Leaving the left
Feminists are crucified for leaving the left, but those who stay are avoiding hard truths.
I grew up in a household that prided itself on being not just left, but most left. My father was a Marxist and, as a shop steward at Canada Post, was very active in the labour movement. My mother was a feminist and worked in arts administration. She went back to school when I was around 11 or 12, and went into Art Education, completing a Masters and PhD. My father went back to school shortly thereafter, which was great for our income and my status as a teenager, which was already shoddy (in my mind, in any case), living in a housing co-operative, rather than a nice house, with working class parents who had a junky old station wagon, later replaced by a junky old VW van, and who couldn’t afford to take my sister and I on vacation or send us to basketball/dance/summer camp. My father chose the lucrative field of political science, specializing in the Canadian Labour Movement. For some reason, his PhD never materialized in a tenor-track position.
My childhood was fine, for the record. I was provided with everything I needed, including extracurricular activities and back-to-school clothing. We weren’t poor as in Poor. We just were not on the same level of my classmates, who were primarily middle and upper class, and had things no one deserved, like houses and new cars and cabins on the island for summer vacations.
I developed a healthy chip on my shoulder, fused with a proud working class identity. I was not just bitter, but politicized in my bitterness!
I sang Solidarity Forever at Vancouver’s Folk Music Festival in the 80s, alongside my father’s union kin; stood next to “No contracting out of our jobs” signs at CUPW strikes (played with many a stapler and photocopy machine at union meetings back then); marched off to the principal’s office as a justice-seeking 11-year-old to complain about boys ranking girls’ developing or not developing breasts at the swimming pool; rejected dress shoes and frilly dresses in favour of mismatched Converse high tops and men’s style button downs, vests, and bowler hats; insisted on keeping my hair short (bi-level, to be precise); and wore the black boys’ ballet leotards and slippers instead of the girls’ pink uniform for as long as I suffered through ballet class, which was not that long.
When we were kids, our family boycotted Cabbage Patch Kid dolls and Kraft, for reasons I didn’t understand at the time, and were not permitted cable or fast food. Sugar cereal and MacDonalds were out of the question. As was property. In retrospect, I appreciate not being fed either junk food or having been raised by television, instead spending most of my time playing outside with the co-op kids, reading, or engaged in various activities: art, music, swimming, biking… stalking whatever boy I was obsessed with at the co-op only a short rollerblade away.
If I didn’t find babies so unattractive and the idea of putting my life aside to birth and raise children so lacking in fun, I would probably have tried to raise my theoretical kids similarly: away from screens, as well as both brain and body poison which set those without the autonomy or knowledge to choose their own diet (whether mental or nutritional) on a path towards obesity, diabetes, and the wide variety of mental health and self-esteem issues that come from raising kids on screens and social media nowadays.
I don’t necessarily regret being raised to believe that property ownership was wrong and immoral or that sexist ideas about gender were taught to us from the time we were young, creating an unfair adult world and an unequal classroom setting. The ideas I learned from the time I was young about how class and gender shaped our lives, opportunities, and security remain pivotal to me today, though I have changed my view both on solutions and solidarity. It might have been nice to learn how to drive before I was 38-years-old, on account both of not having the means to pay for driving lessons, but also the presumption I would never be able to afford a vehicle, so what was the point anyway. It may have been useful to believe property was a possibility, rather than an impossibility, so what was the point of trying to save money anyway, not that I ever really had anything extra, after shuffling around bills I could no longer avoid. Staying on top of debt and taxes seemed pointless, since I (presumably) would always have credit, and never qualify for a loan either way. Rejecting femininity was fine, except that it developed into a disdain for “wives” and “mothers” who had predictively and passively capitulated to the patriarchy, choosing mundane lives for reasons I could not possibly imagine.
I have not done a political u-turn so much as an audit and reassessment.
My family was dedicated to the NDP for my entire life. My father campaigned for BC’s then-socialist party, and the moment I was old enough to vote, I didn’t think twice about how to cast my ballot. For me, there was no question: I supported what was right, just, ethical, and equitable for the people — the downtrodden, those without means, those unable to climb out of poverty or who might struggle to access housing, education, and healthcare, were there not government funded options.
I still think these things are important. I don’t believe anyone should be homeless. I think it’s insane that some Americans go tens of thousands of dollars into debt because they get sick or hurt. The notion that only the well-off should have access to good education seems like a great way to maintain a class system many seem not to understand exists in America.
I wanted the world to be a better place — that’s why I was a leftist. But not only did the culture change, and the left along with it, but I changed.
I no longer think money is inherently evil, that no one should own property, or that the best way to level the playing field is through communist revolution — possibly violent. I am no longer in a class war or an anything war. I am in a conversation. I seek to understand — not to destroy. I want to change minds, but not through force. And if I can’t change all minds, oh well. It’s good for minds to be different. I do not wish all minds to mimic mine — that would be dull. And we would have no one to build houses or fix cars or fly planes or do math.
But mostly, I have left the left because I don’t wish to be part of a cult. I don’t want to repeat mantras under threat of excommunication. I don’t want to hate my “enemy.” I don’t want to be angry or bitter. I don’t want to only be around others like me, who see things my way. And certainly I don’t want to support political parties who aim to dissolve free speech, civil liberties, and women’s rights under the guise of “inclusivity,” “equality,” and keeping us “safe” from “hate.”
For all progressives spew about “hate” and “biogotry,” they appear the most hateful and bigoted of all. They are the ones who have abandoned the marginalized and voiceless. They are no longer afraid of capitalists or corporate power or fascism — they are afraid of one another. They are, in fact, the powerful — and they fear losing power.
These supposed anti-capitalists who want to smash the state and abolish the police and punch Nazis are not the people who stood on picket lines or fought for civil rights or who protested war or who sought to end violence against women, building transition houses from the ground up, funding them themselves and volunteering their time to support women with nowhere else to go. Or if they are, they have been captured by the doughy speech police, who will call them racist and transphobic if they dare ask why poor women in prison must share their cells with rapists or why a 23-year-old middle class university student is best equipped to dictate policy and practice on account of being BIPOC.
Most of these activists are not poor — not even working class. They are privileged, over-educated, urban elites, who lack religion so seek meaning in academic ideology and politics, as well as attention and the power to destroy the lives of adults who actually work for a living. They are people who never had to work for anything and are probably depressed as a result. They have been told that exercise and healthy eating is fatphobic and racist, and that taking accountability for one’s own health equates to “shaming.” They have been told that disagreement is traumatic and that feelings should be treated with pills or censorship, not lifestyle changes. Self-improvement is an alt-right dogwhistle — the world should accept you as you are, even if you are a slovenly narcissist who attends social gatherings only to lecture others about decolonizing the bedroom by fucking you.
The left disavowed me long ago for insisting that pornography and prostitution was not an empowering choice sexually liberated women make for fun and wealth, then again for understanding that penises are male and girls who cut their hair short and replace pink frilly dresses with bowler hats and mismatched high top converse are not “non-binary” or “trans” or “boys,” but simply little girls who don’t want to play by old-fashioned rules.
That was hard. It’s hard when the cult you professed undying allegiance to excommunicates you. But I still had feminism and the women’s movement, so wasn’t entirely alone.
Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson after the first dozen cancellations, and kept running my mouth about things that concerned me, regardless of my “allies’” efforts to quietly but sternly shuffle me back into line, always an unruly teenager. I had begun asking uncomfortable questions about “believe women,” and seeking facts before charging those accused of abuse within the #MeToo movement in the court of public opinion. I had begun sticking up for free speech, even for those we didn’t like or agree with. I began engaging in open dialogue with those outside my political circles — even the very bad, even pro-lifers, even Trump-supporters, even critics of (gasp) feminism. I pointed out the hypocrisy of cancelling baddies on the other team while demanding we not be cancelled ourselves. I began to recognize the importance of individual rights and civil liberties, and bodily autonomy under all circumstances, not just when it suits our political allies and aims. I voiced opposition to creeping totalitarianism on the left. I appeared on what was labelled “right wing media” and defended other women who did as well. I continued to communicate openly and honestly about not just my beliefs and politics, but who I was as a person — in real life: a person who was not in any way politically pure and not desiring to be; a person who spent ample time with men, often men who were in no way feminist; a person who watched the Kardashians and wore makeup and made crass jokes. I stopped worrying about losing allies and supporters and donations, and did lose allies and supporters and donations.
I didn’t leave the left for any other reason beyond the fact the left became a toxic swamp of irrational hypocrisy and power-hungry, toxic, hate. I didn’t leave the working class heroes or brave dissidents, speaking truth to power. I left a bunch of out-of-touch phonies who had replaced real talk with jargon and fighting oppression with bullying. Their solution has not been to understand others or even to change minds, but to control — speech, thoughts, facts, protest, what have you. Their communist revolution had come, but not in the way it had been imagined — rather through top-down, institutional capture and state-enforced authoritarianism. This was not the grassroots movement I’d believed myself to be proudly aligned with all these years. It was corporate power and government overreach, spurred and supported by people who disguised their egomania and control issues in Newspeak, coded to read as altruism. These benevolent would-be dictators are here to help. Thank the party.
I was listening to Joe Rogan (gasp x 2) interview Gad Saad the other day, and he said, within the context of “fatphobia,” he thought people hated whatever they feared seeing in themselves. He offered the example of lying or weakness or giving up too soon — things he would hate to see in himself, and therefore detested as qualities in others.
I think this is partly true. But in the case of the left and the feminists who support cancel culture, and therefore cancel women like me for stepping out of line, the fear is rooted in what they might become, as well as what they might be revealed to be. They fear being found out for who they really are: imperfect, unbrilliant, judgemental, possibly bitter, possibly envious, closed-minded people who fear honest, open conversations lest they change their minds, leaving them vulnerable to ejection themselves. These are the people who pose as strong warriors, but who are weak of mind — lacking the confidence required to be open to challenges that might reveal weakness, and lacking the resilience required to screw up, to fall down, to fail, or to be wrong, but to get up and keep going — eager to learn more and, in their own words of course, “do better.”
They want to view themselves (and be viewed) as brave, brilliant, warriors, facing down the forces of evil, and have closed themselves off to external ideas, individuals, and experiences that might challenge that view, encircled by yes men who parrot false hand-wringing about imagined dangers. These people no longer need to fight to have their voice heard, nor must they struggle to survive, so their pursuit for power must be for others, leaving them inherently righteous. Unfortunately, there is no “other,” or rather the other has become their enemy: the dumb, ignorant, uneducated (or not-yet-reeducated) pleb. Indeed, those without access to platforms, the media, political power, corporations, and financial security have been not just left behind, but rejected by progressives. Those who must be protected at all cost are the she/her tweeters, marginilized by a polyamorous identity limited to wishful thinking by Prozac and an unpleasant personality.
Many ex-leftists insist they didn’t leave the left, but that rather the left left them. In my case, I did leave the left — of my own free will. I am much happier in no man’s land — free to explore ideas, people, positions, and policy without fear of ostracization by those I rely on for support, income, and audience. Those who are with me now are not here out of any sense of obligation or political solidarity, but because (I presume), they value who I am and what I do, even if they don’t agree with it all.
Choosing authenticity over allegiance is the best choice I ever made. Authenticity takes far more courage than stubborn adherence to mantras, and offers you much more in terms of self-confidence and inner peace.
Solidarity is not forever. Resilience is.
On June 10, a panel of women will discuss their departure from the left in Austin. Get your tickets now via Eventbrite.