speaking up

Anything worth dying for is worth living for

Periodically, there are news stories about bullied teenagers who commit suicide. Sometimes, they spark a conversation on how unacceptable bullying, misogyny, homophobia, or transphobia are. This kind of conversation can be dangerous to teenagers who are feeling hopeless about their lives.

If you’re seeing stories like this, and you’re already feeling hopeless — I worry that it will make suicide look like a way to have a voice. It’s not. Even if no one is listening to you right now, you have a much much louder voice if you stay alive.

Dying doesn’t force people to listen. If you’re dead, other people get to decide what they think it means. They might not get it right. They *usually* won’t get it right. And you won’t be alive to contradict them.

If you are alive, you can fight to be heard, and you can win. Even if no one is listening to you right now, your voice matters and we need you alive.

If you are alive, you can correct people who get it wrong. 

You can say: no, that’s not who I am. And yes, this is who I am. And: Yes, I matter. No, it’s not ok to treat me this way.  You can come out, and be proud, and help others to be proud. You can object to the way you and others are treated. You can find the people who will listen, and who will support you. Your voice matters, and you have a much louder voice if you’re alive to keep using it.

It’s damn hard. Some people won’t listen. Sometimes you will back down when you really want to speak up.Some people won’t respect you. You may lose connections with some people who really matter to you. It can break your heart, but you can live with a broken heart. And you can build connections, and get stronger. You will be heard — including by people like you, including people like you who badly need someone to tell them that they matter. It will be hard, and it will also be worth it.

Your voice matters even though sometimes it will waver. Everyone experiences times when they can’t figure out how to speak up; everyone sometimes forgets that speaking up is even possible. Everyone is intimidated or shamed into silence sometimes. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone says problematic or rude things from time to time. Don’t beat yourself up for that. Speaking up gets easier with practice, but no one does it perfectly. Your imperfect voice is an important voice.

The hate you face may not ever go away, but it won’t always loom this large. It doesn’t always get better exactly, your life may stay very difficult, you may always face discrimination. But that is not the only thing that matters, and you can have a good life. Love matters more than hate, and you’re more powerful than you realize.

Your voice matters, and you have a louder voice alive.

Speaking up is hard

In just about every group conflict I’ve witnessed or participated in, I’ve seen some version of this happen:

  • Some people will speak up about something
  • There will be a conversation that gets heated
  • Someone else will be very uncomfortable with the fact that conflict is happening (despite somewhat sympathizing with the people who are speaking up)
  • And they will say something like, “Wow, I don’t like this tone. Can we all try to respect each other a bit more?”

And I think part of this is that people who aren’t speaking up really often have no idea how hard it is. It looks much easier than it is.

It’s hard, and it’s scary, to say something that you know will result in conflict. It’s hard to phrase things well, it’s hard and sometimes impossible to stand your ground in a way that makes everyone feel respected. Especially if you don’t have a lot of practice.

It’s possible that people who are speaking up really are being inappropriately or counterproductively disrespectful. That is a real thing that actually happens. But it’s also possible that people are doing the best they can, because speaking up is really hard and there’s often no way to do it which won’t be at least somewhat painful or awkward.

If you’re not in the habit of speaking up about anything other than the tone used by others when they speak up, it’s entirely possible that tone isn’t the real problem. It’s possible that the problem is that you haven’t learned through experience how hard it is to speak up, and how complicated of a skill it is to learn.

That is not always the problem, but it’s usually a possibility worth considering in that kind of situation.

"Friends don't let friends walk off cliffs"

A few years ago, I was very concerned about a friend. She was in a situation that I thought would hurt her very badly, and I wanted to tell her. But I wasn’t sure it was ok to do so, because I wanted to respect her boundaries and her adulthood and such. So I asked her if it was ok to talk about.

And she said something that stuck with me: “Friends don’t let friends walk off cliffs.”

I think this is important. Because if friends are in serious trouble and don’t seem to realize it – you don’t do them any favors by keeping silent. Friends don’t let friends walk off cliffs. Friends tell each other that the cliffs are there.

Pointing out cliffs is different from concern trolling or trying to take someone over. It’s – telling someone that they are in serious danger that you think they don’t know about.

Another kind of reply

lawlandauror asked realsocialskills:

.There is a sorority at my college who’s charity is Autism Speaks. All their promotional material and events are making me really uncomfortable. I’m not autistic but I am nueroatypical. I don’t want to talk over autistic people, but I also don’t want to stay silent. What can I do in this situation?

A few things I’d say, in addition to signing the pledge and urging others to do so:

I think what you need to bear in mind is that you’re not speaking for autistic people, you’re saying why Autism Awareness is bad. You don’t need to be autistic to understand that. So long as you’re not claiming to speak for others, I think you’re probably ok.

(For instance, don’t say “autistic people don’t like autism speaks!”, say something like “autism speaks doesn’t have any autistic people in positions of leadership and that’s a problem”).

Also, don’t expect any kind of emotional reaction from autistic folks as a result of what you say. Don’t expect autistic people to be grateful, or to be moved that someone is saying something. Sometimes that might happen. But it shouldn’t be the reason you’re speaking up, and it shouldn’t be something you expect. If you’re putting additional emotional pressure on autistic folks, you’re doing it wrong. 

And also, Awareness paints a pretty broad brush. Autistic people get the most direct hate this month, but it’s also when people promote a model of neurological disability that’s dangerous for everyone. Feeling personally threatened by that is not appropriative or silencing. If that’s part of what’s going on for you, it’s ok to say so.