Questions Strangers Ask Me – Part 1, Religion

This post is intended to be revised, updated and added to as and when new questions are asked of me by strangers. UPDATE: I’ve decided to split this into parts. This post contains Part One. (Links to subsequent posts will be added here)


Lately, I’ve been roped into unsolicited conversations with strangers pretty much every time I leave the house. Everywhere I go, I am treated like public property, like something that *owes* strangers answers to questions that are none of their business, answerable by a quick look in a dictionary, library or search engine or frequently both. My time and energy and whatever I am trying to do are all treated as less important than some stranger’s question and yet I answer them politely and calmly.
I am afraid of Causing A Scene or Making A Fuss. I am afraid of being labelled Uppity, Selfish, Ungrateful… and of those labels being attached to whichever minority group my assailant has noticed that I am. The questions are usually about that – an acknowledgement that I have been seen to be Jewish / Disabled / LGBT / Neuro-atypical and therefore for the sake of “awareness” and “acceptance” and “understanding”, I am supposedly obliged to answer any and all questions put to me.

Due to the combined effects of my complex PTSD and the toxic influence of years of my life spent raised as though I were a girl living under patriarchy, I am not currently even *able* to refrain from answering all but the most personal of questions. My PTSD searches for the quickest escape route from strangers and often concludes within a couple of seconds that the safest, fastest way to get rid of them is to do whatever they want. I’m trying to reprogramme myself to respond “I do not answer questions about my religion / disability / financial circumstances / past / sexuality / etc” but right now I can’t really do that. I’ve also unfortunately discovered that saying “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers, please go away” repeatedly whilst backing away / closing the door *does not actually work at ending the conversation*. Yes, people will literally stand on the doorstep arguing with me about whether or not I’m allowed to talk to them.

So: that was an unexpectedly long intro leading up to the questions themselves. These are all things I’ve been asked by complete or near strangers on numerous occasions. Often they aren’t even precluded by a “Hello” and the conversation usually ends as soon as I’ve answered.

PART ONE: When people notice I am a Jew

“How do you keep that hat on your head?”
I get asked this a lot and I sort of understand it because my combination of several inches of wavy spikes of hair, buzzcut sides and a hat that maintains an improbable fixed position on the back of my head seems to defy explanation. The answer’s actually fairly simple. My yarmulke is clipped to my hair with hairclips. One on each side, one pointing forwards and the other pointing backwards can effectively keep my yarmulke firmly on my head even in strong winds.

“Do you wear that for fashion or for, er, religious reasons?”
I’m Jewish and Jewish men keep our heads covered when we pray. They easiest way to do this is to wear a hat all the time in case I’ll need to recite a blessing for seeing a rainbow, eating a sandwich or unexpectedly meeting an old friend. A yarmulke or kippah is a traditionally Jewish hat for this purpose but any hat (or hood or scarf or any other head covering) will do just as well. Sometimes round the house or even as far as the corner shop I’ll just put up the hood of my hoody. So why wear a yarmulke when I could just wear any hat or my hoody all the time? That *is* a choice – the choice to be publically visible as a Jew despite the harassment and anti-semitic abuse this gets me. Because being Jewish is, in a not-small part, about refusing to assimilate. I could blend in and pass for a white gentile probable-Christian… and I refuse to. I am a Jew and I am proud of who I am.

“What part of Israel / Germany / Poland / Russia are you from?” / “When did you / your parents move to the UK?” / “Where are you from? … No, where are you REALLY from?”
I am from the UK. So are my parents. And their parents. And their parents’ parents and so on for as long as anyone has bothered to check. I am not an immigrant and my race on the census is recorded as “White British”. Until fairly recently, no one ever questioned the assumption that I was white, British and born here, nor did anyone suggest my parents must be immigrants. But now I wear a kippah and sometimes speak in Hebrew and don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter – so my race, my nationality and my right to live here are called into doubt in the minds of strangers.

“Are you, y’know.. circumcised?”
In the politest possible terms: FUCK OFF. Whether or not I’m circumcised is between me, G-d, my Rabbi and my partners. If you’re not G-d, my Rabbi or dating me, you do not need to know. If you want to date me, asking me personal questions about my genitals is NOT how to flirt with me. This applies to other Jews who know I’m a convert too – you don’t need to know.

“Why do Jews do X?” is your friend and I am not a walking, talking Encyclopaedia Judaica. Whilst I often do answer these questions if I know the answers, waiting to encounter a stranger who is Jewish and ask them all your questions is just laziness and entitlement in a world with internet and libraries.

“You should join our (evangelical Christian) Bible Studies group! We could learn so much from your Jewish perspective!”
Yes, this has been said to me several times by different people, none of whom were able to explain to me what I was supposed to gain from teaching Christians my “Jewish Perspective” on ancient Jewish texts that Christians also include in their canon of holy books. Again, I am not an Encyclopaedia Judaica nor am I a Rabbi – I am not in any way obliged to offer my time and knowledge for free in order to provide people with perspectives they could gain as I did by reading books written by Jewish scholars and/or they could actually contact a Rabbi and ask them to come and give a talk at their Bible Studies group instead as it would at least fall under the Rabbi’s job description.

“People can convert to Judaism! How / why?”
Yes they can and yes I am doing. The how mainly involves study, self-reflection, synagogue attendance and (this may surprise people) writing essays for Rabbis to read over. Then there’s answering questions for a panel of Rabbis and a ceremony involving prayers and a big pool of water and once you’re out of the pool you’re just as much of a Jew as any other Jew. Why? Because I feel this is the right choice for me and the kind of life I want to lead.

“You’re Jewish AND transgender?! How does that work?” / “You’re Jewish AND bisexual?! How does that work?”
Very well, thank you very much.  A lot of Jews are LGBTQA. A lot of synagogues (including some Orthodox ones) are very explicitly LGBTQA friendly. There are LGBTQA Rabbis, there are trans-friendly blessings and rituals, there are midrash about trans characters from the Tanakh. There are current and also historical trans Jews to serve as possibility models. Basically, this religion has been around and figuring out how to interpret our holy book for a few thousand years and very experienced in applying Torah to whatever new situations we may find ourselves in – trans people and LGBQA people? Really not a huge problem.

“Racist comment about Palestinians, Muslims or Arabs”
You are completely wrong, being racist and you should feel bad, learn about Palestine / Islam / Arabic culture and also fuck the fuck off.
Racists have an awful tendency to assume I’ll agree with anything bad they have to say about Muslims because I’m a Jew. Well, sorry not sorry, this Jew feels a deep love and kinship with Muslims everywhere and will stand up to racism and Islamophobia wherever he sees it.

“I pray for Israel and your people!”
Erm, okay? Do that if you must but: I’m not Israeli (see above) I’m Jewish. I pray for peace.

“Anti-Semitism isn’t really a problem any more, right?”
Well, actually…
“I mean it’s not as bad as it was. It’s basically over now. Right?”
I can describe several anti-semitic hate crimes that have happened to me in the last year…
“Like, no one’s really anti-semitic any more. Right? In Britain at least, yeah? I’m right, aren’t I right?”
And so on. I’ve had several versions of the this conversation where it becomes startlingly clear that the only answer they’re going to accept is “Anti-Semitism is not really a thing any more” and they’re likely prepared to go all the way back to the 1930’s or even earlier to find a time when anti-semitism was *definitely* a real problem by their standards in order to try to get me to say that, of course, compared to that time, anti-semitism is basically nonexistent now.
Here is my answer:
1. Anti-semitism NEVER stopped. If anything, it’s on the rise again.
2. Stop moving the fucking goalposts. Any anti-semitism at all is too much anti-semitism happening.
3. Anti-semitic hate crimes and microaggressions are part of every day life for me.
4. Fuck the fuck off, I’m not here to make you feel better about yourself because you personally haven’t said or done anything to me that you think counts as anti-semitic. Several times now, someone has had this conversation after saying something blatantly anti-semitic to me.

More “Look at me cos I have noticed that you are a Jew” questions I’ve got recently:
“Are you a Professor?” No “So, you’re training to be a Professor?” No. “Ah, so you’re an ACTOR?” Still no. “But you’re Jewish!” Yes, yes I am. Being Jewish doesn’t mean I am automatically intelligent, studious or successful.
“You must be very wealthy!” Erm, no. Again, Judaism doesn’t come with wealth, business, the ability to run businesses or even the ability to get and keep a job attached as part of the package. And before you ask, no my parents aren’t wealthy either and that has nothing at all to do with them not being Jewish.

And no, I can’t play a musical instrument. My talents are writing, public speaking, teaching and magic tricks – none of those are because I’m Jewish, they’re because I’m ME.
Even these “positive” stereotypes people assume about me are anti-semitic microagressions because they involve presuming to know lots of unrelated things about me just because of my religion and treat me as your own idea of “the Jew” rather than as an individual person.

No, I don’t know this other person you think might be Jewish. No, my penchant for finding the best food in the clearance sales has nothing to do with me being Jewish. No, I don’t know whether or not that guy who over-charged you that one time is Jewish and it says absolutely nothing about Jews as a whole if he is.

“What do think of Jesus?”
I am a stranger you just met on the street, why are you asking my opinion of a Jewish guy who may (or may not) have lived thousands of years ago and many miles away?

Part 2 will be about questions people ask me because they notice I’m disabled and/or neurodiverse. Part 3 will combine questions about gender and sexuality.

Whiteness, Racial Prejudice and Racism (Part 2)

Part 2: What happens when you stop following whiteness’s unwritten rules

I am White.

That is inescapable. Unless White Supremacy ends during my lifetime, I will always be a White person born into and living in a world built to give White people extra privileges and to protect White people’s interests at the expense of everyone else.

In Part 1, I discussed how my race and skin colour likely influenced how I was treated by teachers and staff at my High School. The unfair advantages I was given then will have much longer lasting effects than the bullying I endured at the same time – the school gave me a good reference to get into college, when I then acted out in college I was given help and support because I had “no record” of bad behaviour… I have always been given the benefit of the doubt when others acting as I did would be branded “problem children”. Help and support to manage my learning and behavioural difficulties continues to this day.

However, since beginning to live publically as a Jew I have discovered something about White Privilege that should have been obvious to me before. It’s that tiny, tiny writing at the bottom of the metaphorical form for the white privilege I was signed up for at birth which says “Terms and conditions apply”. There are exemptions to White Privilege. There are terms and conditions you have to keep up with and if you don’t, your privilege and even your Whiteness itself can and will be revoked at any time.

One of those conditions? Don’t be Jewish.
Or rather, DO be Christian. Or at least an ex-Christian atheist. If you’re White and British, you *must* be Christian. If you insist on being Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Pagan or Sikh then at least look like you’re a White British Christian. Don’t wear strange clothes or jewellery, speak strange languages, eat strange foods, refrain from British foods, celebrate strange holidays and go to strange places of worship. DO celebrate Christmas and Easter, dress like a native, eat British foods and generally stay quiet about the entire topic of religion so people never have to confront their unspoken assumption that all White British people are, by definition, Christian. If you’re not White or you’re an immigrant, feel free to practise any religion you like, even Christianity. But if you’re Christian, you’d best make it obvious because people will spend your whole life looking at your skin and making the snap second judgement that you’re not.

Since I began publically living as a Jew, by wearing a yarmulke, keeping kosher(ish), celebrating Jewish festivals and refusing Christmas cards, giving tzedakah, not working on Shabbat and reciting Hebrew blessings occasionally during the day, people have suddenly started asking me where I’m from. And specifying that they mean what part of Israel (or Poland or Lithuania) did my parents come over from and how long have they been living in Britain? People have been complimenting my English. Asking me if I know Adam Finkelstein. People have on numerous occasions *literally refused to believe that I was born in Britain and so were my parents and their parents*. I am White but not Christian so I cannot be British.

Alternatively, I am British but not Christian, so I cannot be White. I am allowed to be British but only on the assumption that my family hasn’t been living on these Isles for more than 50 years. I am allowed to be British as long as I am grateful for being “allowed” to exist here at all. I am allowed to be British at the price of reassuring White British Christians that “Anti-semitism isn’t that big a problem now, is it?” If I can be a walking Encyclopedia Judaica, yet still absolve White Christians for treating me as one. If I accept that “Jew” or “Ashkenazi” is my race now (complete with commentary about my nose, my skin, my eyes, hair..) then maybe I can be British.

The combination of White, British and Non-Christian is erased constantly. Those actions of erasure literally try to erase ME by asking me to either deny, hide or exceptionalise my lived experience as someone who is all three.

I am told that I am not from around here. I am told to my face that I am not white. I am told that I “don’t look Jewish” and spoken over when I protest that there isn’t one way that Jews “look”. People are shocked when I turn down Christmas invites or won’t go out on Friday Night. People stare at my yarmulke in the street and stop to whisper loudly if I’m heard to speak Hebrew. People invite me to their Bible Studies classes so they can learn from me without asking, nevermind answering, the question “But how does that help me?” I am used as “the good Jew” by people whose politics agree with mine and the “self-hating Jew” by those I disagree with. I am taken as spokesperson for all Jews everywhere frequently. People make false assumptions about my body, my background, my finances, my education, my skills, my interests, my politics… because I am a Jew first and an individual human being second.

And there is a simple way to get back the fullness of that unearned White Privilege that I was born into. I could stop wearing a yarmulke. I could whisper my prayers under my breath. I could come up with other excuses for not going out on Shabbat. I could stop mentioning antisemitism. I could quietly let “Jewish” become just a box I tick on a form and not a vibrant and vital part of my life and something intrinsic to who I am. I could assimilate into White British Christianity: where you don’t have to actually be Christian but you can’t be actively something else.

I won’t assimilate. I would lose too much of who I am and gain only unearned advantages I should never have been given in the first place.

Anti-semitism is a strange beast that has become a constant companion to me. It seems to be, in part, a mix of xenophobia and racism and just distilled hatred based on the perceived failure of White Jews in the Diaspora (or, at the very least, in Britain) at being White *properly*. I see the same hatred at work against Travellers, Eastern Europeans and White Turks. We are White but not performing Whiteness adequately. We look like White people but we act like people of colour. To the eyes of a racist, we must look inferior. Anti-semitism of course also contains a hefty component of fear and hatred of Judaism but it seems to me often to be a hatred of Jews as a whole. We are seen as outsiders and infiltrators, bringing our strange languages and foods and customs and clothing into Britain – no matter how many centuries we’ve been here. We are always “not from round here”.

People of Colour in Britain can’t escape being forever seen as “Not from round here”. If, like me, they have names that White British Christians might have, then like me they might get invited to the interview only for a White British Christian to get the post. They may be asked to speak for all people of their race, like I am asked to speak for all Jews. Where some people get to be “the Black friend”, I sometimes find myself “the Jewish friend”. Society treats me like “Jew” is my race, my nationality and the whole of who I am. White privilege opens doors for me, antisemitism shuts them in my face. I feel like I have more in common with People of Colour than White people yet I know that what I get is but a shadow of the racism some of my friends face every day.

I’m not sure how to conclude this except to say that I could be wrong. I’m coming at this talking about my experiences as one person living in one part of Britain. I lived here as a Gentile and now as a Jew. The difference is huge and only many years of reading great writing from people of colour about their experiences of racism came anywhere near preparing me for it. I know that,to an extent, this too is escapable (I can pass for a Gentile if I need to and there are places in the world where Jews are more common and accepted than Britain) and that my White skin still signifies a certain level of respectability, trustability and authority that I am given over POC whether I deserve it or not. I am committed to dismantling the structures that place me unconsenting above my POC friends *as well as* those (similar? linked?) structures that place those who appear to be White British Christians above me.

Whiteness, Racial Prejudice and Racism (Part 1)

Part One: I Am The Hypothetical Child Bullied By POC Classmates For Being White And What Happened To Me Was NOT Racism

Link to Part 2

I am white.

I was born into a world that white people had already slashed and burned into our own image, a world where white people are a minority yet we are treated as default examples of humanity. I have always seen white people on my television screens and been taught about the deeds and sayings of a great many white people at school. I was brought up in a way that formed and fed the assumption that white people were everywhere, that we did and said almost everything of any real consequence. Images of both the past and the distant future presented to me by books and TV portrayed a world just as full of white people – often more full of white people than the town in which I lived where segregation was socially enforced. There were white areas of town and Asian areas and we all knew to keep ourselves in our place. I was taught that this was the fault of the Asian people who weren’t trying hard enough to “integrate”and definitely had nothing to do with the white people’s disproportionate response to Asian families moving in to an area – white families would simply move out.

I was born into a world that was set up so that I would be advantaged over my Asian friends and still feel able to blame them for their own relative lack of success.

Two things happened that have massively changed the way I see the world. From the age of 11 to 16, I attended a school where white pupils made up just two or three percent of all pupils and I was ostracised, bullied and harmed because of my skin colour and my race. Then, from the age of 23 I began to experience something that might accurately be called racism for the first time. This is because I had knowingly done something that made my previously unquestionable status as a white person become conditional and precarious: I began living openly as a Jew.

As a white child in a space where almost all the other children I spent five plus hours a day with were Asian (specifically, almost everyone was either of Indian or Pakistani descent) I was subjected to a range of unpleasant treatment specifically because of my skin colour and stereotypes and perceptions associated with it. I was called names, rumours were spread about me, I was hit, spat at, had things thrown at me, had people stalk me, got death threats and rape threats. I was stared at, I was ostracised and frequently ditched by so-called friends if popular children of their own race wanted to hang out with them. I was fetishised and told by boys that all girls of my race were sluts (I was still in the closet about being trans and was living as though a girl at the time). I was repeatedly told that being white made me a Christian even though I wasn’t. My decision to learn to speak Urdu was treated as incomprehensible. I was frequently mistaken for other white pupils or assumed to be related to white students who shared my (very common) surname. Teachers and pupils alike couldn’t understand why I wasn’t friends with other students whose only commonality with me was race.
And yet, while all of this was unpleasant and certain seems on the face of it to resemble racism, that was not racism. Racism requires power and privilege. Racism is structurally enforced. Those other children were not in a position to assert power over me nor was the prejudice they showed me structurally enforced. Nothing they could do to me would change the fact that I was born white in a white supremacist world and they were born not-white into that same world.

It was no coincidence that more than half of our teachers were white. It was no coincidence that I, often the only (other) white face in the room, was the star pupil, the teacher’s pet, the favourite and first unofficially and then officially the public face of the school. I was literally the school’s poster child, appearing in local papers, on local radio and on the local news. If there were to be cameras around, I was brought out and put in front of them. Parents interested in the school were told about my achievements. Was I bright? Yes – but not really the brightest pupil there. But I was white as well as intelligent and that is why a school with hundreds of pupils choose me to be its public face.
Looking back, I had a lot of power. If I had not been white, would the (also white) senior teachers have listened to me and accepted my wishes when I argued my way into only studying the subjects I wanted to, into taking a completely different syllabus from the rest of the school for one GCSE topic, into switching classes because I didn’t like the teacher or into the Gifted and Talented group? I honestly don’t know. I somehow doubt I managed all those things with reason and intelligence alone, rather than perhaps the spectre of one of the school’s few white families going to the local paper should I not get what I wanted. I walked out of classrooms without getting told off. I “lost” homework. I consistently turned up late to class and I often forgot my PE kit and yet I never had a single detention or note sent home. When teachers gave whole classes detention they let me go. If my skin had been a different colour, I doubt I would have been afforded so much lenience. I was assumed to always be telling the truth and to always have good intentions – not all my classmates were so lucky.

So, I was able to use my White privilege even there to get what I needed / wanted – whether that was an extra day to finish my homework, the right to sit in the G&T library or even to study a course no one else in the school was taking. Yet there’s more to why what happened to me at that school was not racism.
The school was a large part of my life but ultimately, it was escapable. 35 or so hours a week, 40 or so weeks a year for five years I was in a space where people who looked and sounded like me were massively outnumbered. The people I went to school with, on the other hand, will all spend much more time than I ever will in spaces where people who look like them are massively outnumbered by people who look like me. At the end of the school day, I could go back to my white neighbourhood to read books written by, for and about white people and watch television shows made by, for and about white people – and all my non-white friends would head home to Asian neighbourhoods to read books written by, for and about white people and watch TV made by, for and about white people. Whilst at school, we would read books written by, for and about white people, whatever the lesson. Everything, from English Literature to Science to History to Maths was about how White people had done just about everything ever worth noting except Islam which was the one thing brown people had ever done.
Any school in the UK would have taught pretty much the same. I could have chosen to leave the school for one where more people looked like me and that choice was not one my fellow pupils could make. It was seen by all as highly unusual for a school to be so non-white but no one questioned other schools having massive majorities of white students. In short, the prejudice I experienced for being white in a space where white skin was atypical was temporary, escape-able, considered highly unusual and greatly ameliorated by my White Privilege. The racism experienced daily by my fellow students who weren’t white was permanent, inescapable, commonplace and they had no white privilege to use to make it more tolerable. For as long as this world is a white supremacist one, I will be afforded advantages that I do not deserve any more than my fellow pupils did and they will not be afforded them. And that *is* racism.

Why counter-protesting Fascists isn’t “feeding the trolls”

In the last couple of weeks, fascists have been meeting and demonstrating across the UK, using a senseless tragedy to fan the flames of racism and Islamophobia and to collect more people into their hateful ranks. This terrifies me.

I will say it. I am scared. I am scared not just for my Muslim friends and acquaintances currently living under the very real threat of senseless violence against their homes, work places and mosques and the very real possibility of being attacked in the street. I’m scared not just for my friends who aren’t white, who face much the same threats as my Muslim friends. I’m scared for me and for everyone who lives in the UK, scared of a potential future of a fascist UK. I don’t want that future to ever become reality, not in my lifetime and not even in my great great grandchildren’s lifetimes. Fascism has to be stopped, here and now, while it is still small.

Yet people have been trying to argue that the best response to fascist and far right groups like the EDL is to ignore them. To pretend they aren’t there. Someone I know said last night about an EDL rally planned for the city in which I live, “Don’t feed the trolls, they only want attention”.

THIS IS LIKELY THE WORST POSSIBLE RESPONSE TO THE GROWTH OF FASCISM. Possibly even a worse response than trying to “rationally debate” with fascists. I’m all for refusing fascists a platform, but when they are mobilising we should not look away and pretend they aren’t there.


Firstly, because it’s not true that they “only want attention”. What fascists want is a fascist state, which by its very nature is a place where many people could not safely live – people who can’t live up to some kind of nationalist ideal. In the past, this has meant anyone who isn’t sufficiently white, able-bodied, Christian, heterosexual and normatively gendered and I fear that if groups like the EDL, the BNP, the British Freedom Party and UKIP gain more support in the UK then it is these people again who will find themselves faced with living in a country that doesn’t want them, that may try to expel, punish or kill them for being who they are or will encourage or ignore violence against them. This has happened before and it’s not a great stretch of the imagination to see it happening again. It’s not attention the fascists are after, they have goals and those goals should be vehemently opposed by anyone who believes in freedom and human worth.

The second reason that fascists should be meet with resistance from antifascists is that they commonly believe they are (and in the UK at least will often present themselves as) representatives of the “silent majority”. That is, they believe that most people secretly agree with them but are too afraid of the consequences to say so. This is not true. When counter-protests draw more people than the fascists can, it shows them that their views are not widespread and certainly not shared by everyone. Ignoring their protests allows them to continue to assume that everyone is quietly agreeing with them.

Relatedly, opposing fascist actions shows those involved who are not wholly committed to fascism that there are other views and other ways to think about and solve the problems they turned towards fascism to solve. I accept that some people end up involved in fascist, neofascist and far right groups in response to very real and important problems – I can’t accept the proposed solutions they found (which usually involve people like me assimilating away our differences or facing persecution, punishment, expulsion or death for failing to do so). Showing those people that there are other ways to solve their problems (like, say, pushing for better pay and working conditions and affordable housing rather than complaining that the Muslim family down the road get a council house and benefits to look after their disabled daughter) might help them come to see that their energy would be better expended elsewhere.

Perhaps the most important reason why fascism has to be publically, openly opposed to to show those people who would suffer under a fascist state that we are not alone. We need to see that there are people around us who will speak out, who will not allow fascist far right groups to decide for everyone else who is and isn’t sufficiently “British” to live here, who will not look away and pretend it’s not happening when our homes and lives and cultures are under threat. We are scared and it’s all too easy and understandable to see potential fascists in every unfamiliar face, to worry that quiet racism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, homophobia, disablism and transphobia hides behind the smiles of our friends and acquaintances. The lie of the “silent majority” is a disguised threat, inviting us to believe that the people around us could turn on us at any moment if we are not “British” enough, not apologetic enough for daring to be here and still be culturally different from the mainstream. Any public demonstration against fascists is a public demonstration of solidarity with us, a public declaration of the belief that people who are very different from each other can live together in peace. By countering fascist demos, we can send a message of hope to the people who live or work nearby and the people who hear that the demo was countered by an anti-fascist one and that message is “We want you here, we want people like you”.

Do whatever you have to do to keep safe when fascists are nearby – even if that means staying home. But do whatever you can do to show both the fascists and those they threaten that fascism is not wanted, needed or accepted here. Show solidarity with those who are threatened and make clear that you want to live in a place where people are different from each other and still get along peacefully, not somewhere where a fragile peace is kept by forcing everyone to try to be the same.

Don’t ignore the fascists, don’t pretend they aren’t there. Work against their ideals and for a world where no one is punished for being different.

Intersectionality – How to do it

I’ve been part of the feminist and queer parts of the internet for as long as I’ve had unsupervised access to an internet connection – despite my age that’s actually only been five years. I mention this because both the idea of and the termintersectionality” have been part of online feminism for much longer than I have. However, for reasons no one seems to be really sure of, 2013 seems set to be the year that intersectionality gets recognised as essential in feminism, not just online and not just in the grassroots. Grassroots feminists all over the English-speaking world seem to have got the hang of using this term and trying to put intersectional feminism into practice.

One thing that really must be said is that the people I saw saying and doing intersectional feminism when I hit the internet as a trans, queer 19 year old who didn’t even know the words “trans” or “queer” were almost invariably women of colour. I owe a lot to those women – Little Light, Brown Femipower, Pamela Merritt, TransGriot and the many writers at Questioning Transphobia along with countless users of tumblr.

More recently, the now well-known piece at Tiger Beatdown by Flavia Dzodan with it’s famous refrain – “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit” had me screaming back at the screen “Yes, this! All of this!” That was over a year ago and somehow between then and now intersectional feminism seems to have gained enough ground to be considered to be a “wave” of feminism.

Now that it’s clear that I’m indebted to many, many people before me, I’d like to add to what’s been/being written about intersectional feminism.

At it’s heart is the idea that sexism is not the only problem facing women. Getting rid of sexism alone, but leaving racism, homophobia, transphobia, disablism, classism, ageism, whorephobia etc etc standing would not be true equality or justice for women. Women would still be oppressed for other reasons besides their womanhood. That simply wouldn’t be good enough. Relatedly, an intersectional approach to feminism recognises that getting rid of sexism whilst leaving other forms of oppression still standing would not actually be possible as all these different prejudices feed into one another and reinforce each other. This can be best seen from the experiences of those who live in the intersections between different kinds of oppression – such as women of colour who live with both sexism and racism and with the ways that the two can join together to form specific kinds of racist sexism and sexist racism.

To try to apply intersectionality to feminist practice involves accpeting that other people will experience the world differently from you. In particular that other people may experience intersections and oppressions that you don’t. This means that you might have a great idea for how to solve a problem or a way to campaign against something that actually isn’t such a great idea after all because it actually furthers or marginalises or erases the oppression that someone else experiences. It’s your job to try your best to think to ways to solve problems and campaign (and, yes, even ways to talk about the problem) that are inclusive and don’t further anyone’s oppression or erase or downplay the importance of other people’s oppression. You will, almost certainly, get this wrong from time to time. People will tell you what you did wrong and you’ll have to apologise and try to fix it. People will be angry because they want a feminism that fights hard for all women – and if that’s what you want too then intersectional feminism is a good way to go about it.

Ways to avoid getting it wrong on big things:

  • Read lots of very different feminist blogs. And not-necessarily feminist blogs too. Try to keep vaguely up to date on what’s going on against racism, disablism, homophobia and transphobia and other human rights struggles in your country.
  • Talk to lots of people.
  • Get involved. Find groups you want to be involved in, online or off. Whatever issue gets you really fired up and determined to do something, go do that and take what you’ve learnt from reading and talking to people with you.
  • Share and talk about the work of people who are facing different struggles from you and especially people who’s struggles are not often touched on in mainstream media.
  • Remember “Nothing About Us Without Us“. Listen to people talking about their own experiences and that of people like them – and trust them to know better than people who are talking about other people. I.E. listen to what disabled people say their lives are like and their ideas of how to make things better more than what non-disabled people think will help, listen to sex workers talk about their lives and what they think needs doing etc
  • Talk about yourself and your life but realise that your experiences quite possibly don’t generalise to other people.

That’s it. I know it sounds like a lot to do but it basically boils down to “Trust people to be experts on their own lives (and that you don’t know better than them). Try to fight for everyone’s lives to be better, not just yours. Don’t accept solutions that only help some people and leave others behind or make things worse for others. Accept that you’re going to make mistakes and try to fix them when you do.”

I’ll end with a paraphrase of something I heard long ago that stuck with me and I think sums up intersectional activism:

No one is free if one person is in chains.