A few days ago I wrote what I described as the scariest thing I’ve ever published to this site. So why did I do it? Why take the risk? That’s what I want to write about today.
Now, I know “scariest” is a relative term. When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark. (As a kid. Not anymore. C’mon.).
Was publishing that article scary compared to darkness? (You don’t know what’s in the darkness. Could be anything. Could be a lion named Darkness. Don’t judge me.).
I mean, well, yes. But not just that.
For folks who aren’t that familiar with my work, or don’t know me at all, it might be helpful to shed some light on what that article was up against.
Scariest compared to what?
Let me tell you what writing about the Social Justice Dogma was in a contest against (a really sad, depressing contest, be warned).
In response to this article about feminism not hating men, for example, one of the most popular things I’ve ever written, I’ve received tens of thousands of pieces of hate mail, death threats, and had most of my websites hacked (or attempted to be hacked).
In response to this article about leaving religion out of political arguments + this article about Christian privilege, I’ve received tens of thousands of terrible emails from angry Christians — most of which had detailed descriptions of the hells I would soon occupy, and many which had detailed descriptions of ways the author intended to send me there. Five years later, they’re still coming in.
In response to my versions of the genderbread person, I’ve been attacked on more platforms than I can keep track of, conservative and progressive alike. Highlights include being called out on a nationally broadcasting “news” platform (guess which one), international hate groups using me as their “straw man,” a coordinated campaign to “end my life” (which pops up into my radar weekly), bomb/attack threats on venues I was speaking at (resulting in security guards guarding me while I peed), and, yes — you guessed it — tens of thousands of horrifying emails, including a ton of death threats.
Because of the above, I’ve written things like “I have not given you consent” (aimed mostly at the conservative vitriol) and “Being an ally between a rock and a hard place” (addressing some of the progressive vitriol). I’ve had weeks where I hid from the world, barely able to keep it together. I live in a constant state of minor threat. I’m aging like a president. And people I’m related to, and care about, have been hit by collateral shrapnel.
I’ve also started to take more seriously that this site is essentially me writing letters to a few-hundred-thousand anonymous strangers, and the effects that can have on my life — mostly, I’ve become aware of how negative those effects can be.
And that’s just this website. I’ve made like 50. I’m rollin’ in websites.
So, why break my silence? Two big reasons.
There are two big threads that have been connecting a lot of the experiences I’ve been having and noticing within the social justice movement these past few years, that led me to writing what I did a few days ago.
The first is the accumulating guilt I’ve been feeling for remaining silent.
I’ve seen a lot of pain caused by the Social Justice Dogma. Unfortunately, on this front, as above, I am rife with examples.
Too many examples:
I get a lot of emails (they’re not all hate mail), and many of them are personal accounts of people around the US and world, looking for help. A not-insignificant percentage of those are from people who are:
- suffering from a lack of “enough”-ness within the social justice movement (not doing enough, not being perfect enough, not caring enough, not understanding enough);
- being alienated within their peer/friend/identity groups;
- trying really hard to do the “right” thing, but don’t know what that is; or
- feeling like they are “bad” no matter what (because of their identities, background, etc.)…
…and all of that, in my measure, is a symptom of, or at least comorbid with, tenets of social justice dogma.
A friend of mine (queer, genderqueer, white) was in an abusive relationship with someone in their friend group (a progressive, social justice-y group). Because my friend’s partner held more minoritized identities than my friend, their friends dismissed the abuse, turned on my friend for the accusations, and isolated them from the group.
There are also a lot of experiences I’ve been hearing about that I don’t have a personal connection to.
When I’m doing Safe Zone trainings, or speaking/performing, I often hear accounts from folks about how terribly some other social justice space they were in affected them. How they were attacked, put on blast, or felt like they were on thin ice, stepping with trepidation, worried with every question and statement — in a setting that was intended for them to learn.
I’ve read tons of public case studies of people crossing some line established by the social justice dogma (whether they were aware of it or not), then experiencing drastic repercussions in their life.
And so on, and so on, and so on.
My guilt finally outweighed my fear.
My guilt came from seeing what I thought of as bad things happening, and doing nothing.
A huge part of my life is centered around the idea that being a bystander when you witness harm is wrong. It’s a big “why” behind my decision to do social justice work.
Yet I kept seeing harm done in the name of social justice, and I kept my mouth shut, because I was afraid that harmful force would be turned on me if I spoke up. So I’d watch someone get dragged on Facebook or Twitter, or read some scathing article on a social justice blog, and I’d turn the other way (or, more often, discuss it privately with a close social justice colleague).
Every time that happened, I felt guilty. More and more guilt piled up, and finally, a few months ago, it started to outweigh the fear. Then it started to outweigh the importance of all the other work I was doing, and felt more crushing than heavy. Stifling. Constant.
The entire time, I was hoping someone else would speak about this. That the conversation would happen. That we’d move past it all. That it would magically solve itself.
Or I hoped that I could keep having these conversations in private with my peers, and that would fix it. That we could resolve them without any sort of public-facing kerfuffle. Like a dysfunctional family, not wanting to air our dirty laundry in view of the neighbors.
But I realized last spring the kerfuffle was unavoidable, and we couldn’t keep this social justice dogma stuff in the fam, because our neighbors were already talking about it.
The second reason is the secret is out, y’all.
There are entire communities forming online that are organizing to expose and subvert “Achille’s Heel”-type vulnerabilities exposed within the social justice dogma, that the dogma itself prevents us from discussing within the social justice movement.
On conservative and “moderate” podcasts, radio shows, YouTube channels, and social networks/forums (Reddit, 4chan, others), I’ve seen people broadcasting a lot of the things that I had been talking about privately.
As I mentioned in my first post about the social justice dogma, social justice dogma conversations have also leaked into the schools and lecture halls I’ve been visiting. Dozens of times I’ve been asked a question that was almost verbatim asked on reddit the day before, or in some popular YouTube video that week.
People outside of the social justice movement are noticing these harmful trends, the tenets of the social justice dogma, and highlighting them as reasons for people to not support social justice.
The social justice dogma isn’t just afflicting us, it’s pushing others away.
You might have noticed I’m not linking to any of these examples, and speaking vaguely, unlike in the section above. If you didn’t, now you did. I’m doing this intentionally, because I’m not inclined to boost their signal.
As much as I appreciate that more and more non-social-justice-y people are pointing out some issues within our movement “on our behalf,” I’d rather we have this conversation ourselves.
Because, believe it or not, I suspect a lot of the folks who have already been pointing out these issues might not have the best intentions at heart. Call me a cynic.
For me, this all adds up to one thing: Talk about the social justice dogma.
I felt like I had two options:
A) Don’t talk about the social justice dogma, continue to feel guilty seeing bad things happen and being silent, and let people who don’t believe in social justice be the only ones talking about these issues.
B) Talk about the social justice dogma, hope to alleviate some of the bad in order to accomplish more good, and do my best to make my part of the conversation be one that’s about improving a movement I care about deeply.
When I put it that way, it’s easy to decide. I’ll take Option B for all of the dollars, Alex. Right? Obviously.
Seems pretty silly, actually. I don’t know why I waited this long.
Oh — right, the overwhelming fear of alienation and the tens of thousands of death threats.
For what it’s worth: so far all I’ve received is a ton of really encouraging, revelatory, and touching emails (as in, I was just literally crying reading one) in response to my first article. Fingers crossed that’s what I can continue to expect.