The hardest-won and most important lessons you learn tend to be the ones that become part of your firmware: You can come to posit or impute them so easily that you forget to show your work. I’m not talking about the things that ossify to the point that you should be examining them here — constant improvement means constant inventory — but the actual good things you’ve discovered and put to use.
When something becomes such a natural part of your toolkit that you forget not everybody is operating on the same page as you are, or worse, the arrogant shrug when people get offended about dumb stuff because they aren’t operating from the same conclusions you are, which invalidates their opinion anyway.
For me, I think my major stumbling block — with a lot of readers, fellow fans, fellow feminists or religious thinkers, all of whom I’ve offended the shit out of on a regular basis — is the division between What Is, and What Should Be. Namely, the instructive idea — which hit me like a brick at 16 after a lifetime of burdensome victimhood — that you can’t change What Is until you accept What Is.
And already the language betrays us: Not “accept” as in knuckle under to the status quo, but in terms of propositional logic: You accept that gravity works in a given way and accept that air resistance works in a certain way, and then you defy those things.
AND THEN YOU FLY
Where it gets me into trouble when I write about exciting or sensational issues, then, isn’t an assumption about a political or philosophical stance, but something tremendously more immediate and intimate. If we’re not on the same shared page about personal accountability — if we’re not working from the same definition for gravity’s existence — then no amount of discussion about, around, or directly bearing upon the context of flight is going to make sense.
At best, it becomes an attack on your worldview, which you can ignore or impugn because I don’t have personal experience of the issue, as you define it; at worst, I become the aggressor. It’s not gravity pulling you down, it’s me — and everybody else who’s telling you that you’ll fall.
IT’S NOT REALLY ABOUT GRAVITY
And the worst part is that I can’t think my way out of it! I cannot envision a way to play into a gravity-related discussion which doesn’t first accept gravity as a fact. I can’t keep from going nuts when I see complaints about “Everybody keeps telling me not to fall, but nobody’s telling gravity to keep from pulling on me.” I can’t handle a philosophy that says, “Proceed as if gravity does not exist, until such time you get hurt, and then we’ll all be outraged together.” I cannot depersonalize or intellectualize my thoughts into a collective conceit that simply acknowledging the existence of gravity is blaming its victims.
And so, for me, it’s a peculiar relief to finally get that we’re not diverging over basic tenets of feminism or queer identity: We diverged a long, long time ago, way back on the ideological timeline of our developments, to the degree where even having the conversation is doomed to failure, because you’re talking about What Should Be, and I’m talking about What Is. You’re saying we can fly, it’s just the Man that’s keeping us down, and I’m saying we can’t fly yet.
And — inescapably, and it breaks my heart to think it just as loudly as it must suck to hear a person say it, regardless of how qualified he is to have an opinion — I believe that we can’t fly until we accept that fact.
So then it becomes a game of examining where — in the sheltered echo chamber of the internet — it’s possible to change the tenor of the conversation to where I need it to be, in order to create the world where I want to live, and right in the middle of that sentence is where it loses all credibility, obviously.
It has to be about locating a higher, transcending context where both forms of reality can be addressed at once, and I’m afraid I’m not there yet. I can’t see past my very Muggle sense of optimism in the concrete world to even imagine what it would be like to live as though the wonders have already arrived. Your help would be appreciated.
APPENDIX: SOME ALREADY DOOMED EXAMPLES
What Should Be: “I should be able to go anywhere or do anything without getting sexually or physically assaulted.”
What Is: “Yes, you should. Until you can, enjoy this pepper spray and a designated driver. It’s not blaming the victim when there isn’t one yet.”
What Should Be: “Children should be able to grow without being subject to sexual and gender norms.”
What Is: “Yes, they should. Until then, do your job as a parent and teach them how the world actually works while empowering them to understand the deals we make with any revolutionary behavior. Every child is a steamrolling dynamo with the power to remake the world, and the only marching orders they get are from you, so they’d better understand the terrain.”
What Should Be: “I should be able to have any kind of sex I want without judgment or reprisal.”
What Is: “Yes, you should. But until you can, understand that you can’t be both a Sexual Revolutionary and a society-approved Good Girl yet.”
What Should Be: “Kurt Hummell should be allowed to wear a dress to Prom.”
What Is: “Yes, he should. But until teenagers aren’t consumed by issues of identity and socialization, and the million other sexual and social burdens placed on them by screwed-up adults, he might want to consider that you can’t have it all yet.”
What Should Be: “My persecution is everybody else’s problem, and they should stop.”
What Is: “No doubt! But until they do, maybe you should operate on the assumption that people are dumb and mean sometimes, and trust yourself enough to conform without dying inside.”
Liberal: “Please stop hurting the Earth, as a favor to me. CFCs and recycling are great ways to limit your destruction, and they take zero time at all to accomplish. Oh, you don’t give a shit? Nuts!”
Conservative: “Please stop having sex of any kind, educating yourself about sex, or arming yourself with safety measures, as a favor to me. Oh, you’re going to keep doing it? Nuts!”