Confessions of a former arsehole

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.

Kitten_in_Shoe

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

  1. When silencing isn’t silencing and sisterhood isn’t sisterhood
  2. Your prejudice is unconscious, but it’s still there
  3. “Call-out culture” isn’t a thing (but it should be)
  4. Self-doubt and receptivity to privilege-checking
  5. Confessions of a former arsehole

15 responses to “Confessions of a former arsehole

  • Maeve

    I engaged with WAY too many of these behaviours too. I shudder to think of some of the language I have used in the past.

  • pinkelastik

    Oh Jesus, it’s like reading about myself. Funnily enough I started changing thanks to Reddit (I know, I know) specifically r/ShitRedditSays. It inspired me to read up on a whole lot of stuff (and then I realised what a shit-hole Reddit is, so I left). I’m horrified at some of the things I used to say back then; it’s like I was a completely different person. It’s a difficult thing to own up to, but it’s worth doing so other people can see that changing is possible, and that it’s worth calling someone out when they fuck up.

    • stavvers

      This is largely why I wrote this post, despite it being so very difficult. Also, I felt like I ought to own the fact I once thought and did awful things, because while it feels like a different person back then, it wasn’t.

      • pinkelastik

        Absolutely. I just meant that I’ve changed so much since then that I have almost nothing in common with the person I was. I completely own that it was me that held those views though (unfortunately).

  • Korhomme (@Korhomme)

    We’ve all been there; some people, alas, can’t/won’t recognise it.

  • Ginger

    I was cringing reading this, because I used to do basically all of that as well and it was reminding me of what an arsehole I used to be. For me the fundamental change happened when I realised I was trans*, which opened me up to listen to why all these “jokes” etc were so bad.

  • Ed

    I don’t think that there is anyone who doesn’t follow that general trajectory, the only difference being when they first encounter something that gives them the notion to change their ways. Perhaps if you were lucky enough to be born to parents who took the greatest care to educate you in these ways from birth you might have a fighting chance, but on the most part these are all conclusions people are required to come to on their own. As you say, tools like Twitter are great for broadening our horizons, but for many people they will exist for a long time in a monoculture that is more the result of external social realities than through any conscious decision. Certainly my childhood in a sleepy town in South West England didn’t afford much scope for association with those beyond the white, middle class peers of my school and other social groups.

    Many people, of course, never change. Those who fail to change despite repeated appeals to moderate their behaviour or be more considerate of others are worthy of censure. for sure. Those who take the moral highground and try and cook up some logical escapology to justify their unpleasant position on one topic or another should be challenged and fought against. But if someone uses slurs or acts in some way to reinforce damaging social norms because they have grown up steeped in a society which expects and reinforces this behaviour we should not be too quick to criticise them, but to challenge and cajole them to see the world through different eyes. This clemency should be extend to our past selves, as it serves no purpose to berate ourselves for growing up a certain way when the pervasive influence of society makes it so difficult to see past certain stereotypes and norms.

    We don’t help the cause of social justice by firing out blind rage in the direction of all those who use slurs or behave in an unaccommodating manner, but rather through engagement and education we can try and make them change and moderate their behaviour. If we don’t forgive ourselves for our past behaviour and hold ourselves up to standards it would be unreasonable to expect, we can start to let that self loathing leech into our dealings with others. I have in the past acted in the way I would consider unbecoming, but I can also understand how my actions were the product of my environment. By allowing our past actions to shame us and let them become festering sores of self-loathing, we run the risk of directing it outwards at those who find themselves now where we found ourselves in the past. By understanding how we overcame our internal prejudices, we can help others do the same. It is through this mechanism we might stand a chance of creating a society where strong and damaging cultural norms are not installed in people in the first place.

  • sciamachy

    Yup, same here! I still fuck up occasionally too, but I’m glad to say there are people like yourself who will call me out on it. Even if my kneejerk reaction is one of defensiveness, “No, Jesus, that’s not what I meant!”, I do come round with some perseverance. We all fuck up – it’s like giving up smoking or any bad habits we’ve had for decades – but I guess as long as we learn & keep ourselves open to criticism, it’s all good.

  • Jo (@jonanamary)

    Huge hugs and solidarity. I also did *everything* you listed in your confession section. I was an utter shit for a long time.

    Massive gratitude to everyone who helped me stop being so much of a dirtbag. I ain’t perfect, by a long shot, but when I think how I used to act… :shudder:

  • Jemima101 (@itsjustahobby)

    massive awe at this you are so brave! I have learnt so much from you and others and hope to be continue to be called out whenever i fuck up.

  • Cel West (@Kosmogrrrl)

    I have said some terrible misogynist things in the past, and the first thing I would do to 14 year old me is punch them in the face. You are brave and a star❤

  • superfurryandy

    I think most people could compile a list of shame but we learn as we go, there’s no other way. There is no place for complacency. Like you I have taken much from Twitter, some of it from this very blog. Kudos.

  • Alice Leiper

    I can absolutely feel where you’re coming from. I feel embarrassed to think of one thing I said, thinking I was being understanding and lightening the mood with humour, when someone close to me came out as trans.

    The thing is, life is a journey. You’re never the same person twice as you learn new lessons – not all of them positive – and encounter different people and experiences. Yes, e’ve all done and said things we’ve regretted, but don’t let who you used to be leave you feeling ashamed of who you are now. If you’re ashamed of who you were, learn from it and move on to become a better person. You clearly have done that, and that is something to be proud of.

  • Yakoub Islam (@Julaybib)

    That people can change is always a sign of hope.

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