Bigot isn’t an insult it’s a challenge

My core belief with regards to social justice is that everyone should be treated equally, so when I see a comment or a post online that is bigoted or contributes to the suffering and/or oppression of others, I immediately feel the moral imperative to call out people on their bigotry. I do try to curb that instinct for self preservation or if I can see that the person just won’t understand, but the need to point out the bigotry is always there.

Other than the very common explosion that happens when you point out people’s prejudices and they’re not ready to contemplate your words, the next most common reaction for me is someone getting angry and accusing me of insulting them.

I’ve never really understood this reaction.

To me, an insult is a label describing a trait of a person that is probably permanent. Essentially an insult is a judgement of someone’s moral essence or it’s a way of making someone else less human than you are. In general, it’s usually describing something that can’t be changed or something that someone thinks isn’t changeable. Like, being called a “chauvinistic pig”, is usually a label given to cis het men who think that women exist to meet their needs and for no other purpose.

An insult is what you call someone when you know they’ll stay an asshole, so there’s no point in having a discussion with them. It’s an insult because you’re calling them something as their identity, and not just identifying bad behaviour, i.e. you’re assigning them an identity based on their behaviour or beliefs.

But when I’m calling someone out, my intention isn’t to assign someone an identity of “bigot”, my intention is to call out their behaviour, to name their behaviour and inform them of the consequences of their behaviour so that they think about their actions. So, if I take the time to construct an intelligent reply that points out to another person why what they’ve said/written is offensive, and perhaps give them other ways of responding to said situation that is less harmful, what I’m actually saying is that I believe that the person is a reasonable individual who just simply doesn’t understand all of the implications of what they’re saying. I’m also saying, that I believe once they understand, that they would care enough about other people that they would want to be a kinder person, that given additional knowledge they would choose to change how they deal with said subject to minimise the harm that they previously spread with their prejudice.

So, if I take the time to actually call you out, particularly if it’s a long post/reply, I’m not actually insulting you, I’m challenging you to understand the situation a little better, because I believe that you’re a good person who would want the opportunity to learn how not to be an asshole to other people if only you understood the situation a little better.

Being called out isn’t a comfortable process, it’s embarrassing, challenging and can hurt one’s feelings, it can feel like you’re being attacked. But, at least for me, the purpose in calling someone out on their bigotry is to challenge them to be more aware of the consequences of their actions.

I’m calling someone out as a challenge to be a kinder human being. So when you reply with things like “don’t insult me” or “political correctness gone wrong” or “grow a thicker skin”, all that I end up hearing is in fact that you don’t care. That I’ve just wasted my time and my belief in your kindness towards others. In the end you’re actually the one who is insulting you, not me, because you’re revealing that you just don’t care enough about other people.

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Does Freedom of Speech mean I can say what I want?

Being a regular facebooker, I’ve seen all sorts of arguments, and responses to arguments. One that bothers me a great deal is this idea of people thinking that they can say what they want without social repercussions because of Freedom of Speech.

Now, whenever someone says this, I think of the various movie memes when a character says “I do not think you know what that word means”.

In general terms, Freedom of Speech is the right of every person in that particular country to say what they wish (within legal reasonableness), without fear of death, attack or some other sanctions from the government.

Freedom of Speech and Expression is covered in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and under this Article 19 is a suggestion of limitations to the Freedom of Speech: Justifications for such include the harm principle, proposed by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, which suggests that: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (Wiki)

Now, different governments apply the legal definitions and consequences of Freedom of Speech, slightly differently (and I’m not knowledgeable enough in international law to go into specifics). But they all come down to the idea that freedom is where one can say what one wishes (within reason) without fear of punishment from the government. No where that I’ve seen does this Right extend to one person being allowed to speak their mind, while blocking the right of other people who disagree with them to verbalise their disagreement.

The idea of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is to make everyone as absolutely equal as possible. So that one person doesn’t have more rights to being human than someone else. So, Freedom of Speech is about everyone being allowed to speak without sanctions from their government, and that right protects not just one opinion but all opinions (within legal reasonableness). What that really means is that whether you and I disagree about an issue, we both have the right to express our opinions without the government chucking either of us in jail. Which means, if I disagree with you, the law protects not only your right to speak, but mine also. So, when we all argue on the internet, and paratroopers don’t break into our houses and to arrest us, what we’re actually doing is practising Freedom of Speech.

And while I can certainly understand why anyone would wish that there were laws against people expressing opinions that we don’t like, in order to protect our own rights to free speech, we also have to protect the rights of those we disagree with for it to truly be a Universal Human Right.

In The Friends of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

So, next time you get annoyed when someone disagrees with you, try and remember that they’re not breaching YOUR Freedom of Speech, but actually practising their own.

TSU Vision

I’ve always had a very clear vision for TSU. And, when I say always, I mean, since I was about twelve years old I’ve at least had a feeling of what I want.

That small twelve year old child who was relentlessly bulled by teachers, students and family members wanted a world where they would be safe. The one place in existence where being what they were wasn’t hated or cause for suffering.

And as I grew, that vision broadened to creating something where everyone could find sanctuary from the really crappy world. Then, what I wanted was to create such a big fictional universe where everyone could fit, where writers and artists and creators could create within their own pocket of TSU and earn enough to live as well (without “stealing” from me). Further more, I wanted it to be so big, that I’d earn so much money that I could change the world… that I could travel the world and reach out to the lost and broken and alone, and give them jobs, give them funds to reach their dreams… I wanted to earn enough money to reach out across the world and ease the suffering of everyone like me, everyone trapped by oppression and societal bigotry, and set them free.

I reached this point at about 2000. Actually I can tell you the moment this dream became a clear reality in my head. I was sitting in a movie theatre watching the first scene of the Matrix, where Trinity kicks Agent ASS, and for the entirety of that scene, I was watching Jaola Armon kicking Agent ass and not someone else’s character. I knew in that moment that I had to work hard to get my vision, no matter the cost.

Now, add fifteen years of focused, controlled, determined progress and learning and writing and internal growth…. (and about four breakdowns, and three times of chronic abject suicidal ideation)…

And what do I have to show for all of that work? I have two published books, a pretty involved website network, four more books on the go, and about a hundred “fans”. But… I’m still trapped by poverty, illness, and bigotry… and I am currently still unable to financially help others.

I was supposed to be famous by now. Living off my writing instead of the NZ version of Disability. I was supposed to be travelling the world promoting TSU at different cons and doing panels about my books and characters, and helping people in realistic and sustainable ways to get out of their personal traps to freedom.

In my personal life, I’m still stuck. I’ve still got people telling me that if I just work harder I’ll succeed (and I actually can’t work any harder than I am without permanently affecting my health). I’ve still got people telling me that my dreams and stories are delusional, that my opinions and choices in life are invalid because I suffer from mental health issues. I’ve still got people telling me that I should just “get over” the PTSD, and put some effort into being “normal”. I’ve still got society telling me that because I’m on a governmental benefit that I have absolutely no value, certainly not enough to qualify for any financial help to launch my business. I’ve still got the health system focused solely on my weight and not being bothered to give me any other kind of medical care until I’m at a “healthy” weight (and not actually helping me figure out what’s blocking the weightloss… I’m apparently just not trying hard enough…).

And I’m tired.

I have no idea how to get out of this trap. (And don’t you dare put on that condescending voice that everyone uses and say “just work harder” or “weightloss is simple, eat less, move more”. If it was that simple I would have been successful ten years ago. It’s not about effort any more. What’s wrong is I live in a society that oppresses me from multiple angles, and what I actually need is sustain and targeted help. I need more money, I need better healthcare, and I need a special gym for those with disabilities where I can train and get help to train within my specific limitations. I need a health system that will actually help me. I need sponsorship and assistance. But our society, at least here in NZ doesn’t care enough to help. I don’t fit the mould for a “good productive, young, skinny, white, cis-het citizen” so therefore I’m not worth the effort. Just a loser and they’re waiting for me to get on with it and die, or give up and become gray like many of the others on different government benefits.

The thing is, society doesn’t know how strong I am. How determined… how… my gut response to an authority telling me I’m not good enough is respond with anger and defiance. Screw you society. Screw YOU!

The truth is, as long as I have breath and I can still type, I’m going to keep writing books, and I’m going to keep trying to build my future. But I’ve also reached a point where I understand that if I’m going to succeed and still be young enough (or alive) to enjoy the fruits of my life-long labour, I’m really actually going to need help. I do not have the resources on my own to do it.

I don’t really know what my conclusion is for this blog post, I’ve stared at this last paragraph for about ten minutes trying to figure out what the conclusion/summary of my point should be… maybe I just wanted to tell the silent internet world where I’m at. Maybe I have no point, other than “gods damnit, won’t someone offer me an option that I can realistically take towards success?” A path that isn’t ageist, or ableist or racist or classist or fatphobic or transphobic or heteronormative or… any of the other bigotries holding me in place… someone… give me a realistic path to follow to get me out of this hole because, damnit, I’m determined enough to do anything I can to get through… but I can’t help my physical, financial, and psychological limitations. I can’t just “cure” the PTSD. I can’t “cure” my fucked back. I can’t just “cure” the fibro, or the ridiculous memory problems. And I certainly WON’T “cure” my lack of fitting into the so-called “mainstream”.