Monday, February 28, 2011

The Spiritual Ethics and Social Politics of Sudden Disengagement: a few cases in point

image from the Trans Youth Support Network is from here

I've had the experience in my life of disengaging from people and of them disengaging from me. When this happens abruptly, often enough this is due to one or both people being triggered into some old, deep well of pain, and when one is dropped by unresolved associations into that lonely well, isolating from what appears to be (or is) the current source of pain may seem like the best route to getting out of the well. But the more alone one is, the fewer hands there are to offer a lift up and out to a better emotional-spiritual place.

But no single person is responsible for someone else's well of pain, unless they have inflicted gross pain across one's whole lifetime. And such things do happen. They happen not just interpersonally, among and between people; they also happen institutionally. So, for example, I've heard many people with health care, with access to health care, state, defiantly, "I will not go to see a doctor! I don't trust the medical establishment."

The point of this post isn't to make a case for going to see people who consistently hurt, exploit, or dismiss or disrespect you. Or for staying engaged with institutions and systems of harm, degradation, and atrocity. But the point here is to note that only some of us have the option to leave places of discomfort, wounding, and disregard.

I have the privilege to do this: to leave places I don't feel comfortable in. People with less privilege than me have pointed this out to me--how when I don't feel welcome or safe in an environment, I leave and don't return. Or I wait a long time to return.

Considering the fact that most people have no means with which to travel anywhere, including out of one's village, away from one's family, or even the social resources with which to end friendships and acquaintanceships with a swiftly sent email, I think it is worth exploring other ways to find respect in places where one is often hurt.

I'm going to give as an example my own reactions and responses to men. And I'm speaking here as a male person, not as a female or intersex person. I'm speaking here as someone raised to be a boy and then a man. This ought not be generalised outside of this political realm, to, say, apply to women who seek permanent refuge from abusive men.

I'll hone down the group more: I'm speaking here, at this moment, about white men who are not overtly abusive, who do not intend to do harm, and who are generally skilled enough, emotionally, to communicate feelings as well as thoughts. Because these members of society are also skilled at appearing to survive by "going it alone", they can pretend they can do without human connection. Or, they will invest too much in one particular connection, burdening that relationship and often crushing it under the weight of great expectation.

That's my pattern with men, generally. I'll invest a lot, emotionally, and when disappointed or hurt, if it happens enough or triggers me sufficiently, I'll end things. Or, when they feel too burdened by my expectations, they'll end things. This ending can be done with more or less grace; with more or less compassion; with more or less concern, care, and regard for the humanity of the other person.

I've had men in the last year decide they don't want to stay friends with me because they were either triggered by something I said, or because I placed too heavy a burden of expectation upon them.

Within that population, I see tendencies for us males to cut each other out of our lives without much consideration for the effect on the other person. And if we've come to see someone as "THE ENEMY", we're not likely to want to find ways back into a relationship. Including with institutions that seem like "the enemy". Or, even, those that are the enemy. And when males cut one another out of their lives, this generally means a burder of care is put more intensely on the women in the lives of those males.

Structures of enemyhood abound, in places where destructive hostilities are reigning--whether in a home or a country--or within oppressed populations where self-hatred is deep and alliances and trust are hard to find.

In my experience, many friendships can appear momentarily, or longer, to be dangerous. Friendship, after all, is dangerous. As are all relationships. And the more traumatised and betrayed one has been in friendship and relationship, as well as by institutions, the more difficult it can become to maintain them.

I elect to not establish many relationships with men because my loading from the past is so great, and wounds can be accessed so easily, that I'd rather not inflict the pain of my own triggering onto myself and other males, if I can help it. But how many of us have this luxury--to cut out all men? To separate from all males? Or, pick the oppressor group: all whites? All people with power who use their bigotry to hurt others? I will, necessarily, bring more of my needs for care to women if I have few to no relationships of care with men. And what does that do for the women who also wish to limit their contact with males?

I'll shift gears to another population: queer folks across gender. This is also a site of great loading for me. I've been hurt and have felt rejected a lot from people within this population. And, no doubt, there are many people who are queer who have felt judged, rejected, or hurt by me. The issue is, "What do we do about that?" Do we mend and repair when possible and when it is humane to everyone concerned to do so? Or do we simply cut others out and try and leave no traces of ever having known someone.

I shouldn't make it seem like cutting people out of one's life is simple. For those of us who have stayed in abusive or grossly exploitive relationships for far too long, ending a relationship may be the healthiest thing someone can do. And, for example,  choosing to live without men in one's life may be exceptionally difficult, while also greatly spiritually and personally beneficial.

I'm not promoting a single ethic here. I'm discussing conditions in which we break or mend relationships. I've been militantly all for women seeking shelter from men who harm them. Interpersonally and institutionally. To whatever extent women can manage to accomplish it, I support women removing men from their lives if those men demonstrate chronic and direct disrespect--as named by the women, or misogynistic exploitation or abuse--as named by the women.

Different personal or social contexts call for different approaches. One has to decide when to flee one's home, if being abused. One also has to know whether fleeing is really possible. Something that stands out for me is Andrea Dworkin's discussion--I'm not sure where or if it exists online--of women being battered by men in intimate relationship. She spoke of how, for a time, the battered women's (shelter from men) movement used to advocate a single approach: leave him. As soon as you physically can, leave him. And what many women being battered by men reported to those activists--including to activists like Andrea who had, herself, been battered--was that leaving him would be very dangerous to her life. And the response, for a time was, "Woman, staying with him is very dangerous to your life!" And what Andrea discusses was what happened when it was discovered that women who left male batterers were far more likely to be killed by the terrorist-abuser than if they stayed in the home of the terrorist.

Clearly there ought to be far more options for women than that. Because in either case, she is being destroyed. But time and again we have people advising other people to do things that "make sense" and seem to be principled, and yet "don't work" in reality. And Andrea has spoken in her work of the need to always re-assesss one's own stance, to adjust one's politics, to adjust the course of action, given new information. And new information could be this: "Women battered by men, intimately, in their homes, know far better than anyone else what is best for them to do to survive."

Which brings me back to queer community. I disagree with so much that I see going on in my own queer community. I see flagrant expressions of misogyny among gay males, for example. And levels of racism among the whites that stun me, even while I shouldn't be shocked at all at this point. I see willful refusal to be aware of class and region privilege. For example, this shows up with mandates to "come out, come out, wherever you are!" Well, that's easy to demand of lesbians and gay males when they have a place to go once kicked out of their home-of-origin. And, yes, such homes are not safe places for queer youth if they are virulently lesbophobic, homophobic, and transphobic. But, more often than not, those very out-and-proud queer people promoting the ethic of "come out, come out, wherever you are!" are offering safe shelter to the youth who decide to do so. And where, really, are those truly safe places for women battered and sadistically controlled by men to go, where their terrorist-husbands can't find them?

So many times women, and queer youth, either find ways to stay in abusive homes and survive, biding time, or they flee and end up on the streets, which are no less friendly to anyone who is queer or female, or anyone younger than seventeen. Male predators abound on the streets. And some of them appear to be friendly--very friendly. And many of those "friends" turn out to be pimps or procurers, or slavers or traffickers. Or boyfriends or future husbands who will also turn out to be abusers, if not also woman-hating terrorists.

What I can ask of myself and others is this: when you are about to end a relationship, are there genuinely no options for repair and rebuilding, or does it feel like there aren't any? And determining one from the other--reality beyond but inclusive of feeling, from the inner realm of feeling only one's most triggered emotions, isn't at all easy. And those are waters for each person to negotiate and find buoyancy in.

But one thing I learned and keep learning from Audre Lorde's essays and speeches is this: we are not one another. And we ought not expect others to become ourselves. And the conditions under which friendship, relationship, and political alliance occur ought not be "falling in line" with one set of rules of behavior or one code of conduct. What I've learned from Audre is that for radical communities to exist--and here I specifically mean communities of revolutionary resistance to oppressive institutionalised forces of human and other destruction--the communities must accept differences as a welcomed requirement, not as something to endure or only fear.

At the beginning and end of a speech to women in an academic setting, Audre Lorde spoke these words:
I agreed to take part in a New York University Institute for the Humanities conference a year ago, with the understanding that I would be commenting upon papers dealing with the role of difference within the lives of American women: difference of race, sexuality, class, and age. The absence of these considerations weakens any feminist discussion of the personal and the political.

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable.  [...]
Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women -- in the face of tremendous resistance -- as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.

Simone de Beauvoir once said: "It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting."

Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.  -- Audre Lorde, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" [source: *here*]
Three things have happened to me in the last week: I received a death threat by email. It was from a man who, based on whatever allegedly "misandrist" posts of mine here that he'd read, decided I was "a monster" who needed to be shot and killed. (I know that many feminist activists and non-feminist radical activists do get these, on far too regular a basis. So I don't think there's anything special about me for having received this message.) Since this person threatening me--or whoever he thinks I am--is not part of my life and has demonstrated a gross lack of regard for my humanity, I feel no obligation to engage with him in any way. In fact, to engage with him is to acknowledge him too much. It would mean giving him too much credit for being human, when all he's shown me is that he's inhumane. So that one is easy: I don't respond. I don't engage. I don't seek out connection across difference.

And, there's a white feminist blogger who wrote to me privately that she no longer welcomed contact with me. She's never indicated any disagreement with me in the past. She's never brought any complaints, any charges, any expressions of anger, hurt, or anything else that would let me know that she's been dissatisfied with our connection. It was never a close connection, but it was one that lasted for a few years--at least two, I think. And it was friendly, at least to me it was. And, she's not obliged to communicate with me. But the point is this: to just end something the way she did, with words that appear to be intended to hurt or humiliate, does what, exactly? Does it make her safer in the world? Does it make her feel less isolated?

I have not demonstrated myself to be someone who can't listen. Or who won't listen. So if she instead wrote to me to say "I've got some strong disagreements with some of what you're expressing on your blog!" I'd be interested to know what those are. Instead, she linked me to one post--one post of hundreds that I've put up over the last couple of years--and gave that as the reason why she doesn't wish to hear from me ever again. As if I shouldn't be using this blog as a place to explore my own political and emotional positions on things. Or, as if me doing so is reason enough for someone who criss-crosses me in privileges and power to decide that the time has come for no further interaction. (As far as I know, she is not Jewish, is not lesbian, is not disabled, and is not transgender; I obviously have male privilege and power that can be used to hurt and oppress her.)

And, well, of course she gets to do that. She gets to take care of herself as she sees fit. My ethical practice isn't that people ought not take care of themselves, even while it is my personal practice too often. But was that, truly, her only option? Only she can answer that question. And as I'm not sending her a link to this post, she'll not likely ever read it.

In relationship with many other feminists, we express concern, disagreement, and hurt, and we move through it, building stronger connections that feel safer and enrich our lives, making each of us feel less isolated, not more so.

Also this week a man contacted me by email with care and support. And some criticism too--of a particularly U.S. American way I have of communicating here--but not the kind of criticism that was expressed outside a context of regard and respect. And, really, love. So I'm engaging with him. And maybe we'll be friends. I've had other men arrive via my email box. And I've befriended some of them. And one time one many was hurt by something I said to him about his own behavior. I probably could have found a more gracious way to express myself, but I was, admittedly, a bit triggered by something he wrote to me that sounded very misogynistic.

He, in turn, was triggered by my sloppiness and felt very confused and misunderstood--not seen and invalidated--by what I brought to him. This was not a white man. In some ways that doesn't matter, but the dynamics of people who aren't white being unseen or invalidated by someone who is white carries its own institutional, experiential loading. I think--or hope--that I acknowledged at some point that I might have been wrong in my assessments of his behavior. And he, months later, after his wound healed up and his capacity to trust me and be vulnerable to me was internally/spiritually re-established by him, he reconnected with me. We are on good terms again. I'm glad for that. And so it goes.

When it is emotionally, spiritually possible, I recommend that as a way to proceed: working across differences and disagreements if they are not loaded with gross disregard and disrespect--or with hostility or terrorism as a strategy of control and destruction. I recommend this approach to myself, so that when some parts of the revolution are occurring, we are not all fighting these battles alone. And, when it is time to celebrate, we have a room full of people with whom to share the joy.

8 comments:

human being said...

great post

Julian Real said...

Thank you so much, human being! :) <3

Dark Daughta said...

"Considering the fact that most people have no means with which to travel anywhere, including out of one's village, away from one's family, or even the social resources with which to end friendships and acquaintanceships with a swiftly sent email..."

...we really do need to examine how this fact is utilized to keep people who don't have the privilege of leaving from asking questions that are of importance to the group or that might be uncomfortable for the group.

people in tight spaces where no one can leave or feels they can leave because the outside world seems so terrifyingly oppressive can be manipulated by those who do not have ethical fibre into keeping silent.

this is how in-spaces work. people make a study of trying to figure out how to survive in these kinds of spaces so filled with court intrigue, machinations and indirect communication.

that's what it's like.

i think that it would do all of us well, meaning those of us who have been confronted with the reality of occupying those kinds of community spaces and having people play games of chicken with us knowing or at least believing that there is nowhere to go, no place to turn, that we practice speaking out in the open but that we also practice supporting people who habitually do this kind of questioning close to home so that they don't have to leave, storm out, run away, find somewhere to curl up in a ball and cry and shake.

i don't want to learn to abide with power over replicated to fit tiny alt political spaces.

i'd like to learn how to stay safe and stay grounded while challenging it.

my understanding of power is very different than yours, julian.

when i speak to power i understand that power can unfold in a multitude of ways that also infect "home" spaces. if i'm in a room full of say...radical feminists where some are white, some are middle class from back home in the islands and some are sexually and emotionally shut down...
or i'm in a room full of black folks many of whom were raised by bible thumping christians, some of whom might be covert homophobes, many of whom might be extremely conservative middle-class, many of whom are married or believe in the institution of marriage...
i could do queer people, too...
i'm looking at a room of people who might only be partially allies and who might actually have more in common with each other, say, if they're all university educated phD bearing academics, home owners, children of citizens.

if i ask questions in a room like this and they all decide for their own reasons that i'm making the space difficult for them to breathe and if they all very clearly ally with each other to attempt to very subtly silence me, i would not want to stay there.

i would understand the space as toxified.

i wouldn't appreciate being seen as or defined as the person who refused to invest bravely in the space.

i'd think that the people who refused to invest in the space were the ones who refused to make space to hear a story, marginal perspective that was different from theirs.

i think they'd need some support and a radical redirect in the form of some coaching about what to do when a sister or ally comes with difficult information.

i think they would need to be re-educated about what it means to create loving, beautiful space where challenge is welcomed and where difficult questions are welcomed rather than ignored or spin doctored out of existence.

this is how things go inside resistance communities, julian. or at least this is often how they've gone for me online and in real time.

sadly, this is how things go in the outside world.

i'd like to make and participate in spaces that are actually different.

i've had precious little experience with that.

i'd dearly like to have more.

Julian Real said...

if i ask questions in a room like this and they all decide for their own reasons that i'm making the space difficult for them to breathe and if they all very clearly ally with each other to attempt to very subtly silence me, i would not want to stay there.

i would understand the space as toxified.

i wouldn't appreciate being seen as or defined as the person who refused to invest bravely in the space.

i'd think that the people who refused to invest in the space were the ones who refused to make space to hear a story, marginal perspective that was different from theirs.

i think they'd need some support and a radical redirect in the form of some coaching about what to do when a sister or ally comes with difficult information.

i think they would need to be re-educated about what it means to create loving, beautiful space where challenge is welcomed and where difficult questions are welcomed rather than ignored or spin doctored out of existence.

this is how things go inside resistance communities, julian. or at least this is often how they've gone for me online and in real time.

sadly, this is how things go in the outside world.

i'd like to make and participate in spaces that are actually different.

i've had precious little experience with that.

i'd dearly like to have more.


I was going to put your whole comment in italics here. I want people to be thoughtful about what you are saying here, and in every comment you make at this blog--to make space in themselves for your views, challenges, contributions. I hate it when contributions to the greater humanity of us all are repeatedly seen as only an irritant or an allergen, or, worse, a threat.

I hope this space, Dark Daughta, is an increasingly creative, loving, beautiful space to you, for you, "where challenge is welcomed and where difficult questions are welcomed rather than ignored or spin doctored out of existence". I hope this is and remains and continues to be a space where your power can be exercised, where your being can be validated, and where your perspective can be cherished, not ever condemned.

Julian Real said...

I struggle in most spaces, Dark Daughta. I've been turned away from too many to write about but can carry my many social/structural privileges with me.

Sometimes I've been asked to leave. Sometimes the homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, or classism repels me. Sometimes, including just within the last 48 hours, I've been told my feelings and experiences as a survivor of "sex work" aren't the point, get in the way, and make things very uncomfortable for people. Or make the space too heavy. I get that a lot.

For me, this has probably most happened with populations of males, secondarily with populations of queer people.

I've also left many before being shown the door. I choose, with privileges most people don't have, to leave where I don't feel welcome. I don't get open arms often. I'm hearing that you don't either, or, that once you are welcomed and speak your truths, those arms get folded across the chest and you get a look that says, "you're not so welcome now". That's my experience; I won't project it onto you.

I was describing not too long ago to a friend who is not at all part of my family-of-origin (thank goodness: it's a very dysfunctional, non-communicative family) how my poorer family-of-origin members, who still have white privileges, don't fold their arms to keep one another out. Their arms are perpetually open, to each other. They don't leave and they don't move. Whether or not it is true, they feel as if there's no where else for them to be. They don't cut one another out--they've surely had reason to. They are with each other, through what often seems like thick and thick. Not so much thin. (But white privilege is a thin while flexible net.)

They hurt each other but don't talk about it. When two members of my family disappoint each other they usually either ignore it. Why? Because they don't have the skills to do so, partly. And because their whiteness is a bond that they don't want to break.

But also because, more than likely, if one of the two people is a woman, too many other family members depend on her to stick around. The women in my family are oppressed, in ways many women are, and not as horrifically as many women are. To my knowledge, no women in my living family are being battered and regularly raped by their husbands, for example. None are being terrorised, as far as I know. And, how would I really know?

I've been with groups of males who call themselves men, who are men, and have decided I can't ever be part of such a group again, for so many reasons. I struggle with groups of class-privileged people: when I call out class-privileged behaviors I am usually considered a mean and obnoxious person. I don't tend to call stuff out in mean ways. Yes, I can be obnoxious, though. ;)

Expressions of honesty that name class-based and collective truths, that move back and forth between macro views and micro views, making connections, are often seen as obnoxious, to anyone clinging--however desperately--to the status quo: to patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy, specifically, as places of refuge--whether or not they are places of refuge.

Julian Real said...

I created a blog in hopes of communicating with people of like enough mind, but not of identical mind. I have little need to know people who believe exactly the things I believe. And, I, like many people I know, are often hurt when we've invested in connections and find places of unexpected disagreement.

When I'm not feeling too "under attack" (emotionally, psychologically) I welcome being challenged and hope that any challenges I bring aren't loaded up with oppressive, ignorant viewpoints. At the end of the day, I hope my friends and I, and my colleagues and I, will stick around for one another, stand with each other, because of something--something spiritual that is power--the power that Audre Lorde wrote so often about and the power that isn't capable of being institutionalised because it is thrives on differences, it doesn't require snuffing out differences.

My understandings of power are complex. Within community, I see power-over and I see power-within, and I see other expressions and manifestations of political, psychological, economic, spiritual powers that are sometimes hard to explain or know how to be with. I hope, mostly, that you feel (and are) heard here. And respected, and cared about, with open arms and open ears and mind.

Dark Daughta said...

"I hope this space, Dark Daughta, is an increasingly creative, loving, beautiful space to you, for you, "where challenge is welcomed and where difficult questions are welcomed rather than ignored or spin doctored out of existence". I hope this is and remains and continues to be a space where your power can be exercised, where your being can be validated, and where your perspective can be cherished, not ever condemned."

Oh Julian, it is such a wonderful space. It's the only space I come to and write/think/feel this much on a regular basis. You're a very intense humaaan, in ways I really appreciate given that I'm most often labeled as intense by people who are threatened by me and what I say/write.

There's something passionately engaged...emotionally present about what you do here that I completely appreciate.

The political is married to our emotions, our personal herstories and histories in ways that so many lefties and feminists seem completely unable or unwilling to deal with. That's lost potential, lost collective and personal power that doesn't get channeled into our work. That's the way I see it, anyway.

I appreciate the way you mingle these here.

Julian Real said...

And I appreciate all you bring here and to the world generally, Dark Daughta. Here's to more mingling. :)