potato_head: (angry)
[personal profile] potato_head
I've been hearing a lot of "this is why people don't take X movement seriously!" lately. So let's talk some feels about this concept and how it's actually about privilege.

First, for those of us who have not seen this particular interaction in the wild, here's how it usually goes:


A person of X identity says something, usually pertaining to how privileged allies should behave regarding their group. It may be a completely legitimate point; it may be a legitimate point phrased badly; it may be utter nonsense, or even oppressive towards another group. I've seen just about all of these.

Another person - could be a bigot, an ally, or even another person of X identity - responds with 'this is why people don't take your/our movement seriously.'


Okay, listen. No, it's not. I don't care what the person just said. I don't care how hostile they were. I don't care how common of a theme it is in discussions regarding the issue. It isn't the reason why many privileged people are completely dismissive of the movement and general identity in question.

(I'd like to note here that I am talking about general, overall movements, not specific corners of movements with specific beliefs; for example, the reason most people dislike radical/first-wave feminists is in fact because of their various bigotries, but I'm talking here about people who are, say, dismissive of feminism at large; people who are dismissive of the very idea that a particular minority has a valid identity. Okay moving on)

Here's the real reason a privileged person chooses to dismiss the identity of a minority group: Because they can.


I'm not saying a particular person might not have a particular 'reason' or incident that turned them away from the movement. Look, I rejected feminism for several years; I know how it goes. I had my 'reasons'. But here's the thing:

At some point in the thought process of dismissing a movement, the person has to have realized 'I don't have to listen to these people. I have the option to walk away and never hear what they have to say again.' Because to decide to do that, you have to know it's an option. Even if you don't realize it at first, such a total dismissal is a lifestyle decision; in other words, it's something you have to choose to keep doing, over and over and over. You have to walk away from the conversation every time it happens. And there's no way you can do that, over and over, without realizing you're able to do so.

On the other hand, those on the oppressed side of the equation don't actually have that option. They can't walk away from the discussion. Here, let's make it trans-specific for a moment, so I can make these examples a little more visceral. Some 'reasons' I have heard for cis people dismissing the trans movement:

'I just can't win with you people!' or 'it's impossible to keep up with what the right words or ideas are these days - I always feel like I'm doing something wrong!'
Okay. You know what cis ideas trans people have to try and keep up with? Everything from how to dress 'correctly' (therapists say dress like a stereotype or you don't get treatment; society says dress like a stereotype and we'll reduce you to one), to how to date (go ask five random cis people at what point a trans person should disclose their status to someone they're interested in; I guarantee you not only will most of them have an opinion, but they'll all have different ones - and at least one is likely to be '[slur]s shouldn't be trying to date normal people at all'), to what age we're allowed to transition, what constitutes transition, and whether we should be allowed, legally or socially, to transition at all. There are also a hell of a lot of cis people who have strong opinions on what a 'real' trans person is and what constitutes a legitimate trans identity. Notice that most of these are lose-lose situations for us; not only can we not please every individual cis person, but we're often caught between conglomerates like the medical establishment and society, and have to choose which one we want on our side.

'A trans person threatened violence against all cis people!' or 'But 'die cis scum'!
Yeah, that's not very nice. I'm pretty sure you know, at least on some level, that trans people are regularly killed for the crime of being trans. Here's some examples from 2009. Trans people, specifically trans women, are at much higher risk for violence. There's also not much support for trans victims from the police or the court systems. And if we're just going to talk death threats and not actual murder - here's some threats cis people in power have made against trans people.


Now, I have to be really clear here. I am NOT saying turnabout is fair play. I am not saying 'we're doing it because you do it'. I'm not saying that because trans people's lives are made miserable by certain cis people, we have the right to attack any cis person we see. I'm definitely not saying all cis people are responsible for what these particular cis people do. What I am trying to say is that all these things cis people put up with in the discussion, trans people get as well, and usually several times over; and it's been my observation that this holds true for any movement.

And the minority group DOES NOT have the option of walking away from the discussion. And they very most definitely do not have the option of dismissing the privileged group. Leaving the discussion, for the minority group, means settling for whatever rights the privileged group are willing to give without prompting - which history says is none. And there is simply no way to make logical sense in our society of dismissing the identity of a person in the majority. Sure, I could go ahead and say 'I think cis people just need therapy' but it would be, in the context of our society, meaningless, especially considering nobody in the medical community would agree with me.

So basically - the point I am trying to make here is this: these conversations are not pleasant or fun for ANYONE. Because institutional oppression is not a fun subject, and it's not any fun to dismantle. But when a privileged person becomes uncomfortable with the discussion and walks away, and an oppressed person becomes uncomfortable and does not, it's not because of the actions on the oppressed person's part; it's because the privileged person has the ability to do so, and was willing to exercise that ability.


(Sorry if this was less coherent than usual. I accidentally my eloquence. Or possibly never had any)

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