Getting Called Out: Get Used To It

Disclaimer: I’m not a huge fan of emphasizing “call out culture,” because I think it can draw attention away from the systems of oppression by focusing on individual behaviors. It in itself sounds really, really neoliberal. The perversion of ‘the personal is political’ is by and far one of the more annoying things I encounter, and this piece will be my one intentional exception to that. I do believe that all of us have to learn to address our oppressive behaviors, because we need to foster solidarity in our communities.

Recently I’ve come into a number of situations where I’ve called people out for some bigoted, oppressive thing they’ve said, and the way these different folks responded varied greatly. Some acknowledged what they did and thanked me for calling them out, and the other extreme end that I’ve experienced is someone writing an essay in how wrong I am and how big of an asshole I am for calling them out. Yikes. The number of folks in the in-between area are much more common, and they range from mild defensiveness to stubborn denial. This piece is more geared towards people who feel personally victimized when they are called out, as if I am challenging every aspect of their being and coming down on them with a warhammer when I say something like “Hey, the word ‘crazy’ is ableist. Please don’t say it.” To them I say: Get used to it, and no, I’m not sorry.

Yes, I do understand that I can’t control where people are coming from and where they’re at in their social justice journey. Yes, I get that some folks come from very privileged backgrounds and have rarely, if ever, been exposed to any realities of oppression. Yes, I have heard so many times that people need to be met where they’re at, but too many times do I see people not getting pushed from where they’re at. A bird’s gotta learn to fly one of these days, and if they won’t, you might as well leave them where they’re at. Calling people out is essential.

Being better about getting called out requires three things: letting go of your pride. Let it go, let it go, get it gone, ba-bye, c’est la vie, throw it aside, hang up that phone, toodle-loo, discard, breathe it out, say goodbye, forget it, kick it out, let it go. I’m serious. Take your pride and chuck it, because what we all have to acknowledge, specifically when getting called out on our oppressive behaviors, is what our pride has stake in, what it’s rooted in. When it comes to the facets of our identity which have the capacity to leverage oppression, that means their stake is rooted in oppression. What is being challenged is where we have systemic power. Is it really so bad to have that shaken up? Nah.

Learning to be humble when called out on your oppressive behaviors necessitates an exploration of one’s pride and ego. If one’s pride and ego are invested in their privileged facets, then it is necessary to destabilize that connection. A quick way to identify if someone’s pride and ego are invested in their privileged facets is gauging their reaction to phrases like “Cis people are awful.” If their reaction is something along the lines of, “But not all cis people!” then you likely have someone whose pride and ego is rooted in their privileged facets. Another marker of this is when people project their shortcomings onto others, or externalize their failures. They won’t hold themselves responsible because it threatens their pride and what it’s rooted in.

The second required thing is ownership. You have to hold yourself accountable and know that you’re imperfect and are going to mess up. Every single one of us has said and done something violent, oppressive, and problematic. It’s because we live in a society that’s built upon white supremacy, ciscentrism, ableism, and more. All of us have been conditioned to participate in (passively and actively) the oppression of those unlike us as well as those within our own communities. We all have to own that, and when others tell us where and how we are being complicit in this, or simply say we’re being complicit/oppressive, we need to listen. It is never on the marginalized to educate their oppressors. They are never required to name what, how, why, in which part of the world, under what hypothetical circumstances, and the specific words/actions in context that make your behavior is oppressive. It is on all of us to unpack our behaviors once we are aware of them. If we’re not aware of them, then it’s up to us to begin that search.

The last part is learning to reflect on mistakes, not dwell on them. Of all the parts, I find this one to be the most difficult. Speaking as someone who is neurodivergent and someone who has gone through sexual violence, dwelling has been and still is a large chunk of my experience. Conceiving of myself as lesser, to amplify my mistakes, and how others are correct in their positioning me as unworthy and in need of correction, denying me my mental, emotional, and sexual agency. That’s what I was taught, and I was taught to focus on these things. I have made huge strides in getting away from this mode of thinking after a lot of therapy, but I still struggle. To describe briefly the difference between reflection and dwelling: Reflection is the honesty that accompanies looking back at shortcomings, asking oneself how they could have done better and considering other variables accompanying the situation. Dwelling is the amplification of failure (whether that failure is real or fabricated by others and imposed on you), and it is harmful to one’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Marginalized people, in some way or another, are conditioned to accept that they are lesser and dwell on this as though it were fact. This last piece, to me, is one that I’m much more understanding of and willing to help the person process and unpack. It is also the part that, once I notice it’s a factor, I approach with an added amount of kindness and patience. This does not excuse someone’s unwillingness to unpack, but it explains their unwillingness.

Getting called out doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. How you respond to being called out, however, might seriously suggest otherwise. If you’re serious about social justice, be ready to have your peers call you out. We call each other out because we want to do better, we want others to do better, and we want to improve our culture. That starts with holding ourselves and each other accountable for when we cause harm. It means predicating our actions on justice, not comfort.

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How To Be in Solidarity with Trans Women

Content/Trigger Warnings: This piece employs transmisogynistic language said by others.

A large number of people just have no idea how to interact with trans women. A lot of you say degendering, belittling, dismissive things to us. And by a lot of you, I really mean everyone who isn’t a trans woman. Now, the reason I need to be so clear about that is because practically everyone benefits from transmisogyny. All of you cis folk already know you’re in that category, so this piece is still written with you in mind, but the focus will be on others.

For me personally, I do not feel all that safe in 99.99999999% of queer and trans spaces, because they are dominated by DFAB, non-binary, trans masculine queers who are far more often than not white. I’ve had trans men derail conversations about TERFs (more accurately, TWERFs — trans women exclusionary radical feminists) and made it about themselves, and how TERF is not necessarily an accessible term because they had to google it. I’ve been in spaces where trans masc people, and DFAB trans people in general but especially trans masc folks, will ignore and silence my voice in order to preserve their own echo chamber of affirmation. I’ve had people all over tell me that women like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are somehow damaging to the trans community. It’s very easy to point at trans women, especially trans women of color, as the problem, isn’t it?

Let me provide a list of things people say that immediately clue me into their transmisogyny. All of these have been said to me. (MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING FOR TRANSMISOGYNY):

  • “I’m too queer for your binary!” (Classic queer elitism that is thinly-veiled transmisogyny and biphobia.)
  • “I’m a gender abolitionist.” (The last time someone wanted to abolish gender, it resulted in the genocide of Indigenous communities in what we now know as the United States. TERFs also claim they want to abolish gender. What does that say about you then?)
  • “Protect your Mother Earth!” (White people using this, this is transmisogynistic because when people think Mother Earth, they think about birthing, reproduction. This narrows womanhood to DFAB bodies only, which not only makes it transmisogynistic, but also cissexist because of what it suggests about DFAB bodies.)
  • “Anyone who reinforces the gender binary hurts my identity.” (Where does this position trans women? Think about it.)
  • “Trans women have male privilege.” (This will be a post for a later time, but know that I find it to be simultaneously false and transmisogynistic.)
  • “You’re reinforcing gender roles/stereotypes.” (Ah, right, I keep forgetting how being trans reinforces white patriarchal gender roles.)
  • “I love ecofeminism.” (Ecofeminism has a long history of transmisogyny.–ask yourself, did the article I linked to misname the problem? If so, who benefits and how?)
  • “Can we play dress up??” (Always, always, always teeters on the edge of fetishization, if not already stepping over and jumping rope on the other side. Trans women are treated as kinks and sexual objects.)
  • “You identify as a woman, but you’re biologically male.” (No, I’m a woman, so all my parts are female. To deny that is to deny that I am a woman. I gender my parts, not you. My designation at birth is not my destination.)
  • “Fake boobs look weird.” (Think about the implications this has for trans women and DMAB trans femme people who want top surgery. How does it other them? What does it say about trans women/femme people who have gone through/want surgery?)
  • “I just don’t think binary trans people are subversive.” (Sigh… Luckily, Julia Serano has already written extensively about this. This rhetoric is always employed against trans women, because femininity is marked as Other, but masculinity is marked as bold and radical.)
  • “I loved the Michigan Womyn’s Festival.” (Michigan Womyn’s Festival has a womyn-born-womyn policy that excludes trans women, but it does not exclude trans men and DFAB trans people broadly.)
  • “Why are you angry? You’re leveraging your male privilege!” (Ahh, because trans women can’t be strong and assertive women. This also reduces trans women to their genitals. It is far too easy to demonize and silence trans women for standing up for themselves, because it is very profitable to do so.)
  • “All-female open mic.” (There’s some womyn-born-womyn rhetoric there if I’ve ever seen it.)

To be completely honest, y’all are exhausting. Really, really exhausting for me emotionally, mentally, and physically. You drain me. And this is coming from a white trans woman, so imagine how trans women of color feel about what y’all do. These phrases, and actions related to them, come up so often in my own life. What do all of these phrases have in common? The implication that trans women are illegitimate, cheap knock-offs, “men in dresses.” That is incredibly damaging, and if it’s damaging for trans women/femme people, it’s damaging to the trans community broadly.

Being in solidarity with trans women and DMAB trans femme people is more than just not saying harmful things to us. It is not about posting articles on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, it’s about challenging your everyday interactions with trans women and DMAB trans femme people. It’s about questioning what dynamic your cis or DFAB trans identity plays when you talk to me about anything. How do you speak to me? When do you speak over me? Are you speaking for me, and is it appropriate for you to do so? Are you enabling transmisogyny by remaining silent around your friends? Is the transmisogyny in your queer/trans space being addressed and talked about? What goes through your head when I talk about my experiences and why? How have you been conditioned to hate trans femininity? How do you benefit if you dismiss and reduce my experiences as a trans woman?

I don’t care how many articles you post about transmisogyny (though that doesn’t mean you should stop posting them). I don’t care how often you read about its history and current implications. Studying does not mean you are unpacking your own biases, blindspots, and prejudices. It does not mean that you are actively adjusting your oppressive behaviors. That’s what I want to see. I want to see you critically analyzing not only your own behaviors, but your relationships with trans women/femme people as well as your relationships with others in general who are possibly enabling you to continue being a transmisogynist.

If you’re not, then kindly sit all the way down.