I Read Things
(FOREWARD: This is a rambling mess of a post. I wrote it raw and will probably not edit it before I hit publish. I may from time to time put up raw reactions like this simply to let things out that would have no place on my regular blog at Sadly, No! But that means I will not spend the amount of time or care on these works that I would something I was putting there.
So don’t say I didn’t warn you if it turns out to be a half-coherent slog.)
In the course of my day, I read things, usually a few silly things, like webcomics or a few snark sites in order to begin my day. And in the course of reading such things, I sometimes encounter things that just sort of needle under my skin.
I mean, they aren’t badto be exact. I mean, the authors who write them are sometimes people whose work I usually respect (as is the case this time) and let’s be frank, in my usual blog I frequently encounter way worse.
But it’s annoying in its own respect, because these small little annoyances. These things that aren’t so bad, nonetheless can be as illustrative as the great big examples the modern right gives us on the socio-political landscape that we call home.
So I dust off the musty covers of this old journal and allow it some small use in covering something that I would never in a million years use for a post on the main site.
And it’s quite probable that this won’t be the last post to revive this dead journal.
Today’s post is about a tumblr post. This tumblr post, to be exact,, which is part of a tumblr blog I like called Shittiest Editorial Cartoon of the Moment that usually rips into hacktacular editorial cartoons. Which yeah, small target, easily glossed over, completely forgettable.
But it needles and so we are here.
One piece of context in the brewing of this piece has to be that it is on tumblr and tumblr blogs have a reputation that echoes its way across our great internets. A reputation I’ve often felt ill at ease about.
Cause see, tumblr is seen as the den of “crazy lefty activists”, the “unreasonable” ones who spout “far-out” theories and demand absolute perfection in allies. It’s cited as a prime example of how liberals are frustrating and how activists are their own worst enemy. It’s battle cry is “check your privilege” and it’s everything that one hates about an anti-war protest if you know what I mean, hint hint…
And that bugs me quite a bit, because the usual examples they cite to show this is that tumblr posts are often very focused on trans* activism and mental health activism (specifically about depression and lowering discrimination against that) often with an aggressive nature that refuses to accept bullshit, babysit people’s education, and so on.
Which 1) yeah, it’s kind of awkward when my human rights as a trans* person and being treated with full respect is seen as some “out there” thing that is completely unreasonable.
And 2) “out there” people are critical for any activist movement. A movement without radicals pushing the bounds and demanding the impossible is a movement that is not going anywhere or is often going backwards. Movements that have silenced the “radicals” demanding the impossible often find themselves losing ground on the politically acceptable, simply because there is not the push towards something more in order to remind the gazelle-like moderates that your moderate request really is something small.
“Radicals” being unreasonable are also often the beginning of things that become no duhs. The first abolitionists, the first people to argue that women had the right to vote, the first people to speculate about a world without rape, or the first people to argue that gay people should not just hope to one day not be beaten and murdered but to actually live open lives with those they love and be connected with them with all the legal protections of anyone else.
These did not just “poof” into place, they were fought for, by people viewed as irrational and unhelpful.
And 3) The “take no prisoners” model of activism isn’t actually worse than the “nice educator”. People learn in different ways. Some people need a helping hand to babysit them through their ignorance. Others need someone who will simply assume the world as they’d like it to be who will remind them that it is your job to educate yourself and to learn about their world.
It’s much like fuckups in daily life. Some people need massive tact to avoid stupid defensiveness and be able to hear what their loved ones are saying. Others just need to be called on their shit and made to realize that they’ve hurt someone they care about.
Activism is no different.
But anyways, our post du jour opens with an expansion of a theory.
Last week I raised the point that true revolutionaries work to create a world that won’t need them, while many vocal activists seem more motivated with just making sure everyone knows how moral and committed to high ideals they are.
A stupid theory.
Cause, see, here’s the thing. Such a posit of revolution and activism is one that is only true of being an ally activist. When one is an ally of a population needing a human right, then the final world they create will not need them. If you are a white ally of the black right to vote, then eventually you may create a world where you are no longer needed because everyone agrees with you and it is not questioned (though even with this example, we see that its a fiction as white allies are still needed to this day to help protect the right of people of color to vote as its still even decades after legalization, still under attack).
But though that’s hardly true for even that, it’s definitely not true for the populations who actually make up the majority of the activism. My role as a trans* activist is not to make a world where I am not needed. It’s to make a world where I can live. Where I, as a trans* person, can be myself out and free without drifting to thoughts of those just like me, killed in cities inches away from me for being just like me, a mere handful of years ago (as in less than 5). Where younger versions of me will not have to suffer the discrimination I did. Where I can trust that people will know more about the basics of my life than they do hateful myths about how I am a dangerous thing and a satanic deceiver. Where me being a teacher is not viewed as a form of recruitment of someone’s kids that must be prevented with force.
Where I can live, as cis people do without being afraid and feeling like a freak all the fucking time.
We in these communities fighting for rights and for human treatment by others are not trying to create a world where we can go home, thinking we did a good job, but one in which we can simply be ourselves and stop receiving buckets of trauma.
And ignoring that and positing the ally experience of being able to go home “after the fight” as the “real” activism, means he can slyly include those who are actually affected by laws into the “bad” category of those who just want to feel superior to poor widdle privileged wannabe allies instead of accomplish anything “real”.
And this is probably not an intentional framing, but it is one that is demanded simply because our society treats as default those who are from dominant privileged groups and so it is easy for those in those groups to be blind to what their arguments actually say as the only experience they have personally is that of being dominant in our society.
In short (too late), one can essentially stumble into assuming a really twisted view of reality and create really insulting framings (and then use these bad framings to assume bad faith on the part of those criticizing you) without at all intending to.
In short, this is the problem with privilege, yo. And why many minority populations tend to have short fuses with this crap.
I mean, for fuck’s sake, asshole is setting up a “my allyship is real activism and you just think you’re better than me” pseudo-intellectualism based in straight up ignoring the lives of those most central to all forms of activism. That’s the type of behavior that needles and puts minority populations on edge and makes them less likely to be kind to “good allies who just want to be better” in the future.
Sometimes this takes long-term things, such as the American Right’s deathless fascination with communism, and sometimes change actually happens, such as the tidal wave of LGBT equality going on right now.
Yeah, funny that. Right-wing arguments tend to be decade-long counter-revolutions standing athwart history yelling stop, where as left-wing activism is dynamic and actually changes things that are then accepted as not nearly as big of a deal as they seemed to be at the time, as just… normal.
And left-wing activism is also dynamic in that it responds to what is true. I mean, where’s the left-wing version of the “always repeating McCarthy”? Well, most of those died or might as well be dead. There is not much social support for “positive” eugenics, trans-exclusionary radical feminism, lesbian separatism, back to africa movements, or waiting for the communist revolution to magically fix everything.
And the reason being that those movements were fucking stupid and so the social support moved to other branches towards the eventual goal that were more inclusive, less problematic, etc… and they got that way through internal debate, argument, and the growth of other movements that informed activists more.
I mean, this is worth pointing out, because the author of the post is setting up a mythology of liberal activists as inflexible and more interested in being the “lone wolf activist who is righter than everyone else” over the reality of liberal activists as people who care and who try and who have been demonstrated by history to often be the people shifting to better arguments and better tactics as evidence has demanded.
Which is why even as he seeks to condemn liberal activists, he can only manage to use a right-wing example of inflexibility to demonstrate it.
But I notice that as gay and lesbian rights become more common and the fight isn’t as… sexy as it once was, other struggles are being taken up. The most obvious is the fight for trans-equality,
No seriously, fuck this horseshit. Trans* rights are not taking off because gay and lesbian rights are “no longer as sexy”, but because it is a natural evolution. I mean, for fuck’s sake, trans* people and activists were literally told by dominant gay and lesbian groups to put our shit on hold until the very public fights for gay marriage, the right to serve, and non-discrimination were largely won. And now, voila, they are all going in a really good direction and so yeah, a lot of the people who were asked to shut up and wait are taking about their life experiences and trying to get all those people who have been able to see the humanity in gay and lesbian people to also see the humanity in the other people in the community, such as trans* people.
And it’s all amounts of dismissing and grating to hear of how a slight increase in visibility and recognition by cis people on how trans* people suffer and die every day is supposedly only occurring, because it’s “fashionable” and other fights aren’t “sexy”. I guess all the trans* people who went before me should have tried to be “sexier” if they wanted to be viewed as a fad by privileged hipster douchebags.
which, almost overnight it seems, has given rise to the usage of the term ‘cisgender.’
Cisgender has been in use for decades within the trans* community. It is pretty much as old as transgender and is so very well established in community that there is next-to-no debate about it, which given the greater trans* community is an astonishing thing to say the least.
Which kinda disproves the entire whine he is trying to make.
I mean, cisgender is new to him. He thinks it has been invented overnight because it is his first experience with it.
And that means that these angry trans* activists “jumping on a bandwagon” are not as he maintains, counterproductive in their aims, but wholly successful. Here was a term, crucial to the understanding of trans* people that was wholly alien to him, as must of been, much of the life experiences of trans* people and those angry activists educated him of it, educated him of the lives of trans* people, made him aware he needed to understand it and care about the inner-lives of such people.
That “in your face” activism, therefore, worked in its aim, better than any “go slow and don’t spook anyone” attempt he would argue as “better”.
Which means his entire post is disproved by the very defensive reason he tries to proffer in his defense. As it is every time a privileged dominant group member puffs up a whine about the “in your faceness” of minority group member activism.
And that’s sort of the reason why privileged so-called ally defensive posts of this sort are taken with such a strong spoonful of salt when they are presented as obvious truths being ignored by people who are “clearly just wanting to think they are better than me” (which its worth noting that such phrasing could be more simply put as “uppity” without losing any of its accidental intent).
I fully support trans-equality,
A viewpoint I have no doubt you would not have nor even remotely understand what it means to do so if it were not for mean activists being vocal and upfront and making sure education on trans* terminologies and experiences were disseminated far and wide.
But enough of that reality, let’s see your but.
but going back to what I’ve said about activism as motivated by a ‘holier than thou’ mindset, as the term ‘cisgender’ has become more commonplace in areas like Tumblr there’s also been a concurrent rise in the expectation that everyone should already know what the term means and be up to date on all the travesties transgendered people have suffered and the legal and institutional burdens or barriers to equality in place.
Or for those in the community, it’s been the case where it is common knowledge and one can feel awkward re-explaining the basics. I mean, I’ve noticed it myself in my writing. I’ll use a bunch of LGBT terminology without stopping to define all of it in case of newbies, simply because I’m used to these terms a lot in my daily life and I forget to stop and educate every two feet.
And sometimes my readers actually appreciate that, because it helps maintain a casual tone and they can then go look up the term and come back, having learned something new without it seeming like a big new thing.
This mindset is often expressed in the phrase “It’s not my job to educate you,” as in “You should already know this,” or “You should already know how to learn about this topic yourself.”
Uh… no it’s not.
I mean, not to interrupt your little martyr dance, but that’s not actually what that phrase means.
“It’s not my job to educate you” is not an expression of disbelief at ignorance, it’s an expression of exhaustion. Cause, see, that’s the thing about being an activist. It is fucking exhausting. It is tiring beyond belief to debate your very existence with people who are often hostile and when they aren’t, are often panicky and looking for an excuse to run back to the comforts of ignorance to regain a sense of accustomed power for being lucky enough to be born privileged. Explaining for the nintieth time why it’s not really cool to be treated as a slave to an inanimate object or why you don’t deserve to be killed in the street like dogs or why you are not the violent murdering animal TV sells you to someone who may very well be another bad faith bigot is one of those things that burns activists out and makes you feel like everything is futile and painful.
So yeah, sometimes, when the demand to educate on some basic aspect of humanity is raised, especially as an intrusion to an already existing conversation, we say to do your own fucking homework.
And it’s not because we are mean, but because it really isn’t our job. We are not being paid to educate you on our lives or how to be less of a bigot. It is volunteered freely and thus we have a right to be tired or just not feel like doing it this time.
And yeah, it’s worth noting here that privileged groups really do have boundary control with regards to minority group member time and energy. Often viewing it as the minority group members sole duty to drop everything and answer all manner of invasive or insulting question to their satisfaction without at all making them feel insecure or ill-at-ease. And if one does not feel like undergoing that often futile and painful task, it is our fault and proof that we don’t care about our minority group members because this disrespectful, boundary-abusing asshole was totally going to become the bestest ally ever (even though all he seemed to want was credit for being an ally without doing any work or showing any respect) but now is going to be a bigot and its all our fault.
And the part that always baffles us is why we’re supposed to believe your heart was ever in the education and being an ally when you took the first excuse you could to retain the more comfortable bigotries.
And there’s a lot I hate about that phrase and the mentality behind it, but for now I’d like to just mention that I think a significant cause for that mentality is the conscious or otherwise understanding that you can only be the forerunner of a social movement in the beginning. People advocating for political or social issues are, presumably, attempting to bring more attention to their issue for the express purpose of getting more people to fight for it.
Yes. This is true.
When one is doing activism at the beginning of movements, it is often about education, bringing attention to an issue, and educating on how to be a good ally and so on.
Asexuality is a great example of a movement that is solidly in the education phase, where even those who will soon be supportive are just starting to learn what it’s about and how to help with the discrimination and abuse occurring in the “benign vacuum” where there isn’t an active campaign against the group yet, but there is passive discrimination and abuse.
But here’s the thing.
1) That doesn’t mean that asexuality activists should be seen as derelict if they are interacting with someone who wants to debate if asexuals even exist or arguing that asexuals couldn’t be under threat for things like rape or who thinks Dan Savage is correct about asexual lives and decides, no fuck that. Or even, if they are tired and have a mythical good ally waiting to happen and decide no, just don’t have it or even if they are in a shitty mood and are short with someone. Activists and minorities are people and do not owe ignorant people free educational services.
And 2) I’ll note here he used the example of trans* rights before, not I. And here’s the thing. Trans* rights are in no way shape or form in the “beginning” of their movement. There are prominent out trans* people popping up everywhere. There are established departments worth of academy researching their lives. There are go-to books about the experience that are well-liked by the community. There are celebrity activists. There are actual political victories and the beginning of national conversations that aren’t just ignorance. Furthermore, and most importantly, there are dedicated movements against trans* people and for their discrimination and treatment as a hated population with enough understanding to be strongly vocal.
So yeah, acting like this is some “beginning movement” that has to be extra careful not to be shirty with anyone because allies might be few and far between is some rich ass bullshit.
When even the wingnuts doing their damndest to live in a hole understand the issue enough to know that it is a thing they hate for being different, you no longer have an excuse as a left-leaning politically minded person for being aggressively ignorant of even the basic terminology.
And that is kind of important to note, because he seems to be under the impression that these trans* people and activists suddenly “sprang up” to “be trendy” and invented a whole bunch of terms last tuesday and acting all hipster cool about how only they know what they mean and the reality is that trans* activism has been established for decades and is starting the push for real global acceptance (i.e. the big nightmarish slog up the hill to where gay rights currently reside).
And yeah, him being late to the party, doesn’t mean that it’s too indie for anyone to be aware of.
And that would dilute the specialness of having taken up the issue, wouldn’t it?
Fuck this bullshit.
Even people who are not X minority group who fight for X minority group rights face a large amount of blowback for doing so. Look at the treatment of White Freedom Bus Riders during the 60s, current male allies of feminism, straight gay rights allies who have faced homophobic bullying and discrimination, or, to use a rather personal example, my girlfriend having a random guy yell verbal abuse at her for wearing a shirt supportive of asexuals.
It is not a pleasant action and even with the separation and pseudonymity of the internet, that shit can still take an emotional toll.
So this, oh, you’re just trying to be cool when you call me out on my ignorance or privilege crap is actually just a tired version of an old counter-activism technique. Which is diminishing activism in order to reduce its impact. Look at right-wing arguments against anti-war protestors or the Occupy movement, arguing that the people facing down militarized police were just bored kids looking for something to do on a Saturday night. It’s a handy tool for dismissing activists and activism as existing less or being less impactful than the actions because “reasons”.
And fuck that noise, especially when disappearing into privilege is one of the laziest actions on the planet.
I mean, for fuck’s sake, what he’s defending is this: “Ungh, I totally want to support those equal rights for that group, but ungh, the group won’t sit me down and educate me on everything and listen to all my possibly offensive questions. Instead they expect me, ALL BY MYSELF, to drag my poor finger all the way to the google bar and type something in, possibly spending upwards of a minute in searching and then READ something myself! Who has time for that?!? So, fuck that group, ignorance forever.”
And we’re supposed to think its the activists who are acting lazy and entitled?
So instead of more often seeing people argue for limited but vital reform for this or that issue, taking pride in the baby steps, it’s easier to call for the most wide-reaching, pie-in-the-sky total transformation of society and the world possible.
Yes, that’s how activism works. That’s how movements begin.
If in the imagining stage, the stage of activists on the ground, of just people and ideas, accept only what is viable from an immediate political perspective, then you have no hope of changing anything.
If you’re, as people, not elected congresspeople, saying that we can only talk about and think about what could pass as a bill today, then there is no audacity or pressure to push things and by the time any activism built to the level of putting pressure on congress, then the political class will probably have already passed the law.
It’d be like delaying even the thought of arguing for gay marriage or thinking about the possibility of gay marriage until automagically we had arrived at this level of support.
Such actions would not have seen the rapid gain of support that gay marriage gained.
Instead, they needed people to be audacious and dream big. To go, in the midst of the AIDS crisis when politicians were literally cackling about how they loved to see gay people wither and die, our love should be treated as equal and real and we have as much right to be married as anyone else. Only then, by building it at that ludicrous level has it made it to the point of being a “no duh” that is inevitable.
And it’s same with anything else. Feminists in the 70s who first started talking about rape and ending rape culture were seen as nutjobs. Hell, are still used as go-to examples of the “worst of feminism” and women who “went too far”, but it’s done wonders in starting national conversations about rape and consent and building better models for sexual interactions and getting help to survivors. Abolitionists in the 1700s began the conversation that ended that atrocious constitutionally-protected affair in the 1800s. And those in Lincoln’s era who dared dream of a right to vote for women worked hard to make that a reality in the 1900s.
All these movements, these no-duhs, these things we are better for having, began as an audacious thought that flew in the face of everything.
And I’ll even throw the moderate cheerleaders a bone and note that if all one has is radicals, that is no good either. One needs more “moderate” and those willing to compromise, especially in one’s political class in order to gain important legal protections in the meantime we all have to live in while the radicals push us socially to where we should all be. The deal-maker can also build coalitions who can share in the activism and bring your concerns to larger audiences.
But you need both, the bomb-thrower and the deal-maker, the sell-out and the audacious dreamer in order to get anywhere and shutting out the radical because it threatens those from dominant groups (when you are a dominant group member) is just fucking stupid and cowardly and only ensures a code of laws that is just for some and injust for others.
Knowing that you’ll never lose the moral superiority you’ve built for yourself in your head.
A great example of the last rant would actually be the state of trans* rights in this country. See, trans* people have been with the overall queer community for forever. Trans* people were among the principle fighters at Stonewall, have been members in high standing in early queer groups. Trans* people were instrumental in building founding notions of the queer community such as drag shows and Pride and helped create some of the breakout cultural landmarks that gay groups used to propel rights for gays and lesbians.
But trans* people were pushed out of the conversation. They were seen as too “weird” and too threatening to the more “accessible” gay rights and many positions of power in the queer movement ended up falling to gay male members who shaped it more in their favor. As such, trans* rights, which began in a very similar time, is about 20 years or so behind the rest of the queer movement and a lot of those queer activists who literally left them behind to sprint ahead are now needing to prove their bonafides in coming back for the people they tripped or simply become a force for the next round of bigotry.
So yeah, fuck the whole “moral superiority” bullshit in criticizing those trying to do right where a great wrong has occurred.
And the issue of trans-equality is just one example.
Yes. One very illustrative example of how much privileged whines like this are full of shit.
I can remember when Brave came out and a vocal group got outraged over the lack of non-Caucasian characters – and aren’t they doing the same thing with Frozen? – because everybody knows that these predominantly white European countries have had minority populations for hundreds of years and the people at Pixar and Disney must have intentionally excluded any POC characters because that’s how racist they are.
So… the argument is that because (bold text) everybody knows that European countries have always been lily white (until recent immigrants started running it over, donchaknow) largely because media depictions have shown it that way, no one should criticize that cinematic language still being used that way?
I mean, maybe I’m wrong and what he’s citing is a bunch of hipster stereotypes going “I knew Europe wasn’t always super white back before it was cool”. I mean, there are, after all, zero links in this section.
But in the more likely case that people are bringing in the fact that Europe wasn’t 100% white to criticize movies aiding disinformation by continuously depicting it as such, then yeah, people should bring that up and possibly angrily as people are going to be defensive and assume that that can’t be true simply because media depictions shape a lot of what we view about the world.
And it’s also worth noting, seeing as how he’s already demonstrated his unreliable narrator role with trying to pretend that “cisgender” is some new gotcha, that what he’s probably responding to is more people noting how Disney movies still are about close to 100% white stories that do not reflect our actual society nor the societies they depict within the movies.
But hey, I guess people were just trying to be cool about it.
And I’m thinking: I’ve never considered when non-white populations came to Europe, but it’s not unreasonable to think of Scotland or Norway as being predominantly white to the point that the limited cast of each film could be Caucasian without raising an eyebrow. It’s not like when a story set in modern-day Los Angeles has no Hispanic characters.
So, he has an inaccurate belief because of media depiction and even after encountering people en masse educating him otherwise, he still clings to his idea that these countries were 100% white simply because he is used to that media depiction and thus defends more media depictions like that.
And this isn’t a good example of exactly what the people were trying to criticize and make note of (as well as a good argument for noting it loudly and dramatically in order to break through this inertia), because…?
Oh right, you as a white person are not negatively impacted from the social perception that stories are your stories by default and that non-white Europeans are to be treated as foreigners or at best, recent immigrants.
While I don’t want to make the issue of “tone” more important than it is
Heh. Some education has definitely taken root, seeing as how he’s aware that he’s making a tone troll argument and that is a deep amount of bullshit.
(anger has its place, certainly), there’s a lot to be said for having patience with people who don’t understand your experience or don’t have the knowledge you do. That is, if your goal is to actually educate and effect change.
Hey, anger can be educable, too and tone trolling is bullshit, but let me tone troll you anyways.
Fuck, this is especially galling, because I’ve had recent brutal education on the fact that not only can anger be a good education tool along with softly explaining things, but that just as anger can sometimes backfire, so can being gentle.
When I came out to my parents and told them of being trans* I took the mentality of going soft and gentle with them. I didn’t go out of my way to be aggressively out or rush them to adopt a new name and in general, took each piece very slowly.
And it blew up. The gentle approach allowed them to slip into denialism and act like my transition wasn’t happening and then use my trepidation and calm statements as proof that I was deluded and couldn’t really be genuine. They pretended that I didn’t come out when I did and their early support never happened and exploited my kindness to try and “tough love” me to change as they saw fit. Bigots also exploited the time by letting their passion against me sway my parents into thinking that that was the more correct response (I mean, if I’m begging and being forgiving and a bigot is being forceful and clear, then clearly they have the more investment and accuracy, right?)
I wasted a large part of my life with them to end up somewhere worse than if I had been as forceful and take no shit as I am online.
Worst of all, the trauma of all that has robbed me of my edge, because it all seems too big and too painful to fix or invest in fixing.
If all you want to do is scream at everyone online who doesn’t share 100% of your views, striking a “more socially evolved than you” pose and wailing over how horrible everyone else for not being as conscientious as you are, then you can ignore this.
Because trying to create change isn’t what’s motivating you, is it?
Oh hey, Farmer Joe, whatcha doin’ with yer strawman?
Oh… I see. Um, let me just give you a moment and I’ll come back later.
But seriously, fuck this sort of privileged whine fest about having to encounter people trying to push the envelope forward on a group that it is currently “safe to hate”.
Anger and forcefulness is a successful method of educating and frankly, can often be more successful than other methods, especially when one is working mostly with strangers (such as online).
And the defensive bitching about how hipster activists are thinking they are better for going out of their way to educate shows that its having a major impact in unsettling the inertia of privilege and the damage that does to society.
Cause as we’ve seen in examples such as the Grantland writer who drove a trans* woman to suicide because of his own aggressive ignorance and unchecked bigotry, it’s not a neutral state of affairs.