There are a lot of pieces out there advocating for transformative justice. I read Kai Cheng Thom, adrienne maree brown, Frances Lee, Tad Hargrave, Mia Mingus, Tada Hozumi and a lot of others. And I always read them with the utmost pleasure. In their words, I find hope, wisdom, a vision of peace and harmony. But, for me, there is something that lacks, not in anyone of these works individually, but in the general trend of what is, for me, the online transformative social justice litterature.
We display compassion for those in our circles who ostracise, who punish, who vilify, who bully, who belittle, who defame and stigmatize as a response for being hurt or feeling threatened. We show understanding, patience and temperance for people who do not feel compelled to do the same.
When we talk about the harm we’ve done and how we’ve ourselves been ostracized or otherwise punished, we show nothing but sadness, remorse and a longing for peace. When we’re speaking as bystanders, we’re being all-encompassing, very careful not to anger anyone, not to displease. We’re self-tone-policing ourselves at every turn.
We’re talking about our fear. We’re talking about our grief. We’re talking about our hope. We’re talking about our love. Again. And again.
Where is our fucking anger? When do we get to talk about it? Am I alone in this? Am I the only one being angry?
Because I’ve been ostracized, punished, vilified and stigmatized. (I know, I’ve messed up, I’ve done bad and hurt people. I’m ashamed about it. There, I said it. May I be angry now?)
I’ve been treated like a subhuman, like a contagious disease, like the evil in the world, by the very people I loved, I trusted, I admired, I relied on. I have been abused and bullied by my family of choice and my abusers and bullies are still proud of it, because they silenced every voice but those telling them they are morally superior to me and that it was their right – and their duty – to do so.
and. that. makes. me. fucking. angry.
Am I alone in this?
Is it because we’re afraid? All the people I personally know who have been thrown out of social justice circles for the harm they’ve done are so afraid of a next turn upon the rack that they keep their mouth shut on all the abuse they had to face. There’s no mystery about why I have a pen name. And most of the pieces I read come from public figures, signing with their own name, putting their career as writers, organizers, researchers, artists and so forth, on the line. What they are saying is already controversial. They are taking enough risks as they do. They are brave enough as they are. How many pieces start with the author saying they are afraid of being ostracized themselves for speaking against ostracism?
Is it because we are ashamed? Maybe those of us who had an experience close to mine, who have lived in their flesh what it is to be treated like nothing but a threat by the very people we loved – maybe we are eager to prove we’re actually not? Maybe we’re trying to prove we are not the monster they said we are by performing love, compassion, wisdom and nothing else. Or maybe, somewhere in our conscience, we’re still afraid we are the bad guys? Maybe, even if we know that how they treated us was abusive and bad, we still feel like we deserved it? Maybe we think we are not allowed to hurt the feelings of anyone, no matter how much they deny our own humanity, because we already caused too much harm?
Is it because we’re too tired? We’ve been harmed so much by people not able to wield their anger properly. Maybe we would just want to rest. To lie on the grass and let the seasons change over us. Maybe we don’t want more wars, more dramas, more conflicts. Maybe we’re just depressed. We’ve seen what « violence for a just cause » can make people do, we’re fed up of the ruthlessness of all that shit.
Or is it because we’re too hopeful? Maybe we’re still believing in happy endings, and don’t want to jeopardize our chance to belong again. Maybe we don’t want to go deeper into that path, condemn the door that was slammed in our face and add more wood on our pyre. Maybe we cannot resign ourselves enough, and thus cannot be nothing but potentially welcoming.
Is it because we want to appear consistent? We’re telling people to not seek revenge, to let go of their anger and defensiveness, to respect the inherent humanity of those who hurt them, so maybe we feel compelled not to say “I want revenge for what happened to me, because that was fucking disgusting”?
Are we doing this “they go low, we go high” kind of posturing? Because that doesn’t usually lead very far – in term of results. If queer activism taught me something, it’s that once people start dehumanizing you, you can ask them, urge them, beg them to stop… It just doesn’t work, no matter how low you’re ready to crawl.
What if, instead of saying “You do not have the right to traumatize abusive people”, we said “We won’t let you…”?
What if I said “You traumatized me. You treated me like a monster. I was powerless and at your mercy. I didn’t even want to defend myself. I wanted to surrender, and you didn’t let me. I never wanted you any harm, you dumb fucks, but now I’m fucking pissed off, and you bet one day you’ll be held accountable for how fucking awful you’ve been to me”?
Doesn’t it feel right? Saying it out loud?
Where is the Punk Transformative Justice movement?
I am threatening. I am threatening for those who built their sense of safety and self-worth on my dehumanization. I am threatening because, despite all the bad things I’ve done, I don’t intend to beg for people to respect my humanity and treat me right. And for those who don’t or didn’t, I want consequences. I am threatening because, in the world I want to build, they’ll be ashamed for what they’ve done to me – and if I can’t have their shame, their fear I can settle for. I am threatening, like anyone wanting justice always is.
Ostracism and punitive justice are dehumanizing, like any institutional abuse is. And what dehumanization does is robbing people of their emotional complexity and fluidity, reducing them into stereotypes, putting them into boxes. Once we are reduced to good/bad or abuser/victim binaries, we are also reduced to a lot more of them.
Either we deserved it or we didn’t. Either we’re dangerous or we’re not. Either we understood or we don’t want to. Either we’re angry or we’re compassionate. Either we’re strong or we’re weak. Either we’re brave or we’re cowards. Either we’re loving or we’re hating.
And this division expands to everyone involved. Either they endorse what we did or they endorse how we were punished. Either they have compassion for those we’ve hurt or they’re angry against them. Either one side, or the other.
But Transformative Justice, the way I understand it, is (among other things) about breaking out of these cells and reentering a place where we all recognize the full humanity of us all. Where we can recognize that, more often than not, we’re all of these things at the same time.
I am not solely angry. I won’t let myself be reduced to my anger, let it be the only driver of my ride. I am way more than angry. But I. am. still. fucking. angry.
Anger does not mean I want to hurt, fight or destroy. It does not mean I believe “I am the real victim here”. Being angry is not being insensitive or lacking compassion or picking a side or forgetting the bigger picture or the larger story.
Anger means that we are taking our suffering seriously. Anger means that we intend to make people treat us right. That we may ask nicely, but we won’t stop at asking nicely, because it is not optional. It is non-negotiable, and does not depend on how well we can be painted as villains.
It was Kai Cheng Thom who wrote that “when we can be angry and compassionate at the same time, at ourselves as well as others, entirely new possibilities for healing and transformation emerge”. Amen to that. Justice is anger and compassion together. Without compassion, it’s revenge. Without anger, it’s clearance.
So what are we doing when we omit to express our anger? We are giving clearance. We can explain as much as we want how abusing us is bad in theory, hence we are, showing that it is acceptable in practice. That’s what we’re saying to them, and that’s what we’re saying to ourselves. Maybe we should stop.
And I think we need it. To talk about our anger, to express it, share it, honor it, display it, release it. And it’s scary, I know. But I really think we have to. There’s something healing and right in it.
We’re not fooling anyone, anyway. Those who abused, ostracized, bullied in the name of justice, or safety, or whatever… Those who participated, who let that happen, who abandonned us… I think they know what they did. I think they want to believe it was the right thing to do, or the only thing to do – whatever makes them sleep at night – but we won’t make them believe we’re not hurt or not angry. And they have every right to fear our anger, to fear our pain, to fear our words and the world we are building. They have every right to fear the winds of change, to fear that they actions might be labelled “bad” one day, because look at how they’ve treated the bad-doers when the power to sentence was their. As it was written, this is the price you have to pay for having sit in judgment.
What they did was bad. There, I said it. It was abusive and wrong. We can sugarcoat it over and over, but the pill would still be a bitter one for them to swallow. And I think it’s a healthy one, but let’s not pretend it tastes good. It’s infused with love and peace and all that shit, but it’s also very bitter and there’s a lot of anger in the mix.
Despite what they said, I am no devil. But I am no angel either. And I shouldn’t have to pretend I am. Because Transformative Justice is for real people. Not saints. Not wisemen sitting on top of their mountain. It’s about harmony, peace, justice among people as they are. And it’s coming for them.