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.


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