The Personal and The Political

People heavily into feminism have probably all heard “The personal is political” and I always took this as a statement of fact, not a goal.

I think one of the most disillusioning things I’ve experienced was realizing that this is, for some, a goal too, rather than something we accept is true and are trying to dismantle.

In my ideal world, the personal is not political, not in the same ways.

In my ideal world, who I fuck is not a radical act. My gender is not a radical act. Existing in the world is not a radical act.

In my ideal world we can actually “just be human” in more ways. Cultures and subcultures exist, and in my ideal world we’re all safe to engage in them, and celebrate them. But they aren’t radical. Because there isn’t a reason to be radical, because we are all safe.

I get very distressed by demands to disclose all identities upfront in activist spaces so we can rank who is allowed to speak and how much and what people are safe and most dangerously what specific individual experiences everyone has had.

First of all, if it’s a generalized activism or just social justice awareness friendly space, that means inherently there will be people in oppressor classes in that space, and you are demanding I tell them I’m there.

You’re also demanding I know what I am, how to categorize myself.

There are some things I’m fine with disclosing, like being white passing — though I’m not going to say “what else I am” in a group with white people. Maybe that’s a privilege? To be ambiguous? Being white-read is a privilege but beyond that, I don’t know, I completely don’t know.

Other things like disability, and my assigned gender at birth, and how much money I have — that isn’t safe.

I know I personally disclose these things all the time, on my own terms, like on this blog and others.

But demanding this is….enforcing the personal being political. From people supposedly working against that.

It’s asking people, especially online, where people are capable of avoiding judgment and oppression based on people’s glances (no one forces a profile picture that is of your face on most websites), to make themselves vulnerable because you don’t trust people to monitor how much space they take up, because you don’t trust people to know what topics they are not qualified to speak on, because you want to make sure there is a hierarchy and you can for once be on top of it.

Fuck that, honestly. I understand it, but the times I’ve seen it don’t seem to be accomplishing much, because the people who feel most comfortable disclosing all of that are probably not the ones who need to feel safe the most. And maybe others who are very, very marginalized but not controlling the group are used to being painted one way or another and at least here there’s an illusion the painting with a broad brush will be safe, or maybe they’re used to being commanded to do things and do so out of compulsion.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong and it is safer, and it’s just the people like me in middle spaces who don’t like this, who aren’t wanting to take the risk it’s safe, who aren’t sure if this is for the best, or if we’re just privileged and uncomfortable. Or if it’s both. If it’s fucked up but I notice because of privilege? I don’t know.

I’m in a lot of middle-spaces. Misgendering doesn’t make me want to die. I’m white passing. I’m sometimes invisibly disabled, sometimes not. I’m queer and I have a lot of baggage around that and “passing” is a thing that is so confusing it makes my head spin around it.

Middle spaces make this kind of thing confusing at the least, because if you rank people by most or least privileged, always going to end up somewhere in the center so it feels unnecessary and a way for both groups to find however they can to gain small power or abuse the power society has given them. But it’s also made me aware that even people who exist in binary identities don’t have monolithic experiences, and so this way of ranking who knows what and has had which experiences doesn’t work.

People who are determined to unlearn toxic societal messages should also be committed to learning when their voice is not necessary. This isn’t a fair thing to be policed. This seems like grabbing power where you can.

I could be wrong. I could always be wrong.

But it bothers me on such a deep level when people insist on creating communities where the personal has to be political RIGHT NOW ALL THE TIME, especially when you are not organizing on or discussing a single issue.

One of my friends said it was unethical to not disclose being AFAB (assigned female at birth) as a non-binary person.

I don’t agree with that. If you’re AFAB and trans women are trying to confide in you and trust you as a transfeminine person, I think it’s unethical not to tell them you’re not transfeminine. If you find yourself speaking publicly on transmisogyny for some reason, I think it’s probably unethical not to make it clear this is not about you.

But just by existing, no I don’t trans people are entitled to know each others’ genitals more than cis people. And I definitely don’t think anyone, especially the cis people in shared spaces, are entitled to know non-binary people’s genitals just because they are public at all or engaging in any activism.

And there’s something about demanding disclosure from people for whom it’s easy that also demands it from those for whom it’s not safe, that is fucked up. “Say what you are” doesn’t just make white people make themselves known, it also forces queer people to out themselves OR risk not lying outing them, forces disabled people to disclose, forces trans people to talk about their genitals, etc. It just doesn’t seem right to me.

I can see the reasons people would want to do this, other than mild power tripping or desperation to be a good ally, the understandable and exhausted reasons, the “I need to know if I’m right that you’re talking out of privilege” or “I want to know if you’re safe to talk about x, y, z” reasons.

But you know what? If you’re not sure, you’re not sure. It’s not fair actually to use identity as a trump card in conversations where the subject matter is murky. There are people who are part of marginalized groups who will say fucked up things about their own group. And activists who don’t agree with each other. You can think someone’s wrong and say why without just skipping to “we must disagree on smaller points because you’re this and I’m that”.

And as far as people being safe, well, no one is safe just because they share your identity in one area, even on those topics. We disagree about things! And one person’s triggers might be the things that make other people in the same group feel safe.

What should people do instead, especially privileged people?

I try not to talk about issues that don’t affect me. I might share other people’s work, but I don’t really write about things that don’t affect me. That makes more sense to me than telling everyone BTW I’M THIS. And more sense than demanding everyone do that.

I’ve absolutely been guilty of telling people they don’t get it because they’re this or that (whether I’m sure about that or not) rather than saying “I am tired of talking about this, I disagree, you sound detached and that makes me uncomfortable so I’m out of here”. I’m trying to do less of that though. And I’m having to realize people “like me” aren’t safe just because they are marginalized like me.

I want community.

I want actual communities, and that’s a whole other 10 essays or more, but I really want communities in more than name, where we try to respect each other’s experiences, try to be less ignorant together, try to monitor how much we talk about things we know nothing about rather than just feeling like most of us should shut up in general (which leaves room not for the most marginalized but those with louder personalities–making space for people involves inviting them to speak, not just shutting up).

I don’t want to be part of communities where we basically scan each others’ identities like computers and decide what to think of each other based on the list of identities and how deprecatingly we list the privileged ones or how angrily but proudly/confidently we proclaim the marginalized ones.

We are all of our identities but we are also “all just people” and for a long time, greatly because of OCD and the communities I chose to engage in, I couldn’t remember if that was true or not anymore. I thought maybe no one less privileged than me could ever really be my friend or trust me, or if I should ever trust people with privilege over me. During that time I wasn’t very social really, and didn’t try to make new friends with people much different from me, because I didn’t want to have to hurt myself to earn friendship or demand someone else do that.

That…isn’t a way of interacting with individuals that’s reasonable.

There are people who get us and people who don’t and people who can learn.

All of this–all the social justice theory, rhetoric, analysis, extrapolation and explanation–it’s all so we have words for the things happening to us, ways to help people understand their own and others’ experiences.

I don’t think it is meant to be something we use to wall ourselves in forever or to excuse abuse.

I don’t think it’s meant to teach us to treat each other like lists of identities as if the identities do more than suggest overlapping experience.

I treasure communities around marginalized identities–I like being around autistic people or non-binary people and having words for that, for example. We can talk about things that have been erased.

But for a long time I got very caught up in wondering if friends less white than me or transfeminine friends could ever really trust me, so I should stay away. I got caught up in wondering if I could ever trust men or cis people so I should stay away.

I have walled in myself and become in some ways more prejudiced, not that people with less privilege than me are lesser or that those with more privilege were more, but that none of them could never love me, so I should not try to build relationships with them.

And did that ruin anyone’s life? No. But it’s not a reasonable way to live. And not a reasonable goal of activism–to try to make sure you know exactly where you stand with people by stating all the categories you exist within.

These identity words are useful for telling our stories–but they are not meant to be tools used to hurt each other even more. They aren’t meant to enforce our identities as political, to force people to make their personal political so we know how to talk to them.

I think that’s all I have to say, and a lot of what I have had to say for months while this blog lay dormant.

Hello followers!

I’ve mostly tried to keep this blog as a portfolio, and so I haven’t linked to my patreon or anything outside the blog, but two things have come up that make it feel necessary to change that:

1. I’m not writing here quite as much anymore but I’m still writing, and I wanted to let followers know that while this blog will stay active and I’ll probably keep posting here, I also have a second blog now that has been more active and includes a broader range of content! That can be found on medium here: https://medium.com/@sjmage

2. I’m very poor. I’ve started to get some serious hope that I can make money writing! My patreon has some donations. Unfortunately making any income at all makes social services less willing to help me (and by help I mean a $200 per month income). I used to kind of assume everyone reading my work also had no money because so many of us are young and marginalized and that often = poor, but I figure I should put it out there that I am  very very poor so if you feel you’ve benefited from my writing and you have some money to spare, I would deeply appreciate more people becoming patrons on patreon: here

Writing is work, and like all art is often overlooked at something worth paying for. But it is, so I thought I would ask you, followers, if you can afford to, to help support my work.

Thank you to everyone who follows me, and in advance to anyone who chooses to become a patron.

You Can Always Stop Being “That Guy”

When people talk about men being awful it never (that I know of) means “and because you identify as a man you are inherently awful”. It means “men are so so so so so often making the same awful choices we just fucking expect it now”.

You can choose every single day to not be That Guy. Even if most guys are That Guy (that guy being a variety of different choices that harm women and others). Even if you used to be That Guy. A lot of the good men I know admit to having been a huge douche when they were younger–you can change.

I get that it’s overwhelming that women don’t trust you, but if you continually choose to unlearn the ways men are taught entitlement, listen to the ways men hurt women and others, and really be aware of those choices, things will change. If you choose to use your influence to get other guys to choose to not hurt us, things will change. There will be more safety and more trust.

I think a lot of men don’t realize that “ughh men” is something they can absolutely change, not by demanding we give them a chance personally, but by not making the collection of choices that goes into us groaning about various men. Enough men stop making those choices, we’ll stop being afraid of them, because the threat will be gone.

Appealing

I read this piece on Medium a moment ago and it gave me a layer of understanding about dating I hadn’t really considered before.

It’s a piece by a writer named Umair Haque about attractiveness. Haque asserts that it’s ineffectual to attempt to be attractive to the greatest number of people, to pursue conventional attractiveness, in order to find love, because people who’d really love you are not going to fall for a fake version of you. That you’d only attract people interested in that image, and that while being yourself attracts fewer people, a greater percentage of those people will be interested in who you really are.

They don’t go into all the reasons people might want to appear as conventionally attractive as possible other than to find love–sometimes it’s emotional armor, sometimes it’s about self esteem, sometimes it’s to avoid violence–sometimes it’s really about survival.

But this definitely gave me some insight about general trends in dating, and about an odd exchange I had this weekend.

On Friday night I was talking to a man on okcupid. He said hello and I replied to him, though I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. Our conversation went back and forth for awhile, exchanging small talk. I let him know I wasn’t really interested in a date, and he apologized for assuming (it wasn’t weird to assume on a dating site, but I appreciated that) but he wanted to continue the conversation.

I didn’t really understand why; in about 20 short messages we hadn’t really stumbled onto anything to really talk about. We didn’t share interests, philosophies, hobbies, or a profession.  We really had nothing in common. It seemed like the proposal to meet in person came after exhausting all attempts to find things to talk about.

 

I realize that most people rely heavily on small talk, but there has to be a point, with someone you are trying to befriend or date, where you really connect, or at least see the edges of future emotional intimacy. And maybe that’s over dinner, because you find someone physically attractive.

But isn’t that the cool thing about online dating? You can get to know someone a bit before assuming you have things in common because you like the shape of their body or their haircut or their clothes or their face?

I didn’t understand why this guy kept asking me questions, digging desperately for something, when it was so clear our interests or desires didn’t overlap at all, when we had yet to find an in to a more complex conversation after so many messages.

Reading the article about attractiveness and dating really helped me understand part of what was happening.

There’s an assumption in our society, sold especially hard to straight men, I think, that the people you find physically attractive are inherently going to be attractive on various other levels and good for you. That you find love by finding someone pretty, taking them out, making small talk, and discovering who they really are after a number of dates. Trial and error, based on beauty standards.

There’s an assumption we should all be the most across-the-board appealing person we can be, and eventually, much later, we can start to show people who we really are.

That seems to me like a very impractical way of dating and making friends. Personally I am pretty low on physical and mental energy, and I don’t really have it to spend on people I don’t click with. I need intimacy in my life, not performance.

I realize for lots of people, expending all the energy it takes to dig through to who various people are under their masks is worth it. But I think that if you can’t even connect on shallow things like TV shows, and you’re not willing to talk about big things so soon, is there a point?

I’d love feedback on this. Let me know if you have made good connections with people who you just thought were pretty and kept trying with, grew attachments over time that initially came across as dead ends, or if you share my experience and don’t see the point.

While I think Haque missed that not everyone shares the same motivations for trying to appear conventionally attractive–I do agree with their overall assertion that it’s a lot more effective to finding people who like you if you don’t try to be someone else (though I know that’s easier said than done).

I also agree with the (I think subsequent) conclusion that it’s ridiculous to assume you can emotionally connect with someone just because you find them physically attractive, especially by a standard set by society.

What do you think?

Choosing Parenthood Doesn’t Make Their Past Harassment Okay

A piece of validation that people might need:

It is totally okay to be completely adamant that you don’t want children and then change your mind. It is fine to be adamant for years and then change your mind.

It’s not suddenly justified that people dismissed you and said “Oh you’ll change your mind when you’re older.”

This is a social norm and it’s understandable that a lot of people can’t get it through their minds that not everyone wants kids, but that doesn’t make it okay. It doesn’t make it okay to pressure you and disrespect your feelings, even if they turn out to have guessed right later.

You’re also not betraying anyone who never decides to have kids. It’s not your fault people are pushy and obnoxious about other people’s choices about children, it’s their fault they choose to act that way.

Changing your mind doesn’t mean that pestering people is reasonable or that all along your purpose in life was to reproduce, either.

They didn’t know you better than you know yourself, they just make the same guess at everyone on the planet, so they are bound to be right eventually–of course some people will change their minds.

Additionally, it’s okay to not be adamant about your feelings about children either way; people aren’t entitled to tell you how your life will turn out just because you are unsure.

It’s easy to feel like you have to be really, really certain you don’t want kids before people will even consider respecting that, but that is not fair, and you are entitled to be unsure.

Whatever you choose to do, however strongly you feel about it, however many times you change your mind, it’s always always only your business (and the business of whoever else you parent with, if you parent), whether or not you have kids.

Validation

When you grow up in an abusive situation, you’re so used to questioning your own feelings and thoughts so constantly, you are really vulnerable and susceptible to what other people tell you.

This is why I write to validate people, because when you have been invalidated over and over constantly, your whole life, you will listen to every bit of invalidation for a good long time, until you learn to trust yourself.

That is incredibly difficult when you are not hearing things that counteract the bullshit.

I have written other things, probably even really invalidating things, and I’m sorry about that part.

What I feel truly fulfilled by though is writing things that validate people struggling to trust their own perceptions.

It’s reasonable to be open to learning new things, to changing your mind, to being wrong. But it’s not reasonable to never be able to trust anything you think or feel unless others validate it. It really sucks to need that. It’s not something to be ashamed of. I feel like I’m starting to climb out of that, of needing that. But I know very much what it’s like, and how it creeps deep into you so it’s still there even sometimes when you think it’s left.

You’re valid, your feelings and thoughts are valid. If something feels deeply wrong, it’s okay to question it. Good to, even. It’s really difficult to know what’s real sometimes, and that too, is not a failing. It just is. It can take time, and consideration to understand what you believe, and it’s okay to take that time–this is something I’m learning and growing more into.

I have a lot of thoughts about this in regards to activism, and for a long time feeling like questioning things internally was the same as being a jerk and rejecting them because they aren’t your experience–and it’s been good to start to learn the difference.

It’s -not- shameful to have a hard time listening to yourself. It’s just difficult. It can change.

We all deserve to take up some space.

I want to do more writing about how people mix up group/society level dynamics and individual level dynamics in activism.

For example, a lot of times people with relative privilege don’t know what to do with “I deserve opportunities and space but others have even less, what do I do?”

Here’s some validation, because that’s really what I care most about writing, and those of us who are feeling this tend to already be stuck in the mindset, either from oppression or abuse or other life things, that we will always already be taking up too much space, and need to hear this.

So here it is:

It’s not wrong to take opportunities that others don’t have. It is wrong to be the person with the power and give opportunities only to people like you. It’s wrong to actively take space others are trying to carve for themselves when you’re already comfortable. It is wrong to not offer space when you are leading a group. But it is not wrong to take up space for yourself.

There.

People aren’t required to give up their survival because other people don’t have the same chances. They are required to use actual power for good.

Not your one-person-sized space. Power. Extra space. It is reasonable, in fact vital, to take up some space. You don’t have to give it to others in an attempt to make things fair–or really, to assuage your guilt. Because really how could that make things fair?

You can take up space. The issue is when you’re given the chance to decide who gets more space and you aren’t fair with it.

The issue is when you literally talk over people or tell them about their own experiences with oppression while they’re trying to talk about it.

The issue is when you see people of certain demographics not trying to take up space in a group or forum or organization and as an organizer, don’t offer it to them.

The issue is not with privileged people (whatever that means–most of us are both privileged and oppressed) taking up one person’s worth of space. Taking up comfortable space.

You can talk about your experiences. You can write about just your experiences. If you generalize, then yeah, you need to note that you can’t really generalize the experiences of one identity to everyone with that identity–but if you’re talking about just you, you can talk about just you. Your voice is important. All of our voices are important. We have different things to say in different ways.

Your art can, and I personally think should, be for you. You aren’t required to turn your personal expression into a statement that doesn’t do anything for your heart because you feel bad that you might be listened to more.

Imagine never taking a job because it inherently means others didn’t get it? That’s kind of what this is. You are totally entitled to survival. Everyone is. You don’t have to be miserable because others are.

I’m not speaking for all activists, of course, and really I never am–but I have heard from a number of people that they don’t feel that they should talk about their trauma or experiences because they are relatively privileged. That their art should be about representation even though that doesn’t fuel them creatively. That they should generally not speak publicly because people like them (in some ways) are heard more overall, because their oppression or trauma is not the worst in the world or compounded by enough other bad experiences.

The issue with “taking up space” is stamping on others’ personal, reasonable space that they are trying to take up, or with having power and doling out survival tokens only to those who have privilege.

You don’t need 15 diverse characters who aren’t like you–your publisher should be hiring writers with different experiences.

If you are that publisher then absolutely this is your job. If you’re a writer, not so much. A white male writer, a white cis woman writer, etc cannot “represent” people with other identities anyway–write about you, and please don’t make fictional worlds where only people like you exist–but yeah, you can write about you as the focus.

If you are an activist and have the chance to advocate for people having more space in a way that doesn’t harm you, go for it. That’s important.

I think we should all be aware of social dynamics in a general sense, be aware of when others aren’t being heard, etc..

But I don’t think that means we need to make ourselves small–because that does not actually make anyone else big enough.

I think what we need to do is as organizers, carve out space for people who might be afraid to speak up and take up reasonable space. Moderate. Do our jobs. Employers need to hire fairly. Publishers need to publish fairly.

People with power need to use it well–people who organize need to make space for people who are afraid to take it.

And being oppressed is not the only reason one might be afraid to take up reasonable space. Abuse causes this too. We say that having a bad life or being abused doesn’t negate privilege and that is true–and it also has to be true in reverse–being privileged does not mean you can’t have been abused or harmed or broken down. It doesn’t mean you can’t need to work to take up reasonable space.

I value discussions about privilege/oppression immensely, I value what those discussions have done to validate people and how it has become a tool to figure out what needs to end.

But it’s not everything that exists in life. People are complex, and our lives are complex. I think that when someone is very, very marginalized they are not obligated to be super invested in the lives of people who exhaust them with privilege–but really no one is required to be invested in anyone else’s life.

I think marginalized people should feel free to not be invested in people who remind them too much of their suffering (as they are often pressured to be), I think we should be free to need a break from interacting with people privileged in some way (sometimes I need a break from dating men or from spending time with new cis people, for example). That’s a personal choice I can understand.

But that doesn’t mean that those relatively privileged people’s lives don’t deserve support and attention from someone. So if you want to say something, say it. You do deserve space and attention–others just do too. And that isn’t your personal responsibility as long as you are not actively talking over someone specific or are in charge of who gets space.

If you have the power to decide who gets heard–then it’s on you to make sure that space and opportunity gets given out equitably.  Absolutely.