This is the first one of what may become an intermittent blog series of Doll Fight! members writing about our songs. This one is by Kelly, writing about the song Trap!, which has been a staple in Doll Fight!’s live set lately.
Everywhere I go I feel other people’s eyes
No longer do they stare and shout and threaten me
I’m still afraid, sometimes it’s worse not knowing who they are
It seems like flirting leads to violence in the blink of an eye when
She’s a trap!
13 coils, 13 steps, it takes just one to tie them
to swing a shovel, shoot a gun, fling their fists the deed is done
it seems that hate breeds hate and violence bleeds resistance
so maybe now it’s finally time to bash back
She’s a trap!
I wake up every morning and I wonder if today’s the day
That I’ll become another unreported number
And the courts say it’s okay if someone panics and kills me
When they find out that I’m trans,
because that response should just be expected if
She’s a trap!
* * * * *
Let’s jump right in and unpack the title of this song, because it’s important for context. It comes from the bowels of the internet. For those of you who don’t know, “trap” is a derogatory term for a trans woman that came out of the internet cesspool that is 4chan.org (NSFW) and other similar imageboard websites. It started out as an internet meme and quickly became just another word, and everybody just kind of understood what it meant. It’s pervasive enough that it’s become just as popular, or even more so, in crowd-sourced internet porn featuring trans women as the word “tranny”, and it’s even regularly used in forums talking about trans issues that don’t intend disrespect (i.e. it’s the only language these people have and they want to talk about trans issues.)
After “trap” became such a big thing, a bunch of related memes sprung up out of the same imageboard culture (which, if you are blissfully ignorant, is where nearly every internet meme comes from, from lolcats to rickrolling, pedobear, and awesomeface). One really popular such meme was the “It’s a Trap” meme, which took the internet’s definition of “trap” and plugged it into this clip from Star Wars where a squid/lobster man yells “It’s a Trap!” People would post pictures of sexy women (by heteronormative etc. standards), then after blank space that forced you to scroll down would type “It’s a Trap!” or have a picture of Admiral Ackbar (that squid-lobster guy) and it would say “Traps” or something like that. This was meant to say “hey look, I made you think this was a hot woman, but they’re trans, and aren’t really a woman. Ha ha, I fooled you/emasculated you!”
In addition to image board and forum posts like this, lots of ‘demotivational posters’ are made using this same idea, like this: http://goo.gl/e0Nzf (nsfw), and this: http://goo.gl/wZAZo. It expanded to include other silly things and actual traps (like mousetraps and stuff) that weren’t trans women, but for the purposes of this conversation, now you’ve got the context. The song is about transmisogyny and dealing with it.
The whole thing of trans women as “traps” is linguistically motivated by a longstanding cultural myth that trans women are insidious hypersexual creatures who lure unsuspecting men into sexual situations, only to reveal to those men that they are trans in a “shock moment” either post sex or once some heavy petting type stuff has happened (think The Crying Game). It’s also dependent on an understanding or belief that trans women are not really women. There are all kinds of ways that this paradigm is completely fucked that I won’t go into here, but for further reading check out Whipping Girl by Julia Serano or search the internet for stuff like “transmisogyny” and “archetypes of trans women”.
* * * * *
So what is this song about, now that you get where we’re coming from? On one hand, the song is a reclamation of this gross language. There’s something funny and kind of full of mystique about it. Trans women are hot and sensual – that’s great right? As long as we don’t push it into fetishization or othering territory, what’s wrong with portraying trans women as hot. I mean, I like when people respectfully think I’m sexy, just not when they think I am sexy just because I am trans (or alternately that I am no longer sexy because I am trans). So by removing the stigma of the meme and some of the fucked up implications, I think ‘trap’ can become a lighthearted reclaimed word. In particular, ‘trap’ is not something with a long and loaded history, it’s a new word – spawn of the internet age – quite unlike words like “tranny,” “slut,” and “faggot,” which often rile serious pause when language reclamation comes up because they have longer (some longer than others) histories of violence and marginalization. Trap is pretty much brand new, so a part of this song is about taking this language, inverting it, and making it into something that is ours before it gets too deep-seated as something that hurts us.
The song is also about poking fun at this meme to simply disarm it, rather than reclaim it. It’s a pretty stupid meme. After all, it started out with a bunch of nerds referencing a squid-lobster-human hybrid who was freaking out. So it’s not only about reclaiming the word, but also just disarming it, acknowledging that reclamation may still too big a step for some folks.
It’s a lot deeper than just a song about semantics though. It’s a song from my perspective that is meant to take my own marginalization and fear and convert it into constructive anger. I own my experiences as a trans woman, and I wouldn’t want my life any other way, but I am also extremely skeptical of the idea of “identity pride,” which I think can lead to self-tokenization. A degree of it is healthy and important though, and I feel it is necessary to have some pride to overcome internalized oppression.
* * * * *
In my own transition I didn’t always ‘pass’ as cis (I also hate the way “passing” often is discussed as a thing, hence the quotes, but that’s another article, sorry). I was super androgynous and got harassed a lot. Even if I wasn’t getting read as a “faggot” by people, I would still get read as trans a lot, and the world is a really hostile place to women who are visibly trans. I won’t get into the details, but they aren’t pleasant, and I don’t know another trans woman who doesn’t have at least some fucked up stories of shit people have done to them because they’re trans.
On top of my own baggage, the trans community is really good at letting you know about how fucked up the world is for trans people. It is certainly not the intention, but as one of the most prominent community events for trans people nationwide is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Intended as a memorial service, it largely serves as a reminder that the world sucks and you should be afraid if you’re a trans woman (further reading on this here: http://goo.gl/mUpuf and here: http://goo.gl/bWVR9). This is certainly not universal for all Trans Day of Remembrance events in all places – some of them are excellent memorial services that don’t project the experience of the victims of violence onto the attendees, but my experience with the event has largely been otherwise.
Carrying my own history while being immersed in a community that told me I should be afraid of being assaulted or murdered all the time caused me a lot of distress. I felt a lot of fear, some of which was grounded in the real world, but a lot of it was the product of sensationalism and an environment that pumped out narratives of trans women who were attacked, and little else about us. Eventually I started passing as cis everywhere I went and my experiences shifted. Rather than waiting for the next full frontal assaut, my experience of fear became like watching John Carpenter’s The Thing – the monster could be anyone, laying in wait. Rather than just outright being a bigot from the get-go, hateful people would no longer freak out when they saw or first met me – only when I was outed.
The “surprise” archetype of anti-trans violence (i.e. trans woman passes, then is outed, then is attacked for deceiving people and being trans/’really a man’) is often portrayed as the most dangerous type of anti-trans violence. Perpetrators supposedly are “duped” or “trapped” by trans women, and therefore violence can be justified (talk about a narrative that blames the victims of violence). In the real world, this concept has actually been used successfully in court to reduce the sentence and/or charges for people convicted of the hate-motivated murder of trans women by arguing the surprise of learning a woman was trans caused temporary insanity. This defense even has a name: the “trans panic defense.” Talk about fucked up, right? And the same narrative is all over the internet; “trap” as a cultural phenomenon is grounded in the exact same concept. I mean, the entire basis of being a trap is tied to that “surprise she’s trans!” thing that supposedly can incite and even excuse this type of violence.
But I was done buying into any archetypes. I decided I wanted to fuck with them instead. I decided I’d not only claim this “trap” thing as my own, but that I’d take the fear I felt, analyze it carefully, and turn it around into productive anger. Anger about these narratives that I’d channel to expose them wherever I could. Anger at the prison industrial complex and criminal court systems which perpetuate problematic archetypes while systematically persecuting and abusing trans women and many other marginalized people. I decided I needed to scream and shout about all this hate, and that I needed to do it in a forum that was palatable to people who may not know about all of this crap but who I felt I could count on to get it and be there to help me tear it down. For me, those people have always been punks and activists and the sort of people I like to think listen to Doll Fight! (and other bands like us). So I wrote “Trap!” and channeled all of that into a song less than two minutes long. And when we play it live, generally the crowd goes pretty wild.