So the other day, I talked about calling out, and bfp posted about calling out yesterday and asked:
the question is: where is there *any* room in the social justice swarm style calling out to respect “triggers”? When the very justification of social justice swarm style is the swarm has been triggered? also, admitting to being triggered requires you to be fairly vulnerable—something I’m not very inclined to do in front of people telling me to fuck off and accusing me of triggering just because I exist (just happened recently). I did say I’m triggered, and for whatever reason, the group backed off—but it about killed me to admit it.
I quoted as much as I needed for this post, but you really should read everything at Flipfloppingjoy before reacting to that excerpt.
As bfp and Amandaw both point out, calling out has become central to online social justice activism. It is like, the entire goal. Find someone who said something busted, lay into them, link them on your blog, your friends show up, people you don’t see all that often otherwise show up, the targeted person (or blog) gets a bad reputation because of that incident, and then what? Is there social justice in this process?
Bfp’s intended conclusion in her above question? There is no room for respecting triggers. And I agree with that. And really, is there room in social justice for calling out in the first place? I don’t think so. Maybe at one time, it worked, and people were willing to talk to each other and respect each other’s voices and accept that when one of us said “What you said was offensive and harmful” another would accept that, apologize, and try to do better.
But I think it’s evolved into several different things. It’s like an absolution, you make a mistake and you get called out, and you make absolution for that mistake. It’s so ritualized and I think that it doesn’t really make room for sincerity, not that the people who do apologize are not sincere? And not that the people calling out are not sincere.
So, for people who are sincere about this: What do we want? Do we want to watch each other for that moment of weakness when we make a mistake and dive in? Is this what we want to do? Do we want to engage in triggering behavior just to get a pound of flesh from someone because they said something harmful? As bfp also said:
I just have a gut feeling that “calling out” especially in the context of “within a community that are more often than not survivors,” it should just be *assumed* that that the person(s) being called out is a survivor, and may have had to deal with any number of (potentially) violent situations under the guise of being “held responsible” and should be “confronted” (or called out) in a way that is respectful of that. there is a difference between being “held responsible” and “being accountable,” I think—I was held responsible for the entirety of [abusive persons] life, including the fact that this person was abused. I didn’t have a choice in it. when this person was “triggered,” my entire life came to a halt, because I was the person responsible for managing this person’s triggers.
Is this how we want to talk to each other? Is this what healthy communication is? Do conversations spring from this? What happens if someone on a blog somewhere says something that’s not quite right? And so we head back to our blogs before or after commenting on theirs and write this post that says “So-and-so at such-and-such blog just said X.” And now your readership picks that up, and maybe some of them boost the signal, and suddenly we have a handful of blogs saying “So said something busted!” and now there’s this massive response, and as Amandaw says:
for a long time, I have been creeped out by a certain type of person in the blogosphere.
for a while now, I’ve been hating and fearing the times I know I’ve played that type.
it’s the person who is there for every fight. there for every drama.
the person who’s got the gossip on all the parties and can report on the game.
the person who has to take every drama and analyze it to death. has to give the play-by-play and offer commentary on every little move. where so-and-so went wrong here, said a Bad Word there, broke The Rules(TM) over there. where so-and-so followed The Rules(TM) well here and you all should observe so-and-so’s example.
the person who can always fit an incident into a convenient narrative mold, shove it in as tight as you can and pop! out comes the pre-shaped narrative. the person who can always find a way to create two clearly defined and opposite sides, and set up the argument in such a way that the Right Side and the Wrong Side are easy to deduce if you know The Rules(TM).
the person who hangs around like a vulture, waiting for someone to slip up, trip up, fuck up — so they can pounce, and pop them in the mold, and serve up the resulting conveniently-shaped thing for the public to devour.
the person who knows the right words to repeat, and the right people to suck up to.
the person who knows how to network. how to build a following.
the person whose interactions in the community always seem to come down to winning. being the best activist. the most perfectest. the best “ally.”
and it just feels weird because they sau all the right words along the way, but ultimately it feels like … they aren’t in it because they care about the issues they’re talking about. they’re talking about those issues so that they can be in it.
and seem to get so excited when something new erupts. because it’s not a clear sign that there is some pretty tough pain going on. it’s a clear sign that there’s a new drama to reputationally profit off of.
And I don’t even think I can add to that.
This is what I wanted to do with Social Justice, even before I realized the words fit together like that: I created Questioning Transphobia because of the rampant transphobia in the feminist blogosphere, because of a website called Questioning Transgender Politics that was filled with unanswered transphobic rants that demonized the hell out of trans women and treated trans men as victims of patriarchy who lacked the agency to define themselves. I saw a handful of trans people and cis people who do get it responding to them even as many bloggers let the really transphobic commenters hijack every post about trans people into trans 101 and demands to justify why transsexual people should transition and how transsexual people get away with supporting the gender binary and while speaking out against the gender binary attacking non-binary trans people for “creating more gender” rather than destroying it entirely, and basically being a bunch of prats to trans people who are simply trying to live our lives and cope with a world that really doesn’t try very hard to accommodate us.
So I saw this, and I wanted to answer it. I wasn’t the first, and I’m not the most powerful writer, and I’m not the most prolific. But I wanted to take these things on directly, answer their claims, create a counter to their transphobic politics, a place where trans people could see how their arguments are flawed and dangerous and not internalize them and not feel powerless to respond because that is exactly how I felt when I found these things the first time, and so many other trans people have told me they felt the same and were grateful for Questioning Transphobia when they found it.
So I had to be prompted by Belledame and a few others to start blogging. And when I started QT, so many other social justice bloggers gave me a signal boost right off the bat. I can’t even remember how many, or who they all were, but from the start I had support and links and people being kind enough to help me get started, to get an audience, to be heard. And I think, in this regard, QT has succeeded beyond my own wildest expectations. I have amazing co-bloggers whom I love beyond the telling of it, and readers that I am so grateful have stayed around for a long time, and new readers all the time. And I’ve noticed as many commenters dropped off over time, I do miss them. I think that QT is almost a community, or at least a network where we can talk about how society hurts us and create our answers in opposition to that pain.
I also think that QT has occasionally failed at this. And we’ve failed individual cis and trans people here. I mean, there have been times when cis people have come here looking to understand, and we’ve treated them rather poorly. I mean, these are cis people who have trans people in their lives? And while they don’t experience transphobia it can still impact them when the trans people they love suffer from it? And is it really good for us to pile on them when they make a mistake? I mean, if they’re here, I would like to believe they’re here in good faith, and I think a lot of the time they’re not really up on anti-oppression language and concepts and just want to support the trans people in their lives, and I think to some extent QT should be supportive of that. It’s what I want, I want to help cis people learn to not be transphobic. I don’t want to chase them off if they’re not perfectly up to standards I try to set for myself.
This is not to say that when cis people are transphobic we just let that slide, but I think we really need to think about how we engage this, what kind of place we engage this from. As I quoted bfp in my post about empathy and kyriarchy,
The very political choice to ally herself with all oppressed people. The very political choice to prioritize a radical love that recognizes the humanity in another, even if that person can and did and does hurt you.
And I think we’ve failed other trans people, trans people who do not 100% agree with what’s said here, who have their own takes, who approach gender and bodies differently than us. And I think, sometimes, say things that challenge our own assumptions. It’s pretty tempting to think we’re always right and reject all conflicting worldviews. Sometimes those worldviews are painful, and it’s hard to just admit that because admitting that makes us vulnerable, and we don’t trust the people we’re talking to or the people who are reading with that vulnerability. But we have to be able to engage disagreement without scorched earth tactics, and I’m not sure what suggest here, but I think that QT has failed at this in the past, that I have failed at this in the past.
I think QT has also failed at intersectionality, at acknowledging the full complexity of people’s lives. It’s too easy to reduce everything to transphobia and sexism and maybe some homophobia. It’s too easy to look at another oppressed cis person and elide all the oppression they do experience and treat them as privileged over us in all ways because they are cis and we are trans. It is also, and I think this is even more critical, easy to elide the fact that trans people have to deal with racism, ableism, fatphobia, economic hardship, and other issues that do not directly relate to gender as concepts but are not separable from gender in real lives. And these are not taken into account as thoroughly as they could be – and then people come here and find they have to leave race or disability or class at the door. Now I will say, I do try to account for intersectionality, but I do not always succeed. Based on what Jane LaPlain said the other day, QT fails at this a lot more than I realized, and I want to turn that around. I can’t guarantee that I will be perfect, but I will do my best.
And really, this is what I wanted from QT, and I think QT is a social justice site. And I think, that more broadly defined, this is the kind of thing that lots of people probably want from social justice in general – not trans issues, but every issue. I think, failures or not, that if we tried harder to do this kind of thing – to actually work on our failures and in general emphasize trying to build networks and relationships with people who share similar goals with us. I don’t think that the point is to push people away or mark them as enemies when they make one mistake, to call down the thunder upon them or their blogs. Because, seriously, these people? Are generally speaking not your enemies. They may not be perfect every time they discuss matters that affect you personally, but if somethings happens? They would often have your back.
Or they would have your back if you didn’t post about how they wrote a sentence wrong and and a dozen people swarmed their blog to tell them how much they failed, or if your post about how their mistake is so hard to forgive didn’t encourage people to send them toxic, abusive e-mails. if your call out itself wasn’t triggering or abusive or intimidating or silencing. If your call out hadn’t left them alone under a pile on wondering what the hell just happened. If your call out didn’t actually include outright lies about things they’ve said and done. Wondering why if you didn’t personally do these things you stood aside and let it happen.
And I do not mean that they abandon your particular cause, I mean they will have nothing to do with you personally. This is not about a tone argument, as I said in my post on calling out. This is about hurting people. Silencing them. Isolating them.
I say this having been guilty of most of these.
God willing, I do not believe I have ever lied about anyone, but the rest? Absolutely. I’ve done it. I have caused by (mostly) my own inaction real harm to other people. People who are sincere, who are among the strongest allies we (trans people) have. Who do important work by blogging – the same kind of work that I want to do with QT. And my inaction, my silence, let them get hurt so badly. I am not responsible for the abusers who attacked them, who lied about them, who “called them out” and refused to let go even after they apologized. I did not make their choices, I simply didn’t act to stop it. This has happened multiple times on QT. So when you read this and think this might be about you? It’s also about me.
And if you have strong objections to this, please think them over before immediately responding. I don’t want to have a fight in the comments. It’s okay to be angry, I’m angry about all this. I am upset about all of this. I cannot say that I just started being angry and upset, but I have just started talking about it. And I think we, not just as a community, but I mean online social justice activists and bloggers, we need to talk about this and stop hiding it. Stop enabling it. Stop doing it.
Edit: I suspect this post may sound like it has more answers than I wanted to put in it. I don’t really know what to do beyond stopping the abuse. We need to talk about what kind of community anti-oppression can be, we need to talk about how to engage each other. I should have included what bfp said in her comments:
so i just wonder what would happen if “calling out” became less of a focus. and how that would happen and what the effect might be of that. if say…there was a different intention behind engaging with other people. does that make sense? like–if instead of “doing our part” by asking people to call us out, we “do our part” by making space for a thousand, a million stories to be told. and when we engage with each other, we think: how will this engagement make space for others to tell their stories?
I mean, the thing is, and I saw your comment at your place about this same thing—i’m NOT saying (and I don’t think *any* of us are) to NOT engage–but to think of *how* to engage in a way that is productive and might lead to some bigger goal. And for me–the first step in that is recognize that to engage in good faith requires a sense of vulnerability. and I am not willing and I don’t think ANYBODY should willingly be vulnerable with everybody and anybody. I think that maybe a part of the movement (for whatever it is) is recognizing that our bodies and minds are precious, and not everybody is entitled to them. So–I will engage with people I trust, people *I* have decided that I trust, and I will trust myself in deciding if I trust that person or not. And I will talk with that person in a good faith way and in a way that respectfully lovingly critical–because i think trust comes through *mutual work*–it is something done together. But i’m not going to engage with somebody i *don’t* trust. I’m not going to be vulnerable with that person in that way.
Because again, I can not say this better than she has.
Emily in the comments:
I think that blogging encourages us into fantasies of omnipotence, of heroic individuals showing us how to break down whole, powerful systems. But Working on real material change isn’t as easy as writing a righteous post. It’s messy, and painful, and sometimes it means working with people who don’t get every issues of yours perfectly because your liberation is bound up in theirs. And we need to get beyond internet politics of purity and learn this, because otherwise we are fucked.