Ideological floundering

Step by step by step: change creeps up upon me. The odd thing is, although I am aware it must be happening all the time, often I only notice the effect when several small steps join together in one big increment.

So it is this week, as I find my views on power, on relationships and yes, on politics probably have shifted further than I realised – but it took the weekend encounter with a bloke determined to impose his views through threat to clarify some stuff.

At the outset, I talked to a friend about what I might expect. She joked (!) that I would know I had begun to arrive when men patronised me and I lost the last vestiges of “male privilege”. Perhaps I can add to that now, by suggesting that one significant step – not one I am advocating by any means – is when one has experienced powerlessness, as opposed to just talking about it as intellectual construct.

In some ways I am still a little hazy about where I have arrived. Perhaps I am writing too early: perhaps someone will feedback the key insight to help me onward. Let’s see.

One shift is in my approach to sexuality. I have always been an advocate of a fairly liberal sexuality and, as a bloke, that was founded mostly in liberal/libertarian principles. In many ways, my views on what should be allowed haven’t changed: but the reasons have shifted.

Sex work is sometimes a simple economic choice and should be respected when it is not: other times it is a difficult choice – a navigation between impossible alternatives – and our concern should be about respecting and supporting the individual in the choices they make.

Back-tracking, I realise I’ve begun to tread a path that takes me from pure liberal autonomy to espousing a rather more feminist view of agency – before I read the guidebooks! A common lifetime experience: I think I invented the concept of essentialism before another friend explained to me what I was talking about.

So there’s one shift. A second is in my view of everyday transactions between the genders. The shift that I think the weekend brought about for me was the insight that men can and do disconnect.

It wasn’t the threat that upset – though that was partly it. Rather, it was the fact that the guy who made the threat could do it so casually and so careless of consequences for me. Because as a trans woman, I am more and more frequently placed in a situation of powerlessness: encounters, any encounter, which involves subjecting me to threat, have effects that endure long after.

The guy shrugged off the fact that he had had a go. Surely, he asked, I knew he wasn’t serious?

Au contraire! Once you cross a certain line, you cannot presume anything of the sort. The immediate consequence of threat is fear and worry about future public encounters.

The medium-term effect was that it screwed my day, and stole time over the next few days, with a series of meetings and conversations I didn’t need, didn’t have time for.

And this was with me “in the right”.

Longer-term, it is just perspective-changing. The guy doesn’t get, can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to live in a state of constant watchfulness – and what a single threat can do when you’re already on edge.

He…doesn’t connect.

So maybe that’s another difference, of sorts. I’m realising how little guys connect: between the words they utter and the impact those words have on others; between actions and feeling; between people.

So what have I learnt? Maybe a bit more about powerlessness. A lot more about asymmetry in relationship. A lot, too, about the problems when one half of the species can blunder through life apparently unconcerned by the consequences of the emotional impact it has on the other.

Asymmetry. It’s a word I’ve used a lot over the past year: but its possibly, eventually, the bane of woolly liberalism. Because where power relations are asymmetric, equality before the law starts to fail.

I can’t say I’ve arrived anywhere yet. I sort of suspect this particular blog will be clear as mud to many regulars.

I also hope that some of those with whom I tend to engage in political dialogue will get what it is I am thrashing around trying to understand…and hoping some of you will poke me, critique me into slightly more shaped thinking.

jane
xx

4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Natacha said,

    Yup, clear as particularly thick mud in a blizzard, as Blackadder would say. I think the asymmetry in power relationships in particluarly important to address but it is important to remember that we are not talking about consistent and similar power asymmetry, it is further complicated by issues such as class (most obviously), race, culture and sexuality. Power relations do not have to be asymmetrical, they are socially constructed in my view. Native American society (before Columbus) did not have the same power imbalances that we have between the genders, at least for most tribes…

  2. 2

    kathz said,

    I think it doesn’t just exist in gender relations but acutely in other areas, including class relations (the one no-one talks seriously about – but it’s OK to express class prejudice in hatefully violent terms and then say “it’s a chip on your shoulder” to anyone who objects). There are people in power who actually hate and quite casually terrify the people over whom they have power – and the most frightening ones are those who appear oblivious to its effects. At least those who attack openly know what they’re doing and see the effect we have, but most people (because most people are powerless in at least one way, be it on account of race, gender, sexuality, disability or social class) are regularly terrorised by people who appear like sociopaths from below – and expected to internalise and accept the blame for their own fear.

    It’s made more complicated because most of us are not only in the position of powerlessness but are also, sometimes and in some way in the position of power (over those who don’t share our race, gender, sexuality, disability or social class) and prefer to remain immune from the effects our words and actions have.

    That is possibly a very depressed, second-glass-of-wine comment but I am familiar with the terror and distress that can be occasioned by such callousness and have observed that it is not at all uncommon. What is uncommon – and perhaps important – is acknowledging its existence.

  3. 3

    Phoebe said,

    What Kathz said.🙂

    (And it all gets even further complicated still by the fact that legislative approaches — which seem to be an incredibly popular lever to wedge society out of casual comfort with widespread inequality — very easily move from rebalancing things to re-creating the systems of separation and oppression they’re set out to undermine).

  4. 4

    andrea said,

    when you talk about men disconnecting….do you mean the male brained or those with willies?


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