Friday, July 1, 2011

You're (Not) Too Sensitive: For the Survivor

*trigger warnings for rape/sexual assault, racial epithets*

(I don't like the word victim, nor do I particularly like the word survivor. The word victim completely robs someone of agency, while the word survivor implies unmitigated, unflagging strength. Triumphalism. Or some kind of grandiose state in which You Shall PWN Forever. Most likely, if you've experienced trauma, you're just a regular Jo(e) with hir good and bad days like everyone else. Some 'survivors' are able to function "well." Others struggle everyday to regain equilibrium, inner peace. It really does depend on the person. I will use the word 'survivor' with scare quotes here for ease.)

Often, the most assinine thing one might tell a person who has survived trauma (or even a feminist for that matter) is that s/he is too sensitive about x,y, or z. The conversation which follow often goes like this:

Person X: shut up, bitch/n***er/faggot (with a laugh)/*makes a joke about rape/sexual assault/smacking their significant other
Person Y: Please don't use that word/language, please don't tell those jokes. They're demeaning: and/or they're personally painful for me. 
Person X: Ah, c'mon. It was just a joke. Don't you have a sense of humor? Can't you even take a joke???
(usually, at this point person X knows zie can't reason at this point with person Y. Zie is labeled humorless and is discredited...)

Sometimes, the conversation is more subtle, nuanced. Person X just implies it; hints that person Y's perception *may be* clouded by "emotion." And, emotion, of course, is always less reliable than "logic"  (everyone tends to think their "logic"is normative). Any said comment/joke/epithet/careless remark should be freely able to stand alone. It should be able to float in the atmosphere, unanchored in the context of a world in which bad shit is done to people and where real, live actual people are still dealing with that bad shit.

(This is nothing the feminist blogosphere hasn't tackled before. Feminists have gotten this routine since time immemorial, as have many 'survivors.' Of course, one might be both feminist and 'survivor.' Many survivors are feminists because, I believe, they have come face to face with the ugly reality of kyriarchy. They've seen the Emperor, and he wasn't wearing any skivvies).

The cryin' shame here is that if we listened to "too sensitive" people, we'd, as a culture, have excellent resources for ascertaining what, and what is not, harmful. We'd have human bullshit detectors. A "too sensitive" person knows hir stuff.

A badass chick who's been sexually assaulted can probably point out a million things around her that allowed her attacker to operate. She can point out patterns and make associations between what happened to her, and the nonchalant sexist joke said at that party; or the or the way the media portrays women's bodies as perpetually available for sex.

Same thing with someone who has endured any kind of hate crime (And yes. Rape IS a hate crime). The "faggot," "dyke," or "tranny" knows that they threaten everyone else's gender/sexual identities and know exactly where the fear comes from.

A person verbally/emotionally abused posseses an uncannily keen ear for maladaptive forms of communication. Zie can point out exactly at what point a request becomes manipulative, or when zie's being gaslighted. Zie can usually assess relationship dynamics in the blink of an eye.

A person who has been spiritually abused (give me all your money or you'll go to hell/obey your husband even if he beats the snot out of you) can glean the "good faith" from "bad faith." Those who have been spiritually abused has a perfect frame of reference from which to discern "Is this healthy? Life giving? Hopeful? Does it make the world a better place instead of a worse one?" If we listened to the spiritually abused, we'd probably have less (Godde help us all) gay teen suicides.

Instead, we place the burden of proof on the one who has experienced trauma, the oppression. We ask them to step away from their experiences in order to gain "clarity" instead of stepping inside their experiences and seeing what they see. Bullshit.

As far as I'm concerned, if you're "too sensitive," you're not. You just have a superpower that the world is to ignorant to acknowledge.