Our Own Failings

Butterfly WomanMany of you probably noticed that I failed to post last week, and am really late with today’s post as well. Well, that’s in large part because a lot of things have been happening. Last week, I started therapy for my borderline personality traits (not sure if I’m full on disorder or just borderline for it), as well as massive financial aid difficulties. This week, I started class finally, and it has been a DRAIN on my time. However, things should get settled back down soon and I’ll see about being more prompt in the future. Anyways, on to today’s topic.

I’m racist, sexist, ableist, etc., and so are you. Whoa, don’t go running off or ranting at me just yet. Yes, this is bad and we should feel bad, but I’m not comparing us to the Klan, Neo-Nazi’s, the Gamergate crowd, or any other such “figureheads” of hate. What I’m saying is that I was raised in a society where racism, sexism, etc. are institutionalized and a very fabric of our culture. Like it or not, we’ve been affected by these influences, and we all carry some form of those ideas within us, even if it is just awareness of them. This does not mean that we act on these ideas, merely that they are part of the culture that makes us who we are.

What do I mean? Well, an example from earlier this week in my own life is that at one point, while walking out in public off of campus heading back to my car, I rounded a corner and there was a group of four black men. The concept of the “scary black man” is such a pervasive part of our culture, that coupled with my PTSD nervousness around men and groups of strangers, I started having thoughts of “oh god, what if they come at me?” I chided myself for the racist thought and did not act on it (e.g. crossing the street, pulling out my stungun, etc.), but the thought did occur. We all have these moments, and the trick is to do better than our upbringing, to eventually dwindle such attitudes out of our culture completely. In the meantime, we work toward more immediate, massive changes, such as desegregation in the old days, judicial inequality for sexual and racial minorities, etc.

Now, the fact that we all have this in us leads to problems. People tend to respond negatively towards others who they see as possessing traits that they hate within themselves. One example of how this can play out the homophobic pastor who is secretly meeting up with rent boys. Another way it could play out is the man who is having an affair starts accusing his wife of cheating on him, never trusting her, etc. In activist circles, this leads to conflict among activists whenever someone slips up or is perceived to slip up.

For example, think back a couple months to my post about extremism in feminism. That was written shortly after a bit of a heated argument between myself and Dirty Nerdy (and Cee Lee). In short, DN had made a post on Facebook that raised the question about “male lesbians” or “male identified lesbians” and basically saying they don’t exist. I came across the conversation a bit late, but basically I said that there seems to be some precedence for them, and that we shouldn’t be trying to police identities. There were some replies demanding me to define what it is, I gave some definitions I’d found online or some examples I could think of, such as a person who identifies as a lesbian but is comfortable with male anatomy (I used that specific term), and suddenly everyone on the thread was accusing me of being transmisogynist for equating male to penis.

Thing is, by the very definitions we use, male DOES mean has a penis. Male/female are terms used to refer to sex, anatomy, etc. while man/woman are terms used to denote gender. Remember back when I answered the question about if trans people are intersex or not? I mentioned then that while I am a woman, I still have male anatomy, and there are aspects of my sex that will always be male characteristics. I have both male anatomy (penis, XY chromosome, etc.) and female anatomy (breasts, fat distribution, etc.). This does not change that I am a woman.

This overreaction on the parts of others is the exact kind of thing I am talking about. They saw their own internalized transphobia, saw me say something that was perceived as transphobic or transmisogynist, and attacked me for it. Dirty Nerdy no longer talks to me, having blocked me completely from Facebook and I have had my admin privileges at Secular Shethinkers revoked over this incident. Seeing our own issues with racism, sexism, etc. in other members of the movement can lead to these kinds of heated confrontations, particularly considering how passionate activists tend to be. By letting these arguments result in a falling apart of our activist community (such as with Dirty Nerdy blocking me and removing me completely from any aspect of her life or activism), we damage the movement.

A less personal example can be seen in the glitter bomb attacks of Dan Savage from members of the trans community in response to some of his more transphobic comments, or the ostracizing from the feminist community that Amanda Palmer faced in the wake of her not kicking Jian Ghomeshi from her Toronto show in the wake of the sexual assault charges. I can be critical of someone for having a slip (as I often am of Dan Savage) without the slip completely discrediting everything else they’ve done. We’re just human, and we have our flaws and faults. It’s the quest to do better, to make a better world, that makes us activists.


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