Not speaking up against hurtful behaviour is not an option

shame

I find this an incredibly difficult blog post to write and I almost wasn’t going to. I hate conflict. I was brought up in a household where we never addressed problematic issues head-on. We swept it under the carpet and forgot it existed. But you know what? When you do that, the issues don’t go away. They fester only to erupt later on. You need to speak out about hurtful behaviour.

If you don’t know what this blog post is about and want to educate yourself, may I point you in the direction of a twitter thread by Mx Nillin? For those of us who do know what this is about, let’s carry on.

Conflict isn’t easy

I must admit that when I first became aware of the latest controversy (which I don’t like as a term any more than drama, but let’s just stick with it as I can’t come up with a different word), my first reaction was “what now? Do we really need any more anger and fighting while we’re in lockdown?”  I read about the problem, the horrible blog post that set it off, and the comments on said blog post and my first instinct was to walk away. I don’t have any skin in this game. I just wanted people to be nice to each other and get along. The hurtful behaviour in that blog post wasn’t hurting me, so why should I stick my neck out?

Yes, you read that right: I’m a nice white lady. Months ago (was it months? It sure feels like it, but who knows what time is anymore these days?), I defended Marie against an “attack” from MxNillin on something she had said. I basically said that conflict like that should be resolved offline, not out in public. That was wrong of me. It’s very easy for me, a white, straight-passing cis woman to tell people to get along. No one ever threatened me with violence or death just for existing. I won’t get hurt if I just walk away.

Tone policing isn’t right

I’ve got to be honest with you, I find the language used by Mx Nillin and their allies uncomfortable. Words like “hatred” and “transphobia” are heavy and laden. I don’t like the anger I’m seeing directed at people I considered my friends. But it’s not like Mx Nillin and their allies like to use language like that. Do you really think they want to be so hurt and angry, so frustrated with not being heard, not being respected, that they have to resort to that kind of language? Trust me, marginalised people know that their words – and more importantly, their tone – will be used against them. If they use language like that, it’s because there is no other option for them anymore. We’ve driven them to the bitter edge.

Nice white ladies tone police. I’ve done it myself (see above). We use the anger and frustration marginalised people expressing – which is caused by us – against them. We ignore their polite requests for respect. We deliberately miss their hints that they feel sidelined, that they’re hurt by what we have said. We listen to them when they approach us privately and then ignore everything they say. And then, when they finally erupt in a burst of frustration, we point our fingers and say, “I’m not engaging with you because your language is too angry. You’re hateful.”

I’ve seen it happen with this latest issue. People refusing to engage with Mx Nillin because they don’t like the tone of Mx Nillin’s comments. Nice white ladies tone policing, because marginalised people don’t have a right to stand up to themselves (in the eyes of NWL, that is). The idea that marginalised people have to use a certain tone in order to be able to be heard is incredibly damaging. Trans people in the sex blogging community have every right to be angry. And those of us who are surprised at their tone should do some investigating on how far back this issue goes before we cast any stones. Because then we realise that our trans and non-binary friends are at the end of their rope and their anger is more than justified.

Educate yourself

As I said at the beginning of this blog post, my first instinct was to walk away from all of this. So why am I now writing a blog post about it all?

I’ve had some time to think. I have read several blog posts about this issue (yes, from both sides) and I educated myself. I read the blog post that sparked this all. It was badly written by a blogger who clearly thinks they’re very clever (spoiler: they’re not). Among the convoluted prose and the “I’m so clever” language, it was clear that this blog post was making fun of trans and non-binary people’s use of preferred pronouns. It’s a very hurtful and offensive post and I read it with all the intention to give the blogger the benefit of the doubt. If I came away from that blog post feeling icky about what I just read, how much worse it must have been for my trans and non-binary friends?

I reached out to the bloggers at the heart of the controversy. Bloggers I considered my friends, who I looked up to. I was told two things: the blog post was satire and people should be able to write whatever they want on their blog. The bloggers were defensive rather than apologetic. The blog post, I was told, was a commentary on how bloggers have been censored about posts they wrote on their own blogs.

“It’s just satire”

Let’s deal with each of these things separately. Firstly, the fact that the blog post was satire. This is the same argument racists and misogynists use when they show their true colours. “It’s just a joke” “It’s comedy”. Except that satire is even worse. I looked up the definition of satire and this is what it said:

Satire – noun

the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Read that again: to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vicesSo yes, I was right in feeling uncomfortable about that blog post. Anyone who uses exaggeration (or humour or irony) to ridicule trans and non-binary people’s use of preferred pronouns as if it’s stupidity or vice is a vile person. Satire is generally used to punch up, to hold politicians or other people in authority to account. To use it to punch down at marginalised people is beyond wrong. And if you support that or don’t see anything wrong with that, I can’t be your friend anymore.

Free speech has consequences

So let’s move to the free speech argument. I was told that people should be allowed to write whatever they want on their blog. Their blog is their space and they should feel safe there. And yes, I get that. You are allowed to say what you want on your blog. It’s called free speech.

However, a blog is not like your house, where you can go in, shut the door and say whatever you want, largely consequence-free. A blog is a public forum. The whole point of a blog is that people visit it and read your words. And those people have feelings and opinions. If you write something on your blog that is hurtful and offensive, people are going to walk away from your blog and not come back. That’s a consequence of free speech. You’re entitled to say what you want, but I’m entitled not to want to come into your space anymore and read hurtful things. I’m entitled, also, to comment on your blog posts and tell you why I think it’s hurtful. I’m entitled to warn my friends against going to your blog because they might get hurt there. Your blog – with your nice free speech saying whatever you want – has become an unsafe space for them.

So spare me the free speech argument. Yes, it’s a free country. Yes, you can say whatever you want on your blog. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences. And let’s be honest: the only consequences you’re suffering is people refusing to follow you on Twitter, participating in your memes and reading your blog. No one is reporting you to Twitter for hate speech, no one is contacting your web provider to pull your website down. Your very existence isn’t mocked or threatened. You’re not being censored, you’re being held to account.

I’m sad, but not speaking out is not an option

I’m sad about this divide in the sex blogging community. I’ve tried to keep an open mind and to see both sides of the argument but in the end, I needed to pick a side. I want to quote Kayla Lords here, as she said this so brilliantly in her own blog post about this (which is well worth a read).

For me, the “sides” issue has been pretty clear — because I’ve watched this current situation unfold like a slow-motion car crash, I’ve seen details and moments that others who were out there living their lives didn’t see. I also came across that heinous blog post long before many of you did. And that was a clear moment to say something. I couldn’t leave it unsaid. It was too awful. The glee and “solidarity” in the comments section made my stomach hurt. I told myself this was my moment to decide who I am in this community and where I draw my line in the sand.

So I picked a side. And there was a “price” to be paid for that, and I would pay it again ten times over. I have a shit-ton of privilege, so the price for me wasn’t all that steep. It hurt, and I handled it. But it was a decision I made (one I don’t regret) and one that gives me a lot more strength than I used to have.

I came to this issue late, so I needed more time than Kayla to educate myself and to pick a side. I can’t stand by when marginalised people are hurt over and over again and then, when they stand up for themselves, are told they can’t express their anger and frustration.

I’m done being a nice white lady. I’m sad, but not speaking up is no longer an option for me. I’ll deal with the consequences.

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