A few months ago, I wrote a semi-lengthy piece wherein I analyzed the phenomenon of “truscum”, who are typically transgender individuals who (generally) believe that dysphoria is a required attribute of transgender individuals.
Ultimately, I’m content with that article; I tried very hard to balance myself between empathy and rage and think I succeeded in being fair. It was a hard article to write, because it’s hard to see transgender people weaponize their suffering against other trans people. It was hard to willingly expose myself to those ideologies and still feel okay about myself.
With hindsight, I really only have one major regret.
I should’ve dug into Kalvin Garrah a lot harder. A lot.
For those out of the loop (or simply needing a refresher course), Kalvin Garrah is a 19-year-old transgender YouTube personality. He’s amassed over 360,000 subscribers there, as well as 215,000 Instagram followers. Over the past several years, he’s made a name for himself by chronicling his transition and discussing what its like to be transgender, and through being incredibly vocal about his truscum beliefs; this includes making videos reacting to “fake” transgender people, some of which have millions of views.
In my first article about truscum, I used Kalvin as an example of a transgender person who is vocal about how much he hates being transgender and how that is a huge part of truscum ideology. I talked about him mostly in the context of internalized transphobia and self hate, as well as briefly touching upon how he reflects the non-discussion of race and class in truscum circles (despite being mixed, he is white passing and directly benefits from that, no matter how many times he insists he doesn’t).
Outside of those examples, though, I had to leave most of my thoughts on him vague or completely absent from the article because, well, that article wasn’t about him. But with a combination of my own reflections and some well-timed incidents, I realized I wanted and/or needed an article specifically to focus on him.
I’ve thought a lot about what I want this article to be. I’ve already dissected what fuels truscum ideology (the tl;dr is it’s internalized transphobia), and I didn’t want to just repeat myself. I didn’t just want to scream for a few hundred words either because, hey, that’s not fun or informative for anybody. And the likelihood that Kalvin is going to be told about or see this article (let alone read it through) is slim to none, so my goal couldn’t be to educate a brick wall.
So, what is the point of me writing about Kalvin Garrah again? What can be said here that I didn’t already somewhat cover in my previous writings?
I hope for this to be the last time I reference my previous article, but, in short, I want to repeat a specific excerpt:
I’m not going to act like truscum and TERFs are even close to companionable in real life … (the whole point of TERF ideology is that they hate trans people, after all, no amount of boot licking will change that)(also comparing trans people to our actual oppressors is terrible and shall not be done here), but …[i]n real life, trans people do and have peddled transphobic rhetoric for a wide variety of reasons.
So on August 12th, 2019, Kalvin Garrah undeniably tweeted support for a TERF, stating that “she’s actually chill and not as radical as y’all were [trying to] make her out to be”.
It should be noted that at that time, the Twitter user in question had statements on her page that included thinking that the LGBT community should “ #DropTheT ”, that “trans women are male”, and enough other extremely transmisogynistic things that you could create TERF bingo from. There was no question about how violent of a transphobe this particular person was.
In the aftermath, Kalvin claims to have no idea that the TERF was being “contradictory” (read: transphobic), and his tweets defending her have since been deleted. And over the past few days he’s made a considerable effort to make fun of other TERFS, and allegedly has been blocking people bringing the incident up to him. The TERF he initially supported has since been suspended, and, as of the time of this article’s publishing, has yet to resurface.
So, alright, lets look back at the series of events as a whole. Kalvin Garrah defended a trans-exclusionary feminist. This is far from the first time Kalvin has been explicitly transphobic, but, at least on my personal radar, it’s the first time he’s been transphobic in this specific, extremely bizarre way. (And, to his limited credit, he’s been vocal against TERFs many times previously).
I’ve talked before about how transgender people can and have peddled transphobic rhetoric in an effort to gain favor of cisgender people. It’s the age-old “if I act as the good one from a marginalized group, then maybe my oppressors will be kinder to me in turn” logic. By going after “non-passing” transgender people, people who “aren’t really” trans, and people who “look” stereotypically queer, Kalvin is making an effort to pass himself off as “one of the good ones”.
(And uh, Kalvin? Does dysphoria not count as “body issues”? You’re really going to say you don’t think a TERF is transphobic and invoke the “not our children!” fear in the same breath?)
But by directly interacting with and defending a violent transmisogynist, Kalvin took things a step further. To an audience of over 26,000, he directly linked and offered support to a woman with “terf is a slur” in her profile. You cannot fuck up that badly without even making an effort to apologize. Your response to this situation cannot be just to block people rightfully upset about your actions.
On top of exposing other transgender people directly to hate speech directed at them, Kalvin exposed his cisgender followers to TERF ideology; and he did it with the pretext of “she’s not so bad, we can have civil discussions and be cool with each other despite our differences in ideology”.
Boldened for emphasis: that is fucking dangerous.
I don’t know exact numbers on how many of Kalvin’s followers are cisgender, but I’ve come across a multitude and there’s no denying there are enough for me to consider them when writing this. Whether Kalvin is aware of this or not is unknown to me, but even if he doesn’t know the makeup of his audience, he needs to be aware that cisgender people could, have, and will stumble across his content.
Already his content is considerably transphobic in a multitude of regards, and any cisgender person who falls down that well is going to walk away thinking that transphobia is okay as long as the person isn’t “really trans”; and isn’t that already the argument transphobes make about us, that we’re “really” a man or a woman pretending to be otherwise?
And by directly defending a TERF and giving no apology for it, Kalvin puts across the message that TERF ideology is okay, or at the very least can be debated.
In a blog post last year, Miranda Roberts says that “by agreeing to engage [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] in debate, we implicitly agree that their questions are worthy of debate.” Subsequently, by Kalvin defending a TERF (and, in a tweet still up on his page, stating his desire to debate one), he indicates that they’re just another side to an argument, rather than completely baseless. He gives off that implication of TERFs having worthy concerns.
Spoilers, they don’t, and they never have. Especially when TERFs have been showing up more and more in the news (see here and here), it is wildly dangerous and unbelievably ignorant to give them an open platform to spread their ideology. Their foremost goal is to silence the voices of transgender people, specifically transgender women, and they will come at anybody who tries to stop them.
Debating TERFs will not change their minds. When you’re debating somebody, you’re putting both ideologies up on equal platforms, and TERF ideology is something based in fear mongering and violence and is not something that can be considered a reasonable opinion to hold.
Is there any satisfying ending to this? Unfortunately, probably not.
The spread of TERF ideology is one that is proving incredibly hard to beat down, and so it seems that general awareness will have to be one of the main ways that we slow it. Don’t give them any opportunity to spread their hate, and don’t give them any chance to be taken seriously in any form or medium. De-platforming is the best way to stop their spread, and its worked before.
As for Kalvin, he seems determined to shove this under the rug and let it fester there for as long as he can. I don’t have hope that any of his fanbase is going to hold him accountable, not when they already engage with such a high level of anger and toxicity. Check the comments of his videos, almost all of them are the same “I identify as ___” joke used to de-legitimize us, there is no positivity being spread.
And if anyone who tweets their concerns about this is getting blocked, then its evident he doesn’t think he did anything wrong; if he does think that he fucked up, then he thinks he’s done enough to make up for it and there’s no reason for people to keep bringing it up after this.
My previous sentiment that he shouldn’t have the audience he does still stands. Especially with Kalvin still clearly struggling with trans-related issues — having this audience can’t be healthy for him. It isn’t healthy to wade into identity discourse every day, neck deep, and exchange in so much vitriol.
These truscum articles take me so long to write because for every day that I do a deep-dive into the subculture, it takes me twice as long to mentally recover. I don’t feel good about myself when I look at that kind of hatred.
But ultimately, I wanted to do another look at this because this most recent situation with Kalvin is yet more proof that he shouldn’t be doing this. He maintains that being transgender is “the worst thing ever to happen to me”, that isn’t a healthy mindset for someone to be in when one’s audience has entered the hundreds of thousands.
Is his personal experience valid? Of course. Undeniably, just as everyone’s is. And, yes, I see the bitter irony in saying that as Kalvin’s most popular content is jeering at “trendy” transgender kids. I see the irony in that as he shares transgender peoples’ photos for his followers to mock and laugh at, just because they don’t agree with him.
You are allowed to hate yourself, but you have never had the right to turn that hatred outwards onto other transgender people.
With as large as an audience as he has, he has a responsibility, one that I genuinely can’t tell if he realizes he has or not. His journey is valid, but others’ are not. He hates it when people make fun of him, but commenting on other transgender people is a good chunk of his monetized content.
My empathy can only go so far; while I understand his self hatred that comes with internalized transphobia, every other thing he does is so angry and hateful that sympathy dies before it ever gets in the door. I can’t sympathize with a man who is building a career on hatred, who directly profits from 20 minute “look how stupid this gender non-conforming person is” videos. He can’t continue to quote tweet transgender people he disagrees with and then deny he intended any form of harassment; he can’t have it both ways. When your audience is that large, you can’t have both.
Kalvin won’t change because change would imply his own wrongness. If he admits to making a mistake, it’s admitting that he did something wrong. The only instance I’ve been able to find of Kalvin making an actual apology was after enough people got on his case about calling someone the r-slur. Outside of that, it comes off that he stands by everything else he’s said: he stands by debating with transphobes, he stands by ‘mistakenly’ misgendering transgender people in his videos, he stands by his constant ‘rightness’.
I can only hope that as he gets older, he grows out of the vitriol. I hope he realizes his audience is made up of impressionable transgender children and cisgender people looking for their token, and that he needs to change something. He cannot continue to turn a blind eye to his fans who misgender and harass those he deems unworthy of basic human decency. When hate is being spread in your name, you need to make an actual effort to decry that; and when your entire brand is built off of hate, you cannot feign ignorance or surprise.
Remember that TERFs have no facts behind them, and that transness is not and should not be defined by how much we suffer. Transgender people are capable of being happy and being proud of their transness. I hope that some day this guy wakes up and realizes it.
Further notes and updates, February 2021
Well, here’s an update I’d never thought I’d make.
Over the past year and a half, I have not kept close tabs on Kalvin Garrah. I’m aware that this article is one of the first things that comes up upon Googling his name, which is terrifying, but otherwise the man has not made waves that have reached me until now.
Two weeks ago, Kalvin Garrah uploaded what is- for now- his final YouTube video. It’s nearly an hour long, and I won’t lie and say that I watched every second of it. I watched around two minutes towards the end of the video, and even there, not a whole lot has changed since I wrote this piece in 2019. He places the blame for “witch hunting” on his audience. He insists that he’s “never been about sending hatred” to the people he’s targeted. He’s clearly not ready to shoulder all of the blame that he should, but he’s… getting there?
I don’t know the specific events that led us here, but, frankly, I don’t really care. My only hope is that anyone and everyone involved gets the chance to heal and move on, and that includes Kalvin. I still stand by the idea that he needs to step away from the Internet and from the audience he’s amassed and I’m glad that he’s actually doing that for however long. Maybe now is when he finally outgrows the battleground of identity politics on the Internet. Maybe now is when the general discourse can move onto something else, anything else besides what quantifies a “real” trans person.
Whatever Kalvin Garrah goes on to do, I hope that the legacy he’s created for himself has a short shelf life. I hope that he does something better with his life than just sitting in front of a camera and spewing hatred. I hope that he gets the normal, cis-passing life he’s always wanted. I hope whatever he becomes is better.