It seems almost farcical that in a world as complex, diverse and nuanced as ours, it needs to be said that people will live different lives than you will; that they will experience the world in a different way than you. It seems that too many people are stuck in a mindset of “people who aren’t like me are wrong/ defective”. This goes from horrific mindsets like white supremacy to casual homophobia- and it’s so easy to fix. But the question we need to ask as a society is- why are so many people unwilling to do the bare minimum of showing respect until they understand- and, in fact, even if they don’t.
I could be very far off base with this article, but I’ve noticed that political allegiance is akin to a protected characteristic in the heads of many folk these days- not specifically a right wing issue, but close to it. Speaking critically of someone because they hold conservative views is often compared to hate speech which, as someone who has been victim to literal hate speech before- is laughable.
Let’s start with two ideologies which, in my eyes, are closely linked if not always paralleled in people’s heads- gender critical thinking and right wing allegiance.
To a gender critical thinker, being called a TERF is often conflated with being slurred. I find it hard and almost comical to understand why people see this as hate speech- the essence of hate speech is as simple as, someone with higher societal standing than you insulting an immutable, unchangeable characteristic which many in society see as undesirable. I’m afraid, little gender critical readers, that being called a TERF isn’t hate speech and it’s this simple: You can change gender critical beliefs. You can’t change being trans. You are the societal outliers, but denigrating someone because of a characteristic they can’t control means you are engaging in hate speech- you can change, trans people can’t.
The same with right wingers. It seems that right wing thinkers believe their entire identity, their whole ideology, is under threat- that you “can’t say anything these days” without the WOKE CANCEL MOB coming for you.
The people who think this must use the phrase “free speech” more times a day than I drink coffee- and that’s saying something. But it seems that no matter how many times you remind these people that free speech very much only applies to government censorship of individuals. But even in this case legislation exists to curtail speech that can encourage or embolden terrorism etc: sorry free speech warriors, you’re fighting for a cause that doesn’t exist. Free speech is the white whale of entitlement- an ironic statement considering it’s usually slavering racists desperate to throw around racial epithets without consequence who yell so loudly about it.
I also find the endless discourse around the gender binary itself quite comical at this point: there is no gender binary. Let me put that in simple, if reductive, terms: a binary means the answer is either 1 or 0, yes or no. There is no wiggle room, nothing in the middle, no outliers. It is light or dark, up or down- nothing betwixt.
Let’s pretend that the gender binary then, is a fact- if you made 3 rules for what a man is- Tall, beard, flannel shirt – but meet someone who is tall, bearded and is wearing a plain shirt- then that person can’t be counted as a “man”… but does that mean (we’re in a binary here) that he’s a woman? For a shirt? No. So he sits further down the “scale” of manhood, manliness… ah. So it’s not binary is it.
Gender exists in a huge, diverse and 3D spectrum, and again- in a world as massive and diverse as ours, gender can be experienced in different ways by every human being walking this earth with some commonalities. It is a unique experience for what I imagine is a huge amount of people, and it does not “belong” to a certain group, either cis or trans. It just is, and will continue to be no matter how humans, with their reductive writings on how YOU CAN’T BE A WOMAN IF YOU DONT X continue to try to wrestle this inexorable concept into a box.
And when it comes to the definition of existence under sex- well, intersex people exist and they’re just as valid as people who aren’t intersex…
Again though, when it comes more specifically to right wing ideology, there’s a certain conviction that you’re born right wing, grow right wing and die right wing and it’s as immutable as skin colour or sexuality.
The reason right wingers seem to have been agitated so, is just how many younger people, brought up around right wing parents, in right wing fixtures are turning away from hypocrisy politics – let’s be honest, that’s what a significant portion of the ideology the more extreme right follow- rears it’s head.
I can give examples here- from Donald Trump decrying cancel culture for being removed from Twitter, only to create a social media platform that explicitly forbids negative comments around Trump himself or the platform, to Boris Johnson trying to disband or limit the efficacy of an investigative panel because he is about to be investigated by it (again…), or right wing pundits like Isabel Oakeshott defending Stanley Johnson by saying he does indeed feel people up, touch you inappropriately- but it’s not a police matter because SHE feels comfortable with it…
Conflating your choice of ideology or politics with something as bone deep as your actual identity is incorrect. If education on certain topical issues can change people’s political alignment, how is it comparable to something like my sexuality- even if I never touched another man again for the rest of my life I would still be gay, my friend would still be trans and feel trans regardless of her body or her hormones… these things are immutable.
This now leads me into the topic that made me write this piece: understanding.
Understanding is brilliant, and the saying “walk a mile in someone’s shoes” is a clever way of giving people an understanding of others’ lives, and a way of furthering equality and equity. If you look at half of modern media, messages encoded into our most classic films or our favourite TV shows give us tiny flavours of people’s lives and lifestyles, and often suggest to us that perhaps we don’t know what people are suffering, how their lives are or why they are the way they are- and from this message we gain a tiny particle of understanding, furthering the idea that perhaps we are not superior, perhaps we should try and accept, tolerate (a hated word but true in this context) other people and forge better relationships through understanding.
But I want to take that thought a little further; why do we need to understand someone to accept their legitimacy?
I don’t understand the mechanics of how a person with a certain disability negotiates their daily life- but I don’t need to, to understand that they deserve to do so. I don’t understand what it must be like to be a person of colour who cannot (and, it goes without saying, shouldn’t have to) hide their skin colour to avoid discrimination in the street- but I know they don’t deserve to face that. And I know that many cis women & trans men have biological processes going on inside that I will not experience- but I don’t need to directly experience everything that everyone goes through to know that they’re still, to coin a phrase that gender critical people do seem to enjoy so, “worthy of respect”.
Now, I can hear the right wingers/ gender critical folk who may stumble somehow across this piece asking me why we don’t flip that thinking- why we don’t imagine THEIR plight.
I do. I have. And I decided long ago that the frustration of being called bigoted, the difficulties of always being enraged about something being “cancelled” etc, and the endless thought shifting to avoid admitting to hypocrisy is a terrible fate to bear- but it’s not one brought on by “the other side”. And if you need to understand how I decided that I don’t need to respect you – your ideologues are the proof. I’m sure you feel the same about me.
If you can genuinely look at lacklustre politicians who clearly do not care about people at large unless they can enrich themselves from them, or if you can continuously denigrate minorities- if you can condemn behaviour like doxxing then cheerfully partake in it- you don’t deserve my sympathy, my understanding. You made your own bed.
Ultimately, the simple message from the piece is that acceptance shouldn’t hinge on understanding- so the next time you find yourself ready to rail against someone, ask yourself if that person is worthy of your respect whether you can comprehend their plight or not?