Fighting to keep my empathy

I spend a lot of time mulling over how best to respond to the hate of a particular, very stuck and insular branch of “radical feminism” that focuses the majority of its activism on undermining trans* folk. Recent skirmishes have thrown me off course – pulled me into the mire of someone else’s debate, someone else’s agenda. I need to re-focus on what I stand for – not just what I stand against. My brand of feminism provides alternatives to the oppressive power structures that we currently endure – it is radically relational, radically empathic, fundamentally anarchic.

I’ve felt hurt and afraid and angry, and I have not wanted to be premature in making a response to what I’ve recently experienced. I am still processing a lot of things and I’m still, overwhelmingly, sad that this institutional cissexism that goes by the name of “transcriticism” has taken a hold in places that should be safe, anti-oppressive spaces. I’m finding myself losing my empathy, and it troubles me.

My feminism is based on a relational ethic and I strive to build a relationship with my reader through this blog, by sharing both personal and theoretical ideas. It is a conscious, ethical choice not to be sensational, abstract, overly theoretical or antagonistic. I know that you cannot really change minds by using such instrumental (and patriarchal) techniques, you can only control minds. I also know that whatever minority we may belong to, our words have power; if we have an audience on the internet and are articulate enough to communicate with that audience that is a privilege and we have a responsibility not to abuse that privilege. If we are using our words to control rather than connect to people, well, whoever we are we are instruments of the patriarchy.

I’m being careful with my words, now, because I know the depth of my anger and hurt could make me desire to try and take control of the discourse, and that would go against everything I believe. But this feeling gives me insight into where oppressions starts – how it is almost always rooted in fear.

Before I came out as trans*, I spent a lot of time in radical feminist spaces, including, I am ashamed to say, ones that excluded transwomen. When in those spaces, I and other cis feminists, tried to overturn offensive “women born women only” policies. In all of those spaces, the individuals who wanted to exclude transwomen were actually a clear minority, but somehow their views still dominated the discourse. I believe this is partly because of the misleading belief that to be considered sufficiently radical, you have to embrace “transcriticism”, and so dissenters were seen as not radical enough, or not feminist enough, and were therefore marginalised.

The “transcritical” debate has currency because it is fear-based, it catches in a little bit of dry kindling and it spreads quickly with just one fabricated story of somebody once having heard about somebody else seeing a trans woman who did a bad thing one time. It is dangerously tempting to all humans who feel oppressed and marginalised to go down that route.

I can feel my history of trauma, my bubbling resentment, my hurt, my anger and underneath it all my fear making me want to lash right back at these people who are threatening ME and my existence and wellbeing. So tempting. And don’t get me wrong, I think anger has it’s place, anger is important. But anger without empathy? Where does that take us?

It’s a struggle to stay connected. It’s a struggle not to “other” some group of people or another. Learning that those sinister places exist just as strongly in myself is what keeps me connected.

7 thoughts on “Fighting to keep my empathy

  1. rimonim

    This is a powerful post. I admire your introspection and your steadfast commitment to your own humanity. As a fellow trans person and feminist, thank you for your work. It’s as important as it is difficult.

  2. Jet Black

    Ditto rimonim. Brave of you to be so open and show respect for your higher ‘humanist’ (for want of a better word) beliefs over the inner cry to lash out. And I totally get it! You’re saying important stuff here, Sandy. Thank you! x

  3. Racquelle

    Your writing embodies a tremendous amount of passion, albeit offered in a tempered sort of way to-as you mention-avoid steering any discussion that results. Despite this, I get a very strong sense of your thoughts and ideas, where your beliefs tend from and flow toward. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts… you’re articulate and very well-written! Props, my dear. 🙂


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