Chaykin and Transphobia: Let Me School You

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Friday afternoon, Twitter blew up discussing the transphobic representation of the gang rape of a trans rapist character in Howard Chaykin’s The Divided States of Hysteria. Of course, Chaykin’s response is… nothing. Image’s response is… nothing.

Well, that’s not technically true. When questioned by Bleeding Cool, Image responded by forwarding Chaykin’s curse laden diatribe against the hypocrisy of liberal America. Let’s get real all up in here for a minute. We have a few lessons that need to be learned from this, and I’m going to take you to school.

Lesson the First:

When a marginalized group of people argues that you have undermined them? You just apologize. It’s really not that hard. You look at the group, you say, “I realize I am not you. I am sorry that this hurt/offended/insertwhatmarginalizedgroupwasupsetabouthere.” You own that you are not them. You own that you have to do a thing to make up for the thing you did wrong. End of story. You do not get to tell the marginalized group, “but wait, you didn’t understand what we were trying to do.” Nope. Just. Take the Nope Road all the way to Never Land, then hang a right at No Way Street and park your car in Noping All the Nopes lot.

Lesson the Second:

When putting media into the world, thinking about how that impacts audiences is a strength not a weakness. Chaykin has said that he doesn’t read critics. He acts as though he’s above criticism because he thinks he knows best. The tone deafness of this reaction is a side effect of hubris. Hubris, in Greek tragedy and real life, leads to a fall.

Lesson the Third:

Image has an image problem. I love some of the books that come out of there. However, let’s be honest, it wasn’t all that long ago that McFarlane told Think Progress writer, Alyssa Rosenberg,

“It might not be the right platform,” he said. “I’ve got two daughters, and if I wanted to do something that I thought was emboldened to a female, I probably wouldn’t choose superhero comic books to get that message across. I would do it in either a TV show, a movie, a novel, or a book. It wouldn’t be superheroes because I know that’s heavily testosterone — driven, and it’s a certain kind of group of people. That’s not where I would go get this kind of message, so it might not be the right platform for some of this.”

If that’s one of your founders, then clearly you’re going to have a problem when it comes to listening to people being upset with representation. There is never a place that should be considered “not the right platform” for responding to people’s desire to be represented. Any fictional media has the opportunity to help people change the way they view the world. If we keep allowing these kinds of messages, ones that reinforce violence towards transgender men and women, then we are allowing transphobia to continue. Image doesn’t care because, guess what, it’s run by a bunch of white, cisgender males and all the privilege thereunto appertaining.

Lesson the Fourth:

If you’re going to be an asshole, expect people to treat you as one. In response to being questioned, Image forwarded Chaykin’s prewritten essay about why he wrote The Divided States of Hysteria. You know what Chaykin said in that prewritten essay?

“So instead of “Trigger warnings,” “Cultural appropriation,” “Safe spaces,” and “Social Justice Warriors,” maybe we on the left should have put aside all this balkanizing nonsense and been fucking Americans for fuck’s sake, instead of allowing this nihilistic shithead to mainstream and legitimize the racist, sexist, bigoted and flat-out moronic sensibilities that have always been there, but were held in check by a common understanding that one doesn’t get away with that shit in the United States of America.”

The irony of this response being sent to people upset about the representation of the trans community is that Chaykin is doing the exact same thing he rails against. By ignoring the critics of this scene in his book, he legitimizes bigoted and “flat-out moronic” sensibilities. He argues it should be a common understanding that “one doesn’t get away with that shit” in our country. Yet, here we are again, having a conversation about how one white, cis, het dude can’t see his way to admitting he made a mistake.

The trans community deserves an apology. If Chaykin can’t see fit to do it, then his company needs to do it on his behalf. They need to take responsibility for letting this go to press. Hiding behind Chaykin’s tone deaf narcissism is a cop out.

All of us deserve better than this. We all deserve to be treated with respect. We deserve to see something from our creators when they make mistakes. We deserve to have comics move forward with the times and not stay in the dark ages of geekdom.

Karen Walsh
Karen Walsh is a part time, extended contract, first year writing instructor at the University of Hartford. In other words, she's SuperAdjunct, complete with capes and Jedi robe worn during grading. When Karen isn't teaching, she is a freelance writer who works for a variety of marketing clients focusing on a variety of topics, including InfoSec and parenting. Her geeky and parenting writing can be found at GeekMom. She works in order to support knitting, comics, tattoo, and museum membership addictions. She has one dog, one husband, and one son who all live with her just outside of Hartford, CT. She can be reached on Twitter: @kvonhard and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GeekyKaren/

12 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t think any group of people has a right to demand an artist to cater to their whims. Lesson the first: don’t be a self-important spoiled brat.

  2. Karen, with all respect, seems like you never read a Chaykin comic before this (like Black Kiss and American Flagg).

  3. This whole article is bullshit! The only lesson that needs to be learned is by people who expect the world to walk on eggshells for them. And that lesson is “it doesn’t and it won’t, so suck it up.” This is fiction. It’s entertainment. If you don’t like it, then you don’t support it. After that, it’s out of your hands. Identity politics is a cancer on society. That you inject that nonsense into world of fiction, meant for entertainment, where we can get away from that kind of crapola, is the only thing offensive here. Fucking hell!

    • Entertainment has social value as a conduit of societal norms. Identity politics may feel like a cancer, if the identity being promoted isn’t your own. Walking on eggshells is very different than having to be faced constantly with vitriol and hatred.

      There is a plethora of research proving the value of representation in the media.
      First, the importance of representation: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=importance+of+representation+in+the+media&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C7&oq=importance+of+representation+in+
      Next, here’s a list of resources to help you better understand all the reasons that entertainment is important to changing social norms, not just as entertainment.
      https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=entertainment+as+communication+of+social+norms&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C7

      Look at your own words. You responded to someone whose views are different than yours with “This whole article is bullshit.” Imagine if every time you had an opinion, someone’s first response was “You’re ideas are bullshit and you are a cancer on the world.” Spend your whole life being told you’re opinions are nonsense. Have people violently and angrily yell at you every day. You can find better ways to express displeasure than the constant cursing and demeaning of those different from you.

      Entertainment and our discussions of it are a great way to learn how to think differently. I would hope that instead of getting mired down in all the anger and hatred you’re expressing in this response that you would try to learn to approach others with greater empathy. If at the very least, you understand the social importance of entertainment, then perhaps that’s a step in becoming a better citizen.

  4. What a load of utter hooey. Chaykin’s story included a brief scene where johns attacked a trans prostitute they had hired, and the prostitute killed them. If you’re arguing that because some trans people don’t want the existence of trans prostitutes to be discussed, they can’t be, then your argument is utterly worthless.

    • That is precisely what I am saying. If a community of people says they don’t want a stereotype to continue, and the story is not written by a member of that community? Then that story shouldn’t be written.

      It is not our place to tell a marginalized group that we can tell their stories however we like. We just say, “I’m sorry. I’ll do better next time.”

      • What stereotype? I’m not aware of any significant belief that trans people are generally prostitutes, or that “prostitute” is a typical occupation among trans people. Nor am I aware that the trans “community” has been established as taking the position you hold. If you’re saying that every “community” should be judged by the snap judgments of the most aggressive people who self-identify online as its members.

        I note that you seem to be perfectly fine with Chaykin writing a Jewish character who is a smug, materialistic, misogynistic mass murderer, in the same comic.

        Nazis are marginalized, too (and they generally deserve it). Are you really saying they, too, are entitled to control the writing of “their stories”. Muslim parents who practice female genital mutilation? Pedophiles? There’s no equivalence among “marginalized” social groups, and no reason to believe “marginalization” is any sort of justification for suppressing unfavorable characterizations of members of such a group. The Serb militants who committed genocide against Muslims twenty years ago viewed themselves as marginalized, as do most working-class Trump voters.

        And your stereotyping a Jewish writer like Chaykin as “one white, cis, het dude” is itself offensive. By your own argument, you should admit your error and apologize.

    • Transgender women have experienced first hand what being forced into sex work is like for far too long. You are defending the existence of a very old, very ugly and very tiring, disgusting stereotype that has fueled the abuses and deaths of literally countless numbers of trans women. Practically any time a trans woman is portrayed in the media, she’s a sex worker or a hair dresser. Always being portrayed in such a manner is the classic definition of a STEREOTYPE. We get arrested for walking down the street because of a stereotype. We get denied legitimate employment all the time, because of guess what? That bloody stereotype that you are so blissfully “unaware of” gets used as the primary excuse employers have to tell us to go away. Tell me now, how easy is it to get by in this world without a steady paycheck from legitimate work of some kind?

      • Thank you. I’m sorry that you have had to respond to this kind of comment, not just this time, but in general.

        It is disheartening to know that comments sections like this one are so unwelcoming that you would be the only person willing to respond other than me. Thank you. I appreciate it as someone who had given up responding thinking that no one else felt the same way I did.

        I won’t do that again.

Comments are closed.