Of Radicalism and Spiritual Fatigue
I once called myself a radical feminist. I know: it seems strange now, given the bad name that radical feminists have earned for themselves among trans folk. But it’s true. That’s how I once identified. That identity—one of radical rejection of the norm and those that enforce the norm—was forged in pain, abuse, and oppression.
I was abused during much of my childhood and most of that abuse came at the hands of boys. Some of it came at the hands of my father. By the time I turned 17, I was done with maleness and masculinity. Not too long after, I decided that I was pretty much done with boys and men. I didn’t trust them and that mistrust was forged by the impact of male fists and the bruises of male words. I had been demonized because of my femininity for so, so long. I had internalized their violence and their hatred for too many years. I had secretly seen myself as twisted and broken for an eternity. I was ready for change.
Radical feminism appealed to me because it placed the blame for the fucked up ways of patriarchy squarely upon men’s shoulders. No words were minced. No excuses were made. Radical feminism was a fiery, take-no-shit approach to dealing with sexist oppression. It appealed to me because its intensity reflected my own anger and hurt. Finding one’s anger and hurt reflected in a philosophy and a movement can be a beautiful thing. It can provide a space of healing. It places the blame for the crazy messed-up feelings upon the true source of your pain and it makes no apologies. It turns the pain away from your core and aims it outward. It brings relief from self-hatred. It brings relief from the craziness. It’s powerful. It’s wonderful. It allows you to simply grow.
There is a danger, though. If one fails to move forward—beyond the hurt and the brokenness—one can become mired in anger, hatred and fear.
For me, boys and men came to embody everything that was broken in society. They inherited privilege, embraced violence, and reveled in the hate and abuse that they foisted upon women and girls. They came to symbolize the essence of hatred and violence. Deep down, that’s how I felt about them. I pasted on a kind, understanding face when I interacted with them, but at my core, I didn’t trust them. I saw them as inherently flawed and dangerous creatures.
At the same time, I told myself that it was unjust to hate males simply because they are male. That’s prejudice and it’s bad. So, I pretended that I didn’t really hate them. I wanted to be understanding and open-minded, you see. I tried to tolerate them in spite of myself.
I know this story sounds twisted, but this way of seeing is so easy to embrace when numerous members of a group have repeatedly abused you. It’s easy to see that group of people as being flawed beyond redemption. It’s easy to see all of its members as being less than human. It’s easy to see them as demons bound in flesh. A part of you wishes they would vanish from the planet.
There is a danger in radicalism. Yes, it places blame for oppression squarely upon the shoulders of those who deserve blame. In many respects, radicalism provides a very clear image of how power works in an oppressive system. I’ve no complaints about that. It’s a strength that has fostered wave upon wave of positive change in society. The problem is that radicalism can sometimes lead to defining responsibility for oppression as the sole characteristic of the group in power. In so doing, this can foster the perception that members of the dominant group are capable of nothing more than violence and abuse. Therein lie the seeds of dehumanization and hatred. Therein lie the seeds of prejudice and violence.
Hatred is an emotional cancer. When you hate a portion of human kind long enough, that hatred—and the anger and fear that generates it—comes to infect everything. It can spill over and taint your view of the entire world and everything in it. It can spill over into every relationship you have. Everything is tarnished by a pall of negativity. Cynicism and mistrust seem to be the only acceptable worldview. Anything less is naïve pie-in-the-sky thinking. It isolates you. It alienates you. It becomes a recipe for chronic depression.
Ironically, the anger and righteousness that once fired a person’s radicalism and soothed a person’s spirit can so easily turn upon them and eat them whole.
There must be a more balanced way of being.
These days, I try to see the world in a more open way. I try to accept that I’m capable of the same degree of hatred and prejudice that my oppressors are. I’m not innocent. I’m not perfect. I’m human.
I exist at the nexus of many forms of privilege and disadvantage. I’m not simply a woman, a transgender person, and a lesbian. I’m also white, able-bodied and American. I’m not poor. I have a college education. I live in a clean, quiet, safe neighborhood. I pass as cissexual. In many respects, I take my comfort for granted. I may be oppressed, but I’m also privileged: deeply so. I can be a part of the solution or I can be a part of the problem. I contain the potential for good and evil. My life’s path is the hair’s breadth that separates the two.
Radicalism doesn’t appeal to me so much these days. I have grown tired of seeing the world in black and white. I prefer shades of gray. I prefer color.
Power has carved bloody wounds and scars upon my flesh. I can not deny this. I also can not deny that I share flesh and blood with those who hold power. So too, I am the beneficiary of power. I am made of the stuff they are. I am human. I am the living potential of love and I am the living potential of hate, unified as one.
I have resolved to embrace the notion that there is good even in the worst of my oppressors because there is not only good within my own being, but there is also evil. I am connected to the worst of those among us because I am undeniably human… and so are they.