This is an important issue for me and quite a controversial one to comment on.
Having mild autism I’ve often had issues understanding and respecting personal boundaries, and also knowing what to do when my own were breached. As I got older and thought about it more; I gained an outsider perspective as to why boundaries are important and what they shouldn’t be used for.
Boundaries are there to protect you and your autonomy as a human being.
They are not there to:
Use as a tool to defend privilege;
Ignore the boundaries or sensitivities of others;
Use as a “get out of jail free” card in an argument where you’ve hurt or offended someone else, crossed their lines and do not wish to justify yourself;
Use as a means of socially excluding those with social difficulties and mental illness;
Protect yourself from any and all criticism;
Generally, use as a weapon against others.
This is a difficult argument because in feminism and social justice boundaries are regarded as very important, especially when you have “Nice Guys” making you feel uncomfortable and intruded upon. The problem is that said boundaries can also be used to turn around on people who are not as popular or respected within such a community and deny them a chance to integrate. This is why even though I have a good laugh at “Nice Guys of OKCupid” and the like, I do worry that some of them are not genuine creeps but people with autism or aspergers who have a poor time expressing themselves and often emulate “Nice Guys” without thinking.
It’s important to recognise that while the friend-zone as an institutional concept is nonsense - some people do still get rejected socially for unfair reasons. Of course people’s right to associate is very important, and you can’t force anyone to accept you going down a road that they’re uncomfortable with. But there are two sides to human interaction and this can easily get forgotten, and it’s not uncommon for feminist sensitivities to be observed at the expense of trans*, racial or disability related ones.
If people have an unfair or hurtful reason for refusing to associate with you or engage in a particular line of discussion - you have a right to criticise them. This does not mean you have the right to hassle someone who does not want to be your girlfriend, does not appreciate you objectifying them, or other forces a level of interaction on them that makes them uncomfortable, but it does mean that their motives for excluding or refusing to engage with someone are not infallible.
A great example of what I’m talking about on a slightly wider scale is the Michfest Womyn’s festival, which is famously trans-exclusive. People go on about their Right to a Safe Space from transwomen. These are often lesbian separatists that identify as “Radical Feminists”, more appropriately defined as ”Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists”(TERFs), since despite popular belief not all Radicals are of this view. It’s all about their rights, their boundaries, and they refuse to recognise that the manner in which they assert said boundaries paints transwomen as predators. Because there is this view in society that the asserting of boundaries is somehow free of criticism - it’s a difficult policy to engage with.
As a person who can come across as socially quite awkward, I still retain the “Last to be picked for the football team” syndrome from primary school. As such, I, and other people with autism and other conditions, are more likely to be excluded. Challenging the social structures behind this, in some social justice circles, seems to be forbidden. You just respect people’s right to association - that’s it.
But hold on - how is this any different to people’s “right not to associate” or do business with LGBT people? Perhaps people respect their legal right to on some level - but activists don’t just let things lie, they protest it. The truth is there are social structures within feminism, within LGBT and racial activism that elevate some people to the top and and kick some people to the bottom. There’s a degree of “libertarian”, socially darwinist ideology that’s somehow bled into social justice that I’m not happy about since it’s the opposite of what it’s about. Back when I started this game, as far as I aware, if people decided not to talk to you because you were trans, gay, autistic, whatever - that was a bad thing. In some circles, this is no longer the case.
Passing privilege and “Negativity”, two things which I covered in previous blogs, are forms this can take. Transphobia in feminist spaces is another, as is ableism against those especially with resulting social difficulties in highly social activist environments. Unfortunately even when they claim to be “radical” - activist circles often inherit most of the values of outside culture, and this includes the rather wonky definition of what a “boundary” should be.
Again, boundaries are not a concept that are beyond criticism and they can be used offensively. Please respect that some people have a hard time fitting in, can be excluded all too often and that many of the things you say or do to them may be hurtful to their own sensitivities. Just because someone comes off as “Weird” or “Awkward” to you, as people with autism often do, or transwomen to TERFs and the general public, doesn’t mean you have a right to judge them; even if you have a right not to associate with them - please don’t abuse it. Recognise intersectionality and the myriad of different difficulties and experiences people other than you might have, that need to be respected.