Excluded, and STILL not shutting up

We learn a lot of lessons, throughout our lives. Some lessons are helpful, some harmful. Some of both are useful. Many times, the lessons we pack up in our childhoods, and carry out into the world as we seek our fortunes, are entirely busted, damaging internal monologues. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to be able to see those destructive and limiting things for what they are, through some epiphany or slowly dawning awareness. Some of them, we may not ever recognize, or if we do, we may not have the power to do away with them.

And some of them we identify, battle, and in the best cases, overcome, with lots of introspection, conversation, research, and hard, often thankless, usually emotionally exhausting work.

I learned very early in life that things were my responsibility. All the things. If they went wrong, it was bound to be my fault, somehow. If someone was angry, I had done something to either cause or contribute to it. If I was part of a conflict, it was my job to apologize and make amends and do whatever it took to stop the contention, even if that meant admitting to being wrong when I wasn’t. It was my job to make peace.

Logically, I’ve known, for some time, that such is not the case. Apparently, the little gremlins in my head, the ones who were born to remind me how it was all my fault, didn’t get the memo. They like to point to every piece of anything that exists anywhere, and try to twist it, if necessary, to put me back in my place. That place where I placate. Where I give in to whatever everyone else wants, regardless of how I feel or what I believe, to make peace. To keep everyone liking me, and not be alone, and make as many people as possible happy, no matter what happens to me, in the process.

The last year has been a whirlwind I never could have imagined. The last six months has been a whirlwind encapsulated in a raging forest fire. It has swept away almost all of the life I knew, bit by bit, and every new piece that blew away was another devastating kick in the gut. Another chance for the gremlins to rear their nasty little heads. Every e-mail or criticism or discarded friendship (no matter which party did the discarding) was another week, another month, another three months, of picking apart everything I’d said, everything I’d written, everything I’d done, trying to find evidence to support the gremlins. Trying hard. I wanted it to be my fault. That? It’s easy. I know how to handle it. I know how to address the things I screwed up, even when I really didn’t. I have had loads of practice making peace.

About a month ago, the latest big blow fell. I just didn’t realize it, at the time. I simply thought this particular friend, who has always had a tendency to be sort of unresponsive to phone communication, was doing her usual thing. It turns out, my relationship choices with other people led her to decide that she wanted nothing else to do with me (…and, no, to you straw-grasping simpletons, this is not the ‘same thing,’ but I will get to that bit, soon enough.). I only discovered this about a week or so ago, and have been spending a large portion of the intervening time, once again, revisiting every thing I’ve ever written about consent, about safe spaces, about enabling and apologists and rape culture and victim blaming and every other piece of this thing I’ve felt moved to put down in words. I re-read all of the various Fet-mail threads with the people I once considered chosen family and close friends. I replayed telephone conversations in my head. I tried very hard to find the place where I had gone wrong.

Was my tone sometimes harsh? Um… have you met me? Snark and sarcasm, dry humor and somewhat sharp tones are a part of nearly everything I write. Don’t believe me? Here are a few quotes from some of my attempts at erotica:

  • “It’s Sunday, one of the agreed-upon days, so I left the fluffy pup sound asleep in his open crate, whimpering slightly, obviously dreaming doggie dreams of squirrels and hot St. Bernard girls.”
  • “True story. Names have been omitted to protect the….well, shit. Never mind. i just left out the names, that’s all.”
  • “The masochist in me, however, wanted no part of that whiny little loser twat.”
  • “A random thought… When did He manage to pull that out? …flitted across my mind, as his cock slammed into my throat…
  • ‘What are you enjoying? What is it that has you so soaking wet? Hmmm?’

Inwardly, I groaned. He was going to make me talk. I didn’t want to talk, dammit, and it hurt to make words. It hurt my brain to try to think of the right words to string together to make him understand the part of me that was actually angry with him for being so tender, after building me up to the brutality for which I hungered in spite of myself. I wanted to be eloquently gutter-mouthed. I wanted my words to spur him on to hurt me even more.
‘The pain, Sir,’ I croaked. Derp.

And all of ↑that↑? Was when I was trying to be sexy. O.o

I snark. It’s simply what I do. I do it when I write, when I speak… hell, I am pretty sure that I do it in my dreams. Furthermore, it really is not anyone else’s place to tell me that my tone, speaking as a victim and survivor and advocate for other victims and survivors, is inappropriate. If you don’t like it, you absolutely do not have to read it. You can go away, and I promise the internet won’t die, nor the rotation of the globe come screeching to a halt. Cross my heart. You aren’t the arbiter of appropriate tones. Nobody died and/or appointed you the polite police. You simply don’t get to tell me which tone is most appropriate for conveying what I want to convey, nor that what I was trying to convey is something other than specifically what I say it is. You don’t get to outlaw or define either my intent or my tone.

Was my content harsh? You betcha. I’m not talking about puppies and rainbows. I’m talking about harsh, gritty reality. Not just reality, but the nasty, slimy underbelly that so many don’t want to see. We don’t often want to know that the monster under the bed is our own complacence or complicity or entitlement. You don’t bring those things to the light of day with auto-generated Chopra platitudes. These things aren’t meant to be a soft, gentle caress. They’re a slap in the face. A wake-up call. The acrid odor of smelling salts. Nobody is under any obligation to make that pretty or comfortable for you, nor to care if you take offense. It isn’t pretty, and it’s too damned comfortable for too many people, already. Making enough people uncomfortable enough to create a cultural shift is kind of the point.

Did I make some very polarizing statements, lay out some black-and-white choices, and give ultimatums? Yep. There aren’t very many things in life that are absolutes, black and white, right and wrong. Rape, abuse, assault, and other consent violations are wrong, mmmkay? Doesn’t matter what you meant to do. If you unintentionally violated someone’s consent, then you fucked up. Either you own it, and do your best to alleviate whatever harm was done, or you’re an egotistical ass, and I give precisely zero fucks for your reputation, in light of your total lack of empathy or accountability. You run a venue without a clear-cut and accessible consent policy? Ass. No fucks given. You tell victims and survivors that it’s no big deal if they got violated, as long as they don’t kick up a fuss, because, after all, we’re all adults, here? Ass. No fucks. You value the hypothetical reputations of a very, very few, over the safety and personal agency and physical autonomy of the many? You preach “personal responsibility” to real and suffering victims of other people’s predatory or otherwise shitty behavior, but blame all the cray-cray bitches for the supposed plague of hypothetical “false accusations?” Asshole. The only fuck you get is off.

I will not apologize for that. Not one damned bit of it. I’m NOT sorry.

See, in going back through all of what I had to say, I saw this evolution. The first time out, the one that pissed off so many people because ultimatums? I was making a very real effort to be nice. I read through the comments thread twice. Unless someone was an absolute asshat, I was even placatory. Trying to keep the peace, even with people whose views and ‘contributions’ made me feel dirty and like I might throw up a little in my mouth. Bending over backwards to assure everyone that even if they disagreed with something that is, to me, a very clear-cut instance of right/wrong, I’d still pet their precious egos, and allow them in my life.

Going back much, much further? I found a pretty long string of that, much of it with some of the very people participating in that thread. Two of them made up what I once, as a relative newbie, considered one of the local ‘power-couples,’ who were role models, leaders, or what-have-you. They were the first ones to whom I ever voiced a concern about the way we brushed things under the rug, something like seven or eight years ago. I swallowed the don’t-stir-the-pot thing like a bitter pill, even then, but I kept my mouth shut. They weren’t just enablers. They were actively silencing anyone who would even attempt to speak up about something that was obviously and heinously broken.

And there I was, trying to reassure them that I would maintain friendships, even though they were, from positions of influence, preaching a code of silence that I found ethically abhorrent. Sure. We were friends. I helped them out, sometimes. They helped me out, sometimes. I was grateful when they helped, and vice versa. I mourned the loss of the friendships pretty hard. But I got rid of that nasty taste that my association with their pandering, condescending, silencing bullshit left in my mouth. I could live with myself. I may have all the love in the world for someone, but I’ve reached a point where no association is worth feeling like a hypocrite. Feeling like I am being untrue to myself.

There was another, one who took umbrage to my tone, to my ultimatums, and how the butthurt burned! Funny thing. On a thread discussing a different, but also completely horrid type of oppression, this very same person was asked who they were, to say that people were either “with them or against them.” And they replied with something along the lines of, It’s either yes or no. There is no third option. Hmmm. Sounds suspiciously familiar, but I guess that only applies whenyou are the one who is being harmed by the status quo. Fuck everybody else, AMIRITE?

I guess I missed the day when the arbiters of all things right and wrong waved their sparkly magic wands and deemed some people more worthy of being free of oppression than others. Oops. I’ll dock my assistant’s pay for that scheduling snafu.

Anyway, I was trying to get my point across in as palatable a fashion as possible, without sacrificing either my friendships or my conscience.

I was lambasted. Called a bully, of all things. Because we all know that the people with less power are always the bullies. I lost several friends. The smarmers came oozing out of the fake stone walls of their dungeons to talk about “polite discourse,” and how many sides there are to every story, like it’s a math word problem in some old textbook.

If rapist A leaves the party at 1:45 a.m., travelling East, and rapist B leaves the party at 3:10 a.m., travelling Northwest, how many people can screech about personal responsibility to the victim, before both rapists are safely tucked into their beds?

The Mutt and Jeff of straw men, LYNCH MOBS! and WITCH HUNTS! were trotted out. Little life-tip? If you use those comparisons to represent anything less than actual, heinous tortures and murders and societal approbation of horrific injustices? You’re a twunt, with no concept of nuance or discernment, and should probably step away from the internet, posthaste and permanently. Your point of view is morally indefensible, and your comparisons are absurd.

On we go, and my Owner and Lover, -Bishop-, posted his position. He didn’t fuck around with the niceties. He was pretty clearly stating that he chose not to be friends with anyone who would choose to be friends with a known abuser – in this case, the man who abused me. I was pretty astonished at some of the sources of the pushback. It wasn’t because they disagreed with his ethical stance, so much as it was them being personally affronted by being asked to take a public stand. There was a fuckton of “You can’t make me and I’m taking my toys and going home!” Loads more accusations of bullying, witch hunts, and lynch mobs.

Here’s the explanation I promised, earlier. No. My former friend choosing to turn her back on me, because of other friendships I had ended, is not the same as what Bishop and I did. Why? Because I didn’t abuse anyone. I didn’t rape anyone. I didn’t violate anyone’s hard limits. I didn’t assault anyone. Everyone has the right to choose with whom they wish to associate. You don’t want to be my friend, that’s fine. But don’t try to act like you’re on some moral high ground. If our friendship ended over my stance on consent, that’s not a place you occupy.

I get it. In many of our communities, popularity is the only currency you have. It’s much more dependent on being agreeable, kissing the right asses, knowing how to schmooze, and skill with a flogger or rope or needles than it is on having principles or ethics. And the price for popularity is not ever letting pesky little things like integrity or empathy get in the way of everyone else’s good time. It is a really clear message, and there are few of us who don’t hear it.

Be “nice.” Be “respectful.” Be “polite.” Go along to get along. Don’t stir the pot. No “drama!” Work together!

Popularity isn’t worth it, if the price is pandering to those who silence and shame victims. I spent almost nine years capitulating to that bullshit. I was a coward, then. So are all of the people still currently sacrificing their integrity on the altar of popularity. And those who are spreading the pressure to “be nice,” to “work together,” even with people whose ideas are directly contributing to the problem,are far worse than cowards. They’re bullies.

This thing to which I’ve devoted so much of my time and energy wasn’t about me. Not even in the beginning. It has always been about addressing a problem that is rampant in many, if not most, of our communities. It began as me trying to address the issues in the community I used to call my home. The person who abused me, as well as several other known predators, were still operating there with impunity. My own personal sociopath has flown south. On that level, it worked. But there are still far too many predators making that community their hunting ground. There are still far too many people to whom others look as leaders, who are perpetuating the busted silencing and shaming culture that allows them to get away with it.

By and large, it has been made pretty clear that I’m not a part of that community, anymore. That was a very hard thing, for me. I had invested an awful lot in it, over the last decade, and really loved a lot of the people with whom I no longer associate. But that wasn’t my fault, and I’m done trying to find a way to make it be my fault, so that I can fix it. Yes, I did what I did with intent. I chose to fight this battle. I didn’t have any clue that the other side would be so viciously defensive of something so obviously fucked up. I don’t regret anything I’ve done, and would do it again, in a heartbeat. It was, and remains, the right thing.

As much as I’d like to say I don’t give a damn about them, I still do. I still care about that community, and I still want to see them fix the missing stairs. Whether or not they ever decide to do so, though, I intend to keep doing what I’m doing.

BECAUSE I still care, and they’re still getting it WRONG. The way they’ve ostracized me is simply one example of how. Because what I’ve been doing ishaving an impact, and not just locally. Because this is a change that needs to happen, in ALL the kinky communities where it hasn’t, already.

And no. I won’t be “polite” about it. I won’t try to “get along” with the folks who are, even in the discussions that start as a way to encourage the changes, perpetuating the status quo. It isn’t my job to “convince” the stalwartly wrong and the terminally obtuse of a damned thing. But all of that is material for the next post, and this one’s long enough.

Shoes

I was raised in a pretty oppressive environment. Racism was the norm, homophobia was expected, and sexism was just the way things were. My church had a biblical justification for racism. Every romantic couple to whom I was exposed was male-dominated, and not in a fun, consensual way. More like the barefoot-and-pregnant, wimminz belong in the kitchen kind of way. Sex-negative just doesn’t seem to cover the shamefulness of any sexuality related thoughts, discussions, ideas, or actions. Even non-sexual bodily functions were taboo. “Fart” was a bad word on par with any profanity bleeped out by network TV censors.

Some of this stuff stopped making sense to me when I was pretty young. Some of it took a little longer for me to question. Eventually, I got the hell out of that place, and away from the people who raised me in it.

But it wasn’t all that, all the time. There was a great deal of backwoods Appalachian compassion and empathy in my upbringing, especially from my grandmother.

I remember these ham-handed fables she made up, and told us as truth. She’d catch my cousin making fun of the fat girl, and tell a story about her uncle, who did the same thing, bullying and ridiculing a fat girl, then, later in life, became so very fat he couldn’t get up from his chair, and had to deal with all his kids making fun of him, too. Or she’d hear one of us kids talking about somebody with acne, and tell a story about her neighbor, who bullied a little girl with acne, who then got a horrific skin condition that caused him to erupt in boils all over his body, and little kids would run screaming from him on the street.

Morbid, and kind of obvious, I know. But there was always a little lecture tacked on to the end. It varied in the details, but one line was always present.

Don’t judge somebody until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

Now, on the surface, that was a good lesson to teach a bunch of little kids. Well, except for the part where the racism and sexism and homophobia and religious intolerance ran rampant throughout our daily lives, and even in her own speech. And, of course, I made those other connections, as I got older.

The line still applies, though, and to a lot of things that she never would have considered in her clumsy fables.

I don’t have any experience that would lead me to truly understand what it is to be black, or any race other than white. I was born with white ‘shoes,’ and had no choice in that. If I had been given the choice, though, with what little academic kinds of knowledge I do possess, I probably would have chosen them, too. They would have given me better traction.

I was designated female at birth. I have always felt like a girl or woman. I’ve never identified as a boy or a man. So, I don’t have any concrete experience with what it’s like to be trans, or to identify somewhere off the generally socially acceptable gender binary. Again, just going on what little knowledge I’ve managed to glean from reading things, I probably would have chosen to exist solidly on one end of the binary scale, had I been given the choice. Because those shoes are less likely to pinch.

I figured out I was bisexual when I was in my teens. I kind of knew it, before, but didn’t have a label for it, so I just thought I was weird, unnatural, and wrong. My experiences with that have been pretty rough. I’ve been treated in shitty ways, since coming to and identifying with that label, by both the heteronormative society in which I was raised, and by many of the people in the gay communities I first looked to for a sense of acceptance, for belonging. I’ve been told to make up my damned mind, already. I’ve been labelled as something I wasn’t, just because the people around me believed it had to be either-or. Either I was gay, or I was straight… and neither ‘team’ wanted me on theirs, so the straight people called me a dyke, and the gay people called me a confused straight girl.

If I had been given a choice, with the things I now know, I probably would have chosen some straighter shoes. They would undoubtedly have been less likely to trip me, and would have matched up with each other better.

I was born a woman. My gender has been used as a tool to keep me ‘in my place’ my whole life. There are so many pieces and bits and ingredients and backdrops and bad actors involved in that, it would take me about a bajillion hours to write about all of them. Even then, I’d probably miss at least a few, because there’s an awful lot of it that I’ve internalized. Digging all of that shit out takes time, and work, and loads of conflict, both internal and external, and I think it’s probably the work of a lifetime or three.

Knowing what I know now, had I been given the choice, I probably would have chosen man-shoes. Walking in them would have been undeniably easier, and probably safer for my toes. Not to mention the rest of my anatomy, both physical and emotional.

Now, none of this is to say that there aren’t shitty things about being white or existing on the gender binary or being a man or being straight. There are shitty things about each of those things. There’s almost always a mix of pros and cons to anything. Nor have I covered all the possible permutations, here. I’ve talked mostly about tennis shoes and flip-flops, boots and high heels. There are other kinds of shoes out there, and I haven’t worn them all.

But I recognize that. I understand that, no matter how hard I try to empathize, or how similar some bits of my experience are to the experiences of others, I do notknow what it’s like to walk a mile in all the different kinds of shoes. For instance, I’ve never walked a mile in Birkenstocks. So, when somebody who wears Birkenstocks tries to tell me about their experience, I tend to value what they describe, over whatever preconceived notions I have about wearing Birkenstocks. I’ve seen people wear them. I have friends who wear them. I may even be related to someone who wears them. I’ve read about them, and seen pictures and done research, but I. HAVEN’T. WORN. THEM.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m automatically a bad person, just because I haven’t had to wear a specific pair of shoes. It just means that some of the shoes I’ve been given to wear, in my life, probably come with a lot more in the way of benefits than some shoes, and with a lot more disadvantages than others.

Those benefits? That’s privilege. The disadvantages? Those are oppression. Most of us have some combination of experiences with both sides, but neither one cancels out the other, nor does it make us more qualified to judge the oppression involved in wearing shoes we weren’t forced to wear.

I’m white. Being white comes with inherent privilege. I’m female. That comes with inherent oppression. But I don’t get to say to a black man, “Hey, that’s not so bad! You may be black, but you’re a dude! Your oppression is nothing compared to mine, as a woman.”

Why not? Because I don’t know that, and that’s fucking douchey. This isn’t the oppression Olympics.

I’ve lived either right at, or well below the poverty line for most of my life, and I’m disabled. I don’t get to tell a transperson that the oppression they experience is something I totally understand, since I’m poor and disabled. They’re different things, complete with a different set of obstacles and concerns.

Why not? Because it’s douchey. Intimate knowledge of some types of oppression doesn’t automatically make me an authority on all types of oppression.

There are many different types of privilege. It’s not inherently douchey to have privilege. What is inherently douchey is to tell someone who doesn’t share that particular type of privilege that their experience doesn’t count, or that it isn’t real, or that they’re being irrational or stupid or attention-whoring or just stirring up drama, just because I don’t have personal experiences that make my worldview gel with theirs. I haven’t walked in those shoes, and I don’t really get to make that determination. What’s douchey is taking the struggles of those who wear different shoes than mine, and claiming them as my own, without ever having been forced to feel what those shoes are like, when walking.

Of course, those aren’t the only bits of douchery that goes on around privilege.

Most people who have been oppressed (protip: that’s the vast majority of us, on one issue or another), get understandably touchy around the subject. Especially when facing off about that subject, with people who haven’t worn those shoes. Even more especially when those with the privilege trot out some worn out old lines that are often used by the privileged to hold onto that privilege, at the expense of the oppressed group.

Those folks wearing the less comfortable shoes will often build up a bit of a hair-trigger response to the clichés. Which is also understandable. Being stuck in shitty shoes is not conducive to never-ending patience with people whose privilege helped to put you in them, or to keep you there. It doesn’t tend to give you any motivation to indulge their ignorance, when they behave as though their lack of experience in that type of oppression somehow negates your own lived experiences of that oppression.

Some people use privilege as an insult. They hurl it at their opponents as if the opponent should apologize for having the privilege, which isn’t really the point. Most of us can no more help having privilege than we can help not having it. Those people, though, really are few and far between. They’re not representative, ever, of an entire oppressed class, or of the people fighting against oppression. They’re the exception, not the rule.

And this kind of brings us full circle, because there are folks who have privilege who believe that anyone trying to point out their privilege, anyone trying to get them to see that they don’t know what it’s like to wear these uncomfortable fucking shoes, are in that last tiny group. The vast majority of the time, they’re not, and it’s really douchey to treat them as if they are.

See, it isn’t about being a bad person, because you happened to get better shoes. It isn’t about hating the people who have better shoes than yours. It isn’t even about wanting to take away those much nicer shoes, or forcing the people wearing the better shoes to wear our uncomfortable fucking shoes, instead.

It’s simply about recognizing that the shoes are different, as are the experiences of the people wearing them. It’s about wanting everybody to have shoes that are as close to equally comfortable as possible. It’s about each of us accepting that the shoes we wear don’t really give us the right to be cruel or dismissive to those whose shoes aren’t as nice as ours, or to pretend that the very different shoes we wear give us a real understanding of what it is to wear someone else’s. It’s about pointing out the blisters our shoes are giving us, and figuring out how to make that stop. It’s not about villainizing the folks who aren’t getting the blisters, but about asking them to see the blisters, and maybe to help us get shoes that don’t do that.

And when your response to that, as a privileged person, is to screech about how you’ve never done a mean thing to anyone, and you didn’t make the shoes, and your feelings are hurt because NONE OF THIS IS MY FAULT STOP MAKING ME EXAMINE MY OWN INSECURITIES, then you really do need to step back and examine why you’re being so defensive about something no one is saying. You need to look to your feet, and look to the feet of the folks with the less comfortable shoes, and really ask yourself, would you be willing to exchange yours for theirs? Would you be willing, for the rest of your life, to be treated the way our culture treats queer people, if you’re straight? Would you be willing to be treated the way our culture treats transgender people, if you’re cisgender? Would you be willing to be treated the way our culture treats POC, if you’re white?

Of course you wouldn’t. You would never willingly give up the shoes you’re wearing to spend the rest of your life in those shoes. Because, whether you want to admit it or not, you know that your shoes are more comfortable, and come with more perks, and that the others are less comfortable, and come with more problems. You know, and you feel guilty about it. Which is not helpful. Guilt is a waste of time and energy and emotion. I doubt any oppressed person gives two shits about the guilt of the privileged. It’s useless.

What we do want is simple recognition that being in these shoes is shitty and unfair. What we do want is for those of you who have an easier time walking, because of the shoes you were lucky enough to be born into, to stand and walk and fight by our side, until we can all have more equitable footwear. Until we can all walk without living in so much pain and struggle.

It’s really just that simple.