exclusion

Guest Post: Messages to Ace Exclusionists – Anonymous Submission to the September 2017 Carnival of Aces

[I received the following submission via email]

Exclusionists, I promise you I’m not under the impression that I can tell you anything. (At least not so long as it isn’t that I, as an ace, support your exclusionism, which I am not saying, because I’m not one of the “good ones”, as it were.) But there are some things I wish you would consider, on your own, if you have the time, and with no accountability implied.

(And by “you” below, I don’t necessarily mean “you” individually? I know no one person does all of it.)

•Exclusionists seem to get angry at every manifestation of ace identity or community. You get angry at the flag and its colors. You get angry at rings. You get angry at the goofy puns, get angry when we talk seriously about trauma. You get angry at our online spaces, get angry when we show up in public. You get angry at asexuality in fandom and angry at it in canon media and angry when it’s acknowledged by non-fictional people where anyone can see or hear it. 

I’m not saying your anger isn’t a real feeling or that you’re somehow feeling it on purpose, but emotions are inflamed to the point where you take any and all evidence of our existence, unless it’s an explicit statement that we understand why you don’t want us around, and no matter if it’s in no way directed at you, as a punishable offense or disrespect or a threat. (Because why don’t we FUCKING STAY DOWN?) “I am” has become an offensive statement. And I wish that worried you.

•Despite all of this anger despising us has a recreational element. Social circles are built around it. It’s something you opt to discuss and make graphics and jokes about in your free time. It’s fun. And I wish that worried you.

•It’s true that the community needs a lot of help in a world that’s hostile in a thousand ways from a thousand directions. There are a multitude of ways to offer that help, too. Faced with all the wide array of community needs (and of course I’m not scolding anybody for not building a second Lambda Legal on tumblr after they finish their AP Chem homework – that’s ridiculous – and of course I’m not blaming anyone for limiting their activity to online spheres when their irl environment isn’t safe – that’s evil) you looked at the roles you could fill and decided to be the patrolmen in mirror shades asking everyone for their identification.. And I wish that worried you.

•You and yours lift and repurpose hateful arguments from all over the place that have been used against every other community group, including gays and lesbians, despite the fact that those arguments bring underlying assumptions with them:

  • “You’re endangering children!”
  • “Accepting you means we’d have to accept pedophiles!” 
  • “You ARE just pedophiles!” 
  • “You have a disease.” 
  • “That’s not human.” 
  • “You’ll grow out of it.” 
  • “That’s not real.” 
  • “You want to be oppressed.” 
  • “If you knew better than to attract attention you’d be fine. Whatever happened to you, you brought it on yourself.” 
  • “You’re innately abusive and selfish and can’t be trusted as partners.” 
  • “You’re innately homophobic.”
  • “Your presence is a danger to us by definition.” 
  • “If you’re not gay, you’re straight.”
  • “You’re not not-straight enough to be here.”
  • “Use of your own terminology is wrong. Use of existing terminology is also wrong.”
  • “The community is already defined; more groups can’t just join.”
  • “Not indulging someone’s sexual interest in you is hurting them.”

The baggage on these is substantial.

  • “It’s healthier for kids if knowledge of certain identities is kept from them.”
  • “Victimization and consent aren’t the deciding factors in whether your sexual conduct/identity/preferences are morally acceptable or not; we as a community are incapable of making decisions on this basis.”
  • “Pedophilia is a label that can be casually applied to anyone whose orientation I dislike..”
  • “Sexual orientation ought to be subject to medical intervention.”
  • “Sexual orientation is sufficient grounds to deny someone’s humanity.”
  • “What matters isn’t your present reality, it’s that something must have changed you into this and something else might change you back.”
  • “People can’t be trusted to recognize their identities on their own.”
  • “Opressed status is a cynical prize whose function is to get things out of other people.”
  • “Your abuse is your own fault.”
  • “Sexual orientation correlates to moral degeneracy.”
  • “Behavior doesn’t make the bigot.”
  • “The range of sexual orientations is properly understood as one goal with multiple failure states. Such failure is moral in nature.”
  • “Silence and isolation are fair demands to make of marginalized people.”
  • “Community is best understood as having impermeable and immobile borders and community membership must be inherited.”
  • “Sex can be owed.”

I know that you didn’t build these weapons from scratch – preexisting human nastiness left them lying around. Pericisheteronormativity left them lying around. And then radfem rhetoric came along, made some aftermarket modifications, and left them lying around. But you and yours have really gotten into picking them up and swinging. I wish this worried you.

•Splash damage is getting everywhere. Under SGA logic, bi/m-spec issues are understood as identical to gay and lesbian issues, when that’s not true. Enbies get their identities forcibly collapsed into definitions that don’t fit. Ageism and ableism are flat-out necessary, if you’re going to seize on the idea that liking the option of some community social spaces that aren’t clubs and bars is homophobic. 

You say you don’t like TERFs, but they love your stuff. 

Why did you glom so hard onto the claim that intersex people as a group don’t want to be included in the community, when that’s not true either?

I wish this worried you.

I don’t want to cheapen the bonds you have and the love you feel for the people you do consider a part of the community; they can’t have been easily come by. And I don’t want to dismiss the visceral comfort that comes with finally making it to a place of safety and slamming the door behind you. 

But I wish you could acknowledge, without its being a source of pain, that all groups whose identities represent benign violations of the dominant narrative about sex and gender and love have common cause, and that more light will come from resisting that narrative than resisting each other. That consent is the best measure of benignity. That we can have our own spaces within a much larger one.

That, to borrow physics for a needlessly poetic moment, the end of the rainbow is always farther away than it looks.

On inclusive and exclusive spaces, and why actively cultivating “safe” exclusionary spaces is vital

I am inherently suspicious of any group of community or event that claims to be broadly inclusive. Or more specifically, I know that attempts to be equally inclusive of everyone will always, always result in exclusionary spaces where the least privileged perspectives are the most marginalized.

In speaking about why I distrust the very concept of ‘the GSM community’ (or ‘the LGBTQIA+ community’), I recently wrote:

I am far, far more interested in hearing from communities of black trans folk, or autistic queer people, or fat femmes, than in listening to anything that can be credited to ‘the GSM community’ at large.

This is in part because I acknowledge that it is important and vital for me to continue to listen to and make space for the voices of people who experience oppressions that I do not. I cannot help but be complicit in oppressions if I do not even know they exist, and so I feel a deep responsibility to be always learning about others’ experiences of marginalization.

It as also because I know the power of groups that are deliberately and mindfully exclusionary of relatively privileged people. I know the power of explicitly and actively centering and amplifying marginalized voices above all others.

There are things that marginalized people are reluctant to say in the presence of the privileged, in the presence of their oppressors. There are things that need to be said, truths that burn inside of hurting people, that cannot be adequately addressed when the perpetrators of that hurt are listening.

For example: most women experience varying forms of harassment, objectification, or other forms of dehumanization or humiliation on a fairly regular basis, simply for being in public where there are men. Women can, and do, talk about these things publicly of course, and it is important that all of us who see this happening refuse to be silent.

However, when a woman is processing the trauma of a new, particular, experience of dehumanization at the hands of a man, it is often important for her to find a space to do so where there are no men. The reason for this is simple and terrible: because we live in the kind of patriarchal world that teaches men to dehumanize women, woman can’t even speak out and describe their experiences without having men use those experiences as fodder for their own prurient dehumanizing interests.

I’m going to say that again, actually: any time a woman speaks out publicly against her own dehumanization, and especially when she describes in detail how she was dehumanized, there are people who will use that information to further dehumanize her. It is that fucking awful. It is that fucking inescapable.

The only way that many marginalized people can even begin to process their victimization without being actively re-victimized by their effort, is by doing so in a space that excludes their oppressors.

But it’s not just that, even.

In addition to allowing for healing and processing, smaller groups and communities focusing on particular oppressions, or better yet on particular intersecting oppressions are far and away more likely to be able to get shit done.

There is this thing about public conversation about oppression; I’m sure you’ve seen it many times. When someone tries to start a broadly public conversation about what might be done about some particular form of oppression they experience, that conversation will almost without fail be derailed into a conversation all about convincing those who don’t experience that form of oppression that it does actually exist, and that it is, in fact, a problem.

By simply excluding people who don’t experience that form of oppression, or by allowing them to attend only as long as they understand that their role is only to listen and support, we allow the conversation to move past proving the existence of oppression into actually planning movements to improve the lives of people facing that oppression.

Exclusive spaces are absolutely necessary because there are some things that oppressed people only learn to name and recognize in the safety of their own communities. Exclusive spaces are necessary to have the occasional opportunity to escape from our oppressors and process our experiences.

The converse of this a weird one, though: inclusive spaces that claim to value everyone equally are never truly inclusive; they will always alienate the people most in need of community. The only truly inclusive space is a space that works actively to undermine the power and voices of its privileged participants, and to bolster the power and voices of those who are traditionally silenced.

If you aren’t actively dismantling the existing power hierarchies, you will always wind up reproducing them.

Inclusion fail

(via Tessa de Jongh on flickr)

A number of years ago, I attended a Bachelor of Education program. I’m theoretically qualified to teach junior and senior high school, but I have not maintained my membership to the Ontario College of Teachers, so I’m not eligible for any (public school) jobs. Teaching didn’t turn out to be what I actually wanted to do with my life.

Among the things that happened that annoyed me during the program (and there were many; because Ontario has dedicated Catholic school boards for all districts, a distinct proportion of the students accepted to Ontario teaching programs are Catholic, to fill the rosters of those schools), one haunts me in particular because of its genuine good intentions, but failed execution.

There’s a disturbing pattern among the classic lesson plans for teaching tolerance of diversity, which is that the plans tend to assume that they will be applied to a homogenous class of students who sit solidly on the privileged side of whatever division is being discussed.

For example, there’s the Jane Elliott’s blue eyes/brown eyes exercise that is meant to make white students understand what it is like to live in a world where you are a member of a discriminated-against class of people (i.e. what it’s like to be a person of colour in North America). It’s not clear to me how this exercise would work in a mixed-race context. It might actually be more interesting in some ways, but it’s pretty clear to me that it was not designed for this purpose.

The clearer example I have is geared toward reducing anti-LGBT (ar at least anti-LGB) prejudice. In one of my classes, the professor actually ran the exercise on us, so I got to experience first-hand just how problematic it is. It’s a simple enough premise, and involves walking through one version or another of this questionnaire.

The questions are kind of cute, and intended to inspire reflection among straight people on their assumptions about sexuality. And that’s all well and good. But.

As a queer person, I found myself completely and utterly excluded from the entire exercise and ensuing discussion. The answer to many of those questions for anyone who isn’t heterosexual is a simple “not applicable”. It was extremely frustrating, not least because the exercise could easily be altered to explicitly ask for input from LGB people (or, for the sake of not putting LGB students on the spot if they are not comfortable discussing it, at least leave some implicit openings/prompts that can be meaningfully addressed/answered by LGB people.) As it was administered, the whole process was deeply lacking in opportunities for meaningful diaogue.