Sometimes I ponder why I do this; why I write at this ain’t livin’ and FWD/Forward, even though I don’t receive compensation for the writing I do at either site[1. Although the writing I do here does sometimes lead to paid work, so indirectly I am compensated, although not at a rate which even begins to compensate me for the hours of work I put in.]. I think it’s a question that a lot of bloggers who engage in social justice writing ask themselves periodically. Why do we do this? Why do we write about social justice issues, even though we often encounter incredible pushback?
Blogging is viewed by some as a form of activism, and that’s definitely a part of why I do this. I know that I have reached people through my writing, and that matters to me. It matters a lot to know that people have experienced shifts in their ways of thinking as a direct result of reading something I’ve written. Writing also allows me to develop and articulate my ideas more effectively. It’s forced me to explore my areas of privilege, to consider issues from new angles, to interact and engage with issues and ideas that I might not otherwise touch.
One reason I definitely don’t do this is for fun.
This isn’t fun for me.
And I think that’s a common impression that people have of social justice bloggers; people refer to our ‘little’ sites and the work we do in a sort of snide, sneering way which suggests that it’s is a hobby. Something we do in our spare time. Something we do to entertain ourselves. What we do is not valued as work, at all. And that allows people to continue devaluing us and the work that we do, over and over.
Activism has always involved uncompensated work. The payoff, the goal, is to change minds. To shape ideas. To be involved in changing the world around us and to make a difference. Both for ourselves now, and for future generations. The work of people engaged in activism for centuries has allowed me to reach this point and I hope that my work in turn allows people in the future to reach an even more advanced point, to live in a better world, a place where basic human rights are universally acknowledged and accepted.
One thing this is not, though, is fun. If I wanted to have fun, there are a lot of other things I could write about. I could maintain a fiction blog, for example, and work on serialised fiction. That would be fun. It would allow me to develop as a writer and to share ideas and to network with people and, yes, to have fun. I could write about hobbies, and network with people who also enjoy those hobbies. That would be fun. I could maintain, say, a knitting website. But I don’t. Because I am not writing for fun. I am writing to survive.
The idea that blogging for social justice activists is ‘fun,’ that it’s a ‘hobby,’ is widely entrenched. For some reason, writing books about social justice issues isn’t treated this way, which really exemplifies, I think, the devaluation of blogging as a communications medium. Many people do not view blogging as activism. Or they view it as a minor form of activism even though social justice activists all over the world sometimes risk everything to do this work. I’m relatively privileged when it comes to that; the primary risk I incur is to my personal health and at this point I’m accustomed to running on a very high stress level, to experiencing symptoms like vomiting and nosebleeds and headaches and a myriad of other stress-related things because of my blogging [1. Does that surprise you? Would it surprise you to learn that many social justice activists who write online actually experience physical symptoms of stress? Maybe that will make you think twice before attacking social justice activists online, before writing off something which causes actual physical harm as a ‘blogwar’ or as harmless Internet antics.]. My life is not in danger for writing, though. Neither is my immigration status. Neither is my job.
This is not fun.
I cannot say that enough times. This is work. It’s hard work and it’s often unrewarded. The changes we make in hearts and minds are often not visible to us. This is not a cry for comments and links. Both are nice and both are important, but they are nominal rewards. This simply an acknowledgment of a fact. The changes we make are incremental. Change happens over time. It may take decades to see results.
Writing about social justice in this environment is not terribly sustainable. It’s a lot of physical and emotional work and very few people manage to turn it into a job[1. Most of those who do are people in positions of privilege, I would note; they are usually white, usually cis, usually able, usually straight.]. For most of us, it’s a second shift. It’s the thing we try to fit into our crowded schedules after we’ve made the money we need to survive. Some of us have jobs in social justice, and our blogging is an expansion of our work. Others of us work in other areas, and may be struggling to advance our paid careers and find work we love while also writing.
It’s tremendously draining. And a lot of the drainage, as it were, happens in places people don’t see. It, too, is incremental. I, for example, am repeatedly and constantly misgendered. It’s a thousand tiny cuts. It’s not that one incident makes me throw up my hands and gnash my teeth in fury, it’s that it happens by bits and pieces, every day. That adds up, just as erasure of other identities adds up. Just as nasty trollish comments add up. And the end result is usually that people eventually leave. Sometimes quietly, sometimes noisily.
Either way, they leave. They may take their activism to other spaces or they may give up entirely because they are so frustrated and burned out.
It’s worth pondering why people think that this is fun, and I think that a lot of it comes down to the fact that people don’t understand that when you are living in a marginalised body; when you are disabled, or queer, or trans*, or a person of colour, this work is your life. This is not something you pick up and examine when you feel like, it is something that you are living. My activism is a way of asserting my right to exist. It is not fun because this is my life.
A lot of people who dismiss or write off blogging are people holding multiple privileges. They are white and able and cis, for example. They regard the writing done by people like me as a public service performed for their benefit. It’s not. It’s a desperate attempt to survive.