On offer today for £2.99 on audible. I liked it a lot.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- “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.).
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?
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.
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.