Walking On Fences Leads To Falls
By RedWarrior (FetLife)
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.”
I’ve had this quote stuck in my head today and couldn’t remember where it came from, but turns out it’s biblical. (My Catholic childhood must have planted it.) It’s too true, though. There is peace when your loyalties are undivided and trying to walk on fences almost always leads to a fall.
For many years, particularly when I was newer to BDSM communities, I agreed with the prevailing wisdom that you should never take sides in any disagreement, that there was a virtue in always being “neutral” and avoiding “drama” and in general trying to be a peacemaker. I’d schedule my activities trying to divide my time between groups, never wanting to show preferences, all with the goal that this would help my community, which I cared about, be “peaceful,” “unified.” I was given a lot of positive reinforcement for behaving this way. Neutrality was rewarded with praise. I went along this path for years, well rewarded for staying “above the drama.” Life was good.
Then, one day, something interesting happened. A group intentionally did something to disrupt an event I’d planned, years ago. Suddenly, I found myself feeling pretty alone as almost all my “friends” also remained neutral, steadfastly refusing to choose sides. I realized that I felt pretty betrayed by that, hurt that the people I thought were my friends and supporters suddenly turned cold and indifferent when a conflict came along. I also realized that it was very likely that I’d caused that same kind of hurt to others, all with good intentions to be a good “community leader.” How many friends had felt betrayed by me when I’d chosen to be neutral? How many times had I swallowed my words and allowed bad things to happen to good people because I didn’t want to speak up and ruin that neat facade of the neutral peacemaker?
I chose to change the way I approached conflict in my community back then. I chose to take sides when someone I knew and trusted and cared about was being vilified or treated unfairly. I chose to speak up in ways that still fit with my own values, in ways that were polite and intended to be constructive. But…I chose to be loyal rather than neutral in conflicts. I chose to speak out more often when I saw bad things happening and I chose to reach out to people I saw hurting.
Initially, this lost me some friends and some regard in my community. The people who thought always remaining passive and neutral no longer praised me. However, I soon also found that the friends I did cultivate were closer. I could trust them. I could be more open and vulnerable with them because I felt we had each other’s backs. We had deeper conversations and were more willing to go out of our way for each other. By standing by the people who stood by me, I found a much richer community within the wider BDSM community and I still have those ties that tug at me from thousands of miles away.
When people remain neutral even in situations where their friends are hurt, it becomes very difficult to trust them or build intimacy with them. It becomes hard to depend on them or know exactly where you stand with them. Boundaries become murky and there is the feeling of walking on eggshells for fear of falling off that fence either of you is sitting on. When I was the fence sitter myself, I experienced the anxiety of always having to censor myself, always fearing that I’d express something that would break that neutral facade or would tip me off the fence I was sitting on. I found myself being ruled by that impression I was trying so hard to hold onto, of being completely neutral. It reigned over my schedule and chose where I could go.
When I let go of that, I suddenly felt more free and more authentic. I was better able to set healthy boundaries in my relationships. I was suddenly free to spend my time where I enjoyed myself more. I was happier, less stressed, and I had more energy to spend supporting the things that mattered to me. I also found myself less and less willing to spend the time trying to build bonds with people who I could not count on being there for me if I found myself in a tough social situation.
I kind of lost some of that, starting over in a new community, but I’m finding my feet again and I’m happier. I’m finding the people who’ve learned the lessons I have about the false virtue of absolute neutrality, yet who also value polite disagreement over sowing discord.
And I’m sharing all this to say…it’s ok to take a side as long as you do it in a way that is respectful and healthy. It’s ok to choose to spend your time and energy wherever you find your bliss rather than feeling compelled or pressured to spend it anywhere else. And it’s ok if your choices are different than mine or anyone else’s. If you’re still a fence sitter in life, though, carefully preserving that facade, I’m going to limit my relationship with you. Not because I want to create division, but because I’ve been hurt by people falling off fences and because I want to spend my time and energy building relationships of depth and meaning. I want friends who, when push comes to shove, will be there for me and I will be there for them.
I keep my door open, though, for those who were like me and may one day come to realize that the silent majority are all too often what enables dark things to happen around them. If I woke up, there is always a hope that others will, too. There were people who embraced me years ago when I did and helped me find my balance in a new world of much more honest and healthy boundaries.
And ultimately, those healthy and honest boundaries DO make for a healthier community. Like good fences make good neighbors, sometimes division is a way to actually REDUCE drama, not increase it and those divisions can be treated in a respectful way when we stop pressuring people to remove the fence and stop pressuring people to sit on it when it’s there.