If I could build a time machine, I would do several things. First of all, I’d hang out with Mary Wollstonecraft, possibly taking tea with her and her marvellously-named friend Fanny Blood. Then I’d have sex with Stalin back when he was young and sexy and come back and check to see if I’d rocked his world enough to prevent all the beastliness he perpetrated. Then I’d undertake the possibly paradox-inducing step of popping back in time to visit myself a few years back, and slap myself round the face for being, basically a bit of a shitbaguette.
Now don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not perfect right now, and I also know that I am a hell of a lot better than I used to be.
Yes, this is another post about me.
I write this not to solicit praise at my bravery for admitting to this. Frankly, it’s all pretty horrible things to admit to having thought, and none of it is OK. If anything, I expect people to be pissed at past-me, and I embrace that, because I am also very pissed at past-me.
I am, like many others, privileged in some respects and not privileged in others. Where I had privilege, I was very, very ignorant of how fucking blessed I was. Where I didn’t, I’d internalised a lot of bullshit. Being born and socialised into this society does that to you. I say this not to justify any of what follows, but, rather, to explain it.
And I find this section quite hard to write, knowing what I do now, because I find it hard to find an appropriate level of detail which explains how wrong I used to be while also avoiding being triggering to others. So, basically, feel free to skip this bit and go to the bit below the picture of a kitten if you want to, because I’m going to touch on a lot of oppressive things I thought and did.
I used to believe that everything was some sort of intellectual exercise, that it could all be rationalised and discussed, and that when people showed emotion they had somehow lost the argument. I was one of those obnoxious atheists. I even quite liked Richard Dawkins.
I thought that maybe I’d be safer from being raped if I didn’t wear high heels, because men found them sexy, and it was harder to run away. I thought that some rape allegations were definitely worthy of doubt, because it was so hard on the poor accused and some women probably did just want to ruin a man’s life. I’d tell rape jokes. I body-shamed other women a lot.
I used to be transphobic. I’d use slurs and jokes in conversations with my entirely cis social circle. I held a very strong belief in some sort of essentialist notion of gender. When I was trying to be all politically correct, everything I’d say was riddled with offensive stuff (e.g. “used to be a man”) even though I genuinely thought I was being progressive. I think I even respected the opinion of the trans-exclusionary radical feminists–even when I held some distinctly unfeminist beliefs, I still thought myself a feminist because that was a good thing for me to be.
I often used racist slurs and jokes. Again, never to the people directly affected, because my social circle was mostly white. However once, to my shame, I literally used the “my black friend doesn’t mind” excuse. And I was unthinking as hell, and that seeped out into my language. I thought and said some terrible things about travellers.
I used to be whorephobic. I thought some pretty fucking terrible things about sex work and sex workers. First judgment, then a patronising pity.
I used ableist slurs and jokes. Yep, once again, my social circle was quite abled. My language was very poor indeed.
I used words describing mental health and learning disabilities as slurs and figures of speech.
I once went to a “chav party”. That was a thing I did.
I used the humour defence for so much shit. Even beyond this. Just banter, just humour, it should be edgy. And any attempt to moderate my language, well, that was probably just political correctness gone mad.
I am cringing as I write this. I’m sure there’s more, loads more. I wanted to put it all out there, but I am burning from shame right now, and that has sort of fried my memory. Plus, for at least three years during the awful time, I was on medication that meant I can’t really remember anything from that time in any detail. At any rate, these are some things I did and I believed.
I got better.
I got better because I met a lot of wonderful people, people from all sorts of backgrounds. Before, my social circle had been fucking limited, and I’d just assumed all of this terrible shit was OK. The veil of ignorance was pierced. Twitter helped a lot. You tend to meet a lot of really cool people. And these really cool people took the time to challenge me, to explain why I was being a rampaging arsewipe. At first, I was defensive. That passed quickly. And then I learned. And I took the time to proactively learn, to proactively seek knowledge, to embark on a voyage of not needing to be challenged or called out–I am not there yet. Sometimes I slip up and need to be called out.
Every single thing I named up there, I made sure I learned why it was wrong. Why what I’d found funny was in fact incredibly oppressive to others. How much misogyny I’d internalised over the years. How I was wrong about a lot of things that too many people had led me to believe were right.
This is why I like to pay forward the favour that people did for me in the past. Being called out made me change my beliefs and my behaviour. It stopped me from inadvertently harming anyone. I do not remotely believe that any of these past things I took for granted are OK any more, but in a parallel world, there is a Stavvers who was never called out, who is probably sitting around watching Top Gear and laughing along with Jeremy Clarkson (yes, I did that. I know.)
It changed me fundamentally, being called out, and that’s why I feel it’s such an important thing to do.
I’ll still fuck up. I’m still not perfect, and I never will be. All I know is that I will try and try and try.
And I have a lot of people to thank for that. I am eternally grateful to you all.
Call-out week: a semi-coherent series of things on my mind