I’m done with civility. I am over it. I have no desire to engage in its crooked game anymore.
Okay, let me be more specific than that. I am done playing by the unfair, unnecessarily vague and impossible to maintain demands for civility and fetishized notions of kindness based on the rules of privileged power structures. I cannot and will not adhere to this long dead fantasy of a bygone era where we were all friends despite our differences, not only because I question whether it ever existed but because those who cling to it fail to understand its silencing force. The dream is dead and good riddance. We never should have prized it in the first place.
Last week was the original end date for Brits to join in with the government consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, which is in dire need of updating in order to better accommodate trans and non-binary people. A highly vitriolic and well-funded anti-trans movement has been fighting against changes to the act tooth and nail, and their bullying opposition has included abhorrent transphobic rhetoric from some highly visible British figures. I’ve seen multiple reports of people putting penis stickers around public places as protest, tying trans women to rape, assault and child abuse. It has not been a ‘polite’ debate. Amidst this, author Philip Pullman, a man whose books mean a lot to me, tweeted out a highly disingenuous question about not knowing which side to take on the matter. Later, he added, ‘It’s like a lot of angry people in a dark room swinging heavy sticks around with all their might. So far I’m most impressed by the voices advocating kindness.’ He didn’t ask that question with any sincere intent and we all knew it, so his follow-up only cemented how unfair the conversation had become: The anti-trans voices have never been anything less than violent in their rhetoric, but it’s the pro-trans voices who are deemed uncivil and oppositional to kindness.
We see this insidious moving of the goalposts across political and social discussions as they pertain to under-privileged groups. If you’re in any way pegged as the minority in one of these conversations, you become immediately aware of how different the rules are for you versus the voice in the room with the loudest amplification. When you’re a woman, you know that the moment you get louder or angrier, you will be pegged as that hysterical bitch who can’t keep their emotions in line, although being stoic will also see you labelled as cold-hearted. People of colour risk being stuck with the ‘angry minority’ stereotype, one that’s especially nasty when used against black people. Pro-choice activists don’t get to be passionate because it’s too sensitive a subject to be personal about, unless you’re fighting to scream at patients on a street corner and call them ‘baby killers’, then it’s all about your free speech. Muslims are forced to be achingly polite while the Islamophobes called in to provide ‘balance’ can spread all manner of bigoted lies if they use the right tone of voice. Trans and non-binary people face daily hate and demands to ‘prove’ their identities but the moment they use the word ‘cis’, suddenly they’re the bullies.
The privileged voices that demand civility don’t actually want a polite debate. They just want to ensure the deck is stacked in their favour. They want permission to be as bigoted as they have always been, only now they have the sheen of public legitimacy.
I am done with civility because it has created a public rhetoric that has diluted truth and paved the way for social justice to be a highway of false equivalences. Our media and political system has decreed that having two sides to every story is an absolute necessity, even when the truth is evident. Why look out the window to see if it’s raining when you can have two people sit in a cable news studio and scream at each other over who’s right? I have seen far too many ‘debates’ on issues where there is clearly a right answer. Why should any woman have to go up against a rampant misogynist on an issue like #MeToo? What substance is there to be born from making a trans activist justify their own existence against someone who positions their lives as equivalent to a sex crime? Whose minds are genuinely changed when Katie Hopkins, Tinny Laryngitis or whatever available Fox News talking head of the day is seen as ‘the other side’ of any issue?
This system does not exist to further the discourse or to create any sort of true community. Not even the worst university debate team would see worth in any of this. It continues because it’s entertaining and it’s easy to reduce any issue to a verbal war for the sake of a few extra clicks on that YouTube video. Even if the playing field has to be drastically re-levelled to make it happen, it’ll be done because we’ve forced ourselves to believe this is what fair and balanced means. Not all voices are born equal and this farce only highlights that.
Mostly, I am done with civility because we were never civil to begin with and those who put so much value on it are merely dooming the rest of us to endless horrors. We are currently in an age of utter shamelessness, which makes democracy difficult since responsible power rests on the assumption that guilt will keep everyone in line. The most powerful man on the planet is a bigoted bully who is surrounded by goons that make the most vile comments then still have the gall to claim anti-fascist protests are the real problem. This would be bad enough if it weren’t for those pseudo-liberals who are aiding this lie at every step by pretending things will get better if we’re polite enough and remain friends with those who oppress us.
This cage of civility we find ourselves in doesn’t oppose anger: it simply strips the most marginalized voices of that right. Brett Kavanaugh can be as petty and monstrous as he wants and it’ll still be Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s responsibility to cling to public dignity. He had that luxury because he had power on his side and those with all the power get to dictate the rules. It creates an illusion where both sides are on equal ground but the truth is still tied to decorum. It’s not enough to be right: You have to say it softly and nicely and make sure the other side know they’re entitled to feel the way they do and they’re not bad people because of it, and if they threaten to kill you then you should kill them with kindness they haven’t earned. It is painfully ironic that supporters of social justice are so often accused of being over-sensitive because the false civility of our public debate relies on coddling bigots so that their own feelings aren’t hurt when we call a spade a spade.
So I’m done with civility, or at least I’m done with the bastardized version we currently find ourselves in the stranglehold of. I have no desire to pander to the worst dregs of humanity or to pretend that everything in our crooked system can be fixed if we’re kind enough. This is obviously a privileged position in and of itself. I’m white, cis, employed and supported by various power structures so I’m probably less likely to be hurt for taking this stance than some of my friends. Still, as I watch the supposed intellectual elite of Britain pretend that their transphobia is merely thorough discourse while they silence the voices they claim to support, I think I’ll save my civility for those who have earned it.
Fuck it all.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.