Safe spaces?

Stolen from Blackdogstrength.com, with permission.

 

Hey folks, recently I have had to explore what it means to have a safe space, particularly what it means in terms of martial arts and fitness studios (Obviously, I mean safe from discrimination, hitting folks with sticks is not necessarily safe).

I think it’s really detrimental to consider your space a “safe space” unless you explicitly vet and gatekeep members before they enter, and if you run a fitness studio or martial arts school, it’s highly unlikely you do (and may be unreasonable to expect of you). There are many safe spaces outside of these groups that DO vet their members, and in that case the label safe is more appropriate.

One of the most common problems I see in these places is the insistence that they are “safe”, when first of all, that’s not a label an authority can apply. Individual community members may decide a space is safe, and promote it as such, but it’s important to recognise that this means safe-for-them and they have a right to say that. It’s not the place of an authority to describe their space as “safe”. This is very different than an organisation being transparent about HOW they deal with harrassment and discrimination.

A space that allows the public in is never “safe”, because as a community leader safety is something you do every day, not something you create and then advertise yourself as being.You don’t know what’s going to walk in that day. Too often a claim to safety is becoming a red flag of an environment that is far more concerned with optics than being better.

So what’s the upshot of this? Stop thinking of your spaces as safe, it makes you complacent. Every time a member of public walks in they are a threat to your most vulnerable clients, and those clients don’t need to be told they are safe when that’s not something you can guarantee (If you could, then great! but you can’t). They need to know that they can express a lack of safety and have it dealt with immediately. They need to know you are aware of the threat and your organisation is equipped to address it swiftly and without hesitation. Essentially they need to know that safety is something you endeavor to, not something you feel you have achieved. This is something I personally am working on (This is not meant as an admonishment, unless of course it’s admonishing me at the same time)

If you are reading this and thinking “But I didn’t know! I couldn’t do anything”, sorry, it’s your job to know. It may mean you are not a terrible person, but it does mean you are unfit to lead a community.

There are tons of great organisations that use the label “safe space”. I don’t mean to criticise them. More to encourage people to consider if that is something they can guarantee, or would it be better for them to lay out what they are doing to be safer?

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Translations

What they say:

“Conversations about consent are making the issue so complicated that I can’t even tell if I’m raping someone anymore!”

What I hear:

“I prioritise my sexual gratification over ensuring my partner’s welfare. I am so selfish that not only I can’t be sure I’m not raping my partners, but I don’t even want to find out. If I haven’t raped anyone yet, it’s out of sheer good luck or because I’ve lacked the opportunity to do so. I also really, really suck in bed.”

 

What they say:

“Bullshit like the #metoo campaign has gotten women so riled up that I can’t talk to them anymore!”

What I hear:

“I am only interested in conversations with women that can lead to sex, and discount all other forms of interaction with them. I have no interest in connecting with them on an intellectual or emotional level, or even in talking to them about the weather. I don’t see this as a roadblock in my interactions with them.

My style of interaction with women isn’t working. Instead of altering it, I demand that women change their standards to suit my needs. I am so selfish and inconsiderate that I believe all social interactions should be about me. I am unwilling to take into account the comfort and wishes of the people I interact with. I don’t see this as a roadblock, either.”

Alternatively:

“Women aren’t really people and I shouldn’t have to take their opinions into consideration.”

 

What they say:

“Incels wouldn’t exist if women weren’t such bitches when turning men down.”

What I hear:

“I have never listened to a woman talking about her experience of turning men down , and how badly that can go. I believe that women have the responsibility to alter their behaviour to suit men’s needs. I believe that women are responsible for all parts of their interactions with men, including men’s responses. If I woman gets yelled at / punched / raped, my first thought is that she must have done something wrong and it’s all her fault.”

or:

“I am the kind of person who reacts to a slight from an individual by advocating the rape and murder of that individual’s entire group. I need urgent medical help.”

 

What they say:

“Women do not become sexually active if they don’t want to get pregnant / only have sex for money or status / similar bullshit.”

What I hear:

“I have never sexually satisfied a woman. I am utterly unable to hear women’s opinions on their own sexuality, so that is unlikely to change.”

 

 

As a friend of mine said, “if you genuinely can’t tell whether your behavior is harming others, that’s a real problem that you should want to solve in a way that privileges non harm, rather than just making space for your ignorance to be comfortable again.” If you are so selfish that you can’t see how your selfishness is not only an issue, but THE issue, maybe you ought to revisit your qualifications for taking part in any kind of social interactions. Antisocial interactions is where you’re at.

Stories.

I’ve been mainlining “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. I’d read it a looooong time ago (mythology was my first nerdlove), but I’d actually forgotten how awesome it is, warts and all. If you’ve not checked it out, do. I recommend the audiobook, if that’s your kind of thing.

As per the book summary, “Campbell outlines the Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions.” The same elements occur in stories from all over the world, regardless of cultural differences. That theory needs to be taken with several pinches of salt, but it offers an explanation as to how we can relate so easily to stories from cultures we know nothing about. We can appreciate the Bromance of Gilgamesh even if we think that “Akkadian” is something to do with Captain Harlock. We don’t need to know much about Gilgamesh’s cultural or physical environment to recognise him as a Hero; we respond to the parts of his story that mark him as one.

It made me thing about a couple of real-life situations I’ve just witnessed. The first one involved a young acquaintance of mine who has recently met a fellow and quickly proceeded to give up her entire life to be with him. Public responses to the events have been interesting, inasmuch as they revealed a clear gender split. Guys have either expressed no opinion or been very positive about the whole thing – how wonderful, how romantic, are they getting married? Responses from women have been entirely different. Not one of them has been positive, or even neutral. Every single woman who has expressed an opinion on the subject has voiced deep concern about my acquaintance’s decision, the possible fallout, and the likely character and intentions of the man involved.

The people watching that simple, everyday story unfold respond differently because they recognise two completely different narratives. The guys see a love story. The women see the start of a narrative of control and abuse.

I originally thought that I had never seen such a gendered response to a story before… But of course I have, too many times to count. Isn’t that what happens when women raise concerns about creeps, and are told by the men in their life that they’re seeing things? The women recognise the elements in a narrative, so they know what kind of story they are in. They can anticipate what will happen next because they know how the story goes. The men don’t know that story, so they don’t recognise its parts. To them, if the inevitable comes to pass, it will come as a surprise.

The second situation showed a different kind of split. A commenter mentioned on my page that his young daughter is only allowed to have social media accounts on condition that she gives him all her passwords. To him, that restriction is a way to keep her safe: there are a lot of creeps out there, and he can’t yet rely on her to make the right self-defence decisions, so he wants to monitor her communications. I’m sure that a lot of people will see that as a perfectly valid parenting choice. A whole bunch of my friends, however, had a totally different take on it. Depriving one’s partner of privacy, and particularly of the ability to have confidential communications, is a standard tool in the abuser’s kit. This kind of parenting strategy can actually weaken children’s ability to self-protect later on in life by normalising abusive strategies. The fact that in this girl’s case her  privacy is breached “for her own good” doesn’t really help, because that rationale is also used as a tool of abuse.

A whole bunch of us looked at the elements of that story and projected a narrative: the story of a girl who reaches her teens, rebels against parental constraints, and proceeds to fly into the arms of a controlling partner because she was raised to conflate control and love. If that unhappy situation occurs, she may not only lack the resources and tactics to resolve it, but even the ability to recognise it. It’s hard to spot that you’re been abused when you’re used to the exact same behaviours from those who love you.

Neither of those stories has to end badly. We’re hopefully being unduly negative. However, even if that’s the case, our mistake won’t be caused by brain worms or a love of drama. We are not making shit up because we like to scare ourselves or others; we are recognising the elements of stories that we’ve seen replayed time and time again. Maybe we’ve lived them ourselves, maybe we’ve “just” watched people go through them; either way, we recognise them, so we identify them as a certain type of story and expect them to have a certain type of ending.

What is interesting to me is that some people are unaware of those stories. On the surface, it could simply be the result of differences in life experiences; those whose lives have kept them safe from that kind of story won’t be able to spot it in the wild. There must be more to it than that, though, because people can learn from each other’s stories. That is why mythologies and folk tales were created in the first place: they allowed people to absorb lessons without having to go through horrible ordeals. The quality of the learning isn’t equivalent, because some lessons you can only learn first-hand, but second-handing it does cut down drastically on death and dismemberment. If you run a cost-benefit analysis, it works out pretty well.

Somehow, a bunch of modern narratives are failing to make it into the canon, and it’s not because they’re rare, or they’re not being spoken about. Some voices are just not being heard. And that not only harms those telling the stories, because having one’s experiences discounted is never a lot of fun, but also those who could benefit from hearing them. We’re depriving people of cautionary tales. And while that has the potential give us countless new heroes,  it’s also filling our ranks with victims and survivors.

Free and not

‘Tis that time of year!

This ebook will be free for 5 days starting tomorrow. Please note that timezones are a factor beyond my control. If it comes up as not free, hold on a few hours. It’s extremely short, so I’d recommend that you wait and save your pennies.

 

This one is not free, but it’s hopefully, worth the price tag. It’s fiction, again, but it’s kinda sorta fantasy, though it’s mostly about messed-up people trying not to mess up their lives. I like it, anyway. If you have a problem with swears and non-binary characters, you probably won’t.

 

Do feel free to share the post or the links therein.

Incel

I recently put a short post introducing the concept of “Incel” on my FB page. In 5 or so years of messing around in the online world of self-defense, I’ve never had to block so many people in so short a period of time. It is painfully evident that there is great resistance against admitting that incels exist, that they are a serious problem, and that they are the offshoot of wider gender issues. On top of that all, there is a ton of resistance against even talking about them.

First and foremost, if you are of the opinion that discussions about incels are a waste of time, don’t engage with them. If you think that other groups are worthy of more attention, go deal with those. But do not think that this gives you the right to derail conversations other people are having on any subject. You only get to control how you spend your time. If this bothers you, you should look into that. Jumping into other people’s conversations to derail them is really not acceptable behavior for anyone over the age of 4.

Secondly, if you are a self-defense instructor involved in training women and you cannot possibly comprehend how some men may descent to that depth of depravity, then you’ve failed at your job. I don’t mean that you’ve failed now, because you didn’t anticipate the Toronto attack, or that you’ve failed in the last couple of years, because you didn’t keep up with the darker corners of the ‘net and hadn’t even heard the term until disaster struck. Your failure lies in not having listened to the women in your life; to your students, your neighbors, your friends, your partners. While the label is new, the attitudes and behaviors manifested by incels are not. The only thing that has changes is that some of the men that way inclined now wear the label openly and relatively proudly, and that the internet has given them the opportunity to coalesce into a movement, and to proselytize.

Incel ideology – and it is an ideology: a system of ideas and ideals – hasn’t sprouted into being out of nothing. It is the misshapen, rotten, extremist version of a whole bunch of beliefs and attitude that are widespread in our culture. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, at least some of the women in your life will have encountered the phenomenon, if not the label. That’s why I firmly believe that if the existence of someone like an incel genuinely shocks you, you just haven’t been listening.

If you did listen, but you didn’t get it – if your reaction to these events is to think “shit, that’s what Deborah was on about when she was describing that horrible date she had” or “man, so when Susan really struggled with her landlord, this is what was going on,” congratulations: you get it. You finally accept the existence of a horror that Deborah and Susan have had to live with. Now do us all a favor: ring them, tell them that you’re sorry, and then shut your mouth and listen to what they have to say on the subject.

But then, we’re not even listening to the incels themselves. Even when they promulgate their ideology loudly and clearly, we dismiss their words. They’re just trolling! And when I ask what makes that trolling OK, whether we’d just put our fingers in our ears and ignore it if an individual was to advocate the mass rape and murder of any other group, all I get is the chirping of crickets.

Incels can’t be a real threat. Come on, they’re so pathetic that they can’t even get laid! As if the fact that in our society young men can gain social status by inserting their penis into as many women as possible wasn’t part of the issue. Women are gatekeeping the incels not only from sex, but from the social standing sex would bring them. Of course they feel aggrieved, and of course they’re lashing out. Boys will be boys!

But don’t make it into a gender issue, for crying out loud. There’s no need for that, even though the incels clearly divide humanity according to gender. Let us ignore the gender component and spend all our energy and effort on being boggled by the chicken-and-egg issue of what came first, the rejection or the misogyny.

If these boys took a shower, put on a nice suit, and learnt some social skills, they could get laid and they’d be perfectly normal. The fact that they regard women as an alien species, or even as a set of interchangeable objects, is but a detail. It’s not as if women cared about being treated like human beings by their partners. The fact that the incels feel entitled to sex and react violently when they are denied it wouldn’t be a problem if they were in a relationship, for sure. It’s not rape if it’s at home, right? Really, it’s all down to the women in their lives. If only women could be nicer, if they learnt to turn men down nicely, or they didn’t turn down so many men…

I read this stuff and wonder about the people who write it. I can’t personally think of anything anyone could say or do that would make me want to advocate the mass rape and murder of an entire group. Apparently, though, it’s somehow normal for men to do that, so women should pander to them for their own safety. Or it’s totally abnormal for men to do that, so those men are clearly whackos and we need to file the whole thing as a mental health issue and nothing more.

Let us blithely ignore that the incel ideology is a mere skip and a hop away from that of Red Pill groups, and that those groups have more than a little in common with our garden-variety pick-up artists. Sure, there is a hell of a difference between believing that women shouldn’t have the right to withhold their consent and buying and selling tricks that will enable men to bypass that consent, but there is a commonality too: fucking is held as more important than women’s agency and welfare. And let us never mention that none of these subcultures would flourish in the absence of a specific market, that of men who prioritize their dicks over other human beings.

Or not. The further you travel down the misogyny spectrum, the less women are human beings. At the extreme end, they are alien organisms tasked with the bearing of vaginas (1) for the use of men. Those familiar with the basics of self-defense should recognize this as basic othering – the same psychological mechanism that enables people to shoot other people for the contents of their wallets and a smartphone. Yet every single time I’ve mentioned the objectification of women in a self-defense setting I’ve been shouted down. Objectification is what the radfems screech about, isn’t it? It can’t be that thing that we talk about all the damn time, that concept we try so hard to explain to our students, showing up in a different setting. It has to be something else entirely – or, more likely, nothing. I’m probably making it all up. It can’t be as bad as I think.

It also can’t be as bad as countless women describe. We must clearly be involved in a collective dream, all seeing this monster that just isn’t there. It can’t be that, actually, the monster is so very similar to people who like to think of themselves as perfectly normal that we can’t admit to its existence. It can’t be that our culture shelters the seeds of these attitudes. Do you remember Harvey Weinstein? Did you ever stop to think that people like him have had the power to control our media, and that maybe, just maybe, that is part of the problem? That countless movies, books, and TV shows are solid with tropes that hurt women by twisting the opinions of men, and guiding their behavior?

If we start looking at the world like that, though, we’ll end up having to look at our own behaviors. We might have to accept that if we tolerate and defend petty, shoddy attitudes towards women (“who wears the trousers in the relationship?”), the only difference between us and the monsters is in how far we’re willing to go. That would be unpleasant. Burying the entire topic is clearly the better option.

 

(1) I have actually no idea of where the incels sit with regards to trans women. I can only hope that it’s very, very far, because the trans community has enough problems without dealing with that.

Observations.

One.

My doorbell doesn’t work for cishet guys. (“Cis” are people whose gender is the same as that with which they were identified at birth. “Het” is short for heterosexual. Neither are a slur, though both can be used as such.) It wasn’t my intention to prevent their access to my humble abode: it’s the unintentional fallout of a practical issue. The doorbell, for logistic reasons, is located in a relatively awkward place. Unless it is pressed properly, it doesn’t work. It isn’t faulty, as demonstrated by the fact that all manner of people use it successfully on a daily basis. Not cishet guys, though; the vast majority of them just can’t hack it. This has been proven by three years of daily experimentation on unwitting human subjects.

There is an exception to this rule. One delivery person who presents as female is also routinely incapable of using the doorbell. She can use the phone, though, to yell at me that she’s outside.

When this pattern emerged, I was moderately baffled by it, until I noticed another pattern: the people who can’t work the doorbell are also the people who get angry at it, and at me, because “it doesn’t work.” When I prove that it does in fact work, by pressing upon it with my dainty finger and making it work, they get angrier. I’ve gone through this process several times with some of them; they still can’t use the doorbell, they’re still convinced that the problem is with it, not with them, and every time their anger increases.

The split seems to be between people who wonder whether they are pressing the doorbell right, so take care in how they are doing it and perhaps even try again if they’re not sure, and people who believe that they are obviously doing it right. For the latter, if their first attempt doesn’t work, then the problem is with the doorbell, not with them. Their immediate response is to get angry at the thing that’s thwarting them, rather than try to make it work, and at the people who are responsible for the thing being in their way. When they are shown conclusively that the thing isn’t faulty, being proven wrong makes them furious.

It so happens that this attitude is most commonly displayed by cishet guys. Whether that’s nature, nurture, or coincidence, is beyond my scant abilities to determine.

 

Two.

There are a number of media products I don’t like. Some of these products  are, on the surface, designed precisely for people like me, “Jessica Jones” being a prime example. I’ve lost count of the number of people who insisted that I should watch it because I would love it. I tried it, got a couple of episodes in, and noped so far and fast out of it that you couldn’t see me for dust.

I wasn’t offended or hurt by the fact that I didn’t like it. I came to the conclusion that I was not in fact its intended audience. For me, the idea of a PTSD sufferer hunted down by a superhuman psychopath is NOT entertainment. So are many other ideas, underlying many other programs, movies, book, music videos, etc. In all honesty, the vast majority of media is of no interest to me. I don’t enjoy it, so I don’t consume it.

That also doesn’t offend or hurt me, because I don’t expect everything to be made so I will like it. When I don’t like something, I remain aware of the fact that people who like that kind of thing will find that the kind of thing they like. That doesn’t offend or hurt me, either. Thusly I managed to survive the Star Wars prequels with minimum damage to my psyche. I reeeeeeaaaally liked “Rogue One,” but I only enjoyed “The Last Jedi” because porgs and spaceships and explosions. I didn’t watch the latest “Mad Max” because the premise didn’t interest me in the least, yet I enjoyed the fact that many of my friends enjoyed it. I hated the new “Ghostbusters,” but I hated the old “Ghostbusters,” too. Some of my friends liked them, some hated them. We all pulled through.

I know a ton of people who can’t tolerate anything they do not love. I don’t mean that they won’t sit through a movie they hate, or go to a club playing music they dislike: they literally cannot tolerate the existence of any media not to their taste. They find it offensive, and they are angered by its creation and its enjoyment. They take great pains to interject themselves in conversations where people are rejoicing in A Thing and list the many, many ways in which said thing is shitty. If people do not agree with them, they get even angrier, and proceed to explain why the fans of the Bad Thing are Bad People. They apparently operate under the belief that their taste is, or should be, universal; that they are the arbiters of what is Good and Bad; and that anyone who doesn’t agree with them should be put right. I do not understand how they came to develop that conviction.

 

Three.

There is a self-defence instructor who has a habit of interjecting himself in public debates on certain subjects (most notably rape culture) and demand that people provide not only a universal definition for the term, but solid scientific proof that it is A Thing before he will engage in the conversation. I find the behaviour extraordinary – not the term clarification aspect of it, because 90% of flame wars could be averted if people only bothered to check that they’re actually talking about the same thing, but the fact that he effectively demands a fee for his participation in a conversation. It apparently doesn’t occur to him that the conversation can take place without him; that people may feel indifferent about his absence, or even rejoice in it.

I have never felt indispensable to a conversation. He obviously does. I wonder about the personal experiences that led him to develop that belief.

My life must be wildly different from his. I am used to having to fight for the right to participate in a conversation; to prove not only the validity of my points, but my personal worth before I am allowed to take part. Oftentimes, if I disagree with other participants, I have to prove my personal worth all over again before my arguments are examined. This has changed quite a bit online since my name change, as I mentioned in a previous blog, but the issue resurfaces every time people discover the nature of my crotch giblets.

 

Four.

A self-defence instructor popped on my page a couple of weeks ago to suggest that an anti-bullying method he teaches his students may also be useful in abusive situations. A couple of us came up to say that not only the latter was unlikely to be the case, but, even as an anti-bullying method, it was pretty damn chancy. (To be specific: it works very well in situations where the bullying amounts to namecalling that isn’t going to escalate – but then so does any permutation of “not giving a fuck” – and is likely to fail spectacularly in all other situations, potentially with severe repercussions.)

The guy defended his position from a couple of angles, in the process of which he stated that he knows he’s the only one teaching that method. I replied that I found it extraordinary that his equation would be:

(I’m the only one teaching this) + (people keep telling me that I’m wrong) = (clearly I am a brilliant visionary)

His response was that “he doesn’t hear people telling him that he’s wrong.”

It was the most accurate and least self-aware statement anyone has ever made in my presence. The guy genuinely does not hear people telling him that he’s wrong. I don’t know what he hears instead; the chirping of crickets, the waffling of the grown-ups in Peanuts, or a heavenly chorus repeating to him that he’s ahead of his time? I will probably never find out, because I have no interest in talking to him further. He can’t hear my voice, so it’s pointless. I can only hope he doesn’t kill any of his students.

I cannot comprehend how anyone would come to develop that response to disagreements. I don’t know if my self-doubt is born or bred, but it’s there, and having people I respect telling me to check myself causes me to fucking bolt to do as they say, particularly when the welfare of third parties is at stake. More than that, I don’t understand how he gets to have that kind of conversation in a public forum without third parties jumping down his throat. I have never, ever had a public disagreement without one or more people (usually men but occasionally older women) feeling the urge to educate me about how disagreements should be handled, or avoided. I am still routinely hearing about a fallout I had with a guy about 3 years ago, in which apparently I was at fault, even though I explained numerous times that the public fallout was but a minor component of a far more serious private fallout.

Maybe that dude gets the same telling-offs, but he can’t hear them either. Maybe having a vagina is a free ticket to a life-long free education at the hands of the public; a well-meaning but relentless process that those in possession of a penis miss out on. Dunno.

 

 

Happiness

I’m getting coaching. My coach is cool. We talk about dragons and stuff. I’m also in the middle of a major life upheaval. This has given me the opportunity to explore and re-evaluate some of my core beliefs.

(Sounds better than “I’m getting slammed in the face by reality so hard that I’m feeling permanently concussed,” doesn’t it?)

One of the things that have emerged out of this fortuitous combination is that I have some really, really messed up beliefs around happiness. They’re not thoughts I willingly entertain: they are part of my original programming, and have been living at the bottom of my brain, buried so deep within the machinery that I couldn’t see them, and quietly fucking shit up for me.

I think, but I’m not sure, that they’re the result of growing up in a profoundly fucked up family. I also think that I’m not special; other people with a similar background may also be infected with the same malware. What I’m going to do here is list the damn things. Scribbling them down seemed to help me. Maybe reading them will help somebody else.

  1. My happiness doesn’t matter. It’s not a metric by which I should judge my life. It’s not something I should strive towards. It’s not something anyone else should care about.
  2. Unhappiness is unnatural / a bad behaviour / a character flaw. If I’m unhappy, I am either doing something wrong or I am wrong. Either way, I deserve to be unhappy, but I also need to stop being unhappy immediately because that’s wrong, which means that I deserve to be unhappy (repeat until no longer funny).
  3. I don’t deserve to be happy. If I’m unhappy, that’s what I deserve. If I am happy, that happiness is bound to be short-lived because it is undeserved, and I’ll be punished for experiencing it.
  4. I need to earn my happiness by being A Good Person or being Good At Things. I cannot gain happiness by simply working towards it.
  5. I am happy/unhappy about the wrong things. If something that makes me happy doesn’t meet X set of pre-established criteria, then that thing is wrong, my happiness is wrong, and I am wrong.
  6. My happiness comes out wrong. For instance, it is too loud, too risky, not suitable to a Good Kid / Nice Lady, blah blah.
  7. I should be happy with what I have, even when what I have does not make me happy. Whatever situation I’m in, I should be able to find happiness within it rather than trying to change it. If I can’t, that’s bad and I should feel bad.
  8. Things that have no purpose but making me happy are a waste of time and resources. I should be happy doing things that have A Worthy Purpose, even if they don’t in fact make me happy. See point 5.
  9. Striving for happiness is selfish/sinful. Good People don’t do that kind of thing, and only Good People deserve to be happy.
  10. Working out what makes me happy is a surefire way of ensuring that I won’t get it. “They”* will find out what I want, take it away from me if I have it, and punish me for wanting it if I don’t.

*No idea at present who “they” are.

I think these beliefs all pretty much fucked. I’m putting them up for reference, not as a suggestions list. If you disagree – if you think that they’re perfectly valid and they work for you – good on you. They don’t work for me, though. I haven’t picked them, I don’t agree with them, and they’re screwing me up, so I’m going to do what I do best, and kill them with fire.

READ THIS

READ THIS, BECAUSE IT’S EXCELLENT.

I’m putting it through here so the email subscription people don’t miss out.

Note: I don’t know a damn thing about LARP, but I’ve seen this kind of dynamic in re-enactment, martial arts, and pretty much any other club or institution I can think of. It’s a thing. It’s probably a thing in the places you go to, and just because you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

My favourite part of this: the term “black hat” is infinitely more specific and less controversial than any other term I’ve seen to date. Also, it does not require a specific “diagnosis” of the problem, which is often where people and groups come unstuck (“Chad isn’t a bully, he just plays rough…” “Kevin isn’t a perv, he’s just awkward around women…”).

Addendum

Addendum to the previous blog.

A whole bunch of people got in touch to point out that the false hope that “if you only did/were X, then everything would be just fiiiiine” is just one of the tools abusers use to keep you in your place. And yeah, that’s often true.

There’s another side of the coin, though, and this is probably where I put my foot in it. Abusive behavior doesn’t necessarily stem from a wish to hurt someone. People – parents, partners, teachers, whoever – can establish and maintain an incredibly toxic environment and totally screw up the people around them without in fact meaning to. They might be replicating the dynamics they were brought up with. They might be doing what they think is necessary or good. They might be simply messed up, unable to do any better, for whatever reasons. Whether we still want to call these people “abusers” is a serious conversation, but it’s one I won’t be participating in. I’m far more interested in accurately labelling the behavior.

Some abusive tactics are used in order to elicit a certain response from the target – not in order to cause them pain or distress, but in order to make them do something. The pain and distress invariably happen, but they are side effects rather than goals. [Inevitable book plug: there is a parallel with “negligent creeps” I described in “Creepology“.]

An example would be a parent who wants their child to learn to play the violin, and is willing to resort to absofuckinglutely any means necessary in order to achieve that goal. If the child does not practice enough, or does not improve at an adequate pace, the child is punished. If the child does meet those standards, however, the abusive behavior goes away. Hell, if the child exceeds expectations, they might actually be rewarded! The violin playing is, for real and no shit, the key to the child’s happiness. It is only so because the parent makes it so, but the connection is tangible and real. It isn’t a mirage, a vain hope of a brighter tomorrow; it’s a contract. Although it has been unilaterally established by the parent, the deal it offers is solid.

The problem with this kind of behavior is that it isn’t anywhere as clear-cut as the trope of the abusive relationship where one person is hell-bent on using another to get their jollies. When there is Evil in play, it’s easier to decide what’s OK and what isn’t. When the behavior isn’t motivated by cruelty, however, things can get a lot more complex. Each and every one of us is going to have to decide where they draw the line, and that is likely to be based on a number of factors. What kind of rewards and punishments do we deem acceptable? What expectations are realistic? What are the relevant cultural norms? What is the impact on the child in question? We’re going to have to know a hell of a lot more about the specifics of that actual situation before we can decide whether the “abuse” label fits. In some situations, we might decide that the parent isn’t being abusive: they are just doing what they think is best for their child. The child will thank them when they’re older.

There are two fabulous twists on this kind of story – as in, worth of being included in good, old-fashioned fables of the blood-and-gore kind.

Firstly, in these situations the abuse only become visible when the child fucks up. While the child meets the parent’s expectations, they are treated perfectly well. The problem is that that apparently wholesome family situation is resting on a foundation of fear. The parent may be treating the child “well,” but it’s only because their wishes are being met. The child may be performing “well”, but they might only do so out of the sheer terror of what would happen if they didn’t. Although they might be getting adequately looked after in all respects, they know what would happen if they slipped up. And, although they may be perceived as “driven,” in reality they are pushed, or dragged.

I don’t think I can describe the impact of that fear in a way that would make those who’ve not experienced understand it. I don’t even know if I want to try. I don’t have the stomach for it. Just try and imagine it, if you’re that way inclined.

[I occasionally read articles about the psychological and emotional problems experienced by “gifted children” – low self-esteem, perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, depression, anxiety, burnout, social difficulties, etc. I always privately wonder how many of them stem from the giftedness itself, and how many from being the child of parents who pride themselves on being “the parent of a gifted child.”]

Secondly, for some children, the deal isn’t about a thing they have to do: it’s about who they are supposed to be. Sometimes the parents reject or punish a single key aspect of a child’s identity  (e.g., gender or sexuality). Sometimes the parent’s demands are so stringent that the child is left no space to actually be the person they want to be. They are under such close examination that they not only have to control their every action, but also make sure that their feelings and thoughts are in line with their parents’s wishes. They have to perform, rather than be, every moment of every day. If they slip in their performance, they are punished. For those children who are punished with ostracism, the choice is clear: lose themselves, or lose everyone else. For a small child, dependent on their parents for absolutely everything, that is no choice at all. And, from the outside, no part of their struggle is visible.

CW – abuse & control.

 

There’s an idea I’ve tried to put across to a bunch of people, and failed. I’ve only ever managed to explain myself properly once, and that was with Dillon, whose brain is wired so much like mine that I could fart and he’d still know what I mean. So I’m obviously going to try to put it across in writing, to a bunch of strangers, because that’s likely to work so well. Hey ho. Here goes nothing.

When you’re in an abusive relationship, that relationship is all about what the abuser wants. Your needs and wants are only relevant as ways to get to you. You can be punished by having something taken away, or punished for wanting something you shouldn’t. The abuser is in control. That’s the whole point.

There’s another side to the relationship, though, a way in which the abusee has a lot of control, too – or the illusion of control, anyway. That illusion originates from one of the common narratives of abuse.

I’ve personally met no abuser who was honest about their agenda. Parents are particularly great at that. They don’t tell their children “Sorry, I’m just a terrible person who enjoys watching you suffer, so I’m going to do horrible things to you to get my kicks. It has nothing to do with you, and you can’t fucking stop me.” On the contrary, they generally justify their misdeeds by turning them into reactions to their kids’ behavior. Daddy isn’t a rageaholic who gets pissed up just to have an excuse to trash the place and all within it. He’s just tired, or stressed, and you were too loud, or too rude, or too slow. He flipped out because you made him. Mommy isn’t a manipulator who discovered that going into hysterics at the drop of a hat causes everyone to walk on eggshells around her. She is having a nervous breakdown because you gave it to her. Uncle isn’t a sexual predator who’s been waiting years for someone within reach to cross the threshold of puberty. He is acting creepy because you turned him on.*

It’s all on you. In a way, you’re the one with all the control in the relationship: you have the power to control people’s actions, their feelings, even their health. A too-loud sneeze can cause a burst of violence, send someone on a bender, or give them a three-day migraine. And it’s not just about your actions: even your feelings and thoughts are under constant scrutiny. You said “thank you” for your present, but you didn’t seem to mean it enough – cue a maelstrom. Everything you do or say is enormously important and can have disproportionate consequences. You end up spending the majority of your time and energy trying to work out not just what to do, but who to be in order to make the bad things not happen. If you could just get yourself right, everything around you would get right, too. That’s what you’re told, time and time again. Even when it doesn’t make any logical sense, it can be what you end up believing.

That’s the flipside of a lot of abusive relationship: they hinge on a perversion of the locus of control, on implanting you with the belief that by doing the right things, thinking the right thoughts, feeling the right feelings, being the right person, you could make it all alright. You could make all the problems go away. If only you could fix yourself, everything would be fixed. It’s obviously bullshit when you look at it from the outside. On the inside, though, it makes sense, and exponentially more so if that’s what you grew up with.

That belief can fuck you right up. Not only it can make you stay in abusive relationships longer than you ought to (which is precisely no time at all – run soon, run fast, run far, if you can), but it can also make you stay in shitty situations, or in situations that are just shitty for you. Maybe something isn’t universally awful, but it’s just not right for you. It doesn’t make you feel good. It doesn’t allow you to get what you want, or what you need. And instead of looking at it for what it is – a bad fit – and moving on to find a situation that would suit you better, you bend yourself like a freakin’ pretzel trying to make yourself suit the situation you’re in.

The problem with that is that, even if you can crack the code, even if you can force yourself to act, think, and feel the right things, those things that make the situation around you tolerable, or even good, you’re almost guaranteed not to be happy. Part of the problem is that you don’t in fact have magical powers: you might be able to make people alter their behavior for a short while, but your actions are unlikely to change their basic nature. As soon as you stop pushing for a result, or as soon as the novelty of your presence in their life wears off, they’re more than likely to revert to type. The other part of the issue is that if you have to be someone you’re not to make a situation work, then you, the real you, is forever going to be neglected. You will never get what you need when everyone, you first and foremost, is deliberately ignoring what that is.

 

*Heeeey, check me out, throwing stereotypes all over the place! That’s what I grew up seeing in my life and those of my friends. I know that there are other narratives, but those are the ones I know.