Our confrontations with oppression may seem hopeless, but no one can stop us from supporting each other
In the year since Tarana Burke's #MeToo hashtag changed the conversation about sexual violence, I have written nothing on the topic. Without realizing it, I believed that I had nothing to say — and that speaking out would not make a difference.
For me, the struggle against sexism, homophobia and transphobia has been a long string of losing battles. My experiences led me to believe that if I reported the discrimination and violence I experienced, no one would believe me or protect me.
When I started my high school's first LGBT student group, a classmate showed me an essay he wrote in which he described raping the members of my organization. When I reported it to a teacher, I was chastised for not telling my would-be assailant that his letter made me uncomfortable. School officials dismissed the threats as a joke. Adults tasked with ensuring my safety shamed me for wanting the young man who threatened me to be educated and held accountable.
Later, when I found myself with a transphobic boss, I compiled a 12-page discrimination complaint. When my employer concluded the investigation, I received an e-mail saying that no discrimination could be found, as though the mistreatment I endured was a lost set of keys or a missing sock. Soon, I was forced to quit my job to preserve my health.
I came to believe speaking against violence was, at best, unlikely to have any immediate impact. At worst, it would put me into more danger.
This is the calculation oppressed people make whenever we decide if, when and how to confront our oppressors.
When she ran for governor of Georgia, Stacey Abrams knew her supporters' votes wouldn't be counted. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford knew Brett Kavanaugh was likely going to be confirmed. Serena Williams took an “L” in the fight against sexism and racism because that was her best and only option.
When we speak out, we know we are likely to lose, not because we are wrong, but because we lack power.
It is heartbreaking, exhausting and enraging to face short-term defeat over and over again.
Nonetheless, I believe that our movements are already succeeding. Every time we speak up for ourselves and lose, it is still a victory of a different, perhaps more important kind. When we come together and confront violence collectively, our impacts are deeper than we can comprehend.
It took testimony from 60 women before Bill Cosby fell from grace, but those women changed our conversations about sexual violence to the benefit of millions of people.
Our confrontations with oppression may seem hopeless, but no one can stop us from supporting each other. Together, we can be powerful.