“This is where the party ends / I can’t stand here listening to you and your racist friend.”

“This is where the party ends / I can’t stand here listening to you and your racist friend.”

I’m thinking a lot lately about the ways in which we can be accountable to one another. For me this means deep personal reflection and self-inventory, and owning up to my screw-ups and trying to avoid repeat performances.

I also think about the ways in which I interact with others who do and say things that go against my own views of how we ought to treat each other. I’m lucky enough to work in an environment where hate speech isn’t tolerated, and we can actively participate in addressing it when we hear it. With my clients, I try to offer alternatives. “Instead of calling someone the b-word or c-word, why not call them a jerk or a pain in the ass or something?” “Instead of using the r-word, why not say this situation is frustrating or asinine?” “Instead of crazy, why not say bananas?” Sometimes it works. Sometimes it goes over like a lead balloon. With my co-workers it’s a little different. We’re all “adults.” We can’t reprimand or re-direct each other per se, but it’s completely legit to say to someone, “eh, that’s a little racist.” Or, “hey I have a learning disability, can you cool it with that?” For me, humor does wonders. It softens the blow and makes people a little more receptive. Instead of “you’ve sinned you horrible bag of shit,” it’s “hey that’s kinda messed up.” Sometimes just talking about why a word or phrase is messed up helps.

It’s more about the action than the person. We all fuck up. We all fuck up huge. Sometimes life throws fucked up things at us…

Someone who is crying and visibly wounded because their parent has just cut them out of their life for being queer? That’s not the time to call that person out for using the wrong word.

And sometimes it’s murky… A person of color talking about a stereotype pertinent to the way their family interacts, but applying it to everyone of that cultural background? I don’t feel comfortable calling that out unless I know that person really well, and even then I’d feel very hesitant.

The world is chaotic and messy. The stuff isn’t always cut and dry. I’m of the unpopular opinion that context matters, and that people matter. I’ve been called out on a number of things, and sometimes I feel it’s been constructive and helpful, and sometimes I’ve felt like my words and motivations were intentionally misconstrued.

I think part of being accountable means taking personal inventory and reflecting on why we want to call someone out. Do we want to make a scene/space/situation feel more safe? Do we want to help someone understand that they might be unknowingly committing a faux pas, and we believe them to be a well-intended person? Is it someone in a position of power who might not realize how their words and actions impact others? Are we reacting to trauma and can’t be calm or “rational” in the situation and need to voice our concerns right then and there?

Or could it be something else? Do I want to earn cool kid points with my other social justice buddies? Am I taking out shitty feelings on another person in a kind of online know-it-all bullying? Does this person not have the kind of educational privileges that would bring them into contact with certain schools of thought — in that case, is it cool to put them down publicly?

When I feel the need to call someone out, I ask myself why I’m doing it, and how I can do it in a way that’s effective. Will blasting them publicly on facebook work? Not usually. Especially if it’s someone I’m close with. A private message or talking to them in person would do better.

I also consider how egregious the oppressive behavior is. Atheists like Richard Dawkins are often guilty of spreading xenophobic and Orientalist notions in their critiques of Islam. As an atheist, I think it’s important to recognize that this kind of behavior is part of a centuries’ long history of the West treating the East as inferior — it’s part of delusional thinking and those who fancy themselves rational thinkers ought to reject it. A post on a friend’s wall recently stirred up a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment, and I was quick to publicly call it out. It wasn’t a simple misunderstanding; it was a group of white Western atheists talking shit about millions of people. My motivation wasn’t only to stem the vitriol spewed by the individuals involved in the conversation, but also for others who might be reading and following along. Based on my own interactions with the atheist blog-o-sphere, it can be an echo chamber, and I wanted to voice an alternate viewpoint.

When I do a speaking gig, or a friend who is genuinely curious asks me something about being a trans person, but might use an awkward word like “transgendered” or “hermaphorodite” when they mean intersex. In these cases, I would correct the language but understand the person is coming from a place of literal ignorance and not bigotry.

And sometimes [drumroll] I just let it slide. Sometimes I have to. Sometimes there are bigger fish to fry. Sometimes I like someone enough to squint past their fuck ups because we all make mistakes, and at the end of the day we all need each other. I might call it out again later if I notice the same thing happen again (like if someone repeatedly uses the same ableist slur) or maybe I’ll bring it up later. Sometimes I don’t have the mental bandwidth to do it, and as a counselor once told me, I don’t always have to go die on that hill.

Sometimes it’s okay to drop the flaming sword.

A lot has also been written on calling in v. calling out. I’ll post a couple of lovely links here if you’re puzzled about how to have those tough conversations and want a primer:

Here’s one from Everyday Feminism and another from Black Girl Dangerous.


Photo credit: This person’s awesome pinterest

“And a time to every purpose under heaven…”

“And a time to every purpose under heaven…”

Milestones are pretty arbitrary. Turning 30 doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things, change much of anything. My mom told me at one point that it was in her thirties that the pace of her life started to slow down. I’ve been looking forward to that for the last few years, and I’m not sure if it’s truly on the horizon. In the next six months or so I plan to move to a bigger city and, in the next year, start grad school. (You know, nbd.)

Still, I feel that the last few years have given me the chance to figure out more of what this adulting thing is all about. A huge part of that has been learning how to navigate relationships in a more honest, intentional, and accountable way. After having a few major relationships in my life shift dramatically or come to a cessation, I’ve learned about my own behavior and what behaviors of others I can and can’t tolerate. Barbara Carrellas recently posted on facebook about the importance of distinguishing between “making healthy judgments (which keep humans alive) and being judgmental.” This is something I’m only learning to trust myself to do. If I feel even a little bit of judgment creep in, I feel very guilty. I’m trying to unlearn this, and instead embrace that it’s okay to listen to my instincts.

For instance…

If something feels fucked up, it probably is. If something happens to me that’s fucked up, it’s okay to say so. If I need something from someone or from a situation, it’s okay to ask for that.

Non-violent communication has been a huge help in teaching me how to effectively communicate with others, but after reading the link Barbara posted, (and others like it,) I find so much of myself reflected in the pieces about marginalized people and abuse survivors. Growing up around a lot of anger and dismissal, I still find it hard to enter into conversations where tensions might run high and conflict might get out of hand. This has been cemented by the abuse I’ve been through in various relationships, and it’s only through sharing my experiences and talking with others who have been through similar things that I have felt validated in expressing my own frustrations and needs.

However, this has been difficult for me when it comes to navigating situations where I’ve been hurt by people who are also people of marginalized identities, or who have also been through abuse or significant trauma. I feel as though they are so fragile that any harm I might do to them will only further traumatize them. In this situations, my own sense of empathy gets in the way. But it’s also okay for me to express when I need space from someone. It’s okay to not apologize and try to fix things when I know I’m not at fault. I can own up to my percentage of the bullshit in a given situation, but it’s also okay not to take on more than my fair share in the interest of being “the bigger person.”

For the coming year, I resolve to engage only in relationships that feel healthy. I want to extend this beyond friendships and family, but in job and housing situations as well. I’m setting a timeline for myself of six months. If a job still sucks, or a roommate situation, or a romantic or friendly relationship is more of a costly emotional strain than I can withstand, I won’t force myself to “stick it out.” I have had enough experience with interpersonal toxicity to know when something is beyond just “hard,” and has instead veered into toxic territory.

I’m resolving to put myself and my dreams first in a meaningful way.

I’m resolving to let myself set and defend healthy boundaries.

Happy birthday, you old so-and-so.

Photo credit: the author