After I watched clips of Lil Duval’s recent appearance on The Breakfast Club where he made some hurtful comments about transgender folks, I ignored the post and kept scrolling. I instinctively decided his statements were not my problem.
Lil Duval’s senseless words didn’t provoke me initially. He’s just a comedian, and comedians always say offensive things, I thought. Except that people actually do kill transgender people simply because they are transgender. Except that the criminal legal system actually does unfairly arrest, harass, and physically harms people simply because they are transgender. Except that there are policies that actually do prevent people who happen to be transgender from serving in the military.
He said he would kill transgender women if they attempted to trick him into having sex with them. He refused to acknowledge the homie in the struggle, Janet Mock, her full humanhood. Basically, he said aloud the things most people think or believe or choose not to react to because some people think it’s funny.
He was just joking, some people have said, like Donald Trump always jokes about immigrants, people with disabilities, and women. You know, regular harmless shit. Days later, he refused to apologize despite mass appeals to do so—a play in the Trump syllabus of Megalomaniac Arrogance 101. Low-key, I’ve been a student in that same class. My silent approval of Duval’s “jokes” was one consequence.
I’m writing this article because a friend asked me to write to brothers who don’t identify as trans. He knows I am coming to terms with my own commitments to patriarchy and heterosexism. He knows I’ve spoken on panels alongside trans women leaders like Elle Hearns, founder of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. I’ve interviewed Grace Detrevera, a writer and an LGBT criminal justice advocate on a television program I used to host. I’ve participated in a leadership program where a transgender woman who was a coach brought me to uncontrollable tears after she pushed me to forgive myself for my past. I was other than her. I was not trans. I was a cisgender man who went to prison for my role in something so physically harmful that it resulted in the death of two people. But she accepted and helped me to forgive myself. Yet, I still needed to be pushed to write this article.
As someone who advocates against gun violence and wakes up every day with the goal of creating safer communities, I have to confront the cognitive dissonance that allows me to separate my advocacy for safer communities from transgender people’s need for the same.
How hypocritical am I to boast a TED Talk entitled, “Am I not human…,” and not feel disgusted at the lessening of the value of the lives of people who happen to be transgender? Transgender people are being shot and killed, too!
I was shaped by transmisogyny before I figured out I was attracted to girls. I do not know what it’s like to not be transphobic. In my household, I was taught anything other than straight, and any expression that defied gender rules, would erase me from God’s memory, and would incur a beatdown from older cousins, siblings, and parents.
My father, whom I love dearly, smacked me in the head when he realized I had gotten my ear pierced at 16-years old. In his weak Trinidadian accent he said, “Yuhs ah faggot or what! Only faggots does put earrings in they ears. I don’t want dat in my house, yuh know!”
My dad has grown a lot over the past 20 years, but you can see I had no option to question or explore sexual and gender difference. Diverse sexual preferences were not an option in his learning toolkit, so we can reasonably deduce that he’d be against notions of gender nonconformity and transgender experiences.
While watching the Richard Bey Show back in the early 90’s, learned people who identify as transgender were deranged freaks. My interpretation of the Bible lead me to believe transgender people were ungodly and unworthy of God’s favor. Reggae music, one of my first loves, taught me transgender people should be cast into, and blazed by, everlasting fire.
My first personal interaction with trans people occurred when I went to prison at 19-years old. They were isolated from the general population. I never spoke with them. The message that circulated was that they were leper-like creatures to be avoided at all costs. I fell in line with that message. Richard Bey’s deranged show was affirmed. And it makes sense that I would avoid caring for them even when my evolution as a human tells me I’ve been socialized to believe a lot of hurtful and hilarious untruths.
Where and when were you first miseducated? Who taught you to welcome or reject transgender people? Was it your parents, siblings, church, masjid, the block, a comedy show, or school?
I learned a lot of terrible things that I thought were meant to protect me. I’m sure you did, too. But, how can I feel safe when I silently approve of the death of anyone and express rage at those who silently approve my death?
Interestingly, I also don’t remember the moment I began to unlearn the pedagogy of misogyny. But I do know that it had to occur within the past six or seven years. Maybe it began when I started paying attention to the daily deaths of young Black and Brown people by gun violence and seeing the names of transgender people on the lists. Maybe it began when I started seeing my parents, older cousins, and siblings as people who were also miseducated. Maybe it began when I started seeing the links between the harmful teachings of masculinity and violence. Maybe it began when I spoke to a person who was transgender and not thinking about how they have sex.
Maybe it began when I became courageous enough to admit to myself that I had no good reason to hate or dislike people who happen to be transgender. I was hating for no real reason.
Marlon, you’re getting way too serious over some comedian’s inability to be politically correct?, you’re probably thinking.
Political correctness isn’t the problem. It’s not that we’re being politically incorrect, the logic we rely on that determines whose lives are worthy of care and protection is the problem and whose lives are not. Thinking hateful thoughts that can easily become hurtful acts is violent.
Cisgender men like myself physically and psychically violate others because we’ve been taught that masculinity is an entity that must be defended with muscle. We have been conditioned to believe that transgender experiences are antithetical to masculinity—an affront to our manhood. And any perceived insult of manhood needs to be addressed immediately and with brutal force.
I am upset that Lil Duval’s comments about other human beings didn’t move me to empathy sooner; that so many people laughed; that his disparaging comments about Janet Mock, who I’ve broken bread with, didn’t instinctively compel me to be in solidarity with her.
I am upset with Lil Duval’s comments because I know he isn’t an isolated case. I am disgusted that trans people feel unsafe because “progressive people” like me have to be goaded to recognize issues impacting transgender people are our problems, too.
Marlon Peterson is a writer and host of the Decarcerated Podcast.