists should shut the fuck up, does that mean I'm opposed to free speech? Is saying a swear or calling someone a racist as bad or worse than, y'know, being a racist? Because sometimes I feel like I don't know anything any more.

For that last, at least, the perennially fantastic Captain Awkward has some words:

“I know Dave keeps grabbing your ass when you walk by, but you didn’t really need to yell at him like that! How is he supposed to learn if you can’t even be polite?”

“Punching Nazis might turn totally normal people who definitely didn’t have any problematic beliefs before this moment into Nazis!”

“I know Uncle Carl said some racist things at dinner, but how do you expect him to learn if you can’t sit silently while he does that? Don’t you want to be civil?”

All the politeness, "How dare women say 'cunt' while talking about the men who call them cunts why yes I am a man how is that relevant?" bullshit is "You're damaging your cause by being angry," and its sole purpose is to get you to Shut Up.

But these days when everything is so awful everywhere all the time, it's so hard to be sure of anything. And it's working. I am starting to not want to talk about politics any more. I am starting to shut up.

I wanted to write about the move to make it easier for transgender people to change their gender on their birth certificates. Then, for no reason I can fathom without drowning in bile and cynicism, both Stuff and The Herald chose to lend their platforms to a small group of very vocal transphobes. I watched several trans people take a break from Twitter in part because of the actions of their allies in exposing them to this hatred in the process of disagreeing with it. Goodness, I thought, not wanting to use any rude words, I don't want to be That Person. If I wrote about this, and those fuckwits shit this is really hard those Differently Moraled people found it, what would I do? Do I throw any pretense of Reasoned Both Sides Discussion out the window and just delete all their comments?

Turns out this is really simple. Of course I flicking do, and here's why.

One way to cut through all the bullfaeces around an issue is to ask the question, "Where should this discussion be centred? Who is at the heart of it?" I once watched two cis Facebook acquaintances have a long, calm, reasoned discussion as to whether or not it was okay for Scarlett Johansson to play a trans man. Not once did they mention trans people. Not once. It was an abstract, intellectual problem for them. Once you put trans people at the centre of that conversation, and stop making it about Scarlett Johansson's acting ability or whether any actor should play any part that's not their own identity, it becomes a much simpler question. Also, though this shouldn't be a major concern, you will look like less of a really big male chicken.

A while back, there was a campaign around diversity in board gaming and role-playing called You Are Welcome at my Table. On the surface of it, that's a great idea, but underneath, it bugged me. If you say that everyone is welcome at your table, then some people are really going to feel unwelcome. You're only halfway there. If you want pressured minorities at your tables, in your spaces, then you are going to have to say to the people who persecute them, "No. You are not welcome. Kindly be on your way." Unfettered free speech or free access is like an unfettered free market; it preserves the inequalities that already exist.

My friend Sinead and I used to talk about people being "worth the price of admission". They have flaws, and you're well aware of them, but on balance, you want those people in your life. You understand that for other people, their price calculation may be different. This isn't, I hasten to add, for Decidedly Not Nice people, but for people like the guy I was good friends with at uni who was super, super competitive. I was okay with it, but I understood when it bugged the living heck out of others.

Spaces also have a Price of Admission, beyond any door charge, that varies from person to person. How far is it from your house/work? Are stairs a problem? Is it noisy? Is it full of racists? Is that going to be 'slightly unpleasant', 'psychologically scarring' or 'a high likelihood of an assault'? The prices of admission to your "open table" for the minority and the bigot are not equal.

That's why No Transphobes. The price of their not-admission is that they have one less place where they can exercise their speech, just one. The price of their admission, which trans people would have to pay, would be that this wouldn't be a safe space, for people lacking in safe spaces. That's why it's different.

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