I logged into my Twitter account in late September 2020 and saw that the hashtag #BigMike was trending.
Who was Big Mike? Probably a sports thing. Odd that it was trending under “Politics.”
I clicked the hashtag and saw that it had started after far right celebrity James Woods had posted a picture of several past Presidents and First Ladies at Barbara Bush’s funeral.
James Woods was hinting at a conspiracy theory that has been a fixture on QAnon for at least five years now, if not longer.
That conspiracy theory is that First Lady Michelle Obama is a man, or a trans woman.
According to the theory her daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama, are not hers but are “rented” from another couple.
It’s an odd assertion considering that Malia Obama looks like her mother so distinctly. Conspiracy theorists don’t care about evidence, however. Their end goal is using transphobic and racist rumors to bring down powerful women.
BTW, I think we have to stop pretending that Twitter was a progressive heaven before Elon Musk bought the platform. You remember how we were supposed to be sad when all those former Twitter employees filmed themselves dramatically packing up their desks after Elon Musk fired them? Well, these were the same employees who were busy scratching their balls when QAnon ran like wildfire on Twitter and Trump openly plotted an insurrection through his presidential Twitter account.
You couldn’t get a tweet removed for love, money or a million racial slurs back in the 20-teens.
Yeah, forget those guys. Glad they lost their jobs.
Anyway, back to the horrifying racist shitshow that is the QAnon conspiracy theories about Michelle Obama.
The transphobic theory about Michelle Obama first started with late comedienne Joan Rivers. Rivers said during a street interview in 2014 that President Obama was gay and that First Lady Michelle Obama was a “tranny.” It was a terribly racist and transphobic joke. Rivers died a few weeks later while getting surgery and conspiracy theorists immediately drew the conclusion that her death was because she knew the “truth” about Michelle Obama.
Questions about President Barack Obama’s sexuality have been swirling since 2008 when his GOP opponents found it very difficult to dig up any dirt on the clean-cut Obama. The racist stereotype of the hyper-sexualized black man is deeply ingrained in American culture so the fact that a black man could be a faithful husband to his wife was simply unacceptable to white Americans. Where were the “baby-mommas?” Where were the multiple girlfriends and one-night stands and crowds of illegitimate children now living on welfare? George W Bush being a faithful husband and father was taken for granted by white America. Of course a white man can be monogamous and faithful. A black man who was faithful to his wife, however, HAD to be gay.
Obama’s presidency pre-dated QAnon but there were far right outlets for rightwing conspiracy theories. Larry Sinclair, an eccentric fraudster and con man, published a book alleging that he had had a homosexual affair with Barack Obama. Conspiracy blogger Wayne Madsen talked about a huge gay conspiracy where Obama, Rahm Emmanuel and Deval Patrick (among others) frequented Chicago’s gay bathhouses.
Starting in 2018, QAnon arose and did what QAnon does best: it took an obliquely racist conspiracy theory and made it more blatantly racist along with misogynistic. Not only was Barack Obama gay, according to QAnon, but his wife Michelle Obama was a trans woman with a large penis who used to be called Michael Lavaughn Robinson (aka “Big Mike”).
This conspiracy theory was “substantiated” by the Joan Rivers video and photoshopped pictures that made Michelle Obama look taller and larger than she really was. A favorite technique of QAnon photoshoppers was to photoshop Michelle Obama looking taller than Barack Obama, thus emasculating him and humiliating her by implying that tall women were somehow less feminine.
There are even more humiliatingly photoshopped pictures of Michelle Obama where she is shown with wrinkles in her clothes that look like a bulge in the crotch. There are other manipulated photos making fun of the breadth of her shoulders. “THIS is why there are no photos of Michelle Obama pregnant!” Q Twitter often posts.
The “Big Mike” QAnon theory is just the latest iteration of mocking and shaming black women’s bodies in American culture.
Secondary to the QAnon “Big Mike” rumor is another rumor that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is also a trans woman. This rumor started with footage of Ardern walking down a hallway with wrinkles in her dress that made it look like she had a bulge in her crotch. Any woman who has ever worn skirts with hose will recognize that type of wrinkle as something that occurs when static cling builds up between the hose and the inner lining of the dress. This awkward static cling is common when women are walking and it can create weird wrinkles.
It should come as a surprise to no one that this type of weaponized transphobia being aimed at non-trans women is primarily targeting powerful women. Michelle Obama is an enormously influential First Lady. Jacinda Ardern is the Prime Minister of New Zealand and frequent target of the far right after she outlawed automatic weapons following the mass shooting in Christchurch.
It comes as no surprise that far right transphobes are spreading their poison to non-trans women.
I myself am a tall and broad-shouldered woman. I am not trans however I was often cruelly teased by my classmates about possibly being a man while I was in middle school. I would also have my gender questioned as an adult woman when I lived and worked in Asia. I would go out of my way to dress in a very feminine manner (make-up, pencil skirts, hose and heels) to make up for my towering height and large shoulders. Other women had it worse and many of my larger female colleagues simply ignored the stares and the giggles when they walked around in downtown Seoul.
Tall women, large women, muscular women and women who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (which can sometimes involve excess facial hair) can be misgendered. Indeed I could not help noticing under the “Big Mike” hashtag that a lot of women were timidly saying “I’m six feet tall and a lot of people mistake me for a man. But I’m not.” Or “Just because Michelle Obama is tall doesn’t mean she’s trans. I’m tall too and it hurts when people think I’m not a woman.”
Ignoring QAnon’s weaponized misogyny, racism and transphobia against powerful women is a bad tactic. It’s time we started talking about why topics like “Big Mike” can trend so easily on Twitter or why such an insulting theory is even allowed to exist outside of the fringes of the internet.
More importantly we need to talk about the worrying resiliency of misogyny. Now in 2023 we are being hit on all sides. Trans activists on the left smear women as “TERFs” and “unsafe” if women voice even the slightest criticism about AMAB trans people usurping women’s achievements in society. Transphobic voices on the right pretend to protect women but clearly do not give a damn about us as they spread rumors that Michelle Obama is a man and feminists are the reason for teenagers taking puberty blockers.
Damn, women just can’t win. Every Democrat I know has flipped Michelle Obama’s famous phrase: “When they go low, we go high” to “When they go low I go even lower.” It’s hard to remain above it all. And Michelle Obama has acknowledged that in her latest book The Light We Carry: “Going high is a commitment, and not a particularly glamorous one, to keep moving forward. It only works when we do the work.”
It’s very hard work.