Three short years ago, the dearth of trans and queer activists of color willing to speak truth to power caused me to speak up - and speak out. Within a year, that dearth turned into the deafening roar of a fresh, youth-driven movement that would make elders like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson proud to behold, yet likely to be saddened that in 2017 we’re still begging to be allowed to live.
The work that has been done of late by trans youth of color, particularly those in Two-Spirit and Black Trans spaces in the past two years, is simply awe-inspiring. Indeed, even across the trans community at all of it's intersections, youth voices have become more prominent and outspoken. It was clearly a time for older queer people like myself to bow out of public activism and let the youth find their footing and learn to speak for themselves. As with all things, there is a season, and sometimes it's been difficult not to say something when a young trans person has said something problematic, or voiced their own internal transphobia that they're navigating in public forums for all to see. In this culture of oversharing, sometimes something comes along that needs to be spoken to by an elder in the community. Sadly, this is one of those times that is damaging enough, I have chosen to give up my retirement from public advocacy to speak on it and attempt to dissuade others from charting the same ill-fated course.
In the past two years, sites such as YouTube have become sources of inspiration and support for queer youth, especially for those who are questioning their gender. Many a young trans YouTuber have been posting vlogs with everything from helpful insights through to practical day-to-day advice for newly transitioning trans youth. YouTube has become a means of support for so many young queer people, especially those for whom there is no local community. Sadly, the same platform has also become the go-to source for right-wing anti-LGBT conspiracies and hate-fuelled alt-reich superstars, leading to the inevitable clash of good vs. evil.
There have been many attempts by young, predominantly white trans YouTubers, to reason with the alt-right. There have even been some whose privilege leads them to foolishly and arrogantly believe that hearts and minds can be changed through academic debate. This is now starting to harm the community.
The racial aspect needs to be discussed and cannot be downplayed, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for many to hear. If you are a white queer person, such as rising YouTube star Contrapoints who has built a platform for themselves as a “Nazi whisperer”, and has built a following using frequent Nazi and right-wing imagery in an attempt to lampoon the alt-right humorously, you are harming trans people of color and PoC in general. You are helping to normalize Nazi imagery through feeding the trope that the alt-right frequently use, that their use of Nazi imagery and slogans is "irony". No matter how good your intentions may be, intent is not a pass on enabling the alt-right.
This brings me to the very reason that people like Contrapoints can directly engage in televised debate with alt-right ideologues - it is simply because they are not threatened by a white person who uses the same imagery and iconography that they do. Though politically on different ends of the spectrum, they invariably see themselves in you. If the alt-right are comfortable enough to share their space with you, you're doing it wrong.
When it comes to the act of debating hate, here are four generally accepted reasons why it’s not only going to fail, but backfire. I would like to suggest these be considered the Four Laws of Debating Hate.
First Law of Debating Hate:
When you debate purveyors of hate, such as the YouTuber known as Sargon of Akkad, new alt-right darling, Laci Green, and the hugely problematic and transphobic white trans woman, Blaire White, you are platforming them. You give their opinions credence in the eyes of the undecided, and in the eyes of their base. Giving your opponent a platform is the opposite of what you should be doing.
Second Law of Debating Hate:
Debating your right to exist with someone who wants to deny you life, is a zero sum game. If someone hates you enough to want you and others like you dead, why would they ever care what you might have to say to defend your right of existence?
Third Law of Debating Hate:
Scoring a point in a debate against a hate-fueled opponent is only going to be seen as a score to your base, through what is known as confirmation bias. The opposing side will only see someone they hate making them feel like they have been further wronged. For each point you believe that you've scored, you have only strengthened your opponent's views. This is what psychologists term the Backfire Effect.
Final Law of Debating Hate:
Don't debate hate, speak over it.
In closing, if you believe that you can make a difference by debating those with opposing viewpoints outside of academic settings, where debates are moderated and regulated, and judged as to which team wins, you are sorely mistaken. Countless attempts have been made throughout history to debate Native sovereignty on our own lands, the right of entire peoples to not be enslaved, the right of women to vote...yet debate has never worked. Millions of people have died by trusting those debating on their behalf when what was needed was action, and stripping away the platform from underneath the opposition.
Continue to use your voices, continue to use your platforms to counter the misinformation and transphobia any way you can. Just do so as if the opposition position is the factually lacking viewpoint it is. Don’t give it credence publicly by sharing a platform with it, and don’t build your platform using Nazi and alt-right imagery.