Let’s take a moment to talk about the “I sexually identify as an attack helicopter” meme, what it says about those who use it, and some useful ways of responding.
For those unfamiliar with the genre, it derives from a 4chan copypasta story satirizing someone coming to grips with their gender identity. A guy dreams he’s a helicopter and announces his friends are “heliophobic” if they don’t call him “Apache” and let him kill people.
Since its arrival in 2014 or so, it’s become a shorthand way of mocking and dismissing any kind of gender or sexual identity conversation. Mention trans issues and DudeBro rolls into your mentions: “Oh yeah? Well I identify as an attack copter!” What’s most interesting is they really seem to think they’ve found the ultimate reductio ad absurdum. “If some dude can decide he’s a lady, I can decide I’m an attack copter, case closed, crack open the lulz!”
Put aside for a moment that these folks are admitting they consider “man” and “woman” to be as different as “human being” and “helicopter.” That they consider “wanting to use a restroom” equivalent to “the desire to murder with impunity.” What’s really going on is that they are blind to or deliberately ignoring how people experience identity and transition. They see the whole thing as simple playacting — and forcing others to play along because “political correctness.”
That distinction is important because no-one who posts that meme actually feels that they are an attack helicopter. They just think it’s hilarious because they can use the magic words that marginalized groups do, and demand people “play along.”
Now, I’m not advocating this, but the simplest, most effective response I have found is simple: Take them seriously. Not in a joking way, not with sarcasm. Rather, I treat them as if their words have real meaning.
“I’m glad you’ve been able to figure that out. Is your family supportive?”
“Has it been difficult at work?”
“Boy, I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with shitty responses.”
“You know, war may be the job you are given, but it doesn’t have to define you.”
I’ve also brought up the problem of cultural appropriation inherent in the use of “Apache” as a shorthand for “Attack helicopter,” given the US military’s history with Native Americans. Identity is complicated.
Now, this can be exhausting and time consuming and I absolutely say that anyone who just wants to block and go on with life when bro posts that shit is totally justified. It is no one’s responsibility to play this game. But I have seen some interesting things come out of it on occasion. Sometimes, the poster (or guy at the bar or whatever) admits he just thought it was funny and didn’t mean it to be so serious. More often, they keep up the “game” until admitting, no, it’s just hilarious anyone would take “that shit” seriously.
“Oh…” I say. “So you haven’t actually dealt with identity issues? You’re just making fun of people who have?”
Very occasionally, the person in question sobers up. In playacting as a person whose gender and sexual identity is dismissed—and being taken seriously long enough to have a conversation about it—they begin thinking about… the struggles of someone whose gender and sexual identity is dismissed. Occasionally, they even have the decency to look a little embarrassed.
Again, I don’t want to suggest that it is some kind of “CHECKMATE, LULZ!” finishing move, or that the “good” response to meme-dickery is spending huge amounts of time trying to coax an epiphany out of an internet shitlord. But for me, it’s helped to move beyond my frustration at the engineered callousness of the meme itself. Rather than arguing about why their claim is “invalid” and “just a dumb joke,” it’s a practiced act of kindness. And that — when I’ve got the patience for it — is something I know I need more of.