So, it happened again. A friend of mine, who offered me support after my first call-out, just burn bridges. She posted a long facebook post about how she was sorry that she "has protected an abuser" for so long, that she thought I was just someone good who made a mistake, but now she understand that she was wrong. She did it without warning nor explanation, and removed me from her friends list. And I don't know exactly what happened. She's actually not the first one to do something like that. The first one was one month after my first call-out, one of the first people I contacted for emotionnal support. I trusted her with my life (I litteraly, once, put my life into her hands). And at first she comforted me, she told me she knew I was not a bad person. Just someone good who made terribly bad decisions. And then, three weeks later, you can guess what happened.
They are those people who will hurt you the most. Emotionnally, because the longer the people stood by you, the harder the betrayal. The more you will think "But... but I thought they understood me", or "but I thought they believed it was wrong to do that". Socially, too, because each one of them will strengthen the case against you. It will reinforce the dehumanizing narrative on you in a way the first call-out couldn't. The fact that they stood by you after you first crossed a line will not be considered proof that you've earned enough of their trust in other circumstances, but be seen as a testament on how manipulative you can be. The fact that they finally dump you will be telling of how worse your behavior is now. Also, because they will be the one who will be the most vocal about how much of a horrible person you are, since they will need everyone to know they repent. And psychologically, because it damages you, and your ability to have sane relationships with people, in a way that is hard to convey.
Try to picture it in your mind. Everybody around you, your close friends, your lovers, your comrades, your family members, have to pay a toll to stay in relationship with you. They are stigmatized by association, and so have to face various degrees of hostility, violence, or condescending pity. Sometimes it's a lot. Sometimes, everything is quiet, then a sudden burst of violence directed against them explodes and they lose some friends. And you know, as they know, that they can make it stop anytime. That they can distance themselves from you and it will get better. But, even then, it will never cease totally. They cannot be fully cleansed of having be, at some point, associated with you, or having defended you. Except, of course, if they say they were your victims the whole time. If they say you manipulated them, that they were under your influence, that they weren't fully aware of how awful you actually are, because you disguised your true nature while asking for their support. And if they say that, then they will be met with compassion, support and love, by everyone currently hating them. Their repentance will be glorified and shared as a precious gift by those who hate you. They might be offered a frontline place in the fight against you and a lot of social status.
And you know that. And they know that as well. And they know that you know that they know. Even if they didn't think of it that way. Even if it's only unconscious. How do you think it would impact your relationship? And I'm not only talking about how much more difficult it would make for you to deeply trust people. Or about how much frightened you would be when they don't reply a message for two weeks. But how do you think it would affect your ability to enter in conflict with them, to affirm your boundaries and your autonomy, or to break up a friendship or a romantic relationship, knowing that this is what might happen then? How afraid you would be to piss them off?
Nobody around me never leveraged it. Nobody tried to tell me that I should complain to their demands otherwise they will join the mob. Because they don't have to. I always was a people-pleaser. I always had a pathological fear of displeasing people (while being at the same time very confrontational, because trauma-based behavior makes no sense), and this fear is firmly rooted in me and something that put me both in situations where I was abused, and in situations were I was abusive. This is something I struggle with a lot, and I try to work on, because it hurts me and it makes me hurt others. And all of this makes it incredibly worse. Because now, displeasing someone close to me always can have devastating consequences for me.
I do not believe that someone could consciously switch sides to get back at me. But I do believe that, if I hurt someone (even if I'm being in my right, like if I break up with a partner), or if I fail to make happy all the people in my life (which I am currently failing to, because it is not always in my power to do so), or – even worse – if I do something wrong again (which I obviously don't want to, but which I know will happen eventually, because never doing something wrong is an impossible standard to live with), then there is a risk that the person I hurt, or harm, or make unhappy, or trigger, will suddenly switch their perspective on me, in a moment that will feel like a sudden realisation. "Oooooh. They actually are a bad person. They have been bad this whole time." (Like in this TV show I would not name to not spoil it, but whom everyone who watched it remember this happening at the end of season 1.)
And it doesn't need to stick. They just have to be in a disregulated enough state, they just have to feel bad enough for the bad-person theory to makes sense in the heat of the moment, then impulsively act upon it. They just need to be scared, or sad, or angry against me, flip a switch in their head, post about it on facebook, and kick me out of their contact list. And it will be over. There will be no turning back, because who can turn back from that? And by doing so, I happen to believe that they would effectively increase their chances to be happy in their life.
This is not, though, what happened in my case. That is merely a story, a plausible story, about what might happen to me. But this story have a huge impact on my life nonetheless. Even irrationnal fears may have a huge impact on people, and I don't even believe this fear to be irrationnal so much. I still don't know how to have sane relationships with people knowing that. I just have no choice but try.
What actually happened was those people started to switch sides when sticking with me started to cost them. When they were identified by the mob as supporting me, and when the finger that was pointed at me started to point at them. When they could no longer support me in private, and stay silent in public. When they were forced to publicly pick a side, and didn't pick mine.
I do believe, though, that their betrayal is sincere. That they really happen to believe, now, that I'm a bad person they supported because they didn't know everything. Because the mob didn't just threaten them. They also presented their case against me. They "provided them new informations", which is easy because I don't know everything about what I'm accused of having done. And I know that the case against me is believable, because a lot of people who used to love believe it, and because there is at least a part of truth in it. And it is, oh, so heavy now. I totally understand how this case could have make them doubt of who I am, of what I'm fighting for, of what I truly think and believe. I picture them feeling threatened, both by the possibility that everything said about me is in fact true, and by the violence they would have to face if they don't accept it as such. And what would you do, then?
Well, you have a choice to make. Either contact me to have my side of the story, risking being lied to and manipulated into believing the mob is wrong about me, risking being shred into pieces by said mob if they act according to this belief.. or just accept that I'm bad. You don't ask questions, you just cut ties with me, say loudly how much they repent for having be so blind for so long and become a hero.
What would be even more fair would be to say that both happened at the same time. The mob didn't start pointing the finger at them on their own volition. In both cases, I had something to do with it. In both cases, they decided to help me, to take a risk for me, and it didn't pay off. It didn't go well for them, and the mob hurt them. They were losing social status in the community who excluded me but in which they were still active and respected members. And they started to resent me for that. By asking for their help, or by accepting it, or by the way I did it, I exposed them to danger. And it is also with grief for what it cost them, what I (in their eyes) cost them, that they decided to side with the mob.
Another common feature of those who betrayed me is that they didn't really believe I am an abuser. From the start, though, I decided to accept that I was one. It is true that I didn't know the sex I had with my victim was abuse. I believed it was mutually consented. It is true that I let myself be dragged out of my comfort zone, of which I explicitely stated the boundaries, and that I was in a disregulated state and unable to assess their own when I crossed them. But I still decided to have sex with someone in this state, and I shouldn't have. I still were careless and my behavior was still unsafe. I still disregarded signs that I should have seen and interpreted as proof that something was wrong, both before, during, and after. I still stayed in denial about it for quite some time. And they are still feeling violated, and assaulted, no matter what my intentions were. Their lived experience is still that of abuse. And if it is not this time, I still had other harmful and dangerous behavior at other times in my life. I don't want to deny that what I did was abuse, nor that I was an abuser.
But when I talk about it, when I go into details, people often tell me that I am not. That I am just a good guy who made a mistake. My (queer and feminist) therapist don't want me to identify as an abuser. A lot of my friends, when I talk to them about the call-out and what happened, try to comfort me by saying that for them, I am not really an abuser. "We had sex together, and I can guarantee you that you're not an abuser", tried this ex-lover. But I don't want them to say that. Please, don't say that to me. It's frightening. When you say that, you're basically saying that how I am treated would be okay if I really were one. That you would support my ostracism if the case against me was convincing enough, and you just happen to believe it is not. And that scares the shit out of me. Because how can I know that one day you won't be convinced I am? Who can tell me you won't join the mob, if you don't believe that what they do is inherently bad, but just that they are going after the wrong guy?
Both of my "ex-defenders" publicly criticized ostracism and cancelling. And they did it in the same manner: the "oh, it's going too far" discourse. According to them, the weapon is good, but the trigger is too light, and some people attacked by the mob don't really deserve it. But when this is your critique, then the question you have to ask, when facing a particular occurrence of ostracism, is "is this person bad enough?". And if yes, then let the mob tear them to pieces, they deserved it. You have to doubt or trust the morality of the person you're talking about to decide if what happens to them is collective abuse or just "consequences of their bad behavior" which they should accept.
But this is not, in fact, a critique of ostracism, punitive justice, cancelling or call-out culture. It is just saying that the line between those who are bad (are therefore deserving exclusion and harassment) and those who are not is not drawn where you would like it to be drawn. You don't challenge the fact that they should be a line, and that those on the wrong side of it should not be treated as humans. You are not criticizing abuses of social power in the name of justice, you are just saying you would like for yourself the power to decide who get abused this way.
And you are, to us the cancelled, us the ostracized, us the abusers, the problematic, the perpetrators, more ennemies than friends. How infuriating it is to witness people who participated in your own ostracism proudly and publicly criticizing call-out culture, and having to silently watch this, because they obtained the right to talk about it publicly by ensuring that you don't! How heartbroken it is when someone who wrote articles against cancel culture, who were praised for it, who gain reputation with it, suddenly decides to turn against you and says "oh sorry, my mistake, this one is different, this one can go to Hell" so that they can keep intact the reputation they gained.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize they really were an abuser!" No. A thousand no. You didn't listen. I told you I were. I told you I didn't want you to think of me as "not-an-abuser". I told you I didn't want you to think we could stay friends "because what I did wasn't so bad", but because punishing people is stupid, ostracism is collective abuse and people who did bad stuff still deserve love, friendship and support. That's what, right now, angers me the most. That you accuse me of downplaying how bad was what I did. You did, because it made things easier for you. I tried to tell you not to do that, and you looked at me like I was weird.