What Was the Chicago Sun-Times Thinking With This Headline About Laverne Cox?
"Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman."
These words appear in a piece published this week — in the year 2014, by the National Review, one week after Laverne Cox made history as the first transwoman to grace the cover of TIME Magazine.
Even more shocking, this piece was reprinted by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Although on Tuesday afternoon the piece was finally taken down, at the very least, the decision of a mainstream metropolitan newspaper to publish such a clearly offensive editorial speaks to a staggering ignorance on the part of the Sun-Times editorial staff. At worst, the editorial staff understood the implications and intent of the piece, and published it anyway because they felt it was a justifiable point of view.
But it seems hard to believe that the Sun-Times didn't know what they were getting into when they published "roving reporter" and theatergoer's phone-smasher Kevin D. Williamson, who appears frequently on FOX's Red Eye and is author of conservative books like The Politically Incorrect Guide To Socialism.
Image Credit: Chicago Sun-Times
The title of the article, "Laverne Cox Is Not a Woman," speaks volumes about the blind bigotry permeating the piece. Williamson's agenda is to dismiss trans identity with the sort of twisted logic that has been used by bigots for centuries. In other words, he hypocritically challenges the significance of language with language — go figure. From messy logic to tortured pseudoscience to the intentional erasing of Cox's identity by referring to her with masculine pronouns, this piece is, frankly, appalling.
Williamson deploys the logic of his argument in five parts:
1) Williamson wants to reposses the trans narrative by claiming that Chelsea Manning, not Laverne Cox, was the first transwoman to land the cover of TIME. His point is an attempt to decide the origin point of a transperson's gender in order to discredit Cox's history-making moment. The point is to "expose" the subjectivity of identity; in other words, he objects to Manning and Cox being able to determine their own point of coming out.
Image Credit: TIME
2) Williamson aims to discredit trans identity by claiming it is somehow a "new" thing. "The phenomenon of the transgendered person is a thoroughly modern one, not in the sense that such conditions did not exist in the past," he writes. But this argument willfully ignores the way that history is constructed, or the way language evolves. In fact, language pertaining to both trans identity and experience has expanded rapidly in the past hundred years, but that does not mean the identities it describes did not exist in the past. On the contrary, it merely shows how hard it can be for minority communities to gain acceptance when there are still no words to describe their identity.
History is on our side here: the first-century Roman historian Plutarch, for example, wrote variously about the "Great Mother" figure of ancient Mesopotamia, who was a sort of transgender priestess. Other cultures too have recorded trans expression, from the Muslim mukhannathun to the South Asian hijra.
Image Credit: Getty
3) Williamson claims that transgender identity is an "effigy," something that is not just an imitation, but a poorly-formed imitation created to ridicule the original subject. But there is no "original woman": Even cisgender women understand their womanhood differently. For all women, cisgender or transgender, gender is something that we create for ourselves. As we grow and age, we decide how our expression of our gender will grow and age with us.
4) Williamson universalizes trans identity and the trans experience as something that is "delusional." "The trans self-conception... is partly a feeling that one should be living one's life as a member of the opposite sex and partly a delusion that one is in fact a member of the opposite sex," he writes in one of the more blatantly offensive sections. Wiliamson, still incorrectly equating sex and gender, ambiguously refers to "biological facts" without naming any of them.
5) Williamson somehow claims that trans identity is a political issue, and a potential societal burden. Transgender identity "would impose on society at large an obligation — possibly a legal obligation under civil rights law, one that already is emerging — to treat delusion as fact, or at the very least to agree to make subjective impressions superordinate to biological fact in matters both public and private."
Clearly, Williamson feels lied to in some way, and is frustrated — perhaps even frightened — by his inablity to understand an individual's right to self-identify. This editorial, in all its outrageous, over-the-top bigotry, is a rather transparent attempt by Williamson to control the bodies and narratives of everyone around him, telling women they don't have the right to define themselves, and that he, on behalf of all men, has the power to determine identity and history.
A Change.org petition was started to "remove and apologize for this disgusting example of transmisogyny in America," and on Tuesday, the newpspaer responded:
A recent op-ed piece we ran online that was produced by another publication initially struck as provocative... The column failed to acknowledge that the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have deemed transgender-related care medically necessary for transgender people. It failed as well to acknowledge the real and undeniable pain and discrimination felt by transgender people, who suffer from notably higher rates of depression and suicide. We have taken the post down and we apologize for the oversight.
So far an unapologetic Williamson stands firmly behind his words, however.
While it is generally unwise to give this type of argument much credence, in this case understanding the intentionally misguided, unjust logic of Williamson's piece is critical because it reflects the general logic of bigotry pervading our culture.