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We are not safe around us

I’m reading The People of Sparks with my kid, and it’s a concise, believable depiction of prejudice: how it arises and how to defuse it. We’ve evolved in tribes, and we have a strong tendency to take tribal solutions to danger and conflict. Someone’s dangerous? Well, he’s not one of us. She’s not one of us either, better watch out for her!

When we find out that x percent of crimes are committed by y people, our immediate reaction is to avoid all y people. It doesn’t matter if these crimes are committed by a small percentage of y people, better to avoid them all. It’s a completely normal and understandable response, and sometimes when you’re under attack it’s the best you can manage, but as DuPrau shows us, it’s often the absolute worst thing you can do.

There are “women’s spaces,” because women fear men. There are whites-only suburbs, because white people fear black and Hispanic people. There are people who avoid contact with anyone who isn’t LGBT, because they fear straight people.

Then there are the numerous posts on Tumblr about “cis” people, as if our danger comes entirely from without. Posts about what trans men do to trans women, as if trans women didn’t do the exact same things to other trans women.

If you’re feeling backed in a corner and assailed from all sides, then go ahead and make whatever generalizations you think will protect you. But if you’re not, if you’ve got at least some breathing room, I encourage you to take a deep breath and look around. Because the truth is that safety does not lie with “us.” No matter how you define “us.”

There are trans women who rape. Trans women who kill. Trans women who inject each other with silicon. Trans women who play shitty coercive games. Trans women who keep other trans women from getting the help we need.

Non-trans women? Yeah, some of them rape and murder and exclude other women. Gay men? Lesbians? Yeah. White people? Hell yeah. Rich people? You bet.

We are not safe around us. Is anyone safe, then? Well, nobody’s completely safe, but some people are generally okay. How do we find them? Well, that’s tricky. The best way is to observe them, from a distance at first and then gradually closer if they go for a while without doing anything dangerous.

In other words, the best way that anyone’s ever found to determine whether someone’s safe: let them earn your trust. Despite what we’d like to believe, there are no shortcuts.

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