(This post originally appeared in longer form at School For Scandal.)
Today I'd like to talk about some shit that I think about a lot, but is hard to discuss in a sane fashion.
I'm talking about the way that people in feminist/queer/other marginalized communities constantly assume the worst of each other, attempt to "educate" each other in ways that are at times petty, condescending and inappropriate, and even verbally ATTACK each other over words and ideas they can't see eye to eye on.
If you participate in these communities, you probably know what I'm talking about.
We all have stuff we're sensitive about. We're all really burnt out and tired of being treated like shit. We all have words and ideas we think are important, and words and ideas we consider egregiously offensive or triggering. That's our individual baggage, and not necessarily a community standard. There a million different ways that we can view an issue as a feminist or queer identified person, these identities are vaguely defined for this exact reason.
So here's my theory. We all have individual baggage, yet we're all supposed to kind of conform to a somewhat standard set of ideas of what it's okay to talk about and how to say it, when these ideas are actually kind of amorphous and wildly subjective. We have a party line, sort of, that we are expected to adhere to, but line that is constantly shifting. Who decides how we are supposed to think, as a community? And what happens when we don't think that way? Reclaimed words are a perfect example of this -- for some people identifying as a dyke, fag, tranny, or slut may be an integral part of their identity. Other people may feel these words are unreclaimable hate speech. So who is right? If my identity offends you, should I change it to make you comfortable? Let's put things in perspective: if my non-conformist identity is offensive mainstream society, should I change it to make the "normals" feel more comfortable? Which is more important at the end of the day -- the need for personal truth, or the need to placate the offended?
Extreme political correctness can feel like moral panic. We rally against policy brutality and totalitarian brainwashing, then find ways to perpetuate it in our own communities. There's suffocating pressure to conform, to be sensitive to everyone's needs when it's not always clear what these needs are. Sometimes it feels like you are walking on eggshells, never good enough, you are always offensive because no matter how hard you try, people are looking for something to feel offended by.
Our communities have become these suffocating little microcosms of oppression and enforced conformity. I am all about fair and reciprocal discussions and education, but this holier than thou privilege-checking, the "oppression Olympics," being told I am offensive when the accuser won't engage me in non-hostile discussion, refusal to view things as nuanced or contextual, or and telling me I am a BAAAAD queer/feminist because I refuse to conform to the party line bullshit has got to stop or I am picking up my toys and going home. I am not interested in you policing my speech/art/thoughts because of your need for reclaim the sense of power and control that you have been systematically denied by the hegemony. I am not cool with you labeling me a bad person as you project your triggers and baggage onto me without making any attempt to SEE ME as a human, your ally and your peer. I promise you that I am on your team, and fighting the same fight, even if we don't see eye to eye on everything. It's okay that you have triggers, we all do, but please OWN YOUR SHIT instead of dumping it on me. If I'm doing something that bothers you, politely explain it, but also give me a chance to say my side. And accept that I may not agree with you, and I may not conform to what you think is right, and that doesn't make me a villain.
So enough ranting, THIS is why I think this bullshit happens:
1. When an individual feels systematically disempowered by society, the need to regain some sense of power and control becomes very strong. If you are denied power in your macrocosm, you may wind up acting out in your microcosm, essentially perpetuating a cycle of abuse.
2. Most of us put up with ignorant, offensive, crazymaking bullshit all day long at our jobs, with our families, from the media, etc. and a lot of the time, it's not safe to talk back even when horrible and legitimately offensive shit happens. So we go to our communities where we CAN safely talk back, and then we take our anger out on our peers, blaming, shaming, and policing them, because they understand our issues in a way mainstream society can't. But wait, what? I get it, we're burnt out, we're scared, we're constantly on guard, we have the PTSD of a million little paper cuts and a few real fucking big knife wounds. We are all scared of being hurt and judged to the point that we start to expect it, and seek it out in places it doesn't exist. But we CANNOT keep alienating our peers and allies this way. Maybe some person has a different perspective than you, or they lack education about why something might be hurtful, or they have their own damn baggage. It doesn't make them wrong, or a bad person. Talk about it like an empowered individual, not a victim.
3. There is no gold standard for what is and isn't okay, because everything is subjective and contextual. Your expectations may not match another person's expectations. So if you tell someone they're not okay based on your personal experiences/baggage about something, you're ignoring their personal context and needs. This is a form of oppression.
4. Not everything can be 100% inclusive and perfect all of the time, that doesn't necessarily mean it's based in hate. (Here's a good example.)
5. Sometimes there's a lack of perfect language, sometimes there's a lack of perfect education, sometimes we can't fucking keep up with what's de rigueur, sometimes we make human errors. So let's not get hostile about it, and let's not assume the worst of people.
I am tired of trying not to offend people, because it's a losing game. Folks, please: stop taking yourself so seriously. Stop trying to be perfect, and stop expecting perfection from others. Be kind. Stand up to real bigotry and the big problems where you see them, and don't waste your time with judgmental nitpicking in your own community. Actually listen to what other people have to say, and understand that your way is not the only way. Love and support the people who are playing on your team, instead of hurting and alienating them by projecting your ideas of how they "should" behave onto their lives and identities. Quit wallowing in pain and anger and negativity and do something that makes you feel good. Do something that makes a positive difference, even if it's something small. Take your power back in a way that doesn't involve judging and oppressing other. Focus on what is good in your life, and recognize that it is privilege to be surrounded by people who understand you and care about you just the way you are. It is a privilege to be able to talk about your life and identity in nuanced, complex and postmodern terms and have other people get it. Be a shining light of growth and hope, be a brave love warrior for yourself, for others, instead of a perpetual pain in the ass.