how this blog is not a safe space

of course the inevitable had to happen. someone who read my most recent post, letter to my future progeny, felt compelled to leave a comment stating that the third way in which my future child could disappoint me was transphobic. the paragraph in question basically instructed my future child on how to appropriate a genderqueer identity fueled by immense smugness & an overweening sense of entitlement. this person made no mention of the other ways i joked my child could disappoint me–by being a role-playing nerd or deciding to hop trains, for example. the post also made no mention of the potentially problematic nature of writing a blog post alerting my future child to the myriad ways that he/she/meow could end up disappointing me to the point that i’d tell my friends that he/she/meow was dead. i mean, my future child is going to be able to read someday, & if he/she/meow googles my name, he/she/meow is going to find this blog, & that post could certainly be the trigger that forces me to start putting away money for my child’s therapy bills. i’m still hoping that my future child will inherit a healthy sense of humor (both jared & i are pretty funny people, so i think there’s a good chance) & will be able to tell a humor post from my real feelings based on how well i do in the role of nurturing & loving mama, but hey. who knows how bad i’m gonna fuck up this mom thing?

what i really want to address is the anonymous commenter’s comment. on a quick housekeeping note: as a general rule, i don’t approve anonymous comments, whether they are critical or complimentary. also in general, i do not approve non-anonymous critical comments that are abusive. i would characterize this anonymous commenter’s comment as critical but not abusive, so it’s a shame that the person did not sign their name. but i guess they’re getting a response anyway, so it worked out pretty well for them.

i did not write what i wrote in an effort to oppress the genderqueer people of the world. a more thorough reading of the paragraph in question i think makes clear that i was referring to specific behaviors, which are by no means exclusive to genderqueer people, that are fucking obnoxious. if there are two things i can’t stand in political social justice rhetoric, they are smugness & entitlement, & the behaviors i suggested for my future child were dripping with both.

so why did i feel the need to specifically use the word “genderqueer,” rather than just writing about a person of any gender identity being smug & entitled? it’s a good question. & it is a complicated answer. i was poking around online earlier today & found a very interesting essay on a website about transphobia. it was about the prevalence of the genderqueer identity being misappropriated for political ends in ways that i, as a proponent of social justice, including respect & safety for people across the gender spectrum, definitely find problematic. the author pointed out that many genderqueer individuals state that their gender identity serves an explicitly political function–to subvert the gender dichotomy. this a lot more common among genderqueer folks than among cissexual or trans people. many people perceive of the genderqueer identity as an explicitly political identity, & while all gender is political to one degree or another, it’s pretty unusual to hear a cis or a trans person say, “yeah, i identify this way for political reasons.”

i have always felt a little weird about the concept of genderqueer as a political identity–or more specifically, i have felt weird about marrying the concept of genderqueer as a political identity to the concept of genderqueer as an oppressed & marginalized identity. if you acknowledge that you have chosen a genderqueer identity for the purposes of political subversion, where does that leave you in the soup of privilege & positionality? i feel the same way about this as i do about, say, women who choose lesbianism for political reasons. i think their sexualities should be respected & they certainly should not be victimized by violence or discrimination because of their genders or sexualities…but choosing a marginalized identity for political reasons is kind of insulting & oppressive to people who don’t have a choice about their marginalized identities.

this is especially complicated by a social justice milieu in which oppression is constantly used as currency. i wrote a post a few weeks ago called what’s the matter with the feminist blogosphere?, that touched on this topic. how often in social justice communities have i complicated a facile narrative with some basic critical thinking skills, only to met with the rejoinder, “you’re dismissing my real lived experience.” if that real lived experience has been experienced as a member of a marginalized group, it is doubly taboo to disagree. while i understand the impulse & think that it’s important to consider one’s privilege position & how it may (mis)inform an opinion or outlook, i have found on numerous occasions that this reluctance to ask questions & think critically does everyone a disservice.

many radical people of color, women, disabled people, poor people, trans people, & others have written about tokenization–being included in progressive communities of people with positional privilege, maybe because the marginalized person has some good ideas, maybe so the privileged people can pat themselves on the back for having “made space” for a marginalized person, maybe so the privileged people can feel that they have gotten the marginalized seal of approval…most likely a combination of all of these things, & more. but marginalized people are not always right. i’m a woman, but that doesn’t mean i am always right about every opinion i have about women. i’m poor, but that doesn’t mean i am always right about everything relating to classism. i am disabled, but that doesn’t mean i am always right about disability issues. if i used any of these identities in order to manipulate people privileged around these topics into always giving me my way & never questioning me or challenging me, i would hope that someone would come along & say something to me about it.

my friend robin & i were talking about bell hooks’s book where we stand: class matters recently. both robin & i grew up with working class backgrounds. we were both hopeful that hooks’s book could help to illuminate something about our own experiences of classism & class-based marginalization. & both of us were disappointed & horrified by the book, which was mainly a memoir, but as such, positioned hooks as The Expert on the topic of everything related to growing up poor. obviously hooks’s experience of growing up poor was different from ours for all kinds of reasons. hooks grew up in the south. i didn’t (robin did). hooks is a black woman, while both robin & i are white. hooks grew up several decades before robin & i. but we weren’t hoping for a mirror image of our own experiences. we were just hoping for a book we could give to more privileged friends in the hopes that it would help them understand what a poor childhood is like a little bit better. we were not expecting to have hooks’s “expert analysis” function to completely marginalize our own “lived truths,” as it were. but it did.

there are many areas where i have privilege, & i work to constantly keep those privileges in check & examine the ways they are informing my political viewpoints–to the best of my abilities. (we all fuck up sometimes.) but i have long been of the opinion that privilege-based guilt helps no one, & that the neverending quest to assuage that guilt is in fact a distraction from most kinds of effective social justice activism. therefore, guilt around privilege is not going to motivate me to turn a critical eye away from some of the more problematic, offensive, wackadoodle crap that even marginalized people get up to every now & again. & that includes the occasional smug, entitled genderqueer person who adopts a marginalized identity for political purposes & in order to leverage their own oppression as currency in a social justice arena suffused with radical guilt. i definitely never intended to hurt the feelings of any genderqueer or trans readers (of which i know i have quite a few) who do not do these things. i’m sorry if that happened. but at the end of the day, this blog is not a safe space for people who use oppression, even their own, as currency, & i won’t apologize for that.

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19 responses to “how this blog is not a safe space

  1. and the end of the day, I am too old and too crabby to sign on to a version of identity politics that just encourages people to go around yelling PAY ATTENTION TO ME! all the live long day, and I’ve played in the sandbox of radical communities to know that it’s pretty common in those worlds for people to create a complicated, bullshit identity (gender, or some vague autism/spectrum or social anxiety disorder, or fake food allergy or being asexual panromantic or *whatever*) that’s cover for some manipulative, entitled shit. If you don’t nod your head an acknowledge that those kind of people do exist in pretty large number sin radical communities., or if you take it uber-personally that people (and let’s face it here, it’s *women* who are expected to enable the especially inconvenient manifestations) get sick of this shit, then maybe you should take a long hard look at your life, your choices and your self-diagnosed autism-spectrum-gluten-allergy gender. If it’s not about you, it’s not about you.

    • damn, dude, tell me how you really feel! just so you know, if this post explodes with gazillions of comments from linking on blogs written by people who totally disagree with me (which is possible), i bet people are going to have some shit to say about this comment. even though i personally think it is funny.

      • well gosh dude, if I had known I’d marked as heretic in public would have also included mention of muscle testing and accused everyone on earth of really having borderline personality disorder. It’s Friday and I’m cranky. And hey everyone, I once wrote a whole chapter in a zine called, “Just Kill Yourself”. Ciara might still have a copy. So don’t let it be said that I didn’t warn you.

        In all funny seriousity, you and I have walked in these circles long enough to see how the beautiful ideal of the supportive community where people are there for eachother and embrace you when you are different from the norm, tends to have the downside of those geek social fallacies intersecting with people’s privileged expectations and/or just some random personality flaws to the point where it’s really just hard. A dude punches throw the glass window and then talks to crimethinc about how he wishes the radical community was more understanding of how his untreated mental illness makes him unique. You know all these anecdotes because at least 20% of them came from you originally. And I think there’s a small # of them where genderqueer and trans masculine people who believe in the “smash the binary” part of their identity, have interacted with radical circles in ways that are actively misogynistic and it’s supposed to be okay.

        • i do indeed still have a copy of that zine & it’s genius. a real change from the days of “positivity is the new anarchism” or whatever that other zine was called. “anarchy is the new positivity”? “anarchy is the new optimism”?

          i agree with you, but not just about the occasional instances of the kind of misogyny you described. i also think that there are difficult, unaddressed questions about what it means to claim a somewhat optional oppressed identity & slough off a privileged identity. i mean, spend thirty minutes reading pretty much any feminist blog, especially one with multiple contributors, & it becomes obvious that not everything they are decrying as sexist actually is sexist. or at least it doesn’t all stand up to the critical thinking skills test. i don’t think any aspect of social justice, from mental illness stuff to queer stuff to class stuff, is untouched by this phenomenon. & it’s really frustrating. there is a weird power in social justice communities to being able to point out a way that you are being marginalized–& marginalization happens all the time. & no one in a more privileged position really feels great questioning whether or not the claim of marginalization is valid, lest it appear that they are just covering their own oppressive asses.

          it’s quite literally to the point that i just can’t deal with it anymore. i am sick of fighting the same fights over someone’s self-diagnosed status as an indigo child based on how they read a website about it one time, or whether making a pie for a potluck is going to set off someone’s imaginary gluten allergy. i’m all for making accommodations for real issues & problems, & agitating for all people to live free of violence & discrimination. but so much of what goes on is just special snowflake syndrome & it eats up so much energy that could be used in more productive ways. i mean, that wasn’t even really what this post was about, but now that i’m thinking about it…ugh. i feel like i have been using the term “manufactured outrage” a lot lately, but it fits. everything from insisting that people with mental health issues don’t ever need to be responsible for their actions to suggesting that it’s oppressive to ask your anarchist bookstore volunteers not to staff the desk smelling like an open sewer because poor people can’t afford to wash their clothes to freaking out over a loaf of french bread being included in the free meal at the anarchist conference because the gluten is going to leap out & kill you.

          i was also going to write something in this post about the omnipresent idea that people don’t have any feminists in their towns & so they have to get all their feminist solidarity off the internet, but it didn’t fit. so i’ll put it here: dude, feminists are not unicorns. if you can’t find a single other feminist in your town it’s either because 1) you’ve never left your house, or 2) all the other feminists in town have cottoned on to the fact that you’re a smug asshole who think you’re smarter than everyone else, & they’re avoiding you.

      • morganinezsmith

        the bit about feminists not being unicorns is PERFECTION. near about spit out my coffee over it. thanks for making my midwestern day.

  2. anon mcfacelesspants

    Fucking signed.

    I know you won’t approve this; I just comment anonymously on the rare occasions when I comment, because we used to clash. I didn’t know this site was yours when I was linked to it, but I really like who you are now, and I’m different, too, so I look forward to updates here.

    FWIW, I thought the post was funny, and I thought your intentions in poking at certain types were obvious. This response post, now… it articulates a lot of my own feelings on the issue… that appropriation of a marginalized identity (one which you can toss aside at any time, no less) is problematic, especially if you use it as an excuse to behave like an ass. The types discussed in the intial post are also all people who behave like asses and lack self-awareness, and IMO that’s the real problem. It’s commendable that you don’t want your future child to grow up to be a smug, entitled ass.

    It could be months before I comment again (I may never, now that I know you don’t care for anon comments), so: good luck with the baby!

    • approving & replying just because i wanted to say: i want to know who the hell you are! hmmm, someone i have clashed with…you could quite literally be ANYONE because i think there are about five people in the world i HAVEN’T clashed with over something!

      i’m glad that people generally seemed to find my last post both funny & obviously critical of a certain kind of un-self-aware entitlement. that’s what i was going for. it’s always difficult to joke about radical politics because there’s such a danger of misspeaking or being misconstrued, leading to hurt feelings & fights, but i find it even more difficult NOT to joke about that shit. it’s all that keeps me sane sometimes!

  3. This is awesome. I love this, and I love you.

  4. this post really hit it home for me. i really like some of the things that you touched upon regarding guilt surrounding ones’ own privileges & also using oppression as currency. i was recently part of this awful listserv fiasco involving me openly calling out someone for using overly explicit language to describe a sexual assault in the very same message where they used heavily sexualized language to describe potential sex work that one could do for cash somewhere else (consensually, but still). someone accused my stance (the one where i said it seemed predatory & creepy to do such a thing) of being “very white upper middle class”- which not only does not describe me in any way (not white, never been anywhere near middle class) but also made me very uncomfortable because i knew that i was being accused of that precisely because they thought that that would just shut me up. so many people on that listserv ARE white & DO come from middle/upper class backgrounds, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have an opinion on an issue like sexual assault & language used to describe it, & i think this person really thought that they”got” me, & that i should just be quiet because once accused of such a thing, all my opinions are now invalid by virtue of being at least partly informed by some privilege.

    anyways, your post really helped me articulate some of the anger & confusion i’ve felt regarding that. thanks for presenting a strong lady presence on the internet that is coming from an informed & well-thought-out place, & especially for not being apologetic about shit that you really believe in. we need more of that around, & more people in radical spheres especially to call bullshit w/o being afraid of the consequences (ie getting accusations hurled at your head left & right).

    your continued use of the pronoun “meow” also really tickles my fancy.

  5. I want to add my thanks here too, for articulating things that make me uneasy in my local radical community. I remember a woman complaining recently that she hates how people assume she’s straight just because she’s always had boyfriends. Well you know, it’s pretty hard for anyone to get through life without making any assumptions ever (and I imagine you would appear very … vacant, if you did) so I just don’t think that’s the worst thing that can ever happen. But more importantly, I think that it’s bullshit anyway, because in reality hardly anyone would be spending time thinking anything at all about some random acquaintance’s sex life. In my city these days it feels like “anarchist” is just a term people use to get sympathy for being fully grown adults who can’t be bothered looking after themselves. Fuck that shit.

  6. I love your writing and your opinions as always, Ciara. This is something I am currently struggling with. Which is making it really hard to be involved in certain projects that I am passionate about. But when people make comments that they only want non-gender conforming, radical, queer, polyamourous people around them… Sorry i’m not so included.

    It also punches me in the gut about the honest to god gender confusion I struggled with as a teen. At that point in time it was not a choice that I struggled with gender and how I identified. I was honestly confused about feeling feminine… and it sucked.

  7. For the record, I overlooked the comical nature of the post and managed to feel offended and silenced by #1. If you can’t respect the community of Solinari wizards on Krynn, don’t be surprised when your kid puts you in a home during the Third Dragon War and runs off to worship Takhisis.

  8. All of that self-entitled myopic circle-jerking rhetoric about privilege/oppression is why I dropped out of the Tumblr social justice universe. God, it got unbearable fast.

    • Caitlin Constantine

      The tumblr social justice universe makes me die a little on a regular basis! They go after each other, all fangs and claws bared, over the tiniest infractions, even though the truth is they probably have more in common with one another than just about anyone else they ever encounter in their lives.

    • When I got really into Tumblr in late 2009/early 2010, I tried with a couple of those social justice Tumblrs, I really did. But then it reminded me that it was what I was trying to get away from at the time, so I un-followed them.

  9. Caitlin Constantine

    Okay, this is why I love reading the things you write. I giggled my ass off at your earlier post, and then this follow-up had imaginary cartoon light bulbs appearing all around my head.

  10. shesabibliophile

    Anyone who complains that your blog is not a safe space needs to get off the internet.

    And cosigned like whoa. You know that post on my blog about people with invisible disabilities taking over the narrative, etc? I’m still getting angry responses about it. I can’t take any more comments about how they feel marginalized because everyone assumes they aren’t disabled. Dude, I WISH people assumed I wasn’t disabled. *angry face*

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