privilege

Messages to Ace Exclusionists: September 2017 Carnival of Aces Round-up

This is the round-up of posts for the September 2017 Carnival of Aces, hosted by yours truly, with the prompt “What’s one thing you want to tell ace exclusionists?“. Posts are listed in order of submission. Thank you so much to all the contributors; I’ve really enjoyed reading all of your posts!

“Don’t hate anyone” | The Song of the Lonely Whale

Anonymous submission: “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.”

“If you include, you may be included. If you exclude, you will be excluded.” | Mundo Heterogeneo

“if I can only say one thing to an ace exclusionist, it’s that straight people don’t let us in their club, not even the heteroromantic ones among us.” | From Fandom to Family


In addition to the above submissions, ettinacat commented on the call for submissions highlighting a couple of older posts on Abnormaldiversity. Because there weren’t a whole lot of submissions this month, I’m going to include them in the round-up. The messages from these posts are:
“Being invisible isn’t a privilege.” and
Aroaces are definitely not straight

 

Question from the search terms: “do nb people have straight privilege”?

This question popped up in my search terms last month:

do nb people have straight privilege?

The quickest answer to this question is that for the most part, no, non-binary people don’t have straight privilege. The reason for this is that most non-binary people aren’t straight to begin with (I don’t know any non-binary people who identify as straight, but I’m sure some exist!), and you can’t have straight privilege if you aren’t straight!

Non-binary people may, however have access to what’s called straight-passing privilege, which is a much more complicated thing, and I am somewhat dubious about calling it privilege at all.

Straight-passing privilege is concept that’s relevant to any couple that, when out in public, appears to be a straight couple, even though one or both of the people in that couple may not be straight. So straight-passing privilege is highly relevant to bisexual and pansexual people (who are very often in hetero relationships), as well as to some non-binary people (and some of the people who date us!)

The reason straight-passing is sometimes referred to as a privilege is because it does allow some LGBT people to benefit from some aspects of straight privilege. Bi people in hetero relationships can get married to their partners pretty much anywhere, while bi people in relationships with people of the same gender can’t (the situation is more complicated for ‘straight-passing’ couples with at least one non-binary/trans person in them though). Straight-passing couples of all kinds can be pretty sure they’re not going to have to deal with anti-LGBT harassment, while couples or individuals that are visibly LGBT are inherently at risk whenever they are out in public. These sorts of things are the trappings of so-called straight-passing privilege.

But the thing about being straight-passing is it’s a double-edged sword – the flip side of a straight-passing person’s (potential) greater safety and access to legal recognition of their relationship is the fact that, by virtue of being straight-passing at all, that person’s actual identity (and their history of marginalization due to that identity) is erased.

To be straight-passing is to be, in some respects, invisibilized. To be straight-passing is to be invalidated in your actual identity. The fact that bisexual people’s orientation is so often over-written by our current relationship status is, in fact, blatant bisexual erasure. It’s a symptom bisexual people’s oppression, and so to call it ‘privilege’ is extremely questionable.

The same argument applies to non-binary people here – if people think I am straight because they perceive me to be a woman, and because my partner is a cis man, that’s not a privilege; that’s just me being misgendered. ‘Privilege’ that only exists as long as someone is making incorrect assumptions about who I am is not really privilege at all, as far as I’m concerned.

So, again, the TL;DR here is a resounding “No, nb people do not, (in general) have straight privilege“. We are sometimes extended some of the benefits of straight privilege by people who have misread who we are, but this ‘privilege’ is only available to us at the cost of hiding our identities.

Words, identity politics, and a case of the blahs

Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve been steadily moving away from describing myself as genderqueer and toward just using non-binary. I deliberately avoided the word ‘genderqueer’ entirely in my coming out message at work, just because ‘non-binary’ seems less intimidating somehow? I’m not even sure.

Genderqueerness definitely feels more inherently political, more inherently “fuck you and your entire gender system” than non-binary does, to me at least. Because queerness itself is kind of inherently political, about rejecting existing systems either by struggling to get by outside them, or by trying to build your own.

And, a few years ago, that was why I preferred to call myself genderqueer. Because I was still in the process of figuring myself out (I mean, to some extent I always will be, in all kinds of ways, but when I was first coming into my non-binary/genderqueer self, there was a lot of things all happening at once in a way that no longer applies. At least for now.) Because that shit was hard, and scary, and it seems pretty clear that leaning into that fear was part of how I coped with it. Because my defensive instincts often take the form of a strong offense, really.

But I haven’t really been feeling that way lately.

I kind of just want to be able to exist as my gender (or lack thereof, or whatever) and have that be ok. Or rather, I suspect that the fact that I have carved out some pretty significnat spaces in my life where I d ofeel that way is very seductive. It’s nice to feel that I can just be me and that the people around me aren’t going to interpret that as a political move. I am so lucky, and so privileged, to be in that position so much of the time now. I want other people to have that, and I know that means I need to keep fighting, and keep making this a political issue so that one day it won’t have to be for anyone, but also, maybe I am just falling into a gentler version of that fight?

I don’t really think it’s because I have de-radicalized in any particular ways, although I think the last year or so has softened my distrust of the average person, and I definitely have more emotional resources for dealing with people who actually mean well, but just don’t quite get it (whether ‘it’ is related to trans/non-binary issues, or whether it is about other social justice values, either specific or general). To some extent this just means that my approach to advocacy has shifted from ‘angry queer’ to ‘nice, friendly, forgiving queer’. Which, I think both approaches are valid and valuable, so maybe I should just stop worrying so much about which one I happen to have the resources for at any given moment?

At the same time though, I am worried that’s a cop oiut. Because I think I have definitely been tired of it all, for quite some time. Even my writing here lately has quite had the direction it used to have (though I don’t know if that’s something that’s coming through, or if it’s just how I’ve been feeling about it. I am pleased with the Shit Cis People Say alphabet either way.)

I hope that being tired is all it is, anyway. My regular seasonal-changeover depression has settled in (though mildly, thankfully), and I haven’t been taking as good care of myself as I should be, so the compounded impact of not quie enough sleep and kinda crappy eating habits definitely aren’t helping.

I am also thinking that I may be a little bored of focusing so stringently on gender issues in my writing here. I used to cast a broader net and talk about other feminist/social justice issues more often, so maybe all I need to do is let myself feel freer to write about whatever I find myself drawn to for awhile! I mean, I already started doing this with last Wednesday’s post about coloring sheets, anyway.

Hopefully those of you who read this blog regularly will find my various thoughts interesting!

The best parts of ace communities, or: how my connection to ace communities converted me into a Hufflepuff

[This post is part of the January 2017 Carnival of Aces, hosted by Ace Advice on the theme of “Many ways to be ace“.]

Cross-stitch by me! Photo by John D. Botelho

Cross-stitch by me! Photo by John D. Botelho

I’m really happy about this month’s prompt, because it helped me realize that a bunch of thoughts I’ve been having lately are worth writing down. As I mentioned in a past Carnival post, I have a strange sense of identity with respect to asexual community/ies, in that even though I am comfortable with my a-spec, demisexual identity, I feel like my role with respect to asexuality is more akin to allyship than anything else.

To a great extent, this comes from my allosexual-passing privilege, but it also relates to the fact that I am always extremely cognizant of how non-typical my flavour of asexuality is. But then, the more deeply I delve into ace communities, the clearer it is becoming to me that there isn’t really a ‘typical’ when it comes to ace-ness. Better yet, ace communities – possibly more than any other marginal-identity-oriented communities I’ve witnessed or participated in – often actively embrace and even centre the true breadth of diversity of ace experiences across multiple spectra.

The way that ace communities – at least in my experience – go well beyond acceptance and often outright celebrate our diversity is just so utterly squee-worthy. I just love it, and it’s the reason ace-focused spaces are some the safest and most pleasant spaces I’ve ever encountered.

And one of the sillier and more unexpected consequences of all of these experiences is that I’ve rethought my Hogwarts House! I have always been a pretty clear Ravenclaw by all accounts (I am a librarian, after all…), including Pottermore’s Sorting Hat. But, that is no longer where my allegiance lies! I am, in fact, quite certain I’m a Hufflepuff.

The thing about Hufflepuff you see, is that it’s the house for everyone, or at least anyone. Hufflepuff sometimes gets a bad rap or simply goes unnoticed, because it’s hard to apply a clear strength or trait to it (like Gryffindors courage or Slytherin’s ambition), not because Hufflepuffs are inherently unremarkable, but because Helga Hufflepuff believed that everyone had value and was happy to have anyone in her house.

Hufflepuff is the kind of club I want to be in, is what I’m saying. And, given Helga’s attitude about it, I’m quite certain that wanting to be in Hufflepuff is more than sufficient qualification to get sorted into Hufflepuff (we know the Sorting Hat takes that sort of thing into consideration, even!).

And I’d like to think that many of the lovely aces of all kinds would be right there with me :)

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: D is for “Devil’s advocate”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

D is for “devil’s advocate”

This one isn’t actually specific to cis people – it’s the sort of thing that people in a position of relative privilege love to pull out in the face of any marginalized person or people fighting to make their lives better.

Privileged folks love to play ‘devil’s advocate’, and it’s sort of a softer, more plausibly deniable version of someone starting a conversational point with ‘I’m not transphobic, but…’. You know that nothing good is going to follow, and you know that there is a (approximately) 100% chance that whatever it is will be blatantly anti-trans, cissexist ignorance.

With devil’s advocacy, the only difference is the person who is about to spew cissexism at you is carefully distancing themselves from that cissexism. The implication of devil’s advocacy is supposed to be ‘hey, *I’m* one of the good ones, but you know, there’s probably someone in the back who doesn’t get this, so I’m going to ask this question on their behalf’, or something, I guess.

But it’s really just so much bullshit. The devil doesn’t need an advocate, and there are plenty of cissexist folks out there who are already vocally advocating for them, thank-you-very-much.

So, like, don’t.


Check out the rest of “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: C is for “Cis is a slur”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

C is for “Cis is a slur”

Ok, this one is admittedly a little complex. First and foremost, cis (which is short for cisgender) is a descriptor – saying that someone is cis just means that they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, simple as that! For the most part, it is just a word that means “not transgender”. It’s creation and original intent and usage were definitely not slur-like.

I admit that is not sufficient evidence that a word isn’t a slur, though. So, I want to take the claim that it is a slur seriously enough to probe at what makes people object to the term.

When people object to being called cis or cisgender, it usually comes with one of a number of reasons (and if you drill down, it’s usually not actually that they think cis is a slur). I’m going to try to address the ones I’m aware of here, though if I miss some, please let me know!

There doesn’t need to be a word for that! That’s just normal

It is true that an overwhelming majority of people are cisgender. But that doesn’t mean it’s not useful or important to have a word that encapsulates that particular aspect of gendered experience. Most people are also heterosexual, and in fact we didn’t get around to making a word for that until we had already come up with the category of homosexual – it is a function of categories that if as long as you are assuming everyone is the same, you don’t need a word for that sameness.

It is only when one begin recognizing and naming different experiences that it becomes apparent that there needs to be a word for the ‘sameness’ against which those differences are being identified. The only way to truly make linguistic room for the idea that all of these experiences are equally valid is to have words for all of them, not just the rare or ‘weird’ ones. We all have a relationship to the gender we were assigned at birth (if we were assigned a gender at birth), even if it’s a relatively uncomplicated one that we haven’t ever really thought about, as is often the case with cisgender people.

But I *don’t* really fit the gender I was assigned at birth!

I never quite know what to do with people who don’t like being called cisgender because (of course!) they don’t perfectly fit into the box associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. The thing folks making this claim seem to miss is that cisgender absolutely does not mean ‘conforms to the gender they were assigned birth’, it just means you identify that way. It is totally fine and great to be a gender non-conformist cis person. It just doesn’t make you not cisgender.

But If you really don’t identify as the gender you were assigned at birth, then that’s another thing entirely, because then you would be trans. And then you’d be right to object to being called cisgender, because it would be inaccurate. But continuing to claim you’re not cis while simultaneously living a dysphoria-free life in the gender you were assigned at birth – and benefiting from the privileges that come with that – isn’t going to fly.

You don’t get to decide what labels to use for me!

So, most of the time when I see this one get pulled out, it’s straight-up trolling – the person making the argument doesn’t believe in their own premises in the first place and it’s pointless. But I’m going to go ahead and assume someone somewhere has made this argument and meant it and address it anyway.

I guess the major thrust of this argument is that it is hypocritical for a group of people who have fought – and are continuing to fight – very hard for the right to define the words that are used to describe them, to then turn around and choose words to describe other people.

The thing is, though, that there is a false equivalency going on here. In terms of questions like the general rejection of the word ‘transsexual’ in favour of ‘transgender’ is a question of the words’ accuracy to what it is describing. While transsexual is a word that some trans people find to be an accurate description of their experience, many of us experience our trans-ness as specifically related to our gender and may have little or no dysphoria around or desire to change our sex/sexual organs. I, for example, am transgender, but I am distinctly *not* transsexual. ‘Transgender’ is simply a better descriptor for most trans people’s experiences.

Cisgender meanwhile, as I said above, is simply a word that arises naturally as the linguistic ‘opposite’ to transgender, and it really does just mean ‘not transgender’. As I said in the previous, if a person is NOT not transgender (i.e. is they’re not cisgender according to that definition), then of course they can object to being called cisgender, because they’re not.

However, barring an actual objection to the word’s accuracy in describing he people it is applied to, this argument is pretty facetious.

But the word is used as a slur!

So, here’s the thing. A slur is a word that it used to oppress or dehumanize marginalized people. A word used to describe those in a position of privilege can’t be a slur in that sense – it simply doesn’t work that way.

I do understand that sometimes trans folks use the word ‘cis’ as a sort-of insult, though more particularly it is usually in an exclusionary way (as in ‘you’re not one of us’ – which, for the record, is true.) I am honestly not really sure what to say about that though. I think that most people understand that when, for instance, a straight woman who is dealing with heartbreak gets her lady friends together to talk about how all men are trash, that is just perfectly reasonable and understandable venting, and that no matter how many times it happens “man” isn’t going to become a slur. To be honest, I think the reason this same venting use of any of the other markers of privilege (white, rich, cis, etc.) doesn’t get as easily read that way is that people in general are less understanding of the very real pain and frustration that various marginalized people are dealing with.

And listen, I’m not going to pretend that no one has ever actually wanted dehumanize and eradicate cis people. It’s just, that’s such an irrelevantly small number of people with – let’s face it – no power whatsoever, that it just doesn’t rate.

Cis isn’t a slur. It is sometimes used in a way that is meant to discredit people, but it’s level of insulting-ness is more along the lines of something like calling someone ‘weird’. Weirdness is often considered to be something that discredits people, but it can also just be a true description of a person, as long as their comfortable with their weirdness. If you just understand that you are cis, and that’s ok, then being called cis shouldn’t be an insult to you, really, even when it is meant as such.

And honestly, if it makes you uncomfortable to be reminded that your relationship to your birth-assigned gender isn’t the same as everyone else’s, that’s actually a manifestation of your cis privilege. So deal with it.


Check out the rest of “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

If you’re into me, then you’re not straight: Orientations and attractions to non-binary people

Non-binary people are a weird position in the dating world (ok, I mean, we’re in a pretty weird position all the time to be honest. But anyway, today I’m talking about the dating world). This is true in a bunch of ways, and I’ve written about some of them before, but today I’m looking at the ways in which people talk about sexual and romantic orientation is often non-binary exclusionary.

So, for instance, as an enby person who is pretty regularly perceived as a woman, straight-identified dudes are sometimes attracted to me. They usually don’t magically stop being attracted to me when they find out I’m non-binary, either (much as I might love for it to work that way).

To me, it seems pretty clear that these people are not actually straight then, since they are attracted to people of more than one gender, and not just the other binary gender. Attraction to more than one gender falls pretty clearly under the umbrella of bisexuality (which includes plenty of identities that aren’t strictly bisexual).

the_bisexual_umbrella_by_drynwhyl-d4gq9ji

Simultaneously, though, these folks are also technically still heterosexual, because they’re only attracted to genders different from their own. Such is the difference between straightness and heterosexuality, I guess. All we learn from this is that you can be bi without being same-gender attracted, which means bi and hetero aren’t (again, technically) mutually exclusive identities. Cool?

I’m actually not terribly fussed about the idea of straight, gay and/or lesbian people occasionally being attracted to enbies, without questioning their identities around that. Plenty of monosexuals people have one or two exceptions in their lives, I guess? And if you’re not really acting on them, then whatever.

I’ve dated people, though, who have continued to identify as straight even while dating me. And I have… complicated feelings about this. On the one hand, by and large I am actually talking about people who were/are in hetero ‘primary’ relationships who absolutely benefit from straight(-passing) privilege. And I both empathize with and actually appreciate it when folks in this sort of situation feel iffy about identifying as anything other than straight, because they don’t want to appropriate LGBTQ struggles. This is a pretty good instinct, to be honest.

But you don’t actually have to have faced struggles, or even be out, to be LGBTQ. And the thing is, people who date non-binary people and still identify as straight (or gay, or lesbian), even if they are doing so based on a well-meaning, privilege-acknowledging instinct? They’re contributing to non-binary erasure. If you are into me, and still identify as straight, you’re basically saying that my gender isn’t real, or at least isn’t important enough to acknowledge; you’re saying that it doesn’t ‘count’ in the context of your orientation. I am the unstated footnote, the silent asterisk to your identity.

And that’s a shitty fucking position to be in.

So, to all the straight- (or otherwise hetero-*)identifying men and women who are dating, or have dated, or are open to dating non-binary people, I am issuing you a challenge.

Let go of that straight identity for a while. Accept that you are not just attracted to the gender that your identity implies, and really sit with the implications of that. Think about what it would feel like to think see yourself as fitting under the broad LGBTQ umbrella. You can dip into the shallow end of the pool and just admit that you’re heteroflexible. Or you can go whole hog and embrace the idea that you are, after all, kinda bisexual, or even outright queer. I don’t know what works for you.

I want you, particularly, to consider the idea that maybe your discomfort with identifying as anything other than straight might be because you are a victim of bi+ erasure. And I want to let you know that the messaging you’ve received about what is means to be bisexual, or to be queer, are wrong. I want you to know that you do belong under that umbrella; we have room for you here.

And I also want you to ensure you understand that your straight identity invalidates and erases the many other beautiful people of beautiful genders to whom you may be attracted. So, in this weird ourobouros kind of a way, by identifying as non-LGBTQ, you are failing as an LGBTQ ally. Or, less paradoxically, (especially since some of the straight people I’m talking to right now are trans, and already LGBTQ) by not identifying as LGBQ, you are failing pretty terribly as a non-binary ally.

I actually feel weird about asking you to do any of this; I’m not the kind of person who questions how other people identify, and I don’t really think it’s my business. Wherever you land is up to you, obviously. But I also think these are things you need to consider all of these things before you make that call.

And, I guess what I’m really saying is:

Image is of a spherical light brown cat with a devil tail, with taxt "Join usssss we're adorable"


*I’m letting non-binary-attracted gay and lesbian-identifying folks off the hook for now, because of reasons?

Comment-related CW: comments contain references to naked bodies, and draw connections between bio-sex and sexual orientations. I think the ppints made are legit enough to stand, but for sex-repulsed and bodily dysphoric readers, please tread carefully here <3

How has your relationship with the cisgender people in your life changed? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge Part 24

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: How has your relationship with the cisgender people in your life changed?

This is a really big question, and I’ll try to stick to generalities in answering it, although obviously the answer is different for each person.

In general, my relationships have not been significantly impacted by my coming out as genderqueer. I am fortunate that most of the cisgender people in my life took my coming out as an opportunity to demonstrate their care and respect for me, in various ways. Coming out about things like this has the sort of back-handed advantage of really making it clear to you who is in your corner, who will fight for you, who will take up some of the emotional labour involved in dealing with people’s various reactions, and many other things.

And I’ve been very lucky in that regard, though I’ve also managed to avoid unnecessary damage to relationship by choosing my method of coming out carefully.

This is clearest with respect to my parents; I came out to them in an email, specifically because I knew their initial response was likely to involve a lot of emotional ugliness, and it seemed like a kindness to myself and to our relationship to allow them to have those responses when I wasn’t there looking at them. It definitely helped.

I don’t really know what else to say to this. Obviously, as I’ve become more aware of trans issues in general, cissexism and trans erasure have become things that I am always aware of, and I often find myself exhausted by cisgender people, in the same way that I feel exhausted by people who are uneducated on and/or unaffected by other forms of oppression that I am keyed into.

I guess in general, coming out has not drastically impacted my relationships with individual cisgender people, but it has made me more wary of cis folks in general, and less enthusiastic about forming new relationships with cis people, unless I know they are already aware of non-binary genders, and pretty good on trans stuff in general. Cis people have to come with trans references basically :P


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Questions from the search terms: “everyone has a marginalized identity”

This was an interesting search string that brought someone to my little corner of the internet: everyone has a marginalized identity

I don’t know if it was meant as a question or a statement, but it wormed its way into my brain nevertheless. Because the thing is, when you get right down to it, the *vast* majority of people do experience some sort of systemic marginalization in their lives (though I would argue that there are many cases in which the axes of marginalization in question are not particularly axes of the people’s active identities).

To look at it another way, let me ask: what people in this world have faced no forms of systemic marginalization? For simplicity’s sake, I’ll actually limit myself to people in the US and Canada.

That would be white, anglophone, cisgender, heterosexual, allosexual, monotheist (really, Christian specifically), thin, conventionally attractive, non-disabled, neurotypical men from at middle-class backgrounds or higher. I am sure I’m even forgetting some things here. But the point is, its far and away a small sliver of the population.

This is, of course, part of why intersectionality is an important aspect of social justice discourse. Because once you’ve missed one of the privilege boxes, every additional hit doesn’t just add on to that, it multiplies and interacts with it. So, for instance, if you’re a rich white straight dude, you can usually get away with being publicly atheist without facing too much scrutiny (depending of course on specifically where you are, but nevertheless), whereas if you’re a rich white gay dude, it’s probably safer to at least pretend to be into the kinder parts of the bible (y’know, one of the ‘good’ gays or whatever). You don’t want to question the hegemony too much, after all.

Not to mention that when you have intersecting marginalized identities, you’re more likely to find yourself not just excluded from mainstream stuff, but also from groups dedicated to individual aspects of your marginalization – LGBT people might not want atheists visible in their groups, and atheists sadly aren’t free from heterosexism).

And I actually think this is one of the places where relatively privileged people often get stuck in social justice discourse. Because most of us actually have experienced some sort of marginalization, but those who only experience this marginalization on one or two fronts, or on the ones that are less relevant to day-to-day living, often make the mistake of thinking they know what it’s like to be marginalized. Because they kind of do. And I think most of us (myself included) are sometimes guilty of forgetting that the impacts of different marginalized identities aren’t directly comparable, that the effects of marginal identities aren’t simply additive, and that the intersections between privileged and marginalized identities within any given individual have complex and hard-to-parse consequences.

None of us can seperate out the parts of our lives that result from our privilege and the parts that result from our marginalization, because everything flows out of all of these things.

I want to be able to say that remembering we have all suffered should help us all be a little more compassionate, but unfortunately in practice it is those who have suffered the most, or those who are currently trying to end their own most immediate suffering, who are put upon to be kind and quiet and gracious and compassionate toward those who are contributing to their suffering. We are always playing a game of “no, you be civil first!” and this is a game that the most marginalized people will always lose, because the most marginalized people will inevitably have fewer emotional resources available to do the work we are constantly demanding of them.

So yes, I guess almost everyone does have some sort of marginalized identity. But we all need to learn to see past our own marginalization and recognize the experiences of those different from us, their suffering, and the ways in which we may have been complicit in, or complacent about, their marginalization. And none of us is absolved of doing so.

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.