March 31st, 2014

Commentary | January 28th, 2013
The killing ga(y)ze
On rage, voicelessness, and the idiocy of objectivity
Written by | Visual by Amina Batyreva

It was these sequences of racialized incidents involving black women that intensified my rage against the white man sitting next to me. I felt a ‘killing rage.’ I wanted to stab him softly, to shoot him with the gun I wished I had in my purse. And as I watched his pain, I would say to him tenderly ‘racism hurts’.” – bell hooks, The Killing Rage

Like many queer folks of colour, I was young when I was given my first explicit lesson in my worthlessness as a person, the voicelessness of my body, and the impotence of my rage: I was walking home from school in the first week of ninth grade with some boys that I desperately wanted to be friends with. They were everything I thought I wanted to be: popular, athletic, (assumedly) heterosexual, so easily afloat in the high-school world in which I felt like I was constantly drowning. One of them was also cute – I had a crush on him, and imagined secretly in my desperate closeted teenage way that the feeling might, somehow, be mutual.

As we walked, conversation turned, as it inevitably seems to amongst 14-year-old boys, to the disgusting possibility that there might be homosexuals hidden in our midst. Gays, we all agreed, were “retarded” – and here I nodded furtively, as though my first wet dream hadn’t been to thoughts of the Hardy Boys going undercover in an all-male massage parlor. The boy I had a crush on, who was also the leader of the group by dint of his popularity with girls, upped the ante, saying, “It should be legal to have a gun and, like, hunt gays. That’d be fun.”  And everyone laughed.

Years later, I can still feel that stomach-churning feeling – that sick, helpless fury that comes from the knowledge that an inextricable aspect of your being has been denigrated, and that to show your anger would be not only suicidal but entirely incomprehensible to the people who have caused it. I feel it when employers tell me that there is no such thing as racism in the workplace, that I am being oversensitive and unreasonable when I point out the fact that I am the only person of colour in the room, or that there are no bathroom facilities that accommodate my gender. I feel it when I read ‘feminist’ polemicist Julie Burchill’s recent article “Transsexuals Should Cut it Out” in The Guardian and Observer, in which she describes “the vociferous transsexual lobby” as “dicks in chicks’ clothing,” “a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs,” and “trannies,” among other choice epithets. I feel it when I hear the news that Kenneth Furr, the Washington, D.C. police officer who drunkenly fired a gun into a car occupied by three transgender women after one of them refused his sexual advances, was released with a $150 fine and community service.  I feel it when I read the online “Comments” section below fellow Daily writers Christiana Collison’s and Guillermo Martínez de Velasco’s respective articles “All Racism Comes from Whiteness” and “You are Racist” and see that people of colour are still being demanded to provide “empirical evidence” for and “objective debate” on the violence perpetrated every day against our bodies.

I feel that terrible, blinding rage every time I am told that my writing on marginalization and oppression should be stripped of emotion, should be reasonable and polite, should conform to the rules of collegiality. Collegiality? It is still commonplace to hear jokes about our people being hunted for sport in the streets. Our people are being hunted for sport in the streets! The expectation that marginalized writers, survivors of violence, should speak of that same violence without bias, as though we are divorced from the haunting impact of those experiences, is matched in absurdity only by the notion that mainstream journalism – indeed, any mainstream institution – is ever unaffected by bias. Were it so, a transmisogynist like Burchill would never be able to dismiss the entire transgender activist community as “screaming mimis” in a national newspaper, a judge would never casually dismiss the murderous intent of a police officer shooting into a car full of transwomen (let us think of the opposite, a transwoman firing a gun at a policeman, and the vast difference in consequence she would face).

The notion of ‘objectivity’ is thus one more means by which marginalized bodies are stripped of the capacity to articulate their oppression. I don’t need to listen to this, the unaffected reader thinks. Just another angry coloured person/queer/activist spouting hysterical gibberish instead of the plain truth. But experiences of pain should, can only, be spoken of painfully. What could be more truthful than that?

I admit it: I am not now, nor will I ever, be an unbiased journalist. My writing is not an invitation to civilized debate over the justice to which I know I am entitled. My words, like so many queer, trans*, and people of colour writers before me, are a cry out against the voicelessness that has been imposed upon us, upon our sorrow and survival and terror and rage.  See me, we snarl. Our scarred histories, our freakish bodies, my unbroken self. See the sacrifices I made to survive, the anger burning behind my lowered eyes. Dream of me in every shade of red.

Ryan Kai Cheng Thom is a queer survivor and storyteller.  Contact Ryan at memoirsofagaysian@mcgilldaily.com.

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