If you're a regular viewer of "All In with Chris Hayes" on MSNBC, you may have seen this segment, which aired Thursday, August 22nd. Trigger warning: It opens with a brutally violent hate attack by young Russian thugs on a transgender woman.
At first, you, like me, would likely be as repulsed as I was as you watched this girl being beaten by her gleeful attackers, one of whom apparently thought it such great sport that he recorded the beating and then uploaded it to the Internet for others to watch.
If you pay attention to these kinds of stories like I do, you might also have felt gratified to learn that at least someone in mainstream media recognizes that the story of the new anti-LGBT propaganda laws in Russia doesn't begin and end with how they affect gays and lesbians, but that transgender Russians are every bit as much a target of those laws and the hateful cultural norms they promote as anyone else. That feeling, however, would probably have been short-lived.
After opening the segment with that horrifically brutal attack (with no warning to the audience of what they were about to see), Hayes then introduced Masha Gessen, a lesbian Russian journalist who herself felt likely to be among the first to be impacted by a proposed law that would remove children from the homes of same-sex couples. While Gessen's story was riveting and certainly important for viewers to see, not once during the entire segment do either Gessen or Hayes even bother to mention, much less discuss, the impact these laws are having on transgender Russians, such as the girl being beaten in the opening clip.
I'm a regular viewer of "All in with Chris Hayes" and I was equally loyal during his stint on "Up...". In all that time, I've never seen either a trans guest or a story that's directly relevant to the trans community appear on his shows. So, you might conclude, at least based on the available evidence that I've seen, that Chris Hayes is simply no better educated on trans people and the reality of our lives than one of his fellow MSNBC hosts. However, if you've read Hayes' excellent book, "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy" about meritocracy and inequality in America, you'd know better.
While "Twilight of the Elites" doesn't discuss transgender people specifically, Hayes uses several effective examples to explain the way meritocracy is not only perceived as a positive value in American culture, but also how the system operates in a way that effectively bars those in lower social, racial, ethnic, and economic classes from achieving upward mobility in America. Anyone who has read this book knows, with certainty, that ascribing ignorance on Chris Hayes' part as an excuse for what we saw on his show that Thursday night is simply not credible.
In an interview on "Democracy Now!" recorded in July 2012, Hayes describes the thesis of his book and his motivations for writing it. Using his own definitions as described in this interview, Hayes casts himself as a member of the very elite class he decries in his own book during this "All In..." show segment when he uses the beating of of a transgender girl for a sensationalistic lead-in but then proceeds to completely ignore the issue of how transgender people in Russia are affected by these new laws to focus exclusively on their impact on Russia's gay and lesbian population.
As he's often done in the past, Hayes throws the term "LGBT" around with abandon during the segment, but the actual discussion never strays from the first two letters of the acronym. He uses video of an anti-transgender hate crime and use of the term "LGBT" to signal inclusiveness to his viewers, but the actual content of the segment focuses exclusively on the aspects of the story most relevant to the wealthiest segments of the LGBT community.
The segment is clearly targeted at MSNBC's most favored and profitable viewer demographics who are most likely to buy the Jaguars, Sandals vacations, and financial services products that are constantly advertised on the network while completely erasing from the discussion those who are generally too poor to afford the upper-class lifestyle reflected by many of MSNBC's sponsors.
Apparently to Chris Hayes, video of a transgender person being brutalized in a hate crime is an acceptable sensationalistic lead-in for a segment on his show, but actual discussion of trans people and how the issue at hand directly affects our lives is not. In other words, it's fine to show one of us getting the crap kicked out of her to get his audience's attention, but actually including her and others like her as part of the actual substance of the segment isn't worth the bother. If there's a greater level of elitism and a more extreme level of hypocrisy than this, I'd be hard-pressed to imagine it.
In addition, the segment is problematic because of the way Hayes conflates all LGBT identities into those of gays and lesbians. By showing a trans woman being brutalized in his lead-in but then talking exclusively about gays and lesbians during the actual discussion, Hayes promotes the completely inaccurate popular perception that we're really all the same, that "LGBT" isn't actually verbal and print shorthand for four distinct, and specific identities.
Instead, Chris Hayes repeats the mistake of his colleague Ed Schultz of lumping all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into a single monolithic group who all have the same needs, desires, and social and political agendas. If he's any kind of decent journalist (and he certainly is) Chris Hayes has to know better than this, and it's both concerning and disappointing to realize that Hayes either actually doesn't truly understand what use of the term "LGBT" really represents beyond the label itself, or he simply doesn't care.
Trans people deserve better than this from the guy who literally wrote the book on inequality.