If you are being hurt by a person, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your relationship.
If you’re being hurt by your family, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one else could possibly understand your family.
If you are being hurt by a community, they’re likely trying to convince you that no one from outside the community can possibly understand.
It’s not true. You are not alone. There are others outside your relationship, family, and community, who can relate to what you’re going through and who can help.
Some aspects of your relationship, family, or community are unique. Some of them are probably unusual, positive, and hard for outsiders to understand. But that is not the barrier that those who are hurting you want you to think it is. It is not insurmountable.
People do not have to understand absolutely everything in order to relate to your experiences in important ways.
You can make connections with others, and a lot of things you have experienced will be very, very similar. Some aspects of abuse are universal. Others are very common. (One very common aspect of abuse is that there is often something about the relationship that is positive, unusual, and secret or hard to describe.).
The people who you can relate to may be very different from you in a lot of ways. They may be a different age, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, or culture than you. Maybe they are disabled and you aren’t. Maybe their disability is different, or more severe, than yours. Maybe the particular horrors they faced took a different shape. That matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters.
It is ok to relate to the experiences of people who are very different from you. It is not appropriation. (It is not ok to pretend that your experiences are identical; but it’s completely possible to relate without doing that.) Don’t let anyone tell you to only listen to people who are just like you. We all need each other.
People may be trying to isolate you, but you are not alone. Other people can and do understand and care about the ways in which you are getting hurt.
I think this is one of the most harmful things about the flagrant misuse of the word ‘appropriation’ that I’ve seen flood through tumblr. Like, “It’s appropriation if you flap your hands and you’re not autistic.” As if autistic people have a secret cultural patent on hand-flapping.
But seriously — this fear of identifying with each other is toxic. It’s far more toxic than the occasional overidentification is. Overidentification can be plenty bad, and I dislike it as much as anyone does. But. What I see happening on tumblr and other places that adopt this attitude, is people getting pushed apart.
People getting pushed apart needlessly. Because people are afraid to identify with each other’s experiences for fear of being ‘appropriative’. (Which isn’t even what real appropriation looks like. Real appropriation is horrible and awful and nasty, but it is not the same as identifying with someone different than yourself. I keep wanting to say, “You’re appropriating the word appropriation.”)
And I think even in activist contexts this gets things screwed up. It prevents solidarity among people with similar experiences. It prevents people from different oppressed groups from comparing notes and learning from each other. Because everyone is so afraid of accidentally stepping on each other’s toes that they won’t get within ten feet of each other, that’s how ridiculous it’s getting.
And yes — it also screws things up in contexts where a person is being abused and needs help but is afraid to identify with the experiences of other people. I know that’s the main topic. But I wanted to address it in terms of activism too because there’s a serious parallel thing going on there.
It’s just… it’s all so wrong, and all so toxic, and I can see what made things go bad in this direction, but I can’t see how to fix it. Other than setting out little packages with bits of truth in them, like I’ve talked about. Like the original poster did. Like I’m doing now. And then people can find the packages and read them and decide for themselves what to think about them.
This also goes to the feeling of “I don’t deserve help because there are people who have it so much worse.” I think people who already have a tendency to feel unworthy and undeserving of good things sometimes wind up using anti-oppression rhetoric in the service of their own self-loathing. Part of that is isolating yourself from people you could have a bond with because you think you don’t deserve to identify with them or benefit from that connection.