Essay, Writing

Psychological Self-Defense, The Golden Rule, & Finding the Line

It comes up repeatedly in various places: How should we treat groups that dominate/oppress us? How much is it okay to mock them? How much is it okay to ‘other’ them? How much is it okay to dehumanize them?

It’s all very nice to think that we should all treat one another as we’d like to be treated. That would be super if everyone already did it. Here in the real world, persons of color, immigrants, queer and trans persons, and poor people are already being treated in ways that dominant groups would not only resent, but wouldn’t tolerate. Being nice about being systematically treated like shit is bad for individuals, and it’s bad for social justice.

Marginalized people need to fight back. Certainly, we need organization, and social movements, and coordinated strategies. Sometimes, we also need to fight back psychologically, to reject the dehumanization of marginalization, to insist that the people who treat us poorly are wrong, they are really, really wrong. Mocking dominant groups, talking about hating them, or wishing imagined violence upon them is a strategy for psychological self-defense.

There are lots of ways to experience oppression. Maybe family ignores that you are whatever you are, maybe they disown you, or maybe they beat you. Maybe you’re called names. Maybe you have trouble getting a job, or maybe you come out and lose one. Maybe you just never see anyone like you, ever. Maybe you’re always the only person of color in the room. Maybe people walk up to you and say horrible, scary things. Maybe they tell you to go back to your own country. Maybe they won’t let you take a piss. Maybe they attack you, physically, repeatedly, often enough that you know it might happen at any time.

Whenever these discussions/arguments come up, it seems to me that ‘sides’ often coalesce based on whether or not people have been systematically, violently targeted. People who have been systematically subject to violence often better understand the need to psychologically defend themselves. Our strategies may seem ugly, to someone who hasn’t experienced that. But they’re a way of saying, “no, you” to people who hate us, wish us dead, and at times, remind us that they can and might kill us, at will.

There are things that I sometimes hear, typically about ‘all’ cishet men, that I don’t particularly like or with which I don’t feel comfortable, because they cross my line. But I know that I regularly cross other people’s lines too, in that regard, so I tend to contextualize these comments as psychological self-defense, as a way of combating the systematic dehumanization perpetrated by cishet-normative society. And I certainly don’t think that we need to verbally treat the people who have caused us the most harm, and are most likely to kill us, “as we would like to be treated,” given that the playing field is currently far from level.

So as I said, I don’t know where to draw the line, or even if it should be drawn. It seems to me that the people who are most comfortable with violent rhetoric and mocking of cishet men are the people who have been systematically, physically, violently attacked by them. And yes, I’m going to say it: I have some good friends who are cishetmen. I can trust them because, on some level, they understand this principle of defending one’s ‘Self’ rhetorically, from systemic attack. They know that there is no systematic throwing of bottles at the heads of cishet men on street corners.

And ultimately, all’s fair in self-defense.

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