Army Badgers

Details aside, TERfs are basically gender-swapped incels. Or perhaps more to the point, I’m surprised I haven’t seen much comparison between TERfs and Gators.

They both base so much of their rage in this concept of, “How dare you fakers take away these things that make us feel special and different; get out of our reserved space.” It’s not even a matter of appropriation; it’s of disgust and shame, filled with strawmen:

  • What if someone thinks I’m one of you?
  • What if I am forced to like penises?
  • What if someone takes our panty shots away!

It’s this need to feel individually special, basing it in these external factors and declaring they’re endemic, and freaking out more than anything at the threat of their identities being eroded by letting too many of the impure past the gates. (Ergo, the route to Nazism for all these groups.)

It’s complicated, as whereas Gamers are clearly not a marginalized, vulnerable, or protected group, fully half of our society is still considered slightly less human than the other half. But there’s a difference between looking for equity and human rights, and making a clubhouse—and TERf ideology is entirely like Gator culture. It’s about how we have our own things; we’ve made our culture where we can pretend no one else exists but us, and we’re the powerful ones; now you go away—which is, like, that’s a mockery of what feminism is and stands for. It’s exactly like the Games-Are-Art-but-Keep-your-Politics-Out-of-Games business. What are you doing? Not what you profess you’re doing. You’re not actually trying to make things better. You’re just feuding. But, that’s also where the MRA/incel ideology comes in—this toxic feudalism, where instead of addressing the problems you’re facing, you stake camp, build up an echo chamber, and make everyone outside the walls a bogeyman.

It’s all so fucking middle class. It’s so barfy. It’s just like these MAGAs demanding they get their pedicures and food service. It’s not about the feet or the food; it’s a power thing. They base their identities on a unique superiority over another group based on various signifiers of an in-group or social success or whatever. It’s this mode of thought that interprets respect as obedience, rather than as compassion.

We perceive (correctly, in the case of women; LOL in the case of Gamers) that society does not afford us our due respect, so we will make our own club tailored to our whims where we get to pull all the strings—as opposed to, you know, working to make the real world kinder.

Kindness is for rubes. This world, it’s all about who wins. (Ergo in part why Gamers go fucking ballistic about difficulty levels and things, i guess.) if you win on your own terms, that takes away from our indicators of power and value. Don’t you fucking dare sell your Bitcoin.

All these groups, they’re microcosms of this capitalist nightmare we’re caught up in where we’re pitted against each other for power and resources and our precious bodily fluids; encouraged to factionalize while the gentry sucks the last juice from the husk of society. This is what the ruling class wants from us; it’s what it’s always wanted. Just so long as we keep thinking we could be one of them if we play the game right, and that the only thing stopping us is everyone else in our way—then none of us will think to look up.

And if you happen to not give a shit about winning, and just want to live your life without suffering and as compassionately as you can within the limits of your current understanding, then you’re not playing the game. You’re breaking the rules. You’re negating all their hard work. Time to doxx you, and rid the world of this dangerous anarchist element.

These groups are all the same. All that distinguishes them is the signifiers; the purity badges they wear. Fourteen words, and all. We’re the pure ones. Society is war, they all say, and we’re gonna win, y’all.

And this is how we lose each other. This is how we lose ourselves. This is how we lose the world that we live in. All out of fear someone else has a better bike.

A notable element of the dynamic is the mechanism of picking a demographic who is more vulnerable than the group and labeling them a danger to the group’s identity and way of life; an infiltrating power representative of all the group stands against. Doesn’t matter who; it’s all Mad Libs:

  • For Gators, women and queers and racial minorities are everyone oppressing them by suggesting different angles to the medium than a cishet white male power fantasy.
  • For incels, women unfairly control the bedroom
  • For TERfs, trans women are men trying to, uh, colonize femininity.

Never mind that one for one, each of these outside groups is substantially more vulnerable in society at large. It’s just that when you live in a (gamer) gated community, you’re not a part of society. Society is the danger. And oh no, here it comes. Fetch your rifle.

Note also the way that these groups conflate power and pleasure: identity is self-actualization, is power. Consent and autonomy for others are the antithesis to joy for the self. The thing that your existence threatens to diminish or take away from me, make a mockery of, it’s the thing that gives me carnal joy: pedicures, sex, a certain kind of boring videogame, sex without a potential for penis. This is what freedom means; never checking with someone else first.

Capitalism, baby. The middle class. The power to do what we want, with no questions. You’re not my dad.

Under capitalism, kindness is weakness; it’s submission to someone else’s power. I’m no wimp; I won’t bow to you; how fucking dare you ask me to be kind.

And yeah, for all these groups predation goes right along with the ideology—so of course they project and expect it in others, so as to distract from or justify their own behavior.

It’s what winners do.

The Means of Narration

We need more stories, because stories are power.

Stories change norms just by existing, and centering a perspective as real and heroic. The right had always understood this shit. This is how they keep shifting public opinion over the line of absurdity over and over.

Look how quickly opinions shifted once the protests started, and people got a new story, with new heroes.

Stories outlive civilization. They’re all we’ve got of what came before, and who knows what they leave out.

They’re the most powerful weapons and the most powerful shields, because they’re a statement of value. Every story serves to set terms for what we hold normal and right. They shape reality more than stones, because our reality is us. It’s just people.

The very nature of stories is people over property. Stories themselves are made to be comrades. Intellectual property is a sinister concept, that could only exist under capitalism. It’s a form of servitude of the human spirit,

Control the means of narration. Assert your stories. Make them real in the telling.

The Phantom Carrot

I think what makes life hard for me in a neurotypical world is that I don’t respond well to coercion or ultimatums. It’s not that I’m proud or defiant. It’s that I don’t get what’s happening. Someone declares something, expecting it to activate my self-interest—kick-start a negotiation or an argument or a plan or some kind of active response—and I say, “Oh.” They say, “This is going to happen!” And I think, “Well, that’s unfortunate, but I’m not going to interfere with your decision. Surely you know your mind better than I do. I guess I’m going to have to live with it.” It doesn’t enter my mind that I’m expected to do something—and if so, what exactly.

I get the sense people see this as willful, or that I don’t care what happens, or like I’m calling their bluffs all over the place—when the issue is that I don’t fully grasp the nature of the threat, and have little sense of self-preservation. You tell me a thing, and I incorporate it into my understanding: this is how things are. My own desires don’t really factor in.

Even on a flat plane, it’s hard to make that leap that I am able to act in my own interest, or what that might entail. It’s such a stretch of the imagination to just… do a thing. That if I realize I’m hungry, I have the agency to just make a sandwich. I feel clever every time I figure this shit out.

This has always been a problem with me. That last decade was another level, of course. Every interaction was a threat of some sort, expecting to coerce something that I didn’t understand. I still spend so much time puzzling over what they were trying to make me do (and failing). But this extends to, you know, just basic engagement with the systems that frame our society. Capitalism. The legal system as it stands. Cultural norms. All of this stuff we lean on, it relies on this tapestry of implied threat, expecting that of course people will sense what’s good for them and act accordingly.

And I, like. I can’t work with this dynamic. It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know what it’s trying to tell me. And I don’t have any strong impulses that guide my behavior. You tell me I have to die now because of some mistake I made, I nod and I say, “Oh.”

We need a new way of doing things in our society, that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment.

Bogey Town

So much of my abuse experience has been guilt over thinking about it, labeling it, bringing it up at all—comparing it to worst-case scenarios and thinking it wasn’t as bad as that, beating myself up for being so weak as to be affected like this, point to anyone other than myself. Then I actually recount what happened, and I see how alarmed people become, and I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. And I read others’ accounts, and I read long articles and manuals about abuse, and they’re like a glossary of my experience. I’m told it’s a textbook case. Then I look for any little crack. Surely I must be exaggerating. There must be an extenuating factor. It has to be my fault somehow. I know I didn’t always act perfectly either. Sometimes things just happen and they’re messy. Then I look at the damage I’m still working through.

It’s, like. The self-doubt. This is what keeps people down. This is why people don’t speak out. The mind games. Abusers seek out people with low confidence, and they write the story. They make it clear that any contradiction is a betrayal, and in fact an attack on them.

It’s so hard to resolve the imbalance. The mind, it keeps dancing to make things equal. Yes, they did this, but… either it’s not as heavy as it looks or it must offset something on my end. One is so trained toward fairness. A sense of reason. I must have deserved it somehow. Approached as a closed system, you keep adjusting the scale, trying to make it even out. It has to make sense. The person you rely on for everything, that you invest everything in, you adore so deeply, it must have taken something huge on your end for them to treat you like this.

I have breathing problems. It’s not a physical thing; it’s that I keep forgetting to breathe. Even when I remember, stress constricts my airways. For close to a decade I had this mysterious chronic cough and lightheadedness, that went away as soon as I was on my own again.

I used to be a singer, technically. I at least had years of singing lessons. The thing that came hardest to me was breath control. The slightest anxiety, and my body cinched up. My lung capacity shriveled. I didn’t have the tools to work against it, or even communicate my trouble.

My voice lesson the other day, I brought this up. They suggested a few ways to break the tension—applying some outside pressure, some other frame of reference. Pressing on the diaphragm with the heel of one’s hand, for instance. And it’s tough, but it sort of works. So far.

And that’s why they isolate you. That’s why they try to strip you of your friends, your tools, your resources. Why they insist talking about even neutral internal business is considered a betrayal of trust. Because their control is predicated entirely on a closed system. The moment you start to talk about what’s been happening, the moment people can give you feedback, that you can start to compare notes, the system begins to break down. They no longer control the scale. And that’s the moment they live in terror of. Because, what comes next?

This is the moment that it feels like we are entering as a society. Hundreds of years of abuse, it’s all starting to come out. Everyone the world over, to an extent regardless of ideology, is starting to recognize it for what it is—while the powerful scramble, and scream. In the way that they will.

There’s a reason we don’t have healthcare.

There’s a reason we don’t have food.

There’s a reason we don’t have guaranteed housing.

There’s a reason we’re poor.

There’s a reason we’re punished so heavily, for minor offenses.

There’s a reason we’re triangulated against each other.

None of this is natural. None of it has to be like this. We deserve better. We deserve to have our own lives. To be allowed to care about each other. This is all done to us. And just the littlest resistance, it scares them this much.

Their hold is so tenuous. It’s all a story. It’s the story written in these statues that we’re tearing down. It’s a story that weaves and wraps through every unnatural system we’re taught to rely on for our basic survival. Wall Street. Banks. Corporations. This notion of a 9-to-5 job. Productivity. Real estate. Copyright. It’s all just a story.

We can write a new one. A just one. We have everything we need to take care of each other. What if we just… did it?

To every oppressor, and to those who benefit from abuse, the abused are internalized as the bogeyman. They have to keep up the abuse, because what if one day the victims activate and turn against them? If the victims are ostensibly freed, then what if they come back for revenge?

This is in particular the white narrative in this country, and in every other colonial society. It’s the basis for every horror story we tell. There’s a reason zombies are based on Haitian culture. Haiti, the free Black nation that famously overthrew white rule, that we have punished ever since out of fear the ideas might spread. What if They turned on us? What if They came back, and we were called to pay for our sins?

This is the fear on an individual level. This is the fear on a structural level. It’s the fear the in-some-way privileged are coached to repeat to ourselves in our deepest metaphors. It becomes justification for every abuse. It’s necessary, because it’s too late now.

To which my brain responds with… say, for instance, CHAZ. Weeks of police violence; then out of terror of retribution, they left the station to the masses… who occupied that fraught space, and started a farmer’s market.

I’m not talking forgiveness, because what good is that and what does it even mean, really. I just mean, like. Who gives a shit about them. All their power is illusory. We don’t have to grant it. What if we just ignored them, and checked on each other instead. That whole thing where you see someone in danger—a woman, BIPOC, Muslim, queer—and you step between them. You ignore the attacker and you just check in with your old friend whom you’ve never met before. Demonstrate solidarity in the face of irrelevance. Often that’s all it takes.

What they fear more than anything is a loss of power, of irrelevance. Of our realizing we don’t need them, we don’t have to fear them. That we can take care of each other. That against every story we’re told, kindness and compassion and support are what make a functioning world.

I am still very ill, and fraught, and stretched too thin to clearly see, and I don’t know what I have to give at the moment, either materially or emotionally. It’s all theoretical. But. Maybe it’s time to trust a bit in compassion, and a recognition that we are in this together.

Punitive Narrative Justice

Redemption is a reductive kind of moralism. 

Zuko doesn’t really have a redemption arc, because he was never “bad.” The Diamonds don’t really have a redemption arc, because they never become “good.” Redemption is a weird external moralistic concept that has nothing to do with individual character development or lack thereof.

To put it another way: The Last Airbender never condemns Zuko, so forgiveness isn’t the point of the story; and Steven Universe never forgives the Diamonds, because nothing could ever make up for what they did.

This isn’t to say that the characters don’t change their behavior for the better. What I’m criticizing is a binary and extrinsic reading of morality in relation to narrative function, as opposed to an intrinsic reading of situational character motivation. 

Redemption is an externally imposed concept that doesn’t allow for agency or intention, but rather describes a functional narrative approach to character. It suggests: 

  1. an innate change of a character’s essence, 
  2. to serve the demands of another’s morality…

… which is a simplistic understanding of psychology, social dynamics, and… just, judgment. Really, redemption is all about judgment, which lies in the perspective of the narrative voice. It’s an external thing, where the story passes sentence on characters and demands that they change who they are in order to suit its morality and make up for their past sins, and to thereby be forgiven by the story. Which is a super basic concept of humanity that doesn’t apply in either case above.

Zuko is shown from pretty close to the start as a victim; he’s not a Bad Guy who Turns Good. His arc is a matter of self-realization and emergence from an abuse narrative, and its resolution involves reaching a common understanding, not repaying moral debt.

And the Diamonds, they are never forgiven. They change their behavior out of argument for how it’s not helping them achieve their own individual intentions. Even at the end, they are shown to be extremely self-centered characters who have difficulty understanding anything outside of how it affects them directly. Steven tolerates them at a stretch, once they change their behavior enough that they no longer pose a threat to others. But what they did will never be okay, no matter what they do, and the story makes no pretense of balancing the scales. 

Compare to, say, something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the characters of Angel or Spike. In the case of Spike the protagonists stick a microchip in him, taking away his agency, until he gets used to behaving the way they want him to. With Angel, the change mostly happens before we meet him. But the notion is that they’re Bad characters who become Good, and then feel sorry and try to make amends for what they’ve done. Similarly Missy, in the Peter Capaldi era of Doctor Who, undergoes a redemption after serving penitence for years in solitary confinement and out of a desire to please the Doctor and try to play out his concept of morality. 

In all cases, there’s this notion of penitence and turning from Evil. With Spike the change comes after the microchip, which changes his behavior until he becomes accustomed to the new way of being, even after it’s removed. It’s a punitive, judgmental, carceral sort of a moralism. The idea is to show people how Bad they are until they are ashamed of themselves and they want to stop being Bad—”Go to your room and think about what you did”—all of which ignores the complexities of how and why people do things based on their understanding and their systemic context, and treats others as lacking a degree of agency independent of those passing judgment on them and their own individual interests.

You are not a person, the redemption narrative asserts; you are a story function within my life.