Real life is complicated but compassion is not
The heart of my politics is opposition to dehumanization and cruelty in all the many forms these take. I believe that every single human being deserves housing, food, clean water, healthcare, access to all levels and types of education, transportation, a protected ecology, freedom to be who they are, community, love, support, protection from abuse and degradation, and everything they need to survive and to thrive. I don’t believe these are things we earn. I believe we deserve them simply by being alive.
I am an abolitionist and I oppose cancel culture. This is because of the politics I just stated. I believe that all humans deserve these things. Every single one. And I don’t believe in taking these things away from people when they do harmful things. That doesn’t mean that we, as individuals, can’t have personal boundaries or end relationships that don’t work for us. I think we can and should have strong boundaries and choose our relationships carefully. But, I believe that collectively, we have a responsibility to treat no one as disposable, to let no human being be abandonment, degraded, or have their boundaries violated.
Maybe this seems like a tall order, or an impossibility. I believe it’s an ideal, not always easy to achieve in practice, especially in our current world that is literally built on dehumanization and exploitation, but it is something that I hold in my heart, that I left guide my actions and inform my decisions. No one is cast out of humanity. No one is unworthy of compassion.
I am a survivor. I was sexually abused as a child, I was incarcerated in psych wards as a teenager, I was beaten up by a group of guys when I was nineteen, I was in an abusive relationship in my early 20s. I have been assaulted by more people than I can count, both trusted and strangers, both sexually and physically. This is because my complex ptsd from surviving incest sent me down the typical trajectory that many incest survivors share. Addiction, retraumatization, trauma upon trauma upon trauma.
I have assaulted people, hurt people, said and done things that violate people’s boundaries and human dignity. As a street involved drunk I acted in many ways I regret. The constant trauma I was experiencing, the dysregulation of my traumatized nervous system, the nonstop alcohol in my body, and the unbearable pain I lived with meant that I hurt people. People hurt me and I hurt people. And that was my life.
I got sober in a 12 step program. I found a community that treated me with unconditional positive regard, that welcomed me, gave me cookies and bad coffee, and told me that I was indispensable, human, worthy. Through a combination of 12 steps and therapy I profoundly changed my life. I started the long journey of healing from developmental and complex trauma. I discovered my principles and began to learn how to live in accordance with them. Many times I considered killing myself because I didn’t know if my life was worth saving after the things I had done, but my 12 step community showed me that people who have done fucked up things are still worthy of love and of life. Through the 12 steps I was able to make direct amends to many of the people I had hurt, repair relationships, and start living my life in a way that brings good into the world.
I am someone who has overstated harm. In sobriety I was in a partnership where I wasn’t happy, where my needs weren’t being met, where I felt heartbroken and insecure. After leaving that relationship, a friend suggested it had been emotionally abusive. Even though it was very different from the abusive relationship I experienced in my early 20s, even though I wasn’t physically abused or degraded, and did not have my boundaries violated, I noticed that understanding it as a type of abuse made me feel better. It helped me understand the immense pain I was in. It helped me understand why I had felt so unable to leave.
I told people that my ex emotionally abused me. I wrote about it in my zine, without naming them, but I knew that people would know who I was talking about. I understood it that way for a few years before a therapist directly challenged me. She explained to me it had been an unhappy relationship where my needs were not being met, but that it wasn’t an abusive relationship. My complex ptsd contributed to me feeling things that were not proportionate to what was happening, and prevented me from claiming my agency and leaving a relationship that wasn’t making me happy. I have since made amends to this ex and apologized for falsely accusing them, as well as publicly naming that it was a false allegation in my writing.
I have taken part in cancel campaigns. Out of fear of being cancelled myself, or because I was trying to do the right thing, I have unfollowed, unfriended, and even refused to have a real friendship with someone due to rumours and accusations. I did this in sobriety, as someone who knew that false allegations were possible because I had made one myself and as someone who knew that people who have been abusive are more than their worst actions, because I have been abusive and I have seen countless people totally transform their lives through 12 step programs. I did it anyway, because it was the cultural norm, because I was expected to, because I desperately wanted to hold onto community, because I didn’t think unfollowing was a big deal, because I didn’t want to make it my business, because I was afraid.
I have been cancelled, falsely accused, misrepresented, lied about, harassed. I have lost friends, community, work, housing, my reputation. All because someone accused me of not posting on instagram about a particular political issue and then, when I pointed out that I was posting about the issue, they demanded I deplatform. My refusal to validate their inappropriate, coercive behaviour led to an international cancel campaign that is still ongoing, resulted in me being more suicidal than I have been since I was a teenager, and took most of the relationships, community, and security I had managed to build for myself.
I have intervened on violent situations more times than I can count. I have deescalated, stopped violence from happening, helped a targeted person get to safety. I have gotten on the ambulance with a total stranger who had just been assaulted and advocated for her to the cops and paramedics because she was drunk. I have helped survivors make safety plans and helped friends of people in abusive relationships figure out how to best support their friends. I have helped implement boundaries between people in conflict. I have shared my knowledge of trauma recovery, the nervous system, and attachment theory with more survivors than I could possibly account, and have beeb told over and over that my commitment to survivors has changed their lives. I have worked closely with people who have been abusive, helped them with the work of healing, understanding and changing their behaviour, and making direct amends. My commitment to opposing violence is lived. I learned these skills through the crazy life that I have had and I am always learning. I take my responsibility to oppose dehumanization and transform situations of violence very seriously.
All of these and many other experiences cause me to oppose cancel culture completely. I know that cancel culture does not protect survivors, it creates more survivors. It does not heal trauma, it creates more trauma. And it does not teach us the real skills we need for intervening on or transforming violence. In becoming an outspoken voice against cancel culture I have received the stories of so many cancelled people in my inbox. Some are falsely accused, some have been abusive, some have prior trauma, all are traumatized by the experience of cancellation. All are human beings deserving of boundaries, community, human dignity, and support. None of them deserve what is happening to them.
Through this experience I have developed friendships with some of my most favourite people in the world. Kind, smart, funny, earnest people with good hearts, big dreams, and a human desire for love and community, who have been put through horrific levels of dehumanization, humiliation, exile, and harassment. These cancelled friends are some of my most beloved, because we share a deep trauma and because we are committed to rehumanizing each other. We offer each other friendship and hope as we experience harassment and degradation from strangers across the world.
I support the falsely accused, I support people who have been abusive, and I support survivors. There is no contradiction there. People say “Clementine Morrigan supports abusers” as a way to defame me and warn people about how bad I am. But yes, I literally do support abusers. I support abusers to transform their lives and take responsibility in ways that are compassionate, and respect their human dignity and autonomy. I also support people who are called abusers who are not and who are in fact being victimized by slander campaigns. And I support survivors with all my fucking heart, in real tangible ways. There is no contradiction there. Real life is complicated but compassion is not.
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Clementine Morrigan is a writer and public intellectual based in Montréal, Canada. She writes popular and controversial essays about culture, politics, ethics, relationships, sexuality, and trauma. A passionate believer in independent media, she’s been making zines since the year 2000 and is the author of several books. She’s known for her iconic white-text-on-a-black-background mini-essays on Instagram. One of the leading voices on the Canadian Left and one half of the Fucking Cancelled podcast, Clementine is an outspoken critic of cancel culture and a proponent of building solidarity across difference. She is a socialist, a feminist, and a vegan for the animals and the earth.