Family of Me

by Daphne
Updates Mondays and Fridays

Scene 33: Empathy

Mom (Present me): Okay girls, are we ready to talk about politics a little more?

Libra (College me): As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.

Bloom (High school me): I think we were talking about systemic oppression?

Lark (20s me): Yes, and how we tried to avoid contributing to those systems.

Mom: Yup, that’s where we left off.

Lark: So let’s pick it back up! We worked hard at being a good ally. We’re not part of the problem!

Mom: That’s not how it works, Lark.

Lark (angry): Then explain how it works, Mom! Tell us how we failed so spectacularly before we came out!

Libra (tense): Whoa, we’re all friends here…

Mom: It’s okay, Libra. Lark, the system privileges us whether we want it to or not. It grants us influence whether we use it or not. It makes opportunity easier to come by, it makes mistakes less costly. How much we “buy in” doesn’t affect the system at all, nor does it make life appreciably easier for the people it takes advantage from. It just means we aren’t intentionally adding to their burden.

Bloom: Okay, but that applies to everyone, right? Not just us. You’re saying that even if all the men in my class refused to buy into this oppressive system, it wouldn’t make my life any easier? That doesn’t make any sense.

Mom: Look at the larger picture. Sure, it’d make your day to day life better. But instead of a class, imagine you’re part of a team at a company. Your team treating you well doesn’t mean your boss’s boss will. It doesn’t mean the company’s executives won’t reject a justified request for a raise or won’t promote a man ahead of you. You probably started from a lower salary anyway because structural disadvantage compounds over time. It wouldn’t affect any of your interactions outside of work. The effect those few men have on the entire interlocking system of oppression is negligible.

Lark: I remember you explaining that being trans was part of the reason we had trouble capitalizing on opportunities at work, but even if we weren’t trying to take advantage of it, we transitioned after decades of enjoying male privilege. We aren’t dealing with a compounded lower salary.

Mom: That’s true, we probably aren’t. But my point is just that systems of oppression aren’t really affected by the efforts of one person or even a small group trying to avoid taking advantage of the system that benefits them. The system still benefits them, despite their best efforts.

Libra: So what, there’s nothing we can do?

Mom: Individually, the best thing you can do is organize and form a group…

Lark (interrupting): But you just said that small groups…

Mom (a little louder): *And once you have that group*, use your influence to transfer power to marginalized groups or shred the power of white men. Just avoiding privilege isn’t enough to affect change, but using collective action as leverage to destroy the mechanisms of privilege might be. Change the institutions themselves and distribute resources and authority as broadly as possible.

Lark: Well *that’s* not going to happen anytime soon either. We’ve been talking about this for over a week now, and for what? This all feels pointless.

Mom (patient): Remember, our goal here isn’t change, It’s introspection. I’m not here to rally myself into a one woman movement, I’m here to illustrate how much our political views changed over time, and to remind all of us that changing those views took a lot of time and several adverse events.

Lark: I still don’t see your point.

Mom: Transition changed the privilege equation for us. We’ve gone from zero marks of marginalization to two: being a woman and being trans. We’ve lost access to a lot of institutional power and we’re suddenly part of a group that’s become a political target nationwide. So we strap on our social armor to protect us from men, and we turn away from cis people to avoid being betrayed.

Libra (deflated): Because the oppressive system will harm us regardless of any ally’s individual intent, and allies can still harm us unknowingly by acting in their own interests.

Mom: Yes. *That’s* the point. That’s why I’m so cautious.

(Everyone is silent for several seconds as my words hang in the air.)

Bloom (defeated): But that’s so sad. There are so many men in the world, and even more cis people in the world. Many of them would be our friends or allies if they could.

Lark (upset): Isn’t that the other side of your argument here? How can they be expected to understand this like we do? Mom, reaching your mindset took years and years — another decade *after* all of my experiences, not to mention the adverse events you mentioned! We used to have those dangerous beliefs too!

Mom: I grew out of them.

Lark (still upset): Fine, but lots of people haven’t! Your inner daughters didn’t! Are you going to write us off too!?

Mom (tearful): I… I don’t want to.

Libra (timid): I think there’s a way to still be friends with those people.

Mom: Maybe? Ultimately, I know that pushing people away is a bad strategy; that I should have empathy for men and cis people because I used to live like one of them too.

Bloom (hopeful): Exactly; we should have empathy!

Mom (crying): I don’t know how, Bloom! I don’t know how. I’ve seen so many people betrayed by the systems and people that were supposed to protect them — it’s so hard not to be cynical. I want to have empathy but all I feel is pain.

(Bloom opens her mouth to answer, but closes it in despair instead. Lark shifts uncomfortably, trying to think of something to say.)

Libra (quiet): I can help you.

Mom (confused): What? How?

Libra: I made good friends in college, right? I’m good at it. So I can help you with empathy.

Mom: I don’t think it works that way, Libra — you don’t exist outside of my head.

Libra: You know what I mean! You can imagine what I would do in a situation or imagine yourself with me. It’s what you do to help us with dysphoria, so maybe you can do it to help yourself with this.

Mom: I… I don’t know.

Bloom (desperate): It’s worth a try, isn’t it? Let us help you!

Lark: If you can’t find a way on your own, maybe we can find a way together. We’re all parts of you anyways, so this is just another way of approaching the problem.

Mom (hesitant): Maybe… Maybe you’re right. It’s worth a try, at least. Thank you so much, girls.

(Libra steps forward to wrap her arms around my midsection, followed closely behind by Bloom. As I circle my arms around them, Lark approaches to take part in the family hug too. Tears slide slowly down my face as I embrace my inner children.)