I wrote this several hours ago and am wanting to publish something, but not feeling up to editing/re-reading anything, so here we are, thoughts unvarnished and edit-free.
This place is currently a very, very secret chord, as I don’t have very many readers. I suspect this is at least partially due to the fact that I haven’t quite figured out my audience yet–I vary between wanting to write to the “advanced patriarchy blamers” on whose blogs I comment and whose traffic sometimes stops by here and using this as a space to work out arguments I need to make in real life, where sometimes it’s hard to even begin to express my political opinions through the layers of unquestioned conditioning. Maybe that’s not why nobody’s reading me, but regardless, it’s something that I struggle with as I’m finding my voice.
This is one of the latter. I had a rough week last week for a number of reasons, but one of them was that on Saturday, I attended a bit of an impromptu rally protesting hate crimes against LGBTQ people. The impetus behind it was that the preceding week, three 20-something year old men attacked, beat and yelled homophobic slurs at two men who were leaving the gay bar downtown. The incidents were separate–the perpetrators were the same, but the men weren’t leaving together, so these guys stuck around after beating the first guy to take on another. The hate crimes investigator for the Hamilton police department was at the rally, and indicated that he is aware of a staggering number of hate crimes against gay people that go unreported, and spoke very supportively encouraging people to come forward as part of erasing the invisibility of this violence.
The organizer of the event was rightfully pleased with the turnout that came together on one day’s notice, in the snow and on a not-very-warm December day. In addition to members of the LGBTQ community organizations, the police and the local media, people came from a couple of the unions or labour groups in town and made me fall a little bit more in love with Hamilton with what they said. The last thing the organizer said was “If we can do this much in a day, think how much we can do in a year?”
Which is a nice thought, but this is the one that made me depressed. Because unfortunately, it takes something in-your-face and on-the-surface and extreme to make most people bother to say anything, let alone pick up a sign and protest. The reality is that we can’t multiply that action by 365 in a year, because we can’t make people continue to care that much extra with every passing day that they’re not hearing about hate crimes and the kinds of violence and fear some people live with every day.
When I heard about these beatings, I was admittedly surprised that this level of blatant homophobia was right there down the street from me. I hear about this stuff all the time–on the internet. Not here, not right where I live. Not perpetrated by people I walk by–possibly even people that I talk to–every day. I’m a bit ashamed to admit I was surprised, because it isn’t like I really thought it had gone away.
What this kind of crime brings to the surface, for me, is just how much I’m uncomfortable admitting that I am in contact with people who actively participate in violence. This old post from Kate Harding is something I go back to repeatedly in thinking about why to bother saying something against the seemingly small manifestations of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. The choice quote:
‘Cause the thing is, you and the guys you hang out with may not really mean anything by it when you talk about crazy bitches and dumb sluts and heh-heh-I’d-hit-that and you just can’t reason with them and you can’t live with ‘em can’t shoot ‘em and she’s obviously only dressed like that because she wants to get laid and if they can’t stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen and if they can’t play by the rules they don’t belong here and if they can’t take a little teasing they should quit and heh heh they’re only good for fucking and cleaning and they’re not fit to be leaders and they’re too emotional to run a business and they just want to get their hands on our money and if they’d just stop overreacting and telling themselves they’re victims they’d realize they actually have all the power in this society and white men aren’t even allowed to do anything anymore and and and…
I get that you don’t really mean that shit. I get that you’re just talking out your ass.
But please listen, and please trust me on this one: you have probably, at some point in your life, engaged in that kind of talk with a man who really, truly hates women–to the extent of having beaten and/or raped at least one. And you probably didn’t know which one he was.
And that guy? Thought you were on his side.
That line comes back into my head a hell of a lot of the time, and usually, it’s about fighting the sense of complacency, futility or irrelevance that pervades the universe, but for some reason, this week has brought out something else–that guy. I’ve talked to that guy. I have to have talked to that guy in the course of my daily life.
It’s not like I’m unaware of the invisibility of rapists/abusers when we talk about “abused women” and “survivors” and passive-voice them right out of the conversation. And it’s not like I don’t know that they don’t have a big scarlet “R” tattooed on their foreheads, and that they’re generally capable of pretending to be normal human beings. It’s not like I don’t know I’ve met rapists and abusers, since some of them have chosen to rape and abuse me.
But hell if I want to think about that when I’m interacting with people in my daily life. It’s one thing to think about my workplace as one in which it would be extremely unsafe to come out as queer (which is bad enough), or one in which gender role assumptions and fat-phobic and woman-shaming body expectations fly around literally constantly, and serious sexism pervades the treatment of our female boss, but it’s completely another to be constantly conscious of the possibility that someone in that office is actually going to beat his wife or rape the woman at the bar when he goes out tonight.
I can speak out against the little things and I can know the big things are out there. But a lot of the time my coping skills can’t handle knowing the big things that are right in front of me.