Transformative Responses to Call Outs

Originally published January 30, 2021

Growing our toolkits: some thoughts about creating transformative responses to call outs

I’ve been doing a lot of personal work, trying to sort out what is warranted in what situations, and this isn’t easy to do. I know for one thing I don’t know that sharing call outs publicly is something I want to engage in at all anymore because there is so much I cannot know, and the frequent assumption that we are supposed to disengage from people who have been called out, no questions asked, is not something I could be in my integrity and abide any longer.

I’m also seriously sorting out what “community accountability” looks like. I think we often use it to say that as a community we’re going to let people who harm know that if they keep it up it won’t be tolerated. I have a lot of questions about that- about the implied boundaries there. I think a lot about when my therapist said to me “change happens when people get sick of their own shit.” And you know, no one can make someone sick of their own shit by enforcing consequences that don’t always stand up logically.

I was thinking about all the times in the past I’ve shared information about people who legitimately abused me and there was a backlash. They didn’t believe me or thought I was being manipulative or lying.

That obviously hurt a lot but I don’t know if I can blame them. Slander and gossip are tools that people use to alienate people and abuse them. Can I blame people who may be skeptical of me?

Of course I can always lob some political imperative at them- I can say they need to “believe survivors” or that they aren’t being “trauma informed” and write them off, but that relies on a manipulative intention:

Comply with this ideology where we take people at their word and disengage from the person they said harmed them or you aren’t a “safe” (read: good) person.

I don’t want to rely on strategies like these anymore.

But there are times that I’m going to want to let people know when they may be in danger.

For instance, if someone I know has been hanging out with someone who was called out for physical abuse or sexual violence, that’s something someone might want to know for their own safety.

Rather than going to them in a way they might take as me trying to interfere in their relationship, or as me trying to slander someone, I would much rather share that information while assuming that the person has full agency over their choice of what to do with it. I would rather share that information and fully respect and believe in the other person’s ability to navigate relationships on their own terms.

I can share resources with them, offer to be someone to process things with, and help them cultivate their ability to keep boundaries, build safety tools, recognize and resist manipulation, and make decisions of their own.

What they learn from navigating these situations with intention is going to cultivate essential skills, and maybe even heal old wounds- whether they end up setting boundaries or stepping away if they come across red flags, or if over time they set boundaries and create a safe and healthy dynamic with the person- that’s their choice to navigate that. They aren’t a bad person for choosing to pursue something themselves.

The other benefit of course to this is that this is a choice we can make to share information about violent behaviors without having to cancel anyone, or without having to assume someone is unsafe by proxy.

This feels like an important shift to make to avoid the use of call outs and cancellations as tools of abuse.

Divorce the information from the moral imperative attached to it and we can create space for survivors to tell their stories AND we can use that information to cultivate valuable relationship skills and undermine abuse in the process.

Growing our toolkits:

some thoughts about creating transformative responses to call outs

I’ve been doing a lot of personal work, trying to sort out what is warranted in what situations, and this isn’t easy to do. I know for one thing I don’t know that sharing call outs publicly is something I want to engage in at all anymore because there is so much I cannot know, and the frequent assumption that we are supposed to disengage from people who have been called out, no questions asked, is not something I could be in my integrity and abide any longer.

I’m also seriously sorting out what “community accountability” looks like. I think we often use it to say that as a community we’re going to let people who harm know that if they keep it up it won’t be tolerated. I have a lot of questions about that- about the implied boundaries there. I think a lot about when my therapist said to me “change happens when people get sick of their own shit.” And you know, no one can make someone sick of their own shit by enforcing consequences that don’t always stand up logically.

I was thinking about all the times in the past I’ve shared information about people who legitimately abused me and there was a backlash. They didn’t believe me or thought I was being manipulative or lying.

That obviously hurt a lot but I don’t know if I can blame them. Slander and gossip are tools that people use to alienate people and abuse them. Can I blame people who may be skeptical of me?

Of course I can always lob some political imperative at them- I can say they need to “believe survivors” or that they aren’t being “trauma informed” and write them off, but that relies on a manipulative intention:

Comply with this ideology where we take people at their word and disengage from the person they said harmed them or you aren’t a “safe” (read: good) person.

I don’t want to rely on strategies like these anymore.

But there are times that I’m going to want to let people know when they may be in danger.

For instance, if someone I know has been hanging out with someone who was called out for physical abuse or sexual violence, that’s something someone might want to know for their own safety.

Rather than going to them in a way they might take as me trying to interfere in their relationship, or as me trying to slander someone, I would much rather share that information while assuming that the person has full agency over their choice of what to do with it. I would rather share that information and fully respect and believe in the other person’s ability to navigate relationships on their own terms.

I can share resources with them, offer to be someone to process things with, and help them cultivate their ability to keep boundaries, build safety tools, recognize and resist manipulation, and make decisions of their own.

What they learn from navigating these situations with intention is going to cultivate essential skills, and maybe even heal old wounds- whether they end up setting boundaries or stepping away if they come across red flags, or if over time they set boundaries and create a safe and healthy dynamic with the person- that’s their choice to navigate that. They aren’t a bad person for choosing to pursue something themselves.

The other benefit of course to this is that this is a choice we can make to share information about violent behaviors without having to cancel anyone, or without having to assume someone is unsafe by proxy.

This feels like an important shift to make to avoid the use of call outs and cancellations as tools of abuse.

Divorce the information from the moral imperative attached to it and we can create space for survivors to tell their stories AND we can use that information to cultivate valuable relationship skills and undermine abuse in the process.

Of course every situation is going to be different, but it’s important that we start to build more diverse toolkits that we can use to actually address the root causes of abuse and our ability as individuals to navigate it and keep our integrity intact, rather than relying on that ever growing list of names and faces we’re supposed to keep track of to know who is “safe” and who is not.

Of course every situation is going to be different, but it’s important that we start to build more diverse toolkits that we can use to actually address the root causes of abuse and our ability as individuals to navigate it and keep our integrity intact, rather than relying on that ever growing list of names and faces we’re supposed to keep track of to know who is “safe” and who is not.

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