[Image description: an art exhibition by HA Schult titled “Trash People”, of humanoid figures made from garbage. There are rows of them in Adventdalen, an empty snowy landscape in Norway.]
CN: passing mentions of rape and abuse
I don’t have time or energy to be empathetic to trash people anymore.
Who are the trash people? They’re cops, rapists and their apologists, racists, the royal family, the rich, the LGBTories, landlords, manarchists, violent men, soldiers, medical gatekeepers, art bros, abusive parents.
Yes, everyone is victim to structural oppression; men are punished by patriarchy too; abusers are encouraged to abuse and are the product of a shit world. But I don’t care anymore. Saying we’re all victims of, e.g. capitalism, with no further analysis, erases the massive difference in scale of harm. It’s too much emotional labor to keep excusing and explaining their unacceptable behavior. The trash people don’t give me or my friends the courtesy of empathy (if they did they wouldn’t be trash people) and I’m tired of doing it for them.
Yes, we’re all capable of causing harm and we all reproduce conditions of systemic oppression, especially of our privileges. But the distinction between good people and trash people is that the good ones actively try to reduce harm (whether they use that vocabulary to describe it or not). The good people have learned how to listen and do emotional labor. The good people will apologize when they fuck up; the trash people will derail the conversation and gas light you into apologizing for upsetting them with how upset you were when you were hurt by them.
This isn’t an ode to call-out culture. We all fuck up but the good people know when to call-in instead of shaming, and know how to apologize when they’re called in or called out. The good people do the continual work of educating themselves and interrogating their power, especially in their personal relationships and daily communications. The trash people don’t listen or apologize; or they use the rhetoric of call-out culture to dogpile people who make missteps in language. Trash people say “#solidarity” but never show up when you need them.
I’m using the language of theory, but I’m talking about praxis. I’m talking about material experiences and actual, not hypothetical interactions. I will be friends with the kind straight middle class white boy who disagrees with me on how to execute “the revolution”*, but I won’t go near the inconsiderate “feminist” anarchist who talks over people. I’ll take the time to explain trans stuff to my older family members, but I’m not going to let someone who self-deprecates with “I’m a terrible person,” get away with being a terrible person.
* actually, typing this out made me tired, this imaginary boy sounds trying
Sure, this is totally reductive. No one is simply “good” or “trash”. But I need to be reductive in order to focus my energy on myself and the good people in my life. Engaging with the nuance that my rapist is a self-loathing closeted trans femme, or that the cops who beat my friends are slowly molded into monsters by toxic masculinity, requires too much effort and invalidates the pain that they cause.
I’m done prioritizing the trash people over myself. Empathy dissolves anger but anger is empowering. I can’t love the trash people into being compassionate, but I can socially punish them by condemning their behavior or smashing their windows.
Lots of people tell me that they think it’s important to call in the worst offenders and nurture them into decent human beings, but I’m not interested. I’ve been the trash person who said really awful things, and I’ve learned both through the being yelled at like I deserved and a genuine desire to be a good person. Despite the title of this post, I don’t think people are disposable. I’m glad that some of you have the energy, the patience, the grace to gently “educate” the trash people; that’s important work. But it’s not more important than my survival or the survival of my friends. Mutual aid is where I’m putting my energy. We spend so much energy as it is just surviving and circumventing the bullshit obstacles set up and enforced by the trash people; I’d rather work toward helping other people navigate and dismantle these systems than coddling the bigots who keep our world unlivable. I’d rather spend an hour cooking for and listening to my friend than doing mental gymnastics trying to empathize with the men street harassed us on the way home.
Besides, as some of y’all are so fond of saying, “feminism helps men too” (as if the personhood of women and femmes and not-men isn’t enough; no, we must center men for them to care), and so my survival will indirectly help the trash people too. They’ll probably profit off my ideas and aesthetic.