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.

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.

The Myth of the Good

One of the more transgressive messages in Steven Universe is… not obvious in its transgression, and it takes a little setup to explain what’s so important about it. But it’s the notion that got me watching the show in the first place, back when I read about a recent episode.

A thing that people who skirt the surface sometimes criticize about the show is its notion of redemption, and how dangerously simplistic it seems at a glance. But, it’s not actually as simple as all of that. And it’s part of a more complicated discussion.

The more obvious half of the discussion is the one embodied in the redemption narratives that the show often explores. Basically, a big part of the show’s philosophy is that there are no Bad Guys; there are people who think and do destructive things. Usually for a reason.

But the quieter side of that is that likewise, there are no Good Guys. Rather, there are people who you like and trust to behave in ways that help, or at least take effort to avoid hurting, others. This isn’t moral relativism; it’s a pragmatic stance that no one is a monolith.

We are what we feel and we think and we do, and we’re all a bundle of contradictions. Even if we try our best, we’re going to do awful things sometimes, either unintentionally or just because we can’t help ourselves, due to how we’re wired. So, judging people on that is dicey. And people who have a history of harmful actions, that pattern isn’t necessarily set in stone; our actions depend on our pattern of thinking, which is based to a large extent in how we feel and what we expect. It’s all very muddy, and the best we can do is the best we can do.

Most “crime,” if you subscribe to that as a broad social phenomenon, isn’t a matter of bogeymen, of Bad People With A Gun or whatever, out there, waiting to get you. It’s people who you know and generally trust, who feel a destructive impulse and so take advantage of that trust. This nonsense that politicians and pundits always go on about, talking about individual or whole categories of human beings like cartoon villains or saints, talking about “black-on-black” crime as if it meant anything other than everyone nearly always hurts those closest to them—whatever group one might belong to, the statistics are roughly the same, in that all they reflect is the people one tends to know. There are no Good Men with a Gun. Nobody is born with a facial tattoo like that. Every Bad Man with a Gun is a Good Man until he does something Bad.

You can look at patterns of behavior, sure! Gun violence nearly always has precedent. It’s nearly always people (men) who feel wronged by those close to them (women) and decide to get them back, and anyone else who stands in their way while they’re at it. It’s all the same phenomenon. But, the point is, life isn’t so simple that you can put people into these boxes. The best you can do is look at past behavior and its causes, and figure out the wisest form of engagement and the likelihood it may be predictive of future behavior or might be mutable to some extent.

The redemption narratives are the easy part. There’s lots of precedent for stories like that. Every facile action hero extends their (his) hand to the cackling villain at the end of the movie who has never shown an ounce of mercy, to illustrate their superior moral grounding. So many stories are filled with face-turn antiheroes, and rivals turned allies, and all of that. This is familiar ground, even if Steven Universe takes it to an extreme in terms of how committed it can be to the idea. What’s trickier and more upsetting is the opposite of this.

Again, nearly all violence, nearly all abuse, it is going to come from people you know. People you trust. Which the show plows right into, in the middle of season two. I’ve talked before about how, with media analysis of “Cry for Help,” you don’t need to glance at the byline to know the gender of the writer. Somehow, and beyond the obvious I can’t fathom how, cishet men just… don’t get what’s happening here:

I don’t know how you can overlook a line like “those weren’t victories,” or just see the nature of the relationship here and remain so totally oblivious to what this conflict is about. But, there you go, I guess. There are no good guys. There are no bad guys. There’s only what you do. And the people you choose to trust.

I don’t know that I’ve seen another long-form narrative really get in this deep, commit this strongly, to undermining our internal narratives about the Kind of People who hurt or help each other. It’s all of us. It’s every decision we make. And it’s not this gray-moral thing. Abusers are your spouse, your uncle, your babysitter, your sibling, your neighbor, that family friend. They’re the people you let into your life, and so have the opportunity to do damage and feel like they can get away with it. Not everyone, but anyone. Any single decision.

This isn’t a point of paranoia. It’s just, it’s puncturing the myth and the assumptions about who Bad People are; what abuse and violence actually look like, and where it nearly always really comes from—which goes so counter to our entire cultural narrative, and most of our personal expectations, wired as we are to contrast bubbles of in-groups and out-groups, that it’s hard to know where to begin.

It’s this very upsetting truth that drew me into the show, and made me think, basically: holy fuck. There’s a TV show actively talking about this as an ongoing thing. And, it’s a fantasy adventure aimed at kids? This is the thing people have been yammering about on my timeline, all these months?

We tell ourselves these simple fairy tales and we think we live in them. And so much of our cultural discourse is based around these dynamics, that don’t actually map to human reality. It’s revolutionary to stand opposed to such a fundamental and uncorrected error.

Though she developed some nuance and rethought a few assumptions as she went along, Rebecca Sugar originally planned the show as an exercise in reverse escapism: pitch a fantastical premise, but play it for mundane and instead spend all your energy talking about reality—which is basically what the series does: it uses its framework (and its glorious web of metaphor) as an excuse to explore social and psychological and interpersonal dynamics that are very hard to talk about judiciously, and that many shows would go to great lengths to avoid.

In a world built on wish and fantasy like our own, the truth is always a transgressive thing. And what it most often serves to violate is an order of injustice. This is what art can do. This is the goal in life. This is what makes a thing important. And this is what got me.

(Note that all of this also applies to one’s relationship with one’s self. Which is an angle the show also explores in extraordinary detail.)