This week I read the most extraordinary and chilling statement. It was issued by a fringe group called the Trans Resistance Network. It was about the horrific gun attack at the Covenant School, a private Christian school, in Nashville this week.
The suspect in the attack is Audrey / Aiden Hale, a young woman who, according to the police, identified as a trans man. Hale was a former student at the Covenant School. She shot her way through the school doors and opened fire on anyone who crossed her path. Three kids, all aged just eight or nine, were killed, as well as three teachers. Eventually Hale was shot dead by cops.
It seems it is a short step from the narcissistic fantasy that you are the world’s greatest victim to thuggishly lashing out against those you imagine are your victimisers.
Shockingly, the Trans Resistance Network’s statement contains just one paragraph on the barbarism at the school and six – six – on the troubles facing trans people like Hale. That is, it expresses fleeting sympathy for the slaughtered, and lingering sympathy for the person suspected of carrying out the slaughter.
The statement says there were two tragedies in Nashville yesterday. The first was ‘the loss of life of three children and [three] adults’. The second was that the killer ‘felt he had no other effective way to be seen than to lash out by taking the life of others’. It then goes on at length about the ‘virtual avalanche’ of hate and oppression faced by trans folks. It sounds paranoid in parts. Some right-wingers seek ‘nothing less than the genocidal eradication of trans people’, it says.
It ends by reminding the media not to misgender Hale. ‘[We] remind the media to respect the self-identified pronouns of transgender individuals…’ That is, respect this person suspected of shooting to death three children.
Everything about the statement feels morally warped. To equate the tragedy of the murder of children with the ‘tragedy’ of the suspect’s alleged gender confusions is moral relativism of the most depraved kind. To try to contextualise the grim atrocity that unfolded in the halls of that school by talking about the ‘near constant drumbeat of anti-trans hate’ borders on apologism. It should go without saying that nothing – absolutely nothing – explains extreme violence against children.
There is still much we don’t know about the Nashville massacre. The police have confirmed that Hale is the suspect, and that she was a biological woman who used he / him pronouns, and that her gender identity might have played a role in her decision to carry out the attack. ‘There is some theory to that’, they said. The vast majority of trans people will of course be as horrified by this school shooting as the rest of us are.
And yet, that statement from the Trans Resistance Network does speak to a broader problem today – the increasingly volatile nature of the cult of victimhood. It speaks to that modern urge to view oneself as belonging to the most abused and aggrieved social group on earth. And it points to something we should all be concerned about: the possibility that this fashion for victimhood, this ceaseless coveting of suffering that we see in various identity movements these days, is now giving rise to a belief that ‘lashing out’ is an understandable response to one’s ‘oppressors’.
Is the politics of victimhood moving into its violent phase? It’s something we need to think about. There have been some febrile and heated incidents in recent years that suggest that hyper-victimhood, the belief that your identity group is the most put-upon of all and might even be on the cusp of eradication, is nurturing a vengeful attitude among activists; an unstable level of intolerance against all those you judge as your persecutors.
Consider the events in Auckland on Saturday, when the British women’s rights campaigner Posie Parker was set upon by a heaving, fuming mob of trans activists and their allies. How else do we explain this feral hatred for a diminutive mum other than as an expression of weaponised victimhood, an outburst of the delusions of oppression that have gripped many in the trans lobby?
It was striking that some of the activists who descended on Auckland to abuse Parker talked about her as the great ‘Nazi’ oppressor and about themselves as the poor, puny victims of global transphobia. And yet we all saw with our own eyes that the opposite was the case: Parker was the victim here and it was the activists who covered themselves in the garb and slogans of victimhood who were the oppressors. It seems it is a short step indeed from the narcissistic fantasy that you are the world’s greatest victim to thuggishly lashing out against those you imagine are your victimisers.
Or consider recent acts of Islamist intolerance, such as the hounding of the Batley Grammar schoolteacher into hiding or the mob demands that the ‘blasphemous film The Lady of Heaven be withdrawn from cinemas. Here, too, fantasies of victimhood underpinned the intemperate cries for punishment and censure.
We don’t have to look too far into the past to see how truly menacing the cult of victimhood can become. The massacre at Charlie Hebdo in 2015 – wasn’t that the militant wing of identitarian self-pity? A lashing out’ fuelled by the vain, fact-lite belief that Muslims are wounded even by cartoons?
It remains to be seen what motivated the atrocity in Nashville. But it seems increasingly clear that the self-pity and paranoia that underpin modern identity politics pose a grave threat to the sense of community that is essential in a healthy society. The more we incite people to view themselves as victims, and to view others as their tyrannical erasers, the more we will foster division, intolerance, instability and possibly worse. It is time to end this dangerous victim game.