The Magical Power of “Some” for Social Justice Educators

There are few things that changed how effective of a social justice educator I was as much as the word “some.”

It started as a way to correct people, or redirect them, or respond to problematic questions.

Someone would ask something like “When people say they’re bisexual, isn’t it really just a phase?”

And I would say something like, “Nope. When someone says they’re bisexual, they’re telling you who they are. Bisexuality is a static sexual orientation — it’s not something people just grow out of.”

Then they would often say something like “But I knew this one person who said they were bisexual, then later said they were gay.”

And then we argued.

As a general rule, I’ve found that if a social justice argument goes two volleys deep — they say A is true, then (Volley 1) I say “no, it’s not”, then (Volley 2) they “prove” me wrong (or vice versa, with me stating A and ending by proving why they’re wrong) — it’s generally a lost argument. Because social justice issues are too loaded: they’re hot button, highly polarized, and almost always connected to deep, important, fundamental belief structures.

So whenever we got to “I knew this one person who___\__,” where _____ equalled proving me wrong (at least in the speaker’s mind), things weren’t looking good for that being a social justice education win for the day.

Then I met “Some.”

When someone would say “When people say they’re bisexual, isn’t it really just a phase?”

I’d reply “Some people might go through phases, but generally when someone says they’re bisexual…” and continue just as I did above. All that changed was the opening. From “nope” to “some.” That’s it. Small change in the grand scheme.

But there was a big change in how they’d react.

They’d usually furrow their brow, or do that thinking-frowning thing, and go “Hm. Okay.” No argument. Myth confronted. Social justice knowledge imparted.

I became addicted to “some,” and found it useful in so many different answers, to so many different questions. It was amazing for arguments, and problematic opinions, and for making points in general.

Next, a friend pointed out how useful it was in definitions, and I started using it there too. Sprinkling  “some” everywhere I could.

The definition I’d use for gay went from describing “a man attracted to men; or a woman attracted to women” to “a man attracted to some men; or a woman attracted to some women.”

This wasn’t just more accurate (at least for most people: I’ve never met a gay woman who’s like “Women? Yes. All of them. Every one.”). It was more argument-proof, and proactively undermined a lot of harmful stereotypes and myths (e.g., the perpetual straight guy who “every gay guy is going to try to sex”).

“Some” created a little wiggle room. Wiggle room is good for adding nuance. Nuance is crucial to social justice.

It wasn’t long before I met “Some”‘s family members.

First, there was “A Few,” Some’s little sibling, whom I’d introduce to people when they really, really, really wanted to believe a socially unjust, oppressive, or harmful idea, only because they knew “this one person” for whom it was true. Acknowledging “A Few” was helpful with situations like:

  • “Yeah, but I know this person who is on food stamps who actually has plenty of money and they just spend it all on parties.”
  • “Yeah, but I have this Black friend who says everyone, even White people, should be able to say the N-word.”
  • “Yeah, but my friend’s sister’s cousin regretted their transition and was miserable after, and you said trans people are happier if we support their transition.”
  • “This systemic barrier prevents a lot of _____ people from…”
  • “There are many people who would really appreciate…”

“Most” comes in handy when trying to disagree with someone, and preventing their rebuttal with “Some” or “this one person who.” Because Most and Some are roommates: there’s room for both of them in the same idea — they both fit, one doesn’t cancel out the other. As long as you’re comfy guaranteeing a 51 out of 100 level of accuracy, “most” is great for responses that preemptively start with “[Your disagreeable point] might be true for some people, but…

  • “…for most trans people, laws protecting their ability to access restrooms in public, or at least laws not preventing it, will make their lives happier.”
  • “…most feminists don’t hate men, or want to punish men or throw them in ‘the gulag.’ They want equity for all genders.”
  • “…the problem we’re focusing on is that for most men in the workplace they don’t feel like their physical safety is at risk, but that can’t be said for people of other genders.”

What a fun family of qualifiers!

Not included above, but of utmost importance, are the extended family, who aren’t around as much, but make a splash when they visit:

  • “The Vast Majority” (AKA “Almost Every”) is helpful when you feel as close to 100% as possible, but still aren’t sure that what you’re saying would apply to literally every. single. person.
  • “All” (AKA “Every”) is the feral cat that lives in the neighborhood. Sometimes it’s approachable, but it’s more likely to bite you if you get to close. Be cautious, and only go with “all” if you’re absolutely sure it’s ALL, 100%, absolutely every single person (and remember, without any qualifier — “some,” “many,” “most,” etc. — people will often implicitly assume you mean “all”).
  • “None” (AKA “No”) is as risky as “All,” with a special caveat: even when true, or accurate, “none,” is just “a few” waiting to happen.

I hope you enjoy meeting this family as much as I did! I think they’re great. Well, most of them, anyway. Some of you will appreciate this the same way I do. The vast majority of you will benefit from incorporating these qualifiers into your social media social justice scuffles. A lot of you might share this, and a few of you will email me a nice note. Or, at least, I hope so! But one thing I’m sure about is the amount of hate mail I expect to receive from writing this: none.


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Sam Killermann Self Portrait

Hi! I'm Sam Killermann. I'm the author of A Guide to Gender: The Social Justice Advocate's Handbook, and I was featured in Katie Couric's NatGeo documentary "Gender Revolution". I created It's Pronounced Metrosexual in 2011. I write everything here and doodle the doodles myself. Bonus: everything I create is uncopyrighted and freely accessible — I even coded (& open-sourced) this site itself, my gift to you. Read More →

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