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Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Solidarity and Other Dreams

One of the most subtle and painful things about the internet age - perhaps any age - is finding out that someone you admire has acted in a far less-than-admirable way. Reconciling that with continued affection can be tricky. For example, I've heard some mega-questionable things about Amanda Palmer, wife of Neil Gaiman - who has been thoroughly castigated ad nauseam in public and private.

And so it goes for many celebrities and important figures around the general Leftist/leftist/liberal community. You can probably think of someone you like who's done or said something insensitive, ableist, transphobic, racist, homophobic, misogynist, or otherwise disappointing. Someone who didn't take a strong enough stance, or too strong a stance, or said something that made your skin crawl.

Have I been this person? Probably. I try to hunt down and deal with my own mistakes, relying on the trauma-survivor skills of micro-self analysis. I count my sins and errors and mistakes like pre-reformation Scrooge with his money. I do not forget or forgive myself. This is not necessarily a character strength, either, nor something I recommend to others.

And of course, many of us do that with others.

But recently, after ditching a friendship that was bad for me, I went to my "blocked users" list on Facebook and really had a look at this. I remembered most people on it. Some were casually encountered, but some had become friends - who had, at one point or another, said something I really, really didn't like.

And I considered...is it really worth keeping someone blocked if you can't remember the exact nature of their infraction? 

What makes someone unsafe? 


I've seen my share of panicky, touchy arguments on Facebook, including one where an activist I looked up to accused someone else of "gaslighting" them for having a different opinion about interpretations of a Steven Universe character's race. I've been in those arguments, too. (Not that one in particular, but similar situations.)

Part of the problem for those of us on the left is that calls for solidarity usually result in a backlash of people saying, "we have to work with those we don't like? But that means supporting abusers!"

Well - sometimes it doesn't. It's tricky to talk about abuse, because those of us who've survived it in various ways tend to be extremely gun-shy - sometimes excessively or even unhealthily so.

And in the moment, it can be hard to tell if someone's comments about, say, a given woman or actress represent their feelings about All Of Womanity, or anything else.

Do we tolerate mistakes? 


This is such a tricky problem. Obviously, as a white woman - even a queer, plump, neurodivergent, partially disabled one - I have a giant swath of privilege that affects how I'm coming at things. I'm cisgender, and I'm white, and even femme - all things that can, in certain circumstances, give me a free pass that would not be afforded to others. Obviously, kyriarchy - hierarchies and power that exist outside of patriarchy - is a thing that exists. Dealing with it sucks. Some people get forgiven for their screw-ups a lot more readily than others, and the people forgiven are usually white. The people who don't get away with things are usually black, or other people of colour; men also tend to get away with more than women.

BUT - there are also times when we have to question whether conflicts or errors are as important as the general need to fight for our rights. And perhaps we need to be more honest about how dangerous or not-dangerous specific people are.

As one of my found-family siblings, Iskara, put it,

The left are collectivists and the right are individualists. We know this. But you can't use those traits to compete with others who have the same trait, you're pretty equal. So to establish a hierarchy within their respective groups, they use the opposite approach. The left will attack individuals who are below them to prove that they are the wokest. The right will attack entire groups of people who don't have the right values as individuals. Therefore, the right is willing to unite with people it disagrees with because those disagreements are part of the life of an individualist, but collectively they hate this other group more and they have that in common. Meanwhile the left is trying to figure out which single persons belong in or out of the collective which makes us far more likely to attack our allies over trivial matters, because we consider the purity of the person beside us to be a reflection on our own purity.

The hidden rules


The thing is - and trying to put this politely is difficult - white people who are queer tend to engage in this purity-testing a lot more often than others. Black people and people of colour, and those with multiple intersections of disability, are already used to forgiving others a lot or gritting their teeth and bearing things. As members of a visible majority in North America, we feel confident in our ability to reject others and replace them as need be. We're inherently comfortable, a lot of the time, in the belief that someone else will come around and fill the empty seat, because there are just so many white and queer people. This can be less true for transgender people, but the squabbles I've seen online suggest that the sense of white social complacency is still basically applicable. 

This is not to excuse myself. When I was a teenager, and even in my early twenties, it seemed a lot more important to be strict about whom I interacted with, within the left, and how they perceived things. As much as micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions both matter, and as much as both can grind us down - those of us with the emotional resources and privilege to do so need to be aware of our padding. (That's not just a pun on my own weight, but hey! I can't resist a punchline.) 

Forgiveness and calling in 


Since our family expanded to a third person, our housemate and queer-platonic partner Kit, we've had a lot more small discussions about being offended and annoyed. Honestly, instead of making fights or tension worse, it tends to disperse them. Anyone who lives with someone else will be familiar with the struggle of doing dishes, making food, handling laundry, cleaning the house, dealing with work duties, and arranging transportation. But being clear yet tactful about one's feelings can handle conflict far better, and keep it from becoming "a thing."

The same is true of our long-running D&D group and some of my various friend groups. Learning to filter my communication to people, talk to them after the rush of emotions, and avoiding that ever-so-tempting duel of witticisms that is the Facebook philosophical fight, have all been really good for both myself and the people around me.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves - what are we trying to accomplish? If the answer to that is "protection of people's human rights," then the only people really worth kicking out are trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), sex-work exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs), and people who have exhibited a pattern of abuse without repentance.

Everyone else? Well, maybe we need to be honest about our hurt feelings, cool off a bit, and try to talk stuff out in private.

Does that mean we need to forgive abusers? 


Ooof. Even with a counselling degree and many years of sad-violin life experience, I don't know if I'm equipped to answer this one. Apart from saying, "it's a case-by-case basis, but worry about the people who aren't just rude, but really dangerous," I'm not sure what to recommend. 

Maybe we just need to stop sanctifying and demonizing people, and present them - both celebrities and individuals - as complex people with tokens on both the good and bad sides of the scale.

I do think that there are cases where people can reform. I hate to be mealy-mouthed or seem indecisive, but if internal politics were easy to handle, the left wouldn't be falling apart like an improperly-chilled gelatin dessert. 

Ultimately, all I can recommend are emotional self-validation, politeness, patience, and forgiveness with each other. We are stronger together, and since we, in multiple countries, have to fight to maintain our very existence, we need to defend each other's existence.

Maybe this means forgiving someone you're still mad at. Maybe this means going to apologize to someone. But with actual far-right activists, neo-nationalists, anti-choice activists, and violent racists and transphobes in the streets, and more active and internationally validated than ever, we simply can't afford the ephemeral and impossible luxury of complete ideological purity.

Does this mean allying with people we disagree with? Well, as long as they're not advocating for killing us...maybe yes. But again, my tired and beleaguered siblings and family, those of us who are white need to do the work on this. Reach out to others. Offer comfort. Give forgiveness - after you're done being mad. Sleep on things.

Nobody else is going to fight for our lives.

***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime, housemate, and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

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1 comment:

As always, be excellent unto others, and don't be a dick.

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