Maybe we all need to be held to better standards.
All of us. Spoiler note: it is exhausting. And sometimes requires that we step away to focus.
And it never ends.
We get into this world, bright-eyed, excited, finally feeling like we have found our people, found where we belong. Some of us, anyway. I’m not sure I know exactly what that feels like, but I know how I felt my first large kink event, and it felt like I had wandered into a dreamland that I had been imagining for years.
Some people gain notoriety, a name, a reputation, a following. Maybe they put in time and work and effort and show themselves to be someone people feel comfortable listening to, following. Maybe they write prolifically, or take exquisite pictures, or show up and volunteer and become a familiar face. Maybe they’re just a pretty face that people find themselves drawn toward with a charismatic energy and a way of talking that makes them sound much more self-assured and confident than they feel.
I certainly fall into that last category. If I have put in time and work and energy, it’s because I was given opportunities that I have to recognize weren’t available to everyone. Some of those come from my own life, my own experiences, the way I think about the world and the ways I approach community and building spaces. I would like to believe there is substance there; people certainly tell me that there is, and point to piece after piece of writing to illustrate their point. But I also know, deep in my heart, that I gained whatever small amount of notoriety I gained in part because I have a pretty face, and in part because my approach tends to be more diplomatic. Easier to swallow.
Trust me when I say I wish I was the kind of person that told people to fuck off. I wish I had that kind of confidence in my own words and beliefs, and gave no fucks about anything. But that’s not who I am. That’s not how I think about the world. If I disagree with you, more often than not, it still comes from a place of empathizing with your perspective, even though I may disagree with your conclusions.
As someone who was socialized female, passed as female for a majority of my life, and to this day, interacts with the world about half the time as someone others perceive as female, I have a specific perspective on harassment, assault, violence, and abuse. I have a specific perspective on objectification from walking down the street every day and being treated as a piece of meat. I have a specific perspective on microaggressions and ways that people perceived as women are often silenced or attacked for the way they said something, as opposed to the merits of the thing that was said.
That being said, I’ve also passed as male and been the dude in a room of dudes. I’ve been in the room when the tone shifted because the hot coworker everyone was just talking about wanting to bang comes through the door and suddenly everyone is Really Polite. I’ve been the guy that other men come to to talk about complex emotional situations that men are not given the tools to process, and seen the shame and fear and disappointment on another man’s face when he didn’t know how to tackle certain kinds of emotions. I’ve been a person on testosterone and felt the difference in my sex drive, sexual needs, and experience of sexuality, and felt- viscerally- the ways that that put pressure on my intimate and sexual relationships, even when I did everything I could think of not put pressure there. I’ve been the guy who struggled with the concept that consent can be revoked at any time and we are not entitled to our partner’s bodies while also struggling with a chemical bodily need searching for an outlet, a need that I allowed to blossom because my partner interacted with my body in such a way as to instigate sexual interest and attraction. I’ve struggled with my own sense of entitlement, my own internalized misogyny, my own willingness to disregard the accounts of someone else because, for me, that would not have been a consent violation, my own internalized preference for clean logic over messy emotion… and I still struggle with so many of these things.
I’ve been a commodity. I’ve been treated as a walking fetish dispenser. I’ve been asked to play for the sheer novelty of it. I’ve said things that I believe that I know, if I were a cis het male, I would have been eviscerated for saying, but “got away with” because I am queer. I am terrified that I have violated someone’s consent in the past 5 years. I’m convinced that I probably have, and I don’t know who, or what the circumstances were, and I would do whatever was necessary to make amends and alter my own behavior to avoid doing that again, but I don’t know when or where or how I fucked up.
But I’m convinced that I have.
Because even with a lifetime of analysis, even with the process of daily examining the roles and intersections within my own life, I am entirely capable of fucking up. After doing this long enough, I will (if I haven’t already). Because I still struggle with so many of the things that lead down a slippery slope. I try to do better. I err on the side of not acting, saying, or doing something if I am uncertain (and sometimes not acting is the problem).
And when it happens, I want to be called on it. Because even with a lifetime of trying to learn how to call myself on things, there is no perfect place, no enlightenment, no foolproof way to keep from fucking up. We play in dangerous spaces; that in and of itself would be enough. But some of us play in dangerous spaces from positions of extreme privilege, and sometimes those privileges have afforded us certain types of power, and unchecked power is one of the most dangerous places we can inhabit.
Many within the community are asking those in power to examine their own positions of power and privilege, and the ways that those things are utilized, both in communities and in play. As someone who constantly seeks to be held accountable, to do that work on the daily, I can tell you: it’s an exhausting process, and one that never ends.
Perhaps that’s the hardest part: there is no end. There is no arrival. There is no place we reach where we magically get to stop examining ourselves. There is no destination. It’s a shift in thinking, one in which we are willing to spend every day of the rest of our lives examining the ways that we interact with people and space and communities and try to limit our capacity for harm while still allowing ourselves the freedom to express ourselves. It’s a razor thin edge, and every single one of us who walk it cut our feet from time to time.
No one is perfect. And I wonder what the “in” is, where the access point is for people who have never had to do this work. I find it exhausting, and I have built up stamina from a lifetime of doing exactly this. How, then, could someone who has never had to acknowledge the ways in which they have benefitted from a society that values certain traits over others, traits they happen to hold… how could that person be able to access and truly empathize with the experiences of people who spend their lives under fire?
This is not to be defeatest. I want to attend and work events with people that I believe are doing that hard work. I also have to acknowledge and recognize that we are busted- every single one of us- and that, regardless of demographics, there are problematic things in all of our pasts. So I do the best I can. I work with people that I see making a genuine effort toward checking their shit, doing the work, holding themselves and one another accountable, and listening. I don’t get a pass because I’m assigned female at birth, or because I’m queer, or trans, or any other identity outside of cis-het-male. I don’t want a pass, and I don’t think anyone is offering that. But I know that I am better-equipped than many (and less-equipped than others) with the tools for constant, chronic, rigorous self-examination. And I still fuck up.
If it’s work you have never had to do before, please recognize that this is a privilege of your life. Please recognize that there are others for whom this kind of self-analysis is a constant, daily thing. Choosing to do it when you, realistically, don’t “have” to says more, to me, than asking other people to join your group/organization/event/whatever and do the work for you. I don’t want to see all cis het men removed from positions of power, nor do I want to see more minorities asked to do emotional labor on behalf of those who have never had to do that kind of work. I want to see more people- especially those in positions of power who, predominantly, are cis het men- doing the work to examine their own internal biases, their own stereotypes, the ways in which they have access to tools and resources others do not, and how they can use that position to help elevate and amplify the voices of others.
Maybe we all need to be held to better standards. Higher standards. I want people to be equipped to do this kind of self work and self analysis. It’s hard. It’s vulnerable. It requires acknowledging the ways in which we have fucked up in the past. It requires inviting people to come forward and share the ways we have hurt them. It feels really shitty sometimes, and it’s not fun, and it doesn’t end. And quite frankly, if you’re in a position of power and not willing to do this kind of work, then I do think you should sit down and examine what, exactly, is so threatening to you that makes you resistant to questioning your role and influence inside of a particularly community.
We need to do better. I don’t have the answers, except that as another person who helps with events, who teaches and tops and plays in hard and dark places, I don’t want to be given a pass for my own problematic, busted behavior because I happen to fall within certain categories and demographics that are predisposed toward a certain type of self-analysis. We all, every single one of us, need to be held to higher standards. Better standards. For some, those might be easier to meet because we have years of building resources and tools to help examine these things when they are brought up. For others, it might be harder. But regardless of easy or hard, it’s exhausting. It’s draining. It’s not fun.
And it’s necessary.