Once, when I was around 21, I thought that homosexuality was a sin. I told a lot of people that those attracted to the same sex should be separated from society and put on an island to die out, as they wouldn’t reproduce. I did not know better. Given my background and the way I was raised, the fact I held those opinions makes a lot of sense. As does the fact that, somewhere out there, there is a video with me talking and joking about my holding of these disturbing views.
That’s just a small taste of the beliefs I had that I am now deeply ashamed of. I’ve made a long list of mistakes. At 28, five years ago, I finally left conservative Christianity. But when I saw how harmful the beliefs I had held for years were, I cried on several occasions. I was deeply sorry. Still am.
I’ll tell you another story. There is someone close to me, a family member, who hurt me deeply over a long period of time when I was younger. When I was older, they apologized. The apology was sincere. But the damage was done, and I was still angry. I went to a therapist about it, and they said something wise (and backed up by science).
They told me that if someone is truly sorry for what they have done, they’ll realize the damage they caused. An apology that is basically a plea for someone not to hold a wrong against you isn’t a true apology. A true apology is an assent that you recognized that what you did was hurtful and wrong, and that going forward you’ll do differently. As this Atlantic article states (links in the quote are to the actual studies):
Past research has shown that a key part of a successful apology is assuring the victim that the bad behavior won’t happen again. “When we’ve done something wrong, we tend to be self-focused,” explained Cynthia Frantz of Oberlin College, who authored a landmark study on apology timing titled “Better Late Than Early.” “You actually should be more focused on the other person, making sure they really believe that you get what you did wrong.” Without that emphasis on the other person’s emotional state—and the promise of change—an apology sounds insincere.
So, if the person who you said “sorry” to gets angry again at the harm you caused them from what you’ve done and you get defensive and say, “I said sorry!” then you’re showing that you weren’t sorry for what you’ve done; you’re sorry for the way what you’ve done affected the way people view you. If you are sorry for what you’ve done, you will realize the harm in what you’ve done, and realize further that people may still be hurting and angry due to that harm.
“Sorry” isn’t about you. Not a real “sorry.” It’s about acknowledging the pain and hurt you caused someone else.
And that truth deeply helped me.
It helped me realize that my failure to get rid of my anger in the face of a genuine apology from this person who deeply wronged me was not my personal failing. The apology did not obligate me to no longer feel pain, hurt, and anger. And the healing, if there was healing, would come from the other person recognizing that the pain, hurt, and anger was justified, and genuinely regretting giving me pain. If they thought the apology took away my right to feel pain, hurt, and anger, then how could I trust them to look out for my best interests in the future, when the apology was just about them? The only way we could heal is if the other person acknowledges they hurt me and that my pain makes sense.
And this isn’t all about permanent, crippling shame; that’s not healthy, either. It’s about the connection we can create when the person apologizing acknowledges the pain that they cause and apologizes out of love, not just self-preservation. We don’t heal when the apologizer apologizes to get the other person to forget the pain caused; that just creates unresolved tension and anger that often will eventually destroy the relationship. We heal by recognizing that pain, empathizing with it, and changing constantly based on the new and developing understanding.
So, let’s apply that dynamic to something Laci Green said in a recent video:
There was this one time I was at a conference. I’m walking out the parking lot and these three people, feminists, shout me down. They accuse me of contributing to the violent deaths of trans people. What’s their reasoning? Well, when I was 17 I made a fan video for Chris Crocker. He uses the T-word to describe himself, and I did not know that that was offensive, and I apologized afterward.
Let’s pause here. It seems good that Laci Green apologized. I myself have had to apologize for saying much worse. So, good start…maybe. Because, remember, the apology has to be about the pain you cause other people, and your statement that you will seek to remedy and understand that pain. An “apology” that is meant to invalidate the pain and anger of those you hurt is not done for the other person’s benefit; it’s done for your own reputation. You can tell the difference by whether the person apologizing responds to later expressions of anger with resentment or a deeper, more empathetic understanding.
Which kind of apology is Laci Green talking about here?
Let’s press “play” on the video. Next she says:
But, you know, five years later there we were in this parking lot. Not only did they seem to imply that accidentally using an offensive word is the same as literally killing people —
Someone hurting you on accident and someone hurting you on purpose is still someone hurting you, right? If you have a traffic accident, the fact that it was an accident doesn’t mean that the people you hurt don’t have a right to be upset and say that you put their lives in danger. If the T-word is one that is used to denigrate the existence of trans people and make their lives a living hell, then accidentally using it in a frame of reference that is hurtful still does damage to the way people view them and treat them, whether you intended for it to or not.
So if your apology is recognizing all of that, wouldn’t it agree with the sentiment that the offensive word was that harmful? The fact that she doesn’t indicates that her apology did not recognize how serious the offense was or, perhaps more unfortunate, that the apology was for the way she was treated when she said the word, not for the offense she caused others.
This is important, because if she apologizes in order to get treated better, then she’ll resent any time someone brings up the offense, because she’ll be frustrated and think they didn’t recognize that the apology absolved her like it was supposed to. And everyone who criticizes her will be pushing her from the goal of the apology — which is not to recognize that what she did was wrong and learn from it going forward, but to invalidate the pain and anger people may feel, in the future, from her remarks.
If she would have been apologizing to remedy the offense she caused others, she would see this anger as an opportunity to understand, to empathize, to deepen her love and consideration for the people she hurt.
These are two fundamentally different orientations. Is she apologizing to campaign for people to shut up about the pain she caused them, or in order to love and care for the people she hurt? In other words, is it about Laci Green, or about the people Laci Green is trying to help?
Let’s let her finish her sentence:
But you know five years later there we were in this parking lot. Not only did they seem to imply that accidentally using an offensive word is the same as literally killing people — but then they threatened me. They threatened to kick my “cis ass.”
And yes, the threat (albeit that the threat did not result in violence, and that it seemed to happen AFTER the accusation — “then they” — and, presumably, after being given a chance to respond) was over the top, whether it was a figure of speech in the heat of the moment or not. But in the video, she could have said something like:
And I was terrified by the threat. But I also realized that those words I had said back then hurt. And so I apologized, again, for the pain those words had caused. And in that apology, I understand a depth to the pain that I hadn’t realized before, and that deeper understanding opened up my heart to a deeper love and concern for trans people. Of course, I don’t support violence. But that episode taught me that those words truly hurt people, and that the fact that I apologized for them years ago doesn’t mean that I don’t still have more to learn.
But instead she actually said:
Now I’ve seen this shit online, but that was the first time I ever saw it in person. Wow.
And this is remarkable. She doesn’t acknowledge the pain that word caused. She doesn’t acknowledge she hurt those women. She insists they should get over it. The focus of her apology seems to be on ensuring that she will be treated better, that people will know that her intentions were pure, rather than acknowledging, empathizing with, and seeking to better understand the people she hurt.
Again, the empathetic second apology she could have given is possible. Many of us have done it. I’ve had to do it. It’s not always easy, but it’s healthy in the long run. But not doing it…will wear you out. Because ultimately an apology is not about absolving yourself of guilt. If you do it for that reason, you’ll be muffling the people you’re hurting, and become more distanced from them, and the resentment you’ll feel will increase. The apology is about learning how to love the people you’re apologizing to.
Laci Green’s practice of apologizing in order to make herself look better, instead of doing so to empathize with other people and acknowledge a deepening understanding of their pain, seems to have been going on for awhile, because next she indicates that this same scenario has happened a ton of times when stating:
I have other stories like this, like, it pains me. I’ve seen a spectrum of these types of behaviors.
It’s important to point out here that the exhaustion Laci Green shows here, which carries through the rest of her video and her behavior after creating the video, is a natural reaction to what appears to be her longstanding view of social justice. If you embrace social justice for your own benefit as opposed to the benefit of other people, you’re missing out on the greatest benefit that embracing social justice offers — deepening your understanding, empathy, and care for people who have identities that tend to be placed on the margins of society. But it’s about the journey of showing care; you’re never going to “arrive” — you’re never going to completely understand, and so if you want to be seen as always understanding…eventually the dam is going to break.
And so, if you’re in this for yourself, each person who says you have something more to learn will not be an opportunity to understand. They’ll be someone who is ruining the high and clean reputation you want to have.
Now, this dynamic seems to be played out in the rest of Laci Green’s video,and is consistent with her attitudes towards people who say that she’s publicly associating with people who have said very hurtful things to the people she once appeared to represent — she’s blocking them on social media, expressing anger towards them, etc. And increasingly, she seems resentful towards those fighting for social justice — most recently deciding to go on the rabidly anti-social justice Dave Rubin Show, presumably to air her grievances against them.
And that’s why this isn’t about Laci Green. Frankly, I think that that ship has sailed.
Laci Green’s burnout is a lesson to the rest of us who are representing social justice causes that include marginalized groups we are not part of.
If it’s about you, you will burn out. You will eventually become resentful. Your path will not be a deeply meaningful one of empathy, care, and constantly deepening understanding. Oh, you may learn a lot about social justice issues. You will learn talking points that may get you better liked — because after all, that’s your goal. You may have a large following. But there will be something rotting away in you that comes from your chase of a validation, an end point, that you will increasingly feel is unjustly denied to you the more you do to approach it. Because you will never know everything, and when given the choice to see a proposed adjustment as a learning opportunity or a cruel reminder of how people view your inadequacy, you will see it as people saying that you personally are an inadequate person. Because you will (like every human) always make mistakes that will either be opportunities to empathize and love with more understanding, or opportunities to resent, and you will always choose resentment. Because you’ll think that the only way to help others is to be the perfect social justice advocate who pleases everyone at all times — and that you aren’t successful until you’ve done that — and fail to see that social justice is most meaningful and valuable in the moments we make mistakes and thus learn from each other, deepen our love for each other, and gain a deeper understanding and sense of empathy when we find that we were wrong.
In short, you will leave social justice causes — or be thoroughly miserable in them — like Laci Green if you forget the most important rule when it comes to ensuring social justice for other members of marginalized groups:
This isn’t about you.
It’s about continuously understanding and empathizing with the people you’re trying to help.
Thanks for reading.
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