Friday, 02 August 2019

Don’t believe what you hear about Jessica Yanniv, the Right has a wax to grind

Don’t believe what you hear about Jessica Yanniv, the Right has a wax to grind

There’s a few problems with the media dumpster fire around Jessica Yanniv that most people seem to be missing. First and foremost it’s this: yet again the transgender and gender diverse community is being thrown under the bus by its supposed allies. And yes, we’ve been here a few times before.

For the right-wing media machine Yanniv’s story is a dream come true. Yanniv, a pre-op transwoman has filed against 29 Waxologists in British Colombia claiming discrimination when trying to get a Brazilian wax job.  For the Right wing press Yanniv exemplifies the death of reasonable language, political correctness gone mad, and proof that the recent cultural glasnost de-rigidifying gender and sexuality has been taken over by a bunch of wild-eyed extremists and needs to be rolled back.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jessica Yanniv is perfectly reasonable in trying to fight against discrimination. And underlying her story is an anxiety that runs through progressive circles: have human rights and the liberal institutions that support it gone too far in pitting a pre-operative trans woman against low-income immigrant women? The short answer is no, and the problem as older members of the trans community can attest is that we’ve been here a few times before. It’s the Voodoo economics that all LGBTQIA+ politics is based on: when comprehensive anti-discrimination laws face pushback in the political arena, it is trans people’s rights that are the first to be bargained off the table. 

Rights for some of the letters of LGBTQIA+ community has never actually trickled down into greater tolerance and rights for all. Interestingly, the BC court through which Yanniv has filed her complaint, has the power to dismiss frivolous claims, and to block vexatious litigants. But instead the court has released a statement claiming that the complaints raised by Yanniv are real and genuine.

 It’s also the height of hypocrisy for right wing media to accuse Yanniv of trampling over the rights of immigrant workers or frame Yanniv as a racist for unsavoury social media postings. After all, many if not most of the media outlets now so breathlessly anxious over the treatment of poor muslim immigrant women are not so particular when reporting on racist profiling and immigration fear mongering or even in some cases championing the right of the right wing intelligensia to say whatever they want in the interests of free speech.  Those same media outlets are crying out for the rights of aestheticians to not service a transwoman on religious grounds are the same media outlets that have for years had no problem running stories arguing that the hijab is an affront to Western pluralism and compressively oppresses women.

Here’s the clincher. Jessica Yanniv taking 29 ‘aestheticians’ or ‘waxologists’ to the Canadian high court for violating her human rights has nothing to do with religious freedom or the trampling of immigrant women’s rights. It is to do with anxiety around the way that recent shifts in acceptance of gender and sexuality has made language more open and part of an ongoing project to reframe the very definition of human rights.

 The rightwing dog whistle here is not that ‘aestheticians’ or ‘waxologists’ have to remove hair from intimate locations but rather to focus on the existential horror that there could ever be such a thing as a “female penis” or that “a women might need to have her balls waxed.” Such language is causing a collective brain infarction on the right. Jordan Peterson, pop star rage-monkey of white male privilege sums up the right's position perfectly when he says that the impact of federal human rights legislation on transgenderism would be to force people to use made up words. The problem with Peterson’s pseudo cherry-picked intellectualism, and one that progressive’s fall for again and again is that we are never not surrounded by made-up words. Words are both entirely useful and transactional. They mean what they mean because we agree that, that’s what they mean. But words also have the power to make whole groups of people invisible, marginal or default them as dangerous. Right now words are being repeatedly and systematically framed to make it difficult to talk or consider trans people outside of the context of mental health disorder, systemic child abuse, violent confrontation, or unreasonable society-crumbling human rights demand-tantrums. We cannot afford to let conservatives and right wing religious elements have their head in problematising diversity in sexuality and gender. 

The BC court will find for or against Yanniv in time and that is how it should be. Win or loose it’s not just the trans community that needs to have “female penises”. Nobody, least of all the trans and gender diverse community wants to talk about their junk in the public forum. Diversity around gender and sexuality however has been widened exponentially over the last few decades and freedom and openness around them has brought enormous benefits to pretty much everyone.

 Don’t fall for the right wing press’ word games. Whether Jessica Yanniv’s case is upheld or overturned, progressives need to slap themselves awake from the delusion of respectability politics. It’s a facade that threatens to derail 70 years of institutional human rights successes. 

Because it’s trans people, immigrants and people of colour today, and it will be lesbians and gays next week.