Yes, All Lives Matter: Now Can You STFU and Talk About Black People for a Second?

It’s common cultural knowledge at this point that “black lives matter” has gone beyond just a hashtag and become a cultural phenomenon, a slogan that people on and off of the net are embracing to encourage the masses to recognize a very specific point of racial inequality.

Black men are being murdered at a startling rate, and even more frightening, it can be at the hands of law enforcement. I’m not talking about hostage-taking gunmen robbing banks and murdering cops, I’m talking about things like what happened to Eric Garner, being unlawfully put in a choke hold while begging for their life. This was ruled a homicide, yet many people feel Garner “had it coming.” They were breaking the law, right? Yes, because suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes warrants murder, amirite?

This is hardly a standalone case. I’m not going to bombard you with links; either you already know what I’m talking about or you can do your own damn research. The point is, simply on merit of being black, people are losing their freedom, losing their lives, sometimes for committing no crime at all.

So people are attempting to open a national discourse, to bring light to these events and get people to understand what unjust tragedies they are. #blacklivesmatter. Right?

Except nearly every time someone uses that hashtag, some white knight rides in announcing that “ALL lives matter.” Well thank you, Captain Obvious. If you hadn’t shared that information I’m sure black people would have banded together to exterminate every other human being on the planet, since our lives don’t matter. Bravo on stopping genocide.

But we all know that shit isn’t the case. #blacklivesmatter =/= #whitelivesdonotmatter. Valuing black lives and valuing non-black lives are not mutually exclusive. What’s being talked about is how black lives are consistently, institutionally, politically, and personally undervalued in a way that specifically white lives are not. It’s calling attention to the inherent racism in the system, not calling for the eradication of everyone who’s not black.

I stand behind the hashtag, and I have people come at me with “all lives matter,” telling me how racist I’m being, how I’m saying white people don’t matter. Newsflash: I am white. My child is white. If you seriously think I’m arguing that our lives don’t matter and someone should come put bullets in our heads, you’re fucking delusional. I’m just acknowledging that the chance of that happening to us is greatly diminished by the fact of our whiteness. If I walked around a white neighborhood at night in a hoodie, donning skittles and tea, a neighborhood watchman wouldn’t deem me a “thug” and murder me in so-called “self-defense.” If my child was playing with what was obviously a toy gun, cops would not point very real guns in their face and risk my child’s life. But this shit happens to black people, purely by nature of being black. And admitting that does nothing to change the fact that I’ve got bucketloads of white privilege.

Others have said it better, but I’ll repeat anyway: Would you burst into a cancer research gala demanding that they acknowledge that “all diseases matter”? Or do you maybe understand that everything has its time and place? It’s time to stop making everything personal, and recognize the cultural trends that are negatively affecting black people. Black lives matter, but society at large doesn’t agree…yet.

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Nonbinary Nomenclature: On Gender and Pronouns

It has taken me years to settle into my identity, but I am now comfortable saying that I am a nonbinary trans person. I have called myself a “nonbinary woman” in the past, because in spite of my personal gender identity, I am perceived as female by most everyone, and that shapes how people treat me. I will always deal with misogyny, regardless of my gender, because I am FAAB (female assigned at birth) and will always be perceived by most as a woman, simply because of my appearance. This perception does not bother me enough to correct everyone, primarily because I do not feel safe doing such a thing. I wish everyone could just know and understand my gender, but that’s not the world we live in. The world we live in is one where trans people are victimized, and that’s something I live in fear of. Taking this step, saying this publicly here, this is huge to me. This is me putting myself on the chopping block and asking everyone to put down the knife.

Still, in spite of a general fear of how strangers may treat me, I am making the effort to use gender-neutral pronouns, not just for myself, but in general. I am tired of misgendering people on an assumption that is as faulty with anyone else as it is with me. I’m tired of calling everyone with breasts “she” and everyone without “he,” as if it’s really that simple. I’m tired of seeing exterior markers of stereotypically gendered characteristics and (egotistically) making the assumption that I can know a person’s gender. I can’t, and I don’t want to make that mistake.

So, everyone is “ze” or “they” to me now. And I ask that others use ze/zir/zirs or they/them/theirs for me (or really any gender-neutral pronouns, I’m not picky). This is going to be difficult to implement, and I apologize in advance for the million times I will fuck this shit up. I might misgender you. I will misgender myself. I will not be able to implement this flawlessly, but that does not mean it should be abandoned. I am going to try my damnedest to make this work, and that includes using these pronouns at work. I am an English educator, and I’m making a huge change to my linguistics; that cannot be done in a vacuum. This is something that will take purposeful implementation, explanation, and discussion, but I trust the maturity of my students, and hope I might even open a few minds with this. Above all, though, I hope I am offering a safety blanket to those who are nonbinary, who are trans and using alternate pronouns, who are binary but assumed the wrong gender. Those marginalized people, they are the ones I am doing this for. Because I want the world to have one less hostile person in it–me.

Posted in challenging privilege, trans/nonbinary rights | Leave a comment

Snippet: Why I Put Stock in Labels

I’ve heard it said several times that hating labels is a luxury of the privileged. Only when you don’t need labels, do you find them superfluous. It’s the stereotype of the white person who doesn’t see race–it’s their privilege that allows them that blindness.

I’m a fan of labels, because it took me so long to find them. When I was young and struggling with my sexuality, I was a complete outsider. There were no out queer people at my school, I was harassed endlessly under the mere assumption of my queerness, and I lived in complete terror. I was threatened with beatings and death, I was sexually assaulted, I was the target of bullying that dwarfed what movies had taught me to expect. Then I stopped hiding. I came out, and I started to embrace myself as a queer person.

Did my actual situation improve? Not really. I was still threatened, I was still bullied, I was still assaulted. But now the label that others had used against me as a weapon had become my shield. They couldn’t point and call me “queer” or “dyke” and expect me to flounder and hide. I just said, “Yeah, what of it?” and they were the ones left speechless. I’d blow the girls kisses and walk on with pride, comfortable with my label, satisfied with my place in the world. I was queer, and that was fabulous.

I think labels can really serve a purpose for people who always found themselves outside the default. I always felt awkward in my attractions until I settled into the label of “queer,” because it opened a whole new community to me. There was this entire world of people living lives like mine, and I had no idea they were there. I reached out to other queer people (online, because as I said, I was the only out person where I lived) and built a community for myself around that identity. It opened doors for me when I thought I was living in a room with no exits.

I’ve found similar communities with other labels, but none so strong as that which I discovered when I became crippled. Again, here’s this slur that people use to dehumanize me, and I’m finding joy in it? It seems so backwards to some people, but it’s a call to arms for those of us who have been ostracized because of our identities. When I call myself a cripple, I am calling upon all of my experiences as a disabled person. I am cloaking myself in that existence, using that ableism against those who’d oppress me with it, and telling the world I am a full and complete human being, even as a cripple.

“Black women wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see Black women. White women wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see women. White men wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see human beings.” — Michelle Haimoff

Now this isn’t to say there aren’t minorities who dislike labels, and it’s always important to respect the individual and not apply a label to them that makes them uncomfortable. But for many of us, labels are an essential part of our humanity. Disrespecting those labels is just another attempt to sweep us under the rug, to ostracize or at best ignore what makes us different. But society doesn’t let us ignore those differences, because we’re punished for them on a near-constant basis. We’re expected to bear the weight of prejudice without ever calling it out for what it is. That’s why labels are important–they allow us to call out inequality, by bringing attention to who is victimized by it.

I like the concept of the ideal world where labels are unnecessary and we all just view each other as human beings. But until minorities no longer have to fear hatred and violence because of our minority statuses, our labels will be necessary. And disrespecting that is an act of privilege.

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Tolerance: How Conservatives Weaponize It, and Why We Should Reject It

I’ve found that increasingly, I’m being told I’m not “tolerant.” It’s pulled out condescendingly by conservatives, with insistence that “tolerance demands tolerance” and that if I want people to be tolerant of me and people like me, I have to be tolerant of them.

Of course, there’s subtext to this. The main thing that skitters under my skin is the idea that I need to be “tolerated” in the first place. I don’t like to whip out the dictionary all the time, but I think it’s warranted here:

tol·er·ate
/ˈtäləˌrāt/
verb

1. allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.

2. accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.

I’d like to address those conservatives now. Let’s tackle these definitions one at a time, shall we?

1. First, you do not allow people to exist. You do not allow them to exist as black, or gay, or disabled, or any other minority you find distasteful. If you think you have the right to “allow” people to exist, congratulations, you’re a Nazi.

Second, note that “without interference” part? That’s the part where all you “tolerant” people fail. You tolerate your gay coworker, but vote against gay marriage. You tolerate your black neighbors, but donate money to Darren Wilson. You tolerate the disabled clerk at the grocery store, but protest that historic buildings should never be “defaced” by retrofitting handicap access. This shit is interference. You are directly interfering with the lives of minorities when you do these things, and a laundry list of other microaggressions. Abled and parking in handicap spots? Interference. Writing angry Facebook statuses about JC Penney for featuring gay parents? Interference. Gossiping about the Mexican family that moved in down the street? Interference. See how this works?

2. Can we start with “endure” here? Because can anyone, in any way, explain to me how “enduring” something doesn’t imply it’s somehow torturous? You don’t endure an entire class of people. You may have to endure individuals, like your boarish mother-in-law or your nosy neighbor, but there is nothing inherently bad about minorities that make us a burden on you. You don’t get to lump minorities together, and based on your stereotypes, call our very existence a harrowing ordeal for you.

But let’s go ahead and run with “acceptance,” since it’s the kinder of the two words. Acceptance is okay, right? Doesn’t everyone want to be accepted? But there’s a problem with acceptance. When we are accepted into the fold, instead of viewed as part of the tapestry to start, we are still othered within that context. Our existence is allowed, but our minority status remains an issue to all the privileged people who see themselves as so benevolent for accepting us. They will continue to hold harmful stereotypes, continue to think of us as fundamentally different kinds of humans. This not only continues to be actively harmful, but also puts minorities in a delicate position of either standing up for ourselves and risking loss of that acceptance or staying silent and accepting that we’re still viewed as lesser humans because of who we are.

And forbearance? Really? It takes restraint for you to tolerate us? Exactly how much restraint are we talking? Like you bite your tongue when you want to call me a “cripple,” or like you have to actively restrain yourself from inflicting physical harm on me for being queer? Because I’m really not okay with anything on that spectrum.

But the absolute key to this entire thing is that part which both definitions have in common: That tolerance is about someone or something disliked, disagreed with, and unpleasant. Just like with the whole “allow” nonsense, you do not get to “disagree” on a minority’s personhood. We are still fully-developed humans, I assure you, and there is nothing about our inherent beings that should beg agreement or disagreement. We simply are, and should be allowed to be. Disliking us for being who we are, finding us unpleasant for our very existence, that’s not accepting, and it’s sure as hell not respectful. But since when have you worried about respecting us?

It’s in this way that people turn “tolerance” into a weapon to use against minorities. Because all those microaggressions, all those stereotypes, we’re told we need to tolerate them, or we’ll be given even less respect. Our human status will be revoked, and you’ll return to outright hating us, instead of resenting us in quieter ways. And that threat comes with real danger to us, so the idea of losing that “tolerance” is actively terrifying for a great many of us.


This cat is tolerant. Be better than this cat.

So no, I don’t want tolerance. To quote Hari Kondabolu, tolerance is a low bar for humanity. And I therefore owe no tolerance to those people enforcing ableist, heteronormative, racist, or otherwise bigoted social norms.

And it’s those norms–those precious, precious norms–that we need to challenge and change. Because that is what minorities need: Complete and utter normalcy. Our minority statuses should not other us, they should simply exist as things we know and recognize but which don’t make our lives more difficult or dangerous.

Now don’t get me wrong, I tolerate lots of harmful things. Mosquitoes. Commercials. Cramps. But I refuse to tolerate bigoted viewpoints that actively other and harm minorities. And I ask for no tolerance in return. Love me or hate me, just fucking respect and normalize me. It’s really not that much to ask.

Posted in challenging privilege, human rights, sj allies | 3 Comments

Train Wrecks: Derailing with the Tone Argument and “Free Speech”


I’ve used it before, but this image is just too perfect.

I had a commenter recently who latched onto my use of the term “derailing” and started throwing it all over the place with little regard to its meaning. I figured that meant it would be a good time to tackle derailing as a subject, and cover my “favorite” (read: least so) derailing tactic.

So, what is derailing? It’s a form of trolling that involves distraction from the original topic. It can take different forms, and can vary a bit from topic to topic. Obvious derailing is obvious: If the subject is misogyny and you launch into a diatribe about how the thing we should all really be worrying about is racism against white people, you’re a derailer (also a racist).

If we’re talking about rates of domestic violence, it’s derailing to start talking about the crimes of female dictators. It doesn’t matter that it’s an attempt to prove “misandry” and therefore disprove theories of patriarchal influence on domestic violence. It’s wildly outside of the subject at hand. Being able to loosely tie something to the general topic of misogyny does not make it on-topic for each individual discussion of elements of the patriarchy.

Derailing can also be a trickier line to follow, where a derailer might think they’re being on-topic, but they are in fact bringing up something completely irrelevant to the conversation. This mainly presents through the basic logical fallacies. If someone is talking specifically about the misogyny that prevents women from pursuing careers in computer science, it would be derailing to start making blanket statements like, “Schools don’t forbid women from taking those classes!” Of course they don’t. No one said they did. What’s being discussed are the social burdens that discourage women from pursuing those goals, the subtleties that keep women out of the profession. It has nothing to do with official edicts, we’re talking about social pressures. Argue that those social pressures don’t exist all you want, at least you’ll be on-topic (though still wrong). It’s a strawman, you’re fabricating an argument to distract from the real topic, and that’s derailing.

So what isn’t derailing? Disagreeing. Asking (or demanding) to bring things back to the topic at hand. Rebutting. Rudeness. Becoming angry, hostile, emotional. And this last one deserves its own little spotlight.

The tone argument is one that comes up a lot in call-outs. It declares that unless the minority is being nice enough, polite enough, gentle enough, an oppressor doesn’t have to listen to them. But validity does not rely on kindness, and it’s disingenuous to expect people to be calm and kind when you’re oppressing them.

This derailing tactic can be particularly insidious, as it may be factually correct, and can therefore pretend relevancy. The minority in question may very well be extremely angry or otherwise emotional, but that’s not pertinent to the discussion at hand. How things are being argued is not the point; what is being argued is. The tone argument places the onus once again on the oppressed person, and blames them for not winning flies with honey. But the fact is, a person who doesn’t want to listen is just not going to listen, regardless of how kind you are. You can be sweet as honeysuckle and people will still say you’re bitter, hostile, and unreasonable. It’s the content of your argument that’s ruffling their feathers, they’re just blaming it on your tone to shirk responsibility.

Everyone takes a different approach to their own oppression. Some people prefer to calmly educate those who offend, and more power to them. Sometimes it even works, sometimes people legitimately listen and adjust their behavior. But the fact is, minorities owe that education to no one. Google exists for a reason, there are literally millions of resources available to people who want to learn why something they said might be bigoted. By demanding an education, and a kind one, they’re saying that their time is more valuable than that of the minority in question. It’s insulting and lazy.

It’s important to realize that bigotry, however unintentional, is an act of violence. That’s why we become volatile in the first place. When you say something misogynistic/racist/ableist/etc., you are attacking minorities. These attacks are something we live with constantly, a never-ending slew of assaults on our very selves. And sometimes, your words will be the straw that breaks our backs. After a lifetime of grinning and bearing it, we’ve finally said “enough.” And maybe that’s uncomfortable for you, because you’re used to us silently tolerating those innumerable offenses with good humor. But your discomfort does not compare to our oppression. You owe us the basic respect of introspection. So when we tell you to stop derailing, what we’re also saying is, “Start examining yourself.”

Often, derailments get defended with the “free speech” fallacy. It’s where people declare that their right to free speech allows them to say whatever they want to say, wherever and whenever they want to say it. This is objectionable on a base level:


Succinct.

If the best defense of your argument is “It’s not illegal for me to say this!” then you’re standing on some pretty shaky ground. No one is infringing upon your rights by telling you that you’re derailing or that your contributions are unwelcome. Believe it or not, you don’t have the right to comment on this entry telling me how wrong I am. You can because I allow you to, but I have the right to not publish your comments. Because this is my private space, and I can control it however I see fit.

Ultimately, derailing is just about believing that your own words always take precedence, regardless of whether or not they’re applicable to the subject at hand. It’s privilege at its finest.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

“That’s How It Happened”: Taking Rape Victims At Their Word

TRIGGER WARNING: This entry is about rape, and I do discuss moderate details about my own rape. Please proceed with caution.

I had an interaction with a commenter on here recently that was so triggering for me, I deleted the thread. It was on my post about sex-positive feminism. And look, there’s plenty to criticize in a lot of what I post; I’m far from infallible, and sometimes I don’t realize how wrong I am until I’ve thrown my opinion out there, and have gotten some backlash. My biggest error there is probably that I’ve only known a small proportion of sex workers, and don’t have the right to speak for them as someone not in the trade. So rip me a new one, where warranted. But where is it not warranted? In my discussion of how sex-positive feminists abuse and alienate rape victims. I’m not going to relive the entire thread, but here are the relevant pieces:

Reader: I don’t like the term “unjustifiable kinks” because what happens between two consenting adults requires no justification.

Me: We’re never going to agree on this point. Rape is rape, it is not a “kink.” Rape-play normalizes rape, convinces men that rape is just a deep-dark fantasy all women have. It’s the justification my rapist used when he raped me, that he was just giving me what I really wanted. It’s not kinky. It’s damaging.

Reader: This is patently untrue. Men who commit rape don’t care about what the woman wants – their whole aim is to make that woman submit to them; they don’t want her to want it, secretly or otherwise. Rape is about power. Ideas about female rape fantasies may be exploited by such men as an excuse for their actions, but it is never the motivation behind what they do.

Me: You say this in direct response to me telling you this is why I was raped, that my rapist was showing me how I “enjoyed” it. I was going to formulate a reply to all of this, but that is so delegitimizing and cruel I’m done talking to you. You do not get to tell me that my rape didn’t happen as I say it happened, that is triggering, disgusting selfishness.

Reader: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be cruel. I actually wasn’t saying your rape didn’t happen as you say it did and I never would do that. I was saying that the excuse a man gives to rape a woman is a rationalization, and not a true reflection of his motives. We see this with all the insidious, disingenuous things rapists say to their victims. They are not truly reflective of what the rapist believes, they are just mantras exploited to justify unjustifiable actions.

Except no. So many rapists don’t even think they’re rapists. They aren’t telling you a lie, they honestly believe they aren’t rapists. They honestly believe it’s about seduction and secret desire.

My rapist doesn’t think he’s a rapist. In fact, he probably thinks he’s a pretty awesome dude. You can try to attribute whatever motives you want to him, but you weren’t there, you don’t have my insight. You didn’t have his gin-soaked breath in your ear, whispering about how no one would ever give it to you like he did. You didn’t have his grubby hands shoving you aside after it was over, spitting out sex-shaming slurs and insisting that you know you loved it. And I shouldn’t have to fucking outline any of this, because it’s not my job to convince you of my rape’s circumstances or legitimacy. If a rape victim bares their trauma to you, you don’t argue with them about it! Do you have any idea how hard it is to share something like that? Really fucking hard. I’m a habitual over-sharer, and I’m still so nervous about posting this that I’ve gone over it for days, and still want to vomit when I look at the “publish” button. Because there’s a tiny little part of me that fears that my rapist might find my blog. He might read my words, know I’m talking about him, and track me down to punish me for calling out his “seduction” as the rape it really was.

And yes, I do believe rape is about power. I do believe it’s about domination and wrath and violence. But you’re being fucking naive if you don’t think there’s a reason rapists use sexual violence to exercise those inclinations. They could just beat us bloody, but that’s not enough for them. No, they need control of our sexualities, and sometimes their motivation is “proving” that you desire them. It’s actually the same logic used when people with penises are raped–if they get an erection, they must want it. It becomes a punishment for assumed desire, even if it’s really only your body desperately trying to protect itself, or reacting to instinctual stimuli. Then you have the added shame and self-doubt that accompanies those reflexes, which mingles with your rapist’s taunts to haunt you for ages to come.

The point is, it’s not just justifications to help them sleep at night. They aren’t losing any Z’s to start. Some of them really, truly believe the things they tell their victims. And it’s not anyone’s place to tell a victim they’re wrong in how they interpreted their rape.

Of course, there’s real irony in a sex-positive feminist dismissing a rape victim in a post where I accuse sex-positive feminists of dismissing rape victims. But it’s the sort of irony I fucking hate experiencing, like when men make rape threats while telling me misogyny isn’t real. It really shook me to my core, regardless of what good intentions the commenter may have had. Intent isn’t magic, and those comments were flat-out inappropriate. You can’t, can’t say things like that to rape victims. We are already so ignored by society, you can’t claim to be on our side while taking away our voice. Our experiences matter, and part of our experience lies in what we know or suspect our attackers’ motives to be. It may be easier to imagine that rape is only about violence and not sex, but that doesn’t change the very messy reality.

Once again, I’m at the point where I just beg you all to please, please respect rape victims. Do not talk over us, do not dismiss us, do not over-analyze our attacks. Do not think that you know what happened better than we do. Do not correct us, quibble with us, or spar with us. This may be an academic discussion to you, but it’s our lives, our trauma on the chopping block, and it takes a lot of courage to put ourselves out there. We need our allies to stand strong with us, and part of that is knowing when to stand down.

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Snippet: On Call-Outs

Call-outs are always a source of contention, because they’re often so unwelcome by those who deserve them the most. People don’t like being told they’re wrong, and hearing it in a social context is even harder than in professional or academic scenarios. That’s because there’s this pervasive belief that the magic of “personal opinion” grants people the right to stereotype others. It’s just their opinion that all fat people are lazy. It’s just their opinion that women aren’t suited for leadership roles. It’s just their opinion that the mentally ill are evil. Like somehow opinions can’t be bigoted? Or like somehow that bigotry is acceptable?


Yeah it was rhetorical.

When someone calls you out on problematic behavior, they are doing you a favor. They are providing you with an opportunity for introspection, and in so doing, they are risking their own safety. They’re exposing their underbelly to you, telling you what hurts them and trusting you to stop. It’s a vulnerable position to be in, regardless of how toughly they may be trying to present themselves.


She’s lying.

And that presentation may not always be palatable to you. Sometimes they may be angry, hostile, and confrontational. Other times they may be extremely emotional, pained, and sensitive. Not everyone can remain calm and neutral when presented with prejudice, and it’s not their job to be. It’s your job to not be bigoted in the first place. And if you fail at that, you can’t cry wounded when a minority objects to your bigotry, however harshly. It’s hard to be calm and kind to your oppressors, particularly when triggered by prejudice.


She’s trying.

Likewise, it is the highest form of jackassery to take pride in staying calm and collected while a minority lashes out against your oppressive behavior. There is no call for smugness simply because you aren’t upset by your own bigotry. All you’re doing is displaying your lack of empathy; you’re proud of yourself for being a terrible human being.


Would you like a reward?

You also can’t expect someone to stay silent just because of circumstances. If you say something bigoted at a party, it’s not the minority who’s starting a scene by calling you out; it’s you for being a bigot in the first place. If you post something bigoted on your Facebook, it’s not the minority causing trouble by objecting, it’s you for victimizing them with your words. You can’t expect any circumstances to silence a minority when you are engaging in bigoted rhetoric. Staying silent grants your words passive acceptance, and no one should be forced to accept hatred.


They aren’t asking for much.

So the next time you find yourself called out for problematic behavior or language, take a step back. Reflect on not just what the minority is saying, but on your own words and actions. Calm your defensive reflexes, and try to walk in their shoes for a moment. All they’re asking for is some respect–surprise them by giving it.


Delicious.

Posted in challenging privilege, sj allies | Leave a comment