Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

PTSD, Aggression and Oppression

Recently several events have happened that I wasn't at. It sounds odd to be writing a blog about events I wasn't at, and the reason I say several is because I don't want to pick out any one. I realise people reading this will pick out a event they've been to that fits the problem I'm raising, and that's fine - but this is not deliberately criticising one event or one set of people, and I can think of several entirely unrelated contexts that fit what I'm talking about.

I have post-traumatic stress disorder. For me, this is a disabling condition. It is one of the (many) reasons I consider myself disabled, and am involved in disability activism. What does this actually mean? It means that there are specific things that trigger me. In this context trigger doesn't mean "upset" or "make anxious", what it means is "send me into the past, so that I am having a full blown flashback and don't know what the present is, and leave me severely shaken, and possibly unable to eat, leave the house, speak, do work, etc for days or weeks. At worst it leads to severe self-harm and suicide attempts". Being triggered is pretty bad, and is something I try to avoid.

Tone policing is also bad. Tone policing is where people say "I'm not going to listen to what you say because I don't like the way that you said it". When aimed at women this is also alongside a side of implications of "hysterical", "over-emotional", and other misogynistic things.

One of my biggest triggers is aggression. I cannot handle it. I can just about handle someone shouting at someone else in a room that I incidentally happen to be in. That's normal. That's shameful but it's something that happens often enough in student politics. It's shameful because we should be able to behave well enough in discussions and with regard to our behaviour and where it can be oppressive that comrades aren't forced to shout to be heard.

What do we do when one oppressed group needs to respond to the continuing of their mistreatment within our spaces by shouting? What do we do then? As someone who has conditional male privilege, I need to be aware of the role I unintentionally take in continuing the oppression of women. As someone with PTSD being shouted at is actively dangerous for me. How do we handle this situation? This isn't a jab aimed at specific people in NCAFC, or at NUS, or at Royal Holloway, and is something I've noticed across a spread of different situations, a spread of different groups, and a spread of different liberation groups responding to oppressive behaviour within groups.

Who am I to tell a Black person, or a woman, or a Black woman, how to respond to their oppression within a space, when I have white privilege and conditional male privilege? How am I, as a disabled person, meant to communicate that shouting and aggression, (especially being shouted at, even as part of a group - "the white people", "the men"), make a space incredibly inaccessible for me without tone-policing other oppressed people in order to do this? Even being "called out" is something that triggers my PTSD unless it's done in a quiet, private, comradely way. And this isn't me trying to excuse myself, or get out of being called out - I welcome it, but I can only deal with it in privacy, in a comradely way, again without triggering a PTSD episode. And reading this back I feel like I'm making excuses for bad behaviour. It makes me want to remove myself because I cannot take the risk of a space being that inaccessible for me. But that's not the right answer. Is there one?

I'm not the only person who feels like this. Maybe mine is more clear, more obviously disabling, maybe this time I've taken to explain it makes matters different, but I know a number of people who have, for example, issues around anxiety that they don't want to be open about, don't feel able to disclose, for whatever reason, and feel unable to enter or return to spaces because of the presence of a level of triggering aggression that they cannot handle. I know people who stay in these spaces despite it making them iller and don't say a word about it. I also know a number of people that don't feel able to return to spaces because of the amount of unchallenged misogyny. It goes both ways. Sometimes the people perpetuating the misogyny are the ones with the issues around anxiety. Sometimes the people triggering those with PTSD or anxiety are the ones under attack from the misogyny. It becomes a minefield of how to avoid ableism, how to avoid misogyny, how to avoid tone-policing, how to avoid valuing one voice or oppression above another.

I welcome discussion from people, especially people who've felt they had to shout to have their voices heard in wider groups. I want to find a way to keep spaces safe for myself and people like me without shutting others down.

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