Abuse By Shifting Truths, Hugo Schwyzer’s Impact on Feminism, and Community Trust

The truth is, I’m hesitant to write this post.  Years of training and of enjoying my “sweet person” role make me hesitant to say anything against an individual in public.  I’m always the one playing devil’s advocate.  But I think this is important to say, and that the major theme of this website–patriarchy–is both a part of how I was raised to be reluctant to write this and a part of why I find Hugo Schwyzer’s alleged behavior so painful.

Schwyzer claims that the possible legal ramifications keep him from preventing evidence that would absolve him, or at least, clear up his side of the story.  I concede that this is possible, and that though my gut feeling is against him in this case, it may be that there are things I’m not seeing.  So this post is more about the situation than it is about Schwyzer as a person, and to write the post I am going to assume the facts as they are presented in Grace’s post on the Schwyzer controversy.  If there are additional facts, my concerns may not all apply to Schwyzer himself, but they do apply to these kinds of situations.

Part of why I didn’t pay much attention to the controversy initially is that I’m hesitant to get into discussions about whether men should be involved in feminism.  Most of the responses I was seeing were more about that question than about the problem Grace points out–the pain caused by deliberate covering up of facts, by being a public figure who claims to repent for a shady past and then going on to engage in shady, deceitful behavior.

When something like this happens, it’s not about whether men should be feminists.  It’s not even about whether men who have a past contrary to the movement should be in the movement.  And it’s not about whether this individual is a sexist or a misogynist, which is something we could go on about all day.

This is about a community’s trust.  It is about asking for forgiveness on the basis of one truth, and then admitting that the actual truth was a little bit different.  It is about the manipulation, abuse, gaslighting, deception, and coercion that so many people face in their daily lives, and the fact that these patriarchy-rooted practices bring so many of us to feminism in the first place.  When your professed truth keeps changing, you can’t expect trust.  You must acknowledge that an ever-shifting truth makes your audience question their own perception and even their self-worth.  This is especially true when your audience includes people who have often been told that their perception is less valid, that others know better, and that they must be confused or irrational.

Can someone with a terrible past be forgiven?  Perhaps.  Does someone with a terrible past have a potential role as a peer educator, trying to encourage others not to commit similar wrongs?  Sure.  Should feminism be a movement that includes people of all genders?  Absolutely.

But it is not okay to ask for a community’s forgiveness while telling a white lie out of the other side of your mouth.

Is it any wonder, for example, that indigenous people look skeptically at white people who apologize for a colonial past while at the same time profiting from continued colonialism?  Is it any wonder that African Americans distrust White Americans who make the point about their “not racism” while structural inequality is causing ongoing, active harm to Black communities?

When you ask a community for forgiveness, you must act as you speak.  You must listen and learn.  You must be aware of your own harmful practices and work on changing them.  Most of us continue to stumble as we go through our lives working to fight oppression, and of course to stumble is human.  But if you continue in an abusive, destructive, hurtful pattern, it might be time to stop asking for forgiveness and start focusing on how to right your wrongs.  It might be time to step out of the public spotlight where you make a living on your opinions about the group you have harmed, and recognize that you may never be trusted by the community.  It might be time to make peace with that and instead of asking for forgiveness, ask how you can do better.

Avory Faucette is a genderqueer radical feminist activist and writer.  Zie writes at the blog Radically Queer and works at the National Center for Transgender Equality.  Hir work focuses on intersections of gender, sexuality, and other identities.  Zie is particularly interested in non-binary gender and sexuality.  Zie is also an award-winning international human rights legal activist with a law degree from the University of Iowa.

One thought on “Abuse By Shifting Truths, Hugo Schwyzer’s Impact on Feminism, and Community Trust

  1. Avory, thanks again for this post and especially for this paragraph:

    This is about a community’s trust. It is about asking for forgiveness on the basis of one truth, and then admitting that the actual truth was a little bit different. It is about the manipulation, abuse, gaslighting, deception, and coercion that so many people face in their daily lives, and the fact that these patriarchy-rooted practices bring so many of us to feminism in the first place. When your professed truth keeps changing, you can’t expect trust. You must acknowledge that an ever-shifting truth makes your audience question their own perception and even their self-worth. This is especially true when your audience includes people who have often been told that their perception is less valid, that others know better, and that they must be confused or irrational.

    This is a really good explanation of how these kinds of lies are themselves a continuation of abusive behavior. I’ve been struggling to put into words why it is and really appreciate your doing so here…gaslighting and maintaining the upper hand by keeping his audience unsure of their perceptions is exactly what it is.

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