Wednesday, 26 November 2014

On Freezing Notes

I used to be an avid fan of the Readers' Digest, something I have in common with Sarada.  It had an insidious and possibly sinister appeal to the youth of the '70s, rather like the Archers later on (but not any more because it's gone all Eastendersy).  They had these little filler bits at the ends of the articles, and one of the ones I recall was about money.  It was suggested that if you come into a bit of money, in the form of banknotes in this scenario, you should put it in a plastic bag, submerge that in a container of water and stick the whole assemblage in the freezer.  If the wish to spend the money arises, you retrieve the container and leave it to thaw out on the kitchen table.  If you still want to spend it by the time it's completely thawed, do so, but usually the desire will have dissipated by the time that moment comes.  Clearly once it has vanished, you put it back in the freezer and the cycle repeats.

I haven't done this with money, but I used to have a friend who inadvertently caused me much vexation.  She was also a very good friend to me, and she used to write me nice notes quite a lot.  For instance, on one occasion when a load of blokes were, as so often used to happen, shouting and swearing at me while I was pushing my son around in a pushchair because of how I happened to be dressed, she wrote a passionate defence of my sartorial choices and said they should be forced to wear fishnet stockings, which ultimately led to this halfbakery idea, which I realise isn't very good.  I would dearly love to know why it doesn't happen any more incidentally, but it doesn't look like I'll ever find out.  On one occasion, however, this went awry in an interesting way.  She wrote me a note and I was unsure of its tone, so I assumed it to be negative, put it in a ziplock bag, immersed that in a jar of water and stuck it in the freezer, the idea being that if I felt I could handle what she said, I would take it out of the freezer and let it thaw, and eventually read it.  In fact this didn't happen at all.  I didn't even take it out and eventually she went into my freezer and removed it without my knowledge.  She was also quite annoyed and wrote me another note to that effect.  Apparently the note had expressed very positive feelings for me.  Fortunately, she no longer feels as positive as she did at that time, and I imagine that act was a factor in bringing that about, so it was probably a good idea to do that.

What is it possible to learn from this?  I suppose that sometimes I make things a lot worse than they would be otherwise because of my fear or negative expectations of a situation.  Since I expected the note to be hateful and critical, I decided I needed time to steel myself to read it and froze it in a block of ice until I felt I could cope, which as it turned out was never because of the hostility that act provoked.  It happened to be instrumental in achieving a positive result, but I don't yet want to extend the interpretation that far because I think that was probably a fairly arbitrary process which could have ended very differently with the poor person still in my life.  The negativity it in fact led to was entirely unnecessary and while not exactly my fault, was definitely the result of my actions.  The symbolism of freezing someone out is also not lost on me.

I'm now concerned that this forms a pattern, and yes, I know you're all sick of it and therefore you should feel free to think up an example of your own because it's bound to have wider implications, but of course my example will be to do with trans stuff.  Back in the '80s, I was afraid to mention being gender dysphoric because I expected to be aggressively attacked and ostracised for it by my friends, who were pro-feminist or radically feminist.  Slightly later, my partner at the time was curious about transwomen and I realised to my horror that she was not transphobic, which was close to being a dealbreaker for me.  I therefore explained why I considered transition to be completely beyond the pale and she was apparently not entirely convinced although at the time she didn't say so.  However, thinking about this in context, it is in fact possible that quite a lot of the people I hung out with were not transphobic either.  Even from the other side and from this great distance temporally, I find this worrying because it makes me feel they had false consciousness or were naive.  It's all very well not being transphobic, but why wouldn't someone be?  It feels like the kind of major deviation from the party line which would also justify heterosexual sex, which come to think of it a lot of them apparently engaged in.  However, I'm getting off the point here.  The sadness is that possible of transphobia, for whatever reason, was completely unknown to me and also counter-intuitive for me, but if I had happened to make a more "positive" assumption about their attitude to gender dysphoria, I would probably have come out a lot earlier.  Having said that, I still think I would probably have lost many of my friends, which makes me want to put inverted commas around that F-word and contemplate that all that time I was hanging out with those people, I was only just tolerated by many of them and did in fact get hated quite a lot, which is fair enough really, but it would have been nice to have people who were actually proper friends instead.

I want to talk about something else connected to this actually - the question of false consciousness.  This is when a member of an oppressed group believes that they are as a group which is oppressing them understands them.  For example, a member of an ethnic minority might believe they must be less intelligent than the ethnic majority in that society, an unemployed person who looks ceaselessly for work may believe they are simply lazy and doesn't deserve to be paid an adequate wage, or a homosexual may believe that expressing love sexually for a person who seems to be of the same gender is sinful.

It seems to me that this kind of thing happens all the time, and that when it does, it keeps people oppressed and also makes them miserable.  Also, there seems to be a trend towards this internalisation of oppression.  It's no longer necessary for crude external attempts to keep people down because nowadays, sisters are doing it for themselves.  The trend is against liberation and towards self-oppression.

If this is so, what are we to make of the fairly recently coined word "transphobia"?  If it's a form of oppression, how is it that it's only recently been recognised in a society which is becoming more oppressive rather than less?  Why would it buck the trend?  Or, is it more likely that the perception of transphobia as a form of prejudice is in fact a form of false consciousness?  I don't want this to be true, of course, but how can I know it isn't?

False consciousness is a real thing and is growing.  So many people now internalise their oppression, a major example being the unemployed and the urban poor.  It doesn't seem a stretch to me that my oppression of ciswomen is similarly internalised, and the fact that I don't recognise this is an example of my own false consciousness.

Or, what if the concept of false consciousness is itself sometimes dubious?  Many people can in theory be accused of it and when they are, it can sometimes be used as a way of invalidating their experience and taking power from them.  The trouble is how to tell when this is happening.  I hope transphobia is a valid concept.  I also can't help thinking that if I started to lobby for euthanasia for gender dysphoria, a lot of people would be very happy.  I wouldn't be, but then because of what I am, I don't deserve to live really, do I?