Sunday, February 10, 2013

tr*nnygate: i did something unkind and i wanna talk about it

I did something bad. The other day, on Thursday, I said the word tranny in a tweet and it upset some people. Then when these people said that was an offensive word my posture was "whatever, I'm going to say it even more." That wasn't nice of me at all. This was my tweet:

There are two elements of backstory on my part which are not excuses, not at all, but they might help inform some of my where I'm coming from: I only have four trans* (I'm using the term trans* because that's what these people on twitter said to use) friends but we use this word and we text each other "What's up, tranny?" if that informs a bit where I'm coming from. And those people's perspective doesn't mean that every person should have that perspective. Another piece of my story is that there are a few internet people in particular who have repeatedly had problems with things I say and because my story involves authority figures whom I could never make happy and who often critiqued my words, that sort of critique even now sends me to a primal place where I feel like my autonomy and identity are threatened and I feel like I need to assert the fact that I'm my own person, because some key players in my past were intent on silencing me. So when I started being told not to say tranny some of that panic came to the surface for me, that whole undercurrent of "this again, I'm being told to disappear and acquiesce." I didn't realize this at the time. I was like "eff that, I'm going to say it even more." It even encouraged me that no one expressing offense was an actual trans* person and that several trans* people expressed amusement and support. And here is another thing about me, and I am not saying this is an excuse for my behavior, but for some reason it's difficult for me when people who do not belong to a marginalized group take on that group's agenda and become deeply offended on that group's behalf. I wish I could explain it better and I know it's probably rooted in my story again as every last damn thing always is, and it also has something to do with the manner in which they take offense. @TwoFriars said it really well on Thursday, they used the terms "planting a flag of self-righteous indignation" vs. "encouraging virtue in each other." When someone acts out of what feels like self-righteous indignation and not in a way to try to make room for the backstory of the offending party, that is very difficult for me. It has something to do with my story and the ways that my motives weren't given credence but I was judged and punished based on my actions, and the people who did the punishing had boundaries that kept moving. I never knew where the line was. So all of that acts up in me when I see people who appear intent on being indignant for the sake of shaming someone without being interested in encouraging virtue in each other. And maybe the worst part is that I totally did this on Thursday. I didn't make any room for the offended parties' story. I only paid attention to my territory. I think this was a big part of the problem.

So when the tweets started flying all of this was acting up for me. I felt panic that my right to expression was being threatened in some way. It doesn't mean my right to express myself was actually being threatened but it felt to me very realistically that it was, because of my story. And this is what I think happened for the people who were upset by my tweets. I was reminding them of their abusers. I was being insensitive to them and to their story. I wasn't acting out of curiosity towards what they've been through and how my actions affect them. I was in survival mode, as dramatic as that sounds, because I was being strongly reminded of times I had to fight to maintain my sense of self. And this was happening on their side too. My words and my insistent posture were reminding them of when they had to fight to maintain their senses of self. It was a really bad scene.

I tweeted a question on Facebook and one of my trans* friends responded saying trans* people aren't offended by that word (the screencap of that is here). I felt affirmed and smug. Then a trans* ally tweeted me this:

and it contained a link to a story by the guy from MST3K about when he found out on twitter that the word tranny is offensive (link to that is here) and something clicked for me. I immediately felt the hurt I had caused these people and I kinda got it. And it had something to do with how self-sacrificing this Joe person was, he had every reason to be offended and yet he was so generous and really took it on the chin and gave me goodness and grace anyway. I tweeted an apology (here is what I tweeted across the space of several tweets: "I'm sorry. I was really insensitive and cunty. Can you forgive  me? I wish I could go back in time and undo those things I said. I want the best for you.  I just want you to know how deeply sorry I am to have  hurt you at all. I don't mean to imply you ever need to forgive me, I guess the main thing is I feel horrible I hurt you") and there was a Facebook discussion about all of this (you can see that here). Some of the people who had been offended said they wanted a direct apology so I gave that to them that and then I saw that one of them had a problem with the fact that in my apology I said my behavior was "cunty." This triggered another domino thing for me because part of my story is that my abusers would say it was my fault I made them harm me and then they would make me apologize to them, and then they would critique my apology. This was a pattern, so when I heard that this person didn't like my wording in an apology, that again made me feel panic about these old instances and they felt new all over again. So I tweeted some of this at this person and haven't heard back but that is okay of course, that's part of it. I mean, I'd like to have forgiveness but that's the thing about asking forgiveness, we can't demand it at all. I think in the space between asking for forgiveness and waiting for it to be received we feel the pain we caused, in a way, because that waiting is excruciating and if we're truly sorry we want that shalom so badly. An equally huge truth is that we all act out of what our story is, nothing is ever just black and white and cut and dried like that. So I want to remember to make room for this with all the people I interact with. And what really sucks is I know I'm going to screw up at this sometimes, I already did it this morning with my daughter, I got upset about something because I didn't make room for her context. This is one of the worst things about being human but I actually really think that because I've received grace that I'm able to give it. The past few years I've been working on soaking in grace people give me because on a base level I don't feel like I deserve it and I let goodness go over my head and don't let it sink in, there is something about me that feels like I don't deserve anything good, especially not sweetness and kindness. So when I am able to accept it I'm strangely able to give it. Well, I guess that's actually not strange, that kind of makes logical sense to receive something and then be able to give it. But there is some kind of paradox going on too which makes me think of the line from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and what Scott Peck said about it on the last page People Of The Lie: Hope For Healing Human Evil:
The healing of evil––scientifically or otherwise––can be accomplished only by the love of individuals. A willing sacrifice is required. The individual healer must allow his or her own soul to become the battleground. He or she must sacrificially absorb the evil.

Then what prevents the destruction of that soul? If one takes the evil itself into one’s heart, like a spear, how can one’s goodness still survive? Even if the evil is vanquished thereby, will not the good be also? What will have been achieved beyond some meaningless trade-off?

I cannot answer this in language other than mystical. I can say only that there is a mysterious alchemy whereby the victim becomes the victor. As C. S. Lewis wrote: “When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

I do not know how this occurs. But I know that it does. I know that good people can deliberately allow themselves to be pierced by the evil of others––to be broken thereby yet somehow not broken––to even be killed in some sense and yet still survive and not succumb. Whenever this happens there is a slight shift in the balance of power in the world.
I feel like this is what Jon Stark did when he could have responded with indignation but instead gave me softness and acted in good faith. I want so much to absorb evil sacrificially but it sounds so scary, and the idea of it makes me once again go into panic mode where I think "I've been the victim of so much bad stuff, I can't take on any more, what about boundaries? Where do those come into play?" I struggle so much with these questions and I think I will for a really long time, but while I have these questions I always think of the Mother Teresa quote: "I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." That's such a gigantic paradox. But I've experienced it and I want to go with it. I want to know the ways I don't love well and how what I do affects people and I hope they can have that space for me as well and maybe this ancient idea can spread a little farther and deeper. I would like that! Thank you guys very very much for hanging in there with me.

love, stephy

(I also talked about all of this on this episode of Dongtini if you want to hear more.)