As I write this, we just passed Transgender Day of Visibility AND there was yet another school shooting this week. But this time it was at a Christian school in Nashville, and by a person who used they/them pronouns (find out more in this NPR story). So yeah, let’s be clear: this is the type of LGBTQ+ visibility that is likely to make the LGBTQ+ community rightfully terrified. After all, this is the kind of edge case situation that unhealthy fascistic scapegoating narratives are made of. In this piece I plan to unwrap a bit of why that is so, and how we can combat that kind of unhealthy “single story” narrative to fight for a healthier and safer world for us all, especially vulnerable populations, including both school children and the LGBTQ+ community.
My Background and Standpoint
As always, I’m coming at this as a pastor’s kid from a right-leaning moderate Evangelical denomination who went on to get my PhD in Communication–you know, that discipline that is heavily involved in trying to understand and prevent things like Holocausts from recurring.
The Danger of a Single Story
Importantly for this situation, my major concentration in my PhD heavily involved narrative theory.
As a result, one of the videos I show in all my classes every semester is the rightfully popular “The Danger of a Single Story” Ted Talk by the fabulous Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie.
SUCH a Good Ted Talk!
In that beautifully written and delivered talk, Adichie essentially talks about the way in which dominant narratives that only talk about certain aspects of a community may reduce a person or group down to being seen as less than human.
Why Representation Matters
In a fabulously important anecdote, she talks about how someone came up to her once and told her it was a shame all African fathers were abusers like those in her novel. She talks about how she responded that she had read a book called American Psycho, and that it was a shame all young men in America were psychopaths.
She immediately goes on to add that her knowledge that not all American young men are psychopathic doesn’t make her better than the other person, but reflects the fact that America has enough cultural and economic power to have a diverse range of stories available for people to sort through.
Reaching Toward “A Balance of Stories”
She says at the end of the talk that it’s not that single stories are wrong that’s the problem, but that they are incomplete. And she presents the solution as gathering all the stories we can find to create what she calls “a balance of stories,” especially about the types of people we don’t know.
Back to That Tragic School Shooting in Nashville
I couldn’t help but think about these important thoughts as I was processing through the Nashville shooting this week. Especially when I heard about the fear many in the trans and nonbinary community are feeling after the Nashville school shooting suspect was identified as having used they/them pronouns.
And that the location was a Christian school.
The Literal Danger of These Single Stories
See, if you were to take this as the single decontextualized story of trans and nonbinary folks, and the single story of Christian schools, and the single story of school shootings, surely you could see how the title the “danger of a single story” could easily be extremely literal for trans and nonbinary people in the current political climate.
In the middle of a climate where trans and nonbinary folks are already being scapegoated, this kind of narrative could very well be a powder keg in the wrong hands.
In similar ways, it’s probably clear to a lot of you that the single story about the second amendment being a god term that should allow anyone to buy AR-15s and other guns designed only to kill a lot of humans is a very dangerous single story as well.
This Is How Fascism Works
And let’s be clear: that is how fascism classically works. Fascistic bullies seek to get enough cultural power to take a single case like this and use it to stoke fear in the population, using the seeds they’ve already sown of fear of a vulnerable population to excuse their scapegoating of them.
THIS, not at all tangentially, is why people who support fascistic rhetoric and policies seek to ban books humanizing vulnerable populations and talking about the crappy things we do to them (I previously talked about book banning here). It’s also why they seek to defund and ban educational programs that encourage critical thinking (which I previously talked about here and here).
Because they’re trying to get enough cultural and economic power to take these kinds of single stories and make them the ONLY stories available to the bulk of the population.
Fighting Toward Restoring the Balance of Stories
Here’s the thing: we don’t need to deny that there was a non-binary shooter in this particular situation in Nashville. But that’s not the bulk of the truth.
The bulk of the truth is this: the large majority of school shootings are in no way caused by trans or non-binary folks. You know, any more than all African fathers are abusers or all young American men are psychopaths.
It’s the Disinformation Around Guns that Is the Problem with School Shootings
The truth is also this: the large majority of western cultures don’t have problems with school shootings the way we do in the US.
The reason for that latter fact has nothing to do with those countries having no trans or non-binary folks. Here’s the reason other countries don’t have school shootings: they have better gun regulations.
Why do they have better gun regulations, you ask? They don’t have a powerful disinformation engine spewing unhealthy crap turning owning guns into a god term.
If you do a careful look at the evidence, yeah. That’s the primary reason. That’s it.
Rejecting Fascistic Narratives by Looking at the Bigger Picture
The truth is this: because multiple stories are possible, we don’t have to choose in any way between supporting the lives of schoolchildren, including these Christian school kids, and the lives of trans and non-binary folks.
Let me say that again: we don’t have to choose between supporting trans folks or school children when we hear about this story. In order to do that, we just have to refuse to let this single story be the only one.
The only one about school shootings.
About nonbinary and trans folks.
About the problem of gun violence.
Adding Context as Resistance
And to do that, all we have to do is provide context to this story. (If you were hadn’t figured it out by now, fascists and other bullies LOVE controlling which context gets added to which stories. Putting it back for ourselves and others is a huge resistance power move.)
We can look at the pattern of school shootings overall.
At the biggest factors for gun violence in the US. And, most importantly, who’s sponsoring the unhealthy single stories about guns.
Breaking the Fascistic Spiral of Silence
So yeah, it’s the disinformation that’s the primary problem. And what’s the way to fight back against that?
If you’ve hung around here for awhile, you should know by now: the answer is raising our voices. (If you don’t believe me, disinformation scholar Lee McIntyre previously talked about this as a guest blogger here.)
Toward a (Healthy) Balance of Stories
How to answer with our voices? Well, as I noted above, Adichie gestures at one thing we should be doing: fighting for a balance of stories.
Note that this doesn’t mean fighting for some sort of fascistic bothsidesish approach that takes fascistic crap seriously.
In fact, it means rejecting the false dilemmas that come with bothsidesism.
Fighting False Dilemmas with Context and Empathy for Vulnerable Folks (Shocker!)
And that means acknowledging that this school shooting absolutely happened as it happened. But putting it in context.
It also means attending and making space for trans day of visibility events like the one a friend went to today, where transgender people told their stories of their lives, including about the hurt and fear and stress they felt in response to the anti-trans legislation that red states are trying to pass.
Time to Stand UP
It also means standing up against those policies. And working to help elect healthier people into the system in those areas where these single stories are gaining ground.
While we’re talking about single stories, this also means fighting the policies at the school and library level in various areas that are furthering the unhealthy fascistic single stories about vulnerable groups. That are removing extremely valuable context that humanizes and helps people understand why vulnerable groups are vulnerable and ought not be scapegoated.
Fighting the Idea that the Bullies Have More Power than They Do
And while I’m at it, let me be clear: part of this effort has to include fighting the idea that fascism inevitably is gaining power and nothing can be done against it.
Because that’s simply not a healthy single story either. (And it’s one they want you to believe!)
Making Fascism Uncool Again
Sure, it’s possible that the fascists will continue to gain power in society, and both school children and trans folks will suffer along with other vulnerable populations as a result.
BUT these unhealthy fascistic single stories—these stories that are already harming vulnerable groups of a wide range of types—don’t have to gain further power. That’s simply not inevitable. They can be returned to the fringe.
Reminding Ourselves of the Gains We’ve Made
How do I know this? Well, the reasonable folks’ efforts have already done a lot of good. And because of that, I know they can continue to do good.
Take the resistance following the 2016 election, for instance. It led to regaining ground in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidency. To many convictions of folks involved in the January 6 attacks. And to an important indictment, the first of a former president.
Why What We Do and Say Continues to Matter
We can and should absolutely grieve how much effort these things have taken to get to where they are.
And of course, there is no guarantee things will keep going forward in a positive direction.
But that’s the very reason why our efforts are continuing to matter.
Things Really Can Get Better!
If we keep speaking up, working against unhealthy rhetoric and policies, and working toward a healthier balance of stories alongside reasonable solutions to real societal problems, I believe fully that we really can have a healthier world for us all, including the vulnerable folks.
We Don’t Have to Win Them Over—Only Hold Them Accountable
Will we ever fully win over all of the bullies? I doubt it.
The nice thing is that we don’t have to win them all over. We just need to do what we can do, individually and together, to support systems in holding them accountable for unhealthy behaviors. And to support rhetoric and policies that will move us toward a healthier world for us all. And hopefully that will help us get to the place where a lot more people are safer than they were before.
Lives Are at Stake, Friends—So Let’s Not Grow Weary of Doing Good
I do know this much is true: as shown by these school shootings en masse and the statistics around the survival rates of LGBTQ+ populations, lives are at stake.
What we do, what we say, absolutely matters tremendously. We can’t do everything, and each of us will need times for rest, but the small things we CAN do are extremely valuable.
Please keep doing what you can, friends.
A Final Charge
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.
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