Precious Cargo

Okay, so I promise I have an explanation for this. I don’t promise it’s a good one.

I’m goin’ to the game and I’m gonna be strapped. With cats. Cat-strapped.

The explanation is that first we were discussing the sexist bullshit associated with cargo pants. TL;DR: Apparently women’s purses are terrifying vectors for terrorist acts on sports stadiums, whereas men’s pockets, even if large enough to contain an army of ferrets each with their own submachine gun, are totally safe and definitely don’t need to be searched or excluded from the building.

This lead to my wife’s defense of the noble cargo pant, which I was ready to endorse – I’m a practical creature with zero fucks to give for your male-gazey fashion, and I appreciate pockets I can fit not one but two hardback books in. Women get screwed on pockets constantly; it is known.

In trying to describe the pair of cargo pants we have in this house, I suggested that a person could, if so inclined, attend a sporting event with a full-sized adult cat in each side pocket and four separate sets of kittens holstered for quick access. And then, because I was so reckless as to put that image out into the world, I had to draw it.

I decided to just use the Pigma brush pen that I’ve hitherto been too chicken to use, and as with most things I’m initially afraid of and then forced to spend time with, I’m now in love with it. Wait. Maybe that’s a bad comparison. Lemme start again.

I decided to use the Pigma brush pen, with which I am in a mutually consenting relationship, and I’m loving the variability in line weight I can get. Fear keeps getting in my way with my drawings but I think I’m getting past it. This brush pen might be exactly the combination of control and lack of control I’ve been looking for, we’ll see. I’m gonna keep practicing with it – I’m fairly happy with how this came out, never mind the ridiculous subject matter.

39 – Missing Stair

I’m not gonna go into the missing stair thing too deeply here, because it’s not my invention and Pervocracy expresses it so beautifully. So if you’re unfamiliar with the term, go over and check that out and then come back so we can talk about it.

Back? Sweet. So it feels to me like this attitude permeates American culture at a baseline level – the idea that NOT TALKING about a bad thing means the bad thing doesn’t exist, that if you haven’t personally suffered from racism, or sexism, or religious discrimination, or rape, that those problems are “solved.” It’s easy to see why – we’re lucky enough in this country to be able to believe that many of the world’s problems aren’t real. People in third-world countries have to worry about their water being polluted, or the cops shooting them for no reason, but here in America, we’ve moved on past that kind of barbaric behavior. Or so some of us were, for a time, privileged to think. We had the key to the elevator, so for a while, we didn’t think the missing stair was an issue.

This attitude naturally fosters victim-blaming. Someone falls through the stair, the stair you almost forgot was missing, and you go, “Well, I just take the elevator, why didn’t you do that? It’s silly to not take the elevator; that stair’s missing.” Your guest responds that they don’t have a key to the elevator. Instead of, say, giving them a key to the fucking elevator, or fixing the fucking stair, you say, “I’ve lived here for ten years and never fallen through that stair, so you must be the one with the problem. I’m pretty sure the way you fall through stairs is a medical issue; have you talked to your doctor about that?”

Everything that is not “normal” is pathologized. Being “non-white-male” is considered a disease. I’m not kidding – part of the struggle for transfolk in getting access to healthcare is that until the current version of the DSM, (the diagnostic manual most insurance companies use to verify and bill mental healthcare claims) being transgender was considered a disorder in itself, called “Gender Identity Disorder.” Only now do we consider the DYSPHORIA – the pain from being treated incongruously with one’s actual gender – the treatable issue. Decades have passed while LGBT people died, screaming, “I don’t suffer from a disease, I suffer from the way you treat me like I have a disease!” Before that, black and Jewish people were saying the same thing in this country. There is no “natural law,” no genetic evidence, no scientific backing of any kind that can legitimize treating someone like shit for how they were born, even though white men have spent the last two millennia desperately searching for any evidence that they were MEANT to be in charge and the rest of us are inherently inferior. Here’s a hot take: maybe we’re not the ones who are sick.

I’ve grown up as someone I’ve never met.
Always found faces easy to acquire –
found the blueprint, threw it in the fire
when I realized they were building a pet.

They’ll fool you with their requisition forms.
They’ll teach you that what’s wrong with you is you.
“Why can’t you act like other people do?”
Why do you think that “healthy” means your norms?

I don’t know how to get you to believe
that it’s the way this world’s set up that’s wrong.
This has been going bad for so damn long
in ways you can pretend not to perceive.
“Don’t upset white men – they’ll bring us along!”
You’re lucky you can still be that naïve.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

The Internet is a Public Place – Act Like It

Working on other projects around the sonnet thing was one of the challenges I wanted to confront by doing the sonnet thing in the first place. It may not be obvious to others why this is challenging for me – my internal dialogue runs something like: “how come you can write this thirteen-thousand word post, but somehow writing two separate two-thousand word posts is too much for one day? Why is one accomplishment per day the limit of your capability?”

There are a lot of things that are hard for me that it seems like other people find easy, but I assume that I’m not alone in this, in part because I’ve been informed that I’m not. When I confess how difficult some ordinary things are for me, people respond with relief and gratitude. I voice my weariness, and all around me people set down their burdens. Making this kind of vulnerable connection with another human being is important to me, and in my opinion it’s vital to understanding other humans and living with them happily. In this endeavor, the internet has both helped and harmed our ability to interact. But that’s not the internet’s fault. It’s our fault.

Internet dating in particular is tough, in particular for men. There’s a supply-and-demand problem, for one – dick as a product is way over-stocked, and the demand just isn’t there. It’s clear that the best solution would be to periodically take dick off the menu, like the McRib, to get folks hankering for it, but unfortunately men seem totally unable to go their own way without making it all about obsessing over women anyway.

But there’s another reason men are having trouble, and it’s an issue that all of us, regardless of gender, struggle with: the internet is a weird fuckin’ place to approach people. It feels different from the real world, and we’re not sure if the same rules apply, and everyone you meet will tell you that you’re doin’ it wrong.

Long ago, in the wild, wild west…

The early internet was the province of dorks, early adopter tech-fetishists already involved in the tech community – in other words, primarily men. I’m about to piss on these people’s shoes a bit, so let me preface it by saying that I’m mostly intending it with love. As a femme-shaped person who plays videogames, I’ve been privileged to love a great many young, brilliant, geeky white boys; it’s like a sweet tooth for me. Unfortunately, my love often caused me to excuse their bad behavior, and that’s kind of how we got to this point as a society in the first place — decades of saying, “I know he said that horrible thing, but I can’t prove he meant it, so that makes saying it okay.”

These men were fostered by decades of the video game industry focusing on the young white male demographic to the exclusion of any other, decades of school and society teaching that “technology is for men, except sewing machines and food processors. Go back to your girl technology. Go back to your kitchen.

These young white males built communities that often were (and in some cases remain) aggressively hostile to non-white, non-male users. Usenet fed into Something Awful fed into 4chan and offshoot image boards and then into what’s become “the Manosphere.” While the internet expanded and user demographics changed, there were always a few communities that nurtured and fed pugnacious, vitriolic attitudes toward women, people of color, and anyone else who might fuck with the comfortable worldview of a middle-class white teenager.

Still, the internet feels like a refuge to all of us in some ways, not just white boys. Many of us who found the “real world” cruel and isolating have found communities online that make us feel seen, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It makes sense that we’ve felt like the internet was somehow separate from the rest of the world, not subject to the real world’s rules and dangers, not requiring you to gird yourself when logging in the way you would when going out.

But the internet has grown up now, and so have we, and that means it’s long past time we started dealing with reality:

The internet is public.
You are “in public” right now.
You might want to act like it.

You’ll find that when you truly internalize this, a lot of the confusing questions you have about how to interact online fall away. If you wouldn’t behave that way in public, you shouldn’t behave that way online, because the internet is public.

Should I send a picture of my dick to that woman?

Would you whip out your dick and show it to a woman on the street? Would that be a great way to get a date?

Should I stalk this person’s social media and constantly pester and monitor them wherever they go online?

Would you follow a person everywhere they went in the real world? Would you expect that to make them like you? Do we have a word for this in the real world?

Should I flirt with that girl while she’s running her video game stream on Twitch?

Should you flirt with people who are at work, especially when their work requires them to a) stick around and b) be nice to you? Or should you recognize that a person trying to earn a living online is at work, quietly make your interest known with a private approach (a note, a DM) and let them make the next move?

Should I message that person some more if they haven’t responded to the last ten messages?

Would you continue prodding someone in the shoulder and saying, “Hey” at them every hour on the hour if you were saying it to their face? Would you be surprised to get punched for that kind of behavior? Would you still be so confused about whether this person wants your company or not if you could see them physically struggling to avoid you?

Should I jump into this involved debate that I don’t know anything about?

Would you charge into the center of two people having a conversation on the street? Would you expect those people to praise you for doing that? Would you be outraged if they didn’t immediately include you in their conversation, explain context to you, educate you?

Should I take this information as accurate without checking the facts from another source?

Would you believe whatever you read on a flyer stuck to a light pole? Would you take that flyer home, print up more, and share them around your family while defending the reputation of whoever the fuck stapled it to the pole?

Drooling demagogues on every corner

The internet is a place where people work and transact business with strangers, just like the real world. In that context, you need to treat people and information the way you would treat them on a public street.

Say someone runs up to you, slavering and babbling about conspiracy theories – in public, you’d step around the dude and try not to make eye contact, right? But when we’re on the internet, suddenly it’s, “Hmm, that drooly gentleman seems to have some trenchant observations about immigrants; I’m sure he’s done his research. Let me just subscribe to his newsletter.”

I’m sorry to be the one to burst this bubble, but just because you’re not wearing pants while you’re browsing, that doesn’t mean everyone who talks to you online deserves to see you without pants. Just because their voice comes into your living room, that doesn’t mean they’re the kind of person you should let into your house.

A convenient boundary

These days we all seem to muddle around the internet acting like it’s kind of public, like when we choose to expose ourselves, it’s public then, but when we don’t want that, well then the internet is our backyard, and how dare a stranger tell us how to act in our own space! It’s a convenient boundary that allows us to hand our keys to any corporation that wants them, wave our naked asses and genitals about wherever we go with unsecured browsing, and then get outraged when other people comment on the stuff we just dropped all over the public street. This is an Emperor’s New Clothes thing – we’re going out naked and then accusing the person who pointed it out of exposing us.

Now let me be clear – this is not me blaming the victims of doxxing for being doxxed. Being secure on the internet requires a lot more technical knowhow than being reasonably safe in the real world, and the people who know how to secure your internet often have a vested interest in stealing your stuff. Corporations who sell your data, and jerks who steal it, don’t want you to take care of yourself, so it is in their best interests to tell you that there’s nothing concrete you can do to protect yourself, that the rules are fluid and you can never know if someone’s trying to hurt you. They want you to believe that in this thrilling new era of human interaction, they get to set your boundaries wherever they want them to be, and you don’t get to complain.

We actually do know how to act

But this is not actually a thrilling new era, not as far as social interaction is concerned. Humans interact roughly the same whether we’re doing it with our mouths or our thumbs. We rage, we cry, we cheer, we fuck and love and hate and share, and we establish rules for doing those things so that we can all do them in the same space without too much violence and destruction. Even more basic than the higher-level social rules that we think of as “etiquette” – which fork, hold the lady’s arm, etc. Those things are social constructs of the time. But the fundamental assumptions we make in social interaction transcend culture and generation, because they’re the fundamental assumptions you need to make to have a conversation at all. These are things like:

  • “Overtly hostile or intimidating behavior is threatening regardless of intent.”
  • “Telling strangers everything about you instantly is not a great idea.”
  • “If you talk at the same time as another person, neither of you will hear the other properly.”
  • “Vulnerable people are more vulnerable in public.”
  • “Not everyone always tells the truth, and you should apply your own intellectual and moral standards to what you see and hear before investing yourself in it.”

By the time we’re adults, we know these rules – the “social contract” – well enough to not cause problems most of the time, even those of us with brainweasels that make social interaction taxing or frightening. By the time we’re adults, even the assholes among us do know when they’re acting like assholes, if only by the looks on all the faces around them – they just keep pretending they don’t because it feels like doing something wrong innocently is… slightly less wrong. The truth we’re trying so hard to avoid acknowledging is that we are not innocent. We actually do know how to act in public.

Every single day, we follow the rules we’re pretending we don’t know.

We know that we shouldn’t expose our genitals, or harass others. We know that we should try to protect children, and not display people’s private info in public places, and not interrupt working people with our non-work needs. The only time we get “confused” about those things is when we think we might be able to get away with doing the thing we know is wrong while pretending we thought it was okay “this time.” We split hairs and equivocate to relieve our guilt, to make it not SO bad that we went ahead and trampled someone’s boundaries. But… we still did it. We still did the thing we all agreed not to, the thing we expect no one else will do to us. No amount of excuses will change that fact. We knew better, and we did it anyway when it seemed like we could get away with it.

It’s the same as men who say, “I don’t even know how to act around women anymore!” They do know, though, don’t they? They actually know exactly how they’re supposed to act around women, because they’re grown men who manage to hold down jobs and not get arrested at parent-teacher conferences. Every single day, they follow the rules they’re pretending they don’t know. Apparently they know how to act when dealing with their kid’s teacher, or their female boss, or the librarian at the university… but when they’re dealing with a woman they have social power over, suddenly the lines get blurry. Because the confusion is them trying to get away with something they already know is wrong, while blaming the people asking them to stop for not making the rules clear enough.

Internet hygiene: how to Act Like It

When in doubt, ask yourself: “how would this look if I did it out on the sidewalk? How would a person react if I did this to their face?”

Ask yourself: “how would I feel about this information if it was coming from a person I could see? How much would I trust them based on the actual data I know about them, not what they claim? Would I change my life or make a major decision based on their input alone?”

Ask yourself, “If I treated someone like this in person, would I feel embarrassed? Is this the kind of conversation that I’d want to take a person aside to have, rather than say it in a loud voice in a crowded room, and if so, why is it okay to say it in a world-spanning voice in a room that includes, potentially, everyone on earth?”

Ask yourself: “if I wanted to feel safe going out in public, what would I need to do first? What information do I need to protect in public? How much could strangers see of me if I go out? Is my informational ass hanging out of my pants?”

And, just to get prepped for the coming Data Wars…

Ask yourself: “how much would I value the data corporations harvest from me if they had to pay me for it? Would I be okay with someone making money off me this way if, say, a guy at McDonald’s took a photo of me and then put up a billboard flogging hamburgers with my face? If they make billions selling my data, shouldn’t I at least know which parts of it they sell? And let’s be real – shouldn’t I get a cut?”

100 Sonnets

So… you may have noticed I’m a little inconsistent about updating here. This is because I’m a little inconsistent about my creative work in general. My brain has this peculiarity that makes me reject hard deadlines on sight – as soon as I establish something as a thing I “have” to do, it becomes the last thing I want to do. So I’ve struggled with coming up with a writing routine that doesn’t just make me stop cold in my tracks.

The solution that’s gotten me this far is working on a lot of different projects at once. I often find myself hesitating, reluctant to work on something, when I don’t know what I want to do next or where the story is going, when there’s a question I can’t answer. Instead of banging my head against this wall, I’ve found it most effective to switch gears entirely, work on something else, and inevitably while I’m focused elsewhere I stumble upon something that breaks my previous deadlock. Everything, every experience I have, every person I meet, every bit of work I do feeds every other bit, and I never know how something is going to be useful so I try to pay attention to everything that happens around me. It’s tough, but since this is mindfulness in essence, the attempt is good for my brain even when it doesn’t result in much productivity.

One issue I’ve had with the usual “write every day” advice is that shame spiral associated with a constant opportunity to fail. I get the impression that this is an issue other people don’t have as much, so it may not make sense to people with brains that work properly, but when I try to make myself write every day, what actually happens is I agonize every second of every day about writing, but don’t write at all. If I manage to keep it up for more than one day at a stretch, the pressure of the “streak” silences me, the weight of sunk cost if I stop now makes it impossible to think about anything else. If I skip a single day, the deep Well inside me starts to whisper about the futility of it all, the pointlessness of even trying if every day is another test and another opportunity to fail. This is the kind of trap my brain loves to set up – the kind where every road leads right back to this place, this still, lonely Well, this waiting room.

I’m theorizing that part of my difficulty here is the ability for my creative work to sprawl – I’m reluctant to stop doing something else in order to write, because I know that if I get into a good writing groove, I’m going to want to keep doing that for eight hours or so at a stretch. So if I look ahead at my day and don’t see a virtually unlimited chunk of time I could potentially devote to art, I feel averse to starting at all, because what if I get rolling and then have to stop? Will I lose that momentum? Will I lose the idea entirely? Will I never finish that thing or work on it again if the shiny wears off it?

This kind of thinking isn’t helping. It seems similar to a dynamic one of my favorite bloggers, Captain Awkward, mentions a lot with regard to demanding, overbearing family members. People write Captain Awkward asking how to handle, say, their mom, who has a tendency to rant critically for hours and complain about being neglected when anyone doesn’t have time for her. In this situation, the Captain always advises some permutation of the same response: set up a routine. Tell Mom you’ll talk to her on Saturdays, every week for an hour, and stick to it. When she calls on a day that isn’t Saturday, cheerfully redirect – “that’s great, let’s talk more about it on Saturday!” When it is Saturday and the hour is up, cheerfully end the call even if it’s going well. In this way you teach Mom that her emotional outbursts won’t result in an increase in attention headed her way, and you teach yourself that Mom won’t be allowed to run roughshod over your boundaries, so it feels less bad to be around her.

I let my art control my life, and while in many ways I’m not particularly ashamed of that, I do think it’s unhealthy and it seems to be diminishing my ability to actually DO art. So I’m going to try a very restrictive schedule for a little while. I’m going to set a very specific goal and stick to it, and when I’ve completed my goal for the day, I’m going to stop. If my brain thinks it can eat up every minute of the day with art time, when I sit down to actually work, it may or may not be ready. If my brain knows art time will begin and end at a specific point, it will become more accustomed to using that time effectively. At least, that’s my hope.

To this end, my project for the next 100 days (nice comfortable arbitrary goalpost) is a sonnet every day. I like the sonnet form; it’s incredibly restrictive, and I work well within very tight mechanical confines. I’m a gamer; I like hard rules within which I can maneuver dynamically. And I like very old-fashioned structure when brought to a crude or trivial modern matter. Shakespearean sonnets about butts, that’s the kind of thing I’m into.

So here we go. One hundred days, one hundred sonnets. Hold me to it, okay? I’ll be back here every day and I’ll have something new for you, I promise. The voices in my head are telling me I’ll fail; you’re gonna help me surprise myself.

1 – Agoraphobia

I built this house with bricks and nails and wood
Laid down the floor on hands and knees myself
Arranged my toys and tools on every shelf
I saw that all the locks and doors were good.

I did what men tell women that they should –
It’s rude to tell them that it’s for your health –
Festooned the lawn to ape success and wealth
I tried so hard to be misunderstood.

An earthquake came, destroyed my house, my heart
Laid flat the doors without picking the locks
And when I stood among the shattered rocks,
I finally could see their subtle art:
Teach us to fear and we will build a box
And then forget how to survive apart.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

You Know Me – I walked past your sign to my abortion

I guess now we’re passing around abortion stories on Facebook.  I don’t know, man, I’m barely keeping up with social media here, I just got a Gram and that’s very confusing.  Too old for this shit.  I’ve been too old for this shit since I was ten.    


But I endorse the aim.  I am indeed ashamed of the choice I made, as I was taught to be.  If shame were going to shut me up, though, it should have already.  I got a little long talking about this on the Book of Face, and now I’d like to get a little bit longer, because there’s a kind of prologue to this story that I’ve never told anyone.    

When I was 20 I was very lucky to have Planned Parenthood and my unflappable mother, who could scream the house down over my tone of voice but received the call every mother dreads with equanimity, saying calmly, “Okay.  What do you want to do?”  There wasn’t a lot of consideration to be done, and she knew it as well as I did.  I was working at a daycare center at the time, and I took two buses to get there in the morning. At the end of the bus ride, I stepped down onto a corner claimed by an older woman with a truly grotesque anti-abortion sign, one of those with pictures of dead babies on it. She screamed into traffic every morning, Monday through Friday, through every season in Tucson, Arizona. Her brain must have been baking in her skull.    

I walked past her for several weeks after taking a pregnancy test and before ending the pregnancy. I didn’t get in her face. I was scared, and ashamed. I felt stupid, criminally irresponsible, murderous. Everything she said I was. I felt that way every day until my mom took me to Planned Parenthood, where they were kind and softspoken, and they did something cold and painful downstairs while I stared at the clouds painted on the flourescent light fixture.    

Afterward I sat in a little room filled with egg-shaped chairs. They brought me weak lemonade and crackers, and nothing has ever tasted so good or so necessary. I was alone for a few minutes before they brought in someone else, sat her in the chair next to mine. I couldn’t see her, but I heard them give her the same gentle instructions they gave me: “Eat a little of this. Here’s an electric blanket – hold it against your stomach, it’ll help the pain a bit. The bathroom is there if you need it. You can stay here as long as you like, and when you’re ready to go, the door out to the waiting room is right there.”    

I stayed about twenty minutes. For the first five, it was silent in that room, just me and the other woman sipping lemonade in our separate little eggs. Then she started to cry, quietly, her face buried in a cushion just like the one pressed against my temple. Her tears freed mine. We both cried for a long time. We didn’t speak. I never saw her face.    

I heard her get up and leave through the waiting room door. I went out a minute later. Mom took me back to her place and put on movies while I swallowed gutwrenching nausea. We watched Batman Begins and the Peter Jackson King Kong remake. I don’t remember King Kong at all. I assume there was a monkey in it. The next day I went back to my broken-down apartment where the door didn’t close and the power was off one month in three, and the day after that I went back to work at the daycare center, past the woman with her dead baby sign, still screaming. I still felt ashamed. That never changed. It was never easy and it never got better, and I was very, very lucky to be able to access the help I needed.    

Here’s the part I haven’t mentioned before, because I don’t know how to feel about it.  Before I worked at the daycare center, I had a work-study job with the newspaper at my community college.  I wanted to be a journalist, for a little while, before both me and journalism took a few bad years straight in the face.  Then I got pregnant, and for two months I was very unreliable – I didn’t make it in on time, and when I was there, I spent half my shift in the bathroom drooling bile.  Fortunately I couldn’t afford to eat breakfast, so it was just bile.    

I think they knew, somehow.  I was the only one in the office most of the time, so I don’t think they could have seen me, but… I think they knew.  When they called me in to fire me, they sat me down on the other side of a pressboard table and said, “Is there anything you can tell us that’s been affecting your work performance?”    

I looked at the carpet.  I couldn’t understand why they were asking.  The idea that I might be fired at this moment wasn’t surprising to me – I deserved to be fired.  Why on earth would it matter why I wasn’t doing my job?  I shied away, as I always did, from telling the adults around me what I was dealing with.  Because I was ashamed, because my pain and my failure was my fault.  Because what would happen if I told them, if I paraded this private agony to keep my job, and it worked?  I would have to face them knowing, face whatever they might think, and when the pregnancy ended with no legitimizing infant to wash away my sins, I’d have to tell them what I had chosen.  I couldn’t do it.    

At the time it felt like integrity, maybe.  Maybe it was just cowardice, obedience.  I wanted to be good.  I was trying to do penance, trying to take the punishment I deserved for my stupidity.  I told them I had nothing to say.  They fired me.  A few weeks later I started work at the daycare center.  I met the woman with the gory sign, and twenty or so three-year-olds I adored more than their parents seemed to, sometimes.  I worked there almost exactly a year before I got fired – for smelling bad, because we still lived in the apartment with the broken door, and the power had been cut off in the middle of June, and I couldn’t afford to wash my clothes.    

I went home and made sort-of-hashbrowns out of grated potatoes and flour and fried them in oil – gas stove still worked.  Flour’s a dollar, potatoes five bucks the ten-pound sack.  Canola oil three bucks for the bottle, reuse it a few times before throwing it out.  I put a candle in a stack of potato mess and brought it to my boyfriend sitting on the futon in the living room, where we were sleeping because it was the coolest room in the house owing to its convenient broken window.  I sang him happy birthday.    

There was never another scare, even though it was another eight years with that boyfriend and I didn’t have access to birth control for six of them.  I learned that lesson if nothing else.  I still want to have a baby, maybe, if I can.  It feels less likely to be possible or practical every day.  I remember writing on my blog at the time: “What if this is the only chance I’ll ever get to have a kid?”    

I still don’t know.  I made the best choice I could at the time.  I was lucky to be given a  choice.

Moral Mathematics

Learning to love getting hit in the face with a rake.

I got into a discussion lately about how to improve society on a one-to-one basis, in our daily lives, related to our perception of sexual assault accusations.  The question in its original form was this:

How do we convince people that sometimes people we look up to, befriend or even love are capable of something unforgivable, monstrous?

Without driving them away because from their perspective you are attacking their loved ones?

Without minimizing the harm that victims experience?

How, in effect, can we get people to accept and believe survivors rather than interrogating as their first response, without accusing them of being intolerant in the first place?

Is it possible to get people to confront their own casual hypocrisy and cruelty without making them feel bad?

And the problem is… no, it’s not.  Moral development is painful, because it involves looking back on your own actions and deciding whether they represent the person you want to be.  When they don’t – and they don’t, not always – it hurts.  If you truly accept that you behaved contrary to your own ideals, you will experience pain.  If it doesn’t hurt, it’s because you have not yet truly bought and owned that you were wrong.  And that’s natural!  No one wants to believe that they did something wrong, but we do make mistakes, and how we absorb that experience determines our quality.

When a person hears that their friend, or a celebrity they like, or the Goddamn President raped someone, that’s them getting smacked in the face by a rake wearing a goofy wig and a sign that says “You were WROOOOOOOONG.”  They were wrong about their perception of that person.  Wrong to like them, wrong perhaps even to love them.  Wrong to do all the things they did to help them.  That hurts, badly, and it should.

Then we get to decide what to do about that hurt.  A lot of people, again like our Goddamn President, react instinctively, defensively.  They want the hurting to stop, so they blame the person they see as the immediate source of the pain – the victim.  That’s how a missing stair is created; that’s how we get whole families, organizations, societies protecting rapists and predators because any attempt to speak up about what Brett does to girls at parties gets met with, “You’re just trying to start drama.  You’re just trying to destroy the career of a good man.  You’re hurting me, stop hurting me!”

Scene from the Dune (1984, David Lynch) wherein Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides is tested by the gom jabbar

But we don’t have to react that way.  We’re not simply our instincts, whatever pseudoscience the manosphere is peddling these days.  We actually do understand that pain is survivable, that intellectual confrontation is not the same as physical threat, that new ideas don’t need to be met like armed invaders.  We know that, but it takes a lot of effort and practice to remember it in an emotional moment while our amygdala is firing.  Think of the test Paul Atreides is put through in the first chapter of Dune.  He’s subjected to horrific pain, and if he flinches or pulls away, he will die.  The Reverend Mother tells him that the separation between men and beasts is that a man can choose to endure pain for a purpose.  So when we’re confronted with painful information – “Your boss/dad/friend raped someone” – we can endure that pain rather than throwing it back at the victim.  We can make a little decision matrix for ourselves – it’s like Pascal’s wager.  Pascal’s got your back, kids.

Problem: Amy says Brett raped her, he says he didn’t, I like them both and right now that’s all we know.

  1. If Amy is lying and I treat her as if she’s telling the truth, I will have to support her in seeking justice against Brett.  This will rapidly result in her being found out – false rape accusations are vanishingly rare and the vast majority of them do not even name a specific suspectPositive outcome.
  2. If Amy is lying and I treat her as if she’s lying, she’ll likely no longer be a friend, and the fallout of that situation may have other social consequences in our group.  Mixed outcome.
  3. If Amy is telling the truth and I treat her as if she’s telling the truth, I will have to support her in seeking justice against Brett.  This will hopefully result in some form of justice.  The immediate result is that Amy will have an ally in a very nasty situation where she may have no others, and long-term, she will likely be vastly better off for having had any support at all in her trauma.  Positive outcome.
  4. If Amy is telling the truth and I treat her as if she’s lying, I will both destroy our friendship and further abuse someone who has already been brutalized, while propagating a culture that creates this exact situation every day.  I will continue supporting and defending Brett while he (statistically) goes on to rape five more women.  Negative outcome.

The only rational choice is to treat Amy as if she’s telling the truth – it creates the highest probability for a positive outcome.  So a rational person would choose to believe Amy.  But when we’re hurting, we’re not rational – pain fires at the base of our brains, bypassing the prefrontal cortex entirely.  It takes practice and perspective to survive that moment calmly, to endure the pain long enough to decide how to respond instead of simply reacting.  Moral growth is a gom jabbar– it has to hurt if it’s to work, because the goal is to learn to think while hurting.  This is how we learn to be human.