Eater of Trees

Posts Tagged ‘theory

Okay most of this has been said before I think, but still, I got irritated by someone identifying as an ally being terrible recently, so! Large analytic post.  If you know why self-identified allies are often a problem, this probably isn’t anything new.

tl;dr: Being an ally means encouraging people to call you out more, not less.

Cis feminists will often expect to be treated as heroic “allies” for mentioning trans people in passing occasionally, while not doing anything to reassess their conceptions of gender and gender oppression, and like, they expect to be criticized less when they fuck up because “they’re on your side!”

And it’s actually not just cisfeminism, it’s more or less every sort of ally ever.

This seems to be very blatantly coming from a place where the only type of real oppression is the most violent overt harm, and maybe erasure, but from this perspective erasure is “nobody ever mentions you in passing ever” not “every narrative in society is constructed with the assumption that you are not possible”.

It all ultimately comes from the desire, common amongst privileged people, to use marginalized people for their own personal glory.  Your only worth is to make them seem like an awesome person for saving you.  Except they aren’t actually saving you, and they don’t want to actually put any effort into helping you.

And basically, this is just another way to marginalize you, objectify you, and force you out of the discourse.  People who say things like this are basically the enemy.  And when they say “attack the real enemy!” this is a blatant attempt to divert your energy from helping yourself into helping them.  You can be sure that these people never will consider diverting their energy into helping you; and once their oppressions have fallen, they’re more then happy to assume a new place in the status quo.

But this leads to a strange sort of twisted logic where allies think that because they’ve given some ground, they should be less a target of criticism.  This only makes the slightest bit of sense if your primary goal is to keep the status quo as intact as possible.  And moreover, it actually is entirely the opposite of what you’d think an ally should be.

See, a recurring part of a marginalized person’s life is being constantly bombarded by oppressive ideas.  Nobody has the energy to call these all out, or even to acknowledge them.  Especially when nearly everyone will respond hostilely to such attempts.

See, the person who’s an ally, in the actual sense that that word means, not in the “self aggrandizing privileged person who uses your struggles to make themselves look better”, would be someone who, when they do something fucked up, would be willing to listen to you if you explain how.

Like I will critique the actions of my close friends far more often then people I don’t know, because with my established relationship with my close friends, its far more likely that they’ll listen and productive discussion will ensue.

See, nobody is going to ever be not oppressive.  That just doesn’t happen.  There’s too many sorts of oppression.  Oppression is too ingrained in everything.  And oppressed people don’t all agree on everything.  And these things may be contradictory in their needs*. It may be possible to fix things in the future more or less, but now? Nope.

This doesn’t mean oppression is okay, which is why being open to listening is so important.  If you can’t be perfect, it becomes especially important to fix the and be aware of the damage that’s done.

But by saying you’re an ally, you’re saying you want to change things.  And that starts by reconceptualizing how you see the world.  Which starts by listening to marginalized people and acknowledging how the systems that are in place do not help them, and creating an environment in which they can openly discuss these things.

Basically, by saying you’re an ally, you’re saying “You should call me out more.  You’re saying, “rather then rolling your eyes and moving on when I hurt you, you should tell me, because I’m willing to be different from most privileged people, and actually listen.”

And if you try to insist that because you’re “on the same side” as us that we shouldn’t discuss our marginalization around you, you’re not on our side in the slightest.

*Like with pronouns, to be fully accepting of genders we basically need to allow people to make their pronouns whatever they want, but my learning disabilities mean, that like names, I’m really really bad at attaching those to people, which would be best served by having a small finite list of pronouns. …I definitely think the former is the better choice, assuming people actually acknowledge that people’s memories are not unlimited and there are good genderless options to fall back on if you’re memory is full of holes.  But basically, these marginalizations are entirely contradictory in what would best serve them.

Or like, the way my autism works I tend to use elaborate and sometimes weirdly precise language, and… oh hey that can be super inaccessible sometimes.  But on the other hand people insisting I should talk like normal people and not describe my emotions as “transient psychotic dysphoria” when “sad” would work is a very significant part of my oppression (both for the autism and the transient psychotic dysphoria, which… isn’t actually the same as being sad, though the meanings of the terms overlap)

But yeah, the gist of this is a lot of the ways to counter oppressions overlap and so simple solutions aren’t actually possible. Which makes openness to discussion all the more important.

It’s not ableist to acknowledge that people have varying ability levels.  I mean obviously come on that’s like, one of the most basic points of disability theory.

Intelligence is ableist because it isn’t actually a thing.  It’s a bunch of things, and often they aren’t correlated at all (See for example specific learning disabilities; like I’m completely unable to remember things in the short term and get distracted all the time and forget what I was doing but as soon as something is in my long term memory it is staying there forever.)

Like the best way to put it seems to be to realize it’s not really one specific thing.  It’s not even that there’s lots of ways to be intelligent—which there are—it’s that if you talk about intelligence we have no way of knowing if we’re talking about being able to remember facts, being good at processing numbers, having a wide knowledge base (like knowing twenty five languages, for example), or even readily using wikipedia so you’ll have answers to other people’s questions.

It is probably worth breaking the idea down into its component parts here, because really my ability to grasp complex concepts quickly and my tendency to become completely lost if a person uses weird organization or is at all poetic are very different things, and they’d both be considered intelligence or lack thereof.  Plus, the way people talk about it now it doesn’t even really mean anything because it’s super vague and, well, a ton of unrelated things.

The other reason it’s ableist is because people without intelligence, or specific facits thereof, are treated like shit and get their autonomy denied them and generally are abused and unaccommodated so they can’t use the abilities they do have (like, I learn really fast and have a ridiculously good memory but then I have no ability to focus and can’t read books very well, so I failed out of college.  Even though basically intellectual things are basically what I’m best at, and actually because of my other disabilities are practically all I can do)

It should also be noted that it’s not “intelligence” that’s privileged; it’s a bit more complex then intelligence is privileged and lack of it is disprivileged.  In my experience it’s really productivity that’s privileged; I mean i got forced into segregated special ed classes and generally had no material ever that was remotely appropriate to my ability level (either because it was completely impossible for me to do—I completely left the essay portion of the SAT I took blank—or because it was stuff I’d learned years ago and they didn’t know anything better to do then teach it to me six times in a row), but I was generally regarded as “intelligent”.

Certainly there’s privilege in there, including my access to an education and resources and not being completely written off as uneducatable for any of various reasons.  But in my experience, testing at the ceiling of IQ tests mostly resulted in everyone insisting I needed to be perfect at everything, and punishing me when I was merely above average.  That’s… not privilege.

(But insulting people for lack of intelligence? That’s ridiculously ableist; like there’s no way it could be interpreted as not.  So seriously stop using words like “stupid” to attack people)

One of the common tropes about relationships that I’ve come across is that you’re supposed to do them in a certain way. Or that certain traits clearly are necessary to show you love someone, or a bit more often, that they’re indicative of romantic love, or just, coded as indicative of wanting a romantic relationship.

Many of these have nothing inherently romantic about them. There is probably some indication of at least some level of friendship, obviously, as they do tend to involve spending time and/or energy on another person, which, tends to be a clue of at least some sort of relationship.

An obvious example would be the concept of a date. This is significant enough to the concept of Serious Romantic Relationships as constructed by mainstream society that, in fact, the phrase “Person A is dating Person B” is interpreted as synonymous with a Serious Romantic Relationship.

At least as I have gathered,* a normative date seems to exist of arranging in advance with a person to go out and do something, more normative choices seem to be watching a movie or eating at a restaurant, or both. And some amount of formality is also normative, for example planning it in advance, putting some extra effort into looking nice, etc.

But there is nothing inherently romantic about formally arranging to go have a meal with a friend and dressing up, it is just as possible to do this with a nonromantic friend. And this by no means means that this is the only way to performatively date, either; planning to talk to a friend on IM and calling that a date, or going out for supper with a partner spontaneously because you’re bored is just as much relationship performativity, just a bit less normative.

There are of course other examples of relationship performativity. Examples coming to mind off the top of my head are such things as commemorating anniversaries, or Valentine’s day, or certain varieties of presents are coded as romantic, such as flowers or chocolate.

Nonromantic relationships are also performative, it must be noted. The tropes tend to be a bit less formalized and are treated as less Serious Business than romantic relationship performativity. Though for example I’ve seen going to bars together, or watching TV together coded as nonromantic relationship performativity, or doing something for Mother’s or Father’s day is often coded as child/parent relationship performativity.

This does further lead into an obvious way in which relationship performativity can become oppressive. In coding certain behaviors as expressions of a relationship, their absence can, in turn, become coded as absence of a relationship. For example, forgetting an anniversary could be read as a sign that you don’t particularly care about your partner, or not remembering to thank your friend when they take time for you could be read as being apathetic or uncaring about their support, and not, for example, a manifestation of ADHD, which tends to just result in terrible short term memory, and so such forgetting is a manifestation of a physical inability to consistently remember such things.

This can also lead to a situation where because a person does not feel they can fulfill performative relationship tropes that they feel that they are unable to have a legitimate relationship, for example a person with minimal ability to handle subtext or other varieties of normative flirting could feel that it is impossible for them to ever have a relationship at all.

The fact that relationship performativity can be oppressive does not necessarily mean that it, in fact, always is. Relationship performativity, especially when open to personal interpretation, can be an immensely valuable thing. Compulsory or exclusionary relationship performativity, however, can rapidly become extremely oppressive.

The concept of relationship performativity also ties into the deconstruction of relationship classification, as it is entirely possible for relationships that are not remotely romantic or sexual or other common tropes of Serious Romantic Relationships to be performative in ways coded as romantic, or for a person to have multiple performatively romantic relationships, or, on the other hand, it is entirely possible for romantic relationships to not be performative in the slightest, or for relationships that resemble close friendships in terms of performativity to be romantic in terms of the emotions present in said relationship. In short, there is nothing remotely inherent about relationship performativity tropes, and people should be free to choose or discard such tropes based on what works for that person.

*The closest thing I’ve ever done to a formal normative date was entirely nonromantic, and my relationships are more likely to involve mutual ranting about Judith Butler’s cissexism than dates, so I’m not necessarily the best at saying “this is how dating works!” based on my own experiences, though the tropes frequently show up in media, or have happened to my friends.

I basically want to break down the way society divides up interpersonal relationships, because it seems a lot of the time the way society declares normative relationships to work has little basis in reality, and that, considering often normative relationship models are quite limiting, it seems to me that the obvious thing is to go tell them to fuck themselves.

In detail, of course, because you’re me, and that’s what you do.  Some people watch movies or play games with their friends, others write elaborate deconstructionist theory posts on their blogs… with their friends.*

Anyway, it seems like the way mononormativity works is there’s two, maybe a few more, but mostly two major classes of relationships.  First, you have the Serious Romantic Relationship, it generally consists of romantic attraction, sexual attraction, and a relatively overt degree of identification and commitment (and by commitment here I mean “you will put an effort into making this relationship work”; I know also because of mononormativity commitment and monogamy are often conflated.).

You’re also expected to only have one of it, and it’s expected to have all these parts.  Also it is Serious Business.  Though I have noticed a lot of motifs where actually having a strong friendship with the person is considered optional.  Which is probably a symptom of homosocial norms (ie men hang out with men, women hang out with women type things.)

Now, in addition to this type of relationship, you have everything else.  Other relationships are supposed to be not sexual and not romantic.  Really the definitions are a lot looser here I think, though some degree of commitment probably is involved.  They’re also less Serious Business, which is probably why society has been a lot looser at defining them. (Not that there aren’t tropes for them, like BFFs or bromance or the like, they’re definitely discussed.)

But basically the obvious extension to rejecting the idea that There Can Only Be One with regards to Serious Romantic Relationships, is that really, there’s no reason to accept the validity of the definition as a whole period.  This is especially clear to me also I am somewhat less sexual than normative, which tends to me quite honestly I don’t particularly care one way or another about sexual interactions. (There’s also a varying degree of sexuality in interactions, obviously; it’s not always clear where said boundaries are, either, and I do like certain types of physical interactions that are moderately less sexual quite a bit, and often they feel more engaging emotionally then normative sex.  But that is yet another rant.)

Basically, if I take the sexual requirement and the monogamy requirement out of the Serious Romantic Relationship, and can include sexuality in nonromantic relationships, it becomes increasingly clear that you could easily also add romantic attraction to a non-SSR, at which point the distinction rapidly becomes meaningless, and it becomes apparent that, fuck this, you might as well make your own categories, mixing and matching tropes from other types of relationships society likes to insist are the Only Way.

So anyway the obvious practical result of this theory is that me and Devyn went and created a new category because we didn’t think the ones that existed did want we wanted, and we ended up calling it “brain twins” because we seem to have weirdly-but-awesomely similar problems and histories.

And for some further areas this could be expanded on, I didn’t really touch much on family either, which I think is probably an important element of this, I haven’t had too extensive identification of people as my family so I’m not super experienced at this.  Obviously the main tropes with family seems to be you’re supposed to be commited to them (whether you like them or not, which, obviously is a prime thing for abuse) and that you’re genetically similar to them, or they are your One Serious Romantic Relationship.

Nor did I touch on heteronormativity or, for that matter, how cissexism contributes to this (Serious Romantic Relationships are always between One Man and One Woman and obviously we can always readily tell who’s a man and who’s a woman and who’s one person and nobody’s anything else) or how commitment goes from being a healthy thing (“Let’s put some effort into resolve conflicts!”) to an extremely unhealthy thing (“Care about your family! Wait what your parents are abusive? YOU STILL MUST CARE ABOUT THEM THEY REALLY LOVE YOU.”) in the hands of kyriarchy.

There’s also a point, which occured to me recently, is that a further extension of this theory is also that you could quite readily have a relationship that is called, for example, “marriage” but lacks almost if not all the characteristics of a Serious Romantic Relationship, beyond, of course, the name, and that, furthermore, this relationship would be entirely valid as marriage.  Which, obviously does mean we are threatening the sanctity of marriage.  …but more obviously, marriage shouldn’t have any sanctity in the first place, that undermines people’s ability to live their lives how they want.

*I have the BEST friends. 😛 …also I now have a Deconstruct All Things category. Ha!

…well they aren’t the same thing, they’re hyponyms* of a broader category and we’re generally mostly just concerned about the broader category; forcing sex and gender to be different things serves to marginalize trans people by forcing gender onto their body parts.

And doing so usually involves copious ignoring of facts, because everyone who decides my sex must be male apparently sees a penis and stops; they don’t bother to notice that because of hormones I have breasts, and body odor and skin texture that’s within the norm for women, and because of lasers my hair coverage is again, normative for women.

This isn’t to say that a woman who doesn’t have those traits body is still not female, of course.  Just that very frequently the idea that sex is what’s in your pants serves to completely ignore everything outside of said pants, which, actually makes it relatively clear how objective said fact really is.  But even if your body entirely conforms to the general societal expectations of men’s bodies, you can still call your body female; and telling someone who does so that their body is male is very much cissexism.

And I do want to be clear that people may not necessarily identify their sex as the same as their gender.  I’m not entirely sure at this point whether I do or not, myself.  Respect people’s identities and don’t take this to mean you can yell at people who call themselves “male-bodied.” (Calling other people who don’t identify that way things like that? Yeah yelling may be appropriate) The point is, however, people can identify both their sex and gender however they want and the actual gendering of specific classes of body parts is a socially constructed convention and IT IS COMPLETE BULLSHIT and HIGHLY OPPRESSIVE TO TRANS PEOPLE.)

*it occurs to me “hyponym” may not be a well known word.  It’s like… there’s a broader category that the words that are hyponyms belong to (eg. “chair” is a hyponym of “furniture”; “furniture” is a hypernym of “chair”)

Phobias are real things that impact the lives of many people.  Bigotry and oppressive forces are also a thing that impacts the lives of many people. But they’re not the same thing.  At all.

Specifically phobias are when something or other produces an extremely strong unpleasant emotional reaction, mostly fear or panic.  You see a bee, and you completely freeze up and can’t move because the bee is going to hurt you (even though, logically, you know that’s unlikely and if it did the pain would be annoying and not serious)

Phobias are not generally taken very seriously.  This is a recurring problem; wherein people will try to expose you to your phobia for a variety of reasons, possibly because they think you need exposure therapy and have decided to skip the informed consent stage.  Or possibly because they find it funny, or any variety of reasons.  All of which are extremely ableist; at best trying to “help” you in a way that denies your agency, at worst outright abuse.

And further, people will often treat people with phobias very condescendingly.  Insisting that you should just magically get over it or that your emotional reaction is a sign of weakness or any other variety of derogatory treatment for it.  People will completely disregard the needs of their readers, and, for example, illustrate their writing with pictures of blood or insects in ways that make it hard to avoid said pictures; assuming that their readers emotional safety is just a concern to be casually tossed aside.  (Further ignoring the fact, of course, that if you trigger your readers, they are unlikely to remain your readers.)

The thing is, the suffix “-phobia” is used for two completely different things.

One thing is phobias; which are a mental process that is rather disruptive and tends to preclude clear thinking.  The other is bigotry.  Bigotry is hate.  It’s treating people as less than human.  It’s systematically denying people basic rights and disrupting their lives.

But it’s not a phobia.

Calling it one gives reasonability to the panic defense; when someone claims that they just panicked because the victim of a hate crime was different and that made them commit said crime.  Because phobias do result in an inability to think clearly, although they don’t usually result in violence so much as hiding.  Further calling bigotry a phobia serves to make oppressors sympathetic.  After all, their bigotry is just an out of control emotional reaction.  It says that they are the ones who are suffering, not the people who they are oppressing.

Using “-phobia” to discuss bigotry shames phobias as well.  Telling people that their emotional reactions are as bad as forces that systematically dehumanize and kill people on a regular basis prevents people from being able to discuss their reactions without being read as terrible people.  It prevents people from being able to deal with their phobias in useful ways, whether by avoiding them or by attempting to find treatment for them.  It encourages people to hurt themselves by entering painful situations and ignoring the pain, because the pain is seen as a manifestation of their own personal failures.  Using “-phobia” for bigotry is an example of bigotry and is definitely oppressive.

This becomes especially a problem because occasionally oppression and phobias overlap.  If you spend your life shamed for expressing a personality trait or because of your mind, and are constantly harassed and demeaned because of something about you, and see people around you who exhibit said trait be harassed and treated as jokes or disguisting or terrible people, you can quickly develop a phobia of said trait.

But then, when you have that reaction, everyone around you uses the words to describe your reaction to describe the people who hate you.  Who’s oppression has caused this reaction in the first place.  You have panic attacks when you try to transition because you’ve been bombarded by messages that trans people are terrible and freaks.  Only then, you can’t talk about it.  You can’t say “Oh hey I have a phobia of being trans” because transphobia isn’t anxiety about stepping outside of prescribed gender roles, it’s oppression of people who do that.  Calling oppression of trans people transphobia is likely to be oppressive to trans people.

Fighting bigotry with bigotry isn’t just helping one group at the expense of another, it’s hurting the group you’re trying to help, and makes their oppressors sympathetic. This is, understandably, problematic.

Further, there are relatively reasonable replacements for many common “-phobia” terms, that often serve better to explain what the oppressive forces are.  For example, cissexism much more clearly encompasses all the manifestations of oppression and erasure of transness, not merely the overt violence.

Monosexism, cissexism, and heterosexism are all words that much more clearly discuss how erasure and normativizing one group at the expense of others is a problematic element of society.

(In addition, replacing “phobia” with “-hate” or “-bigotry” can serve to allow discussion of specifically more overt violence, or in cases where there isn’t such an obvious replacement term.)

Something I have heard a lot, often from well meaning people: “Gender is social, sex is biological.” Okay I’ll give you that (mostly).  But then it turns into something like “So your gender can be whatever you want, your sex is the biology, and fixed.”  or even “Your sex is what your genitalia are” (or less often, your genes).  And that is completely bullshit.

Sex is not just genitalia.  That’s something that’s really obvious when you put a couple seconds of thought into.  Genitalia are one part of your body that is pretty much inevitably covered all the time.  Which is to say, for most people you will probably never see their genitalia, unless you’re a doctor or someone who has a specific reason to interact with them en masse.

Ergo, whenever you decide the sex (or gender) of a person, you’re not deciding it based on their genitalia.  Unless they’re an infant who’s just been born, then that’s pretty much the only sexual characteristic you can see.  For that matter, that’s pretty much the case until puberty.  Hence why coercively assigned birth genders are based on that.

And genes are even less important.  Certainly they decide quite a bit about how you develop, but you don’t see them.  A lot of people have probably never seen their genes.  Whether you have one or two X chromosomes is pretty much irrelevant to your interactions with people, except indirectly through how that manifests sexual characteristics.

(I can be pretty certain I have one X chromosome due to the genetics of colorblindness–my maternal grandfather was also color blind and my mom wasn’t, and nobody on my dad’s side of the family was, which is pretty much a situation that’s only possible if you’re genetically male.  But beyond that, I’ve never seen any direct evidence either way as to what my genes are.)

Thus you cannot reduce sex to either genitalia or genetics, as in practice neither are traits used to determine what it is in interactions with people.  But it isn’t just that.  Sex is not one single unambigous trait, it is composed of a large collection of different characteristics (mostly biological, but the line between sociology and biology can get really thin sometimes.)  And these traits are not always unambiguous–intersex people exist for a reason–nor do they necessarily all correspond.  It is entirely possible to have some traits of one sex and some of another.  For example it’s not too hard for trans women to have both breasts and male genitalia, which are both really strongly associated with their respective sexes, but with both it becomes rather hard to rely on either to dictate sex.

(You can, of course, declare people with ambiguous sexual characteristics to be one or the other sex, which you generally can and should do by asking them what they prefer to be.  What you can’t do is reduce their sex to one trait without consulting them on it, especially when other traits directly contradict the one you’re trying to reduce them to.)

Further, many sexual characteristics are really not that unambiguous even on their own.  Even breasts come in a variety of sizes on both men and women, and they can blur together.  And traits like body hair, size, voice, and the like vary more between people than they do between sexes.  As such, sex can become ambiguous on cis people, and what traits you reduce sex to is mostly a judgment call.  And certain characteristics that do have a basis in biology (eg regarding women as more “emotional”, or men as being easily aroused) really blur the line between sex and gender.

The fact is, there is no a priori reason to treat sex as either genetics or genitalia.  The decision to attempt to do so is purely a social construct, and in addition, not particularly practical as neither is readily visible.  And other sexually associated characteristics are even less unambiguous.  Furthermore, such ideas are inherently erasing and discriminatory to trans people who can and are attempting to alter their sex and to intersex people, who cannot really be put into even a biological box in the first place.

This is actually a normal characteristic of language.  Most words refer to a really wide variety of things that may be really ambiguous as to whether the word can apply to them as you move away from the core of the semantic space.  (This is also why I really hate the concept of ‘definitions’ because they tend to create these rigid boundaries between semantic fields that don’t actually exist when you actually speak or think.  Though to be fair they can be useful for scientific jargon.)  This is especially important to be aware of as the tendency for words to imply certain traits that may be pretty fuzzy around the edges or are not universal can easily be used to further oppressive systems, often unintentionally and especially when you are unaware of these things.  (For instance the tendency to assume “person” implies “white” and “male” when not otherwise specified tends to lead to unintentional exclusion of POC and women.)

(Disclaimer: I’m not particularly an expert on semantics–I mostly studied it in high school so I could make my own (naturalistic) languages :P–so I may have screwed up something–and I know I simplified it–in that last bit.)