I posted this to the Fediverse today and wanted to archive it here as well. I’ve been mulling over these thoughts for awhile and I think finally managed to massage them into a mostly coherent stream of thought. So I present it here without edit nor embellishment, enjoy.
I’m often reminded of - and both scared and empowered by - the fact that culture, history, and politics are not stagnant. They are constantly in motion, changing, living and breathing. I think of the title of Howard Zinn’s autobiography, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” To paraphrase his explanation, “To be neutral is not to be passive, it is to collaborate with the status quo”.
The movement of history, of ‘society’, of ‘culture’ can not be arrested. If you’ll pardon the tortured metaphor, there are no breaks on the train.
While contradictory, I view the struggle of raising so-called impartial voices to confront issues of the time as both important and a hopeless time sink. We propose that everyone on the train must realize that they are not neutral because in fact they are not. At the same time, their perceived neutrality is only possible because we have constructed a train whose seats are sectioned off into small clusters, partitioned by walls and doors and signs that say “do not disturb”.
But that contradiction is natural. Contradiction is everywhere. It is like cement, affixing the various unconnected bricks that together construct a society, a political idea, a culture. It fills the gaps between stone and in time becomes solid itself.
We are all on that train together. And to realize that is to understand that passivity in times of crisis or hardship is not neutral. We do not witness the train from a platform at a station, we are part of the ever-moving machine.
I am also reminded of the zapatista writing, “the story of the lion and the mirror”. It’s worth reading, I’m not sure paraphrasing it with enough context will leave many of the 5786 characters I have left.
I am, of course, thinking about all of this because of the myriad of threats I as a trans person see in the world and especially close to home. Contradictingly terrifying, illogical, pathetic, and terrifying. Driven by movements who wield and consume power and in doing so simultaneously become bloated, corrupted and something entirely changed by its actions. In the tale of the lion, the lion is revealed to kill by its gaze. It petrifies its prey with the implication of danger the lion could bring. Ultimately, the storyteller Don Antonio tells us that the thing which can defeat the lion is itself. That it is just as susceptible to its own gaze. It eats itself.
Of course, in true Zapatista fashion this tale is followed by a post-script which reveals, additionally, that the lion is foolish, and in its quest to consume as much as it can it tries to drink a river dry to get to the fish, and in doing so is burst to pieces from an excess of water.
The contradictory truth in this fight for trans joy and life is that we are winning while we are losing. In the US, anti-trans views are a minority, but one that is growing as a result of the ‘culture war’ line reactionary politicians have wielded to gain power. We are in danger, but we have not lost. We are winning, but we aren’t victors. We know we are not neutral, but we are shouting at the other passengers to realize they aren’t either.
I want to wrap up my thoughts with a different zapatista quote, from “The second wind: the wind below”
“The prophecy is here: When the storm calms, when rain and fire again leave the country in peace, the world will no longer be the world, but something better.”