SILENCE

**Trigger Warning** Mention of abuse and sexual assault, gird thou loins**

Two days ago, I had a conversation with a new friend about oppression and privilege. A lot of issues came out of it, some of which I’m still chewing over and plan on discussing once I get my head around the issues properly, but in the middle of our conversation my friend stated very clearly: “I am entitled to my opinion, and I have a right to express it.”

That sentence has been nagging at me ever since but, this morning I woke up with that statement echoing in my head and the realisation that within certain contexts, due to a lack of privilege, I don’t have the right to my own opinion, I’m not given the right to express myself. And I realised that for the most part I have spent my life being repeatedly SILENCED.

People don’t often see that silence is a weapon used against oppressed groups and individuals. People often assume that because they’re free to verbalise their opinions, that everyone has this privilege. That if someone isn’t feeling listened to, all they have to do is speak their thing (because everyone’s free to have an opinion, right?). But that’s not actually the case with people lacking in societal privilege and people experiencing oppression.

Let me give you an example. I’m fat, I’ve been fat my entire adult life, and as a consequence I avoid food courts, because if I dare to sit down and eat something that isn’t salad in a public place as a fat person, at least one skinny stranger will come along with their “opinion” about my meal and how disgusting I am. That skinny person has the privilege, they are given the right by society to express their unsolicited opinion on my body and my diet. And as the disgusting fat person, I’m expected to take their unsolicited, abusive opinion with grace and SILENCE. If I fight back I’m abused further, not only by the initial skinny person who will often express how they have the right to their opinion (which is one reason why I flinched when my friend said the above statement), but I’m also SILENCED by passerbys who insist that by responding “aggressively” to the abusive skinny person, that I am the abusing party because the skinny person “was just helping”.

Now, in that situation I have a choice, I can either be SILENT and get their abuse over and done with quickly, or I can fight and basically be verbally and sometimes physically abused by the privileged until I comply and be SILENT.

And this applies across the board in all areas where I’m oppressed to one degree or another. For example, a sexist man once assaulted me and threatened to rape me to put me in my “place”, just for daring to own a vagina and voicing an opinion that was contrary to his. All I did was tell him that he was ignorant of a particular situation and that he might gain something by learning more about the topic, and suddenly the “punishment” for daring to disagree with him, for suggesting that I might know more than him about a particular subject, and daring to also own a vagina, was to be raped.

The translation of that situation is that he deemed me to be less than him and in his effort to establish his perceived superiority, he used the threat of something horrible to SILENCE me.

I’ve been without privilege my whole life. I’ve been bullied, abused, assaulted, threatened with rape, and actually raped, all in an effort for other people to ensure my SILENCE and to establish their perceived superiority over me. This process is a big part of oppression.

And now, given this life long experience with oppression, you should understand why I state with a very firm resolve that privilege means the right to speak and express opinion, and a lacking in privilege means enforced SILENCE and then a resulting violence if one defies that enforcement.

So the reality of my life is that in many contexts, I’m not entitled to an opinion, nor do I have the right to express any opinion in these contexts, solely due to my lack of privilege and my experience of oppression.

The only ones allowed to speak are those with the privilege. And if you look at every situation of oppression, you’ll see that continual SILENCING, and for the most part, that’s what the violence is actually about. When someone murders a trans woman of colour, that’s the intersection of three areas of oppression: being a woman, being trans, and not being white. That murder isn’t only a form of terrorism to try and SILENCE the communities she belongs to, that murder is also how the privileged person establishes their “superiority” and their power, by committing the ultimate act of SILENCING.

What this means is that for those of us who experience oppression, we have a very tough decision to make every single day, and in every single interaction with privileged folks: do we remain SILENT and become complicit in our own abuse, or do we stand up against that oppression, and ultimately risk violence and death at the hands of the privileged?

For most of my life, due to severe PTSD and the other effects of having been a victim of repeated and ongoing abuse of various kinds, I’ve had to choose to be safe, choose to be SILENT. I’ve had forty years of abuse and I have come to the end of my “taking it with grace and decorum”. Forty years of abuse and I have become utterly livid at my treatment by society. And while I do not wish to retaliate with violence or harm to other people, I cannot let this abuse happen any longer.

And I suspect a vast majority of those of us in the world who experience oppression are feeling a similar sort of livid rage. We deserve the right to be people, we deserve the right to speak and to express ourselves without abuse and murder.

And while I still and likely will always have severe PTSD, so that my anxiety is crippling my ability to physically speak for myself, I refuse to be SILENT any longer in those contexts where I can speak.

I will not be silent any more.

To speak or not to speak?

I’ve dedicated myself to living a life that adds as much good to the world as an individual can. As a part of “doing good”, I’ve taught myself about social justice, and I’ve done what I could to help and champion other’s rights within the limitations of my situation. As many of my friends know, I’ve gotten very passionate about social justice, so much so that for the past few years I’ve been very vocal online about this issue. I’ve also challenged a number of friends on their bigotry, and some of them were unable to deal with the discomfort and left.

Recently, after a certain friend just walked away, another very dear friend of mine suggested that perhaps I’m a little too intense about social justice. The suggestion was that maybe sometimes my passion ends up unintentionally causing harm to others. My initial response to this criticism was “if someone’s being a bigot or being a bully themselves, they don’t get to complain about being bullied”. Which, while I still emotionally agree with, I also need to be fair intellectually and acknowledge that it’s a little bitchy of me to have that attitude. I am working on turning that concept around in my head, because I don’t actually want to harm others, whether they “deserve” it or not. I’d just very much like it if my friends could be mature enough to think about the consequences of their actions instead of just mouthing off and then not caring that they’re hurting people.

Now, because this particular person who gave me this criticism is very close to me and I trust them implicitly, I didn’t immediately dismiss the criticism. I was hurt, because it felt like my passions and morality were being minimised and silenced, but in trying to be a person of integrity and not one of those who blindly rejects anything that makes them uncomfortable, I sat on it for a little while. And it’s triggered quite an intense journey of self exploration in me.

I believe in the ideals of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights. I believe that if everyone in the world was given their rights equally and without discrimination (as well as being taught the related responsibilities of living in an equal and free society), so much of the suffering in this world would cease to exist.

The thing is, no one, least of all the world, changes out of comfort. Change always comes out of discomfort. This means that in order to help add to a shift in cultural thinking, in order to fight against bigotry, we have to stand against it and make people uncomfortable. The thing about standing against things is, generally, you have to actually stand up against it. This involves telling people when they’re being bigots, this involves labelling bigotry as bigotry and pointing out trolls. Fighting bigotry involves actually fighting it, whether verbally or legally or with protests, but generally with a voice. Fighting with silence only works in a protest context, saying nothing does nothing. And often keeping silent makes you an accomplice to the violence.

So should I speak out against it or should I let my friends spew hate and intolerance unchecked because they’re friends?

Hard question to answer. But while I was in the process of working through answering this question, I didn’t want to act in a way that I might later be embarrassed by, but couldn’t stand to see bigotry and not say anything to push back against it, so, I’ve had to withdraw from facebook and twitter and other social networks, and I have allowed myself to think and feel through this issue as much as I could (which is why a lot of people haven’t seen me online since my spinal surgery).

In this process, I’ve come to discover that the core of my turmoil is that I don’t want to ever be cruel to others, but for the purposes of changing my world for the better I also need to do something, anything, to push back against bigotry. There’s a number of popular quotes that outline my personal sentiment, such as:

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” and “silence in the face of evil, is itself evil; not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act”.

If we do not act or speak against hatred and abuse, we are implicitly agreeing with it. And I refuse to agree in any way with bigotry and the harm it brings on other people.

I’ve lived my entire life under different kinds of oppression. And many of the sorts of bigotry I come across and of which I’m on the receiving end could very well kill me. So these are not small issues. And all of this constant banging into bigotry often leaves me in a state of abject hopelessness. I’m told from all angles that I don’t even have the right to be alive because I’m not like them. And when that comes from every angle, every day, all day, a person can fight it off and do the fingers (“flip the bird”) and scream at it, and exist defiantly despite the hatred, but it still wearies the soul. Particularly in the contexts where the cost of non-compliance to the status quo is violence, and you have to physically fight or run just for the right to be alive.

I’m disabled. I can’t go to rallies and protest. I’m poor so I can’t throw money at those who can protest. And I have severe PTSD which makes it impossible to be an offline advocate or get in people faces. But what I can do is fight by labelling and correcting bigots online. That method of fighting against the bigotry is how I tell the world that it’s wrong. It’s how I tell them that I do have the right to exist and to live my life as I see fit. Being online in this manner also helps me to step forward and speak for other people. As an educated writer I can identify and correct bigotry on behalf of others who are having a hard time or perhaps don’t have the right words to express themselves. They can borrow my words to help them defend themselves if they don’t have any of their own.

This one action that I can do empowers me, because I’m not only helping others and myself, I’m also resisting those assholes who think I should just kill myself already because I’m not worthy of life. So when someone tells me that I should stop being so intense about social justice, and perhaps let some “minor” bigotries pass by for “peace” because such and such a person is an otherwise nice human being, what I hear is that they think some of those voices are correct, that I don’t really belong in the world. And obviously that’s not what my friend would ever mean, but your emotions are complicated, they link to all sorts of parts of your psyche, so that’s what I hear whether it’s the real message or not. And that’s why this specific issue has impacted me so much, and why I’ve not been on facebook for almost four months.

Now, given all of these issues, I certainly haven’t come to a decision about whether labelling bigotry and joining in with the discourse is a “bad” thing. I still feel the need to stand up for what’s right and I still stand by the concept that silence and permissiveness in the face of bigotry is telling the bigot that their attitudes are acceptable. As such, I’ve returned to twitter because what friends I have on twitter are mostly mature enough to receive criticism without throwing a tantrum. I will always firmly believe that if we do not stand against bigotry that that minority of murderers and rapists and nazis will continue to try and kill us (both literally and spiritually), with their hate. But I still need time to think about when and where it is appropriate to label bigotry and challenge people (some say that there needs to be room for community or family peace, others say any permissiveness is enabling the bigot, so that there’s a lot of discourse for me to study), but I do know one thing.

The grim truth about bigots (and in particular the loud ones online), is that a majority of them don’t care about the impact they have on others. They don’t care that their words are murdering people and honestly, no amount of perfect words or long explanations are going to open minds as closed and hateful as that.

Hatred, like distorted thinking, does not respond to reason (one could argue that hatred actually is distorted thinking but that’s whole nother topic). So, given that understanding as to the nature of bigots, why should I waste so much time and energy on such people if it’s not going to make a difference? I don’t have an answer to that question, other than maybe I should pick my battles rather than rumbling with everyone who says something shitty. And perhaps also, that the argument may not be for the bigot but for those reasonable people who would see the argument and be encouraged, or learn new things from the discussion.

This issue is big and I’ll keep on with it… but why I’m writing it down for people to read is also that in this process of self exploration, I’ve also come to another conclusion, one which is perhaps more important than all of the above…

I know in my heart and spirit that hate is true weakness, it divides people, it takes something vibrant from those people who embrace it, and it always destroys, it does not ever create. In contrast, love is powerful and unites people, it builds communities and it builds lasting structures in our societies.

I don’t talk much about my faith because most of my faith is wordless, it’s like voices on the wind, not quite heard but the feeling is understood, but, I do believe utterly that “god” is love, and my “worship” is to embody that love as best I can, and let it flow through me into the world. And in this issue of how to respond to bigotry, when I’m quiet and listening properly, my faith calls me to resolve this problem with love.

How does one resolve the problem of hate with love? As a dear friend of mine says: We create.

We create something that unites and strengthens, and particularly strengthens and unites those who have been victims of hate. And that creation for me has always been the Time Speaker Universe. This internal conflict has shown me that perhaps instead of constructing TSU for everyone, as was my original intention, I should instead construct it only for all of my fellow freaks, for all of those who are bullied and beaten and hurt by hate. The bigots can find another fandom, the Time Speaker Universe is for all of us victims of hatred and oppression, and a place where we can unite, where we can support and protect each other… at least once enough people know about it anyway.

I think if I try to keep my focus primarily on the creation of love and community, and less on arguing with ignorance and hatred, at the very least my own mental health will be better. And certainly my digital footsteps might just be somewhat less angry and bitchy.