So you wanna be a better ally?

A lot of guides to allyship have been floating around. Some are good, some are kinda meh, and most of them will be ignored by the people who really need to read them. For the TL/DR crowd, here’s my Ultimate Guide to Effective Allyship:

Make sure that what you do lessens the load on the people you’re trying to support.

Seriously, that’s it for me. I may care about people’s motivations, actions, and results, but what I care about the most is whether overall they are saving or causing me work. Do their actions free up my time and energy? Do their contributions help spread the information I’d like to see out in the world? Are they helping my voice being heard, or saving me the effort of having to speak out? Does their emotional support enable me to take a break from being strong? Is the labour they are contributing more than the labour I’m having to put into managing them, or into rewarding them after the fact? Ultimately, are they a resource or a drain?

There is a lot more to effective allyship, but for me this is the very bottom line, because I’m fighting to live, not living to fight. Those whose support is a drain on my resources may mean well, but they are not helping me; and, when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of allyship, that ought to matter.

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I’m tired, and I wanna go home.

A few weeks ago, my Vancouver posse ran Big Gay Sword Day. As one may imagine, swords were involved and queerness abounded. It was, by all accounts, a tremendously jolly occasion as well as an inclusive one – as the ad stated, BGSD was “open to students of all backgrounds, experience levels, and identities.” Straight and cisgendered people were not in fact barred. Basically, the only requirement was that people needed not to be huge, flaming assholes about other people’s identities. Apparently (and predictably), that was too much to ask.

While the event ran smoothly, its very existence sparked a number of dumpster fires on numerous forums. They might have burnt out by now, but I’m not sure. Last time I checked, plenty of people who were in no way affected by this event were busy frothing at the mouth because it has happened. That reaction didn’t shock me, or even take me by surprise. I added it to my “unintentional irony” pile; the haters are apparently unaware that all they’re doing is proving that this kind of event is still needed. I didn’t laugh, though, because I’m tired. All I could think was: “It must be nice to be like that.”

I don’t mean to say that it must be nice to be a bigot; I wouldn’t want that. But it must be nice not to understand why this kind of event is important, to genuinely believe that there isn’t a need for it, to see it as unnecessarily divisive. It must be nice to be so used to being accepted everywhere and anywhere that any other experience is just too alien to grasp. It must be nice to walk into a place and to just be, to be able to focus on what we are doing without having to worry about what we need to hide in order to be allowed to carry on doing it.

It must be nice not to have to run through all the questions: Am I safe being here? How much of myself am I safe being? Will I need to pretend that I’m Just Like Them so I can blend in? Will I need to be Different From Them, to hold myself to a special set of dos and don’ts, because trying to blend in will be seen as an insult to those who consider themselves my betters? Is it going to be safe for me if I suck at this? Is it going to be safe for me to get good? Will I be punished if I get better than certain people? How much of my attention can I dedicate to what I’m doing, and how much to making sure that nobody is going to come at me when I’m not looking? How much space can I take up? How many of my triggers are going to be pushed, and how much will it cost me if I let it show?

The basic question is: can I be here? And that might sound simple, but it isn’t, because it’s often not a yes/no answer. The vast majority of the time, I have to pick: I can either be me, or be here. In most places, being all of myself is almost never OK, and the resulting fallout often means that I can’t be here at all. People make damn sure that I can’t; if they don’t ban me outright, they do their damn best to make things so unsafe or so unpleasant that I’ll quit. And yeah, I don’t have to quit, but I actually like myself a bit too much these days to let myself get hurt just to prove a point. So, in each situation, I have to work out how much of myself it’s safe to let out, until I strike a balance between being me and being here. The real question becomes: can I be, here? And I tell you: day in, day out, that’s a seriously tiring question to find an answer to.

I wish I could laugh when I heard some statements about how safe spaces promote weakness; as if it were possible to be an out member of an ostracised minority and to be weak. To be out and grievously wounded, yeah, that’s a thing. To be out and so fucking tired that taking another step can seem an impossible feat, yeah, sure. But “tired” and “injured” are not “weak,” and neither is “too self-loving to eat shit just to earn the right to sit at this table.”

It must be nice not to understand that. I wonder how that feels, to be so immune to this kind of issue that it all sounds like so much bullshit. I know that I will never know. I will never operate under the expectation that I should belong. I will never be shocked at being uninvited, uncatered for, unwelcome. Even if the world changed tomorrow, I’ve clocked too many years of being me/here to ever feel like that. And maybe that should make me feel envious, but I’m just too damn tired for that. I’m tired, and I want to go home, and sometimes home is a few hours of fucking around with swords in a place where I don’t have to hide. And, apparently, even that is too much to ask.

Allyshit.

CW: ‘phobias, ‘isms, and assholes.

There’s a myriad guides floating around on “how to be a better ally,” but to date I’ve not seen a guide on “how to watch out for shitty allies.” I dunno if the underlying idea is that you get the allies you can get and I’m just the only asshole willing to look a gift horse in the mouth, or the guides are there and I’ve just not stumbled upon them. Either way, this is my version, worth precisely what you paid for it.

  1. Predators and parasites. Some people choose to “ally” themselves with marginalised groups specifically because they know that those groups are likely to include people who have been the targets of prior abuse, and because people who are still recovering make good targets for future abuse. Sounds too horrible to contemplate? It is, but it’s true, and it can be seen in any environment in which vulnerable people are known to show up (dedicated facilities, support groups, self-defence classes…) unless that environment is carefully monitored. Environments that pride themselves in being inclusive are particularly prone to retaining predators and parasites, because people will be loath to challenge baddish behaviours. There are different flavours of P&Ps that are particularly drawn to this kind of situation, but the important thing is to remember that they exist, to keep an eye out for them, and to take action when required. If you wanna know the specifics, I’ve written about them in “Creepology” and “Trauma-Aware Self-Defense Instruction.” Sorry, but I can’t summarise two books in a blog.
  2. Chasers, fetishists, and collectors. Some people just seek an opportunity to rub up against individuals they are fascinated by not because of who they are but because of what they are. The “rubbing up” bit doesn’t have to be a literal or sexual thing (though it can be); some people just think it’s cool to have A Trans Friend, A Gay Friend, A Neurodivergent Friend, whatever. They’re collecting a zoo, and you’re one of the exhibits. Your mileage may vary, but personally I find them hella creepy and, if sex rears its ugly head, not wholly safe to be around. Ultimately, they don’t see me as a person, but as a collection of fascinating attributes, and I expect them to treat me and mistreat me accordingly.
  3. Consent violators. Consent doesn’t just apply to sexual settings. Someone who does not respect your NOs is a consent violator. Again, your mileage may vary, but personally I have no chill for anyone who constantly puts me in the position of having to defend my boundaries. It’s not that I can’t deal; it’s just not how I want to live. And for the love of all that is holy, if someone doesn’t listen to you when you say that you don’t want to watch a movie, or eat popcorn, or have a drink, do not repeat DO NOT expect them to suddenly become invested in your consent if the situation becomes sexual. That’s how people get hurt.
  4. One-person tag-teams (my term, and if you can think of a better one pls tell me). These are the people who get themselves into situations and then tag you so you can help them out, a bit like tag wrestlers… only you never actually signed up to take on that particular fight, or even to be on their team. They just wade into things (usually because they wanna be Heroes) and pull you in there with them when the need arises (perhaps because they think you enjoy Heroing too, because the waters juts got too hot for them, or because there’s no point in being a Hero if nobody’s watching). This happens both in real life, where it can put you in grave physical danger, and in cyberspace, where the physical danger may be reduced, but the drain on your emotional well-being is still very real and very valid. You might not wanna wake up every morning to find that you’ve been tagged in 32 different “debates” about the ‘phobia or ‘ism that is negatively impacting your life, or find that you’ve been outed to a horde of your haters. You might not wanna have your head stuck forcibly above the parapet, making you a target for more grief. You might not have the spoons. You might just wanna spend some time doing stuff that actually makes your life worth living, for a fucking change. The taggers, not being equally affected by the issue and apparently having the empathy of potatoes, won’t get that. Many of them will get mightily insulted because they are doing so much for you, and you won’t even help them, and what’s the point in them even making an effort when you don’t even care, blah blah.
  5. Fair-weather allies. They’ll help you when things are easy, but bail on you as soon as they start getting hard. These are the people who’ll march in the parade when they are being cheered, but will disappear into the nearest safe place as soon as the booing starts. The people who put up the inflammatory memes, but back out as soon as the resulting conversation becomes remotely awkward. The people who shout about shooting Nazis, but won’t stand up to their Uncle Bob when he’s preaching eugenics over the Thanksgiving table. Basically, these people only support you when it doesn’t cost them anything, i.e. in situations when you don’t need any bloody support anyway. And then they feel good about it.
  6. Gimme cookie! Some “allies” are like pets who only Do The Thing if there’s a bag of treats nearby; no treat = no support. Some are like spoilt kids who require a reward every time they do something vaguely good; no treat = tantrum. Basically, they are not motivated by an inner sense of doing right, or even by an ego-driven wish to be Someone Who Does Right: they just want the goodies, and they’ll turn on you in nanoseconds if you don’t provide. They are less than fair-weather friends, because not only they are not reliable, but it can cost you more to reward their continued support than that support is worth.
  7. Loansharkers and tit-for-tatters. Basically “I helped you (whether you asked for it or not), so now you owe me,” which is pretty despicable. It’s even worse when it turns into “I helped your cause, so now you personally owe me.” Sorry, but the only correct answer to this is “fuck off.”
  8. Got a trash fire? I got gasoline! Some people fight to live, and some live to fight. The latter feel understimulated if they have nothing to fight, so they actively inflame situations. They turn discussions into arguments, re-ignite debates that are calming down, and generally make it impossible for a calm conversation to take place. Sometimes this is done deliberately and sometimes accidentally, but it amounts to the same thing in the end: you find yourself constantly involved in arguments and fights that just didn’t need to happen. Whether any of those fights actually advance your cause is often debatable.
  9. “No roaches.” Some “allies” lay a claim on that title purely because they tolerate your existence. They don’t support you, they don’t help you gain equal rights, they don’t share information about your issues, they don’t educate themselves, they do absolutely fuck-all – but they don’t actively oppress you, so they’re clearly your allies, and they want you to acknowledge that. The fact that their “support” actually amounts to the bare minimum for being a decent human being totally eludes them. Their mentality is so steeped in –isms and –phobias that they genuinely believe that allowing you to exist entitles them to your gratitude. They’re the equivalent of motels advertising “no roaches,” or those guys who feel entitled to sex because they are “nice.” Bonus points for when they put provisos on their tolerance (e.g., you may continue to exist as long as the kids don’t see you, because otherwise they might grow up to believe that the way you are is normal. Which, in case you’re wondering, is what a family member told me not too long ago. Happy Holidays, one and all.).

 

In other news: I did a write. The three of you who read “Ye Gods and Little Wishes” might wanna read this, or not.

Asking for it

I’ve just had a brief but very interesting conversation about explicitly asking for consent, both in sexual and nonsexual settings. I personally tend to be very puzzled by people who strongly oppose the idea of explicit consent being a good thing. I mean, I understand all too well that some people don’t share my horror at the mere concept of causing someone to go along with something they don’t want to do. Plenty of people enjoy controlling or manipulating others, for a number of reasons, and although I don’t share that urge, I know that it’s a thing. It’s the rest of the haters I don’t understand; those who allegedly don’t want to control or manipulate other people, but don’t want to ensure their prior consent, either.

Here are some possible explanations:

  • In order to comfortably ask for other people’s consent, first you have to be comfortable with what you want. If your wishes and needs shame you, for whatever reason (e.g. internalised phobias or -isms, sexual mores, whatever), having to spell them out clearly is going to freak you out. The primary problem isn’t that you are opposed to other people’s consent, but that you barely consent to your own wants. Any request to spell out clearly what you want is going to feel like shaming, even though that shame may exist only within yourself.
  • If you hold two conflicting views of yourself (e.g. “I am a feminist and I respect other people as individuals” and “I am owed X in the context of this relationship because that’s the rules”), you won’t be able to clearly verbalise your wishes without getting zapped by the crossed wires in your own brain. You won’t be able to express your wishes clearly because you can’t think about them clearly – you’re reframing them into a total mess in order to be able to hold them with a degree of comfort. Before you can secure other people’s consent, you’ll have to reconcile your own internal mechanisms, and that might require quite a lot of unpleasant soul-searching. Alternatively, you could just resent those who demand of you that you straighten your shit out. Lots of people do.
  • If you know that what you want is pretty fucked up but you’re still going for it, having to verbalise it clearly is going to piss in your porridge by depriving you of any plausible deniability.
  • If you believe that “A RealMan(TM) never has to ask” or “It’s not harassment / assault / rape if a Woman(TM) does it”*, then you’re a danger to yourself and others, and you should just fuck off. No, I’m not biased or trigger-happy.

So yeah, there are a ton of reasons for rejecting all notions of explicit consent that don’t involve being a Bad Person. But they all involve being shitty, to yourself and/or to others, and they all can hurt people. So, like, maybe we could all cut this crap out?

 

*I’m sure other genders have an equivalent, but I’ve not met it yet. Please add info in the comments?

It’s on us.

If you run a club, school, or dojo and you hire an instructor with a known history of sexual harassment and/or bullying, and one of your students gets sexually harassed or bullied, that’s on you. No ifs, no buts. You knew the risk and you exposed your students to it, which places the responsibility squarely on your shoulders. If you are tempted to disagree, riddle me this: would you try to wriggle out of being responsible if your school had a damaged electrical outlet, a tap that throws out scalding water, or a leaky gas line? If you treat the latter type of hazards as inherently different, can you come out with a rational explanation as to why that is?

The only way I’d be willing to cut you any kind of slack is if you warned your students beforehand – if you told them clearly and openly that the incoming instructor is a potential hazard, and why – and took steps to categorically prevent any kind of mishap from taking place. You’d still be you ultimately responsible if your precautions fail, though, and we could also argue whether you’d be responsible if the instructors gains access to other teaching opportunities on the back of your apparent endorsement.

 

If you run a club, school, or dojo and one of your instructors or students harasses and/or bullies other participants, and you don’t stop that immediately and definitely, that’s on you. It doesn’t matter a fig if the person in question has valid reasons for their behaviour: if you know that a person has a problem and you don’t take steps to mitigate the impact of said problem on other participants, you are allowing that person to be a problem. If you want to be inclusive of people with behavioural issues, that’s super cool, but it requires way more than just letting them through the door and letting nature take its course. Your school, your decision to allow individuals to participate, your responsibility for the fallout.

 

This kind of situation seems pretty clear cut to me: it involves both the ethical aspect of the student-teacher relationship and the legal aspects of running any kind of organisation. That kind of issue has been covered ad nauseam, both in theory and through court cases, and the fact that some corners of the self-defence and martial arts world still hold themselves as immune to such pedestrian considerations baffles me utterly. What about voluntary situations, though? What if money or power imbalances don’t come into it? What if the issue affects “only” our personal life?

 

Let’s say that you know that an associate of yours harasses or bullies a certain type of person – your uncle Bob is a creep, your colleague Karen is racist, your FB friend David is transphobic. I think it’d be unfair and unrealistic to hold you responsible for the bigotry said specimens spread into the world. You’re not the boss of them, after all, and you can’t be expected to control their actions. But what if your actions contribute to them getting access to their targets of choice? You can’t stop Bob being ghastly to women at his place of work, but you invited him to your birthday party, where you knew there’d be women for him to creep on. You can’t stop Karen glaring at people with the “wrong” skin colour on the bus, but you organised a staff meal at your favourite curry house, where she verbally abused the server. You hold no hope of explaining to David that his understanding of trans issues does not reflect reality, but he got wind that one of your FB friend is trans, and now he’s harassing them. Way I see it, that’s on you.

I know that someone’s bound to jump down my throat because I must clearly be assuming that other people are weaker or less intelligent, hence my obligation to step in and save them. That’s not it, though.

I don’t believe that my friends are poorer judges of characters than I am; I just know that by introducing people, whether passively or actively, I’m effectively endorsing them. When I meet friends of friends, I tend to assume that they’re alright until proven otherwise; otherwise, why would my friends be friends with them? I’d like to think that the same applies when I introduce two of my friends, that their first contact will involve a higher level of trust than one would expect between strangers purely because I’m involved. I also don’t believe that my friends are weaker than me; I just want them to avoid going through a learning process that may involve collecting bruises, scars, or trauma just for the sake of learning what I already know. Ultimately, I just can’t see the difference between having an uncle who’s a pervert and having a dog that bites; I might love them dearly, or at the very least I might feel the weight of our familial bond, but I am going to make damn sure that I don’t give them the opportunity to hurt people.

As far as I know, there are no official guidelines on how to navigate these waters, so here’s my opinion, worth precisely what you paid for it: I think we’re responsible for the shit we spread. We’re not responsible for the actions of all the problem people in our life, but we are responsible for our own actions, and that includes whether we let said problem people gain access to targets through us. I’m not talking about a legal responsibility, but a moral one. If by our actions we put a known harasser in touch with a potential victim, or if by our inaction we facilitate said contact, that’s on us.

 

Freebies for HEMA

This would have been a blog about the last few weeks in the HEMA world, but I’m frankly too pissed off to write something coherent. I’m also sick and tired of having to spend my time and energy fighting the same damn problems, and watching other good people do the same. We all have other things we need to do, things we want to do, things that would nurture our souls and enable us to be better people, and to make the world a better place. Instead, we are forced to engage in neverending arguments as to why it’s not cool for prominent figures to make “jokes” about teaching your unrequited crushes the error of their ways by bashing them in sparring. We’re forced to present calm and rational arguments as to why it’s not cool for groups to promote instructors who have a history of sexual harassment and bullying. We’re forced to argue for the most basic pedagogical standards.

No, it’s not cool to make “jokes” about something that happens in real life, and routinely sends people to hospital or the morgue. Yes, if you host a known abuser at your facilities, you are partly responsible for putting your pupils at risk of abuse. No, just because an activity involves the risk of serious bodily harm and some potentially lethal gear, the same provisos that are involved in basic teaching relationships do not become redundant. Quite the opposite. We shouldn’t have to say this, but we do, and it’s sucking a tremendous amount of our time, energy, and will to live.

I can’t fix the world. This is what I can do, though: in honour of HEMA’s ongoing shenanigans, Creepology will be free from the 10th to the 14th November. I know full well that only the people who already care and want to help will read it, but there’s fuck-all else I can do at present without driving myself up the wall completely. So here you go.

Coco doesn’t pop

I finally got around to watching Coco. If you’ve watched it and you love it, do us all a favour and skip this blog; I don’t want to be the person going around groaning that People Are Having Fun Wrong. And, for the record, this isn’t a blog about Why Coco Is Bad; I honestly don’t understand that kind of thing, because taste is subjective. But the movie failed to click with me, and I think the reason why is relevant to other people and situations, hence this blog.

One of the reasons it took me so long to get around to watching Coco is that my friends issued many warnings about it. I’m a notorious marshmallow; when it comes to watching anything that affects me emotionally, I fall apart so comprehensively that a movie can become a very draining endeavour, requiring much emotional aftercare. As the subject matter in Coco is basically the story of my life, my friends’ concern made a lot of sense.

Coco is the story of Miguel, a kid who loves music in a family which, for relatively valid reasons, is basically music phobic. At the ripe age of 12, he is put in the position of having to choose not only between his passion and his family, but literally between his passion and his life: his family’s opposition to the playing and listening of music is so severe that he has to choose between life and music. There are other issues at play that are not only important to the story, but personally relevant to me: the toxic matriarchies that can develop as a result of paternal failures (check), how the children of neglect and abuse normalise and perpetrate that neglect and abuse (check), the cruelty of bureaucracy (check), how doggos can be magical even when they look anything but (CHECK). The main subject of the story, however, is Miguel’s predicament.

I realised that something was going wrong for me very early in the movie. I met Miguel, discovered his plight, and my only emotional reaction was mild vexation that he could have gotten that good on the guitar at that young an age, particularly as he was presumably self-taught and played an instrument made out of scraps. I didn’t relate to him, not even a tiny bit, and that didn’t change all the way through the movie. The only character for whom I felt anything was Héctor, who desperately wants to go home and can’t. Just thinking about him brings on my allergies. Miguel does nothing for me.

That fact worried me a lot, because Miguel’s life was mine, growing up. My belonging to my family was conditional on my performance, and could be withdrawn at any point if I failed to meet standards. Not only nobody gave a fuck about whether the life I was forced to live was ensuring my emotional well-being, but I was repeatedly put in physical danger  because my caregivers prioritised keeping up appearances over ensuring my safety. Essentially, I had little or no value for them beyond that of an accessory: I was something to put on show to demonstrate what a good family we were. If I failed to perform that function, I would be punished or discarded.

When I felt nothing towards Miguel and his plight, I worried that I’d burnt out a circuit. Yes, your family’s love is conditional. Yes, they don’t care about your happiness. Yes, they will shower affection on you when you’re meeting a set of criteria, and reject you when you don’t. Yes, they’d rather have you dead than fail to meet their standards. What’s the big deal? That’s what life is. Thinking that I’d lost the ability to feel that pain really worried me, because I don’t actually want to be permanently broken. Then I remembered the objections some friends raised about Harry Potter, and I worked out what was actually going on.

Harry Potter bothered some of my friends because they found him unrealistic. They could relate to being deprived of parental care at an early age, and to receiving grossly inadequate care from their assigned caregivers; plenty of people who’ve gone through the care system can. What left them cold was how normal Harry was despite of that. He didn’t show any of the behavioural and emotional problems that children in care so often suffer from. He was a normal kid who just happened to have a grossly abnormal background; for people in the know, that didn’t tally.

Miguel doesn’t resonate with me because he is a normal kid with an abnormal problem – as is, the issue of his family’s conditional love has been superimposed on the personality of an otherwise normal child. In my experience, that’s not how it works. Some problems change you, for a while if not for good. They run all the way through you, like the writing in a stick of rock. They’re not something you only deal with when you’re in that one specific situation: they become a part of you, and they leave hurts and scars that can affect all aspects of your life.

I can’t relate to Miguel because I don’t understand him; in fact, I understand him even less than I do those people who’ve never lived that life. The problem isn’t that I’m so broken that I can’t feel his pain, but that his pain sits on the outside of him, like a coat that he can put on and off. Everything I know about life says that that’s not how it works.

To the best of my knowledge, I’m the only person I know to have had that reaction to Coco, and that kind of scares me. It makes me feel isolated, because the people who think that Miguel makes sense as a person can’t possibly understand me, and I don’t think I have the words to bridge that gap. It also makes me worried for the kids who grow up like that – and there’s a ton of them. I worry that this kind of misrepresentation will create unreasonable expectations for them, that it will cause people to think that they understand them while they’re actually totally missing the point. It’s a common issue: people often superimpose other people’s problems on themselves while failing to internalise them, and come up with solutions that would be perfectly brilliant, if only they didn’t hinge on a person not actually having that problem.

Popular media isn’t about bringing on a better understanding of the human condition, though; it’s about selling a product to as many people as possible. Harry Potter would probably not have sold half as well had the protagonist being unpleasant. Nobody wants to read ‘Harry Potter And The Uncontrollable Rages, ‘Harry Potter And The Disciplinary Trial For Petty Theft’, or ‘Harry Potter And The Avoidance Of Reality Through The Abuse Of Substances’. And it’s not just that HP was specifically aimed at children, and some subjects are deemed not-kid-friendly (even though those same kids may routinely brush against those issues in real life, and not discussing them actually deprives them of the tools to navigate them… but never mind). A character has to be somewhat relatable, and thoroughly fucked-up people tend to fail in that respect. If they ever take the limelight, it tends to be as Terrible Warnings, like Bruce Robertson in ‘Filth’. They’re not there for us to identify with them; they’re a spectacle for us to goggle at.

I’m glad Harry Potter and Coco didn’t do that. I’m just sad and scared that they didn’t do more about revealing the inner struggles of people living certain lives. Yeah, I’m sounding really corny. Whatever.

Shortly after watching Coco, I watched Next Gen. I found it entirely by accident, went into it with no expectations whatsoever, and I think I managed not to cry all the way through the opening credits, but I’m not sure. I thought it was gonna suck (having ‘Rebel Girl’ play during the establishment of the protagonist’s backstory reeeeeeeally cheesed me off); instead, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The protagonist isn’t wearing a problem: she has a problem to the point that she is a problem. Her emotional states and behaviours are consistent with her damage. I could totally relate to her reactions and decisions, even the ones which are objectively fucked up, because they make sense to me: they’re how I would have behaved at that point in my life. To a certain extent, they’re how I still behave, or would behave if I didn’t slap the brakes on, because that little girl is still inside me. Miguel, basically untouched by his own experiences, is an alien to me.

Not your problem.

If you are white, cis, het, able-bodied, male, born in this country, and someone who isn’t one or more of the above has a recurring problem with people shouting them down, talking over them, deliberately sabotaging their interactions or their work, or generally treating them like shit… And your response is “I don’t know how you always find those people,” or “You should just act like me,” because they simply must be doing something wrong, because you never get treated like that…. You need to wake the fuck up.

Yes, it is possible that you’ve found the Right Way To Interact With People (TM), and that’s why the vast majority of your interactions go smoothly. However, I urge you to consider the possibility that what is actually happening is that you are not experiencing a problem in the first place.

The reason you’re not exposed to transphobia is not that you’ve found a solution for it; you’re simply not a target for it, because you’re not  trans. In the exact same way, you’ve not found a solution for racism, homophobia, ableism, sexism, nativism, etc. You are not experiencing those difficulties because they are not your difficulties, not because you are better at handling them.

“But being trans is, like, a super fringe state that makes you an extra special target for abuse!” Yes. And being fem is a state that affects about half the world’s population, and still makes you a fucking target. So does having the wrong skin colour, or hair type. So does falling in love with the wrong people. So does sounding or looking like you’re not from here. So does being different enough in body or mind that you cannot function like most people do. Just because some of those traits are ubiquitous, it doesn’t mean that they don’t make you a target.

Some people are very mean to people different from them. Most of us know this. What many of us seem to fail to realise, though, is that some sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, and nativism pollute most social waters – and, yes, that includes the waters you swim in. Maybe you don’t see those bigotries because they don’t apply to you, so the resulting misbehaviour happens away from your gaze. Maybe you’ve internalised them and just think of them as “normal.” Of course parents will complain if gay people kiss in front of their children. Of course one should speak slowly and loudly to someone who looks vaguely foreign, or uses a wheelchair. Of course black people have more interactions with the police. Of course at that university half of precariously employed instructors are women, but only 1/4 of tenured instructors are women; they hire the best-qualified applicants, and those just happen to be overwhelmingly male. Those aren’t signs of privilege actually being a thing; they’re just the way the world is.

“But Rory Miller said that y’all just need to be assertive…” Yes, no, maybe. Rory organised different levels of force in a progression, and stated that in order to protect yourself against people at one level, you gotta either match or exceed their force. But he also said, repeatedly, that members of marginalised groups face challenges that the majority may struggle to comprehend. He also said that avoidance is the best form of self-defence. He also said that getting stomped hurts, and that going home safe is important. And you know what can almost guarantee a stomping? If you act “uppity” in front of someone who considers them an inferior – and, yes, that includes being assertive at them.

Anyway, you know what? Rory could be wrong. He could be missing something. He could be limited in his understanding of the human condition, because his experience as a gay, trans, black , foreign, disabled woman is pretty fucking limited. The only way in which Rory can learn about different lives is by listening to the people who live them. And while you continue to superimpose your experience on other people’s, to insist that if everyone behaved like you then their life would run just as smoothly, that’s what you’re utterly failing to do.

Once more, with feeling.

Stolen from Jon Mills, head coach blackdogstrength.com and director Vancouver Strength Collective.

 

So, in the spirit of writing more, here’s probably the most valuable coaching and life tool that I have ever experienced. One sentence:

“Your feelings are valid.”

All human action solves a problem, all human emotion is meant to further our survival in some way. If a person feels a certain way, there is a really good reason they feel that way, and validating that is the most important first step to unpacking it.

Valid doesn’t mean correct. Often our feelings are rooted in something that we may have misinterpreted, misread, or lack full data on. The conclusion is based on what the person currently holds to be true (even if they don’t realise that they hold that truth), and acknowledging that is the first step in understanding them. Equally, “correct” is not always important to survival.

Valid doesn’t mean right. Emotions lack morals. Actions are where morality matters. A persons feelings can be completely valid based on how they perceive the world, but their actions based on those feelings may be morally wrong. Equally, the morally wrong aspect may be falsely representing their feelings to get a response. The feeling itself is neither good nor bad in an abstract sense. It just is.

Valid doesn’t mean requiring action. Feelings are not just problems to solve. They are data points that provide us with direction. Recognizing that feelings are not absolute markers doesn’t mean they become less valid. Equally, dealing with emotions often means engaging with them rather than trying to fix them.

What valid means is simple. Your deepest feelings have validity because of how they impact you, and no one should be training you to ignore that. No one has a right to take that away from your or tell you you are wrong.

Starting from a place of assuming everyone’s feelings are valid ways of surviving the world puts you in the unique position to help understand why they feel that way and help folks, and yourself, break out of destructive cycles where an emotion becomes the absolute unchanging truth in itself.

That’s where change happens, and it frees you to judge a persons actions or lack thereof without playing a blame/justification game on their behalf. Accepting that there is a reason that a person may feel that way also allows you to firmly pin down the morality of their actions for what they are by understanding the why and seeing that it was their choice to act that impacted others.

Start from a place of validity, and work from there. It’s a real game changer.

Side note: This assumes a person is relaying their emotions in good faith and not in order to manipulate you. The emotions in that case, if truly how the person feels, are still valid, the action of using them to manipulate a person is where the ethical issue comes up.

Secondary side note: If you are actively working on your own behavior, starting from a place of “your feelings are valid” is a great foil to prevent you unconsciously gaslighting folks.

 

(My note: It’s rather fascinating how so many of the theories downplaying the validity of feelings, or actively classing them as something one should try to eradicate in order to arrive to valid conclusions, was generated by men who were socialised to have the emotional granularity of potatoes. It is doubly fascinating how so many of such theories are still held as valid, even though they have been discredited by modern neuroscience. Looks like the strictly rational folk aren’t all that rational, after all…)