4. Transformative friendships with SJ

A conversation with writer and activist, SJ

I’ve had the honour of meeting SJ through our community organising work in Berlin and after many months of sending each other ‘podcasts’ (i.e. very long voice memos), we finally made a real, official podcast together! In this gorgeous conversation, snuggled up in a quiet corner of a community centre, we discuss friendship, transformation and forgiveness and how different our marginalised communities could be.

Also available on Spotify. RSS feed here.

SJ is a Berlin-based writer and activist. With a PhD in visual and media anthropology, they have been active in different fields, including university teaching, social work, community organising and video production. 

SJ is committed to tackling social justice topics through an intersectional lens. They see the practice of accountability, solidarity and transformative justice as tools for creating and maintaining communities that value collective care and radical healing.

SJ’s writings have been translated to several languages and have been featured in publications such as The Guardian, Jadaliyya, and New Socialist among others.


Kes Otter Lieffe:
Hi, I’m Kes Otter Lieffe and welcome to Margins and Murmurations, the podcast. If you enjoy this podcast please share it with your friends. As I don’t have social media this is the best way for people to find out about me. If you’d like to know more about my work, you can check out otterlieffe.com.

I’ve had the honour of meeting SJ through our community organising work together in Berlin and after many months of sending each other ‘podcasts’ (i.e. very long voice memos), we finally made a real, official podcast episode together! In this gorgeous conversation, snuggled up in a quiet corner of a community centre, we discuss friendship, transformation and forgiveness and how different our marginalised communities could be.

SJ is a Berlin-based writer and activist. With a PhD in visual and media anthropology, they have been active in different fields, including university teaching, social work, community organisation and video production. 

SJ is committed to tackling social justice topics through an intersectional lens. They see the practice of accountability, solidarity and transformative justice as tools for creating and maintaining communities that value collective care and radical healing.

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Erm, yeah. What shall we talk about?

Yeah, we had some ideas of like, talking about community accountability, just like how to create spaces that allow for forgiveness, but also where people can be heard equally and all of that. A lot of people talk about it, but how it is in practice and within our communities, which we see a lot of problems happening. But yeah, so what can we actually do? That’s something. But what do you think?

K: I think that sounds great. I think that’s something that we specifically worked on as well and thought about a lot with the Transformative Justice Working Group that we were both a part of. I feel like it’s something that just comes up in our conversations all the time. It’s like such a pressing community need in a way to be able to find ways to work through people fucking up and kind of know that that’s a thing that people do. Find ways to deal with it, think about accountability, find ways around punishment, find alternatives, but also fix the thing and take care of the people affected by things and yeah, educate people to sop making the same stupid mistakes again. I feel like there’s so much in there and it’s a really pressing need. I feel like it’s something that just keeps coming up, and it comes up in our conversations a lot because in the communities were in, it does seem like something that just keeps surfacing, that people just don’t really have good solutions for. One, of the things I notice is that when we don’t have skills, we just kind of fall back on a default skill set which is like, oh, we have to punish people. That’s what we learn from society. That’s what we do. That’s kind of the only model we’ve got.

S: Yeah

K: So it’s almost like an instinct or something. It’s like that’s just all that people have to resort to you’re like, oh, a bad thing happens, punishment, right. That’s what we do. I don’t know, even just like in TV or something, it’s like that’s all there is. There aren’t any alternatives. So I wonder what are the alternatives and how do we make those more instinctual?

S: Yeah, I think also a part of this problem is also the fact that we have internalized this punishment system. And sometimes I think we keep ourselves to this higher standard of like thinking we are not allowed to make mistakes. So even if we also agree with this whole transformative, justice approach and all of that, I think a lot of us so when we make mistakes, we’re like, oh, we fucked up. And if we admit that we fucked up, then we’re going to be punished. Even though we don’t believe in punishment ourselves. And we kind of instead of trying to just reduce the harm or change the circumstances or take accountability, we just start to, I don’t know, kick other people. Like, no, this isn’t happening, or like just gaslighting other people or like all sort of these methods happen once you are in that position. And I think that’s also something that I’ve also came across a lot in the community to see that people are so afraid of admitting because it’s told they think there’s no way for them to admit and still be treated in a human way or not being canceled. We can say, yeah, I fucked up, it was wrong of me and that’s okay. And everybody accepts. And I feel like no matter how hard sometimes you try to let the people around you and people you love know that it’s okay to make mistakes. You are human. Like our nature is to make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. It doesn’t matter what like however we are because sometimes our mental reactions are different to our awareness and that’s absolutely normal. But yeah.

K: I like how you put that. Our reactions are different to our awareness. That made so much sense. It’s like, okay, I know I’m supposed to do this thing, but that’s not how you react in the moment. You know, that’s not completely correct, but sometimes that’s just how we react. We haven’t deprogrammed all those things that we were programmed in the first place. I really like that. Yeah, I also remember I was scrutinizing myself or thinking of like, oh, I end up in relationships where I know what is happening, I understand where I come from and why I feel that way and why I feel the need to the constant need to get security from the other person and this kind of attachment style. And although I knew everything about it, but once it came to it, I would do the same thing. And I could see how the pattern was putting me in the same position that I was in before, and it was killing me to see that. I was like, okay, I can see exactly how this is going to go. I can see clearly what I’m doing wrong and how it’s going to actually bite me in the ass later, but at the same time, I couldn’t avoid it. And I think there are situations in which something is activated within your body, like your trauma, like PTSD, or there are stuff that, like, happening in your body, and it doesn’t matter that you know, okay, this is it. And you might react in a way that is not in line with the things that you believe in. And I think that’s also, okay, we can talk about it, and I think people understand that. But yeah, again, there is this push to be like, oh, no, I had the right to do this. Sometimes you do, but it’s still it’s also okay to say, like, yeah, I had the right to do this because of this and this and that, and because of all of these structural oppressions that I’ve been enduring. But at the same time, I could have reacted in a better way. And sometimes I feel like that’s so easy. It’s so difficult. Yeah. Just because sometimes you just go through this very long process of the people, and you just think, like, you could have just said yes, that would have been like, ten people are involved. It was just, like, hard.

K: We could just fix this so quickly.

S: Okay, I get it. And they would be like, oh, no, it’s okay. That’s nice. We managed to do it. Yeah, it’s just like, when it happens in a good way, it’s so satisfying, and it’s also so awkward. Right. Like, you’re like, oh, so just that was it?

K: No drama? It’s true, and it’s quite rare. I think the opposite of that just, like, spiraling drama is also just a default, I think that’s just become so common that you’re like, okay, something went slightly wrong, and now suddenly everyone is involved, and these people can’t talk to these people, and it’s a huge mess. Sometimes it depends on the situation. Sometimes that is what needs to happen, but often someone just misunderstood what the other person said, or they just said it wrong. Or we can’t meet these, like, ablest and classic standards of exactly how to speak and exactly what to say to the right thing. And maybe it was a double standard and certain people just hated no matter what they say. Sometimes it’s just, like, quite doesn’t need to spiral into some gigantic thing. It’s like, Oops, made a mistake. Okay, how do we fix it? Okay. And then yeah, we don’t need this endless spiral of mess often. And then, yeah, I’ve had just like a few experiences and if it’s not too personal, I think that we had this where we just kind of got in a difficult situation with each other and like, okay, but it’s okay to make mistakes. And I think that’s so rare and such a gift. And I think there is something for me, I really associate it with class because I think that’s something when people are not and I think maybe it’s not just a class thing. I think it’s all like marginal communities when people are not disposable because we can’t just throw people away because they made one mistake. We can’t be super fucking pure about it. And we need to hold our people close because we just don’t have that many and we can’t just be throwing people away. And we live in Berlin, it’s a place where people dispose of other people very easily because there’s always some more people. And yeah, I think that care of like, no, we’ll find a way through this and not everything, but often it’s something we can forgive each other for and we can find a way forward and there’s something so beautiful about that.

S: Yeah, exactly. But I think at the same time, we are so fixated on understanding abuse that we tend to just overuse these terms like, oh, I told you I’m sad, and you just looked it the other way. And that gas lit me just like, how easy obviously the difference between conflict and abuse is not as clear as it sounds. But what also sometimes really surprises me is that you’re talking about a clear structural issue, like a behavior that is harmful to different people because I don’t know if somebody is being racist, transphobic or whatever, and you’re talking about that behavior also, not that person. – that behavior – which can be fixed if they want to. And then you see other people be like, yeah, but this person also hurt me. They didn’t offer me the orange juice. I don’t know.

K: How dare they!

S: This person interrupted me also once.

K: The transmisogyny of someone not offering me their orange juice. I just can’t. The structural oppression!

S: That’s very dangerous when people bring all levels of harm together and just kind of like, yeah, bring it all to the same level, which really not. And I think that also has created this need for this competition of suffering. Like, oh, I suffered more, so you have to listen to me, or like, oh, no, I suffered more. And then you have to prove that. And that also gets really fucked up because it gets caught in the identity politics and all of that.

K: And no-one wins as well.

S: Yeah no-one wins.

K: I remember you wrote something in like an art piece that you made that was like, I don’t want to win, I want the end of winning, or something like that – was that the quote? There’s something in that that’s so powerful. It’s just like, let’s just change that entire game. In fact, the game is wrong.

S: Yeah, exactly.

K: Yeah. I think there are other games, there are other ways to relate to each other that isn’t a race to the bottom of who can win the most oppressed thing. And there’s something in it. Like, my sister calls it flattening, which I think is a really interesting way of saying it, where you’re just kind of smushing all the things together and calling it the most extreme thing you can find so that you win. So there has to be a game of winning anyway for it to even be interesting. But then whatever happens, you’re like, this is structural violence or this is abuse or this is transmisogyny or whatever it is. I think people will go for the most extreme… everything is all the same. There’s no difference between some super transphobic event that somebody ends up in hospital or someone, like, using the wrong word over dinner. I think it’s all the same. It’s all smushed together, it’s all flattened. And we’re going to give it the most extreme words that we can. And all of it is the most extreme thing that ever happened to anyone. And how could you do this? And if it’s just like if it is one of the other things where it’s just someone said the wrong thing and they just don’t know, or their brain just, like, doesn’t process words in the same way or whatever millions of reasons that we can have for fucking up. And it is fucking up. But it’s also like I think there’s something in me, I’ve had it a lot, where I will even kind of class people in my mind, because it’s a thing that English people are trained to do. And if someone is working class, I just don’t really mind what I’m like, why would you know? I didn’t until I got a class upgrade and went to university and was around people with big words or something. I wouldn’t know. How would you know? Yeah, so I think just this incredibly high expectations that everyone has swallowed a PhD in gender studies or something as an example of talking about gender. But I think it relates to a lot of things. It’s just like it’s just a bit impossible.

S: Yeah.

K: And I think it’s a double standard because I’ll be held to those extremely high standards when I grew up, basically in a house without any books. And it’s just, like a bit impossible that I’m ever going to get it all right. And who has time? I don’t even have social media. I can’t keep up. I’m never going to get it right. But then I see, like, more privileged people in the community can just fuck up and say whatever the fuck they want. And I’ve seen that in Berlin where, like, some incredibly problematic things happened and because they had the social capital, everyone was fine with it. But I’m held it, like, impossible standards that no one can meet.

S: Exactly. And I think also the more power you have, the more you can get away with that. And also some people see this as bravery of breaking the boundaries and even support you for that. They’re like, oh wow, I like this. I can also do this. I can use this to excuse my problematic and harmful behavior. But also we don’t need to like we can talk about the way we are hurt without theorizing it. I feel. And I think sometimes you don’t have to name something what it’s not, which doesn’t mean that harm doesn’t happen. Obviously that happens a lot. But also we don’t need to name things that are like you can say I was really hurt by this friend doing this to me and I don’t want to see them and that’s really okay also, but you don’t have to call it something that is not and then something that is even worse than that. And I see that people do that when it happens to them personally, but when they witness that happening to somebody else, they are suddenly much more forgiving at somebody else’s expense. Okay, this person wasn’t talking to me so everybody should hate him. But then oh, this person raped you, but like oh okay, yeah, but it’s too complicated. I don’t know, I just want to yeah, so those double standards also come to play in those situations. Both is really funny. I don’t know, just like reminded me of a story – a very intimate story. I’ll to try anonymise it as much as possible, but I was in a very intimate setting and so a conversation came up about my role in that setting and somebody was trying to let the other person see that in that context I was not being heard. And that person was like at some point they said something that really striked me. I was like, wow, what you’re saying is really interesting because they were like, if I accept that you have been unheard and if I go to other situations, these other situations were actually situations of very clear power situations where they have a higher up in the hierarchy. If in that situation somebody told me, oh, you’ve discriminated me, discriminated against me, then I have to accept that. And I was like, oh my God, you’re so afraid to tell me that you haven’t heard me. Because if you do that you feel like you’re going to lose all the time.

K: It sets a precedent. Oh my gosh.

S: And I was like, do you not hear what you’re telling me? This is so interesting that you even say that openly out loud and you don’t see what is happening there that you’re so afraid of losing this power and you feel like you have to keep that position of like no, just like I am right and this cannot be happening. Like I can’t be a person who not allow other people to speak. And so if I accept that, then my whole world crumbles. And I understand that’s one of the reasons that people don’t want to understand things. And they just like demonize other people who are very strict about their values and they know why they react in a certain way and they usually try their best not to let their personal emotionals get into the way that they behave. And usually those people are really hated because yeah, I think nobody wants that because they are, I think, a constant reminder of like, oh, if you do something fucked up, I’m going to see you. And I think people hate you for doing that.

K: People don’t want the mirror. They’re like ‘I just want to get away with it.’ I think there’s something so interesting there as well, of, like, people identifying as good people who don’t do those kinds of things, as if that somehow makes them exempt and some magic happens that I don’t believe I’m a person who does that, therefore I can’t do it. And I literally had a conversation with someone back when I lived in Brighton. It was like people were being called out on. It was around racism and I think it was around I don’t know, I can’t remember exactly what it was, a festival or something. And the person literally said, like, I’m antifa, I can’t be racist. Yeah, which obviously the opposite is true. Like, if you’re antifa, you should be super aware of privileges, positions, structural racism and things that you’ve internalized that will take a lifetime to deconstruct and sort your shit out. But for them, they were so fragile in a way, and it was just so simple to just be like, no, I’m antifa, so I can’t that’s just not a thing. So I cannot make mistakes. And there’s something like it’s interesting because obviously that person had a bunch of privileges over me. Well, it’s not obvious, but they did it. And I think there’s something in there where I kind of always assume I’m making a mistake and I always assume I’m the person who’s going to be fucking up because that’s what society told me. And society told this person that actually somehow they’re really smart and really great and they’re never going to make mistakes and they smush that in with their antifa identity and therefore they’re exempt and clean and pure and can never do something wrong. Whereas I kind of always assume it’s my fault and I still have it when I’m driving. It’s just like if anyone beeps a horn anywhere within a kilometer, I assume I did something and I changed the lane without indicating or something. Actually, I’m really, really safe, but I always assume it’s my fault. And it’s interesting how society kind of programmed me and this person who I barely remember, really, but I do remember them saying that and it’s quite impressive and I don’t quite know how to deal with it as well because it’s so obviously illogical, because I think if someone’s like, yes, probably. Society is really fucked up. They taught me this thing. I probably did do that. I’m working on it. How do I fix it? How do I not do this again? Apologies are important for me. It’s not like I don’t even need an apology. Usually I’m just kind of like, can you just not do it again? Just like, fix the thing. Apologies, I can’t eat them. I just want the thing to not happen. I know that apologizing is like, a big thing these days, but I feel like, yeah, usually I don’t know. It doesn’t benefit me when someone apologizes. I’m just like, Just fix the thing. Don’t do the thing again.

S: It should also be a part of the apology. Talking about what is an apology? It’s not just said words that you be like, oh, I did this thing wrong. Apology actually should be doing something against the harm and not repeating it and changing the circumstance.

K: It should be right? But I’m like, okay, cool. Yeah, some words, great. I’ll put those in my collection of words. I don’t know what to do with that. It’s true it needs to be followed by action. Yes. Because I think there’s just, like, a different level of humility or something with like, yeah, I probably did fuck up. I came from a terrible place. I’m working on it. Let me work out what I need to do to undo that or manage it or fix it or whatever is possible. And I just can’t imagine the reality of just being like, I don’t make mistakes. And what society must be doing to keep affirming that person’s bizarre myth that they don’t make mistakes. Like, everyone’s telling them that they’re great and pure and perfect. I’m like, wow, no one ever told me that. I have the opposite. I can’t get anything right. It’s partly my own stuff, but people hold me to impossible standards. Yes, I think that’s true for many marginal people.

S: Exactly. That’s really interesting. But also, I think that’s one of the reasons that entitlement in that form kind of really annoys me. Like, worries something within me. Like when I’m cycling in Berlin and just like, when white people take time to do whatever they want to do, they just see it as a right to block the bike lane. Which is also fine, I don’t mind. But then once you do it, they just get so annoyed. They’re like, don’t you know how this works? Get the fuck out of my way. And so every time I go out cycling, which is quite often, I feel like I’m going to war because I feel like I constantly need to reclaim this space because how do they feel that it’s more theirs than its mine, and it’s really exhausting. And just also, I remember in lines of what you said about that I’m antifa, so I’m not racist. My professor also told me once, like, when I confronted her with her racism. I mean, I didn’t confront her. I mean, I confronted her. She never responded. I wrote an article, she wrote it later, and then she just sent me an email basically telling me, shut the fuck up. But then she was like, how dare you calling me a racist? Which I also didn’t do directly. I never met her, but she was like, how dare you calling me a racist. I have been voting for the Greens since I was 16.

K: Oh, I remember this story!

S: I was like, you are a professor of anthropology. Are you fucking kidding me now?

K: I’m immune to racism because I like the Green Party. That’s amazing. I mean I assume the Green Party is super racist as well. It just seems really improbably that that would help at all. erm… what?

S: Yeah, and also, like, how you see how often they try to deflect that on you and be like, oh, maybe it’s your issue. What she told me was kind of assuming my gender identity and my sexual orientation. She was like, Because she was a lesbian. And she was like, maybe you’re homophobic that you have an issue with me. And I was like, oh, wow, your comment is homophobic because how do you know what I am? But I never talked to this about you. You have no idea. Just because I come from a certain country, did you just assume that we are all hetero people?

K: Well, she couldn’t because she’s part of the Green Party.

S: Yeah, exactly. This is the thing with power that people feel like, oh, I am immune. I can just justify my wrong doings by just, I don’t know, connecting it to things that don’t even like yeah, so that’s very disturbing sometimes to see that you’re trying to just show the harm and break it down to them and find ways to kind of help the people around who were harmed. And then you see people kind of just like, be, oh, no, but this is me, and if I’m this, then I can’t be that. And of course we can be all of that. We are complicated. We can all be contradictory. And that’s something especially, I think, for marginalized people. We should just treat each other with more forgiveness because we are all contradictory. We all make mistakes, and that’s really okay. I mean, unless it triggers something really deep inside of us. And I understand people wanting to remove themselves from the situations, and that’s also okay. But I don’t know, it’s just so much hard feelings around things that we don’t necessarily need to be so have strong feelings about.

K: Yeah, I see that. I see that people can get kind of straight to emergency level ten when actually nothing really happened yet. And I totally get those trauma responses as well. I have the same but I think there’s also yes, with this professor or this racist, antifa person, I think there’s like, society must be doing something with those very privileged people. And you use the word entitlement and I think it really fits where they kind of get away with it and they can just be like, no, because I don’t believe in that. Therefore I can’t do it. Or it’s art, it’s not racism or something. And they just kind of have ways to just go get out of anything, basically. And someone’s letting them get away with it. There’s no accountability. And I feel like there’s also in there, particularly the antifa person was very much like within my communities at that point. And there’s something the same entitlement, I think is still there, but there’s also a fear and that flattening of human experience where she wasn’t able to be like, I am both dedicated to antiracism and also learning how to not be a racist white person. And both of those things are true and there will be mistakes along the road. And she wasn’t able to hold that. Like, not really such a complex story, really. It’s just like two things at the same time. But she was just like, no, it’s like, I’m pure and good and racism is bad and I can’t be associated with that. I think there’s something in there where I mean, I’m just trying to, like, fix it, I guess. I don’t know if we’ll fix it on this podcast episode… it would be nice, right?

S: So this is the solution.

K: So for everyone listening at home. Here comes the solution. Get out your notepads. I don’t know if there’s many things we can do about entitlement, but I think there’s sometimes it comes from different places. There’s one which I think is like double standards and that’s something we can, like, break down. There’s something about that fear that I think you mentioned right at the beginning of like, this is my very simple version of reality. Don’t question it because my life will fall apart. I don’t like these things. I cannot be them. And also if I admit that I made this mistake, I’m going to be punished to fuck. And I’m really scared of that. And I think that’s very real. I don’t think the punishment is dealt out equally. I think there are lots of double standards within that. But the fear of punishment, the fear of getting it wrong, the fear of saying the wrong thing, the fear of putting the wrong tag on an Instagram posts. I say like these are words that I don’t really know what they mean. I do really! It’s just like everyone’s been so hyper careful. The people who have to be hyper careful, the other people are like, passing around like fucking mobility aids as part of an art project in Neukölln. And I was just like, what? I was in some queer event and I like, I’m super calling them out, but they need to be called out like a bunch of abled people. And then they made some kind of performative art out of like, walking sticks and mobility aids. And I was just like, I don’t believe what’s happening. And everyone was super into it. And I caught them, like, questions of them afterwards or. Whatever. And they were just like, no, it’s art, it’s fine. And this is very much like queer scene, political something, but they were like, yeah, ableism isn’t really a thing in Germany and it was art. So that’s it. Anyway, maybe we have to edit that part out.

S: We’re getting too comfortable.

K: Yeah. So I’m thinking of alternatives to punishment because I think that’s a very real thing. And I’ve had it where I’m scared to admit a mistake and that stops me from tending to the harm that I’ve caused, which should be the only thing that I’m thinking about. And there should be a context where I can be like, I made a mistake. That’s a normal thing, let me work out how to fix it. And instead I see people getting scared because it’s scary and they spiral and they start doing all kinds of weird fucking shit rather than just dealing with the thing, saying, oh, I messed up, let me fix it. And they start doing anything else to avoid the fact that they messed up because it’s such a terrifying thing

S: And they just dig deeper.

K: They just dig deeper, it’s exactly that. And just like, oh my God, stop. Just fix the thing.

S: Just stop moving. Just stop moving.

K: It’s so real.

S: Yeah. Yeah. I think this is a question that many people have, like how to avoid this. I mean, I’m not even talking about it like a big scale. I’m just like even in smaller communities, even in interpersonal situations, I feel like I sometimes I lost my trust in myself because I have put a lot of effort into creating spaces within the people that I knew to just let them feel loved and secure and know that if they make even huge mistakes on my expense, I would forgive them. If they are willing to take accountability and understand and listen. And I would do the same for them. If I make a mistake, I would also do that. And I thought, okay, so they haven’t had this alternative, so this is the reason they’re reacting that way. I know I had some privileges to work with people or just like, I don’t know, came across resources that taught me to do that. So I should share this with other people and how else would they understand that nobody is going to execute them if they make a mistake? But then I just like I also didn’t have that much access to the community outside and was a bit lost. So I was like, oh, I started from my own circles and then I realized, oh, actually this was very unhealthy for me because it became sort of my responsibility to just people were kind of see it as my responsibility to be like, oh, you can harm SJ. Because even like that was me at the end of the day, who would take their hand and be like, okay, let’s go to work together. This is what you did. This is how it made me feel bad. And you do all that work for hours and hours explaining it to someone, and not only they don’t acknowledge that, but then after a few times, they see it as your responsibility. They’re like, oh, why is she not doing this for me anymore? And then you realize once the opposite side happening with you or with other people, how they completely have different expectations of themselves, which is also, I understand we didn’t have practice. We didn’t have communities where we had these practices. So my question is. How do we create those spaces where we can hold each other accountable and ourselves. But at the same time not like cross our own boundaries or become these caretakers or these educators. Just not fall into these fixed roles of like, yeah. Just like. I don’t know how like. For example. Trans people or black people have been educating people. And now it’s like as if it’s like their fucking responsibility. As if they’re being paid for that. Like, somebody who are having this conversation with someone, and somebody started, like, bringing up this feminist name. And then he was like, yeah, but if she does that I was like, yes. She’s also fucking tired. And he was like, yeah, but I can never do this. For me, it’s enough to change one person. But if you’re willing to do that, good for you, but then you shouldn’t get tired.

K: Then you should have no limits.

S: And I was like, first of all, she didn’t choose to be in that position. She sees it as her responsibility. She can’t opt out like you do. And for you, it’s enough to educate one person. She has educated hundreds, and yet you’re like, that’s not enough.

K: I was told the same thing, at some point. I was just like, yeah, this is not the time where I’m going to answer those questions. But you’re the person that answers the questions. Like, you signed up for this. I was like, Well, I didn’t really but also, even if it was my job, you can leave your work, right? You can go home. That’s a thing. Certain people can. Certainly people can’t. The factory owner can, the factory worker cannot. And I think there’s a thing there. It was just like, oh, so now that I’m in this role for you, you’re entitled to my labor forever and always, and I have no boundaries and you want me to work weekends too. None of this was actually employment, but it was like this kind of, like, employment contract where it’s in someone’s mind, they were like, no, you’re the person who teaches me about transmisogyny or something. And this is like, what you do now forever and ever, because I’m entitled to your labor.

S: Exactly.

K: It’s just terrifying. Thank you for bringing up the nuance that there’s this balance of either my only response to things is to call the strongest oppression I can find in this situation and punish the fuck out of everybody and my friends never talk to your friends ever again and we can’t be in the room together or I’m the person who’s quite forgiving and I’m going to educate you not only about what you did. But also about transformative justice. Restorative justice and healing justice for months and months and months and then that’s all I am for you. I’m just going to be offering that work to people who already hurt me and now I just have to forgive them forever. And somewhere in between, there has to be something that isn’t that because that’s awful.

S: Yes.

K: And I see people going between those two extremes as well, where someone’s put in this like, I have to be really forgiving, I don’t get to have boundaries situation. Then there’ll be some kind of emancipation or empowerment or something and they’ll go to like super hyper boundaries where everything is a violation of my boundaries. It’s like, oh my God, I just offered you tea, leave me alone and then flip back to the other. It’s just like people kind of go between these extremes and I think it’s a really hard thing to balance or find some kind of constructive or healthy. I don’t know if these are good words, but some balance in the middle where it’s not so many boundaries that no one can even see you anymore or no boundaries at all. And I’ll just deal with everybody’s shit forever and ever and they can do what they want. For me, there’s something in the middle.

S: I mean, what we did, our group was kind of bad for me. Although we had very, I think, different visions of this whole transformative justice group. And it was intimate, small group, but at the same time, that was such a good example for me. I mean, also the topic was transformative justice.

K: We had to get it right.

S: It was just like such an amazing experience of like, okay, not everyone on that group were the people I knew. I don’t even know if we stand politically on the same ground, but at the same time, we managed to just treat each other with so much care and love and just there was so much space for everybody to bring something to the table. And at the end, also the way that from the beginning, like we talked about, okay, what do we need? What do we do if somebody wants to go out? How do we communicate that? How do we give space? How to not put the spotlight on somebody when they feel that they’re tired, that they need stress, all of these things. And I was like, oh my God, this is actually really easy. And people like, maybe there was a time in my life that I would think like, oh, things should happen organically and like this, but it’s like consent. Like relationships, you have to fucking communicate because it always happens, especially in groups. I’ve seen like, those. A lot of people are really trying to create communities to bring groups together and every time that happens, there’s a problem. Oh, I know this group is going down in a matter of months. In that Transformative Justice group, we managed to do it. It was like a smaller scale for me. It was like, oh, it’s possible. And also because we had this big break and then we decided not to continue at the moment, but also the way is that we came to that conclusion. I think it was the best closing I’ve ever had in my life.

K: Me too!

S: And I just wonder, like, what made it possible and how can we have that more often? And yeah. I don’t know if we were more like maybe if we were having because you and me are close. But I’m thinking that if we were closer to each other or more intimate of friends. Would it also be possible to have the same rhythm or I don’t know. But it’s still like on a scale of social organizing. I think it was a really good example of. Oh. This is basically possible. It just needs active reflection.

K: Active reflection and kind of a commitment to doing it right. There was something in there, there wasn’t a game of who’s going to win this. The winning was let’s do this right and take care of each other, which is a difficult thing to be, like, care is the strategy, but also maybe care is the strategy. I think caring for ourselves, care for each other was a fucking powerful tool that we had and we committed to and that protocol that we created, which I think I’m just going to do that for every project I ever work on ever again now. It was just so nice and it was like, in concrete terms, it was kind of like, okay, if somebody wants to take a break, how do we communicate that? Which channels do we use to communicate with the rest of the team? If we want some, how are we going to add new members? How are we going to make decisions about that and just like really breaking it down? But I think particularly the parts of if we don’t want to do this anymore. If some individual doesn’t want to do it anymore. If we need to take a break. If we can’t follow through on a task that we’ve committed to. But then the roof falls in and we need to be late with it. How do we communicate that and like. How do we just take care of each other through all the things that I guess that’s not going to happen. I think there was a lot of wisdom of just like, sometimes the roof will fall in or sometimes a project won’t work out for more than a year. Sometimes we’re just real about it. Sometimes you get tired and you can’t do a thing. And I think that work already just showed so much commitment. Just like getting this right is more important than me individually winning something out of it.

S: Exactly.

K: And that’s beautiful. I’ve seen that just rarely in groups where people are more committed to the thing. Like outside of Europe. I think inside Europe, this is like a really rare thing where people are so individualized, atomized everyone’s a little bit like, what can I get out of this thing? And I have spent time in other social movements outside of Europe where people just did it differently. And also some European movements are maybe more working class or something, where people are just like, it’s a lot more serious. People are just like, well, yes, me and my family needs this thing that we’re fighting for, but we all need it. And something beyond, do I get credit for being in this demonstration or is this going to look good on my Instagram profile or am I going to win in this group or something, whatever winning looks like. But I do feel like people are trying to win a lot and that’s just never my – I don’t know. I mean, maybe it isn’t just not aware of it, but usually let’s just do a thing. This thing needs to happen. How do we make the thing happen? More than like, what can I get out of this? How can I win?

S: I mean, the whole capitalism has evolved around personal winning. But it also depends on how you describe winning for yourself. Because it’s so rewarding when you experience that collective experience.

K: Right? We totally won.

S: Exactly. But it’s so much more fulfilling than just being like, oh, I did this and I’m so amazing. It looked like how great I am. But you feel like, oh, we managed to do this thing together and it worked out. And it wasn’t like we agreed on everything. Actually. We had very different ways of dealing with changing and we had like you were in so many different places.

K: Which made it richer, more interesting as well. There was space for that. It wasn’t that we’re all trying to be one homogenous group.

S: Definitely not.

K: That is what people do when they flatten their own experiences. They try and flatten everybody else’s as well. They’re like, if you don’t agree with me, you’re not in or something. It’s like, no, let’s embrace all the different things because I might be cute and interesting and maybe more. Exactly.

S: Yeah, this would be really nice. But also, like, I remember reading your first book, there were bits where I just actually forgot this exact sentence is what I had in my mind for a while. Because there were some points where somebody would just say something or ask the wrong question and the character would be like, oh, I’m sorry, it’s wrong of me to just say it like this or to ask you this. And just like, I feel like it’s very rare that I read something like this in a novel. It was just so satisfying because I was like, as soon as something problematic was that, I was like, oh, fuck, what is going to happen? Because I went to my own trauma response. I was like, oh, the other person is going to attack now. And then it would just deescalate in the next line. I was like, oh. So I think having that example, even in writing when you read novels to see they have conflicts, but they also manage to go around it, or they could be even, like, more serious conflicts or even harmful behavior. And how do you go about it? And it’s possible not only in theory, but also we should be able to see it’s possible in I don’t know, in literature, in movies, and people around us. And I think that was one of the reasons that I really enjoyed that book, that I was like, oh, it just gave me this peace of mind that I was like, oh, I’m not I mean, obviously this story, there is a lot of fear because obviously it’s a dystopian situation or maybe like half a little bit. It’s also like a utopian situation at the same time, but also yeah, so there is a lot of excitement. But at the same time, I was like, oh, it’s so refreshing to read a story of how people just like especially these two main characters, Ash and Pinar, how they’re just so loving to each other, they support each other even though they’re so different, and they can just also do things that would not sit with the other person right. That was such a nice example. But it’s also sad to see, like, how easy it can be and how we are so impressed by that.

K: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. And it’s so rare and that’s the sad thing. Yeah, it was very intentional. I think those were the parts that were very utopic for me. So, yes, indeed, I talk about it all the time, how it’s always classified as a dystopia. And I’m like, well, like, oppressive racist, ableist, transmisogynist state that’s, like, fucking up everybody’s life. That part is just real life that’s not even very futuristic or dystopic. Climate change. Like, it’s very dystpic, but that’s the world we live in. The utopia part is that people are fuckinging up and trying to get better at it and trying to take care of each other, building alternatives to the shitty systems of oppression. And that feels like utopia. And I do see it also in real life. But there were some things where I was like, I just need this to even if it only exists on page. I think also in Dignity, the latest of the novel in the trilogy. I think there’s a point where they’re looking back and they’re like, I think Ash and Pinar are in bed or something. And they’re talking about how it used to be really shitty. There was no accountability, or certain people got accountability, but certain people were held to a really high standards and something something and everybody was too traumatized to be in a room together, which is something that I still experience all the time. It’s just like this phrase in my head – sometimes we’re all just too traumatized to be in a room together, which is horrible and also true. And they’re looking back at it in the past and that things have changed and how did it change? And it’s still not perfect and we still have a long way to go, but that’s not a thing anymore. And I can’t remember how it changed. I can’t remember that part, but I just remember it being in the past. It was like that was a terrible thing. We were all really scared to fuck up. We were all being held to such high account, like high standards. And I think Ash is like, really fucked up things happen to me and no one was held accountable because no one cared about those things. But she was held to impossible standards and yeah, very much like real experience for a lot of people I know. But it’s in the past and we don’t do that anymore. And we’ve moved on from that. And there’s something like I don’t know, it gives me, like, little goosebumps or something. Imagine if we can do that shit, if we found something else. And I’m sure there are people in the world who don’t do it. I have experienced it in relationship and community and organizing relationships, where people are like, it’s more important to me that we fix this and we take care of each other than that I fucking win the argument or something. I do see it. I do see people creating alternatives just in the way they communicate, forgive each other and analyze double standards. I think some people around us, I think we also do it every day. I think a little bit. Like, there are these moments of what I think of as being abolition of punishment just in there. We’re like, I’m not going to punish you. I’m more committed to working this thing out, or let’s find a way to move forward. And there’s something so gorgeous just about that. That’s kind of everything.

S: Yeah. And if it doesn’t work out, we can walk away also, like, worst case scenario, that’s also always an option. We don’t need to destroy the other person to prove ourselves that we did right. Yeah, I totally agree with that. And I think yeah, it is kind of liberating. And also, I think the more you value these things, the more you also creat spaces where you can practice them. And I also see myself now in my life. I’ve been through a lot of, like, these conversations about accountability, about harm, about community and all of that. And I think I paid a very high price. And I also had to remove myself from many situations and that was very lonely. I’m isolating for a long time, but at the same time, I feel like it also enabled me to recognize that urge, that wish in other people and that brought me closer to them. And now because of that, I managed to start smaller, much smaller communities. Maybe like mostly relationship with individuals or sometimes few individuals together where we all maybe like obviously not everybody is on the same page exactly, but we all have similar values and those relationships. And if you also work with these people together in whatever, if you want to look at this capitalistic way of ‘outcome’, my mind is like internalized capitalism. Even if you want to work with these people, I think the outcome because I think it’s more tangible for people. But I don’t know, it’s just like now when I meet people and I go home, I feel fulfilled. And I think I can’t say the same thing about two years ago, maybe, because I was like, oh, I’m so tired. I’m fucking exhausted. Because I either had to put some lead on my thoughts and values and the things that were informed by my awareness that I really fought for or like, I had to start this educational process or confrontation that was taking so much energy for me. And now I go see my friends and even before I sometimes react, I see that they do and I’m like, oh, this is so nice. So I also see that it’s possible, but obviously we need to just expand this to a bigger extent so that more people feel that. But yeah, it’s difficult. It’s a lot of work.

K: It is a lot of work. Sometimes I think there’s like experimentation as well, just like trying these alternatives. Because as we said at the beginning, we don’t have models. No one told us the stuff. We’re just kind of working it out. But you do write and I’m curious, how does writing play into your activism?

S: Yeah, actually you read my first draft of the last article I wrote about which is about a commodification of trauma and also like how basically just like the ruling class kind of getting off on marginalized people’s trauma and like how they basically are only humanized in terms of the role of victims. We are only seen where we’re victimized or just because what else you have to say if you’re a marginalized person, the only stories you see of usually now they’re trying to change that. A lot of people are putting a lot of work in that. But usually you see like, every time about trans people, it’s about them being violated or like it’s just like.

K: Or eating babies in the women’s toilet.

S: Oh god. Yeah, they’re just like threatening victimizers. Like nobody wants them around. Or like for example, this is something that I wrote about. I can talk about an experience like if somebody attacked me on the street because of they’re racists and I come to work and tell my colleagues about it they’re like oh, that’s so awful. But if you say like oh, this report is fucking racist. And they’re like, how dare you? Who are you to say this? Are you personally hurt by that? Tell me about that pain. And I’m like, no, it’s not about my fucking identity. Why can’t I have an opinion about these things? Just because you see me as a victim, just because you see me as the oppressed majority, minority, whatever, doesn’t mean that I’m not capable of like yeah, so I feel like you can never validate your claims without bringing up a personal heartbreaking stories.

K: Exactly. I mean it reminds me of when I was being interviewed about the Get Home Safe project and the person just really and it was so basic I couldn’t believe that it was happening. But she was really obsessed with like, but obviously you’re doing this because something really terrible happened to you on public transport and that’s why you’re organizing this mutual aid fund to get people at risk home safely by whatever means possible with extra money. But no this happened to you, right? As if risk was not a thing that anybody knew about unless I could give her a really sexy violation story on the underground or something. And there’s the commodification of that and I think there’s also the layer where that becomes something that infiltrates our communities and social media and the way we communicate and stuff where that flattening, where we’re like exaggerating things sometimes because otherwise we just won’t get heard. Unless we’re calling it the biggest word we can find. Nobody responds properly and the louder we shout and everybody gets desensitized to everybody screaming and so you have to scream even louder and really weaponize things and weaponize anything and then find something to instrumentalize to get your voice heard. Just no one cares. And that’s just kind of like an endless cycle. I feel like there’s just like at some point there’s only so much, people you can’t just keep creating stronger and stronger words and sometimes it is the strongest word not to negate that really terrible things happen. They’ve happened to me but sometimes it’s not that. And sometimes people are flattening all the experience but calling it the strongest thing and it’s a personal violation because that looks good in that article. Or people can respond to that. As you say, we don’t get to analyze things or talk about anything unless it’s like us personally all we are is bodies that just like bad things happen to you and then we become a bit more interesting.

S: Yeah, that’s how there is money to be made out of that, out of those personal service. Because like all of these neoliberal institutions, from academia to, I don’t know, just like, journalism industry, like, media all of that.

K: Charities. NGOS.

S: Yeah, okay. We just make this a story about how this I don’t know, these women have been, like, a victim of domestic violence, and that’s okay. And he would be like, oh poor woman. What an asshole husband. And that’s it. But then, obviously, it also shifts attention from the source of the problem which is the fucking marriage, which is, like, a patriarchal institution, but nobody wants to talk about that because they are all connected, because this is where the money is being made.

K: Especially if the charity needs some more money.

S: It’s just, like, personal stories. Yeah. So I think this is what I also wrote about. These are the only situations where we can, like, star in, like, all the QTBIPOC people. This is the only shows that we can be like, oh, hey, here’s my oppression story. And you get so much attention from it, and if you refuse to sell that, you might be rendered as invisible. Your vote might be rendered as invisible. And I feel like this is happening to a lot of people who are doing amazing work here, but they’re not even, like, making a living out of it. Like, just both of us. Right? And we can’t make a living out of it. We have to do other shit to be able to pay our rent and all of that.

K: But I think if we really lean into trauma porn, we can do it. Yeah, exactly. It’s a whole industry of trauma porn. If we just were willing to really look over, I’m sure we could, like yeah.

S: We could have access. Take my camera to Iran, to the village. And they love it in Germany, especially like, oh, oppression, yay give it to me. Let me see that women in her hijab and how they’re oppressed and just feel good about myself. And I’m like, oh, God,

K: I don’t know where we go from there.

S: I don’t want it to end.

K: So that’s bad. Let’s not do that. No, but I think it’s an important thing that we can see or perceive, process those very neoliberal institutional ways of commodifying – ooh I’m using all these long words! You bring this out in me. So yeah, of commodifying experience and, like, trauma porn and stuff. Because, like, all capitalism, we internalize it. Nor impression, we’re internalizing it. And I’ve definitely done it. I’ve definitely used a sob story to win the thing, whatever it was. It’s definitely a thing. It makes me ashamed to admit it, but it’s like, of course, we’ve all internalized terrible things from where we come from. And I think particularly when you don’t have other tools, we fall back on whatever we’ve learned. And there is something in there of, like, just changing instincts or changing gut reactions where, like. Is it gut reaction? Let’s say instinct. Knee jerk reaction. That’s what I’m trying to say. Like an automatic, like this thing is happening, I will respond in this way. And rather than it be like, I will respond with, I’m not being heard. I must use trauma porn or I fucked up, I must spiral and make a whole movie and do anything other than admit that I made a mistake. Or maybe programming – programming’s a terrible word, but building in some kind of alternative ways of responding where you’re like, yeah, just something other than that. And I think that that only works if everyone’s kind of like into that doing it. Because if everyone’s looking for trauma porm and that’s what we expect on Instagram or something, if you’re the only one who’s not doing it, you won’t make a living. Yeah. And if everyone’s like, you don’t need to do this. We’re going to perceive you and care for you and make sure you get what you need, regardless of what your story is. We’re going to care for everyone. We won’t punish you. We’re going to find a way forward. We’re going to care for each other. Then at some point, trauma porn just doesn’t mean anything anymore. You’re like, you can do that, but you won’t get more for it. You don’t need to. You’re going to get your needs met. Because I think often we’re just scared and we’re just trying to get our needs, met. I think particularly when it’s like marginal people doing all these things, and we all take all these fucked up things all the time. We’re not getting what we need. And so we’re just like, I will spiral, I will attack, I will any of these other things that feel like a solution, but probably not really. And we kind of know that it’s not going to work, but how else will we get our needs met? The more we can just have those experiences and contexts and spaces where we’re like, okay, I’m good here. I have what I need. I don’t need to fight. I don’t need to perform. I can just be and be taken care of and get what I need. And it’s really rare, but I feel like that’s the place to start somehow creating those spaces because then we just don’t need all those other things. It becomes irrelevant. You don’t need to it’s okay.

S: Yeah. I think a lot of it also is about self love and just accepting that’s also a very fine line between that and what was it narcissism sometimes, but also like, I think there was, for example, when it came to sexual assault experience for me, there was a time that I needed people to acknowledge what has happened to me. And when they refused, I kind of felt like, oh, I’m not being a good victim because I’m not performing in a way as a good victim. I’m not talking about the pain, the hurt that I’ve been experiencing. I’m just talking about it as if it’s a piece of news and this is not satisfying enough because people want this performance, like, as a good victim, first of all, you have to be pure. Second of all, you have to perform, you have to cry, you have to talk about all of these things and how can you just avoid all of that? But then there was a point that I was like, if I trust myself with that and if I believe myself basically, then I won’t actually really need to prove then that this is right.

K: The context and the space is you’re like, I’m just going to let this is a real thing, I’m going to perceive it myself, I’m going to be heard by myself, I’m going to take care of myself first. And then it doesn’t really matter if people are doing it or not doing it because you’re doing it. I love that. Yeah, that’s a really good sustainable place to start as well because you probably have some control over how much you get for yourself at least and controlling other people doesn’t usually work. That’s fucking beautiful. That’s a great place to end.

S: Exactly, I’m like, we finally managed to get something positive.

K: We did it, we found it! I told you we were going to solve it.

S. Self-love. But don’t fall into Narcissism.

K: Amazing. Yeah, great. Thank you so much. Thank you for inviting me. It was really nice. Now I want to do podcasts.

S: Yes. Let’s do more! Okay, part two, coming soon.

K: Thank you.

S: Thank you.