I make it a point, in my daily web browsing, to check out certain online communities that I consider to be educational.  This includes places where people talk about art and culture, the news, and society.  I often check in with various sites, blogs and communities that focus on feminism and women’s issues, as these interest me.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that I feel extremely uncomfortable in these places.

Making comments is like walking through a field peppered with landmines.  It’s almost unpredictable what people are offended by.  Before cruising these sites, I had no idea that the word “lame” means I’m ablist, that the word “tranny” is offensive (granted, I probably should have known that one, it just never occurred to me), or that people can find whiffs of discrimination in almost everything.  I can understand these things, I really can.  I’m of the opinion that what people find offensive is completely up to them.  I think that we tend to give words more power than they should have, but if a transgendered person is truly offended by the word “tranny,” then they have every right to be, and I’ll cease using it.  I don’t like offending people.

My issue is that many of the people in these communities are completely unable to accept that people make mistakes.  Yes, if I use a term or say something that offends, I’d like to know.  I want to learn from my mistakes.  However, those who correct me should remember that not everyone is privileged enough to know these things ahead of time.  I come from a rural area in the middle of America.  I think I’ve met perhaps one transgendered person; my high school graduating class had maybe five non-white students out of about 350 students total; it wasn’t until I got to college that I ever had a class with a fellow student who was in a wheelchair.  There are things I have never been exposed to.  I’m sure there are citizens of metropolitan areas who encounter a more diverse array of humans in a few hours than I have in my entire life.  So I can’t help but feel that those who scoff and reproach me and make me feel completely awful have forgotten that there are tons of people out there who don’t share their experiences.  Where I come from, me and my feminist opinions are in the minority – some people I know probably think my opinions are “radical” or “over the top.”  It seems ridiculous to me, but that’s how it is.

I’m beginning to realize why people would perhaps not feel comfortable identifying as “feminist” because of this.  From what I’ve experienced, it’s not the most welcoming community.  This is sad, to me, because I think we need all the help we can get.  I realize that the issues at hand are too big to soft-shoe around, but one has to start somewhere.  In-depth feminism is a big thing to grasp on its own, but when you add in queer, racial, class, and disability issues on top of it, it’s almost unbearable for someone who’s just beginning to understand what patriarchy is.  Clearly not every member of these communities wants to play teacher – I know there are more pressing issues at hand – but is it too much to ask that people be understanding?  Oftentimes this sussing out of what’s offensive and what’s not gets in the way of actual conversation that could be helpful.  Nothing will ever get done if inquisitive newcomers are constantly being scared away, or if these communities rupture from the inside over arguments of who’s more progressive and open-minded.  Granted, no one ever says that’s what they’re arguing about, but it definitely seems that way at times.  To me, it mirrors the dissection of every politico’s opinions, credentials, background, and voting history to see if they’re liberal/conservative enough.  Can’t we just enjoy the common ground we have and try to build from there?