You Can Also Be In Pain

There’s a lot of defensiveness in the conversation around certain social justice topics. On both sides, as they both tend to get pretty militant about such things, and I think some of that comes from feeling attacked. I am not commenting on the militancy; if you (on either side) want to go “But I need to be militant because X,” do it elsewhere. I just want to point out something very gentle to some of the participants in this debate:

Other people’s pain does not invalidate yours.

The fact that people are talking about a specific Painful Thing which hasn’t happened to you does not mean you haven’t had other Painful Things happen to you. It’s not an attack on you. It’s not a contest. It’s not about who has suffered more. We can all say “yes, both of these things were bad and no one should have to suffer any of them.” And you can let them talk about their Painful Things without bringing up your Painful Thing. Letting them talk about their Painful Things doesn’t mean you aren’t yourself in pain. I’m pretty sure everyone knows there are other pains in the world, no matter how militant they get about their activism for any particular cause. (Well, okay, I’ve met one person who I wasn’t sure knew that, but I would like to think they learned after we graduated college. Most people know that.) When they get upset at you for bringing up unrelated pain, they’re not saying you don’t have pain. They’re upset because you went to a knitting group and only wanted to talk about how great quilting is. They might be related, but they’re not the same thing. People saying “not the place for this conversation” aren’t saying you don’t have pain. They’re saying “That’s not what we’re talking about here.” And if they run the blog or meeting or support group or whatever, they get to say that, same way I get to decree that we are not discussing the validity of safe spaces or militancy in the comments here.

But that’s okay. Because you get to go find a spot where you can discuss your Painful Thing. If you can’t find one, you can invent one. Start a blog, start a meeting, start a support group. And don’t compare magnitude of pain or anything like that– just find a spot where you can talk about yours. Feeling heard will help. Feeling like you’re not the only one with your kind of pain will help. I was a neurodivergent woman suffering domestic violence on a campus where the loudest activists were activating for transgender rights. It took me years to figure out why I had been so angry at them in college, and I didn’t manage it until after I’d found a place to process my own pain– I was angry because people were hearing them and no one was hearing me.

Trust me, it’s so much better to find a place where they’re looking at hearing you than it is to try to latch on to any old discussion about a Painful Issue. You’re more likely to get heard that way, more likely to process it. Let the people talking about other issues go on talking about those issues amongst themselves.

It’s okay. You are still allowed to be in pain.

And there is almost certainly someplace out there where people will welcome your sharing it.