Whispers

This is a message, or a reminder, for cis men activists. The trans/cis women and non-binary people you organise with are talking about you behind your backs. We send Facebook messages, emails and Twitter DMs. We arrange to meet for a cup of tea between meetings. We run errands together so we can talk privately. We know what you’re up to, and we want our sisters and comrades to know too.

You can probably imagine some of the things we’re talking about. We commiserate about being the only person at meetings who isn’t a cis man. We talk about always being responsible for providing food, and for clearing up after the meeting has finished. We’re bored of taking on a greater burden of admin responsibilities. We vent about having our ideas ignored, only for them to be repeated later by a man.

There are other things too, things that you probably don’t want to think about. We’re frustrated about having to constantly reassert boundaries with comrades we thought were our friends. We struggle to explain the uncomfortable feeling we have about somebody’s manipulative behaviour, because we can hardly define it, let alone confront it. Sometimes we disclose that we have been sexually assaulted or raped by a comrade, or that we know of somebody else who has been.

We talk to each other because we need reassurance that we’re not alone. The miserable fact that other women and non-binary people will understand, comforts and infuriates us. Considering patriarchy is gaslighting us on a mass scale, we also need to be told that we’re not imagining things or overreacting. Witnessing our friends burn with outrage on our behalf legitimises our own rage and sadness.

Often, though, we’re in it together. When we’re mediating disputes in our meetings, social events or online, we’re supporting each other through our own, separate networks at the same time. How else do you think we find the strength to mop up the mess that bruised egos leave behind? And it is always us that does the mopping. Even our cis man comrades who do the washing up, often shirk the emotional labour required to maintain our organisations. It saps our time, energy and goodwill. It damages our mental health. We can only continue because we tag each other out when we can’t put up with any more.

You should know this because it’s a sign that you’re failing us. Think about why it is that there aren’t more of us at your meetings. Why is it that you don’t see the work that we do, or that needs doing? Why is it that we can’t tell you which of your cis man comrades is doing harm? And if you’re the one doing harm, you should be aware that it is probably seen and known by us. If it’s not, know that if the harmed person makes their way to us, it will be you who is out in the cold.

Why do you think women are castigated as gossips? Because the cis men who benefit from patriarchy don’t want us to talk about them. Women and non-binary people should be encouraged by this because it’s a recognition of the power that shared knowledge gives us. We need to make sure our sisters and comrades know they can confide in us. We need to keep talking.

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