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A Principle-based Approach To The Resistance will be free for 5 days starting tomorrow. Time zones have proved troublesome on this front, so please be patient and try again if you can’t get the free deal. The longest you could possibly have to wait is 24 hours.

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Why the double standards?

I’ve recently noticed something interesting. It’s been going on forever, but I hadn’t picked up on it.

There are ways in which my brain consistently lets me down. Sometimes it’s due to faulty programming, because my birth family wasn’t fantastic and I was brought up weird. Sometimes it’s due to past experiences that left me with habits that made perfectly good sense in that moment, but are anti-useful in almost any other settings. Sometimes it’s because my wiring is non-standards. Sometimes it’s a combination of all of the above, or I can’t tell why exactly the thing is happening. But what I know for sure is that it is a thing, and it is happening.

I don’t have data to support my assertions, but I do have anecdotes. Experience has taught me that, when faced with X challenge, I reliably make the wrong decisions. Hence, I do not trust my decision-making process when faced with X challenge.

In my head, that makes sense. I have observed a pattern. I have watched it unfold numerous times. I am thereby aware of how very badly it can fuck me over. When I try to have this conversation with people, though, 99.99% of the times I get told that I’m wrong.

I am underestimating myself. I have impostor syndrome. I need to work at my self -confidence. I am just saying that for attention (my personal favourite, because I obviously crave a public image as a fuck-up). It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve watched myself fall in and through a certain pattern, or how superficially those people know me: they know me better than I know myself, apparently. It’s all in my head, and perhaps not even there.

I find it super-duper interesting because I have zero tolerance for most types of jackasses. I don’t people good and I don’t particularly enjoy random social interactions, so I only tend to hang out with the people I actually want in my life. None of them are the sort of person who, if I were to say that I have a trick knee or a bad back, would discount that piece of information or try to talk me out of it. People who pull that shit on me don’t get a chance to do it twice. Yet the same people who readily accept whatever I have to say about my body, however negative, are perfectly willing to argue with me when I say anything remotely disparaging about my brain.

The easiest way to reduce the impact of this issue on my life would be to class the people who behave like this as a new, hitherto unidentified breed of jackass, and treat them accordingly. I do wonder, though, at how prevalent this behavior seems to be, and why. Why is it that so many people seem to consider themselves experts on other people’s mental processes? How do they support that level of hubris – or, if that’s not what powers them, what does?

 

But why?

I’ve blogged recently about my name change and unfriending people who were, for various reasons, consistently detracting from my life. I’ve just realised that the two experiences have something in common: both involved me dealing with a lot of “why” questions. Why am I changing my name? Why am I not available? Why am I not accepting of X behavior? Why do I not want to do Y thing? Why am I shouting?

My epiphanot is that “why” questions are far from homogeneous, because the motivations behind them can vary hugely. There are people who ask you “why” because they want to understand you better. They are interested in (or at least curious about) the motivations behind a choice or preference, so they ask. The answer you give them will undoubtedly affect their opinion of you, but it has no bearings on their acceptance of your choice.

For instance, someone may ask me why I changed my name because they actually give a fuck about me or because it’s an unusual thing to do. When I give them my answer (“because I’ve fucking hated it since forever” being my stock response), they may think me petty or whimsical, a trail-blazing self-expressing individual, or anything in between. My answer, however, will not dent the validity of my choice. For them, even if I changed my name “for the wrong reasons,” I’ve still changed my name.

Many people don’t operate like that. They are not asking me to explain myself. They elect themselves as judge and jury and they demand that I present enough evidence to validate my decision. If the answers I provide don’t meet their standards, my case will be struck out and my choice will be ignored.

In the context of a name change, it’s not really a big deal. A third party cannot decide what I am called, because they do not have that power. The courts did, alas, but they ruled in my favour: alea iacta est, y’all. Someone may elect to call me whatever they wish; I reserve my right not to answer. In other contexts, however, that same attitude can be a serious problem.

I’m going to jump straight to sex, because a lot of people are aware that agency and consent are key aspects of a healthy sexual relationship. Say that someone asks you if you want to have sex with them, and your answer is “nope.” They may respond to your answer by asking you why because they genuinely want to know. Whatever you answer, whether it’s “because I have a headache” or “because I don’t like your face,” it will not alter the fact that you have stated a clear “no.” You do not want to have sex with them: that is a fact. The reasons for that may alter the course of your relationship – are they going to get you a painkiller and a glass of water, or tell you to fuck off? – but they will not diminish the significance of your “no.”

Then there’s the other kind of folk, those for whom a “why” question is a request for you to defend the validity of your decision. For them, if your reasons are not valid or not valid enough, the “no” will not be valid either. Those are the folk who will require you to prove that your headache is really bad enough to prevent coitus. Those are the folk that will try to argue you into finding them attractive. Those behavior are, on their own, excruciatingly annoying, but the underlying mentality is straight-up malignant: for them, until you provide enough proof, as per their standards, your “no” is pending.

This kind of thing is more than an attempt at changing your answer from a “no” to a “yes.” People may attempt to do that without any intention to bypass your consent or deny your agency. This is the greyest of all grey areas, and, whatever I say, someone is going to take it the wrong way, but it is in fact possible for people to willingly and honestly negotiate their way into fucking, same as it is possible to negotiate pretty much anything else. That kind of exchange would go something like:

“Yo, you wanna bang?”
“Nope.”
“Why?”
“Because I’m only attracted to My Little Ponies.”
“What if I wore my horse mask?”
“Alright, then.”

 

That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people for whom your “nos” have no inherent value. Those people will not accept that your agency and consent are sacrosanct, because, to them, they are not. They won’t automatically respect your choices or your boundaries. The lengths to which they go in order to get what they want will depend more on their social conditioning than anything else, and may range from being a petty whiner to straightforward consent violations. In their own heads, though, the narrative will be completely different: they won’t be doing anything wrong because, to them, your decision didn’t stand in the first place.

Obituaries.

I don’t know anything about being a trans woman of colour. Those labels don’t apply to me, so all I know about that experience comes from listening to people talk about it. That, and obituaries.

Trans women of colour get murdered. They get murdered often enough that it is A Thing that people (or, at least, people in the LGBTQIA+ community) are aware of. I don’t have the numbers at my fingertips and the statistics aren’t always terribly reliable, because some trans people are not out so their murders aren’t listed as such. Anecdotally, though, It Is Known that being a trans woman of colour makes you more likely to get killed than, for instance, being my pasty-white cis-presenting ass.

Plenty of discussions go on as to why that is A Thing, many of which center around “lifestyle choices.” Did those trans women of colour make choices that put them in danger, such as living in dangerous areas or engaging in dangerous or even illegal occupations? Where those choices really choices, or the inevitable result of marginalisation? We could spend some time on that, I’m sure, but I’d rather not. I hate the way so many of those discussions handle the issue: those individual trans woman of colour shoulda coulda done this. Other individual trans women of colour shoulda coulda do that. Being a trans woman of colour is treated as an individual challenge an individual has to face, individually. Yeah, I know I’m repeating myself, but that bit is pretty important.

Trans women of colour are individuals, obviously, but if you take an individual trans woman of colour and extract her from our society, the issue becomes very different. Put her in a society free of bigotry and the prurient obsession with people’s crotch giblets, and she will face a different set of challenges. Put her on a desert island, and she will magically morph into a person trying to survive. She will be an individual facing individual problems. How well she copes will depend on a combination of luck and her skills and disposition. Right here and now, that is not the case.

Being a trans woman of colour is A Thing because our society makes it A Thing. Take transphobia away, and you end up with a woman of colour. Take racism away, and you end up with a woman. Take sexism away, and you end up with a person.

I am not saying that someone’s identity as any or all of the above labels isn’t valid; I’m saying that if our society didn’t make that identity an issue because of a whole stack of bigotries, it wouldn’t be A Thing. It definitely wouldn’t be A Thing That Kills People.

The problems some individuals face aren’t individual problems; they are social problems. They created and pushed by society. To expect those individuals to face them alone seems ill-advised. I’d go as far as to describe it as “profoundly clueless.” Yes, each individual will ultimately have to fight their own fight, but they can fight together. That’s one of our superpowers as human beings: we can communicate, co-ordinate, and work together towards a common goal. Anyone who considers that strategy cowardly or worries about it diminishing the power of the individuals who pick it is missing a point: that there is a difference between facing a duel and a lynch mob.

Dues.

During the 16-17 winter, my SAD kicked my ass at an unprecedented level. It didn’t get me in the feels (I’ve got that taken care of by a cunning combination of supplements): it just stopped me sleeping more than 3-4 hrs per night for over 4 months. Because I’m more stubborn or optimistic than I’m clever, I tried to manage it without meds. It didn’t work. The SAD won. Come spring, I was completely exhausted and I really wasn’t braining good. In particular, my short-term memory kept going offline. I could start a conversation with somebody and half a minute into it I couldn’t remember the topic. On the phone, I’d forget who I was talking to. My vocabulary kept shrinking: I’d remember that there was a word for something, but I couldn’t access it. Things I struggle with anyway, in particular putting names to faces, became an impossibility.

I was extremely short of spoons – not in the way that someone with a chronic disability is, I’m sure of it, but struggling all the same. Social interactions in particular became extremely difficult: I had the bandwith to cope with content or presentation, but not both. My filters were not operational, I knew it, and that knowledge added an extra layer of stress to each interaction. I don’t mind being blunt at people if I deem it necessary, but I don’t like the idea of upsetting them just because I can’t wurd gud.

I would warn people of that fact. That helped in some cases, but it didn’t help enough: plenty of people still got pissy at me because I my responses were poorly modulated… And I didn’t pick up on that. I didn’t twig that I was telling people that I had a problem, that I was unwell, that I was struggling, and that they were turning around and punishing me for not meeting their needs – or, more often, their wants.

What I was failing to do was visualise the problem. It was all happening in my head, after all. The fact that it was roughly the equivalent of someone having a hissy fit because my bad back was preventing me from picking up their stuff carefully or fast enough totally eluded me. I think that’s pretty common for mental health issues: we can’t see them, so we tend to forget that they are real.  It’s supremely weird, when you think about it. I can’t see people’s kidneys, and I have only a superficial understanding of how the darn things work, but wouldn’t dream of questioning anyone’s need for dialysis.

As my spoon stores got depleted, I realised that what I was doing wasn’t working, and embraced a whole new tactic:

  1. People I didn’t really know, like facebook “friends” who were actually friends-of-friends or folk I met once, got three chances: if they fucked me off three times in a row, they’d have to go.
  2. People I actually knew got a request/warning: “please do not to X, because I cannot deal.” If they didn’t heed that warning, or if they caused me the need to issue further warnings, I’d look at the balance of our interactions. If that balance was consistently in the red, they’d have to go.

It wasn’t an easy decision for me. I dislike people but I like persons, and it’s not as if my social circle is so vast that I can lose folk without noticing. I had to prioritise my health and sanity, though, and, for once, that took priorities over considerations like “I can’t have a falling out with him because his girlfriend is cool and I’d end up falling out with her” or “but they were nice to me once in 2012 and yes they’ve been shitty as hell since but Debt of Honour,” etc.

It was surprising, and more than a little bit scary, how many people got culled. I’d not noticed it before, because I wasn’t paying attention to it, but there were whole hosts of people whose only interactions with me were on the shitty end of the spectrum. The guy I’d met once, who felt the need to pepper every other one of my posts with sarcastic one-liners that added no content and just made me feel bad. The instructor who only appeared on my page to yell at me without really checking that she’d actually understood what I was saying, and who would begrudgingly apologise for being wrong, but never for the public yelling. The guy who was himself OK-ish, but whose friends group definitely wasn’t, which made him the human equivalent of a discarded bag of chips (fries, for the US contingent): wherever he turned up, a herd of vermin would appear and foul up everything in sight. The “friend” who rang me twice a year max and started each conversation with “I don’t want you to think that I only get in touch when I need something, but I need something.” The writer who got angry at me because I didn’t answer the pages and pages he wrote to me for days on end with sufficient care, but hadn’t bothered to check that I had the ability (or, indeed, the interest) to read them. The girl who wanted me to be on tap, at her metaphorical side whenever she had spare time, and never asked whether I had time to spare for her, or made any time for me. The people who got into arguments with third parties and tagged me, expecting me to don my Mighty Mouse outfit and join them in the good fight, even though that fight was not of my choosing. And the countless people who treated me like a public counter, ready to deal with their shit at a moment’s notice, and never once asked me if I had the time and energy to do that.

…and that was the other half of the problem. At the time, it was a time-and-energy issue. The only reason I took steps to mitigate those people’s impact on my life is that I was temporarily unable to bear it. That wasn’t the issue, though: or rather, the fact that I felt that I needed a valid reason to justify why I wasn’t pouring my resources into other people’s lives was a bigger issue.

No two of those people behaved in the same way, but there seemed to be a common trend to all those behaviours: entitlement. Snarky Comments Guy felt entitled to throw snarky comments at me, and to carry on doing the same without any kind of repercussion. My Friend In Need felt entitled to ask for my help whenever her need arose, while completely ignoring me the rest of the time. Writer Guy felt entitled to my time and attention simply because he wanted them. That entitlement ran deep: while none of the demands they put on my time were formulated as demands, they were. This became apparent when I started saying no to them. Even when I justified my nos with my lack of spoons, the responses I got were uniformly negative. This shouldn’t surprise anyone: people who genuinely feel entitled to any aspect of your life (time, energy, sex, whatever) will feel hard-done-by when you withhold it, and they will be as petty in their frustration as they were in their demands.

Those people treated me like a bad, selfish person for not giving them whatever they wanted, even though I’d never agreed to it in the first place and we weren’t in any kind of give-and-take relationship. Take-and-take was more their speed. That wasn’t great, but it could be easily managed by the simple means of not listening to them. What was much harder to avoid was my internal voice: I did feel like a bad person. I felt bad for carrying out some kind of accountancy on my interpersonal relationships and only keeping the ones which added some kind of value to my life.

I was raised by a houseful of people who had severe personality disorders and were unabashedly sexist, so I never quite know whether the conditioning I ended up with is the result of the sexism or the mental health issues. I tend to think that it’s a bit of both, but that the sexism plays a part, or else it would only affect me and those like me. Random people wouldn’t turn up at my door with demands quite so frequently if there wasn’t a widespread expectation that their needs or wants are my obligation. Third parties wouldn’t respond so badly to me telling people that I can’t (or won’t – my wishes also matter, goddammit) oblige them. I wouldn’t see quite so many women run themselves ragged to meet the needs and wants of people for whom “pleases” and “thankyous” are nothing but a formality.

The funniest thing about this whole experience is that, a year down the line, I don’t miss any of the people I culled off. Not a single one of them. I also don’t miss the people I lost in the resulting fallout. Shockingly enough, it turns out that if someone’s relationship with me consists of them throwing shit in my direction, removing them and their shit actually makes my life better. Lonelier, to be sure, but overall better.

The saddest thing about it is that I’m still working at convincing myself that looking at the world like that doesn’t make me a monster.

A rose by any other name will still shank you if you pick it up wrong.

I have recently/finally managed to change my legal name. Recently, because that’s when it happened. Finally, because I’ve been wanting to do it for 4 decades. It’s been, and still is, a bureaucratic game of Jenga – you need something with your new name on it in order to get something with your new name on it in order to get something with your new name on it. That aspect of it is still A Process.

Socially, though, it’s not really been A Thing. My friends are a merry band of assholes with a perverse tendency to respect people’s personal agency, even when they don’t agree with it or don’t see the point, so the conversation has tended to go:

Me: “Yo, fuckface: this is my new name.”

Them: “Huh. I’m pro’lly gonna fuck it up some until I get used to it.”

Me: “You and me both.”

Them: “So you changing pronouns an’all?”

Me: “Nah, don’t give a fuck about that atm.”

And that was that.

I have a tendency to forget that there is a Rest Of The World, though, and that, occasionally, we are forced to interact. Cue a near-infinite number of conversations on six major themes:

  • “But I liiiike your old name!” Feel free to use it, then. I’m done with it.
  • “But why?” Because, obviously, the reason I’m doing it affects the validity of my choice. (Oddly, “because I fucking hate it,” without any further explanations, is apparently a Good Enough Reason.)
  • “I hate my name too!” Change it, then. I ain’t stopping you.
  • “This is too confusing!” Sorry?
  • “What do you want to be called, reeeelly?” A very valid question, because I would obviously have gone through a legal process and a bureaucratic nightmare just to get a new name I didn’t want to use.
  • “Your old name was better for girls.” Noted.

The advantage of being an asshole is that I find the above conversations perplexing or fascinating, rather than invalidating. None of the people who react in that manner are people whose reactions I value, so they simply do not have the power to invalidate me. They can irritate my last nerve, but that’s about it. They can call me anything they like. I reserve my right to answer or not.

Unfortunately, they are not entirely wrong. My old name IS better for girls. The new one gives no clues as to my sex or gender. Within my friends group, that doesn’t matter in the least, because we do not determine how to treat people based on their sex or gender.

Let me repeat that: we do not determine how to treat people based on their sex or gender.

It all stems from our notion that people’s genitalia, gender identity, and gender expression have no bearing on their abilities and worth as a human being. I know that it’s totally far out, but we manage to make it work.

I spend so much time inside that bubble that I forget what life is like outside. It all hit me rather rudely last week when my online/offline split became painfully obvious. In “real life,” I am a person who people barely glance at before classifying as “a small woman.” Online, I have a boy’s name (cos that’s the most common assumption) and a boy’s cartoon as a profile picture (cos I like it a lot, and I would give both tits and a kidney to look like that). Observing how much that affects how far my voice carries is seriously frying my brain.

Example: a tap broke in my house just before Christmas. Every single conversation I’ve had with plumbers about the issue (and yes, there have been several) has included me having to prove that tap was broken. I had to present a detailed list of the tap’s symptoms, as well as its history. When they turned up at my house, I had to demonstrate that I used the tap accurately. Lemme repeat: I am a 43-yr-old person, and I had to demonstrate that I know how to extract hot water from a tap. The plumbers still had to test for themselves that I wasn’t doing it wrong, and that the tap was in fact broken. Once they had scolded themselves, they took time to explain to me that the tap was not in fact working, and that it was A Problem.

It pissed me off, but it didn’t surprise me, for the simple fact that that’s how it almost always goes. I am small, squeaky, and (presumably – people don’t check) I have a vagina, so I obviously don’t know anything about home repairs, cars, chainsaws, self-defence, technology, and anything else deemed “manly.” Men explain things to me, but men aren’t the problem: a whole bunch of people, regardless of their gender, treat my voice as less valid than that of larger, maler people. The fallout is that, whenever I want to say something, I first have to fight for my right to have an opinion.

The same used to happen online… until I changed my name. It took me a while to notice it, because the change only shows itself when I move outside of my online community, but now I can say A Thing and all I have to prove is said thing’s accuracy. Nobody disputes my right to speak. Nobody demands to know my credentials before I am allowed to speak. People fucking listen to what I’ve got to say first, and then they agree or disagree depending on whether they agree with my content or not. It’s like magic.

It’s also disgusting. I don’t know what to do about it. I have this constant urge to warn certain people as to the content of my pants to ensure that they know who/what they are talking to, because I know that the only reason they’re talking to me as if I were an adult person capable of intelligent thoughts and worthy of expressing them is that they think I’m packing a dick*.  I know that, because I still remember how they treated me when my name indicated to them that I was peenless.

I don’t want sexist assholes to treat me better because of a misapprehension; that may improve my immediate circumstances, but it doesn’t change how much shit generally sucks in the world. I want them to realise that they are being sexist assholes. I might have to rattle a few cages. Watch this space.

 

[*Yes, I know that a dick does not make a man. But, for the people I’m having this issue with, it does.]

Jenga

[Trigger warning for just about everything. Not kidding.]

The problem with people like me is that we have more than one problem.

 

I have a number of friends and acquaintances who have Issues with a capital “I”: mental health, physical health, substance abuse, family difficulties, and so on and so forth. Depending on the point of view one takes, they are either doing exceptionally badly, exceptionally well, or anything in between: what you know or don’t know about their life will affect your opinion of how they are managing. The less people know about the landscape of their lives, the more they concentrate on a single aspect at the exclusion of everything else around it, and the more likely they are to judge them as “failing.” They’re failing at life. They are fuck-ups. And, one way or the other, it’s generally their own fault.

They could do this. If only they would do that. What they should do is… This kind of sentence often really brings home the cluelessness of the people spouting it. The vast majority of that advice stems from the fact that the folk in the peanut gallery believe that the problem they are gawking at is the only problem in play. They completely ignore the fact that problems often spout from, or at least are interconnected with, other problems. Because of that, the solutions offered are usually utterly impractical. That is not obvious to the people force-feeding them to near strangers.

For instance, let’s take my acquaintance “X”. X has dysphoria, clinical depression, chronic anxiety that currently prevents them from working and occasionally has them home-bound, a history of eating disorders and self-harm, chronic digestive issues, and a variety of other problems that are acute enough to affect their life (e.g., vision impairment, a learning difficulty, severe abandonment issues resulting from actual abandonment, et al.). They have recently (in their early twenties) received a tentative diagnosis of neurodivergence. Since their last crisis, when the fallout of a physical ailment kicked off a whole host of psychological issues, they had to be literally talked off a ledge by a therapist three times. Most recently, because therapy was deemed not to be making them better at a sufficient enough rate, they were cut off from it. Shockingly, that news has caused a flare-up in all their other issues. They are not doing great.

Now, the standard advice that is spouted at suicidal people is stuff along the lines of “remember the impact your death would have on your loved ones” or “forget your pain and find meaning by making yourself useful.” Problem is that X’s suicidal ideation does not exist in a vacuum. Those solutions aren’t viable solutions for them; in fact, they are profoundly anti-useful. Their family of origin has let them down badly and repeatedly, and continues to do so. If they focused on the impact of their death on them, they could very well decide that, actually, topping themselves would be a good thing, that it would finally bring their family release from having to put up with them – a sentiment their family members have often shared. At the very least, X’s death would stop them being hurt by their neglect and abuse. If X looked at their chances of helping anyone else, they might come to the same conclusion: at present, they can’t even help themselves.

In order to actually understand their situation, you’d have to look at where the shit started to hit the fan, at how their issues developed over time, and at how those issues interconnected and interconnect. Certain questions would then come up that may shed light over the problem as a whole: for instance, what type of family ignores that one of their children has a severe vision deficiency and a learning difficulty until after they have “failed” at education? What does it take for them to ignore years of eating disorders? Is encouraging a person who grew up in that kind of environment to latch onto it in moments of abject desperation really a good idea?

The more you look, the more questions pop up. Is X’s eating disorder a stand-alone problem, or a coping mechanism for their dysphoria and depression? What came first, the raging IBS or their control issues around food? Is their anxiety a mental health issue, or the appropriate reaction for a person who is currently under-resourced and over-burdened for dealing with everyday life, and acutely aware of it? Is their life fucked because they are depressed, or are they depressed because their life is fucked?

If your focus is on fixing rather than classifying, where do you start? What do you address first, the self harm or the stress and anxiety that trigger it? If there is nothing to be done in the short term to relieve the root causes of the issue, is fighting against the symptoms worthwhile, or should that time, energy, and resources go somewhere else? What do you prioritise? What do you try and change and what do you ignore? If their life ever stabilises at a level that they consider “functional,” should they stop there and call it a day, or keep pushing for “better,” risking to fuck it all up again?

I’m wired weird, and I know it, but the question I ask myself the most, is “how can I help them?” Oddly enough, the only answer I never come up with is “hey, let’s spout facile solutions at them that only underline how actually fucked up they are, because not one of them is actually practical.”

It’s not just about X. I don’t know anyone who has a problem they are struggling to manage who doesn’t also have other problems. Sometimes those problems are a cause, sometimes an effect, and sometimes they co-exist; but unmanageable problems hardly ever exist in isolation. Solutions that assume that are simply not viable.

I have never met a teenage prostitute who came from a loving, functional, supportive family. I have never met an addict who wasn’t somewhat involved in the criminal world, even if “only” at the purchasing end of things, and whose home life was unaffected by their habit. I have never met someone who was perfectly healthy in body, mind, and spirit, and just woke up one day and found themselves anorexic. Even random events leave a trace: I have never met a rape survivor who managed to put that experience in a box and leave it behind. I am sure that this kind of thing happens, because people are wonderfully varied, but, in my experience, the vast majority of people who really struggle with a thing are actually struggling with a whole host of things. Most of them started life at a disadvantage. As they went through life, the challenges they “failed” to meet heaped further disadvantages on them. If they are lucky, they manage to keep their head above water by juggling the issues they are managing, which means that they are working infinitely harder than “normal” people and still barely making it. If they are unlucky, enough of these issues hit them at the same time, and they flounder. Some of them drown.

Some of my favourite people are dead. From a certain point of view, it was their fault. They should have battled their addictions, not engaged in dangerous behaviors,  sought psychiatric help, sought better psychiatric help, and so on and so forth. They should have made better decisions. They should have led better lives. You can’t help some people.

That is what people see, from the outside. What I  see are people who try so fucking hard, every moment of every day, with scant or no support, insufficient resources, and the constant, gnawing feeling that life is a game they don’t know how to play. They know they are fucking up. They know that they could do better, and they know how they could do better, but that “could” is a hypothetical: the fact is that, right here and now, they can’t. They don’t have the resources to manage any better, and sometimes that kills them.

And, to add insult to injury, their public epitaph is an F grade on life.

 

Doing right wrong.

Today, the interwebs brought me a blog intended to be a conversation with Oprah re. her efforts against rape. I’m not going to link to the original article, partly because I don’t want to send traffic to it, and partly because sending off flying monkeys to attack other people’s castles isn’t part of my conflict management style. For the purpose of this exercise, all you need to know is that the article included the following comment:

“You also applauded the #METOO women for their courage – what have they gained for giving their voice and sharing their experience? Individually- perhaps a moment of inspiration. And an experience of strength for walking past the shadows of misplaced blame and its sister shame – maybe that as well. Not small moments.

But Oprah; what has changed?”

I’ve got two answers to this.

 

First, I’m going to answer the question posed: what has changed?

We have ripped the bandaid off a festering social sore.

A lot of men who were unaware of the extent of the problem and how close to home it had hit (yes, they shouldn’t have been, but they were), now can’t hide from it.

A lot of men who were unaware that they were part of the problem now can’t hide from that.

A lot of women who thought that they were alone in their circle now know that they are not, that they can reach out to people who will understand them and support them.

A lot of women have learnt that the shame lies in being a rapist, not in being the target of rape.

Yes, this won’t help women defend themselves against the stranger who leaps at them from out of the bushes and hits them on the head with a brick. But that isn’t the most common problem most women face most often. This isn’t helping women defend themselves: it is making it less likely for them to find themselves in a situation where they have to. And yes, because the results are not immediate, they may benefit future generations more than they benefit us here and now. We get the work, other people will reap the bulk of the results. And you might see that as unfair (boo hoo) or worthless (selfish much?), but that’s how non-violent social change works. To ignore its value is to ignore how privileged we are to be here and now, in a society that is full of flaws and problems, but is infinitely better for at least a proportion of us than any of its previous incarnations. We didn’t fight for the society we have now: we have inherited it from the people who came before us and didn’t shy away from fighting battles they couldn’t “win” during their time on earth, because they saw the value in the war as a whole.

 

That’s half the issue. The other half is possibly even more important, and it’s something I want to say to YOU, dear reader, not to the writer of the original piece.

DO NOT LET ANYONE, EVER, PISS ON YOUR EFFORTS TO DO GOOD.

If someone comes at you with a reason why your efforts are wrong, why you think you’re pulling in a direction but what you’re likely achieving is its opposite, that’s what we call “constructive criticism,” which is helpful, though painful. By all means, listen to them, critically evaluate their contributions, and adjust your efforts if required. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I am talking about those people who try to tell you that what you are doing is not enough, and that the solution is either to do something else entirely or quit altogether. They might be right, in a way: their approach may be more direct, more impactful  – though, often enough, it is simply more epic, simply more in line with a white Western man’s idea of what “heroism” should look like. That’s a problem, but it’s not the problem.

The problem is that you might not be able to do that other thing at all. It may be simply beyond your means and abilities. Or maybe you could do it, but not today, because today you lack those resources. Today you were going to do a thing, but it is not the thing, and, now that you’re comparing it to the thing, it looks pathetic.

STOP THERE. Seriously. That line of reasoning is fucked. It’s going to fuck you up. It’s going to fuck all of us up.

Whatever you do today that moves things in the right direction, is a move in the right direction. It doesn’t matter if the shift is so small that it can hardly be measured: it’s a shift, and shifts are incremental. The tiny thing you do tomorrow will add to the tiny thing you did today, and two tiny things add up to a less-tiny result. If you do a tiny thing every day, that’s 365 tiny things in a year: the cumulative result may be palpable.

Then there are the ripples. You did a tiny thing today. Someone saw you, or you told a friend (which, incidentally, would be TWO things you did today). That gave your friend enough of an impetus to do a tiny thing themselves, so tomorrow TWO tiny things will be done. If you carry on as you are and they follow your example, the day after four tiny things may happen, and so on, exponentially. How many tiny things does it take to build up into a big thing? I don’t know, but I do know that there are a lot of people out there. If we all did a thing, however small, I’m willing to bet that the impact would be noticeable.

One of the reasons the world is as fucked as it is is that individuals don’t bother to do the tiny things they could do, here and now. They consider their own efforts worthless, so they do nothing at all, or they spend their lives building up to The Giant Thing that they will one day do; only that day may never come, and today’s opportunity is lost forever.

Doing what you can isn’t a worthless effort, even if it doesn’t look anything like what your hero would do. The only thing that can make your impact worthless is doing nothing because you can’t do enough.

Stand up for yourself. Stand up for others. Stand up. Some days it will be all you can do, and by virtue of that fact it will be enough.

 

Those are my answers. I thought they were good answers, cos they are relatively logical-sounding. I could, like, plot out some charts to expand on them. Then a friend of mine wrote something and reminded me of something that I’d forgotten: that there is more to this than logic and charts. That people actually fucking matter.

I’m going to leave you with it,  because it’s bigger and stronger than anything I could ever write on this or any other subject.

“Something really strange happened. For the first time in twenty years, when I had one of my usual nightmares about rape, in my dream I called the police! I think it’s because of the #metoo movement.

And, in my dream, the police came.”

 

Silence.

I have a lot of friends on Facebook who have had very different lives from me and/or who do not share my thoughts and beliefs on a number of subjects. The only trait we reliably have in common is that we have very high standards as to how debates are to be carried out, which allows us to discuss extremely thorny subjects and disagree in a civil fashion. We may be uncouth in many respects, but we debate well.

On the 2nd of April 2017 one of my friends “liked” a post from one of his friends, which made said post turn up on my newsfeed. The post in question was a lengthy diatribe describing said friend’s friend’s thoughts about LGBTQIA+ people who believe that they are experiencing discrimination or victimisation because of their LGBTQIA+ status. According to said person, homophobia and transphobia just aren’t a thing anymore. Nobody cares who sleeps with whom. Nobody cares what’s in your pants. Any LGBTQIA+ person who think they are being discriminated against is deluded. What is actually happening is that they must be treating people around them badly, so the people around them treat them badly in return. Any difficulties they are experiencing must stem solely from their (mis)behavior.

That kind of statement would have pissed me off pretty much under any circumstance. I have a metric fuckton of LGBTQIA+ friends and associates. I watch them live their lives and I see the discrimination they face, both from individuals and from institutions. I see that my life is much easier than theirs for the simple reason that I pass and they don’t. Even if I didn’t have that personal information, plenty of LGBTQIA+ people are out there, speaking about their experiences. They might not all be 100% truthful and accurate 100% of the times, because they are people and sometimes people get things wrong, on purpose or by accident. However, to turn around and tell an entire community of people that they are all misinterpreting their own lives is, well, it’s kinda bigoted against them. It is pretty much doing what it claims cannot be happening: lumping all LGBTQIA+ individuals together and being openly prejudiced against them.

It gets better, though. The reason I know exactly when that post was written and liked is that it showed up on my newsfeed directly above this article about the gay purge in Chechnya. On one paragraph, I have a dude hectoring the LGBTQIA+ community about how prejudice against them just isn’t there. On the next paragraph, I get told that not only gay people are being arrested and killed by the Chechen government, but that its officials are denying the existence of said gay people:

A spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the report in a statement to Interfax on Saturday, calling the article “absolute lies and disinformation.”

“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” the spokesman, Alvi Karimov, told the news agency.

“If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return,” Mr. Karimov said.

To say that the juxtaposition of the two posts got me a bit twitchy would be an understatement. The whole thing got me so pissed off that today, several months later, I’m still seething about it. Or am I?

At the time I didn’t say anything. I wanted so very badly to link the article as a response to the first post, because if that didn’t get the point across then nothing could. I didn’t feel I had a right to, though, because I hadn’t been invited into that conversation. I would have been piggybacking on my friend to disagree with his friend, and that seemed discourteous. I let a point of etiquette and my pride in my debating standards silence me on an issue that couldn’t be closer to my heart. If I’m pissed off now, I can’t even tell whether it’s at the purge, at the comment, or at my silence. It’s probably a combination of all of the above. It’s only my silence that shames me, though.

I was talking about the whole affair with a friend a few days back. I got pissed off all over again. She got pissed off too. We had a little moment of shared fury, and it made me feel good. It wasn’t just that my feelings were being mirrored: it felt good to reaffirm that I have people in my life who share my beliefs. I’m not the only person to see how fucked up this whole thing was. I’m not the only person who cares. If neither of us do or say anything about it, though, does our opinion matter?

 

Geek Fallacies of Bullying

A friend of mine recently experienced a rather nasty bit of overt fat shaming on a HEMA community board. Moderators handled the incident in questions swiftly and resolutely, to everyone’s satisfaction but the bully’s. As conflict resolutions go, that one was great. It sparked a conversation, however, about how unusual that kind of positive outcome is, and about how bullying in HEMA and more generally in nerd/geek communities is generally regarded, or rather disregarded. What became quickly apparent is that most of my nerdy friends have:

  1. Experienced or witnessed bullying within their communities, and
  2. Been told that the bullying didn’t count or should be disregarded or tolerated, for reasons.

In a nutshell, rather than going “OMG THIS IS AWFUL”, we found ourselves going “OMG I HAVE SEEN THIS SO OFTEN” and coming up with additional examples to add to our list. We found this worrisome and disappointing, even more so when we’ve all been told time and time again that nerds don’t bully: that’s what jocks do.

The truth of the matter is that nerd/geek communities are in the middle of a bullying epidemic that affects people both within and outside of those communities. Worse than that, they are often in denial of the problem, which prevents them from dealing with it. Which is why, after the Five Geek Social Fallacies, The Geek Social Fallacies of Sex, and the Geek Relationship Fallacies, we feel compelled to present you the Geek Fallacies of Bullying.

 

1. I don’t see it so it doesn’t happen.

This fallacy causes people to deny that bullying is a problem in their geek space. The two most common rationalisations for this are:

  1. “I don’t get bullied here, so nobody gets bullied here.” If it doesn’t affect me, it cannot possibly affect anyone else. My experience is universal and absolute.
  2. “I don’t see it, so it’s doesn’t exist.” I call this the “Belgians are a myth” fallacy: I have never met one, so they’re clearly unicorns and anyone talking about them is just making up stories.

Sometimes the underlying reason for that kind of experiential discrepancy is pretty obvious, if anyone cares to look. For instance, we may find that men don’t experience misogyny, white people don’t experience racism, able-bodied people don’t experience ableism, straight people don’t experience homophobia, cis people don’t experience transphobia, and powerful people don’t get picked on at all. It should not surprise anyone if someone who is not in the target group for certain problems does not experience that problem. However, this does not stop some of those unaffected people from turning around and telling those who are in that target group that they must be imagining their problems. It is the equivalent of a 6’5″ male bodybuilder insisting to his girlfriend that she can’t possibly be experiencing sexual harassment because it never happens to him, or it never happens to her while he is around. It makes little logical sense. If done deliberately, it’s also gaslighting.

When the inability to appreciate that people’s experiences can differ is combined with unquestioning belief in the good of one’s community, this denial can go even further. Carriers of this extreme form will deny that an event took place even when there were reliable witnesses or the incident is recorded. “I can’t believe it COULD happen here” or “I can’t believe one of us WOULD do that” trump the fact that it DID happen and one of us DID do that.

Sometimes the denial will take the form of an appeal to science. For instance, I have no scientific data to support my claim that there is bullying in geekdom, hence there is no valid proof of my claims, hence there is no bullying. That is not how scientific proof works, but that fact does not deter some people from using science as an excuse for their rejection of reality. Personal anecdotes, however numerous or well-documented, are entirely worthless because “the plural of anecdote is not data.” The fact that, by that metric, we should all refuse to learn anything from anyone’s personal experience, including our own, doesn’t seem to factor.

 

2. It’s not bullying if We do it/if it’s done at Them.

Many geeks, particularly those who grew up before geekdom gained mainstream cool, have had horrible formative experiences with bullying and ostracism. Those experiences contributed to forming their self-identity as perennial social outcasts. Regardless of how their lives have developed since those events, in their internal narrative they are always the Victims, never the Bullies.

Their victim narrative is so strong that it can lead them to believe that:

  • nothing they do can ever be bullying;
  • any behavior that upsets them, including requests to moderate their own behavior for other people’s sake, is a form of bullying.

This fallacy doesn’t just make them oblivious to the nature of their behavior and its potential impact; it also makes them extremely resistant to external corrections, however gently they are put forward. They will treat “please do not do X at me” as an act of oppression if coming from outside their community, an act of treachery if coming from within, even when X is widely regarded as a heinous behavior. This is connected to Geek Social Fallacies no. 2: friends accept me as I am, hence anyone who doesn’t tolerate everything I do is not a friend, and is rejecting and betraying all of me.

The victim narrative can be extended to the whole of a geek community, or even to Geekdom as a whole. In this extended form, this fallacy causes the carriers to believe that no geek can ever bully, and anyone accusing them of doing so is inherently evil. They will therefore automatically defend all geeks from all accusations of bullying, regardless of the availability of proof to the contrary.

The victim narrative also neatly cleaves humanity into two groups: the minority of suffering geeks vs. the majority of evil bullies. Nothing that is done to non-geeks can ever be bullying, because they ARE the bullies. At most, it can be retribution, even when it is pre-emptive. If the non-geeks respond badly to the way in which the geeks are treating them, this further proves that they were bullies all along, regardless of how justified their reaction may be.

The misogynistic variant of this fallacy stipulates that Women are never Real Nerds: they are just pretending to be, either for attention or to infiltrate and damage nerd spaces. Therefore, they deserve anything that happens to them. This can make a geek space completely toxic to women. Sometimes this fallacy affects attractive women in particular. Many nerds exist in a state of hope/despair of finding an attractive woman who shares their interests and so will drive off attractive women pre-emptively. However, women who are deemed “not attractive enough” may also come under attack, because they are letting everyone down with their unattractiveness. Regardless of any rationalisations as to why a particular woman may deserve to be mistreated, the bottom line is that Women are One Of Them, They are Evil, and They Deserve It. This attitude can be particularly heinous when sexual entitlement and sexual frustration combine, causing the affected geeks to categorise all women as iniquitous gatekeepers of their own vaginas and mistreat them accordingly.

 

3. It is bullying, but it’s OK because of Reasons.

This fallacy is an expansion on number 2. The carriers know that certain behaviors (e.g. defamation, insults, harassment, threats, public humiliation) are bullying behaviors, but they believe that, because they are taking place in a particular space or are being carried out by a particular person or persons, they become magically ok.

Examples of this are:

  • “It’s not real bullying if I laugh while I say it.” I can call you anything I want if I find it humorous, and if you don’t find it humorous then it’s your sense of humor that is at fault.
  • “I’ve had much worse, so this is OK.” Any behavior not as bad as the worst thing that ever happened to me must be tolerated. Those who are not suffering as much as I did are not really suffering.
  • “They are bullies, but they suffered so much in high school so it’s only fair/right for them to take it out on the normies/pretty girls/jocks.” Being awful is OK if you are just paying it forward.
  • “They’re a creep/harasser/bully/actual rapist/actual Nazi, but look at all they’ve given the community!” People who are important in the community are held to a much lower standard of behavior.
  • “They’re a creep/harasser/bully/actual rapist/actual Nazi, but it’s consistent with their chosen nerd interest so it’s obviously OK!” People who choose to portray characters who carry out bad behaviors get a pass on those behaviors at all times, in or out of costume. For instance, if your nerd interest covers a historical period when women were treated as inferior creatures, you get to treat women as inferior creatures at all times, because you are being historically accurate. By this logic, if you re-enact a plantation owner, you should get to use the “N” word with impunity, even when out of costume.
  • “Anyone who accuses the Old Guard of being toxic clearly just doesn’t understand that’s how the Old Guard is.” This generally stems from two sub-fallacies: either those who have behaved badly in the past are simply used to it and get a pass on all future bad behavior, or respect for Our Founders must trump all other considerations.
  • “It’s not real bullying if I use posh or technical words to do it.” For instance, if I call someone “a retard” that is name calling, and unacceptable, but calling them “educationally subnormal” is just making a factual statement and gets a pass. The fact that I’m saying the same thing is of no consequence.
  • Corollary: “It’s not a real threat if it’s not physical/I am not screaming/I know I can’t carry it out.” For instance, it wasn’t a real rape threat because I delivered it in writing, I didn’t use full caps, I know I don’t have the money to fly out to your city, and I’d be too scared to actually try pulling it off.

 

4. It’s bullying, and it’s not OK, but it’s The Way Things Are For Us.

When the community identity is tied to being a Victim or Outcast, being bullied is simply the cost of entry. “People like us” get bullied, so we must put up with bullying, even when it comes from within our community.

This can be used to justify attitudes and behaviors that are absolute no-nos in most social spaces, such as overt racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. When those behaviors take place in a nerd space, they magically morph into the natural order of things. Those at the receiving end should submit to the behaviors because, as nerds, it is their lot to suffer.

When this fallacy is turned towards those who are perceived to be Not Real Nerds, a component of victim blaming is added to the mix. For instance, the suffering of women in nerd spaces is their own fault, because they chose to enter the nerd space. What do they expect, coming into a men’s sport/hobby/martial art/profession? If they wanted somewhere safe, they should’ve taken up knitting! This can be used to justify extremely high levels of misbehavior, including sexual assaults and physical harm, because “boys will be boys” and “this is a physical activity and accidents will happen.”

An even more malignant form of this fallacy elevates being bullied to an essential formative experience for all nerds. Bullies are seen as performing a service to the community: they are helping Real Nerds grow and develop in their nerdness, while weeding out those who are Not Real Nerds. People who are bullied should be glad of the experience, because it will toughen them up or make them Real Nerds. Rather than push for an end to the behavior, they should embrace their suffering. When the fallacy becomes this pathological, all affected relationships can become abusive. When it is embraced by the whole community, that community can become extremely toxic, and help to perpetuate the abuse.

 

5. Don’t bring politics into our hobby.

The above statement turns up so often in any discussion of nerd misbehavior that it has become a cliche. On the surface, it sounds perfectly reasonable: people choose their hobbies because they are fun, “politics” are not fun, hence politics are spoiling those hobbies. The underlying fallacy and the ways in which it manifests, however, are far from benign. What it boils down to is that “this nerd space is a safe, welcoming, and inclusive community. Anyone who suggests otherwise is unsafe, is not welcome here, and should be ostracized.”

This fallacy encompasses a number of other Geek Fallacies, most notably Geek Social Fallacy 1: Ostracizers Are EvilGeek Social Fallacy of Sex 4: Drama is always worse than the thing the drama is about and Geek Relationship Fallacy 2: Disagreements mean we have to break up. Basically, people who raise any issues of internal misbehavior are potential ostracizers, hence evil; they are turning the situation into a social conflict, hence making it inherently worse; and they are risking the disintegration of the geek space, or even the eradication of the whole of Geekdom.

Carriers of the non-pathological form of this fallacy are extremely conflict-averse, particularly when that conflict is social. They do not trust their own ability to navigate the perilous waters of social interactions and they fear that any resulting change will be inevitably disastrous, so they seek to squash all complaints before they can wreak havoc. The validity of those complaints is of no consequence to them, because avoiding conflict takes priority over all other considerations.

Carriers of the malignant form of this fallacy are incapable of seeing any criticism as constructive, or to comprehend that whistleblowers may act out of anything other than a malicious will to destroy the geek space. Rather than ignoring complaints, they will turn on the complainants, seeking either to make them go away or, in the most extreme form, to hurt them as badly as they are trying to hurt the geek space.

 

Interactions

As for the original Geek Social Fallacies, “each fallacy has its own set of unfortunate consequences, but frequently they become worse in interaction.” For instance, carriers of 1, 4, and 5 will react to any mentions of bullying in their nerd space with “I didn’t see it so it didn’t happen” + “If you don’t like it, you are not One Of Us” + “You are trying to damage Us, so I will damage you more/first.” They will therefore over-react to any and all complaints, however minor or reasonable, by escalating into full assault mode. The resulting all-out conflict will be seen as the fault of the complainant, obviously, because They Started It.

 

Consequences

Widespread bullying, its denial, its defence, and the retribution against people calling it out, all combine to make a number of geek spaces incredibly toxic. The toxicity may manifest either towards all its members indiscriminately, so everyone is awful to everyone at all times for no reason, or it can be targeted against particular members of the group, who become its scapegoats. If those scapegoats are unwilling to submit themselves to that behavior, their departure from the space is seen as proof that they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

This dynamic manifests itself with painful regularity against women. It couldn’t be that their complaints are valid and their departure perfectly justified. No: they must have joined the nerd space purely to stir shit, and it’s just as well that they finally went away. This obviously also means that we should regard all women who approach us in the future as accomplices in this malignant vagenda against our space, and treat them accordingly right from the start.

 

What can I do?

It can be extremely hard to eradicate fallacies from our thinking. It can be particularly hard when we believe that, because we are aware of them, they can no longer affect us. Fallacies are slippery customers: if we believe ourselves immune to them, that’s when they can really get their teeth into us.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t all strive to modify our thoughts and feelings, or at least control our behaviors – and yes, the two things are wholly separate. I may feel extremely aggrieved against someone, for whatever reasons, but that doesn’t mean that I have to act that feeling out. I may resent the pretty girl for being pretty, for being here, for being so much like other pretty girls who spurned my affections, for just being… but that doesn’t have to translate into me being awful to her. I might not understand why a sub-community of my community insists that it is painful to them when I use certain terms… but I can still stop using those terms, because their feelings are valid even when I don’t share them.

Those of us who manage nerd spaces can help by de-normalising bullying behaviors and applying consequences against them. We have the power to decide how our spaces will operate, after all. Yes, acting on that power may cause us to lose some associates (against Geek Social Fallacies 2: Friends Accept Me As I Am, and 3: Friendship Before All). It may cause some social upheaval (against Geek Social Fallacy of Sex 4: Drama is always worse than the thing the drama is about). We may end up having to ban some people (against Geek Social Fallacy 1: Ostracizers Are Evil). However, we can remind ourselves that losing those people won’t necessarily turn our social circle into a social dot, because they are not the only people who will ever like us, or at least tolerate us (against Geek Relationship Fallacy 5: We are the only members of our species). On the contrary, making our spaces less toxic may encourage a much greater number of people to come in and stay.

Ultimately, what is really at risk here? Does anyone actually believe that it would be a bad thing if we all were to be a little bit nicer to each other, but for the wrong reasons? Is there really a risk of Geekdom falling apart through an excess of mutual consideration?