October 20, 2014

Commentary | October 1, 2012
A long night’s journey into equality
On saviour complexes, the acquisition of power, and becoming a big bad wolf
Written by

Lately, I’ve been thinking about fairy tales – young women in the woods, vicious beasts, and dashing male saviours. Such differences of power, responsibility, goodness, and evil are embedded in those archetypes. If folktales are broad reflections of social reality, then which characters have I inhabited over the course of my gender transition, growing older, deepening my social consciousness? What might I yet become?

A couple weeks ago, a white, straight-identified, athletic male friend of mine invited me to take a nighttime walk up Mont Royal to share a smoke and conversation. Without thinking ahead too much, I agreed – and headed out wearing my most fabulous pair of tights and boots (the contextual equivalent of a red riding hood?). As we walked, my friend and I came across a group of eight or ten college-aged young men who began to catcall, and then to scream out threats and the word “faggot” over and over.  I responded as experience and my father taught me: first with silence, and when they came too close, with verbal aggression of my own. My friend remained silent. After a few minutes, they left us alone.

My friend told me how angry he was, how shocked that this sort of thing happens in Montreal, how this was the first time he had ever encountered public discrimination. How he wished he could have protected me. “This is why,” he concluded, “we need to educate people.” “No,” I replied, “this is why queer folks need guns.”

It’s been a while since I’ve seen such surprise, fear, anger, dismay – so many emotions – flash across someone’s face all in the same instant. I don’t think our friendship will ever be the same.

Was I joking? Yes, in a way. Physical violence is never an ideal solution to oppression, and there is something quite ugly about the desire for revenge that accompanies most revolutionary battle cries. But revenge is not what I am writing about today.

I am writing about what I, and many oppressed people, have had to do to survive in a world where I am not, cannot, do not have the luxury of being surprised by public threats of violence against my person on a daily basis. Where, as a visibly trans* person of colour, my relationship with the police and agents of the state, who are supposedly mandated to protect me, ranges from suspicious to outright hostile. Where I am, at best, a fragile, victimized thing to be protected by brave, straight men – the freakish damsel in distress.

And if I defend myself with fists, blade, or bullet – as, infamously, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense chose to, then I become the monster in the woods, the big bad wolf, the deranged extremist who must be shut away from society for everyone’s good. I become CeCe McDonald, the trans* woman of colour imprisoned for stabbing her attackers. This is the choice the marginalized are given: passive victimhood or characterization as evil and criminally insane.

But I do not accept this reality. Queer people, people of colour, survivors in the margins, we are who we must be: Little Red Riding Hood with a machete in her basket, the wolf with a nose for compassion. Would-be saviours in the woods, beware: we are not what you think. We are writing a new fairy tale.  We are bringing a new time upon.

Ryan Thom’s Memoirs of a Gaysian is one of The Daily’s 2012-2013 columns. Reach them at memoirsofagaysian@mcgilldaily.com.

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