The Spiral of Silence in Trans Activism

As trans women, what are we to make of a movement that claims to speak for us, when it claims a penis is a female organ with a straight face? A movement that bombards even the slightest disagreement with a barrage of hateful threats of violence, rape, and death?  A movement that calls for the suppression of speech, even from it’s own elders? How did we get here?  That will take more than one post to answer, I’m afraid.

To open this discussion, we need to discuss the ‘spiral of silence‘ and its effect on trans discourse within the trans sub culture. (Thanks go to blogger terfisaslur for identifying this pattern in online discourse)

Quotes taken from wikipedia:

Spiral of silence theory describes the process by which one opinion becomes dominant as those who perceive their opinion to be in the minority do not speak up because society threatens individuals with fear of isolation. The assessment of one’s social environment may not always correlate with reality.

Threat and Fear of Isolation

I have participated in online discourse in trans spaces for probably 10 years now, and I’ve witnessed a growing and worrying pattern of suppressing any dissent or probing questioning.  This no doubt feeds the spiral of silence.  Topics devolve quickly into heated flame wars.  Eventually, people learn to just not mention these topics.  Sometimes people are out-right banned from online communities for discussing them.

Spiral of silence begins with the threat of isolation. In order to maintain structure in society, a “collective cohesion of its members must be constantly ensured by a sufficient level of agreement on values and goals.” Thus, in order to guarantee agreement and maintain social order, society threatens isolation for those individuals who violate the consensus. People also remain silent for fear of rejection by peers and unwanted publicity the media can bring upon them.


Speech that is silenced in trans communities

  • Acknowledging male privilege, male socialization, and it’s effect on behavior. Verboten. Evidence of self-hate.  It is interesting to note that on the recent 350+ signatories of the Zinnia petition,  approximately 120 out of 390, or 31%, listed a STEM occupation. And yet we are to ignore the forces of sex-based oppression that keep females disproportionately absent from STEM fields, and privileges males.
  • Siding with females on safe space issues?
    Treason of the highest order. Evidence of self hate.
  • The realities of passing, and challenging self-identification as proof of gender? Elitism, dismissed as appealing to society as one of the ‘good ones’.
  • Calling for rational engagement and an end to online violent and bullying behavior?
    “Stop tone policing me! I’m just venting!”
  • Identifying and expressing concern over the fetishization of female objectification and submission prevalent in trans behavior?
    This is actually frequently discussed as a source of shame. Rarely, however, is fetishization and autogynephilic behavior discussed as arising out of misogyny and male socialization. Instead, it is ‘normalized’ as a symptom of being trans (“you do that too? what a relief!”), and is not unpacked and unlearned.

Overcoming the silence

The theory explains a vocal minority (the complement of the silent majority) by stating that people who are highly educated, or who have greater affluence, and the few other cavalier individuals who do not fear isolation, are likely to speak out regardless of public opinion.[10] It further states that this minority is a necessary factor of change while the compliant majority is a necessary factor of stability, with both being a product of evolution. There is a vocal minority, which remains at the top of the spiral in defiance of threats of isolation. This theory calls these vocal minorities the hardcore nonconformist or the avant-garde. Hardcore nonconformists are “people who have already been rejected for their beliefs and have nothing to lose by speaking out.”[4] While the avant-garde are “the intellectuals, artists, and reformers in the isolated minority who speak out because they are convinced they are ahead of the times.” 

It is time that trans women speak up about these issues in our communities.  Remaining silent will enable these maladaptive behaviors to continue growing unchecked.  These behaviors do not stand up to scrutiny outside the trans queer bubble.  They harm innocent bystanders, and ultimately harm us as trans women, especially the new trans women coming up into their own.


New Narratives 2014: Reframing the Conversation

New Narratives 2014: Reframing the conversation

Sunday May 25, 2014 Portland OR (location tba)

New Narratives 2014 is a trans woman-only discussion about the ways in which current trans theory harms trans women, and reconciling the goals of gender abolition with the reality of the gendered world we are currently living in.

In this day-long workshop, we will discuss our experiences at Radfems Respond, talk about how our conceptions of trans existence have changed over the course of time, develop new narratives of transition that are healthier and more ethical, drink craft beer, and make new friends.

Some of the topics we will cover include:

  • the difference between sex and gender
  • how and when can we set boundaries around our community?
  • healing from the trauma of being gender-nonconforming
  • victimization as validation – and how to get past it
  • viability of identity politics in real life
  • what if you don’t pass? what if you do?
  • removing the bullying from trans activism
  • ways trans women would benefit from gender abolition

Please email newnarratives2014 at hotmail dot com to register, or for more information